Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jeffrey Wright, Mos Def lay bare tragic truths of “A Free Man of Color”











by Dwight Casimere

New Orleans photos by Dwight Casimere

Production photos by Charles Erickson

New York—A walk through the cobble and flag-stoned streets of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter last spring revealed a startling and little-known fact, among the time-worn historic buildings are several bearing plaques that attested to their ownership by several men identified as “A Free Man of Color.” Apparently, in the days when Louisiana was first a Spanish and then a French territory, there were a number of blacks who were not only residents, but also property and business owners, who lived as free men and women in and around this historic district.

One plaque on the cracked stucco wall of a building at the corner of Dauphine and Toulouse Streets affirms that the property once housed a Dry Good store owned by Etienne Corderiolle, “a free man of color” who also owned a stretch of apartment buildings and townhouses that now house the Maison Du Puy Hotel and luxury condos.

Another building on nearby Rampart Street, at the edge of the French Quarter, was once the site of a grocery store once owned by Julien Lacroix and a neighboring property housed the textile shop of his brother, Francois.

Indeed, free men of color were an integral part of the New Orleans of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. All that changed when the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803,under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. The Louisiana Purchase is considered one of the largest land deals in history and ranks right up there with the Declaration of Independence as one of the nation’s most important historical landmarks. It also marked the return of slavery for scores of blacks who had previously escaped “The Black Codes” of servitude.

That sweeping historical panorama is the backdrop to John Guare’s play, “A Free Man of Color” in a limited run through January 9 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre.

Playwright John Guare is known for taking the free hand of a muralist to the subject of American history in his plays, from the utopians of “Lydie Breeze” to the raconteurs of “A Few Stout Individuals” and he seems to have funneled the residual energies of those earlier efforts in realizing the early America of “A Free Man of Color.” Director George C. Wolfe makes his Lincoln Center Theatre debut. A Tony Award winner in 1993 for “Angels in America” and 1996 for “Bring in ‘da Noise/Bring in ‘da Funk,” he brings considerable pedigree to this sterling production.

The supercharged cast is headed by fellow “Angels” Tony Award winner Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def (Dante Terrell Smith), the Grammy nominated rapper, critically-acclaimed actor and social activist long associated with causes specific to New Orleans and the Katrina tragedy. Legend has it that Guare wrote “A Free Man” specifically as a vehicle for Wright.

The production is dazzling from start to finish, with eye-popping costumes, inspired sets and imaginative staging that takes the viewer on a dizzying time-travel through the pages of post-Civil War American history, from the bawdy salons of the Vieux Carre through the unexplored wilderness of the New Frontier and in the shadow of the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, slave revolt leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, King Charles IV and Napoleon through France, Spain and Haiti.

The first act recounts the exploits of the central character, Jacques Cornet, a mulatto born into slavery, who buys his freedom with an inheritance from his wealthy white father to become the richest man in New Orleans. Events reel out in rollicking fashion like a Moliere farce, complete with a lavish Mardi Gras costume party that almost spills off of the proscenium stage into the capacity audience.

The nearly three-hour running time seemed to breeze by with Guare’s witty repartee and the tongue-in-cheek irony of the actors. It was a bit wearying for many of the twentieth-century sized men in the audience, whose knees were cramped by the Beaumont’s close-set seating. A few left at intermission because of their extreme discomfort.

A pity, because they missed the best scenes of the play. Mos Def delivers a searing soliloquy in the dual character of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Cornet’s browbeaten slave Murmur, who later flips the script on his master. (It’s an historic fact that African-American Free Men often became slave owners, themselves. Historic records show that Francois Lacroix of New Orleans owned seven slaves as did his brother, Julien).

In the heady, laissez-faire environment of New Orleans’s, Cornet lived the life of a libertine. By all accounts well endowed, both physically and financially, he had his pick of the wives of the noblemen of his day and was able to exercise his extravagant tastes and insatiable sexual appetite at will.

