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Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Liz Player

December 6, 2022 | By John Fleming

Founder, Executive and Artistic Director
Harlem Chamber Players

For Liz Player, it was a “huge disappointment” in 2020 when Covid shut down the Harlem Chamber Players’s largest planned undertaking, a production of R. Nathaniel Dett’s rarely performed 1937 oratorio The Ordering of Moses. But Player persevered, and two years later the African American composer’s biblical epic played to a full house last June at New York’s Riverside Church in a stirring concert by a 65-piece orchestra, a 75-voice chorus, four vocal soloists, and dancers from the Harlem School of the Arts.

“That is the piece that has really put us on the map,” said Player, clarinetist and founder of the Harlem Chamber Players, in 2008. She says the pandemic delay actually made the performance more relevant. “The story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt after a plague had more weight than it would’ve before … It speaks to Black liberation but also to the community’s emergence from the pandemic. I think it was healing for everyone.”

Player credits the group’s Artistic Advisor Terrance McKnight, a host on classical radio station WQXR, as an important influence. “He has helped us to hone in on Black composers and other composers of color,” she said.

Another composer especially embraced by the Harlem Chamber Players is Adolphus Hailstork, beginning with the 2019 premiere of his Nobody Know, a concert aria commemorating the 400th anniversary of slaves being brought to America, with baritone Kenneth Overton as soloist. In another premiere, the group streamed Hailstork’s work on the Tulsa race massacre, Tulsa 1921 (Pity These Ashes, Pity This Dust), on Juneteenth 2021, with mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges as soloist. In November, the ensemble released its first album, a collection of Hailstork chamber works.

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