Composer Carlos Simon is busy. 6 premieres in 4 busy months.
during February Simon Was in the Boston Symphony Orchestra First appearance his “Four Negro American Dances” Dance while enjoying ring shouts, waltzes, tap dancing, and praise breaks.At the Kennedy Center in Washington where Simon worked composer in residence Since 2021, he has directed two debut films in April. “Farewell Song” the sun still shines setting Rumi’s poem and “Don’t let the pigeons sing late!” An irreverent operatic collaboration with picture book author Moe Willems.
This month, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra premiered: “Problem Water” A trombone concerto that moves the fear and faith of those who seek freedom on the Underground Railroad.after that Imani Winds Releases “Giants,” five sketches of pioneers of color.
All this by Thursday, when the Minnesota Orchestra will premiere perhaps the most important commissioned work of Simon’s career to date. “width,” Tribute to the murder of George Floyd.
“If this music is made the right way, if it’s honest,” Simon said in a recent interview. Straight to you. To be honest, that’s what I always strive for in my music. ”
Simon, 37, was already growing even before the pandemic. But embarrassingly classical music’s understanding of the importance of black lives, black artists, and black music has made him much more visible over the last three years.
“I don’t feel overworked or pushed to my limit,” Simon says. “It feels good to me, but at the same time I am grateful to be able to do what I do and I love what I do.”
It’s easy to see why Simon’s name has become so common on concert listings. “Fate Conquers Now” It is the response to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and is played by most major orchestras and many others. He has some resemblance to William Grant Still and Florence Price, writing quickly, with emotion and charm. His scores often sound as if they genuinely and humbly believe in their power to effect change.
“What I love about Carlos’ music is the fact that he really tries to communicate,” said Gianandrea Noseda, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. The National Symphony Orchestra has commissioned and performed several of Simon’s works, including Farewell Song. “Nothing is purely intellectual. There is always an emotional element behind it.”
Jesse Montgomery is a friend of Simon’s and also a member of the composer group who has a group chat with him. call yourself Black Nificent Seven hears a distinctive musical voice from Simon’s score.
“It’s very direct and moving to see him connect with his own history and identity through music,” she said. “He is very passionate about telling stories, telling stories and conveying meaning through music.”
Simon considers himself a griot, or “one who tells stories through music,” and he said many of his stories offer “positive messages, positive responses to struggles.” “Queen Portrait” For example, celebrate being a black woman. “Mother box connection” draw About Black Kirby’s Afrofuturist manga. “Keep calm and know” The piano trio peacefully confesses the presence and grace of God. “breath” A calming meditation for chamber orchestra inspired by the theology of Howard Thurman.
But for Simon, taking on meaning as a Black American man in enduring racism can sometimes mean taking on a burden. It is his responsibility to bring the zeal and clarity of his progeny, the preachers.
Nowhere is it clearer than in his words “Requiem for the Enslaved” Combining Latin Mass with spirituals, gospel and jazz in texts written, spoken and rapped by Marco Pave, the work was written in 1838 to pay off debt at Georgetown University, where Simon now teaches. It pays tribute to the 272 people sold toin that live premier The museum, which opened last October at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, demands justice and honors those whose names and ages were chanted at its opening, while also possessing remarkable moral power. rice field.
This is a difficult task for Simon.in order to recording And at the Boston concert, he played piano alongside Pavé, trumpeters MK Zulu and Have New Music. He said that after next year, others might play, but he would never play again.
“They never imagined I was a professor there, or even that I was paying tribute to them by playing,” he remembered. talked about people. “And it takes a lot of time.”
simon was born Ten years later, his family moved to Atlanta, where his father is pastor of the Church of the Cross of Galilee. Simon didn’t read sheet music until he entered Morehouse College. He learned by ear, accompanying Pentecostal congregations on Sundays, where he improvised the correct keys as worshipers spontaneously sang hymns. It was a weekly lesson on how music can help people, he said.
It left a lasting mark on Simon’s music, the poet said Mark Bamuti JosephSimon’s librettist, such as “brea(d)th”.
“Having the church as a precedent means that there is magic as part of that accomplishment,” Joseph said. There was a moment in their one-act opera where “everything collapses”, he added. “The spirit was lifted there. In my experience, that is not often the case in opera. You may be moved by melodies and tones, but the instinct to make fire, I think, is the hallmark.”
Simon played, sang and wrote music at Morehouse’s Glee Club. He played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and learned that Still, Margaret Bonds, and many other black musicians were composing in a similar tradition.
“It was encouraging,” said Simon. “I was able to find myself in them, in their music, and that gave me the impetus to move forward.”
He settled on being a composer rather than a pianist or arranger, and did graduate work at Georgia State University, then a PhD at the University of Michigan. Only then did he feel confident enough to merge his spiritual and gospel heritage with classical forms and idioms.
“I think they were afraid of being kitsch and satirizing the music,” Simon said. See how visual artists like Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden paint black lives in some abstraction, and how Mozart, Beethoven, and Bartok, in their own way, “use the people’s music.” After finding out what he was doing, he gave himself permission to challenge himself more.
His process often involves a ton of research to make sure he’s telling the right story. For “brea(d)th”, written For the choir, orchestra and spoken word, Simon and Joseph traveled to Minneapolis last April to meet Floyd’s aunt, Angela Harrelson, and Janelle Austin of the musical organization. George Floyd Global Memorial. According to Beth Keller-Long, the Minnesota Orchestra’s vice president of orchestral management, they have made numerous trips to engage with members of the community, some of whom have taken part in their dialogue in songs. He said he would hear an echo.
At first, Simon was unsure about the request and did not want to compose another requiem or lament: “Elegy: Cry from the Grave” (2015) He dedicated it to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and “those unjustly murdered by oppressive power.” But Joseph persuaded him that the piece could be “a point of action, not just a moment of reflection,” he said.
And that’s the hope Simon puts into much of his music.
“I don’t consider myself a politician,” Simon said. “I cannot make laws. But it’s still better than nothing.”