Interview | Adolphus Hailstork

By Dan McHugh

Photo by Rose Grace

This week The Classical Station celebrates Black History Month by highlighting American composer Adolphus Hailstork. Born in Rochester, New York in 1941, Dr. Hailstork studied at Howard University and the Manhattan School of Music before earning his doctorate at Michigan State University in 1971. He is currently Professor and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University’s Department of Music where, later this month, he will conduct a concert entitled Kaleidoscope: The Musical World of Adolphus Hailstork which features his own compositions.

The following is an excerpt from a 2020 interview with Adolphus Hailstork on The Classical Station’s My Life in Music, hosted by Rob Kennedy. He discusses the inspiration for his Second Symphony, which premiered in February 1999.

My conductor friend, who was the resident conductor at the Detroit Symphony named Leslie Dunner, performed my Symphony Number One with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He said after the performance, “well, when are you going to write something for me?” And I said, “well, what about my second symphony?” And he said, “Oh, OK, fine, if you’ll do it, we’ll play it.” The following summer, I went to Africa, to Ghana, and saw the forts and the pens where soon-to-be slaves were held before they shipped in the Middle Passage (part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade where millions of Africans were transported to America). That touched me. I had already written the first movement. I was trying to just do a straightforward sonata form. But then when I came back to finish the symphony, I was so touched that I wrote a kind of a dark picture, you might say, of the Middle Passage, and then followed by a very strong, driving determination for the third movement. And then the fourth movement … a push towards freedom for the finale. So that was the second symphony, and I consider it one of the best pieces I ever did.

Listen to the entire interview with composer Adolphus Hailstork on our Conversations With Composers page. For more information about Professor Hailstork and his compositions, visit his website.