Harry Burleigh (Dvořák’s assistant) 150th Anniversary Concert
On Sunday, March 26, 2017 at 3 pm, a Harry Burleigh Tribute Concert will take place at JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th St., New York City. The event is produced by GRAMMY Award-nominated Steven Richman, music director and conductor of Harmonie Ensemble/New York. The performers are Kurt Nikkanen, violin (concertmaster, NYC Ballet), Edward Pleasant (baritone-NYC Opera), and renowned pianist Lincoln Mayorga. The program will include art songs, spirituals, and chamber music by Burleigh and Dvořák.
Baritone/composer/arranger Harry Burleigh was born in Erie, PA. He was assistant to the famous Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, who lived in New York City at 327 East 17th St. from 1892-95 while director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. Burleigh graduated from the conservatory in 1896, and later served on the conservatory’s faculty.
In that house on 17th Street, Dvořák composed masterpieces including the Symphony No. 9 (“From the new world”), the Cello Concerto, Violin Sonatina, etc. Burleigh would come to Dvořák’s home to sing for him the black slave songs which the Czech composer so admired, and it was Dvořák who suggested to Burleigh that he make arrangements of these songs, one of which Dvořák called “as great as a Beethoven theme”. Burleigh proceeded to make vocal, choral, and orchestral versions, virtually saving the Spiritual for posterity. Among the prominent artists who performed Burleigh’s arrangements were Paul Robeson, John McCormack, Roland Hayes, and Marian Anderson. These arrangements are still in print and performed today.
In 1893 Burleigh assisted Dvořák in copying out instrumental parts for the symphony. The following year, Burleigh was soloist in Dvořák’s arrangement of Stephen Foster’s classic Old Folks at Home at the original Madison Square Garden (the first recording of which was made by Harmonie Ensemble/New York conducted by this concert’s producer, Steven Richman). Burleigh was soloist at St. George’s Church on Stuyvesant Square at 17th St. for 52 years, across Stuyvesant Square Park from Dvořák’s residence. From 1900 to 1925, Burleigh also sang at Temple Emanu-el in New York, the only African-American to perform there, where he sang in Hebrew, in which language he also made arrangements. Burleigh gained a reputation as a concert soloist, singing art songs, opera selections, as well as African-American folk songs. A founding member of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), he sang before King Edward VII in London in 1908, among other prestigious European concerts. He also served as an editor at the publisher, G. Ricordi.
Suggested contribution for the concert is $30/$15 seniors and students.
harmonieensembleny.com info@harmonieensembleny 212-222-6684
The Library and Archives at the Center for Black Music Research holds scores and books on Harry Burleigh. Music can be perused at the piano during open hours.