Colour of Music
Feb. 3-6 (7:30 p.m.), Feb. 7 (5 p.m.)
The Colour of Music Festival, the city’s only festival celebrating Black classical musicians and composers, is returning for its ninth season this week. The festival will continue to emphasize the accomplishments of Black musicians in the world of classical music, or “The last water fountain,” as Colour of Music founder Lee Pringle said.
“There are just so many things that I think the Colour of Music contributes to the aesthetics of what classical music is,” Pringle told the City Paper.
This year’s festival will be online to circumvent the continuing pandemic, and it will feature octets, duos and individual performances. Each evening, a new show will go online, displaying work from composers like Felix Mendelssohn, Margaret Bonds, Toshiro Mayuzumi and Harry Burleigh.
According to Pringle, the festival’s first night will focus on the marimba, an African forerunner to the xylophone. Sean Daniels will play the marimba on compositions like Mayuzumi’s Concerto for Xylophone and Piano and Clair Omar Musser’s Etude in B Major Op. 6 No. 9.
It was appropriate for the marimba to open the festival, Pringle said, because it emphasizes the globalism behind Colour of Music and the contributions of Black individuals to world music. “The reason we’re not called ‘the African American festival,’ is because we have musicians who are of African ancestry from around the globe,” he said. “For that reason, I think that is a differentiating factor for the Colour of Music that is different from any other festival like Spoleto.”
The festival is also continuing to highlight Black women. On Saturday, a string quartet will perform award-winning composer Valerie Coleman’s lively “UMOJA.” Violinist Anyango Yarbo-Davenport and pianist Kyle Walker will take on Igor Frolov’s 18-minute concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
“It’s an incredible, show-stopping piece that uses all these themes throughout the entire opera,” Pringle said. “It’s a masterful piece.”
Yarbo-Davenport, the conductor and artistic director of Colour of Music’s all-female chamber orchestra, will also perform Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 on Saturday.
Jacqueline Pickett, a principal bassist for classical and jazz chambers and a doctorate-holder for double bass performance, will play Astor Piazzola’s Five Tangos for Violin and Bass on Friday evening.
To prepare for her performance, Pickett said she has researched the origins of the Tango and spirituals. “I have found that both forms have origins in African musical traditions,” she said. “There are amazing similarities … These forms contain specific rhythms that communicate information and tell a story to the initiated.”
Pickett added that there are some benefits to scaled down virtual performances. “We can develop a more intimate bond with the music to be shared,” she said.
Over its history, Colour of Music has become a place for advocacy and education, just as much as it is entertainment. “It certainly takes a three-pronged approach,” Pringle said. “I think with education, inspiring is very important, particularly for young Black kids, to choose an instrument as a way to take them places they can’t go physically.”
Pringle, who previously sat on the board at the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, has routinely called out organizations like the CSO and other establishments for a lack of diversity among core musicians. Large orchestras, he added, need to think about the future and provide something different.
“Orchestras are dying because they keep doing the same thing,” he said. “The model is not a sustainable model … This market really can’t support a symphony in the way that symphonies were conceived in the European standard 100 years ago.”
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