Maybe Robinson has less to do with this season opener than meets the eye; perhaps the much-touted "world premiere" has more to do with the two tiny men pictured to the right of Robinson's enormous visage: Symphony music director emeritus Christopher Wilkins and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain. In a program that includes works by Mozart, Britten, Thompson, and Copland, the Symphony features the premiere of Roumain's Human Songs and Stories for Orchestra, Narrator, and the People (if you don't count the performance on September 12 at St. Philip's College, with $100-200 price tags attached to benefit the Carver Academy, founded by the sports star himself). Indeed, Robinson plays a supporting — however pivotal — role in narrating Roumain's new 15-minute composition.
Commissioned by Texas Public Radio, Roumain created Human Stories in celebration of the 20th anniversary of classical radio station KPAC 88.3. "I knew immediately that this composition had to unite and provide, inform and infuse, delight and demand in the same way that quality radio programming does," explains Roumain. The resulting work is a signature score of the composer's urban-infused classical music — Roumain's self-described "new classical soul" — interspersed with spoken word and interactive dialogue, featuring members of the community: philanthropist Edith McAllister, activist Elvira Cisneros, author Naomi Shihab Nye, Reverend Claude Black, jazz pianist Olivia Revueltas, and students from Roumain's creative composition workshops, offered to local school students last June.
The Harlem-based composer/performer has been developing a relationship with the SA community (the "People" component of his composition) since the spring through KPAC's Education Project workshops, as well as video conferencing from his classes at the Harlem School of the Arts, where he is Chair of the Music Composition and Theory Department and composer-in-residence. He has also made occasional appearances — including two live performances to a packed house last week at Sam's Burger Joint — promoting his recent hip-hop/classical release, I, Composer, which featured guest collaborations with local artists such as Cecil Carter of the Regency Jazz Band, the Anike African Dance Troupe of the Carver, Middle Eastern dancer S.T. Shimi, and spoken wordsmith dragonfly.
The Symphony, which historically operates on corporate donations, as well as generous gifts from individuals, ended its 2001-02 season in the red, subsequently failing to meet the Kronkosky Foundation's requirement that the institution balance its budget in order to receive $1 million annually. Although the Symphony has recently negotiated a 15.4 percent salary cut with its musicians to open its season as scheduled, there is a resounding note of hope in the gifts of Roumain. However tentative the future, this season, at least, is off to a solid start.
Human Songs and Stories
7:30pm, Thursday, September 12
$100-200 (proceeds benefit the Carver Academy)
Watson Fine Arts Center
St. Philip's College, 1801 Martin Luther
8pm, Friday, September 13 & Saturday, September 14, $15-52
Majestic Theater, 224 East Houston