By contrast, in the second act, Cornet returns to New Orleans only to find that the very underpinnings of his world, including those who once worshipped him, have all turned against him. The country that once held out so much promise, the United States government, has betrayed him. There is now a price on his head and, in the unkindest cut of all; his own former slave is both instrument and witness to his ascent to the auction block.

John McMartin deftly portrays the vainglorious, duplicitous Thomas Jefferson. Arnie Burton is a comical caricature of James Monroe. Reg Rogers is alternately humorous and pathetic as Cornet’s disinherited white, half-brother Zeus-Marie Pincepousse. There’s a terrific duel between the two, orchestrated by Fight Director Thomas Schall that really sets the audience on knifepoint edge. Nicole Beharie sets the stage on fire with her bawdy portrayal as one of Cornet’s paramours, Margery Jolicoeur. Paul Dano is athletic and impassioned as the explorer Meriwether Lewis.

Triney Sandoval delivers Guare’s verbal flights of fancy in some deliriously delicious cameos as a Rasputin-esque habitual bathtub-dwelling Napoleon Bonaparte. Considering his losses to the English, he declares, “I hate the British. I hate Shakespeare, I hate Chaucer. I hate Richard the Lion-Hearted, And then, when the future comes, I will hate Queen Victoria, James Bond, Charles Dickens.” There are gems like that throughout Guare’s superbly written farce. One would do well to bone up on literary and historical references, especially during the early 19th Century, in order to enjoy the full effect of Guare’s satire.

Stage Manager Gwendolyn M. Gilliam, Set Designer David Rockwell, Lighting Designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer and Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward have all done work worthy of Tony recognition.

Sound Director Scott Stauffer, Hair and Wig Master Paul Huntley and Dialect Coach Deborah Hecht also deserve special mentions, as does the work of Choreographer Hope Clarke.

Original Music by Jeanine Tesori was a sparkling treasure in this all-around First Class production that brought a decisive and complex moment in American history to light in a highly engaging and entertaining fashion.

Jeffrey Wright, Mos Def lay bare tragic truths of “A Free Man of Color”











by Dwight Casimere

New Orleans photos by Dwight Casimere

Production photos by Charles Erickson

New York—A walk through the cobble and flag-stoned streets of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter last spring revealed a startling and little-known fact, among the time-worn historic buildings are several bearing plaques that attested to their ownership by several men identified as “A Free Man of Color.” Apparently, in the days when Louisiana was first a Spanish and then a French territory, there were a number of blacks who were not only residents, but also property and business owners, who lived as free men and women in and around this historic district.

One plaque on the cracked stucco wall of a building at the corner of Dauphine and Toulouse Streets affirms that the property once housed a Dry Good store owned by Etienne Corderiolle, “a free man of color” who also owned a stretch of apartment buildings and townhouses that now house the Maison Du Puy Hotel and luxury condos.

Another building on nearby Rampart Street, at the edge of the French Quarter, was once the site of a grocery store once owned by Julien Lacroix and a neighboring property housed the textile shop of his brother, Francois.

Indeed, free men of color were an integral part of the New Orleans of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. All that changed when the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803,under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. The Louisiana Purchase is considered one of the largest land deals in history and ranks right up there with the Declaration of Independence as one of the nation’s most important historical landmarks. It also marked the return of slavery for scores of blacks who had previously escaped “The Black Codes” of servitude.

That sweeping historical panorama is the backdrop to John Guare’s play, “A Free Man of Color” in a limited run through January 9 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre.

Playwright John Guare is known for taking the free hand of a muralist to the subject of American history in his plays, from the utopians of “Lydie Breeze” to the raconteurs of “A Few Stout Individuals” and he seems to have funneled the residual energies of those earlier efforts in realizing the early America of “A Free Man of Color.” Director George C. Wolfe makes his Lincoln Center Theatre debut. A Tony Award winner in 1993 for “Angels in America” and 1996 for “Bring in ‘da Noise/Bring in ‘da Funk,” he brings considerable pedigree to this sterling production.

