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University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts to host online concert celebrating Black composers

By Cristina Paolozzi, October 1 2020—

On Oct. 2, the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts will be hosting a livestream celebrating the work of Black composers. This concert will feature classical music in the Romantic style and will be exclusively written by Black composers, dating back to the 19th century. 

Edmond Agopian, professor of music at the University of Calgary, organized and will be performing in the event. The Gauntlet was able to conduct an interview with him to share the importance of this event to the campus community, as well as the Arts community in Calgary. 

The Gauntlet: Would you mind giving a brief overview of this event? What can viewers expect from this performance as this event will be hosted online?

Edmond Agopian: The concert features classical music, mostly in the Romantic style, for a variety of instruments: violin, piano, voice, saxophone and string quartet. The featured musicians are U of C Music faculty, students and alumni. A number of the performers are of African heritage.

The award-winning playwright, screenwriter and author, Cheryl Foggo, will begin the concert with a reading of a monologue from one of her works documenting the Black experience in Alberta. The concert will also feature Michèle Moss — dancer, choreographer and faculty member in the School of Creative and Performing Arts.

G: I understand that you were the person to organize this event. What was the inspiration to host an event like this? Why do you believe it is important to host an event highlighting Black composers?

EA: The program was initiated in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It is common to associate Black composers with the world of jazz. This concert, however, puts the spotlight on Black composers who wrote in the classical music vein. Just like the jazz musicians and composers, despite their immense suffering and struggle with constant racism and discrimination, Black composers of classical music have created compositions of the first order. One of the earliest documented Black composers of classical music was Joseph Bologne (1745 –1799) who wrote symphonies, concertos, string quartets and six operas. The creative voice of Black composers is part and parcel of classical music, and this concert highlights their contribution.

G: What do you hope the audience will learn or experience from this performance?

EA: Audiences will have a chance to enjoy the artistry of composers with whom they might not be familiar. Some of their music is inspired by gospel music, jazz, other composers such as Mozart, for example A la Mozart by Adolphus Hailstork and by historical events like the String Quartet No. 5 Rosa Parks by Daniel Bernard Roumain.

Young Black viewers will also have a chance to be inspired by the fact that the music world has greatly benefited not just from the Black Gospel and Jazz tradition, but also from the classical music traditions that go back hundreds of years.

G: As a performer in this livestream as well, what are you most looking forward to sharing with the audience?

EA: In terms of repertoire, the music I will be performing is steeped in the Romantic classical tradition, Gospel and modern compositional techniques. As a musician, these are styles with which I am very familiar, and I am looking forward to sharing this music with viewers. Because of COVID there will not be an audience in the Rozsa Centre — only an online audience. Performing in an empty concert hall will be a somewhat odd experience for all the performers involved, including myself. We will also be at quite a distance from each other when we are performing, so that will be acoustically challenging.

For more information about this event and where to watch it visit the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ website

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