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Musica Reginae evokes musical heritage in concert

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The program, entitled "Sedalia to Harlem," encompasses a variety of genres from ragtime to classical, and kicks off Musica Reginae's new Kaleidoscope Concert series.Looking around, David Close, Musica Reginae's founder, executive and artistic director, said he did not see many activities scheduled in Queens to honor Black History Month. He conceived "Sedalia to Harlem" to highlight music by and about African Americans, and to show off the wealth of talent and versatility in musical style encompassed by black performers and composers. The pianist and composer Scott Joplin lends the performance its name from his home in Sedalia, Mo., and his ragtime piano music will take center stage. His best-known works are the "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Entertainer." The program will also include pieces by James P. Johnson, who composed the "Charleston;" opera composer William Grant Still; and the masterful jazz pianist, Art Tatum. Music from George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" and Verdi's opera "Aida," about the passion of an Ethiopian woman, will also be performed. Close will co-host the concert with Gregory Hopkins, minister of music at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Manhattan and a former member of the New York City Opera. Hopkins, an acclaimed tenor who has performed around the nation and internationally, will accompany soprano Bridgett Hooks, tenor Robert Mack and baritone James Pierce on piano. George Francois will also play piano."We wanted to bring out a musical smorgasbord," explained Close, referring to the genesis of the Kaleidoscope concert series, "and to add other flavors to the musical menu" beyond the standard classical cannon. The idea behind the series is to reflect Queens' cultural diversity and to help build an audience for classical music. By analogy, he said, "50 years ago the best you could do is get a hamburger locally, now you can get sushi, Honduran food, Thai food, French food."Other Kaleidoscope series performances are still in the idea phase, and Close is considering a performance focused on Latin American composers. Musica Reginae also produces its "Accolade" series, which explores the classical music cannon, and its "Discovery" series, which highlights talented performers as young as 13, among other offerings.Musica Reginae takes its name, which means "music for queens" in Latin, seriously. The group aims to broaden the appeal and accessibility of classical music to Queens residents and to make the arts a part of everyday life. "Every time you want a concert you shouldn't have to get on a train and go to Manhattan," said Close, a lifelong Queens resident.With classical music losing the popularity contest to pop, rock, hip-hop and other genres Musica Reginae "wanted to make classical music more user-friendly, more approachable, to break down that stiff, formal barrier" that often prevents people from enjoying it, Close said. Performances are anything but stiff, he added, with informal introductions to the music and impromptu banter with the audience. The group performs in Flushing Town Hall, keeping the music close to home and among familiar surroundings. Hopkins echoed this sentiment. In his own experience, places of worship provide a comfortable place for people to experience and enjoy classical music. "The church is in the community, in people's back yards, so there's not the intimidation of location," as compared to attending a performance at Carnegie Hall, he said. Close grew up in Ridgewood and attended Queens College, where he trained as a keyboardist on the piano and organ. He went on to study conducting under Laszlo Halasz, the founding director of what is now the New York City Opera. He considers Halasz a primary mentor who influenced his commitment to making music accessible to the community.Musica Reginae's board president, Donald Smith, and Close founded Musica Reginae in 2000. Close's wife, LeeAnn, a trained violinist and guitarist, left a successful 20-year career on Wall Street to become the group's director of operations.Close also serves as artistic director and conductor of the Oratorio Society of Queens, a community chorus. Founded in 1927, he says it is the borough's oldest performing arts organization. He defines the diverse group of 80 to 100 vocalists with little formal musical training as "a chorus of the people, by the people, for the people." The Oratorio society is open to everyone, though they do have "listenings," low-key evaluations for people wishing to join. "If they can carry a tune and their voices are reasonable, they can sing with us. The emphasis is on community," said Close. "It's an activity a little like the bowling league," he adds, part entertainment, part community gathering, part barn-raising.Close also keeps busy as founder, artistic director and conductor of the Orchestral Arts Ensemble of Queens, music director of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Forest Hills and organist at Temple Emanu-El in Lynbrook, Long Island."Sedalia to Harlem" will be performed Sunday, Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. at Flushing Town Hall. Children age 12 and under accompanied by an adult are admitted free of charge. For further information contact Musica Reginae at 718-279-4842 or info@musicareginae.org.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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