Newswise — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A work of new music written by internationally renowned composer Yotam Haber especially for and about Birmingham’s Civil Rights struggle, will be the first world premiere presented by UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center (ASC).
The piece, “A More Convenient Season,” will be performed one night only at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in the Jemison Concert Hall at the ASC, 1200 10th Ave. South. Tickets are $62.50, $51.50 and $39.50; visit the ASC online at www.alysstephens.org or call 205-975-2787.
Haber, a Guggenheim fellow, was commissioned by philanthropist Tom Blount and the ASC to memorialize the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four young girls — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair — an event that became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. The work will feature a short film and archival audio recordings, with music performed by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Morgan and electronic compositions by Philip White. In preparation, Haber studied oral histories from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) and interviewed Civil Rights foot soldiers and Movement historians, as well as canvassed the files and artifacts in the Birmingham Public Library Archives.
For the performance, brothers David Harris of New York City and Quint Harris of Birmingham are preparing four of Birmingham’s most talented youth soloists and a female chorus, with accompaniment by Karen Krekelberg. The soloists are Margaret Marie Brewer of the University of Montevallo, Lillian Davis of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Eliza Warden of Samford University and Racquel Williams of Homewood High School. The chorus will include members of approximately 40 choirs from the Birmingham area and beyond, including singers from historical Tuskegee University, UAB and various church choirs and choral groups. The chorus will sing text that inspired Haber’s work.
“Every word spoken or sung will be words from the movement,” Haber said. “Words from the BCRI’s Oral Histories, words from FBI files and police records, words of the time.
“I’m not coming here to tell Birmingham and Alabama their own story,” he said. “They know it far better than I do. I’m creating a work of art through the filter of my own experiences of growing up in Europe and Israel and immigrating to America from Africa. I’m listening and learning, not to be a historian but an artist.”
The name of the work is taken from the text of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “… who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
In early 2014, the ASC will premiere this work on the West Coast in a performance featuring the CalArts Orchestra at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre) near Los Angeles.
“I was privileged to have Yotam play for me excerpts from all three movements of his masterful composition, ‘A More Convenient Season,’” said Theresa Harper Bruno, chair of the ASC Corporate Board. “It was incredibly uplifting and profoundly moving — like hearing a Beethoven symphony for the first time. It is music for the 21st century unlike anything I have ever heard before. I truly believe ‘A More Convenient Season’ will be a springboard for Yotam Haber to be one of the great composers of our time.”
A short, high-definition film will be projected during the performance. Directed and produced by Academy Award-nominated director David Petersen, the video footage was culled from archival and historical sources, including the BCRI, The Library of Congress, The National Archives and other archival sources in the public domain, with contemporary production footage depicting moments that could not otherwise be represented from archival sources. Some archival sources include intimate home movies and materials that depict the daily life of citizens and children in Birmingham during the early 1960s, with special emphasis on those directly affected by the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Petersen’s films are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His prize-winning documentary “Let the Church Say Amen” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was short-listed for an Academy Award as “one of the best documentaries of 2004” by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
ArtPlay, the ASC’s home for education and outreach, will present a composition master class with Haber and young composers at 4 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 16, in the ASC’s Jemison Concert Hall. Those interested in observing the class should call 205-975-4769 for more information.
Throughout September, the ASC and the City of Birmingham will present special events commemorating seminal moments of Civil Rights Movement. On Sunday, Sept. 15 – the actual 50th anniversary of the church bombing – the ASC and ArtPlay will present a staged reading of Christina M. Ham’s “FOUR LITTLE GIRLS: Birmingham 1963,” part of Project1Voice’s nationwide, simultaneous event of staged readings. Directed by ArtPlay Teaching Artist Alicia Johnson-Williams, and featuring ArtPlay students, members of ArtPlay’s teen Make It Happen Ensemble and community actors, the staged reading is set for 3 p.m. in the ASC’s Sirote Theatre. Tickets are $15; visit the ASC online at www.alysstephens.org or call 205-975-2787.
Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame member Eric Essix will debut his landmark 20th album, “Evolution,” on Thursday, Sept. 19, with 5 Men on a Stool and vocalist Tracy Hamlin. It musically charts the growth and healing of his hometown Birmingham after the events that energized the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. Featured are six new, original compositions by Essix, plus hand-picked covers by popular artists. Tickets are $38.50; visit the ASC online at www.alysstephens.org or call 205-975-2787. ArtPlay will present a Meet the Artist School Show with Essix and hundreds of area schoolchildren at 10 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 20, in the ASC’s Jemison Concert Hall. For more information, call 205-975-4769.