The supercharged cast is headed by fellow “Angels” Tony Award winner Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def (Dante Terrell Smith), the Grammy nominated rapper, critically-acclaimed actor and social activist long associated with causes specific to New Orleans and the Katrina tragedy. Legend has it that Guare wrote “A Free Man” specifically as a vehicle for Wright.

The production is dazzling from start to finish, with eye-popping costumes, inspired sets and imaginative staging that takes the viewer on a dizzying time-travel through the pages of post-Civil War American history, from the bawdy salons of the Vieux Carre through the unexplored wilderness of the New Frontier and in the shadow of the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, slave revolt leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, King Charles IV and Napoleon through France, Spain and Haiti.

The first act recounts the exploits of the central character, Jacques Cornet, a mulatto born into slavery, who buys his freedom with an inheritance from his wealthy white father to become the richest man in New Orleans. Events reel out in rollicking fashion like a Moliere farce, complete with a lavish Mardi Gras costume party that almost spills off of the proscenium stage into the capacity audience.

The nearly three-hour running time seemed to breeze by with Guare’s witty repartee and the tongue-in-cheek irony of the actors. It was a bit wearying for many of the twentieth-century sized men in the audience, whose knees were cramped by the Beaumont’s close-set seating. A few left at intermission because of their extreme discomfort.

A pity, because they missed the best scenes of the play. Mos Def delivers a searing soliloquy in the dual character of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Cornet’s browbeaten slave Murmur, who later flips the script on his master. (It’s an historic fact that African-American Free Men often became slave owners, themselves. Historic records show that Francois Lacroix of New Orleans owned seven slaves as did his brother, Julien).

In the heady, laissez-faire environment of New Orleans’s, Cornet lived the life of a libertine. By all accounts well endowed, both physically and financially, he had his pick of the wives of the noblemen of his day and was able to exercise his extravagant tastes and insatiable sexual appetite at will.

By contrast, in the second act, Cornet returns to New Orleans only to find that the very underpinnings of his world, including those who once worshipped him, have all turned against him. The country that once held out so much promise, the United States government, has betrayed him. There is now a price on his head and, in the unkindest cut of all; his own former slave is both instrument and witness to his ascent to the auction block.

John McMartin deftly portrays the vainglorious, duplicitous Thomas Jefferson. Arnie Burton is a comical caricature of James Monroe. Reg Rogers is alternately humorous and pathetic as Cornet’s disinherited white, half-brother Zeus-Marie Pincepousse. There’s a terrific duel between the two, orchestrated by Fight Director Thomas Schall that really sets the audience on knifepoint edge. Nicole Beharie sets the stage on fire with her bawdy portrayal as one of Cornet’s paramours, Margery Jolicoeur. Paul Dano is athletic and impassioned as the explorer Meriwether Lewis.

Triney Sandoval delivers Guare’s verbal flights of fancy in some deliriously delicious cameos as a Rasputin-esque habitual bathtub-dwelling Napoleon Bonaparte. Considering his losses to the English, he declares, “I hate the British. I hate Shakespeare, I hate Chaucer. I hate Richard the Lion-Hearted, And then, when the future comes, I will hate Queen Victoria, James Bond, Charles Dickens.” There are gems like that throughout Guare’s superbly written farce. One would do well to bone up on literary and historical references, especially during the early 19th Century, in order to enjoy the full effect of Guare’s satire.

Stage Manager Gwendolyn M. Gilliam, Set Designer David Rockwell, Lighting Designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer and Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward have all done work worthy of Tony recognition.

Sound Director Scott Stauffer, Hair and Wig Master Paul Huntley and Dialect Coach Deborah Hecht also deserve special mentions, as does the work of Choreographer Hope Clarke.

Original Music by Jeanine Tesori was a sparkling treasure in this all-around First Class production that brought a decisive and complex moment in American history to light in a highly engaging and entertaining fashion.

