Classical Music

Apollo Chamber Players Concert Spotlights American Legends In Music

Apollo Chamber Players presents the best of American Composers this weekend.
Apollo Chamber Players presents the best of American Composers this weekend. Photo by Lynn Lane
The work of American classical composers will be on full display at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hobby Center's  Zilkha Hall when Apollo Chamber Players presents American Legends, a celebration of our country’s greatest past and living composers and artists.

Adding to the celebration, Apollo welcomes the world’s most performed living female composer, Jennifer Higdon, for the world premiere of "In the Shadow of the Mountain."

Also on the musical menu is pianist and activist Lara Downes — recently named 2022’s "Classical Woman of the Year" by Performance Today. Violist Marlea Simpson, a fellow at the prestigious New World Symphony in Miami, will partner with Apollo for the southwest premiere of Florence Price’s recently discovered "Piano Quintet in A Minor."  Apollo also will present new music by millennial composer Libby Larsen; current composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Jessie Montgomery; and a new commission for string quartet by celebrated African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork that is based on the spiritual "Deep River."

Apollo's founder and violinist Matthew Detrick spoke to the creative process behind the signature piece of the program.

"[Higdon's piece] reflects the challenges as well as the joy that resulted from this tumultuous period we've been going through. Higdon's writing is so incredibly deep and expressive. As a performer and as artists, it's really easy to lose yourself in the emotional power of her writing," he said.

For Detrick, this concert represents part of Apollo's larger mission of bridging communities through music.

"We're continuing to commission in the spirit of our vision, which is to connect communities through globally inspired music. That really is our lodestar," he added.

Higdon wrote this particular piece when dealing with family loss before the pandemic, and his feelings of grieving a lost loved one as well as navigating the pandemic can be heard in the composition and understood by anyone.

"We have all the emotions associated with the pandemic. We all are going through this experience together, and those emotions are embedded in the performance of this piece. I think that's why it's so deep and important to us," Detrick said.

Higdon's piece will conclude Apollo's 2022 X 20 project. Launched in 2014 and inspired in part by President John F. Kennedy's Moonshot goal, 20 X 2020 is an Apollo initiative to commission 20 new multicultural and folk music-inspired works for the ensemble by the end of the decade. The project has helped to raise the group's reputation locally and internationally as it explored a myriad of cultures through the creation of new art and music from across the world.

Of course, when planning this project's final concert, Detrick didn't know where the country would be with the pandemic or how things would shake out in the long run.

"If you'd asked me in 2014 where I thought we would be now, there's no world where I would have thought this is how it would have ended...not only because of the pandemic, but also having someone like Jennifer Higdon is something that we're so grateful for," he added.
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The four-person string quartet Apollo Chamber Players is planning a big splash for the conclusion of its 2022 X 20 project.
Photo by Katy Cartland
It will certainly be the end of an era for Apollo Chamber Players as the group's viola player, Whitney Bullock, is retiring; however, as the saying goes, when a door closes...a window opens. In the midst of an ongoing international search, Apollo will welcome the previously mentioned Simpson, a native Texan, to fill the role for this concert. This looks to be a real treat.

Simpson grew up in Dallas and is hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “Grant Park Orchestra’s new 21-year-old wunderkind.” She currently holds the Principal Viola position with the Chicago Sinfonietta in addition to a section position with the Grant Park Orchestra after completing their Project Inclusion Program in 2014. Simpson earned her master’s degree from the Yale School of Music, where she received the Georgina Lucy Grosvenor Memorial Prize, which is awarded to the violist in the graduating class whose performances while at Yale have exhibited the highest potential for success as a soloist or chamber musician in the field. She also holds a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory.

Apollo Chamber Players is having somewhat of a whirlwind weekend, and it is connected by guest pianist Downes at the Holocaust Musuem this Saturday. The free, family-friendly program centers around the life and music of celebrated artist Price. Price is noted as the first Black woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.

Apollo Chamber Players will present its Family Concert at 1 p.m Saturday at Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline. The Family Concert is free. The group will present American Legends at 2 p.m. Sunday at Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby. $15 - $69. The group will also present American Legends at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 7 at University of Houston-Clear Lake's Bayou Theater, 2700 Bay Area Boulevard. $20 - $25. For tickets or information, call 832-496-9943 or visit apollochamberplayers.org.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd