MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Joseph C. Phillips Jr.’s The Grey Land

Recently released on New Amsterdam Records and performed by his ensemble Numinous, The Grey Land is a “mono-opera” by Joseph C. Phillips Jr. to a libretto by the composer. It tells the story of, in his words, “a Black mother trying to survive the reality in this land that doesn’t fully see her continued hope: that the great American experiment will one day become a belonging place where anyone can dream of ‘stillness and stars’ free from fear and want; a place where the beautiful promise of happiness, liberty, and life may yet manifest true to finally include her family too.”

Phillips, who started work on The Grey Land in 2011, incorporates texts from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Isaac Butler, Frederick Douglas, and Mothers of the Movement (founded to fight police and gun violence in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder and the acquittal of George Zimmermann).

The birth of his first child in 2014 inspired him to focus on the opera, as Phillips recalls: “I was already deep into researching and thinking about what the opera was going to be when the events of Ferguson, Missouri, happened in that beautiful summer of nesting in upstate New York. My conflicting emotions—joy of anticipation married to the anxiety about the world our future child would inhabit—moved me to want to more directly address the systemic issues long plaguing the U.S., particularly for Black and Brown people.”

Phillips uses the term “mixed music” to characterize his style: “Mixed music is an organic fusing of various elements from many different influences forming compositions that are personal, different, and new.”

TRACKLIST:
1. The People Get Tired of Dying
2. Ferguson: Summer of 2014
3. Tender Sorrow
4. One Side Losing Slowly
5. We Wear the Mask
6. Don’t
7. Agnus Bey
8. Legion of Boom
9. I Should Have Been Mother****ing Black Mamba
10. Injustice
11. Liberty Bell
12. The Sunken Place
13. Streets of Sighs

CREDITS:
THE GREY LAND
by Joseph C Phillips Jr

Soprano (Mother) – Rebecca L Hargrove
Narrator (Son) – Kenneth Browning

Numinous:
Katie Cox – Flute, Piccolo
Sammy Lesnick – Bb Clarinet, Eb Clarinet
Chris Bacas – Alto Saxophone
Sara Schoenbeck – Bassoon
Alicia Rau – Trumpet, Flügelhorn
Lis Rubard – Horn
JC Sanford – Trombone
Amanda Monaco – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Mike Baggetta – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Sebastian Noelle – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Magdalena Abrego – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Deanna Witkowski – Yamaha Electric Piano
Andrea Lodge – Rhodes Electric Piano
Kate Sloat – Harp
Aubrey Johnson – Voice
Tammy Scheffer – Voice, Bells
Sara Serpa – Voice
Bogna Kicińska – Voice, Bells
Emilie Weibel – Voice, Bells
Amy Cervini – Voice, Bells
Ana Milosavljevic – Violin, Viper/Electric Violin solo (“…Black Mamba”)
Josh Henderson – Violin
Frederika Krier – Violin
Libby Weitnauer – Violin
Hannah Levinson – Viola
Brian Lindgren – Viola
Matt Aronoff – Electric Bass
Mariel Roberts – Cello Solo (“Tender Sorrow”)
Joseph C Phillips Jr – Composer/Conductor/Bells/Co-Producer
Oded Lev-Ari – Bells/Co-Producer
Michael Hammond – Electronics/Drum Programming (“…Black Mamba”)
Joseph C Phillips Jr – Electronics/Audio Collage (“One Side Losing Slowly” & “The Sunken Place”)


Filed under: African-American musicians, new opera, new release

Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow

On Saturday evening at 7:30pm ET, the Washington Chorus presents the world premiere of Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow, an innovative and timely work by Portland-based composer Damien Geter and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Bob Berg.

Commissioned by the Washington Chorus in response to stories of hope and the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community, Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow involves both a new score and a new film that was created as a collaboration between Geter and Berg.

The premiere will be streamed live on the Vimeo platform via TicketSpice and will thereafter be available via Vimeo+ on demand and other streaming services.

