Eastman School alumnus leads important choral album 

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There is something singularly uplifting about choral music. It has something to do with the power of voices coming together for a common purpose.

A new album of large-scale choral compositions by 20th-century Black composer Margaret Bonds achieves that inspiration alongside harrowing sorrow, all of which reflects the Black experience in America.

Released in February, “Margaret Bonds: Credo; Simon Bore the Cross” features the New York City-based Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra conducted by Music Director Malcolm J. Merriweather, an alumnus of the Eastman School of Music.

Some of Bonds’s original works had remained unpublished and obscure until recently.

One such composition, “Credo” — set to a poem written by W.E.B. Du Bois — is not liturgical, but it does speak to a personal set of beliefs clearly outlined in such individual movements as “Especially Do I Believe in the Negro Race,” “I Believe in the Devil,” and “I Believe in Liberty.”

As performed by Merriweather and company, this deeply spiritual work is defiant in its strength and hope, even as it acknowledges the evil of racism. Merriweather’s conducting is decisive and impassioned above all else. Contributions from soloists Janinah Burnett and Dashon Burton punctuate the poignant performances of the chorus.

The two soloists also lend their powerful vocal deliveries to “Simon Bore the Cross,” a kind of oratorio, with text by Bonds’s close friend and frequent collaborator Langston Hughes. Merriweather leads the choirs and orchestra with immediacy as they make the case for this little-known choral masterpiece.

Bonds may not yet be a household name among important American composers, but she should be. Hopefully, this album will be an epiphany for musicians, listeners, and classical music institutions alike to champion Bonds as an ever-relevant, brilliant compositional voice.

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].
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