Composer Spotlight: George Walker



Spotlight on the Lyric for Strings

Duncan Riddell, Leader of the RPO says: ‘George Walker was the first African-American graduate of the prestigious Curtis Institute and this work, which was written at the age of twenty-four, is clearly inspired by the famous Adagio for Strings by his Curtis Institute classmate Samuel Barber, which we will also be performing in this concert. Walker’s beautiful music was originally intended to be the middle movement of his first string quartet titled ‘Lament’ in dedication to his late grandmother. It seems an appropriate opening for this concert taking place on Remembrance Day.’



Trailblazing American composer George Walker (1922–2018) was a man of many firsts. Born in Washington DC, he began piano lessons from the age of five. He studied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he became the first black graduate, and in his initial career as a concert pianist, he was the first African-American pianist to give a recital at New York’s Town Hall and the first black instrumentalist to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra. After studying composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, he found greater success as a composer, though his large catalogue of works has never received the concert performance exposure it truly deserves. He became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1996 for his work Lilacs, a setting of Walt Whitman poems.


More music to explore…

Listen out for Lilacs for voice and orchestra, Sinfonia No.4, ‘Strands’ and Movements for Cello and Orchestra.


Watch George Walker’s Lyric for Strings in our Spotlight Series at Home concert on Thursday 4 March from 6pm on our YouTube channel.


Watch RPO Leader Duncan Riddell on George Walker


Discover other composers featured in the Spotlight Series here.