CONCERT PREVIEW: Clarion Concerts presents Umama Womama at Saint James Place on Saturday, March 19
Clarion Concerts will kick off its new spring season with a performance by the Umama Womama Trio, at Saint James Place in Great Barrington on Saturday March 19. Photo courtesy of the artists
GREAT BARRINGTON — When was the last time you heard a chamber music performance from an ensemble made up entirely of composers? Probably never. But there’s a first time for everything: The performer-composer trio Umama Womama will appear Saturday March 19at Saint James Place, led by Grammy-nominated composer and flautist Valerie Coleman, who founded the group with the composer-violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama and composer-harpist Hannah Lash. Saturday’s program will include music written by the three composers, as well as works by Camille Saint-Saëns and Claude Debussy.
A composer who wants his music performed with fanatical attention to detail should consider engaging instrumentalists who are composers themselves. Composers understand all too well that during a performance you can hit all the right notes and still feel like you’re completely off the mark. As performers, these three women have the chops to satisfy the most exacting demands of a composer.
Valerie Coleman rose to prominence as a founding member of Imani Winds, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album in 2006 and a permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The “crossover” designation says a lot about Coleman’s sensibility as a composer. His conservatory-inspired works sound modern enough, but not at the expense of his own musical roots, which encompass blues and traditional American music as well as jazz and classical. Everything you need to know about his approach to composition you can get from this video of his play “Seven O’Clock Shout”. It’s pure pleasure. “Umoja“ is another popular work, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and chosen by Chamber Music America as one of its 101 Best American Ensemble Works.
Hannah Lash’s music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Lincoln Center, Tanglewood, Aspen and dozens of other top concert halls around the world. The New York Times described his music as “striking and ingenious…beautifully brooding”. You can describe it yourself by consulting this video from a piece she wrote for the Seattle Symphony titled “The peril of dreams.” Even a selective list of works by Lash would be too long to include here.
Lash holds a Ph.D. in composition from Harvard, is on the composition faculty at Yale, and has won numerous renowned awards. In addition, she is a virtuoso harpist.
Born in Los Angeles to Zimbabwean and Japanese parents, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama (No-goo-TOO-lah En-gwen-YAH-mah) has performed worldwide in recital and as soloist with orchestras in Indianapolis, Charlotte, Atlanta, Baltimore, Durban, Los Angeles and elsewhere. She has given recitals at the Kennedy Center, Suntory Hall, the Louvre and the White House.
Ngwenyama earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University before studying at the Colburn School for the Performing Arts and the Curtis Institute of Music.
You can listen to Ngwenyama’s piece for unaccompanied viola, “Sonoran Storm”, here, and when you do, you will immediately notice that his writing is not only idiomatic in the alto but also improvised in feel. All the notes are written, but it looks like she’s making them up as she goes along (and that’s a good thing).
You can hear more music from Ngwenyama hereas well as his performances of other literature for viola.
“The technical fluency with extravagant gestures, intense sound production, and the daring expressive freedoms that only come after musicians have developed a sixth sense of ensemble bonding.” That’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer described a performance by Valerie Coleman’s debut band Imani Winds, and we have good reason to expect such performances from Umama Womama on Saturday. Tickets here.