“These American Stories”
JEFF SCOTT: And Still We Rise (2019)
GEORGE GERSHWIN: An American in Paris (1928) arr. Hekkema
LOGAN RUTLEDGE: Point Blank (2018)
JOHN STEINMETZ: Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience (2015)
NINA SIMONE, COOTS/LEWIS: For All We Know (1934/1959) arr. Althuis
“These American Stories” is a narrative program of influential music by American composers from the last century of American history. Each work tells its story from a different perspective, at a unique moment of realization or imagination. As America has come of age over the past hundred years, so too has its music, and through it all maintained a uniquely American vocabulary. Gershwin’s epic tone poem, An American in Paris, is presented alongside present-day music by John Steinmetz, Jeff Scott, and Logan Rutledge, including original works for Akropolis: Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience and Point Blank, celebrating the life of Trayvon Martin. With support from the prestigious Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Fund, the program also features acclaimed composer Jeff Scott’s first reed quintet work inspired by “And Still We Rise,” an exhibit at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, MI, and closes with an arrangement of Nina Simone’s version of Coots/Lewis’ favorite, “For All We Know.”
And Still We Rise
Made possible by the prestigious Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund, And Still We Rise is the first reed quintet by acclaimed composer and Imani Winds’ French hornist, Jeff Scott. As Imani Winds and Akropolis have become closer friends over the years, we have begun collaborating, including a performance of a chamber concerto for Akropolis and Imani Winds’ bassoonist, Monica Ellis which will premiere in New York City in July 2019. A native of Queens, NY and basing so much of his creative output on the NYC area, Jeff wanted to visit Akropolis’ home base of Detroit and create his first reed quintet work with inspiration from Motown. Akropolis and Jeff toured Detroit’s acclaimed Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the title of the piece became that of Wright’s longstanding exhibit, “And Still We Rise,” chronicling the history of the African American struggle in America through the lens of Detroit. And Still We Rise celebrates this history using elements of Motown, jazz, and Jeff’s narrative composition style to reflect and celebrate African American history.
An American in Paris
Gershwin’s An American in Paris has been brilliantly arranged by Dutch saxophonist Raaf Hekkema, allowing Akropolis to convey a time capsule of American life. Our American character in Paris begins by taking in the sights and sounds of his new city, then grows homesick, only to be in love with a triumphant Paris by the end. As much as the American in this story comes of age, so did An American in Paris serve as a defining moment for George Gershwin. Throughout his life he questioned the seriousness of his music against the backdrop of American classical music by his compatriots, including those who studied with famous French composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger (among whom were Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter). It was Boulanger who ultimately advised Gershwin not to be anyone but himself, advice he took to heart and poured into An American in Paris.
Opening the second half of the concert is a short work by Logan Rutledge called Point Blank, composed in memory of Trayvon Martin. Logan composed Point Blank for Akropolis upon our visit to the University of Illinois, Chicago in February 2018, when he was completing his undergraduate degree in composition. A word about Point Blank will be provided from the stage.
Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience
Sorrow and Celebration for reed quintet and audience is a work teeming with optimism even as it grieves. Akropolis commissioned composer John Steinmetz in 2014, during a summer brimming with tension and uncertainty in many American communities. The composer describes his early influences and how the piece evolved from them:
This piece imitates a ceremony or ritual, calling people together to mourn and rejoice. As I began composing, the deaths of two young African American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, were on my mind. The sorrow in this music started there, but it is meant to honor any grief, whether individual or shared.
After mourning, the music changes mood, eventually becoming dance-like. Sometimes sorrow, in bringing people together, can cut through the illusion of separateness, and that is cause for gratitude and celebration. And a Wendell Berry poem advises, ‘Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.’
When the music was nearly finished, I read about Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s transformative experience while returning from the moon. He described looking out at the earth and the vastness of space. ‘I became aware that everything that exists is part of one intricately interconnected whole.’
I am grateful to Akropolis for commissioning this piece, bringing it to life, helping to improve it, and for encouraging audience participation. To listeners, thank you for taking part!
For All We Know
“For All We Know” was originally published in 1934 and written by J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis. The version performed by Akropolis is arranged from Nina Simone’s performance on her 1959 record, Nina Simone and Her Friends. On this track, Simone accompanies her voice on piano with classical-style, contrapuntal music that weaves itself in and out of the music’s lyrics, making an arrangement for reed quintet a natural fit. The individual, but blended sounds of the oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and bass clarinet play the role of the piano, while saxophone carries the melody: “But tomorrow may never, never come, for all we know.”