NY Philharmonic “Messiah” redeems timeless masterpiece





Photos:

1. Conductor Bernard Labadie

2. Soprano Karina Gauvin

3.Bass Andrew Foster-Williams

4. Principal Trumpet Philip Smith

5. Composer George Frideric Handel






by Dwight Casimere

New York---Concluding a week of Holiday shopping in the Big Apple with a visit to Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall to hear the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and 50-voice New York Choral Artists perform Handel’s “Messiah” proved the perfect tonic to the overt commercialism of the Holiday Season.

The lyrical inspiration for this timeless classic is drawn from passages of the King James and Great versions of the Bible as embodied in a libretto by frequent Handel collaborator Charles Jennens.

The work summarizes the arrival of the Messiah as proclaimed by the prophets, His worldly sufferings, His Crucifixion and victory over death for mankind. Although performed during Lent and Easter in Handel’s lifetime, Messiah has become a staple during Advent, the prelude to the Christmas season, since the time of his death. The sense of urgency inherent in its delivery may stem from the fact that Handel wrote this monumental work in just over three weeks.

Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie approached the work with an open mind, investing in it a freshness and vitality that allowed the searing emotion of the music and the poignant message of the text to shine through with clarity. A Baroque specialist, Labadie also used the benefit of his unique insight to bring out the magnificent contrapuntal and ensemble nuances of Handel’s compositional genius. The superb voices of the soloists and the precise unified singing of the choir made for a rapturous experience.

Maestro Labadie took a measured approach to Handel’s masterpiece. Eschewing the standard conventions and pitfalls that seem to plague all too many performances of this familiar masterpiece, he chose to view the work with fresh eyes, paying careful attention to tempo notations and allowing ample space for his sublime soloists to convey Handel’s immortal message. He brought with him a Canadian Cannonball of vocal prowess in the persons of his female soloists who dominated the performance.

Soprano Karina Gauvin’s silvery, soaring voice lifted the words of “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” to the level of High Praise. Contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux gave particular gravity and authority to “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion.” She also imbued the aria “He Was Despised” with deep emotion. Tenor Tilman Lichdi maintained a strong, consistent presence throughout.

The eloquent trumpet solo by Principal Trumpet Philip Smith and forceful bass aria by Andrew Foster-Williams in “The Trumpets Shall Sound” were also among the highlights.

The instrumental soloists were as vital to the success of the performance as the vocalists. Harpsichordist Lionel Party , Organist Kent Tritle, Bassoonist Kim Laskowski, Bassist Eugene Levinson and Cellist Carter Brey all provided well executed performances as both soloists and ensemble players.

“The Messiah” is rightfully considered as George Frideric Handel’s crowning masterpiece. Its premiere in Dublin in April 1742 was sold out. In a way, the themes of redemption and resurrection of the oratorio proved to be reflective of the composer’s own life. Handel himself was on the verge of bankruptcy and was said to be in both a physically and spiritually broken emotional state. With the recent failure of several of his operas, the German transplant was considered a has-been in his adopted home of London. His career as a composer was over and his life hung in the balance.

Fortunately for Handel, folks in Ireland didn’t quite see it that way. The Lord Lieutenant and the governors of three charitable organizations invited him to perform one of his works in Dublin for charity. Handel decided to use the opportunity to give the world premiere of his recently completed work. The premiere was held at Neal’s Music Hall in Dublin in 1742, an event that changed the course of Handel’s life and wrote an indelible chapter in music history.

The first London performance of Messiah took place in Lent on March 23, 1743 at Covent Garden. At the first measures of "Hallelujah" chorus, King George II stood up to express his admiration for the piece. As was the custom of the time, the entire audience rose with him. The tradition remains and, in keeping, the audience stood at Avery Fisher Hall.

