Just in time for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday are two fine orchestral works celebrating his words. They are paired on a strong and emotionally convincing new recording by James DePreist and the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, "New Morning for the World" (Koch International Classics). Featured are Joseph Schwantner's "New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom" and Nicolas Flagello's cantata, "The Passion of Dr. Martin Luther King," both in excellent performances with strong soloists. Each work features the words of King, and each is composed in styles that are distinctively modern, but tonal and accessible.
It's the Schwantner work that may make you think of Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," with its spoken declamatory passages (read movingly by narrator Raymond Bazemore) and its broad and lyrical scoring that sounds unmistakably American. The colorful writing underscores the words, with percussion marking passages that tell of the violent past, and soaring strings emphasizing the hopefulness of King's "promise of democracy," concluding with the famous "I have a dream."
Flagello's cantata, composed in 1968 in response to King's assassination, recalls Bach's Passions (narratives retelling the sufferings and death of Christ) in some aspects of form; Bazemore as bass singer is the storyteller here, with chorus (the fine Portland Symphonic Choir) providing commentary via Latin liturgical texts. King's prophetic words, in Bazemore's resonant voice, are deeply affecting: "It may get me crucified. I may die. But I want it said, even if I die in the struggle, that `He died to make me free!' "
DePreist, a distinguished American maestro who also is the nephew of the late contralto Marian Anderson, conducts with an obvious passion for the music, drawing remarkably detailed and virtuosic performances from his orchestra.
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The King Holiday Jazz, Art and Comedy Celebration will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, 17th Avenue and Yesler Way. Featured will be jazz guitarist Michael Powers, comedian Isiah Anderson, rapper Second Nature and artist Lee White.
Tickets ($10) are available at TicketMaster outlets (628-0888).
Additional King holiday events will be listed in the Local section of the Seattle Times tomorrow, and in the Weekend section on Saturday.
And in Sunday's Scene section, Seattle Times' columnist Jerry Large wonders about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and what lessons we've learned - or whether we've learned anything at all.
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To hear a sample from "The Passion of Dr. Martin Luther King," call the Seattle Times InfoLine at 464-2000 from any touch-tone phone and enter category KING (5464).