Richmond’s childhood composing prodigy has a grand premiere – 50 years later

RICHMOND, Va. -- “It’s pretty amazing,” Walter Braxton said Friday night as he waited in front of midtown Richmond’s Firehouse Theatre for his long-awaited show to begin.

“I’ve been using the word ‘unbelievable’ all day,” he added. “That was one of my mother’s pet words when it came to my musical career.”

And what a musical career it has been. A composing prodigy beginning in middle school here, he was recruited widely with the brightest of futures.

Then the pressure fueled mental problems that stalled his public career for a half-century, although he continued to compose.

Walter Braxton

When we caught up with him a year and a half ago in one of his near-daily composing spots - the midtown Starbucks - Braxton said his mental health had improved and stabilized. He was ready to share his work with the world.

Coincidentally, he had already met Firehouse’s future artistic director at that same Starbucks.

“Three years ago,” Joel Bassin said, “before I even moved down here to take this job, I was hanging out at Starbucks waiting for a meeting. And I was sitting next to this guy. It was Walter. I introduced myself - he was hand-notating music. He said, ‘You know, I’ve got this opera.’ And I said, ‘Hey, we should do it at the Firehouse.’ Now, three years later, we’re doing the world premiere of his opera. It’s incredible!”

Watch our video to see the public opening night of Walter Braxton’s lifelong work, the opera “To Damascus.”

Or you can see it yourself at the Firehouse Theatre through January 27.