MSO’s ‘Vibrant Echoes’ resonates at Tougaloo

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MSO’s ‘Vibrant Echoes’ resonates at Tougaloo
Heritage of Black music is foundation of Woodworth Chapel concert

Jackson, Mississippi — Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s “Vibrant Echoes” presents a concert ode to the legacy and enduring spirit of African American music, in an acoustically rich, historical setting where it feels right at home – Tougaloo College’s Woodworth Chapel, 7:30 p.m., April 27.

The concert opens with contemporary American composer and flutist Valerie Coleman’s stirring signature work Umoja, an anthem of unity and an apt introduction for the evening’s lineup. The title is the Swahili word for unity and the first principle of the Kwanzaa holiday.

“I’m very proud of this program, because it is all tied together,” MSO Maestro Crafton Beck said. An additional Coleman work, Red Clay and Mississippi Delta, also features the Mississippi Symphony Woodwind Quintet. The playful piece references her family’s Mississippi experiences, from juke joints to casino boats on the river, with instruments’ voices engaged in lively and virtuosic storytelling.

Following are two works by early 20th century, Mississippi-born composer William Grant Still – Blues from Lenox Avenue and Animato from his Symphony No. 1 (known as “The Afro-American Symphony”). Piano soloist Stephen Sachs, Belhaven University professor emeritus and Covenant Presbyterian Director of Music Ministries, wraps the evening’s first half with James P. Johnson’s rollicking Yamekraw, a Negro Rhapsody, an answer to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue from Harlem’s epicenter of jazz piano.

The Mississippi Symphony String Quartet holds the spotlight in the concert’s second half with Antonin Dvořák’s late 19th century String Quartet No. 12, nicknamed “The American Quartet” – one of the most popular pieces in the chamber music repertoire.

“It’s full of themes that he got from Harry Burleigh, the young African American student that he taught at the American Conservatory. It was through Burleigh that Dvořák learned of this wonderful tradition of spirituals in America,” Beck said. “All of that fed into ‘The American Quartet.’ And Valerie Coleman came back to it with modern ears…. These, along with key works from the 1920s and ‘30s, make this a really a beautiful program.”

“The final concert in MSO’s 2023-24 Chamber Series caps a season devoted to the music and sounds important to Mississippi, focusing on the state’s widespread musical influences and featuring Mississippi musicians at every turn,” noted MSO President and Executive Director Jenny Mann.

“We’re actually closing the season with one more fell swoop of featuring our own,” Beck said.

General admission tickets to the April 27 “Vibrant Echoes” concert, are $25 for adults and $5 for students, kindergarten through college (with valid student ID). Visit for advance tickets and information. Tickets will be on sale at the door if capacity permits and seating is available.

The season is supported in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

What: Vibrant Echoes, MSO Chamber Series concert

Who: Mississippi Symphony Orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, 2024

Where: Woodworth Chapel at Tougaloo College, 6550 Tougaloo Blvd., Jackson, MS

Steven Sachs photo by Gary and Marion Silber. (c) 2023
Steven Sachs by Gary and Marion Silber Photography