“The name Jessie Montgomery is becoming more and more familiar to classical music lovers. The 40-year-old is making her mark as a composer with a unique voice. Her music reflects her own life as an African American woman, but also draws on various other cultures and influences, including Zimbabwean dance, swing and techno. Works like Strum and Starburst …. pulsate with creativity, Her music is being championed by more and more orchestras and soloists, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which last year named her composer-in-residence.”
It’s February here in Heifetzland, which means that as we mark Black History Month on the calendar, we’re also furious reviewing, sifting and sorting through the hundreds of applications from aspiring string players to attend the Heifetz Institute next summer. So it’s fitting in a way to fe featuring a string quartet by a contemporary composer who got her start at writing at a summer festival:
“I started composing when I was really young, around 11-years-old,” says composer Jessie Montgomery. “I was starting to go to summer chamber music camps, and I would write these pieces that were really inspired by the pieces I was working on. I wrote two little string quartets when I was in high school. They both sound totally like Dvorák.”
From those summer sessions Jessie Montgomery has emerged as one of the most celebrated modern composers, (most recently as the author of Divided, a new cello concerto premiered by Heifetz alum and Junior Division teacher Thomas Mesa!)
One of the pieces that catapulted Jessie Montgomery into the composiing limelight is Strum. She says the piece salutes “American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement.” In this performance from the 2021 Heifetz Festival of Concerts, the sixteen collective strings of the Borromeo Quartet strum, thrum, bow, and flow through the infectious seven minute piece.
Enjoy the performance, and learn and discover more about the music of Jessie Montgomery and other African-American composers from the 1920s to the 2020s in our “Strum, Shimmer and Shine” episode of our new radio program Heifetz On Air.
Violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery. “I didn’t learn about Black composers until I was 18 or 19. I had never heard of a Black composer in my life. And I had internalized this idea without even realizing it that Black composers were not as good as white composers. It took me a long time to ever admit that I thought that.”