Films and music take classics back to black

FOLLOWING a successful Gay Icons project of events and concerts 12 months ago, the new University of Sheffield autumn concert season, which gets under way on October 11, takes a look at Black Icons to coincide with Black History Month.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 10th September 2011, 10:00 am

Obvious black icons are Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela but many iconic black people have been ‘groundbreakers’: Barack Obama, the first black American President; Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player; or contralto Marian Anderson, the first black singer to appear at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

From a cultural, specifically musical aspect, black culture gave us the most influential music form of the 20th century – jazz.

A number of influential, iconic musicians include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk among them.

Western classical music has never been a form that lends itself easily to black culture and society, so there is really no such thing as a classical musician who can truly be called an influential black icon.

There has been a handful of internationally-celebrated black opera singers since Marian Anderson, who was essentially a concert singer like the more politically-driven Paul Robeson and an iconic figure to boot.

There has also been a full handful of highly successful black composers, their fame largely confined to the countries they were active in, including Americans Scott Joplin and William Grant Still, a Brit, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and a remarkable French contemporary of Mozart, Joseph de Bologne, otherwise known as Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges who enjoyed iconic status in France in his day.

The Black Icons project is a collaboration with the Showroom Cinema. In October it is staging most of the events – films featuring the history of the civil rights movement in America, freedom songs and Michael Jackson among other subjects.

Concerts in project are confined to two, albeit an attractive pair, on October 11 and November 22 in the University concert season, which is promoted by the Department of Music.

The October concert features one of the country’s leading bandleaders, double bassist Gary Crosby, and his Nu Civilisation Jazz Orchestra, with a programme that includes a remodelled version of Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, as well as music inspired by Sibelius and original works.

The November concert, given by the Dante Quartet and pianist Alissa Firsova, takes in two works by the undervalued Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer of the once hugely popular Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, Piano Quintet Op 1 and Deep River Op 59 No 10.

Better-known works are Dvorák’s ‘American’ Quartet, its famous second movement clearly suggesting a spiritual, and Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, which was written for the black violinist George Bridgetower.

Franz Liszt’s 200th birthday year is celebrated on October 18 when the outstanding pianist Lucy Parham returns with actors Martin Jarvis and Joanna David for a words and music concert, Odyssey of Love, in association with Off the Shelf.

And on November 15, internationally in demand soprano Elizabeth Watts returns to her former university stomping ground to sing arias from operas by Alessandro Scarlatti and Handel with leading harpsichord player Laurence Cummings.

World music in the season takes in Tuvan Throat Singing on October 25 from a leading exponent of the art, Soriah, while a trio of versatile Greek musicians offer a taste of Mediterranean sunshine on December 6 with Music from the Isle of Crete.

In-house concerts from the University Chamber Orchestra, Chamber Choir, Wind Orchestra, New Music Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra complete the main season at Firth Hall with concert admission priced at £8.50, £6 for over-60s, £3 under-26s.

The venue, in Firth Court on Western Bank, just below Weston Park, is also housing the weekly series of free admission lunchtime concerts (formerly at the University Drama Studio), although not all the concerts, which begin on October 13, are on Thursdays – two are on Monday.

Another series of five Monday Rush-Hour Concerts (£2.50 admission), beginning on October 31, take place at Firth Hall with a 5.30pm start. Commencing on October 14, there is a further series of five Friday Gallery Concerts (free) which take place fortnightly at 1pm, alternating between the Graves and Millennium galleries.

Fuller details of the concert season can be found at or call 0114 222 0468 for a brochure.