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CONCERT PREVIEW: Advocate of underrepresented composers and new music, Chelsea Randall performing at The Foundry June 25

A dedicated advocate of underrepresented composers and new music, Chelsea Randall seeks to create fresh dialogues between the old, new, and undiscovered as a performer and collaborator in the program she brings to The Foundry on Friday, June 25 for the launch of "American Mavericks."

West Stockbridge — The fact that Chelsea Randall began playing the piano when she was eight, going on nine — “a little bit older than most kids start” — was the first of several unconventional chords the New York City-based pianist and educator has struck over the course of her career. As a dedicated advocate of underrepresented composers and new music, Randall seeks to create fresh dialogues between the old, new, and undiscovered as a performer and collaborator — as evidenced by the program she brings to The Foundry on Friday, June 25, the launch of “American Mavericks,” a performance, commissioning, and research project celebrating seldom performed and new solo piano repertoire by 20th and 21st century Black American composers.

“This is a spotlight project on Black American composers with the ultimate goal that, at some point hopefully soon, these works will not just be spotlighted — they will be presented in dialogue and connection with other great masterworks that we know and love, and just be part of great art,” Randall told The Edge. She underscored that until that time comes, we need presenters, artists, and educational institutions to do the work of, “drawing attention specifically to underserved groups and amplify[ing] this diversity,” something big venues and venerable institutions have been slow to do.

Part of Randall’s mission, when teaching young students, is — right from the very beginning of study — to place often overlooked works alongside what she calls the traditional hallmarks of Western classical music, “right along with the Chopin [and] Mozart…so that students see there is equal footing between these different periods and cultures and traditions of music.” In placing one next to the other, it enriches the entire canon of music.

Chelsea Randall. Courtesy of the artist.

“My own goal as an artist and artistic director is to amplify the work of overlooked, new, historically underrepresented composers — with [an aim] to broaden the dialogue about what classical music is [and] how it should be presented,” Randall said pointing to artists such as George Walker, Regina Harris Baiocchi, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Julius Eastman, Undine Smith Moore, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Dorothy Rudd Moore, and H. Leslie Adams. Following the Berkshire-based launch of the project — marked by a solo recital spotlighting monumental, late piano masterpieces by trailblazing composer George Walker, in honor of the Centennial Anniversary of his birth — Randall will take “American Mavericks” on the road to New York City, San Diego, Pasadena, and San Francisco.

Randall’s purview of interests is hardly one dimensional. While music appears to take center stage (her grandmother, a classical pianist, loaned Randall her piano to begin taking lessons), an avid interest in literature waits in the wings.

“I was very interested in literature and poetry and was actually going to pursue a career in publishing, editing, and writing,” said Randall — who ultimately enrolled in college as an English major — of avocations that remain close to her heart. She describes her background in music as untraditional, attending conservatory while remaining rooted in a robust writing and editing practice on the side, something she openly cites as enriching her practice as a musical artist. Meanwhile, “if it wasn’t for [my grandmother], I never would have even had [music] as part of my life.”

A penchant for research has proven helpful (if not instrumental) to Randall’s advocacy work. Chief among her aims? “Breaking down the barriers between artists and audiences,” she explains, pointing to what attracted her to The Foundry — a multi-disciplinary arts venue in the heart of the Berkshires.

“I was really drawn to Amy [Brentano’s] mission to create a space that presents very challenging, diverse, experimental work with the goal of connecting people through art in ways that are educational,” said Randall who prioritizes interacting with her audience. “It’s really important for me to encourage them to come on a journey of discovery with me through making the music I’m performing accessible, giving them inroads to understanding, and connecting with these pieces that they might not necessarily be familiar with through offering context and background,” all with the hopes of leading them to what Randall calls nuggets — information that leads to a listening experience that is rich and informed.

The “American Mavericks” project is a natural extension of Randall’s mission as an artist — namely, a desire “to draw attention to the fact that the Western canon represents a vast amount of influences from different peoples and cultures, and it has to be continually expanded for art to move forward.” She points to the music featured in this project as “quintessentially American music in that it contains just an amazing melting pot of influences” that run the gamut from western classical to spirituals, pop, and folk to jazz and world music.

It is not a knee jerk reaction to the seismic events of the past years, stemming from what Randally calls, “the tragic murder of George Floyd.” It is an intentional, deliberate attempt to present this work from a place of understanding of research — of truly wanting to present art, in all of its multifaceted and rich ways, to an audience who we assume will appreciate the proverbial dots being connected.

“All of these composers are working within idioms that are in themselves creating this broad dialogue,” says Randal of one “that deserves to be more actively performed and taught and studied.”

NOTE: Lauded for her sensitive and intuitive playing, pianist Chelsea Randall brings a unique, and often interdisciplinary approach to her programming, forging connections across centuries and genres. She is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of EXTENSITY, a NY-based concert series presenting cutting-edge programming by emerging and established artists working across a range of disciplines including music, fine art, and multimedia. EXTENSITY aims to foster connections between musical traditions, artistic practices, and time periods with emphasis on underrepresented and new voices; in addition, it creates platforms for artists and audiences to interact and make new discoveries through receptions, artist talkbacks, lectures, and events. For more information, visit Chelsea Randall’s website.

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