Ithaca College to Premiere Work by African-American Composer

By Dave Maley, March 18, 2022

Collaboration will bring recently discovered piece by Florence Price to the concert stage.

A collaboration between the Ithaca College School of Music, Cornell University, and Ithaca High School will bring Florence Price’s “Song of Hope” to the concert stage for the first time in its intended format. Free and open to the public, the concert will be held at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 26, in Ford Hall in IC’s James J. Whalen Center for Music.

A preconcert talk by Michael Cooper, professor of music at Southwestern University, will take place at 7:15 p.m. in the Iger Lecture Hall. Cooper is a leading researcher on the life and music of Florence Price.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and educated at the New England Conservatory of Music, Price (1887-1953) was a classical composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher. She is noted as the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra when her Symphony No. 1 in E minor was performed in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 2009, a substantial collection of her works and papers was found in her abandoned summer home.

According to graduate student conductor Michael Stern, B.M. ’18, Price wrote “Song of Hope” in 1930 for orchestra, large choir, and multiple vocal soloists, but it was never performed.

“The piece was lost to time until G. Schirmer bought the rights to her music in 2018,” said Stern. “A friend of mine found her original manuscript in the Library of Congress and passed it along to me. It was published professionally less than a year ago, and by all accounts, we will be premiering a 92-year-old piece.”

Stern says the concert project has been an amazing examination of community allyship, elevating the voice of a historically and systemically excluded composer and giving a new light to her music.

“Programming a piece for which no recordings exist and the composer isn't alive to make corrections or give advice is unfathomable, and incredibly uncommon,” said Stern. “It's my hope that the resources that we have here at Ithaca College will serve as a springboard to bring this piece into the canon of classical music.”

Performing “Song of Hope” will be a choir being comprised of the Ithaca High School Chorale, Cornell University Chamber Singers, and Ithaca College Madrigal Singers alongside the Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra. The two soloists are current School of Music senior Naya Griles and former student Holden Turner.

“None of this would be possible without the generous support of ONEcomposer—an organization that seeks to promote the works of composers whose compositions have been historically erased,” said Stern, noting that its board of directors includes School of Music faculty members Tamara Acosta, Steven Banks, and Baruch Whitehead.

The concert will also feature performances by the Symphony Orchestra of Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture” and Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

For more information on Ithaca College concerts visit www.ithaca.edu/concerts.