Classical pianist Marianne Parker has a passion for performing the music of composers who are not yet part of the classical music canon. So when music historian Robert Grenier asked her to assemble a program of recently rediscovered Haitian classical piano music, she jumped at the opportunity.
"It appealed to me immediately," she says. The result of their efforts is Riches Dayiti, a classical Haitian piano music concert taking place Friday, February 2, at the Ophelia & Juan Js. Roca Theater at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.
Grenier, who teaches at South Carolina State University, edited around 400 pages of solo piano music from Haitian composers before partnering with Parker to create the program. She was unfamiliar with the pieces before Grenier sought her out. But then again, she says, hardly anyone has heard of them. "This music has been really scarcely known by performers and scholars, and definitely not by the general public, even by Haitians."
Of the five composers whose music she'll play Friday night, only one, Ludovic Lamothe, has attained significant recognition. "It's largely up to the families of these composers to preserve the music and keep it alive and keep people aware of its existence," she says. "[Lamothe's] family has put a lot of time and energy into preserving his music, and that's why it's as known as it is."
Parker's favorite piece in the program is "Pages Intimes" by Edmund Saintonge. "But he didn't have any family to preserve his music," she says. "It was basically rotting away in humid conditions."
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The condition of the manuscripts challenged Parker, whose side project, L+M Duo, commissions and performs works by contemporary composers. "We put a lot of time into determining whether a surprising note or direction a piece took was the composer’s clear intention or if there was room to interpret as a performer. The challenge for me was to find an interpretation that is musically engaging while remaining true to the composer's intent."
The unique rhythms that color the pieces posed additional challenges. "Haitian dance rhythms play an enormous part in almost all of these. The merengue rhythm is present in all of these pieces, so that presented a big challenge for me... I had to do a lot of research on my own — listening, asking around to kind of get an idea of how I could meld that style with the classical style."
Parker's upcoming concert took on added significance after it was reported recently that President Donald Trump made disparaging comments about Haiti. Those reports emboldened Parker in her mission to showcase the works of these recently rediscovered composers. "I'm feeling a greater responsibility than before to show as many people as I can the beauty and the artistry and the genius that comes from the Haitian culture and Haiti," she says.
Riches Dayiti: Treasures of Haitian Piano Music. 7:30 p.m. Friday, February 2, at Ophelia and Juan Js. Roca Theater at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, 500 SW 127th Ave., Miami; 786-621-4624; belenjesuit.org. Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 in advance via crossingbordersmusic.org.