The Cleveland Orchestra Releases Album of Compositions by George Walker ’41

The recording features Walker’s Lilacs for voice and orchestra, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, as well as Antifonys for string orchestra and Sinfonias No. 4 and No. 5.

November 3, 2022

Joshua Reinier

George Walker and the album cover
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Cleveland Orchestra and Frank Schramm

For the past 21 years, the Cleveland Orchestra’s music director, Franz Welser-Möst, has constantly pursued modern and contemporary works to perform—and in recent years, to record as well. “There’s so much to discover. There's so much great music which gets overlooked,” says Welser-Möst. “But we believe in this music and that’s why we are doing it.”

On November 4, the Cleveland Orchestra releases a new album dedicated to the music of George Walker, Oberlin Conservatory class of 1941, and a trailblazing composer. Recorded between October 2020 and March 2022, the album spans 50 years of the composer’s impressive career. Its release falls shortly after the 100th anniversary of his birth. 

Born in Washington, D.C., Walker attended Oberlin as a scholarship student and graduated with highest honors when he was merely 18. After graduating, he marked many firsts for Black musicians in the classical music world: He attended the Curtis Institute of Music and Eastman School of Music, becoming the first Black musician to receive master’s and doctoral degrees from the respective institutions. He received a Fulbright fellowship and a John Hay Whitney Fellowship in 1957, allowing him to spend two years in Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger (whose students also included the likes of Aaron Copeland, Elliott Carter, and Philip Glass). 

During his career as a concert pianist, he was the first Black instrumentalist to present a recital at Carnegie Hall and to perform as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And in 1996, at age 73, he was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Welser-Möst admires Walker’s music for its complexity and surprise. “You find he's quoting a gospel, in a well-trained, free-spirited way. There is an intensity and a real voice which I enjoy enormously.”

This recording features acclaimed soprano Latonia Moore in Lilacs, who has recently performed as Billie in Fire Shut Up In My Bones and as Serena in Porgy and Bess with the Metropolitan Opera. 

The Walker release will be available worldwide, via international retail outlets and the Cleveland Orchestra Store. It is also available on digital music services. Physical sets of Cleveland Orchestra audio recordings can be purchased through the Orchestra’s Store.

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