“We are living in communities that are like war zones.”
—Jamilia Land, California Families United for Justice
Quoted in An African American Requiem
PORTLAND, OR — The Oregon Symphony and Portland’s Resonance Ensemble are honored to announce a new Special Concert to their 2019/20 Seasons: the world premiere of composer Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem, a pivotal work memorializing the lives of African Americans lost to racist violence in the United States, and the first work of its kind to be performed in Oregon. The concert will be presented Saturday, May 23, 2020, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
“In 2017, Damien Geter approached us with the idea to compose An African American Requiem, and Resonance Ensemble enthusiastically commissioned it,” explains Resonance’s Artistic Director Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon. “As yet, there has not been a Requiem written in memory of African Americans who have lost their lives to racist violence over the last four centuries; this will be a groundbreaking project that we believe can have tremendous impact on Oregonians.Itserves as a commentary on the war of racism whose increasing casualties are left unnumbered and counting. Damien’s work is extraordinary and moving, and we knew from the beginning that our ideal collaborator on this premiere would be the Oregon Symphony.”
“Music has the power to inspire, educate, and heal,” says Oregon Symphony President Scott Showalter. “Through innovative new works, the Symphony has moved audiences and sparked conversations about many challenging issues we face today including immigration, the environment, and homelessness. When Resonance Ensemble proposed this partnership we enthusiastically agreed.”
“This is the largest work I’ve ever written, and I feel like I’ve been writing it my entire life - not in terms of time, but in terms of being a black man in today’s America, and also through various influences of music,” explains Geter. “I hope that this leads to important conversations in Oregon and beyond. As someone who considers himself an activist through art, the Requiem is the perfect marriage of the two: art + activism.”
The premiere will feature a choir specially assembled by FitzGibbon for this work, the African American Requiem Choir, with the professional singers of Resonance Ensemble and Kingdom Sound Gospel Choir featured, and four renowned African American singers: Brandie Sutton, soprano; Karmesha Peake, mezzo-soprano; Bernard Holcomb, tenor; and Kenneth Overton, baritone. The final movement will be scored for orchestra and narrator, with words penned and performed by African American poet and Portland resident, S. Renee Mitchell.
“We are thrilled to bring this work to the hall,” says FitzGibbon, “and we welcome all people to experience it.”
AN AFRICAN AMERICAN REQUIEM
WHEN: Saturday, May 23, 2020 | 7:30 pm
WHERE: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
MORE ABOUT THE WORK
This concert-length work honors African American victims of lynching past and present by hanging and by other violence, with music that draws upon classical, jazz, and gospel traditions. The Requiemwill use the traditional Latin Requiem text for many movements but also incorporate spirituals (“There’s A Man Goin’ Round” and “Kumbaya”) andtexts from civil rights activists Ida B. Wells, “Lynching is a Color-Line Crime,” and Jamilia Land, “We are living in communities that are like war zones.” One movement is dedicated solely to Eric Garner’s famous last words, “I can’t breathe,” and uses no wind instruments but rather a tenor soloist who sings over the constant roar of percussion instruments in an effort to be heard over them. Another movement recognizes children who have been killed and uses a line from a poem by Antwon Rose, “I am confused and afraid.” The final movement will be scored for orchestra and narrator, with words penned and performed by African American poet and Portland resident S. Renee Mitchell.
ABOUT THE PERFORMERS:
The premiere will feature a choir specially assembled for this work, the African American Requiem Choir, featuring Resonance Ensemble and members of other Portland-area choirs. Assembled by Katherine FitzGibbon, this choir will represent the racial and ethnic diversity of the broader Portland community. As Damien Geter writes, “My experience has been that the choral singers themselves form a new community through the rehearsal and performance process.”
The solo vocal quartet consists of four renowned African American singers: Brandie Sutton, soprano; Karmesha Peake, mezzo-soprano; Bernard Holcomb, tenor; and Kenneth Overton, baritone.
Note to Journalists: Damien Geter and Katherine FitzGibbon are available for print, online, and broadcast interviews. If you would like more information on this event or would like to schedule an interview, please contact Liz Bacon Brownson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 971-212-8034.
Community panel discussions will be announced in the coming months.
ABOUT DAMIEN GETER:
Composer Damien Geter infuses classical music with various styles from the black diaspora to create music that furthers the cause for social justice. Also a bass-baritone, Damien's 2019–2020 season includes appearances with the Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera, Eugene Opera, Resonance Ensemble, and Third Angle New Music. His most recent composition, The Talk: Instructions for Black Children When They Interact with the Police, was premiered with Resonance Ensemble in June 2019. He is thrilled about the production of An African American Requiem, in partnership with Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony.
