Newport Classical commissions Shawn Okpebholo for its 2022 Newport Classical Music Festival

Newport Classic will present the world premiere of Crooked hocks by Shawn E. Okpebholoperformed by the pianist Aldo Lopez-Gavilan Saturday, July 9, 8 p.m., at The Breakers (44 Ocher Point Ave.) as part of the 2022 Newport Classical Music Festival (formerly Newport Music Festival), July 1-17, 2022. The piece is the second annual commission as as part of Newport Classical’s new initiative – each year the organization commissions a work from a Black, Indigenous, Colored or female composer as a commitment to the future of classical music. The July 9 concert features brothers Ilmar Gavilán, violin, and Aldo López-Gavilán, piano, to music by López-Gavilan.

Shawn Okpebholo is a critically acclaimed, award-winning composer whose music has been described as “devastatingly beautiful” and “fresh and new and fearless” (The Washington Post) and “stunning” (the new yorker). It was featured on PBS Newshourand radio broadcasts across the country, including All things considered from NPR and morning edition. He has a vibrant career as a composer, including performances on five continents, in more than forty states and nearly every major US city, at some of the country’s most prestigious performance spaces and festivals, including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the National Cathedral, Chicago Opera’s Lyric Recital Series, Washington National Opera’s Inaugural Day Concert and Ravinia Music Festival.

Okpebholo’s new piece for Newport Classical is inspired by Occramer Marycoo, an enslaved African in 18th century Newport who, despite his enslavement, was educated, spoke several languages ​​and trained as a classical musician.

Okpebholo says, “Not knowing Rhode Island, I began researching various aspects of the history of the state and city of Newport and came across a fascinating historical figure called Occramer Marycoo, an enslaved African who was eventually sold to Caleb Garder in Newport, RI. Marycoo was given the name Newport Gardner, after his involuntary home and slaver – a name he would keep. . . He is credited with being the first African American to publish a composition in the Western style. The work was called “Crooked Shanks”, a cheerful tune worthy of a whistle. After decades of slavery, he won the lottery, bought his freedom and became a successful man. A handsome bookend to his life, Gardner did something relatively few enslaved Africans have done: cross the Atlantic back and return home to Africa, where, shortly thereafter, he would leave this Earth. This work was composed for the Cuban pianist Aldo López-Gavilán and inspired by Gardner’s aria, “Crooked Shanks”. This composition is also loosely influenced by African and Latin sensibilities, reflecting the cultural heritages of Gardner and Me and López-Gavilán respectively. As I got to know Gardener’s journey, I continued to gravitate to the notion of the journey which, along with the perils of slavery, the hope of freedom and the return home, is the extra-musical core of this work.

Crooked hocks was commissioned by Newport Classical for Aldo López-Gavilán’s performance in July 2022 in Newport, RI in loving memory of Marilyn J. Woloohojian for her extraordinary generosity, commitment to the future of classical music, and in honor of his thirty years as a member of the Board of Directors. “Don’t let the music die.” —Marilyn J. Woloohojian

Shawn Okpebholohis compositions have been featured on six released albums, including his first album devoted solely to his music, slip away, a collection of reinvented Negro spirituals. His compositional and research interests have been a gateway to ethnomusicological fieldwork in East and West Africa: studying the music of the Esan people in southern Nigeria, the Akambe people in Machakos region in Kenya and South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda. Growing up, a significant part of his musical education took place through the Salvation Army church, where he regularly received free music lessons. Inspired by this charitable organization, Okpebholo is passionate about offering his musical expertise to underserved communities. Currently, he is Professor of Music Composition and Theory at Wheaton College-Conservatory of Music (IL). He is also composer-in-residence of the famous Fifth House Ensemble and has obtained a residency at the Chicago Opera Theater (2021-2023).

Praised for his “dazzling technique and rhythmic fire” in the Seattle Times and described as “formidable virtuoso” by The temperature of London, pianist and composer Aldo López-Gavilán excels in the classical and jazz worlds as a recitalist, concerto soloist, chamber music collaborator and performer of his own electrifying jazz compositions. Recognized as a child prodigy in Cuba, Ilmar Gavilán had a distinguished career as a concerto soloist, chamber musician and improviser. After winning first place in the Sphinx competition as a young adult, he became the founding first violinist of the famous Harlem Quartet. Along the way, he developed improvisational skills and performed and released albums with jazz greats such as Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Gary Burton and Chick Corea, with whom the Harlem Quartet won a Grammys.

For his 54e season, the Newport Classical Music Festival presents 24 concerts over 18 days and returns for the first time since 2019 to the stunning interiors of Newport mansions and historic venues including The Breakers, Blithewold Mansion, The Elms, Castle Hill Inn, Chinese Tea House , Great Friends Meeting House, King Park, Newport Art Museum, Norman Bird Sanctuary, Redwood Library & Athenaeum and Emmanuel Church.

Newport Classical has a rich heritage of musical curiosity, featuring the American debut of more than 130 international artists and rarely heard works. Since its founding in 1969, the organization has produced more than 3,000 concerts and welcomed more than 1,200 musicians and singers. This year’s festival features music from more than 40 female composers.

For the full Newport Classical Music Festival schedule, visit: www.newportclassical.org/Music Festival