It’s likely few people are familiar with one aspect of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s life — his appreciation of and background in classical music. The “Symphony of Brotherhood” concert Sunday at downtown’s Zipper Concert Hall aims to highlight this and also celebrate a landmark of the civil rights leader’s lifetime.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of King’s timeless and powerful “I Have a Dream” speech, which took place Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington. During the speech, King said, “With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” A base interpretation would see the word “symphony” meaning what’s on the page, the melodic culmination of people working together in harmony, not as a reference to his musical background — though the concert title plays off that.
As a child, King took piano lessons from his mother, Alberta, a trained pianist, and later went on to sing in the choir at the church where his father, Martin Luther King Sr., was the pastor. (The choir sang at the Atlanta premiere of the 1939 classic film “Gone With the Wind.”) King’s future wife, Coretta Scott, was studying music at the New England Conservatory in Boston when they met.
The concert is a musical tribute to this little-known background.
“We began to research what pieces specifically would relate to the concept and the program,” says John Malveaux one of the concert’s organizers. “In addition we thought about how we could make it most attractive to a Los Angeles audience.” The conclusion, organizers decided, was to pair out-of-state artists with local talent.
The concert is put on by the local nonprofit group MusicUntold. Last year the organization put on a concert with a similar format at L.A.'s AT&T Center Theatre in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation — President Lincoln’s 1863 executive order freeing all slaves.
Sunday’s concert will include Mark S. Doss, a Grammy-winning bass-baritone from Toronto, and mezzo-soprano Juliana Gondek, a graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music and voice professor at UCLA. The concert will feature a mix of excerpts from operas, including one once sung by Coretta Scott King, and poems set to music, all used to highlight aspects of King’s life.
“The hope is that that we will present something different and attractive to the local audience that will only be enhanced with text and information that is not generally known,” says Malveaux.
To help with this melding of information and performance, hosts Dennis Bartel, KUSC’s morning announcer, and Zanaida Robles, a doctoral student as Thornton, will introduce the pieces.
“Before each performance piece there will be information presented that will relate the music to the concept of the program,” says Malveaux.
The concert will include the world premiere of a poem by South Korean composer Joo Poong Kim. Initially organizers wanted Kim to find a poem and then compose music for it. He couldn’t find one that was the perfect fit, so he wrote his own, calling it “Candlelight.”
“Dr. Kim equates the message of Dr. King to a candlelight that flickers, and may go out unless we are able to place our hands around it to continue the flame,” says Malveaux. The messages of King being equality, equal rights and peaceful protest.
“King’s message is for a lifetime,” says Malveaux.
‘The Symphony of Brotherhood Concert’
Where: Zipper Hall at the Colburn School, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Info: (562) 436-4352; symphonyofbrotherhood.brownpapertickets.com