(Credit: Jeff Roffman)
By Pierre Ruhe, ArtsATL
March 4, 2022
Born in Arkansas, price escaped the Jim Crow South as part of the Great Migration in the early 20th century, and launched what might have been — should have been — an important career as a composer. Her Symphony No. 1 won a prize and was performed by the Chicago Symphony in 1932 — the first time a major American orchestra performed music by a Black woman composer. Chicago asked Price for more. Marian Anderson sang one of Price’s Negro Spiritual arrangements at her historic 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
But for obvious reasons that track with much of US history — “I have two handicaps, those of sex and race,” she wrote — her music did not gain wide acceptance. Several key works were published and remained in print after her death in 1953, allowing her to hover at the outer edge of the repertoire. She wasn’t so much forgotten as ignored. Over the past decade, she’s had several vociferous champions, including a former ASO assistant conductor, Mei-Ann Chen, who price programs wherever an orchestra will accept it, from Chicago to San Diego to even the Alabama Symphony.
Although it’s titled “in one movement,” the piece is laid out clearly in three sections. The second, leisurely and agreeable, features a long, soulful oboe solo. It is backed by what sounded like expressive commentary from the piano, as call-and-response, with just a hint of melodious, blue-note Gershwin. Gorgeous.
The music then slides easily into the energetic final section, based on the Juba dance rhythm, aka the Hambone, joyous and free. Cann and Runnicles made a tight partnership throughout. The audience ate it up. Obviously, belatedly, this satisfying concerto is ripe to enter the symphonic repertoire.