Four stars

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; Hilbert Circle Theatre; June 18

Poetry, music and video imagery braid as a living legacy of Langston Hughes’ distinctive early-to-mid-20th century voice in this premiere program of Hughes’ poetry set to music composed by Ron McCurdy, Eli Brueggemann and W.C. Handy. Born and raised in America’s heartland, Hughes traveled, studied and worked nation- and worldwide, ultimately exemplifying the electrifying Harlem Renaissance. Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz is his sweepingly dense epic of the African-American experience written in the cadence of jazz, the imagery of nature and the free verse of Sandberg, Masters, Lindsay and Lowell, remnants of his tri-cultural heritage of black, red and white. Rapper Ice-T narrated to perfection as a player sitting in with the Ron McCurdy Quartet and the ISO, all watching the baton of guest conductor David Spear. Hughes’ references may be dated, but it mattered little to an audience at the edge of their seats in concert with the emotional energy emanating from the stage. The program opened with McCurdy strutting his trumpet from the back of the hall to the stage. Throughout, the music traversed jazz, blues, Latin and the feel of expansive film scores, always paired and pared to Hughes’ themes of distant memory, deferred dreams and the drama of experiences, with humor coiling around like a primordial serpent. In a lobby pre-show, Norbert Krapf read his poetry and Tasha Jones delivered hers and the work of Mari Evans.

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