Review: Cincinnati Symphony performance of Dawson’s infrequently performed “Negro Folk Symphony”

Posted on: January 11, 2022

“William Levi Dawson’s ‘Negro Folk Symphony’ is one of the most stunning American works you’ve never heard,” writes Janelle Gelfand in Sunday’s (1/9) Cincinnati Business Courier. “On Saturday, James Conlon and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra took a step to rectify that with a galvanizing performance…. The evening, which included two overtures Beethoven wrote for his opera, ‘Fidelio,’ and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story,’ riveted from beginning to end…. [Conlon’s] program … echoes one he designed for the May Festival exactly 20 years ago [when] his ‘Beethoven, Bernstein and Brotherhood’ program aimed to helped heal racial tension in Cincinnati following 2001 riots. That year, said Conlon, ‘was a year of recognition and moment of reflection. We are back in that moment.’ … When it was premiered in 1934 by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dawson’s symphony had glowing reviews, enthusiastic audiences and was broadcast nationwide on the radio. Then, it was forgotten…. ‘Negro Folk Symphony’ is a fusion of African American melodies and rhythms, cast in the European tradition…. The Music Hall audience applauded after the first movement, ‘The Bond of Africa.’ … The finale, ‘O Le’ Me Shine, Shine Like a Morning Star,’ was bursting with syncopations and jazzy tunes.”