Past Event

Maurice Peress, Conductor

Maestro Maurice Peress is one of Americas most dynamic and versatile conductors. From Vienna to Beijing, he is internationally recognized by critics and audiences. He has a special connection to Duke Ellington, and a long-standing friendship with the legendary saxophonist, arranger and composer Jimmy Heath.

His research in American music has made Peress a leading authority on Antonin Dvorak's American period and has initiated invitations to give concerts and lectures throughout the USA, Germany and the Czech Republic. His television documentary, Dvorak in America, has been produced for eventual release on Czech and on PBS-TV here in the USA. His knowledge of the genre is now available in a book entitled Living with American Music: From Dvorak to Duke Ellington published by Oxford University Press in 2004.

In Dvorák to Duke Ellington, Peress begins by recounting the music's formative years: Dvorák's three year residency as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York (1892-1895), and his students, in particular Will Marion Cook and Rubin Goldmark, who would in turn become the teachers of Ellington, Gershwin, and Aaron Copland. We follow Dvorák to the famed Chicago World's Fair of 1893, where he directed a concert of his music for Bohemian Honor Day. Peress brings to light the little known African American presence at the Fair: the piano professors, about-to-be-ragtimers; and the gifted young artists Paul Dunbar, Harry T. Burleigh, and Cook, who gathered at the Haitian Pavilion with its director, Frederick Douglass, to organize their own gala concert for Colored Persons Day.

Peress, a distinguished conductor, is himself a part of this story. He worked with Duke Ellington on the Suite from Black, Brown and Beige and his "opera comique," Queenie Pie. Maestro Peress also conducted the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Mass; and reconstructed landmark American concerts at which George Antheil's Ballet Mecanique, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, James Reese Europe's Clef Club (the first all-black concert at Carnegie Hall), and Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige, were first presented. Concluding with an astounding look at Ellington and his music, Dvorák to Duke Ellington offers an engrossing, elegant portrait of the Dvorák legacy, America's music, and the inestimable African-American influence upon it.