MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 4

In the spring of 2019, the Seattle Symphony gave the posthumous world premiere of George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 5 (more background in my New York Times story here). Simon Rattle was hoping to give the UK premiere with the Chineke! Orchestra at the BBC Proms, but the pandemic scuttled that plan.

So he scheduled Walker’s concise Sinfonia No. 4 (“Strands”) on the London Symphony Orchestra’s program for this week. The concert will be repeated and streamed online by Marquee TV on 19 September at 1.30pm ET and then available on demand. Also on the program (notes here): Darius Milhaud’s La création du monde and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

Filed under: George Walker, music news

Inside the George Walker Cello Sonata with CelloChat

Panelists Astrid Schween, Emmanuel Feldman, Owen Young, and Seth Parker Woods will discuss George Walker’s three-movement Cello Sonata from 1957 in this two-part offering from CelloBello.

Part 1: Saturday, 19 September at 12:00 pm EDT

Part 2: Saturday, 26 September at 12:00 pm EDT

For my Strings magazine profile of George Walker in 2017, Seth Parker Woods shared the following remarks about the Cello Sonata: “In playing [this piece], you’re engulfed in a state of beauty and episodic turmoil. One of the things I love is that its amazing melodic lines fit perfectly in the hand, as if they were molded all along for a cellist. It’s a brilliant work that I really would love to see more and more younger and older cellists performing. George Walker’s music is of monumental status and importance.” 

Filed under: American music, cello, George Walker, Seth Parker Woods

Happy Birthday to George Walker

In honor of George Walker’s birthday — he would have turned 98 on Saturday — here’s my profile for the New York Times published last year, ahead of the posthumous premiere of his Sinfonia No. 5.

Deeply entrenched racism drove Walker away from his career as a concert pianist to the solitary existence of a composer. This extraordinary musical personality was shamefully neglected throughout his long life yet continued producing intricate, masterfully wrought scores. Here’s hoping that Walker’s upcoming centennial will be the catalyst needed for a wholesale engagement with his rich oeuvre.

“A Composer’s Final Work Contains ‘Visions’ of an American Master”

Filed under: American music, George Walker, new music

A Composer’s Final Work Contains ‘Visions’ of an American Master

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The composer George Walker died last summer at 96. He was a close friend of the artist Frank Schramm, who documented his final years in photographs. Photo (c) Frank Schramm

My New York Times article on the late George Walker is now online and will be in the Sunday Arts section.

SEATTLE — Last fall, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery began to display, among its recent acquisitions, a photograph of the composer George Walker. It shows him close up, his right index finger and thumb bearing down on a pencil with the precision of a surgeon, at work on the manuscript score of his Sinfonia No. 5.

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Filed under: American music, George Walker, new music, New York Times

RIP George Walker (1922-2018)

I’m devastated by news of the death of George Walker. It was just over a year ago that I had the opportunity to interview him at length for a magazine profile. I know he was eagerly looking forward to the live public premiere of his Sinfonia No. 5 (“Visions”) next April with the Seattle Symphony — his reaction to the 2015 church massacre in Charleston.

George Walker’s music remains woefully neglected and underrepresented. As the music world looks back over his remarkable legacy — as a composer and a pianist, whose career was stymied by systemic racism — I hope this situation finally begins to change for the better.

Filed under: George Walker, music news

Happy Birthday, George Walker!

The wonderful American composer George Walker turns 96 today. And he’s still very much at work, with a symphonic world premiere coming up in the new Seattle Symphony season: Sinfonia No. 5, in which he reflects on the massacre at a Charleston church in 2015.

The clip above is from a 2012 interview, just before George Walker reached the age of 90.
Happy Birthday, George!

Filed under: American music, George Walker

George Walker’s Piano Sonatas

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The Eastman School of Music celebrates the 95th birthday year of one of its illustrious alumni, the composer and pianist George Theophilus Walker (’56), with a special recital this evening. At 7:30 p.m. EST, the Albanian pianist Redi Llupa will perform all five of Walker’s piano sonatas, which span a half century, from 1953 to 2003.

The concert will be streamed and made publicly available here.

Filed under: American music, George Walker

Chineke! Makes Proms Debut

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This evening is Prom 62, in which the Chineke! Orchestra makes its BBC Proms debut.
One of Chineke!’s founding cellists is Seth Parker Woods, whom I wrote about for this month’s cover issue of Strings magazine. They’ll also be playing music by George Walker for the first time on a Proms program.

link to broadcast from BBC Radio 3

Filed under: BBC Proms, George Walker, Seth Parker Woods

Celebrating American Composer George Walker

07aGood timing: here’s my Strings magazine profile of George Walker, who turned 95 years young last week (now available online).

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Filed under: American music, George Walker, profile

The Unstoppable George Walker

Tomorrow is the 95th birthday of George Walker. This American musical treasure remains creatively productive and full of insight and deserves to be far better known.

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to spend some time interviewing him for the profile in Strings magazine’s July issue.

It’s currently available to subscribers, so I can post only a brief teaser:

When he published his memoirs in 2009, George Theophilus Walker chose the title Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist. It was at the keyboard that he first formed his musical identity, starting when he was five. Precocious musically and intellectually, Walker graduated from high school at 14 and in the yearbook announced his intention to become a concert pianist — which is precisely what he proceeded to do, in characteristic Walker fashion.

Filed under: American music, George Walker, Strings

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