Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra, featuring Mary Baldwin professor Lise Keiter, Celebrates Black History Month

February 11, 2014

The Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra continues its 2013–2014 season of free concerts on February 22 and 23 with Women of the American Symphonic Landscape. The program, led by Music Director Peter Wilson, opens with the beautiful blue cathedral, a recent work by the award-winning composer Jennifer Higdon. The symphony next celebrates Black History Month with Florence Price’s recently-restored Piano Concerto in One Movement with piano soloist Lise Keiter. The program ends with the 1894 work the Gaelic Symphony of Amy Beach.

In recognition of Black History Month, a short talk by Morris Phibbs, deputy director of the Center for Black Music Research, will precede Price’s piano concerto, relating how composer Trevor Weston and other music scholars reconstructed her work. Price is considered the first black woman composer of symphonic music, and this piece reflects a very appealing style, similar to that of William Grant Still and ragtime composer Scott Joplin.

“I have long been interested in the Piano Concerto of Florence B. Price and am excited to be collaborating with Maestro Peter Wilson and the Waynesboro Symphony, along with Morris Phibbs, in these performances of this important, recently-reconstructed work,” Keiter said.

The concerts are 7:30 p.m., February 22 at Staunton’s First Presbyterian Church and 3 p.m., February 23 at Waynesboro’s First Presbyterian. Phibbs will also give a presentation on Price and the history of black composers 12:15 p.m., February 20 at Mary Baldwin University’s Francis Auditorium.  The concerts and presentation are free and open to the public. Call 540-241-2683 for more information.

About the performers

Pianist Lise Keiter is active as a solo recitalist, collaborative artist, and soloist with orchestra, and her performances have taken her throughout the U.S. and to Europe. Her latest European appearances include recitals with France’s International Roussel Festival, as well as with the Internationale Academie de Musique in Gargenville, France. She is delighted to be returning to perform with the Waynesboro Symphony this season and has also recently appeared with orchestras in Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina. Some of her other recent concert engagements have taken her to Wisconsin, Idaho, West Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, South Carolina, and throughout Virginia.

A verstile musician with a wide range of interests, Keiter is especially drawn to the music of female composers, often featuring works by women in her performances. She is in demand for her expertise in the subject and has given numerous recitals and lectures throughout the United States. Keiter is on the faculty at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, where she currently serves as music department chair.

Morris Phibbs is deputy director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago, where he has worked since 1989. In addition to working on development and fundraising for the center, he has produced conferences on black music research throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago. He has also produced four critically acclaimed performance ensembles, including the Black Music Repertory Ensemble, Ensemble Kalinda Chicago, Ensemble Stop-Time, and the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble. In 2010 Phibbs designed and supervised the extended research project that led to the recreation of the musical score for Florence Price’s Concerto in One Movement in D Minor.

Phibbs, a native of Bridgewater, VA, received his undergraduate degree in music from Bridgewater College, earned a master’s degree in music history and literature from West Virginia University, and did substantial doctoral work toward a degree in choral literature and conducting from the University of Colorado. In 1989, he relocated to Chicago to join the staff of the Center for Black Music Research. He has held a number of positions as minister of music and director of vocal and hand-bell choirs in Colorado and Illinois and serves as a music panelist for the Illinois Arts Council.

Music Director Peter Wilson is an engaging and multifaceted American violinist and conductor whose musicianship has been noted as “first-class” by The Washington Post. He currently serves as music director of the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra, was recently appointed music director of the Richmond Philharmonic, and has conducted the National Symphony Orchestra as well as the National Gallery Orchestra. Highly respected throughout the nation’s capital, he has served as a violinist of the White House for two decades and is an active chamber musician, concertmaster, recording artist, and performance clinician throughout the United States.

About the Composers

Pulitzer-prize winner Jennifer Higdon, born in Brooklyn in late 1962, started teaching herself to play flute at the age of 15. Despite this late start, Higdon has become a major figure in modern classical music. She writes in a wide range, from orchestral to vocal works. Hailed by The Washington Post as “a savvy, sensitive composer,” the League of American Orchestras reports that she is one of America’s most frequently performed composers.

Higdon received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, with the committee citing Higdon’s work as a “deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.” She has been a featured composer at many festivals including Tanglewood, Vail, Cabrillo, Grand Teton, Norfolk, and Winnipeg. She has served as composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Fort Worth Symphony. There are several hundred performances a year of Higdon’s works. Blue cathedral is one of the most performed modern pieces and has received more than 400 performances worldwide since its premiere in 2000.

Florence Beatrice Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1887 she performed a piano recital at age 4, published her first work at 11, and enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music at 16. Though she left Little Rock for Chicago around 1927, she could not escape the smoldering vestiges of the de facto apartheid that had inspired her flight. Even in Chicago, few were the opportunities for classical composers. But in 1932 Price won a prestigious prize for symphonic composition, and the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Frederick Stock, took note. Stock encouraged her to write a piano concerto and the following year he presented Price’s Symphony in E minor at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair — the first time that a major American orchestra performed a symphony written by a black woman.

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach, born in 1867 and died late in 1944, was an American composer and pianist. She was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. Most of her compositions and performances were under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach. Beach was born into a distinguished New England family. A child prodigy, she was able to sing forty tunes accurately by age 1. She began formal piano lessons with her playing works by Handel, Beethoven, Chopin, and her own pieces. In 1875, Beach’s family moved to Boston, and at age 14, she received her only formal training in composition with Junius W. Hill with whom she studied harmony and counterpoint for a year. Other than this year of training, Beach was self-taught; she often learned by studying much earlier works, such as Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Beach made her professional debut in Boston in 1883, playing Chopin; shortly after she appeared as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Following her marriage in 1885 to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach — a Boston surgeon 24 years older than her — she agreed to limit performances to one public recital a year, with proceeds donated to charity. Following her husband’s wishes, she devoted herself to composition. Her first major success was the Mass in E-flat major, which was performed in 1892 by the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston. The well-received performance of the mass moved Beach into the rank of America’s foremost composers. After her husband died in 1910, Beach toured Europe for three years as a pianist, playing her own compositions. The Gaelic Symphony dates from this period, first heard in London. She returned to America in 1914 and later moved to New York City. She used her status as the top female American composer to further the careers of young musicians, serving as leader of several organizations, including the Society of American Women Composers as its first president. Heart disease led to Beach’s retirement in 1940 and her death in New York City in 1944.