According to the ensemble’s website, this film-cantata “tells the story of one individual’s journey as he grapples with recovery from COVID-19: a journey from despair and hurt to redemption and hope” and features a score “influenced by Bach, modern music, and traditional spirituals.” Soprano Aundi Marie Moore will join the Washington Chorus as soloist, with Eugene Rogers conducting.

I wrote about Damien Geter in my cover story on “secular requiems” for the Summer 2020 issue of Chorus America’s Voice Magazine.

Filed under: African-American musicians, choral music, commissions, COVID-19 Era

Damien Geter’s African American Requiem

Learn more about composer (and bass-baritone and actor) Damien Geter‘s remarkable new work, An African American Requiem, in my cover story for the current issue of Chorus America’s The Voice, which explores this and other examples of “secular requiems” by contemporary composers (starts on p. 26).

The world premiere by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, which commissioned the work, was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Resonance now plans to give the premiere on 22 January 2021.

Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, choral music, new music

Porgy and Bess Roundtable from PostClassical Ensemble

Following up on my post from the beginning of the month, here’s a distillation of PostClassical Ensemble’s 10 June zoom chat titled “Porgy and Bess Roundtable: What’s It About and Who’s Singing It?”

The panelists include George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, one of the leading Porgys on today’s scene, Conrad Osborne, an expert in opera in performance, will also join in, and PCE founder Joseph Horowitz, with Bill McGlaughlin hosting. They also sample some historic Porgy recordings.

For more on this topic, here is Horowitz’s recent post: “Porgy Takes a Knee — Porgy and Bess and the American Experience of Race“:

“It’s interesting that Gershwin chose as his protagonist a person who’s on his knees. ‘Taking a knee’ has never been more relevant.”

continue

Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, George Gershwin, PostClassical Ensemble

Conductor’s Panel

_B0A5603 Roderick Cox

Here is a link to Conductor’s Perspective, a Facebook live conversation that took place today among these four American conductors: Roderick Cox, who hosted, Thomas Wilkins, Music Director of the Omaha Symphony and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Michael Morgan, Music Director of the Oakland Symphony, and Jonathon Heyward, the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie’s Chief Conductor Designate.

It’s an inspiring, cross-generational panel discussion that frankly covers the hurdles African-American musicians have faced — and continue to face — as well as the artistic passions that drive these outstandingly talented conductors.

Filed under: African-American musicians, conductors

PostClassical Ensemble’s More than Music Turns the Spotlight on Gershwin

PostClassical Ensemble — the “experimental orchestral laboratory” founded in 2003 by Joseph Horowitz and Angel Gil-Ordonez — has been reflecting on music’s role in society through a series called “More then Music,” which presents audio/video webcasts and associated zoom chats.

With the new challenges it poses to institutions we’ve taken for granted, the coronavirus pandemic has intensified the urgency of thinking about these issues of music and its social function — as opposed to abstracting the art into a “purely” aesthetic construct.

The latest edition of PCE’s More than Music series focuses on George Gershwin and a time of creative ferment that was tearing down conventional walls around self-described “serious” music.

PCE has just released the video linked above, The Russian Gershwin, featuring commentary by Joseph Horowitz (PCE Executive Producer) and Angel Gil-Ordóñez (PCE Music Director), with Bill McGlaughlin as the host.

There will be two follow-up zoom chats free and open to the public, both from 6 to 7pm EST. The first one, on 4 June, “A Gershwin Roundtable,” will be a discussion with Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, the pianist Genadi Zagor, and Mark Clague, director of the Gershwin Initiative at the University of Michigan. It will also include a live performance by the jazz artist Karrin Allyson.

The 10 June chat is titled “Porgy and Bess Roundtable: What’s It About and Who’s Singing It?” Along with Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, and Clague, special guests will include two pre-eminent singers who are authorities on Porgy and Bess: George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, and the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, one of the leading Porgys on today’s scene. Conrad L. Osborne, an expert in opera in performance, will also join in, and there will a discussion of historic Porgy recordings. Bill McGlaughlin hosts both zoom chats.

More details and sign-up links to the free zoom chats here.

Filed under: African-American musicians, George Gershwin, PostClassical Ensemble

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