Duke Ellington, a Christian, once said that he’d “be afraid to sit in a house with people who don’t believe, adding that he’d be “afraid that the house would fall down.” But his Sacred Concerts — three large-scale works he wrote between 1965 and 1973 — were nondenominational, fusing elements of jazz, classical, blues, gospel and dance.
The Sacred Concerts were performed globally in various churches and cathedrals around the world. Ellington described them as among his most important works, although they are now seldom programmed because of the enormous number of musicians required.
On Sunday afternoon, the stage of Carnegie Hall was crowded with six youth choirs (from the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music, Forest Hills High School, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Songs of Solomon: An Inspirational Ensemble, Talent Unlimited High School and Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts) and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra. The Ellington scholar David Berger conducted a program featuring selections from the Sacred Concerts, opening with “In the Beginning God.”
Ellington’s texts are a quirky blend of sacred and irreverent, like the words “No birds, no bees, no Beatles/No symphony, no jive, no Gemini five” that appear in the libretto for “In the Beginning God.” The soaring notes of the trumpeter Sean Jones reached stratospheric heights after the line “That’s as high as we go.”
Some of the most beautiful, harmonically alluring moments in these works are the a cappella passages, like those in “Will You Be There?,” evocatively rendered by the mass choruses onstage. Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra had a chance to shine throughout the program, with the baritone saxophonist Ben Fitzpatrick offering a sultry solo at the end of “Will You Be There?”
The soprano Nicole Cabell wielded her voice to evocative effect in “Heaven” and “Almighty God has those Angels,” in which her voice soared above the chorus at the end of that piece. The tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith performed in “David Danced Before the Lord With All His Might,” his movements complementing a text sung with clipped austerity by the choirs. The baritone Rufus Bonds Jr. sang and narrated with mellifluous voice in “It’s Freedom” and other sections, and the alto Lalah Hathawayrendered songs including “Twenty-Third Psalm” and “Come Sunday” with expressive conviction.
Mr. Jones’s virtuosic, witty solos were a highlight throughout. The program concluded with inspired performances of “Praise God and Dance” and “Dance Finale.”
As Harlem’s Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts continues on its path to progress after a threat of closure last year, the school recently opened its newly remodeled library.
A dedication ceremony for the reopening of Wadleigh’s library following a $1 million modernization and renovation project was held on Friday. Attendees included the Rev. Michael Walrond, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Sen. Bill Perkins, Assemblyman Keith Wright and Councilwoman Inez Dickens.
The eight-month project was part of the ongoing effort to turn the school around after it was almost shut down by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The transformation includes the adoption of new technology and educational resources to ensure that the students have the tools necessary to thrive in an increasingly technology-driven and global environment.
Friday’s program featured stirring musical performances by the Wadleigh choir and inspirational poetry readings by Wadleigh students. Former Wadleigh student Paul McIntosh, who graduated from the school in 1940, was recognized.
The new library will also be open to members of the surrounding community. The dedication was co-hosted by New York City Department of Education Community Education Secretary J. Conrad Fagan and Young Professional United for Change founder Brian Benjamin.
Under the leadership of Wadleigh Principal Tyee Chin and school librarian Paul McIntosh, academic performance and graduation rates are improving. Notably, the Wadleigh choir has performed at Carnegie Hall twice.
The much-needed renovation also comes with items students at the school need, including new computers, books and an array of educational resources.
The renovation of Wadleigh’s library is just one part of the school’s continuing effort to help its students. Benjamin has started a mentoring program in which figures from the arts and entertainment industry come to the school and speak to students about career options.
When it comes to choreography, “West Side Story” has long set the standard for conveying the dreams and frustrations of urban teens.
But in the Weill Music Institute’s new production of the American musical that updated “Romeo & Juliet” for the gang-riddled streets of 1950s New York, the edgy, explosive choreography of Jerome Robbins will briefly make way for even more contemporary moves.
During the fiery “Dance at the Gym” number, Emanuel Figueroa, a 15-year-old dancer from the Bronx who plays a hot-headed member of the Sharks gang, will bust out some street-style hip-hop dancing.
He was visibly excited by the prospect of stealing the show, which starts a three-performance run this Friday at the Knockdown Center, a former glass factory recently turned art center and event space in Queens.