At Carnegie Hall in New York City on today’s date in 1990, a new work by the American composer and jazz trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe had its premiere performance by the American Composers Orchestra. November 11th also happens to be the birthday of its composer, who was born Marvin Peterson, in Smithville, Texas, in 1948, but now goes by the name Hannibal.
The new work was an oratorio titled “African Portraits,” which traces the story of slavery in America and black culture's contributions to American music. It’s scored for orchestra, jazz quartet, blues guitar, chorus, gospel singer, plus African storyteller and African instruments. In composing this work, which in Biblical terms he calls his personal “burning bush,” Hannibal drew inspiration from a variety of sources, ranging from the spirituals he listened to while working in the cotton fields of Texas to the drums of the Masai people in Africa, with whom he lived for a time.
A critic for the Washington Post described the work as follows:
“The dramatic power conveyed by "Portraits" is cumulative. It's derived from the drums and the chants, the procession of blues, jazz and gospel refrains, the symphonic sweep and narrative form, the great compression of time, anguish and triumph. It's a listening experience you'll not soon forget.”
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