From sensitive choral textures to massive swaths of orchestral color, Adolphus Hailstork's music is at once masterfully crafted and directly rooted in the expressions of the heart: moving, welcoming, and awe-inspiring, but never predictable.
Hailstork's titanic output spans every genre, from large choral-orchestral works like Done Made My Vow —with a text combining words from the Bible, spirituals, civil rights leaders, and former president Barack Obama—to intimate works for unaccompanied strings.
With three operas, four symphonies, concerti for piano and violin, and numerous other orchestral, chamber, and choral works to his name, Hailstork weaves passion and poetry into any ensemble with unmistakable deftness. Many of his works powerfully address issues of faith, justice, race, American identity, and hope, while others are concerned only with a lyrical, sonorous beauty too deep for words. Click here for a curated list of Hailstork's pieces, organized in an easy-to-browse format.
Hailstork’s music has been performed by the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, and many others. Check out our newly curated playlists showcasing some of these ensembles and many more on YouTube and Spotify. Save them to your library to enjoy them again and again.
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, The Greene Space, in partnership with The Harlem Chamber Players, Harlem Stage, and the Harlem School of the Arts, presented Pity These Ashes: Tulsa 1921-2021. This Juneteenth streamed concert featured the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s Tulsa 1921 (Pity These Ashes, Pity This Dust), as well as compositions by Jessie Montgomery, Alice Coltrane, and Trevor Weston.
In January 2021, Hailstork celebrated the great honor of having his work Fanfare on Amazing Grace performed at the presidential inauguration by a group of the finest instrumentalists in the country, the President's Own United States Marine Band, under the baton of Colonel Jason K. Fettig, as arranged by MGySgt Don Patterson. This truly historic occasion marked only the second time in American history that music by a contemporary African-American composer was selected to be part of the repertoire performed at a Presidential Inauguration.
Moved by the plight of children all over the world, and especially by the plight of children caged and separated from their families at the the U.S./Mexico border in 2020 and beyond, Adolphus Hailstork composed Wounded Children, a suite of 13 interconnected, untitled short movements for solo piano that may be heard as one 30-minute fabric, yet the individual movements also stand on their own. In the composer's own words: “Children starving in Africa. Children bombed and gassed in Syria, and abducted in Nigeria. The direct impetus for writing this piece is the caging of immigrant children in the southwest part of the United States of America. My country. My Homeland. These children were separated from their parents without any tracking system for reuniting parents with their children. The children will bear the scars of their internment for the rest of their lives.”
A friend of mine who is a poet within one week of that murder sent me a text... which he called a requiem.
In the aftermath that followed the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Adolphus Hailstork received a text from his friend and collaborator, poet Herbert Martin, and he knew immediately he wanted to set this "furious" text that he says "captured so many of the things I was feeling at the same time" to music. Hailstork began composing his work A Knee on a Neck for Large Orchestra, SATB Chorus, and Vocal Soloists. According to the composer, this monumental work contains "some jarring moments, but ends with a statement of reconciliation... we shall abide in peace. See if we can come to some understanding and sense of peace in the country and not always be at each other’s throats."
A Knee on a Neck premiered in March of 2022 at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, MD, and featured the National Philharmonic, the Washington Chorus, and the Howard University Chorale under the baton of Piotr Gajewski with guest artists J’Nai Bridges, Norman Shankle, and Kenneth Overton. There was a second performance by the organization at the Capitol One Hall in Tysons, VA. The premier received reviews by the Washington Post and NPR, among other media outlets. Other organizations, including the New York Choral Society, have programmed the work for the 2022-2023 season.
For a comprehensive biography and list of Hailstork's works, click here.
I am an African-American but I was raised and trained in the Euro-American tradition of classical music in Upstate New York. I did not grow up in the South, I did not grow up in segregation or anything like that - so my approach is ecumenical you might say, I try and embrace all.