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Recital series features Dunnagan and Garst

Wesley Dunnagan. (Courtesy of Wesley Dunnagan)

“Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.”

These are the last lines from a Langston Hughes poem, which American composer Florence Price set to music in 1945. In her long and prolific career, she composed four symphonies, two piano concertos, two violin concertos, a long list of chamber and choral works, plus hundreds of songs. This is but one based on a Hughes poem.

“Hold fast to dreams” will open the next concert in the Unitarian Universalist Recital Series on Friday evening (March 3). The recital features tenor Wesley Dunnagan, assistant professor of music at Fort Lewis College, and pianist Marilyn Garst, artistic director and founder of the UU Series.

“I began the design of this program with Florence Price’s setting of the Langston Hughes poem,” Dunnagan said. “In recent times, we have all needed to look forward in hope in order to persevere through major challenges, so this text and music really spoke to me.”

Building on twin themes of nature and hope, the recital will range over works from the 18th to the 21st centuries, including two Handel arias and Romantic-era songs by German composer Robert Schumann and French composer Henri Duparc.

Dunnagan added that he wanted to frame the evening with two American works based on Hughes’ poetry. That’s why Price’s “Hold fast” opens the recital and “Songs of the Seasons,” by Margaret Bonds, will close the concert.

If you go

WHAT: UUFD Recital Series: Tenor Wesley Dunnagan and pianist Marilyn Garst.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday (March 3).

WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 419 San Juan Drive.

ADMISSION: $20 adults, $8 students with ID and children, at the door.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://bit.ly/3mftwph, or contact Marilyn Garst: 385-8668 or mmgarst1940@gmail.com.

Bonds was Price’s student, Dunnagan said. “They were both fantastic performing pianists, which might explain the inventive piano parts.” And both, he noted, were personal friends of the poet.

Another song cycle, “Becoming a Redwood,” composed in 2003 by Lori Laitman, will be heard in the first half.

“The work explores grief and rebirth in nature, ending with a reminder that living is inherently dangerous, but experience is worth the risk,” Dunnagan said. “I always felt awed and at peace among the redwoods during my time in northern California, so this cycle reminds me of that period of my own life.”

Laitman’s compositions range from opera to a plethora of choral works and more than 300 songs. Laitman, 68, based the Redwood cycle on poems by Dana Gioia

To close the first half, Dunnagan will sing four of Reynaldo Hahn’s songs from “Venezia,” a six-part cycle inspired by a 1900 trip to visit the composer’s friend Marcel Proust in Venice.

“The musical lines are natural to the voice and express humor and joy in life on the Lagoon,” Dunnagan said.

After intermission, Dunnagan will sing two Handel arias: “Thus when the sun,” from “Samson” and “Where’er you walk,” from “Semele.”

“The audience can compare (the ornamentation in the Hahn) to my own ornamentation in the two Handel arias,” he said.

Three French songs by Duparc, who died in 1933, will set the stage for the American closing song cycle by Bonds.

This is the 15th season for the UU Series. The fourth and final recital will be May 5, featuring violinist Richard Silvers and pianist Holly Quist.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.