REVIEW: The legendary 20th-century contralto Marian Anderson is profiled at annual Witness concert.
By Rohan Preston, Star Tribune
February 18, 2013
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For 24 years, VocalEssence, one of the Twin Cities’ premier singing
ensembles, has shone a light on African-American musical genius and
ingenuity through its Witness concert series. Last year, the Philip
Brunelle-led chorus celebrated the work of jazz trumpeter Hannibal
Lokumbe, whose composition about his spiritual journey included a live
rapper. This year, the company returned to deeper roots. It orbited the
life and work of pioneering contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993).
Anderson, whose visage graced a gold medal issued
by the U.S. Treasury in 1980, was a giant not simply because of her
training and deeply expressive talent. She overcame racial barriers to
her art, including, most famously, the prohibition by the Daughters of
the American Revolution from performing in their Constitution Hall in
Washington, D.C., in 1939.
On Sunday, soprano Marlissa Hudson, accompanied
by Charles Kemper, drew from Anderson’s repertoire. It was a
questionable choice, given the shift in registers of the singers. But
Hudson proved more than capable, delivering with great control and
soulfulness. Like Anderson, Hudson suggested that she was dipping into a
deep well of perseverance and hope, of spirit and certainty. Her
“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” was a moving highlight.
Anderson was played by two performers at the
Ordway Center concert. Greta Oglesby brought moral authority to the
speaking parts in an educational script written and directed by Jon
Cranney. The narrative used a simple framing device. Anderson, in
Washington, D.C., to sing the national anthem at the 1963 March on
Washington, tells her story to a curious young hotel employee, Alice
The concert, conducted lyrically by Brunelle,
included compositions by David Baker, who set a Mari Evans poem to
music, and Elizabeth Lim, who composed Rita Dove’s “Lady Freedom Among
Us.” Perhaps the wittiest piece came from composer Elizabeth Alexander,
whose playful 1992 setting of Langston Hughes’ 19-word epigram, “I’m
Telling You,” was a jazzy delight.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390