Symphony Space, Harlem Resonance
The Harlem Resonance Festival (April 2 - May 11) is Symphony Space's second annual multi-disciplinary thematic spring festival, following last year's celebration of Gertrude Stein's Paris.
Harlem, within arm's reach of 95th Street and Broadway, has been a home to artists at the forefront of culture since the 1920s heyday of Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, and Zora Neale Hurston - a nerve center of New York, the African-American community, the nation, the world. Harlem Resonance pays tribute to this extraordinary flowering with an exciting array of events taking place at Symphony Space and various locales throughout Harlem. Harlem Resonance encompasses nearly every form of cultural expression, including music, theater, film, literature, dance, and visual art. Workshops and discussions provide enrichment and context, while walking tours of literary, musical, and architectural landmarks expand the celebration into the cityscape itself.
The festival culminates in Symphony Space's signature event: the twelve-hour Wall to Wall Harlem Resonance on Saturday, May 11 (11 am - 11 pm). This day-long journey traces the Harlem Renaissance from its flourishing moment to its current-day legacy, with thematically linked performances of music, literature, and dance, plus rare film footage, a fashion show, and much more; details to come.
Says Symphony Space's Artistic Director Laura Kaminsky, "Over the course of the festival, we invite you to immerse yourself in Harlem culture past and present. Whether at Symphony Space or in the Harlem venues of our festival partners, Harlem Resonance will provoke, inspire, energize, and transform you." Partnering institutions include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, City College of New York, Columbia University, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Habana/Harlem, Harlem Arts Alliance, Harlem School of the Arts, Jazzmobile, Manhattan School of Music, The Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance, The Duke Ellington Society, and Goddard Riverside Community Center. A full schedule of events can be viewed at www.symphonyspace.org/harlem.
Harlem Resonance starts with John Cage's How to Get Started, performed by composer/pianist Arturo O'Farrill and conceptual artist/choreographer Ralph Lemon on Tuesday, April 2 (7:30 pm) in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia. An audacious experiment in "public thinking," How to Get Started calls for performers to extemporize on ten topics of personal interest. As the speaker moves from topic to topic, his/her previous words are recorded and played back along with the new remarks. Notes Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The New York Times, "The mind, trying to swim against its own streams of consciousness, ends up being swept down with them so that the resultant 30-minute 'piece' becomes a deeply coherent and personal whole." Both artists are associated with Harlem cultural institutions: O'Farrill with the Harlem School of the Arts, Lemon with the Studio Museum.
Three outstanding big bands highlight the festival's music offerings with shows in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre.
On Friday, April 5 (8 pm), the 18-piece Wycliffe Gordon Big Band performs an original score to accompany the Oscar Micheaux silent feature Within Our Gates, the oldest known surviving film by an African-American director. Trombonist/composer/bandleader Gordon's powerful music captures the film's turbulent times - an America embroiled in the violent years of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Migration, and the emergence of the "New Negro."
The Jazzmobile Big Band, led by legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath (Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis), comes in with a program titled "Harlem Resonance" on Friday, April 19(8 pm),bringing Basie, Ellington and Foster to the bandstand with a multi-generational ensemble that includes noted jazz artists, next generation players, and rising stars of today.
Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra take the stage in an intriguing program on Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4 (both at 8 pm). The program highlights brass band traditions in the new world, including the Banda music of Mexico, Columbia, Peru, and other Latin American countries. A new work by Papo Vazquez, co-commissioned in partnership with Symphony Space, focuses on the Latino contribution to the Harlem Renaissance. Pre-performance discussion at 7PM (Friday only).
Turning to smaller ensembles in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia, "...Take the Harlem Night" is the title of the Harlem Quartet's program on Thursday, April 11 (7:30 pm). This dynamic young multi-ethnic string quartet presents a program of works by Billy Strayhorn (Take The A Train), Chick Corea (The Adventures of Hippocrates), and Wynton Marsalis (String Quartet No. 1, At the Octoroon Balls) interspersed with readings of Harlem Renaissance poetry by actor Kaneza Schaal. A product of the Sphinx Organization, the Harlem Quartet has played at the White House for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and has performed with such renowned musicians as Itzhak Perlman, Chick Corea, Misha Dichter, Paquito d'Rivera, and Carter Brey. The Quartet was featured on Chick Corea's piece Mozart Goes Dancing that won the 2013 Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition.
On Friday, April 12 (7:30 pm), Habana/Harlem presents "Crossing Harlem," with an all-star group featuring multi-instrumentalist/composer Onel Mulet, and master percussionist Roman Diaz, joined by special guests: saxophonist/composer Antoine Roney, singer LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, and 8-year old jazz drumming prodigy Kojo Roney. This far-reaching evening takes a fresh look at the influence of Latin music in Harlem, and features new arrangements by Mulet of works from key 20th-century Harlem composers, including George Gershwin, William Grant Still, and Chano Pozo.
Ellington alumnus Joe Temperley, known for his work on baritone sax and bass clarinet, celebrates the Duke's birthday with a group of selected friends, Thursday, April 18 (8 pm).
FLOWERS ARE SLEEPING
A centerpiece of the festival is Flowers are Sleeping, Eisa Davis's music-theater work, presented Thursday through Saturday, April 25, 26, + 27 (all at 7:30 pm) in the Thalia. Davis, a protean playwright, singer, songwriter, and actor, is the current Symphony Space Artist-in-Residence. She is the winner of the 2012 Alpert Award in Theatre and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play Bulrusher. She wrote and starred in Angela's Mixtape, named a best of 2009 by The New Yorker. Flowers Are Sleeping was commissioned by Symphony Space.
Flowers Are Sleeping stems from Davis's lifelong interest in the figures of the Harlem Renaissance. "I've been fascinated with the way they think about blackness, the way they think about humanity," says Davis. "All the amazing writers and artists and musicians, they still have this beautiful resonance now." The show is set in New York's current-day visual art world; its central character is an artist inspired by Harlem Renaissance author and nurse Nella Larsen. Other characters are based on critic and writer Jessie Fauset, social theorist and writer W.E.B. DuBois, photographer Carl Van Vechten, and writers Alain Locke and Jean Toomer. Davis's original songs are fresh and eclectic, incorporating flavors of folk, soul, and R&B with a musical-theater slant.