UConn Symphony Premieres African-American Composer’s Work

Conductor Paul McShee recounts a history of Margaret Bonds, a composer and activist who wrote during the 1950s and ‘60s, and whose composition “Montgomery Variations” was debuted on Dec. 6. (Lucas Voghell ’20 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)
Conductor Paul McShee recounts a history of Margaret Bonds, a composer and activist who wrote during the 1950s and ‘60s, and whose composition “Montgomery Variations” was debuted on Dec. 6. (Lucas Voghell ’20 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

 

The UConn Symphony Orchestra premiered the performance of a previously unknown composition by the pioneering African-American composer Margaret Bonds as part of its 2018 Aria/Concerto Competition Winners program on Thursday, Dec. 6 at von der Mehden Recital Hall.

Bonds wrote “The Montgomery Variations” as a tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but never heard the work performed. The score was among Bonds’ estate items following her death and was discovered among materials in the Bonds archives at Georgetown University Library.

A musical prodigy, in 1933 Bonds became the first African American soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was 20 years old and later played a key role in the development of 20th-century classical and musical theater.

The program also featured the East Coast premiere of Scott Joplin’s “Overture to Treemonisha,” as well as the two winners of this year’s Concerto Competition.

Doctoral candidate Andy Peng played the first movement of the “Sibelius Violin Concerto,” and senior music major Teryn Kuzma sang “O wär ich schon” from Beethoven’s “Fidelio” and “Una donna a quindici anni” from Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte.”

This year’s Symphony Orchestra Aria/Concerto performance was part of UConn’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the African American Cultural Center.