“It’s a reference both to the tragedy of Trayvon Martin two years ago, as well as the sense of human tragedy,” said Holley, a professor at N.C. Central University whose solo cello recital will feature the works of African-American composers.
Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old Florida resident who was shot dead by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in 2012. Zimmerman’s subsequent trial drew national media attention and sparked an ongoing dialogue about racial profiling and gun violence. Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013.
Holley said the work dedicated to Martin was written by African-American composer James Lee III.
The concert is hosted by the UNC Music Department through its Guest Artist Recital program.
Holley is a formally trained classical musician who did his doctoral research on the music of African-American composers for the cello, a field he said has interested him for a while. Tonight’s performance, entitled “Mors Janua Vitae — Music in Progress and Process: Memory Projected Into the Future,” will feature the works of four composers, three of whom are African-American.
The last work on the program is a three-movement solo cello sonata written specifically for Holley by composer Adolphus Hailstork. For the past month, Holley has been doing a series of performances of the piece.
“The word ‘sonata’ is partially derived from the Latin word that means ‘a song for sounding,’” Holley said. “I certainly get to sing a great deal on my instrument in this piece, but there is no text that is intended to be sung in the process, but it is still a sounding and singing process.”
Holley said he has probably performed more music of Hailstork’s at UNC than any other composer thus far. The two are close friends, and Holley played another piece of Hailstork’s at UNC in 2013 — one which Hailstork ended up dedicating to Holley thanks to his help editing the score.
“The connection between what I performed last year for the folks who came to the recital and Thursday will certainly be the ongoing celebration of Adolphus Hailstork’s music,” Holley said.
Holley has lived in the Triangle area for about 18 years, the majority of which he has spent working as a professor at NCCU.
“He certainly brings that performing feel and that literature and that tradition along with his teaching and the scholarship that he does in the music of African-American composers,” said Ralph Barrett, chairman of the NCCU Department of Music.
Brent Wissick, UNC music professor and head of the department’s strings area, said he hopes concert attendees receive a rich and gratifying musical experience, but also that they leave thinking about the issues the theme explores.
“I think some students may not realize the classical cello can be a part of this great tradition of approaching Afro-American music,” Wissick said.
“Many boundaries can be crossed.”