Concert singer and bass-baritone Kevin Deas will be joined by a stageful of local singers and musicians to perform an evening of spirituals in honor of African-American composer, arranger, and singer Harry Burleigh. “Deep River: The Art of the Spiritual” comes to the Moss Arts Center on Saturday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m.

Co-presented by PostClassical Ensemble, the event will be held in the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

Burleigh (1866-1949) is a forgotten hero of American music. Antonin Dvořák’s assistant in New York City from 1892 to 1895, Burleigh was subsequently the composer and singer most responsible for turning spirituals into art songs. His “Deep River” (1915), a sensation in its day, took an obscure upbeat spiritual and turned it into the reverent song made famous by Burleigh, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and countless others.

Angel Gil-Ordóñez, conductor of the PostClassical Ensemble, and Dwight Bigler, associate professor and director of choral activities at Virginia Tech and music director of the Blacksburg Master Chorale, will serve as conductors for the evening program, which features the Blacksburg Master Chorale and Virginia Tech Choirs (Chamber Singers, Women’s Chorus, and Tech Men). Other musicians joining the performance include flutist Elizabeth Crone, instructor in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts, and Joseph Horowitz, pianist and executive director of PostClassical Ensemble.

This program includes works arranged by Burleigh, as well as other prolific African-American composers, along with video footage to help delve deeper into Burleigh’s impact.

Gil-Ordóñez and Horowitz founded PostClassical Ensemble in 2003 as an experimental orchestral laboratory committed to radically rethinking the concert experience and to refreshing both format and repertoire. They lift up works deserving greater advocacy, believing that music of consequence should be contextualized in new spaces for audiences in search of deeper paths of engagement, both intellectual and spiritual. The group is currently the ensemble in residence at the Washington National Cathedral.

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Prior to the performance, engage with members of the creative team for “Deep River: The Art of the Spiritual,” including Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, and Deas, during a panel discussion moderated by Bigler. Beginning at 6 p.m. in the Moss Arts Center Cube, the free event is first come, first served. To guarantee a seat, register online.

A post-performance public discussion with local performers and members of the PostClassical Ensemble will be held in the theatre immediately following the performance.

Bigler, Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, and Deas will also participate in the event, “Cultural Appropriation: Past and Present Voices” on Thursday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre. For generations, artists, scholars, and cultural critics have explored the implications of adapting the arts and culture of underrepresented communities. Moderated by Virginia Fowler, a professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of English, this hybrid performance and discussion gives participants an opportunity to engage with guest artists about the history of American music, including spirituals and sorrow songs, and delve into the relationship between contemporary perspectives on the timely subject of cultural appropriation and those of such luminaries as W.E.B. DuBois, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, and Antonin Dvořák. Free and open to the public, this event is co-presented with the Lifelong Learning Institute at Virginia Tech.


Tickets are $20-45 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

While Virginia Tech students can always attend any Moss Arts Center performance for only $10, the center also offers free last minute rush tickets for students who sign up for text notifications. To receive these notifications, text “arts” to 31996. Availability of rush tickets varies by performance and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last in the box office. Virginia Tech ID will be required for admission.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to an event.

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