by Nicolette Cheauré
To celebrate the conclusion of Black History Month on February 28, Oberlin Conservatory presented a faculty recital featuring works by Black composers. The concert was livestreamed on their Stage Left platform. The performance featured violinists Francesca DePasquale and David Bowlin, cellist Darrett Adkins, pianist James Howsmon and harpsichordist Mark Edwards. The concert successfully explored underrepresented composers and their music, that spanned multiple eras and a variety of compositional styles.
DePasquale and Howsmon commanded the stage during William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano. The work is filled with confident rhapsodic passages and touching lyrical material, and DePasquale crafted a beautiful narrative arc throughout. The violinist’s technical control was impressive, weaving in and out of the virtuosic and soulful lines within each movement. DePasquale’s great poise on stage made her playing look refreshingly effortless even in higher registers. She carefully played each phrase with mindful intent, articulate in one instance and fluid with tender motifs the next. The duo’s cohesive ensemble elevated the music, resulting in a performance full of moments of warmth and gentleness, but also of brightness and strength.
Darrett Adkins highlighted former composition faculty Jeffrey Mumford with his amid fleeting pockets of billowing radiance, for solo cello. Before the performance, Adkins explained that the improvisatory work depicts flowing clouds. Through no fault of the performer, it was difficult to follow a narrative arc as the work progressed. In fact, the piece is turbulent and filled with clashing chords and chromatic leaps, prolonging a feeling of tension and strife for almost ten minutes. When Adkins said, “Clouds just float, you don’t end up following any specific point of travel,” one can suppose this was meant to depict the aimless, billowing clouds Mumford was hoping for.
The concert closed with Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ Sonata in G Minor no. 3, gracefully performed by Bowlin and Edwards. The choice of harpsichord instead of piano was welcome, and took the listener back to the soundscape and social context in which it was originally performed. Both performers maintained a lightness and elegance in their strokes and gestures, moving easily through quick, florid passages and delicate playful sections. The interplay between melodies and supporting material was well balanced, a nod to the duo’s musical sensitivity.
Oberlin accomplished what it had set out to do this past weekend — showcasing underrepresented composers and their works during a year where expanding one’s musical horizons has become more important than ever. This will only lead to the broadening of the Western musical canon, and the ability for all musicians and composers of various backgrounds to thrive and create together for years to come.