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Guest Blog: Celebrating Florence Price!

Guest Blog By: Dr. Linda Holzer, Pianist and Professor of Music, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
July 4, 2021

Florence Price, composer

For the 2021-22 concert season, the ASO is honoring the musical artistry of Little Rock native, pioneering African American composer Florence Price.  Join us in celebrating Arkansas’ cultural heritage!

Arkansas concert premieres:

Celebrating Florence Price - at 7:00pm on Tuesday, October 12th at the Clinton Presidential Library will include Price’s magnificent Piano Quintet in A minor, featuring Linda Holzer, piano; Sandra McDonald, violin; Leanne Day-Simpson, violin; Katherine Reynolds, viola; Rafael León, cello. ArkansasSymphony.org/news-events/celebrating-florence-price

On November 13, Florence Price will be honored at the ASO’s gala, Opus Ball at the Capitol Hotel.  ArkansasSymphony.org/opus-ball

Gil Shaham Plays Barber's Violin Concerto - February 26-27 at 3 pm & 7:30 pm at Robinson Center will include Price’s poignant Ethiopia’s Shadow in America under the baton of Geoffrey Robson. ArkansasSymphony.org/news-events/gil-shaham-barber

Florence Price was born in Little Rock on April 9, 1887.  The African American community in what is now the historic Dunbar neighborhood, and the congregation at Allison Presbyterian Church, nurtured her.  She was a child prodigy, and mastered piano, organ, and composition.  She could also play and teach violin.  By 1906, she had distinguished herself as a top student at the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston.  After working as a music teacher in Arkansas for 4 years, she was hired in 1910 to become Music Dept chairperson at Atlanta’s Clark University, a historically black university.  Returning to Little Rock in 1912 to marry and raise a family, she contributed to the cultural life of the city in myriad ways, active as a teacher, an organist,  a composer, and founding the Little Rock Club of Musicians.   

She made history in 1933 when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the world premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, making her the first African American woman composer to have her music performed by a major orchestra.[1]  For the rest of her career, she was based in Chicago.  At the time of her death in 1953, she had composed more than 300 works.  Her art songs were performed by Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, and others, and eventually Price was commissioned by the British conductor Sir John Barbirolli, who premiered her Suite for Strings in Manchester, UK.  A tireless achiever, Price composed a wealth of beautiful solo piano music, chamber music, symphonic works, and splendid art songs.

Arkansas is a small state geographically, but large in stature, having contributed two gifted, groundbreaking composers to American music history.  It’s a tribute to the enduring creative vision of Mrs. Price that so many years after her death, there is now an international festival devoted to her accomplishments:  PriceFest https://www.pricefest.org  Concert stages around the world are featuring her music.  And it all began right here, in Little Rock, Arkansas. [2]

 

[1] Her Little Rock neighbor from childhood, William Grant Still, had earned the distinction, two years previously, of becoming the first African American composer to have a piece performed by an American orchestra when the Rochester Philharmonic gave the world premiere of his Afro-American Symphony in 1931.

[2] To learn more, read Dr. Rae Linda Brown’s biography of Florence Price:  The Heart of a Woman:  the Life and Music of Florence B. Price.   University of Illinois Press, 2020.

 

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