Honoring MLK Through Music

The Santa Monica Symphony is putting on an admission-free MLK concert on January 19. Photo: D’Lynn Waldron.

The Santa Monica Symphony’s upcoming concert to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Tabitha Hogue

“Music can change the world because it can change people,” Bono once famously said. So it seems appropriate that the Santa Monica Symphony (SMS) will celebrate with music the legacy of a man who changed the lives of so many. This admission-free SMS concert, part of a weekend of MLK-related events, will take place on Saturday, January 19 at 2 p.m. in SGI Auditorium on Wilshire Boulevard.

The concert will open with the Courage Overture by Adrienne Albert, a contemporary Los Angeles based composer. SMS Conductor and Music Director Guido Lamell knows Ms. Albert personally and said he thought this piece would be the perfect way to open the MLK weekend concert.

“I felt that any piece with the title ‘Courage’ might be appropriate for a concert celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, whom I consider one of the most courageous leaders in all of our history,” Lamell said. “And I was delighted then to check out the music and discover that it had a wonderful, heroic character. It’s a short work, but it sets a celebratory tone for this program and highlights the bravura of the orchestra.”

The orchestra will also be performing Lyric for Strings by the famous African American composer, teacher, and pianist George Walker. According to Lamell, Walker, who passed away last August, was one of the first black students to attend the highly regarded Curtis Conservatory of Music, and was a prolific and celebrated composer whose music should be heard more often.

About the piece, Lamell commented, “It’s a beautiful, beautiful work that’s written for strings alone. It was written after the death of his grandmother and demonstrates his very sophisticated composition talents. It’s a profoundly moving and evocative work. Truly, George Walker ranks among the highest ranks of American composers!”

An arrangement of Wilhelm Steffe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and one of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” also feature on the program. The latter is often referred to as the “Black National Anthem,” as it voices the suffering but also the hope, courage, and strength of the African American community in their struggle for freedom and equality. African American baritone Mark Edward Smith, a member of the LA Master Chorale, will perform the solo for this piece.

Having been invited by Lamell to choose one of his favorite arias to sing for the program, Smith will close the first half of the concert with Mozart’s Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen from The Magic Flute. This is one of the most familiar favorites from one of the most popular and enchanting operas of them all.

The MLK Weekend Concert will close with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 in D Major/D Minor, known as the “Reformation Symphony.” Lamell noted that he selected this symphony chiefly because of the last movement, which is based on the Bach cantata and famous Lutheran hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” In Lamell’s words, “What could possibly be more appropriate for a Martin Luther King program than a symphony based on a Hymn composed by the first Martin Luther almost 500 years ago around the year 1528? It’s a magnificent orchestration and a grand placing of that simple and beautiful hymn.”

For more information about this free and ticketless concert, visit www.smSymphony.org or text or call (310)395-6330.