Singular Beauty

Sandwiched between mother and daughter ceramicists, I’ve been thrilled that a master of that under-appreciated medium has achieved Simone Leigh’s place of recognition in the art world. The 21st Century Consort salutes the U.S. representative at the 2022 Venice Biennale and subject of a current solo exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum, Leigh “has embraced a polyphonic artistic vocabulary that elaborates on Black feminist thought, an intellectual tradition which values and centers the experiences of Black women…. Leigh’s monumental bronze, ‘Satellite’ (2022) which stood sentry outside the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, has been installed at the entrance to the Hirshhorn on the southern plaza to signal the exhibition’s arrival.” Inside the Venice Pavilion, visitors were greeted with a film about Leigh entitled “Conspiracy,” after the 1975 recording of that name by the jazz singer and composer Jeanne Lee; we have centered the second half of our program around Lee’s remarkable and intimate recording of “Angel Chile,” with Lucy Shelton’s improvised response.

As the Hirshhorn’s exhibition materials observe, “Simone Leigh grew up in Chicago, daughter of middle-class Jamaican immigrants. She was used to toggling daily between worlds — West Indian, African American, white.” Our program endeavors to mirror this aspect of Leigh’s cultural experience in a veritable pepperpot of music. “During visits to Jamaica she grasped how colonialism and resistance, rather than contradictory, produced complex, continually renewing, social values and aesthetics. ‘I think like someone from the Caribbean,’ she said. ‘I like how complicated it is, seeing beauty in something that was horrifying at the same time.’”

Along with composers familiar to Consort audiences, we’re very happy to introduce new voices, including Jamaican-American composer/pianist Mikhail Johnson. We’ll hear three of his wonderful works on the program, one performed by the composer himself. These are works that mine the cultural DNA of Simone Leigh’s Caribbean ancestry, in some cases encoded in the works’ elements like Jeanne Lee’s daughter’s name in her improvisation, Shawn Okpebholo’s family in the rhythms and pitches of “CryptOlohiE,” and Tania Leon’s tribute to composer Joan Tower in the title of her work. Jon Deak’s “The Jury” is his inimitable setting of a timely text by Jamaican-American poet Rhina Espaillat, taking up the eco-theme of the composer’s “Ingmar and the Bear, a Tale for Our Time,” premiered by the Consort in December. All told, we hope you enjoy this tribute to an extraordinary visual artist, and the musical artists whose works resonate kaleidoscopically with hers.

Saturday, January 20, 2023 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill
4:00pm | Pre-concert discussion
5:00pm | Performance

Tania Leon: Parajota Delate
Hannah Kendall: Glances / I Don’t Belong Here
Eleanor Alberga: Jamaican Medley
Rhina Espaillat: recorded reading of her poem “The Jury”
Jon Deak: The Jury
Jeanne Lee: Angel Chile
Mikhail Johnson: Pasa Pasa
Jesse Montgomery: Voodoo Dolls
Shawn Okpebholo: Cryptologie