Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the Minnesota Orchestra approached nationally renowned composer Carlos Simon to commission a new work that would honor the ongoing struggle for racial justice in Minnesota and beyond.
Simon worked closely with frequent collaborator and celebrated librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph to create a new composition, titled “brea(d)th,” which features Joseph performing his original text. The Orchestra, alongside the Minnesota Chorale, Twin Cities Choral Partners and 29:11 International Exchange will present the work’s world premiere with a program under the baton of Jonathan Taylor Rush. The associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Rush will make his Orchestra Hall debut in these concerts.
The program will be performed at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday, May 18, at 11 a.m., Friday, May 19, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, May 20, at 8 p.m., with standard ticket prices ranging from $25 to $99. Choose Your Price tickets are available to all concertgoers for select seating sections ($5 minimum ticket price). Free tickets are available for young listeners under the age of 18 thanks to the Orchestra’s Hall Pass program. For more information, visit minnesotaorchestra.org/hallpass.
The performance on Friday, May 19, will be broadcast live on YourClassical MPR and Twin Cities PBS (TPT-2), and streamed live for free through the Orchestra’s website and social media channels. The broadcast will subsequently be released for on-demand viewing with a digital subscription to the Orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall.
The music of Kennedy Center composer in residence Carlos Simon has become a staple in the Minnesota Orchestra’s repertoire in recent years, including his “An Elegy: A Cry from the Grave” and “Fate Now Conquers.” In preparation for writing “brea(d)th,” Simon and Joseph made two trips to the Twin Cities, connecting with local artists, activists and community members. The pair took a pilgrimage to George Floyd Square where, among others, they met with Angela Harrelson, George Floyd’s aunt, which allowed them to learn more about Floyd’s personal life. In her program note accompanying the piece, Shekela Wanyama—a doctoral student in choral and orchestral conducting, and a singer with the Minnesota Chorale who is assisting the choir in its rehearsals for “brea(d)th”—wrote: “Details gleaned from the visits appear throughout “brea(d)th,” weaving a powerful connection between the expanse of African American history and the conditions of Floyd’s life and death.”
As Simon and Joseph write in their artist statement, “’brea(d)th’ is a classical work, inspired by the enduring presence of George Floyd the Ancestor, asking America to consider an equitable future.” Read their full artist statement at minnesotaorchestra.org/breadth-artist-statement. In addition, Simon, Joseph and Wanyama offered insight into the compositional process and what concertgoers can expect in a recent interview. View that video at minnesotaorchestra.org/stories/a-work-that-yearns.
To open the program, Rush will lead the Orchestra in a performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Petite Suite de Concert.” Written by the British composer in 1911, the light-hearted suite includes charming melodies, soaring woodwinds and lively percussion. Though Coleridge-Taylor composed an extensive number of works before his untimely death at the age of 37, his legacy is similar in its arc to many other Black composers who have been historically ignored by major Western classical institutions only to be increasingly programmed in recent seasons as ensembles begin work to rectify their roles in systemic racism. The “Petite Suite de Concert” featured in these concerts will be the 12th piece by Coleridge-Taylor performed by the Minnesota Orchestra since 2016.
The program includes Wynton Marsalis’ Concerto for Tubist and Orchestra, which will be performed by Steven Campbell, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal tuba since 2005. Marsalis, a famed trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, has won nine Grammy Awards in both jazz and classical music. The concerto was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and premiered by that ensemble in 2021, featuring soloist Carol Jantsch. Influenced by a range of musical traditions from classical to boogaloo, the four movements of Marsalis’ kaleidoscopic concerto showcase the virtuosity of the tuba, which is often neglected as a solo instrument; of note is a passage in which the soloist plays the tuba and sings simultaneously, and a blistering finale that nods to bebop saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker. Campbell has performed several times as soloist with the Orchestra, including in the 2018 world premiere of James Stephenson’s low brass concerto “Pillars,” Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Tuba Concerto in 2015 and Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist’s “Landscape” in 2011.
Building additional programming around the premiere of “brea(d)th,” teaching artists and youth apprentices from Juxtaposition Arts will create a multi-media installation for the Orchestra Hall lobby inspired by Simon and Joseph’s composition; the exhibit will be on view from Thursday, May 11 to Saturday, May 20. In addition, Garrett McQueen, classical musician and director of artist equity for the American Composers Orchestra, will host a pre-concert interview before each concert with Simon and Joseph that explores the process of creating “brea(d)th.”