Concert honors George Walker
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Concert honors George Walker

by Lauren Viera

A concert honoring George Walker, OC '41 and 1996 Pulitzer Prize winner for his composition, Lilacs, will be given Saturday at Finney Chapel. The concert originally took place last month but is being repeated as part of the commencement weekend activities. The musicians in the concert are all Conservatory faculty. Karen Wolff, Dean of the Conservatory, will open the performance with a tribute to the distinguished alumnus.

The program includes Three Pieces for Organ, Guido's Hand, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, and three songs. Guido's Hand, Walker's "Five Pieces for Piano," will be performed by Frances Walker, OC '45, the composer's sister. The piece, Walker's most recent, was dedicated to her when it was composed in 1986.

In addition to standing out as a music Prize winner, Walker was the first black composer to win throughout the 80 years of the award's existence. He not only has an excellent reputation, internationally, as a composer, but is also a renowned piano soloist.

Walker has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Eastman School of Music, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the ASTRAL foundation amongst many others. His music is performed by as large a number of groups, including major orchestras of Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, National and more. Additionally, the artist's works have been recorded by the Minnesota and London Symphonies and the Royal Philharmonic orchestras.

Among Walker's other achievements are a commission for his Sinfonia No. 2, given by the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress. Walker has also received two honorary doctorates from both Oberlin and Lafayette College, awards from the American Academy and Institute and the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Eastman School of Music Award. Walker has also been granted fellowships from Guggenheim, Fulbright, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and two Rockefeller Foundation Scholarships.

Walker has published more than 70 works - from sonatas to a Mass - in his 60 years of composing. While it was only last year that the composer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, perhaps the years of refined experience allowed Walker even more time to perfect his mastery. Lilacs was awarded for "distinguished musical composition by an American in any of the larger forms including chamber, orchestral, choral, opera, song, dance or other forms of musical theatre, which has had its first performance in the United States during the year," according to the award's standards. The work, written for voice and orchestra, is based loosely on Walt Whitman's poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Four stanzas of the poem were used for Walker's composition.

In a word, Walker's achievements - both academically and musically - are remarkable. If no other concerts are attended over commencement weekend, alums should not miss this special performance to honor a fellow Obie and a truly talented individual. The Tribute to George WalkerĘconcert takes place Saturday, May 24 at 4 p.m. at Finney Chapel. Admission is free.


Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 25, May 23, 1997

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