Alexa Still's new recording released this month on Oberlin Conservatory's house label, titled Wish, includes seven works for flute written by Valerie Coleman.
Increasingly known for her work as a composer, Coleman is a Grammy-nominated flutist, entrepreneur, educator, and a founder of the award-winning Imani Winds.
Still, Oberlin's flute professor since 2011, has 28 recordings to her credit and is known internationally for her many releases on the Koch International Classics label. Wish is her fifth Oberlin Music recording.
The album, recorded between July 2020 and April 2022 in the Conservatory's Clonick Recording Studio and Warner Concert Hall, features the recording premieres of five pieces.
Pianist Evan Hines '16 was Still's primary collaborator on the project; six of the works on the album are for flute with piano. Hines, previously a member of the collaborative piano staff at Oberlin, is a founder of A Seat at the Piano. This resource and database for pianists and teachers is dedicated to promoting inclusion in piano repertoire. Hines has presented on the topic at several regional and national conferences. He is currently completing a doctorate of musical arts at the University of Texas in Austin.
A compelling element of the album is the spoken word contribution of Oberlin College's 15th president, Carmen Twillie Ambar. Poetry by Maya Angelou and Fred D'Aguiar figured prominently in Coleman's creation of three works on the album. Ambar's readings of Angelou's "Human Family" and "Elegy" and D'Aguiar's "Wish" connect listeners directly to the narratives illustrated musically by Coleman.
The album opens with a reading of "Human Family" and is followed by Coleman's Fanmi Imèn, which is the Haitian Creole translation of the title of Angelou's poem.
Wish is a 12-minute virtuosic dramatic tone poem that depicts the historical journey called Middle Passage, in which Africans were trafficked across the Atlantic by tall ships to be sold into slavery.
The recording premieres on the album are a collection of compositions written between 2015-2020—Requiem Milonga, Danza de la Mariposa, and Amazonia, as well as the two pieces with poetic roots in Angelou's works—Fanmi Imèn ("Human Family") and Elegy.
Still also includes the four character pieces of Legends, geared to intermediate players, but also suitable for recitals and accessible for family concerts.
On the album's closing work, Elegy, an eight-member flute ensemble joined Still. Elegy was written for Still and Uptown Flutes, a professional flute octet in New York, for a premiere performance at the 2015 National Flute Association Convention. The ensemble on this recording is conducted by Timothy Weiss and features students from Still's Oberlin studio performing on piccolo, flute, alto flute, and bass flute.
In much of Coleman's artistic output, she uses her medium to share stories of her ancestors as a way to transform listeners. And people are listening. Along with creating a wealth of repertoire that has become a cornerstone within American chamber music, Coleman has earned accolades that include The Washington Post’s 2020 Top 35 Women Composers and Performance Today’s 2020 Classical Woman of the Year. She is also the first African-American woman to be commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. In an interview for New Music USA, she said, "it's my job to create music that allows that transformative power to happen."
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