New Classical Tracks®

Cleveland Orchestra performs the music of George Walker

Eliesha Nelson joined the viola section of The Cleveland Orchestra at the beginning of the 2000-2001 season.The Cleveland Orchestra

New Classical Tracks (Extended)- Eliesha Nelson - Walker


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February 01, 2023

Cleveland Orchestra — Walker: Antifonys, Lilacs, Sinfonias Nos. 4 & 5 (Cleveland Orchestra) Jump to giveaway form

New Classical Tracks - Eliesha Nelson - Walker

“Of course, it was important and meaningful for me to play a Black American composer,” said Eliesha Nelson who has been a violist with the Cleveland Orchestra for more than 20 years.

She talked about the orchestra’s release, Walker: Antifonys, Lilacs, Sinfonias Nos. 4 & 5, which is also the first time they have recorded the music of George Walker. 

“They're not that many Black violists in a major orchestra, and to have an African American tell their story through their words and pen is so meaningful to be a part of, “ she said. Nelson had the pleasure of meeting George Walker a few times after he asked her to play his viola sonata with him. That experience reinforced her enthusiasm for him and his music.

“He's one of my musical icons. I so respect him in so many ways. He's just brilliant. He started college when he was 14 — got into Curtis after he graduated from Oberlin. His music is thorny, but there's a lot of beauty in it as well,” Nelson said about Walker.

“He was very serious, and he wasn't one to joke around and try to make people feel good or pacify them. He just said things as he saw them and his music reflects that. He won a Pulitzer Prize for the piece Lilacs, which appears on this recording. That was in 1996. And even then, it was still difficult for him to get any traction with getting commissions or getting his music performed. That seems so heartbreaking to me,” she said about his career after winning the Pulitzer Prize. He wrote about how winning that prize didn't do anything for him. No major orchestra in this country offered to play that piece or any piece he wrote. Basically, it was youth orchestras and smaller community orchestras that played his music.”

Nelson said she hopes the Cleveland Orchestra’s album brings to light how wonderful a composer Walker is.

“And hopefully, more people will start playing his music so it will become part of the canon.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

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The Cleveland Orchestra — Walker: Antifonys, Lilacs, Sinfonias Nos. 4 & 5 (The Cleveland Orchestra store)

The Cleveland Orchestra — Walker: Antifonys, Lilacs, Sinfonias Nos. 4 & 5 (Amazon)

The Cleveland Orchestra (official site)