Making my Classical Piano Composer Debut

Isata Kanneh-Mason will play  Darker Angels  during her Portland, Oregon residency January 24-28, 2018.

Isata Kanneh-Mason will play Darker Angels during her Portland, Oregon residency January 24-28, 2018.

Next weekend, I'll make my debut as a classical solo piano composer when the phenomenal British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason is in residency with Portland Piano International (PPI). I was commissioned by PPI to write a piece inspired by an existing work in the solo piano canon. I have long been inspired by Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Born in 1875 to a Sierra Leone Creole father and an English mother, Coleridge-Taylor was referred to as the “African Mahler.” His celebrated oratorio Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on the epic poem Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was as popular in its day as Handel’s Messiah.

My piece, Darker Angels: Reflections on Hiawatha, draws on Coleridge-Taylor's 24 Negro Melodies, Opus 59, a collection of piano works based on Negro spirituals and West African folk themes inspired in part by his encounters with African-American literary figures like Paul Lawrence Dunbar and W.E.B. DuBois. In Darker Angels, I'm continuing to explore issues of place and cultural history. The title refers in part to one of Coleridge-Taylor's melodies entitled "The Angels Changed My Name” and in part to the tragedy that shadowed Coleridge-Taylor's life and early death. The piece itself depicts the spiritual transformation of the real-life Hiawatha, who, after encountering a historic prophet known as The Peacemaker rose to become a legendary Native American leader and co-founder of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.  

Kanneh-Mason will play Darker Angels, selections from Coleridge-Taylor's 24 Negro Melodies, as well as works by Ravel, Prokofiev, and Beethoven. I will be at most of her residency events—I hope to see some friendly faces at the public events:

Friday, January 26 at 7 pm
Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd, Portland, OR 97220

Saturday, January 27 at 7:30 pm
Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St, Portland, OR 97202