Maestro Labadie heightened the suspense of the “Hallelujah” chorus by softening the timbre of the opening passages in order to allow the dynamic strength of the finale to unfold gradually, thus heightening the impact at its conclusion. The stirring account prompted a rousing ovation. Overall, the uplifting feeling of Handel’s Messiah remained through the final “Amen.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Immerse yourself in Merce (Cunningham)!






The Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami

The Legacy Tour

December 2, 2010

Immerse yourself in Merce!

Text by Dwight Casimere

Photos Courtesy of the Adrienne Arsht Center/Justin Namon

Additional Photos Courtesy Merce Cunningham Dance Company/Anna Finke

Miami--Total immersion was the order of the evening at the recent concert by Merce Cunningham Dance Theatre at the immense Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center in downtown Miami.

This once-in-a-lifetime performance, entitled Immerse yourself in Merce! featured the collaboration of two undisputed giants of American culture, Choreographer Merce Cunningham and visual artist Robert Rauschenberg. The astonishing event re-imagined their legendary mid-20th Century collaborations from every angle and perspective in an astonishing 360-degree event that made the audience a part of the show.

First of all, those expecting a polite evening of nostalgic retrospective of the long and groundbreaking 70 plus year career of the dance innovator were in for an instant reality check. Ushers led audience members through the auditorium, past rows of seats that were piled practically to the ceiling with white geometric shaped boxes and balloons by Installation Artist Daniel Arsham, to the darkened backstage area.

The 14 dancers stood in bas-relief in three multi-level sets, dressed in original Rauschenberg-designed costumes. A black backdrop awash in harsh stage lighting surrounded the stage areas.

The backstage was divided into three performance areas, the largest being a rectangular pit where the biggest group of dancers held forth. Performance areas were also demarcated by grey runners, which served as subtle barriers to the audience, who were invited to move freely among the performers so long as they did not cross the grey ‘lines.’

In between ‘numbers,’ the dancers stretched and did their warm-ups in the midst of audience members. It truly felt as if the lines had been blurred between the dancers and those who came to watch them.

Merce Cunningham died in July 2009 at age 90. He appeared in every single performance of his dance company until 1979, when he was 70. He observed his 80th birthday in 1989, by dancing a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov, although frail and holding onto a barre. The company continues to tour internationally and to hold Repertory Classes at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York.

Cunningham was at the forefront of the American avant- garde for more than a half century and his specter seemed to imbue the 14 dancers with his innovative spirit. The dancers contorted themselves into geometric poses that seemed to defy the laws of physics and human anatomy. Dancing solo, in pairs and in small groups, they performed lifts, lunges, turns, twists, curls, arches, jumps and tendu in rapid succession. The total experience was a virtual clinic in the Merce Cunningham Method, which emphasizes highly emotive expression through movement.

Robert Rauschenberg died in May 2008. A National Medal of Arts recipient in 1993, he was a painter and sculptor who often worked simultaneously in both mediums. His frequent collaborations with dancer Cunningham and musician John Cage created some of the most all-encompassing performance experiences of the mid-Twentieth Century.

Off to the side, a percussion artist and a lone violinist, whose instrument was electronically attached to a computer and audio panel, performed on a series of otherworldly instruments that looked like oversized set pieces from a Star Wars movie. The instrumentalist later informed me that he was also a sculptor who had once worked as an assistant in Rauschenberg’s studio.

The iconic artist was well known for his artistic “Combines” which employed non-traditional materials and found objects in a series of unorthodox combinations that expanded the medium of sculpture. The instruments present at ‘Immerse yourself!” reflected his “oeuvre.”

