Santa Monica Symphony’s Annual Martin Luther King Concert featuring Cedric Berry: Review

01/16/2018 10:23 am ET
All photos by Kevin Tu

Dovetailing with Oprah Winfey’s inspirational Golden Globe speech regarding a new day appearing on the horizon, this weekend the Santa Monica Symphony performed an exquisitely programmed concert celebrating freedom, justice, and equality. One of the Santa Monica’s oldest treasures and a city icon now in its 73rd season, the orchestra provides classical music concerts free to the public five times per year.

Sponsored in part by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Westside Coalition, the concert featured primarily American music. Aaron Copland’s familiar “Fanfare for the Common Man” opened the program, followed by an orchestration of Duke Ellington’s composition “Black, Brown, and Beige,” then “Te Deum” by Puccini and a stellar rendition of Joseph Schwantner’s stunning and captivating piece “New Morning for the World.” University of Southern California faculty member and highly accomplished bass-baritone, Cedric Berry, served as narrator for “New Morning for the World” commemorating Martin Luther King’s legacy with pivotal excerpts from King’s speeches set to dramatic flourishes.

The familiar opening tones of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” set the stage for an unparalleled program. Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige,” was an aptly chosen piece for Martin Luther King weekend because it recounts African American history and incorporates spirituals, the blues, and a section entitled “Emancipation Celebration.” The first half of the concert finished with the colossal power and lyricism of Cedric Berry’s voice as he grandly empowered Puccini’s “Te Deum” aria from “Tosca.”

With the introduction of Joseph Schwantner’s “New Morning for the World” in the second half, Mr. Berry’s deeply resonant and enthralling speaking voice brought Dr. King’s prophetic words starkly and vividly into the present: Now is the time to make justice a reality to all God’s children,” he thundered. “Listen – the battle is in our hands. I know some of you are asking, ‘How long will it take?’ I come to say to you, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to the earth, will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you will reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Listening to those words repeated with epic tonality, it was striking how timeless and relevant Dr. King’s sentiments continue to be. Dignity and a deeply rooted sense of justice continue to shine through his words.

When the history books are written, in future generations, the historians will have pause and say, ‘There lived a great people, a black people, who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.’ This is our challenge and our responsibility.

Maestro Guido Lamell said, “The fact that these MLK concerts have been so well attended here in Santa Monica tells me that we've struck a particularly meaningful chord with this community.” He added, “Dr. King's words such as ‘not judging a person by the color of their skin....’ are as relevant today as ever. Even though I feel we've made great progress in that direction as a country and as a community, there's no question we still have a ways to go to achieve those ideals.”

One of the greatest privileges of living in Santa Monica is communing with a diverse audience to share in the transcendent pleasure of wildly accessible and poignant classical music. Every city should support such magnificent music gatherings. This is what makes America great.

Just watch Cedric Perry speak one verse and I am sure you will agree:

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