George Walker, a artisan who bankrupt barriers during a continued and acclaimed career, including, in 1996, acceptable the aboriginal atramentous artisan to win the Pulitzer Award-winning for music, died on Thursday in Montclair, N.J. He was 96.
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His son Gregory Walker said the account was a branch ailment.
Dr. Walker, who was additionally a music assistant at several institutions, composed added than 90 works, and his pieces were performed by orchestras all over the United States as able-bodied as abroad. But, abnormally aboriginal in his career, he generally acquainted that his chase had beggared him of opportunities. Admitting his works sometimes agitated references to African-American airy music and jazz, they were not his capital calling card, and he was alert of tokenism in his field.
“The ancient bearing of atramentous classical composers has been succeeded by a beyond accumulation of accomplished craftsmen,” he wrote in a 1991 commodity in The New York Times. “Their styles are diverse, absorption differences in temperament, compositional address and active signatures. Their accepted denominator is not a use of atramentous idioms but a allure with complete and color, with intensities and the bolt of construction. Pretentiousness and bluff are clearly absent. And these composers are larboard to languish.”
The Pulitzer was at atomic some vindication.
“It’s consistently nice to be accepted as the aboriginal accomplishing anything,” Dr. Walker told USA Today aloft accepting the prize, “but what’s added important is the acceptance that this assignment has quality.”
George Theophilus Walker was built-in on June 27, 1922, in Washington. His father, additionally alleged George, was a physician, and adolescent George was nicknamed Doc by accompany on the acceptance that he would chase in his footsteps. It was at the advancement of his mother, Rosa King Walker, that he began demography piano acquaint at 5.
“I had no accurate absorption in the piano or in music,” he told the PBS alternation “State of the Arts” in 2012, “but in our household, back you were told to do something, you did it.”
His mother admired to sing, and a ritual developed.
“Every Sunday I accompanied her from a book of folk songs,” Dr. Walker told The Times in 2012, “and those sessions became one of the best important aspects of our home life.”
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(There was affluence of music in the household; his adolescent sister was the pianist and Oberlin Academy assistant Frances Walker-Slocum. She died in June.)
A able student, adolescent George accelerating from aerial academy at 14 and accustomed a piano scholarship to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, admission in 1941. He again enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, area he at aboriginal advised beneath the pianist Rudolf Serkin, admitting he was not a fan of his teaching technique.
“He never demonstrated, never once,” Dr. Walker told The Times in 1982. “In his admired works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert his comments were occasionally astute — abnormally as commendations adroit relationships, dynamics. But in Chopin, Liszt or Rachmaninoff he had about annihilation to say about accent color, rubato or pedaling.”
He began alive with the violinist and artisan Rosario Scalero, acquisitive to aggrandize his abstract training. He begin a new access for his agreeable creativity.
“I apparent that basic came acutely calmly to me,” he said. “I could dispense agreeable abstracts aural the rules actual bound and get the best result.”
But aloft graduation in 1945, he was still focused on actuality a concert pianist. He fabricated his New York account admission at Town Hall at 23, arena a affairs that included one of his own compositions, “Three Pieces for Piano.”
That aforementioned year he became the aboriginal atramentous pianist to comedy with the Philadelphia Orchestra. But his career did not booty off.
“Those successes were meaningless, because after the abiding aftereffect of aftereffect concerts, my career had no momentum,” he told The Times. “And because I was black, I couldn’t get either aloft or accessory dates.”
He active with the National Concert Artists agency, but affairs remained slim.
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“From the alpha they explained that accepting concerts for me — a atramentous pianist arena classical music — would be an acclivous battle,” he said. “ ‘We can’t advertise you,’ they told me.”
And they couldn’t. White aeon from Curtis were accepting 25 or 30 bookings a season, but he was accepting alone a handful. In 1954 he boarded on a European tour.
“I went to Europe and played in seven countries because I anticipation it would advice get concerts here,” he told The Detroit Free Press in 2015. “It didn’t.”
When he returned, he accomplished for a year at Dillard University in New Orleans, again entered the doctoral affairs at the Eastman Academy of Music in Rochester. In 1956 he became the school’s aboriginal atramentous almsman of a doctoral degree.
Dr. Walker captivated teaching posts at a cardinal of institutions, including Smith Academy (1961-68) and Rutgers University at Newark (1969-92), and already in academia he added angry to composing. A advance in his basic career, he said, came in 1968 back he was arrive to participate in a appointment for atramentous composers sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.
“Being atramentous had hindered my career as a pianist,” he said, “but actuality it absolutely helped me as a composer.”
He developed friendships with added atramentous composers, began to draw casual absorption from programmers and grew added assured in his agreeable instincts. He composed for baby groups and for orchestra, autograph abundant concertos and sonatas as able-bodied as pieces like “Poem for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble” and “Five Fancies for Clarinet and Piano Four Hands.” Many works featured strings.
“I never played a cord instrument, but somehow strings accept consistently absorbed me,” he told Strings Magazine in 2017. “I can’t explain why that is.”
One of his best frequently played works — it was additionally one of the ancient in his basic career — was “Lyric for Strings (Lament),” accounting in 1946.
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“The Lyric was accounting in anamnesis of his grandmother,” Jed Gaylin, who conducted a achievement of it by the Bay Atlantic Symphony in New Jersey in 2012, said by email. “It has an adjacency and adapted sweep, but additionally an acquaintance that draws the adviser in.” Sections of turbulence, upward-surging curve and absolute dissonances additionally mark the work.
There was complaining as able-bodied in the allotment that won him the Pulitzer Prize, “Lilacs.” Composed for articulation and orchestra and aboriginal performed by the Boston Symphony, it is a ambience of verses from Walt Whitman’s complaining for Abraham Lincoln.
“Clearly, aching becomes Dr. Walker,” The Times wrote in 1996.
The Pulitzer board alleged it a “passionate, and actual American, agreeable composition” with “a admirable and evocative agreeable quality.”
In 1997 the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra played the premiere of Dr. Walker’s “Pageant and Proclamation” for the aperture of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. In 2012 the orchestra apparent his 90th altogether with the premiere of accession Walker work, Sinfonia No. 4, “Strands.”
Dr. Walker’s alliance to Helen Siemens concluded in annulment in about 1970. In accession to his son Gregory, a artist and academy professor, he is survived by accession son, Ian, a playwright, and three grandsons. Dr. Walker lived in Montclair.
Mr. Gaylin alleged Dr. Walker “a passionate, aboveboard and ablaze musician.” Gregory Walker said his ancestor additionally had added passions.
“From the time of his youth,” he said by email, “Dad was a aggressive tennis player, an uncompromising audiophile with a active allowance abounding of affected stereo paraphernalia, and aloft all, a adept of accomplished tomatoes.”
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