The performance will examine the impact of 400 years of racial violence against Black Americans in a special concert on May 7th, 2022 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Today, Oregon Symphony and Portland’s Resonance Ensemble are honored to announce the world premiere of Portland-based composer Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem. Commissioned by Resonance Ensemble, this pivotal work memorializes the lives of Black Americans lost to racial violence in the United States, in the first Requiem of its kind. A joint collaboration between Geter, Resonance Ensemble and Oregon Symphony, the world premiere will be performed on Saturday, May 7th at 6:00 pm at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
“As a Black composer in today’s America, I feel like I've been writing this my entire life,” says Geter. “I was hoping there would be a time we wouldn’t need this piece, but I think we always will. I hope An African American Requiem leads to important action that affects change.”
Geter’s inspiration for the piece came in the aftermath of the 2016 election. In 2017 he approached Resonance Ensemble with the idea, and Resonance commissioned the work with the support of Artistic Director Katherine FitzGibbon. Soon after, Resonance Ensemble reached out to the Oregon Symphony, forming a partnership to bring the piece to life on stage.
“Music has the power to inspire, educate, and heal,” says Scott Showalter, President and CEO of Oregon Symphony. “It has been an honor to work with Damien and Resonance Ensemble to bring such a relevant and meaningful project to our community that will hopefully serve as a catalyst for action.”
The premiere will feature musicians from across Oregon, including the Oregon Symphony and the African American Requiem Choir, made up of singers from Resonance Ensemble, Kingdom Sound Gospel Choir, and other area choirs. William Eddins will conduct, Katherine FitzGibbon will prepare the chorus, and the concert will feature a quartet of renowned African American opera singers: soprano Brandie Sutton, mezzo-soprano Karmesha Peake, tenor Bernard Holcomb, and baritone Kenneth Overton.
The piece includes African American spiritualsas well astexts from civil rights activists Ida B. Wells and Jamilia Land. One movement is dedicated solely to Eric Garner’s famous last words, “I can’t breathe,” while another recognizes children who have been killed and features a line from a poem by Antwon Rose, “I am confused and afraid.” The final movement will include words penned and performed by African American poet and Portland resident Dr. S. Renee Mitchell.
In addition to being performed in-person, All Classical Portland will broadcast this world premiere live on 89.9FM, online at allclassical.org, and simulcast on WQXR in New York City. They will also syndicate the broadcast for radio stations around the country to share by Juneteenth weekend.
Following the world premiere in Portland, OR the piece will be performed with Resonance Ensemble and the Choral Arts Society of Washington at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on May 23rd, 2022, and recorded for commercial release.
“In 2017, when we commissioned An African American Requiem, we had no idea the path we were about to embark on,” explains Resonance’s Artistic Director Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon. “After delays due to the pandemic, we are thrilled that Damien’s work will premiere here in Oregon at long last. It is extraordinary and moving, and it’s exciting to see how audiences, community partners, and arts organizations across the country are coming together to watch his vision come to life.”
Tickets to the concert start at $20 and can be purchased online through Oregon Symphony or by contacting the ticket office at 503-228-1353.
About Damien Geter
A celebrated composer, Damien infuses classical music with various styles from the Black diaspora. His growing body of work includes chamber, vocal, orchestral, and full operatic works. Recent highlights include commissions Cantata for a Hopeful Tomorrow for The Washington Chorus, Invisible for Opera Theater Oregon, The Justice Symphony for the University of Michigan, Buh-roke for the Portland Baroque Orchestra, and String Quartet No. 1, Neo-Soul for All Classical Portland and On-Site Opera. His piece 1619 appeared with On Site Opera recently as part of their presentation “What Lies Beneath.” Damien made his Metropolitan Opera debut as the Undertaker in the Grammy award-winning production of Porgy and Bess. Other credits include: Angelotti in Tosca with Portland Opera, Sam in Trouble in Tahiti with the Reno Symphony, the title role in Errollyn Wallen’s Quamino’s Map with Chicago Opera Theatre, bass soloist in Darrell Grant’s Sanctuaries, and the bass soloist in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the Richmond Symphony. Composition premieres in 2022 include his large work, An African American Requiem, with Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony and I Said What I Said for Imani Winds. Damien looks forward to his second opera, Holy Ground, premiering this summer at the Glimmerglass Festival. website
More about An African American Requiem
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.” For more information, visit resonancechoral.org
About Oregon Symphony
The multi-Grammy Award-nominated Oregon Symphony ranks as one of America’s major orchestras. Led by Music Director David Danzmayr, it serves more than 250,000 people annually through live concerts and award-winning education and community engagement programs. The Oregon Symphony has broken attendance and fundraising records in recent years, while innovating on stage through new series such as SoundSights, Sounds of Home, and SoundStories. Additionally, online programming and syndicated broadcasts reach tens of millions more people throughout the world. The 2021-2022 season marked the 125th anniversary for the Oregon Symphony, the oldest orchestra in the Western United States. For more information, visit www.orsymphony.org.
Liz Bacon Brownson