The genesis of this recording was an invitation to perform for the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, an event which inspired me to meditate on the complex history of my birthplace, Mississippi.
A storied, culturally-rich state, it has produced some of our country’s most important artists – including William Faulkner, B.B. King, Leontyne Price, and Eudora Welty – but is also a place that has witnessed notably difficult struggles with race, poverty, and equality. The scars are painful and deep. Here, among our colleges, churches, cotton fields and battlefields, contradictions abound. These disparate, but related, elements have long absorbed and confounded artists born in this mystical place.
In recent years, I have come to see that my beloved state only reveals more intensely what exists in other places in our world: the struggle for people to come to terms with one another’s histories and differences.
In this time of turmoil between peoples and nations, focused on issues of citizenship and patriotism, we continue this struggle. I chose to name this album “Citizen,” not only because it contains works that reflect upon actual citizenship and human rights, but also to highlight that we are all citizens of one earth, and in order to survive, we must find ways to respect one another’s differences, and strongly uphold each other’s right to exist with dignity and freedom.
On this recording, I have gathered together works by composers who have contemplated these issues deeply. The voices of these artists plead for civility, humanity, and love, and each brings a sense of immediacy to the cause – offering not a clenched fist, but an open hand that reaches out with a welcoming embrace.
— BRUCE LEVINGSTON
Total time: 01:11:25
Merging Technologies Horus (recording), Hapi (mastering)
Legacy Audio Loudspeakers
|Original Recording Format|
Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)
Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia, May 14-16, 201
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||January 25, 2019|
All About The Arts
Citizen is an intriguing album of piano works featuring world premiere recordings of music by American composers Nolan Gasser, David T. Little, Augusta Gross, C. Price Walden, and William Grant Still.
The mix of compositions both contemporary and Romantic, American, and European, old, and new featured in this recording is brilliantly played, amply justified, and insightfully annotated in straightforward prose by the ever-questing Bruce Levingston, the artist/curator in this recording, whose idiomatically perfect reading of three Chopin mazurkas is given the same care by him as the lovely playing of William Grant Still’s elegantly bucolic Summerland.
Nolan Gasser’s American Citizen opens the album. It is a substantially developed piano composition, sui generis in structure, tonal in its melodies, and subtly evocative of things American in its fleetingly adopted snippets of blues and folk gestures. Inspired by a painting by Marie Atkinson Hull of sharecropper John Wesley Washington, an American born into slavery, American Citizen is a work both emotionally compelling in its recalling of tragedies and celebratory in its commemoration of libertarian victories.
Minimalist in its restraint and economy of means, David T. Little’s Accumulation of Purpose, is a remarkable six-part work with each of its movements assigned a subsidiary title. The six miniatures bring to mind the piano works of Anton Webern, not through their freely atonal ambience but through their hauntingly beautiful use of compositional devices like a left hand perpetuum mobile figuration in counterpoint with an ostinato sounding of a single note in the highest reaches of the keyboard in the concluding Nocturne.
Augusta Gross contributes Locations In Time, a three-part cycle of pieces titled Other, Elegy, and Toward Night. Her composition inhabits a world of vague tonal centers, emotionally charged changes of dynamics, blurred contours, and seeming stasis with a strong undercurrent flowing through. Gross’ quietly powerful music is achingly resigned in its sadness but questioning thereof.
C. Price Walden’s Sacred Spaces occupies two of the last three tracks of Citizen, both its Prelude and Chaconne (track 15) and its Hymn (The world is my home) on track 16, providing moments both climactic and sobering in their traditionally tonal and anthem-like music of celebration and joy.
This album’s gathering of voices that celebrate the civility and brotherly love quintessential to what is American. More simply put, what it means to be a member of the human race, is a noble undertaking underpinned by the artistic excellence and commitment of its curator and pianist, Bruce Levingston, a notable artist who brings the album to an end with a profoundly touching Amazing Grace.
Dan Merceiuo and Daniel Shores lend world class engineering to this well-packaged album.
National Sawdust Log
It feels significant that pianist Bruce Levingston titled his latest album Citizen in the singular, and not the plural. The recording was born out of a concert Levingston was invited to perform at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and it includes the work of four living U.S. composers, an evocative ballade by William Grant Still, and three mazurkas by Frederic Chopin. While all of the works grapple to some degree with issues of citizenship, most feel more concerned with individual, personal stories of belonging than with the large-scale distribution of civic privileges and responsibilities.
C. Price Walden’s Sacred Spaces is a beatific paean to the powerful affirmation that a sense of belonging can bring. Walden writes eloquently in his liner notes about finding safe haven in churches as a gay Christian living and working in Mississippi, and his music is shot through with a potent, fragile relief. A crystalline edifice etched in painful light, Walden’s work is easily the brightest on the album—which is not to say it’s free of strife. The intensity of its devotion is heightened by its unspoken awareness that islands of safety are the exception, not the rule, and that we pray for peace because we spend so much of our lives at war.
Walden’s work feels like a delicate, luminous echo of Nolan Gasser’s American Citizen, which opens the album. American Citizen is a musical evocation of Marie Atkinson Hull’s 1936 oil portrait of John Wesley Washington, a Mississippi man born into slavery in 1847.
Levingston’s playing is lithe and full-voiced throughout. He has an admirable ability to preserve the clarity of each strand in a densely woven contrapuntal texture, crafting a compelling whole without obscuring its parts. His phrasing is subtle, nuanced shadings of tone playing against each other to illuminate the underlying musical structure.
There are relatively few rhythmically propulsive passages on this album, and the general atmosphere of weighty contemplation grows a little stale when you listen through without pause, but Levingston’s expert control keeps the experience from getting too bogged down. Citizen adds to a much-needed conversation, but much more work remains to be done.
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