The performance was both a tribute to the Cunningham/Rauschenberg legacy and a demonstration of the vibrancy and endurance of their collaborative spirit and vision. Certainly, after experiencing the nearly hour-long set, a night out at the theatre would never be the same. The performance lived on in flashes of memory long after the last demi-plie, pique and pointe had been executed.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Miami's New World Symphony explores Wanderlust: Sounds of the Times






Photos

1. Guest conductor and composer Oliver Knussen

2. Violin soloist Leila Josefowicz

3. British composer Colin Matthews

4. American composer Sean Shepherd

5. Neglected Russian composer Nikolai Miaskovsky


By Dwight Casimere

Miami—The esteemed British composer and conductor Oliver Knussen was guest conductor for one of the final offerings of Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas’s New World Symphony in its outgoing home at South Beach’s Lincoln Theatre. The orchestra is set to move into its new, dazzling Frank Gehry (Guggenheim Museum, New York and Bilbao, Spain) designed campus in January, with a week of gala concerts conducted by the Maestro.

Knussen’s program included his own Scriabin Settings, after the iconic Russia master, composed early in his career in 1978 and works by two living composers, the U.S. premiere of Concerto for Violin and Orchestra with 2008 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” Fellow Leila Josefowicz as soloist, written by fellow British composer and long-time collaborator Colin Matthews, who was on hand to discuss his work and young American composer Sean Shepherd whose headlining composition, Wanderlust was premiered as a commission for the Cleveland Orchestra in 2009.

Knussen is a house of a man with a courtly manner and scholarly way of talking. The former head of contemporary music activities at Tanglewood and composer-in-residence with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has now established the Contemporary Composition and Performance courses at the Britten-Pears School in Snape, England along with collaborator Matthews.

Accustomed to lecturing, Knussen’s lengthy introductory explanation of the Matthews piece prompted one audience member to shout “May we please just HEAR it!?” Knussen responded, tongue in cheek,” not just yet, Darling!” which brought a hearty laugh from the audience.

Its not often that an audience is privy to the thoughts of the composer at a classical concert, so the presence of Knuseen, Matthews and later, Shepherd in explanatory mode, made for an enriching concert experience.

The stunning Josefowicz made an exceptional case for Matthews’ Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, attacking the angular, ascending melodies of the composition with alacrity. Her impeccable technique and organic understanding of the material made for a mesmerizing performance.

Shepherd, the self-described “more diminutive of the composer’s here tonight,” proved a towering figure on the manuscript page. His musical journey through time and space provided vivid imagery of distant memories and reflections of his youth, including memories his family and his travels to places as far flung as Berlin, London, the French Mediterranean Coast, the Eastern Shores of Britain, Los Angeles, Upstate New York and his childhood home in the Nevada desert.

The final movement, Bilbao, made musical reference to NWS campus architect Frank Gehry’s funky design for the Guggenheim Museum in Northern Spain, which he built in the 1990s.

“The music reflects the design of the museum, which has all of these intricately conceived compartments built all around a central courtyard. The music I wrote has a central core around which its many diverse themes evolve. Its also a tribute to my Basque ancestry and the notion of a past so deep, it may be lost already. The music goes down all of those diverse paths, then just disappears like a long-forgotten memory.”

The final work, Symphony No. 10 by Nikolai Miaskovsky, composed in 1927, payed fitting homage to this Russian master whose musical legacy was virtually obliterated from the pages of history by the Communist Party. Miaskovsy’s tone poem was inspired by the great Alexander Pushkin’s poem The Bronze Horseman, which tells the story of a chaotic flood that overtakes St. Petersburg and kills the fiancĂ© of the young protagonist Evgenii.

The statue, on its massive bronze steed, comes to life and chases Evgenii, who drowns in the flood. How Russian! As a piece of music performed at the opening days of the Holiday Season, it is the perfect tonic for those predisposed to extreme ennui at the prospect of a concert season dominated by the treacle of fellow Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Jazz at CSO: Regina Carter travels a "Reverse Thread" through the African Diaspora





Regina Carter

Chicago Symphony Center

December 10, 2010


By Dwight Casimere

The SCP Jazz Series at Chicago Symphony Center, Sponsored by Harris Bank, presented one of its most absorbing and adventurous concerts to date. Featuring MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” awardee, jazz violinist Regina Carter and her quartet of world music authoritarians, Yacouba Sissoko on the ancient African “griot” instrument, the Kora, a scintillating Alvester Garnett on Drums & Percussion, Chris Lightcap on Bass and fellow-virtuoso Will Holshouser on Accordion.

