'Lift Every Voice' Celebrates African-American Culture through Classical Music

By Vranish, Jane | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), January 22, 2018 | Go to article overview

'Lift Every Voice' Celebrates African-American Culture through Classical Music


Vranish, Jane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Sometimes a concert turns out to be more than the music. Sometimes it's a perfectly proportioned balancing act, a celebration of joy that heightens the spirit.

In the case of "Lift Every Voice: Resonating Music, Words & Legacy," which filled Heinz Hall on Saturday night, it was not only a celebration. It was historic.

It was the kind of community concert that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra should breed. With classical music still viewed primarily as a world of white privilege, it was particularly gratifying to see such a meaningful collaboration, one that bridged the often-wide gap between Heinz Hall Downtown and the Hill District.

No more, I hope.

In just one night (unfortunately), this program showcased the richness and talent of African American culture to be found through classical music in its many definitions.

This was no ordinary symphonic experience. Not when it began with a drum call, beautifully orchestrated by five men from the Pittsburgh Cultural Arts Collective, dressed in colorful African-inspired garb and bringing the audience to rapt attention.

They were followed by a daringly quiet a cappella solo from vocalist Anqwenique, a Pittsburgh native who was able to tread a fine line between gospel soul and operatic control in "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," a favorite of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That immediately set the tone for the evening - defining an unlimited range where anything was possible.

And it was. Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad was the glue that held it all together. Emerging to loud, appreciative applause (and a single cry of "You go, girl!"), she explained how George Walker was Coretta Scott King's favorite composer, here represented by the PSO, which took the stage in "Lyric for Strings."

And there was space for famed Hill photographer Teenie "One-Shot" Harris in Manchester Craftsmen's Guild composer Jay Ashby's "Teenie Time." Based on classic jazz, it involved the full orchestra and featured no less than five soloists, both in and out of the PSO, along with an array of his photos.

The real inspiration for the concert centered around Pittsburgh native and acclaimed playwright August Wilson. …

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