‘The Art of the African-American Spiritual’ at National Chamber Ensemble by Jane Coyne

The National Chamber Ensemble presented The Art of the African-American Spritual at Artisphere on Saturday evening. It was a delightful concert with talent abounding, and the setting was most enjoyable.

Leonid Sushansky,Aundi Moore and Carlos Cesar Rodriguez at the concert last night. Photo courtesy of Leo Sushansky.
Leonid Sushansky,Aundi Moore and Carlos Cesar Rodriguez at the concert last night. Photo courtesy of Leo Sushansky.

The evening kicked off with a warm welcome from guest host Linda Jacobs Washington, who welcomed the audience and introduced the concert in a refreshingly personable manner.

The concert, which included traditional Negro Spirituals, also included a well programmed variety of genre inspired music by Antonin Dvořák, Camargo Guarnieri, and George Gershwin, and was performed by soprano Aundi Marie Moore, NCE artistic director and violinist Leonid (Leo) Sushansky, and pianist Carlos Rodriguez. Unfortunately, cellist Lukasz Syzmer, who was scheduled to appear, was indisposed and unable to perform.

Violinist Leonid (Leo) Sushansky,
Violinist Leonid (Leo) Sushansky,

Ms. Moore, an alumnus of the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, opened the concert with a set of three Spirituals. With her commandingly big and beautiful voice spinning resonantly through the Spectrum Theatre, she clearly set the pace for a night of spectacular music. By the second number, Lord, how come we here, which started with Leo Sushansky beginning the piece from offstage, followed by Ms. Moore (who recently gave birth to her own first child) walking on stage singing of the haunting reality of slavery. “They sold my children away … I wish I was never born.”

Leo Sushansky performed two movements of Antonin Dvořák’s Sonatina for Violin and Piano in G Minor, Op. 100. Trained by his mother, a student and protégé of the legendary violinist David Oistrakh, as well as at Juilliard, Sushansky seemed to have a personal understanding of the links that join music and musicians. He did a wonderful job of explaining Dvořák’s ability to incorporate Spiritual and traditional Folk music into his music, and he performed the work with both technical ease and warm interpretation. He is a wonderful and most enjoyable musician.

Aundi Marie Moore.
Aundi Marie Moore.

I particularly enjoyed Aundi’s introduction to a set of art songs composed by Margaret Bonds, who was one of the first African-American composers and performers to achieve recognition in the U.S. A good friend of Langston Hughes, Bonds set her three piece song cycle Three Dream Portraits to his poetry. I really could not get enough of Ms. Moore, a beautiful person whose personality was at all times genuine and open. She did a great job with the cycle. Her talent is huge, with diction always spot on, and her interpretation is exceptional.

Dansa Negra by Camargo Guarnieri         To the amusement of the audience, in introducing this piece, pianist Carlos Rodriguez shared that Guarnieri’s full name was actually Mozart Camargo Guarnieri. He also share that Guarnieri had a sound that many consider similar to some of Gershwin’s work, and proved to be very true. Rodriguez, who trained at Juilliard under the tutelage of Joseph Kalichstein, performed this work with brilliance, and was in great form throughout the entire evening.

The second half of the program began with George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Suite, always an audience favorite. The trio was wonderful with this work, which gave all three musicians an opportunity to show both their individual strengths and chamber ensemble skills. The audience loved Leo Sushansky’s performance of “Bess, You Is My Woman,” and clearly enjoyed Aundi Moore’s rendition of “Summertime.” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” performed expertly by Rodriguez and Sushansky, ended the suite, which brought the house down in applause.

Pianist Carlos Rodriguez.
Pianist Carlos Rodriguez.

Closing out this most enjoyable concert were Two Spirituals – “I’m A-Travellin’ to the Grave” and a foot-stomping, hand clapping performance of “Gwine to Ride Up in the Chariot” – arranged by William Primrose and Arthur Benjamin, followed by a rousing set of Spirituals that included “Ride On, King Jesus!”, “His Name So Sweet,” “Give Me Jesus,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The ensemble was rewarded with a very well-deserved standing ovation.

I truly enjoyed this warm and audience-welcoming concert, and I would encourage all readers to attend a future performance by this most wonderful, talented and friendly organization.

national chamber orchestra logo

NCE’s next concert, The Three B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, will take place on Saturday, June 1, 2013 at 7:30 pm.

Ms. Moore is slated to appear as the mother of Muhammad Ali, in the world premiere of Approaching Ali, on June 8 and 9, in The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre.


National Chamber Ensemble’s website.
Aundi Marie Moore’s website.
Leo Shushansky’s website.


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Jane Coyne has been involved in the arts for all of her life. As a singer, she has toured the country as a soloist, appearing at major venues throughout the United States, performing with musicians including Duke Ellington, Johnny Coles, Paul Gonzalves, and Tyree Glenn, and she has appeared in many musical theatre productions. She has managed the careers of a number of a number of international conductors and composers and previously served as the vice president of the National Philharmonic at Strathmore, executive director of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, and associate director of Washington’s Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts. Jane directs the National PTA Reflections Program (one of the largest arts education programs in the country). She is also one of the founding directors of Young Artists of America, and manages the career of her son, composer and violinist Joshua Coyne.


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