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Celebrate Black History Month With IPR Classical's Steinway Cafe

Join IPR Classical at noon on Fridays in February for special programming honoring Black voices.
Join IPR Classical at noon on Fridays in February for special programming honoring Black voices.

On Fridays during the month of February, tune into IPR Classical at noon for broadcasts honoring Black voices.

Friday, Feb. 5 - "In Celebration of the Word"

“In Celebration of the Word” showcases the 21-voice Cánticum Nóvum Choir under the direction of Ben Owen, with original poetry by Dr. Shuaib Meacham.

Meacham, UNI Associate Professor of Literacy Education, is known for his ability to assimilate hip-hop into literacy education and his knack for integrating multicultural education into his curriculums. Founder, conductor and pianist, Owen creates a moving ambiance for Meacham’s poignant verse and text.

Music by contemporary Black American composers Rosephanye Powell, Joel Thompson, and Moses Hogan is interlaced with the traditional spirituals: I Hear a Voice A-Prayin’, Were You There?, and Run Children Run.

Owen says that the program “tackles themes of challenging oppression and Black Identity,” as well as “reflects mediation and exploration on the struggles of Black Americans and the wider intersections of American society and faith.”

“In Celebration of the Word,” recorded on November 3, 2019, at Zion Lutheran Church in Iowa City.

Friday, Feb. 12 - Iowa’s Opera Titan: Simon Estes

Rising from humble beginnings in Centerville, bass-baritone Dr. Simon Estes set a lifetime goal to make the world a better place. And making the world a better place he has! Today he is known as an internationally renowned opera star, professor, philanthropist, and humanitarian.

Estes decided early that he would work hard to overcome the dual reality and double set of standards that he and other Blacks faced in the United States. He knew that he didn’t want hate or resentment to mar the principles that he had established for himself.

While working full-time, he attended The University of Iowa in the late 1950s, received a full scholarship at Juilliard in 1964, and one year later made his European opera debut as Ramfis in Verdi’s Aida with the Deutsche Opera Berlin. The following year he won the bronze medal in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, which officially launched his career. From there, his fame flourished. He performed principal roles on major opera stages, entertained dignitaries, and won honorary awards around the globe.

Sadly, he had to wait 17 years to be recognized and make his debut in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera. He finally was acknowledged in 1982 at the Met, when he was invited to sing the role of Landgrave in Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Last September, Estes, who currently teaches at Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College, earnestly spoke with us from DMACC about his life and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Following this conversation, hear Estes’ magnificent voice in his 1985 performance as the disabled beggar, Porgy, and the drug dealer Sportin’ Life, from Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. You’ll hear “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “Bess, You is my Woman Now,” “I Ain’t Got No Shame - It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “Now de Time.” Soprano, Roberta Alexander, appears as Bess, with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Leonard Slatkin.

We’ll close with Beethoven’s “Finale” from his Symphony No. 9 in d minor, Op. 125, “Choral.” Beethoven added four vocal soloists and a chorus to create an unconventional last symphonic movement. In his “Finale” text, Beethoven captures the essence of Schiller’s uplifting “Ode to Joy” poem. Beethoven’s Presto with its theme and variations integrates Schiller’s moving lyrics, exalting universal brotherhood, and extolling hope, joy, peace, and harmony between people. This masterpiece presentation includes Soprano Julia Varady, Mezzo-soprano Jard van Nes, Tenor Keith Lewis, and Bass-Baritone Simon Estes, along with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Ernst-Senff Chor under the direction of Carlo Maria Giulini. The voice is first presented in the “Finale” singing Beethoven’s own words, ''O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!' Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere.'' Translated: "Oh friends, not these sounds! Let us instead strike up more pleasing and more joyful ones!". In this special and thoughtful 1989 performance, enjoy the first voice that enters, Estes'.

Friday, Feb. 19 - Marian Lee: In Concert

The Steinway Café Feat. Marian Lee

St. Ambrose University’s Associate Professor of Piano, Dr. Marian Lee appeared last month on IPR’s Steinway Café. Lee dedicated her concert to Black civil rights leader, spokesperson, and non-violent activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lee also included a special musical tribute to Florence Beatrice Price. Ms. Price was the first noted Black American female composer to gain national recognition when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the 1933 world premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in e minor. During Ms. Price’s career, she composed over 300 works and also witnessed and endured segregation, Jim Crow Laws, racism, and sexism. She graduated from the New England Conservatory with a double major in organ and piano performance. The world-renowned contralto, and the first Black American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, Marian Anderson, championed Price’s works, often closing her concerts with Price’s setting of “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord.” Lee presented the haunting and poignant “Andante” second movement from Price’s Sonata in e minor.

The recital closes with Lee’s presentation of two inspiring and touching works by composer, performer, and teacher William Campbell. Campbell, known for his socially conscious film scores and zombie film scores, being placed on an Academy Award shortlist, and nominated for an Academy Award and a “News and Documentary” Emmy, currently is the Professor of Music Theory and Composition at St. Ambrose University.

Lee concluded her concert by performing and dedicating to recent events, William Campbell’s heartfelt “All in Due Time," and his inspirational and stirring “Together We Rise.”

IPR Classical’s Black History Month Tribute featuring Marian Lee: In Concert on IPR’s Steinway Café was recorded on January 11, 2020, at Madsen Hall at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Friday, Feb. 26 - Mike Conrad Trio Brings Black Piano Jazz Greats to Life!

IPR Classical's Black History Month Tribute concludes with the Mike Conrad Trio performing the music of eight Black piano jazz greats.

The Trio features Michael Conrad on piano, Chris Merz on tenor saxophone, and Alex Pershounin on bass. Conrad is a composer, improviser, performer, and teacher. He serves as UNI’s Assistant Professor of Jazz and Music Education and is the director of UNI’s Jazz Band 2.

Conrad also performs with many ensembles, including the Damani Phillips & Jim Buennig Quintet, and Christopher’s Very Happy. Band.

Merz serves as UNI’s Professor of Jazz Studies and is the director of UNI’s premiere Jazz Band One. In addition to performing in many ensembles, Merz has his own band, known as Christopher’s Very Happy. Band.

Pershounin is UNI’s Instructor of String Bass and directs and coaches UNI’s Bass Studio. He has performed and taught in both classical and jazz settings internationally. In addition to serving as principal bass in the wcfsymphony and many other ensembles, he performs in his own band, known as the Alex Pershounin Jazz Trio.

This set was recorded on January 31, 2020, in IPR’s own studios in Cedar Falls.

Jacqueline Halbloom is a Sr. Music Producer and Classical Music Host