Alicia Hall Moran Flies on 'Two Wings': Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Alicia Hall Moran. Credit: Peter Adamik

Alicia Hall Moran. Credit: Peter Adamik

Mezzo-soprano and composer Alicia Hall Moran has a superpower—through her varied work she conjures a broad creative world in which the sonic languages of classical and African American music flow richly, intersecting with luminaries of visual art, spoken word, and dance. But, as the writer Lara Pellegrinelli pointed out in her New York Times feature, "...imaginative recontextualization of classical singing has long propelled Ms. Hall Moran. She is a trained mezzo-soprano who never tries to sound like anything else, despite the diverse artistic company she keeps."

Consider Hall Moran's season to date. Earlier this week she performed with Roomful of Teeth and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the world premiere of Bryce Dessner's immersive work on the life of gay visionary photographer Robert MapplethorpeTriptych (Eyes of One on Another). (The tour travels next to the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, MI, in its theatrical version, before the New York premiere, June 6-8, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.) Also this month, Hall Moran is a featured soloist performing Lil Hardin Armstrong's Just for a Thrill on pianist Lara Downes' all-woman album, Holes in the Sky (March 2019, Sony Masterworks), alongside Rhiannon Giddens, Judy Collins, Simone Dinnerstein, Rachel Barton Pine, Hila Plitmann, and others. In December, Jessye Norman tapped Hall Moran to narrate the icon's latest project, Sissieretta Jones: Call Her By Her Name! at National Sawdust (December 2018). And last August, Hall Moran performed and recorded as the featured soloist with the Oregon Symphony for singer-songwriter-composer Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio emergency shelter intake form, about homelessness in America.

But Hall Moran's primary focus for spring 2019 is the premiere and tour of a co-production with jazz pianist Jason MoranTwo Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration. Two Wings premieres on Carnegie Hall’s famed Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage (March 30) before traveling to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC (April 14), Chicago Symphony Center (May 24), and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany.

For the project the Morans have drawn upon their own family lore and the historical record of the Great Migration to compose a series of tableaux that explore a continuum of music from rhythm and blues to gospel, classical to Broadway, work songs to rock ‘n’ roll. The production features a number of bright lights including vocalists Pastor Smokie NorfulToshi ReagonHilda Harris, and the acclaimed wind quintet Imani Winds. For Carnegie, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson reads excerpts from her New York Times best-selling book The Warmth of Other Suns. Hall Moran also pays homage to her own musical lineage at Carnegie Hall, featuring works by her great-great uncle Francis Hall Johnson, among the most prominent arrangers of African-American spirituals, as well as the traditional spiritual "Two Wings”—arranged by lyric tenor and composer Roland Hayes—showcasing the Morans’ artistic range at the intersection of classical and jazz music.

Recently named Ford Foundation "Art of Change" fellows, Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran have previously collaborated on works for the Venice Biennale, Whitney Biennial, Walker Art Center, Site SantaFE, and Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Jason Moran + Alicia Hall Moran.

Jason Moran + Alicia Hall Moran.


At the heart of Hall Moran’s artistry is a sense of urgency around personal histories, drawing on her own and her family’s stories. Black Wall Street (2016), a chamber performance piece, was inspired by the actual Wall Street career of her father, a native Oklahoman, and the violent Tulsa race riot of 1921 that decimated an affluent African American neighborhood. The piece, which examines the role of money in African American history—from slave trade to Manhattan financiers—has struck a chord with communities across the country, and has been staged at the River to River Festival in New York, Opera Southwest, and Tulsa Performing Arts Center, after developing at National Sawdust and the Schomburg Center/NYPL.

Breaking ICE: The Battle of the Carmens, last seen at MASSMoCA, draws on Hall Moran’s past as an amateur figure skater. She reinterprets Bizet’s opera Carmenthrough the lens of two competitors at the 1988 Winter Olympics who both performed to the opera’s famed “Habanera.” The New York Times dedicated a feature to the mezzo-soprano as she laced up with Ice Theatre of New York to premiere Breaking Ice on the Bryant Park ice skating rink as part of the 2018 Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now Festival.  

Hall Moran also draws musical DNA from her family tree—most notably from her great, great uncle, the seminal arranger, composer and famed choral conductor Hall Johnson, whose arrangements of Spirituals are sung by the world’s foremost operatic voices, including Marian Anderson, Shirley Verrett and Jessye Norman. Following her own operatic training, Hall Moran made a breakout debut in the Tony-winning revival The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess in 2012, covering for Audra McDonald on Broadway and starring as Bess on the celebrated 20-city American tour, leading the Los Angeles Times to note: “Moran finds the truth of the character in her magnificent voice.”

An innate collaborator, she has worked with a staggering array of preeminent creatives across disciplines, including guitarist Bill Frisell, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, pianist Lara Downes, and visual artists Carrie Mae Weems, Ragnar Kjartansson, Suzanne Bocanegra, and Adam Pendleton. She regularly performs with symphonic orchestras like the Chicago Philharmonic and National Symphony Orchestra Pops, and was recently featured with the Oregon Symphony in singer-songwriter-composer Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio emergency shelter intake form, about homelessness in America.

Hall Moran holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Barnard College, with a minor in Anthropology, and a Bachelor of Music degree from Manhattan School of Music in Vocal Performance. 


Sarah Knight