By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic
The celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Six Degrees took place at the Grace Episcopal Church in the South Loop on MLK Day. The concert honored not only Dr. King, but also celebrated the life of Ann Ward, who had been a member of Six Degrees, a composer’s collective made up entirely of women. All of the music on the program emphasized memory and loss.
“Embracing the Spirit” was an interesting work written jointly by Regina Harris Baiocchi, Kyong Mee Choi, Janice Misurell-Mitchell, and Patricia Morehead. Each composer was given eight measures to write, and they then were assembled into a single work by stringing those four sections together. This approach has been tried many times with novels, usually to hilarious effect. There were some jarring differences in approach, but pianist Kuang-Hao Huang delivered the piece with flair and made it work.
The packed program had numerous points of interest. Baritone Brandon Brown conveyed optimism with Baiocchi’s setting of Psalm 23. John Corkill gave a stylish and sizzling performance of Misurell-Mitchell’s “Mamiwata” for marimba. Choi’s “Resilience” was ghostly and unwound slowly to good effect, using only two voices and harp.
Misurell-Mitchell performed her own “Una voce perduta: in memoriam, Ted Shen” on alto flute with vigor and aplomb. (You might be interested in her YouTube sensation, a performance art piece entitled “Scat/Rap Counterpoint,” available at youtube.com/watch?v=ZaGm0OvxTss. Then look up the “Saturday Night Live” satire of this piece; it features Lena Dunham.)
Cellist Victor Sotelo was an able soloist for Chen Yi’s “Memory,” written in honor of one of her teachers. He offered rich sound and made even the technically difficult sections appear easy. It was moving music.
Baiocchi’s “Sometimes I Hear Voices” was a fantastic small gospel set, sung with frisky enthusiasm by a quartet formed from the Keith Hampton Singers. I found myself swaying to the music, and I was still humming parts of it long after the concert had concluded.
The concert ended with an audience sing-along of the African-American national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” led with merry energy by Hampton.
The performance was followed by a wine and dessert reception where composers and performers and listeners gathered together to discuss the music and ponder the contributions of Dr. King as well as remember all those others we have lost.