Musicians from the Gateways Music Festival Part 1

(left to right) Josh Henderson, Thapelo Masita


Lee Koonce: Hello everyone. I'm Lee Koonce, and tonight we're featuring two outstanding artists from the Gateways Music Festival on this edition of the McGraw Families Young Artists Showcase.


Since 1978, The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation has generously supported the Young Artists Showcase, and I'm delighted to debut as a Young Artists Showcase host in this first of a series of programs featuring musicians from the Gateways Music Festival, which is an organization that's dedicated to celebrating world-class classical composers and performers of African descent.

On this episode, we'll feature two amazing Gateways artists, Josh Henderson, a multi-genre and multi-instrumental artist, a composer, a graduate of the Cincinnati College Conservatory Music, and the NYU Steinhardt School, and a member of the Warp Trio. Josh is joined by Thapelo Masita, a cellist, a native of South Africa, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, and the Julliard School, and a member of Carnegie Hall's Ensemble Connect. I'll be joined by Josh and Thapelo here in the studio, and I extend a hearty welcome to both of you.

Josh Henderson: Hello. Thank you for having me.

Thapelo Masita: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

Lee Koonce: We'll begin the show with Josh on violin performing Passacaglia Vibes, and this is his own arrangement of the 17th-century Czech Austrian composer, Heinrich Biber's Passacaglia from the Rosary Sonatas.

[MUSIC- Joshua Henderson: Passacaglia Vibes]

Lee Koonce: That was Josh Henderson performing Passacaglia Vibes. His own arrangement of the Heinrich Bieber's famous Passacaglia. First, thank you for that terrific performance, and sharing that with us. Three hundred years ago, the Passacaglia was famous for showcasing a musician's virtuosity, which you certainly did in that performance. What were your inspirations for infusing this arrangement with these contemporary sounds, and what were you looking to accomplish with this arrangement?

Joshua Henderson: This is, I wouldn't even call it an arrangement per se, but I kind of divided the structure of Passacaglia into like three sections. You guys heard the bum, bum, bum, bum. He essentially does that like three times and kind of demarcates these big sections. I did. I took out the middle section and I just replaced that with some improvisation stuff, myself just doing the Passacaglia bass line, then I came back to the original materials.

With this, I also tuned my violin down because I was really feeling everything down like a half step. Then for the improvised section, I think I tuned another string up so then I got some interesting combinations that resulted with the kind of wonky tunings. It influences the improvisation in a certain way because things aren't necessarily where you remember them. The relationship with the strings is a little bit different. Just trying to explore, go a little bit out of the texture, and just then come back to the wonderful stuff that Mr. Biber has written.

Lee Koonce: It's pretty incredible that a piece that is really over 300 years old can sound new and fresh.

Joshua Henderson: Totally.

Lee Koonce: Thank you, Josh. Now we'll hear cellist Thapelo Masita performing the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4 in C Major, Opus 102, No. 1, with Luis Ortiz on piano.

[MUSIC - Thapelo Masita and pianist Luis Ortiz: Beethoven Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4 in C major, Op. 102, No. 1]

Lee Koonce: That was Cellist Thapelo Masita and Pianist Luis Ortiz performing the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102, No. 1. Thapelo, thank you for that amazing performance. Can you tell us a little bit about your own musical journey?

Thapelo Masita: My own musical journey from South Africa. Whoa. The musical journey, how I landed in classical music was totally accidental. There's nothing in my background that was a clear line towards that path that I ended up taking. My family is a family of working-class people who are very musical people. I come from a family of church-going people. We grew up in the church. I grew up in the church and my first instances of music making was in church.

Then fast forward several years when I was around I think the fifth grade in primary school, prior to that, no serious lessons or anything like that, and one day in the fifth grade a program came to my school. It was a bunch of Black kids that came to assembly one morning. They were all playing string instruments and they were playing a lot of popular tunes that we all recognized in the hall. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I could not believe what I was witnessing. They offered us lessons and that's really where that journey started.