Judging from the capacity audience, that even crowded themselves amongst the speakers on the Terrace behind the stage, Carter’s message, that embraces elements of traditional African music, folk music, blues, spirituals, jazz and classical music, has struck a chord. It was the most diverse audience to ever grace a Symphony Center concert. Its members were more than half African American, with a healthy representation of young people and types from the Lincoln Park, Lakeview area. The decision-makers of the CSO, who are endlessly seeking ways to increase the audience base for its Symphony programs, would serve their purpose well by considering the inclusion of such adventurous programming in the normal subscription series. Perhaps a commission for Carter to write a Symphony for the CSO, in the manner of the one recently presented by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, would be a welcome addition to any future season lineup.

Carter’s quartet preceded a performance by Esperanza Spaulding’s Chamber Music Society. Her stop at Symphony Center was in support of her new album “Reverse Thread” and is part of a world tour through 2011. Carter funded the project with a $500,000 no-strings-attached 2006 Fellowship from Chicago’s MacArthur Foundation.

Where Carter’s past musical efforts forged a fusion between the worlds of jazz improvisation and the music of Ravel and Debussy, this effort plants its feet firmly on African soil and the bedrock of Black American music forms. The opening number combined an African folk tune, Juru Nani (Starry Night) with the traditional African American Spiritual “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again.” Her amplified violin (a modified Sotioni) played the sparse melodies in restrained fashion, letting the pure emotion of the music and the rich embellishment of her percussion instrumentalists shine forth. The similarities of the emotional content of the music became more evident as she played.

The next offering, Artistiva, turned out to be the most texturally complex music of the evening. It allowed Carter to express the commanding power of her virtuosity, displaying the flashy cadenzas that won her accolades as a performer and the respect of audiences and her peers in both the classical and jazz genres.

Next came the most haunting melody of the evening, and one of the most representative of her current musical journey, the song N’teri, which means ‘My Friends’ or ‘Friendship,’ composed by Habib Koite of Mali. As interpreted by Carter, the song consists of a beautifully expressive melody, which Carter played as if caressing each string of her violin. The piece wove an intricate tapestry of rhythm and melody with the support of Sissoko on the Kora. Both the contrast and kinship of the two stringed instruments were striking. Juxtaposed against each other, they created two distinct waves of sound that at times conjoined and then diverged.

Sissoko later explained to the audience that the Kora was made from a gourd, covered with calves skin with African rosewood used for the neck and nylon strings in place of the traditional Antelope gut. “We like to use the nylon, because we can first use it to go fishing, then to play music.” The first recycling!

Accordionist Holshouser was Carter’s equal in every way, both as a technical virtuoso and solid interpreter of the music. It was a joy to hear the two jam together. You could feel their simpatico and high energy.

Carter concluded the set wit the piece, Mwana Talitambula,’ in which she first played a field recording of a tribe of practicing Jews from eastern Uganda. “The men play a type of instrument, similar to the accordion” she explained from the stage “which women are not allowed to play. In this culture, the roles are somewhat reversed, because the women get to play the drums.”

Carter’s use of the field recording to inspire composition is reminiscent of the early twentieth century composer Bela Bartok’s use of wire recordings he made of Magyar folk melodies in the countryside of his native Hungary, which he used as the inspiration for his symphonies.

Carter’s efforts with Reverse Threads are similar in many ways to the work of Chicago Symphony Orchestra Creative Consultant, superstar cellist Yo Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project. Carter’s Reverse Threads explores the African Diaspora in much the same way as Ma’s efforts explore the many divergent paths of Eastern music. The two have done a great deal to expand the definition of modern music by reaching back into its ancient roots. Hopefully Carter will be a recurring presence on the Armour Stage once her world tour is completed to share more of her much-needed musical message.