2024 BST EXO AmericanCounterpoints 3000x3000American Counterpoints
Curtis Stewart; Experiential Orchestra; James Blachly
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0200 (brightshiny.ninja)

I’m writing this quickly so I can get back to hearing the music of Julia Perry (1924-1979) and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004), the two absurdly neglected Black American composers featured on American Counterpoint. Included is a brief finale from Curtis Stewart, the violin soloist for several tracks, with orchestra leader James Blachly co-curator of the album.

Both composers were recognized and successful to a degree in their lifetimes. So why does one hear about Barber and Ives and Copland and Bernstein but not Perry and Perkinson? Guess. 

It sure isn’t because they weren’t excellent at their craft. Just compare the first cut, Perkinson’s Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk with his Sinfonietta No.1 two tracks later. It would be impressive to have either piece in one’s catalogue, but having the range shown by owning both puts one in the company of the greats. With his skills in conducting and performing, the obvious comparison is with Leonard Bernstein. Two maestros, one celebrated, the other overlooked. The neo-classical Sinfonietta opens with a Sonata Allegro movement in which Perkinson deploys counterpoint that might put Copland’s to shame (but evokes Hindemith); the third movement, Rondo-Allegrf furioso, doubles down on rhythmic energy; in between he summons Romanticism à la Samuel Barber in Song Form: Largo. 

Then there’s Perry, who composed in a thoroughly modernist and individual style, had studied with Luigi Dallapiccola and Nadia Boulanger, but went largely unregarded by mid-century audiences. How audacious, to write a serious string orchestra work, Symphony in One Movement for Violas and Basses, sans violin and cello voices. Astonishing dark colour, beautiful and sad or angry utterances. All respect to Perkinson, who achieved material success as a commercial composer, but Perry’s light is brighter, or deeper. 

Fine playing by Stewart and the Experiential Orchestra. Great disc.

Pin It
Author: Max Christie
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Back to top