Coming up in Philly Music: Eight versions of 'Argoru' from Alvin Singleton

2 minute read
Alvin Singleton's legacy culminates in a performance through Curtis Institute. (Photo by Martin Popeláø.)
Alvin Singleton's legacy culminates in a performance through Curtis Institute. (Photo by Martin Popeláø.)

Argoru means “to play” in the Twi dialect of the Akan language spoken in Ghana. It’s the title of a group of short pieces for solo instruments that composer Alvin Singleton has created over the past 50 years. On Saturday, March 6, eight Curtis students will perform all eight pieces in a single online concert.

How to play

Singleton is the current composer-in-residence at Curtis and he has personally coached all the students as they tackle pieces that are deliberately challenging. The series starts with a four-minute work for piano and continues with unaccompanied solos for cello, flute, viola, violin, marimba, vibraphone, and snare drum.

Singleton created Argoru I in 1970 and Argoru viii in 2002. He’s currently working on number nine. The pieces chronicle his own development as a composer and reflect the influence of the developments in American music that have taken place over that time.

Singleton is a prolific composer whose works have been performed by major organizations all over the world, including the Philadelphia Orchestra. Curtis’s chair of Composition Studies, composer David Ludwig, interviewed Singleton on subjects like his early attraction to music in his Brooklyn neighborhood.

The first of many

The March 6 concert is the first in a series of three events devoted to works by American composers. On March 20, the students will undertake The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc, a piece for ten cellos by another prolific African American composer, Julius Eastman.

The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc has been adopted for many performances over the past 40 years. It seems destined to become part of the standard repertoire. The May 15 concert, by contrast, will present the world premieres of three pieces by recent Curtis graduates. The star of the evening will be the 2010 Curtis graduate and harpist Coline-Marie Orliac.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Alvin Singleton’s complete Argoru series, performed by students of the Curtis Institute of Music, can be viewed on-demand on Saturday, March 6 with advance registration—you’ll receive a link to view the performance online. The concert will be available on YouTube on Sunday, March 7 at 3pm.

Image Description: A close-up snapshot of Singleton, a Black man with gray hair.

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