ABOUT RESONANCE ENSEMBLE:
Resonance Ensemble, a professional vocal ensemble based in Portland, Oregon, creates powerful programs that promote meaningful social change. Resonance Ensemble works to amplify voices that have long been silenced, and does so through moving, thematic concerts that highlight solo and choral voices, new and underrepresented composers, visual and other performing artists, and community partners.
Under Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon, Resonance Ensemble has performed challenging and diverse music, always with an eye toward unusual collaborations with artistic partners from around Portland: poets, jazz musicians, singer-songwriters, painters, dancers. The Resonance singers are “one of the Northwest’s finest choirs” (I), with gorgeous vocal tone, and they also make music with heart. As Oregon Arts Watch recently wrote, “They do social justice music justice: their concerts are part social commentary, part group therapy, and part best damn choir show in town.”
ABOUT RESONANCE ENSEMBLE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR KATHERINE FITZGIBBON
Katherine FitzGibbonis Artistic Director of Portland’s professional Resonance Ensemble, called “one of the finest choirs in the Northwest” by Willamette Week. With Resonance, she has collaborated with the Portland Art Museum, Artists Repertory Theatre, Third Angle New Music, Portland Chamber Orchestra, Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack, the Chuck Israels Jazz Orchestra, the Oregon Poet Laureate, and local actors, composers, visual artists, and dancers. Resonance partners with local artists and community organizations to explore questions of equity and inclusion.
Dr. FitzGibbon was just named the winner of the 2019 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal. Given periodically by Chorus America, the nation’s premier organization supporting the advancement of choral music today, the Louis Botto Award recognizes a mid-career choral leader for her exceptional work in developing a professional choral ensemble. An independent panel selected Dr. FitzGibbon to receive the award, which was presented at Chorus America’s 2019 Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Dr. FitzGibbon is also Director of Choral Activities and Associate Professor of Music at Lewis & Clark College. In 2014, she was an inaugural winner of the Lorry Lokey Faculty Excellence Award, honoring “inspired teaching, rigorous scholarship, demonstrated leadership, and creative accomplishments.” A faculty member at the summertime Berkshire Choral Festival, Dr. FitzGibbon has also conducted choirs at Harvard, Boston, Cornell, and Clark Universities, and at the University of Michigan. She is a lyric soprano and music historian whose research on German choral music and politics has been presented and published internationally.
ABOUT THE OREGON SYMPHONY:
The multi-Grammy-nominated Oregon Symphony ranks as one of America’s major orchestras. Led by Music Director Carlos Kalmar, it serves over 300,000 people annually through more than 110 performances and award-winning education and community engagement programs. Through All Classical Portland and American Public Media’s SymphonyCast and Performance Today the Symphony reaches over 26 million listeners. Now in its 124th year, the Oregon Symphony is the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi.
Known for innovative programming, the Symphony gained national recognition for its ground-breaking Sounds of Home Series which revolutionized the role of the arts in addressing three of the most critical social issues of the day: immigration, the environment, and homelessness. This series made a powerful impact in the community through innovative art, cross-sector partnerships with 37 organizations, and civic leadership and culminated with the recording of, emergency shelter intake form, an Oregon Symphony commission by composer Gabriel Kahane that will be released in March 2020.
At a time when many orchestras are reducing their classical programming, the Oregon Symphony is continuing to invest in the art form. In the 2018/19 Season the Symphony premiered more than 20 compositions, including works by eight living composers such as John Adams, Unsuk Chin, and John Corigliano. Effective with the 2019/20 Season, the Symphony is expanding its Classical Series to 18 weeks. The schedule includes the return of the Symphony’s popular SoundSights concerts, which were first presented in 2016/17. These visually stunning programs incorporate a rich tapestry of artistic elements, which particularly appeal to new audiences. Photos for media use are available at orsymphony.org/newsroom.
About Resonance Ensemble Poet in Residence and An African American Requiem librettist/narrator S. Renee Mitchell:
S. Renee Mitchell is a published author, curriculum designer, community activist, and multi-media artist. She also is a sur-thriver who has found her life purpose since disentangling from bullying, sexual assault, and domestic violence. After 25 years as an award-winning newspaper journalist – where she was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize–Renee reinvented herself as a Creative Revolutionist; co-founded a culturally specific, drop-in DV resource center; and began gifting her talents to the community as a poet, playwright, performer, speaker, teaching artist, and self-taught graphic designer in order to create and contribute to empowering projects and programs, community healing ceremonies, plays, songs, and books about healing from trauma. Motivated by intention and heart, Renee’s deepest desire is to help others use their creativity to let go, gather up and move on in order to find themselves, their voices, and their places in the world. For more about Ms. Mitchell’s work, visit ReneeMitchellSpeaks.com