Pacific Symphony Celebrates Black History Month with the Langston Hughes Project
“…a raging, inspired revival that would make Langston Hughes proud… as relevant today as it was in 1960.” —The Guardian
Pacific Symphony will present and produce Ron McCurdy’s Langston Hughes Project at Irvine Barclay Theatre on Feb. 27. Carl St.Clair leads a multimedia concert performance of Hughes’ kaleidoscopic jazz poem suite titled, Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz. This is Hughes’ homage in verse and music to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s. It is a 12-part epic poem that Hughes scored with musical cues drawn from blues and Dixieland, gospel songs, boogie-woogie, bebop, progressive jazz, Latin “cha-cha,” Afro-Cuban mambo music, German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso and African drumming—a creative masterwork left unperformed at his death.
This fully orchestrated work is enhanced through engaging videography. The multimedia concert performance links the words and music of Hughes’ poetry to topical images of Ask Your Mama’s people, places, events and to the visual artists Langston Hughes admired and/or collaborated with most closely over the course of his career. These include the African-inspired mural designs and cubist geometries of Aaron Douglas, the blues and jazz-inspired collages of Romare Bearden, the macabre grotesques of Meta Warrick Fuller, the rhythmic sculptural figurines, heads and bas reliefs of Richmond Barthé, and the color-blocked cityscapes and black history series of Palmer Hayden and Jacob Lawrence. Together the words, sounds and images recreate a magical moment in cultural history, which bridges the Harlem renaissance, the post-World War II beat writers’ coffeehouse jazz poetry world and the looming Black Arts performance explosion of the 1960s.
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.“
— Langston Hughes