The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Joel Thompson’s “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” is an eloquent and timely testament to Black victims of racism. It deserves to be performed in Madison and elsewhere

July 6, 2020
2 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

A reader recently wrote in and suggested that fellow blog fans should listen to “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” by the Atlanta-based American composer Joel Thompson (below).

So The Ear did just that.

He was both impressed and moved by the prescient piece of choral and orchestral music. It proved both powerful and beautiful.

The title alludes to the Bible’s depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but also to the musical setting of it that was composed by Franz Joseph Hadyn in the 18th century. But it stands on its own as a much needed and very accomplished updating, especially with the “last word” or phrase “I can’t breathe.”

It is hard to believe the work was written five years ago, and not last week or last month. But it couldn’t be more relevant to today.

It shows how deeply artists have been engaging with the social and political issues of the day, particularly the role of personal and structural racism in national life, and the plight of young Black men and women who face discrimination, brutality and even death at the hands of the police and a bigoted public.

The work was premiered by the Men’s Glee Club at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2015. This performance comes from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

The SSO and featured guest University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Men’s Glee Club, led by conductor Eugene Rogers  (below) – who directs choral music and teaches conducting at the UM — premiered a 2017 commissioned fully orchestrated version of “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.” You can hear it in the YouTube video below.

It is an eminently listenable and accessible, multi-movement work honoring the lives, deaths and personal experiences of seven Black men.

The seven last words used in the work’s text are: “Why do you have your guns out?” – Kenneth Chamberlain, 66; “What are you following me for?” – Trayvon Martin, 16; “Mom, I’m going to college.” – Amadou Diallo, 23; “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” – Michael Brown, 18; “You shot me! You shot me!” – Oscar Grant, 22; “It’s not real.” – John Crawford, 22; “I can’t breathe.” – Eric Garner, 43.

The Ear thinks that once live concerts begin again after the coronavirus pandemic is contained, it should be programmed locally. It could and should be done by, among others, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Choir; or the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra and Choral Union; or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with the Festival Choir of Madison; or the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

They have all posted messages about standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the protesters against racism. But will words lead to commitment and action?

It will be interesting to see who responds first. In addition to being timely, such a performance certainly seems like a good way to draw in young people and to attract Black listeners and other minorities to classical music.

Here is a link if you also want to check out the almost 200 very pertinent comments about the work, the performance, the performers and of course the social and political circumstances that gave rise to the work — and continue to do so with the local, regional, national and international mass protests and demonstrations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdNXoqNuLRQ&app=desktop

And here is the performance itself:

What do you think of the work?

How did you react to it?

Would you like to see and hear it performed live where you are?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Accusations of sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse expand to classical music, and former Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine has been suspended. On Tuesday night, a percussion concert spotlights UW composer Laura Schwendinger

December 4, 2017
3 Comments

ALERT: At 7:30 p.m. this Tuesday night in Mills Hall, the UW Western  Percussion Ensemble, under director Anthony Di Sanza, will perform a FREE concert. It will focus on a new work by the award-winning UW composer Laura Schwendinger along with other modern classics and new works. For more information about the group and the program, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/western-percussion-ensemble-4/ 

By Jacob Stockinger

It started in Hollywood, quickly spread to politics and Washington, D.C., as well as to journalism and to radio and television.

Now accusations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual discrimination are focusing on classical music.

Perhaps the most visible case so far is one that focuses on James Levine (below), the former longtime artistic director and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, who just this past weekend conducted a live broadcast performance of the Requiem by Verdi, which was dedicated to the recently deceased Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Levine is accused of abusing an underage teenager while he was at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and the Met says it will investigate that allegation.

Through Google, you can find many reports about the situation.

Here is a link to a comprehensive story in The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/metropolitan-opera-to-investigate-james-levine-over-sexual-abuse-allegations/2017/12/03/e8820982-d842-11e7-a841-2066faf731ef_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_met-misconduct-805am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.3abb56afabc3

UPDATE: Amid more allegations of sexual abuse, James Levine, 74, has been suspended by the Metropolitan Opera. Here’s a link to a detailed story in The New York Times:

But Levine is not likely to be alone.

According to a new study in the United Kingdom, it now looks that many more individuals and groups will be involved since sexual harassment and sexual discrimination were found to be “rampant.”

Here is a link to the story in The Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sexual-harassment-classic-music-incorporate-society-of-musicians-west-end-bbc-radio-3-a8088591.html

What do you think about the many current scandals and wave of allegations as they pertain to classical music or to your own experience in the field of music, either performance or education?

The Ear wants to hear.


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