Lee Koonce: That's how you started?

Thapelo Masita: Yes. I think as a kid, I was always searching for music and I didn't know where to find it. There was always music growing up in the township and I always wanted to be a part of music. When this program came, it was really an opportunity for me to take the ball by the horns so to speak, and really participate.

Lee Koonce: Music found you. That's terrific.

Thapelo Masita: I was so glad for it. I was so glad for that.

Lee Koonce: Thank you very much, Thapelo. Next, we're going to hear Josh Henderson performing movements VI: Salt and Light and VII: A Long Line: Jesus at the Gay Bar from Buck McDaniel's, Chelsea Preludes for viola and piano.

[MUSIC - Buck McDaniel: The Chelsea Preludes, VI: Salt and Light & VII: A Long Line: Jesus at the Gay Bar- Joshua Henderson, violin]

Lee Koonce: That was Buck McDaniel's Chelsea Preludes performed by Josh Henderson. Josh, can you tell us a little bit about your musical journey, how you got started, and all of that stuff?

Joshua Henderson: Definitely. My parents had me they were on the younger side and like still in school, but was totally fine because my grandparents were educators for their career. My parents were in school in San Francisco, and then they were like, "All right, let's just drop Josh off at the grandparents' house." There, my grandfather just recently passed this year, but was very not a professional musician, but just a lover of music. He played trumpet and lover of art and poetry and just even as a six-month-old, whatever, just hearing a little Miles Davis in the background with some Tchaikovsky and stuff like that and everything.

Definitely, they were super, super huge in just getting me started. They had a little piano in their room. They got me started on that pretty young. Then I think at the, if people remember these newspaper advertisements for little things, my mom found one for a little music program. It was all Black run by a woman named Patrice Floyd. She was a reverend at a church. It was amazing. It was all Black kids pretty much. She got us doing all kinds of stuff, like playing weddings and doing this and that. It was a very, very community-

Lee Koonce: A community.

Joshua Henderson: -family-based type of thing and that was huge.

Lee Koonce: Thank you for that, Josh. We have to take a quick break but when we return, we'll hear more from Josh and Thapelo here on The McGraw family's Young Artist Showcase. Welcome back. I'm Lee Koonce and on this week's edition of The McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase, we're featuring musicians from the Gateways Music Festival, Josh Henderson and Thapelo Masita. Cellist Thapelo Masita joins us again performing the prelude and sarabande from Bach's Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009.

[MUSIC- Bach: Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009, I: Prelude & IV: Sarabande]

Lee Koonce: That was Cello Thapelo Masita performing the Prelude in Sarabande from Bach's Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009. Next, let's listen to Josh Henderson and Raina, Sokolov-Gonzalez performing Jazz Lancaster: Diepenveen.

[MUSIC - Yaz Lancaster: Diepenveen]

Some things change and no one notices

The world could be turning a hair slower than usual

And it would do so quietly.

Lee Koonce: That was Josh Henderson and Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez performing Yaz Lancaster's Diepenveen. Josh, that was another amazing performance. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. For our listeners and for me as well, can you tell us a little bit about the composer, Yaz Lancaster, and also a little bit about that title, which a lot of folks may not know about?

Josh Henderson: Yes. Yaz is a really, really wonderful person. They're a New York-based artist. In addition to being a composer, they're a wonderful poet and just a really, really cool person. Diepenveen is a piece that Yaz wrote about the Diepenveen meteorite, which is a meteorite that landed in a Dutch town in the 1800s. I think some Dutch guy found it and held on to it. Then over 120 years later, an astronomer saw it in the town and then ID'd it and was like, "Oh, this is like a meteorite. This is a very special celestial-- an object from the heavens." Their poem is about just how special and beautiful and amazing miracles can happen every day, and we don't even notice them.

Lee Koonce: That is such a fascinating story. The fact that this meteorite landed in this town, nobody really knew what it was, and then it becomes famous. That's really extraordinary. The town's named after that, right, the town?

