Antonio partner | Photo by Konstantin Golovchinsky
It was a historic concert when the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall. It is an ensemble made up entirely of classical musicians of African descent from orchestras from all over the country. The concert celebrated black composers and their works, including Symphony No. 3, Symphony n. 3, a Fantasia on “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James V. Cockerham, plus a world premiere by pianist Jon Batiste (who was also a soloist), entitled I can.
The performance was led by Anthony Parnther, a Los Angeles-based conductor (and bassoonist) who was asked to speak after the death of Michael Morgan, the Festival’s longtime conductor. Parnther says he had planned to go to the concert as an audience member, because it would be like a big family reunion of friends and colleagues. “I can assume that for the vast majority of the musicians who are part of the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra… if I’m not the only black person in the rooms they work in, I’m definitely one of the very few. I think this is a safe space for all these musicians to come together and make music. It’s one where everyone in the room is black and I think there’s something very special about such a summoning. “
When he got the call asking if he would lead, Parnther says his jaw was on the ground. Michael Morgan (who was assistant conductor at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the time) had been one of the very few black role models Parnther had as an aspiring conductor at Northwestern University. “There is no substitute for Michael Morgan … I am deeply honored.”
Anthony Parnther has been an active conductor and bassoonist for hundreds of film and television projects over the past 15 years. He is also Music Director and Conductor of the San Bernardino Symphony and the Southeast Symphony and Chorus in Los Angeles. But he is often crossed with other genres. “I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with a huge range of really interesting artists,” he says, “Whether it’s RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, or Rihanna, or Jessye Norman. My only goal is to make good music with good people, good musicians. And I was very lucky to do it inside the classical arena and also outside of it. “
The concert started with Brahms’ Variations on a Haydn Theme, and then turned to African American composers. “As black musicians, we have the opportunity to perform the music of Florence Price and George Walker, someone with whom I had a 25-year relationship. And then, of course, preview Jon Batiste’s new piece. So, this is just a wonderful occasion where we can celebrate ourselves and celebrate wonderful music. It is first of all a party “.
Jeffrey is an art producer for KUSC and our sister station, Classical KDFC, in San Francisco.