Josh Henderson: Yes.

Lee Koonce: [laughs] What a great story. We're going back now to hear Cellist Thapelo Masita performing Soweto Cello Rifts by Bongani Ndodana-Breen live here in our studio.

[MUSIC - Bongani Ndodana-Breen: Soweto Cello Rifts]

Lee Koonce: That was Cellist Thapelo Masita playing Soweto Cello Riffs by Bongani Ndodana-Breen live here in our studio. Thapelo, thank you for that amazing performance. Can you tell us a little bit about this composer that we've just heard, and what this piece means to you?

Thapelo Masita: Soweto Cello Riffs is a work by Bongani Ndodana-Breen, a South African composer who is becoming more and more known here in the United States and abroad, deservedly so. The piece is inspired and based on Afropop riffs and township jazz riffs from Soweto, obviously. It has a lot of groove in it and also a lot of improvisation, which are two things that are very typical of those two genres of music. It's also very virtuosic for the cello.

There's a lot for the solo cellist to do. When you ask, what does it mean for me as a young Black South African in particular involved in string playing, it's the fact that there are not that many pieces written by Black African composers for the cello. There are a fair amount by composers of other backgrounds, sure, but I've always wanted to really highlight the brilliance and imagination of Black African composers in general. It's wonderful when you find great treasures like this piece by Bongani.

Lee Koonce: Boy, I'm sure that certainly means an awful lot to you. It's an amazing piece. You recently participated in the Gateways Music Festival in Chicago, and you played cello in the Gateways Festival Orchestra. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and what that meant to you?

Thapelo Masita: Oh my gosh. Gateways is magical, and being in Gateways, you experience this amazing sense of family that the organization fosters so well. This year in Chicago was just more of that and even bigger inspiration to just see this amazing message of this organization spreading all over. I don't know what it is about Black people and music, but something about just the sound of the orchestra. Kudos to our maestro, Anthony Panter, for being able to put us all together. The orchestra itself, regardless of how wonderful our conductor is, the sound of the orchestra of the people in the room. Everybody just has such a gorgeous sounds.

Lee Koonce: I would agree.

Thapelo Masita: When you put all those gorgeous sounds and you multiply them by 100, 125 people, my Lord. It's an amazing organization, and the orchestra sounds fantastic.

Lee Koonce: Thank you so much, Thapelo. Closing out the music portion of this evening show is Haili, our prayer in Quechua from Gabriela Lena Frank's Suite Mestiza for Solo Violin performed by Josh Henderson.

[MUSIC - Gabriela Lena Frank: Suite Mestiza for Violin Solo (2017), I: Haili (Prayer)]

That was Josh Henderson performing Gabriela Lena Frank's Suite Mestiza for violin solo. Thank you, Josh, and thank you, Thapelo for joining us on the show. We look forward to having you back again.

Josh Henderson: Thank you so much.

Thapelo Masita: Thank you for having us.

Lee Koonce: A special thank you to Josh's engineer, Mike Tierney, and Thapelo's engineer at Skillman Music Studios. Thank you for joining us this evening. That completes this week's edition of the McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase, which is generously underwritten on WQXR by the Harold W McGraw Junior Family Foundation. Here are a few words from Terry McGraw.

Terry McGraw: Good evening everyone. It's great to be with you, and it's always great being with the Young Artist Showcase and to hear these really wonderful and inspiring musicians as they continue to share their incredible gifts with us every week. I can't wait to hear the fabulous talent coming up on the showcase, and I am so pleased to be able to support the series all through its well over four decades on WQXR, and there's so much more to come.

Lee Koonce: Thank you, Terry. Many thanks to WQXR program producers Laura Boman, Max Fine, and Amy Buchanan, with production assistance from UH Hing Wolf. Our generous program underwriter is the The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. I'm Lee Koonce. Until next time, goodnight.

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