Rites for the Afterlife
After Akropolis and two other reed quintets chose Stacy Garrop as winner of the 2018 Barlow Prize for music composition, she was granted the Barlow Endowment’s prestigious prize to compose her first reed quintet. It was the first time the Endowment chose the reed quintet to award this prize for a new composition.
Stacy chose for her subject matter the Egyptian’s beliefs about the afterlife. The piece follows the soul into and through the afterlife, including the spells and enchantments contained in The Book of the Dead, the funery barque which tows the soul through the Netherworld, its arrival in the Hall of Judgement to be weighed against a feather from Maat—the goddess of truth—and its final resting place at the field of reeds where it is united with family members, harvesting plentiful crops along the Nile under a brilliant blue sky forever.
Homage to Paradise Valley
Homage to Paradise Valley was commissioned by and composed for Akropolis in 2019, with support from the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Paradise Valley, a now-displaced neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, became of interest to Jeff Scott after he and Akropolis visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, while Jeff‘s quintet, Imani Winds, was passing through Detroit on tour. Homage to Paradise Valley utilizes Jeff‘s diverse musical background as a jazz and studio musician in New York City.
Comprised of 3 movements, Jeff Scott provides these notes about each movement:
1. Black Bottom was a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. The term has sometimes been used to apply to the entire neighborhood including Paradise Valley, which reached from the Detroit River north to Grand Boulevard. In the early 20th century, African-American residents became concentrated here during the first wave of the Great Migration to northern industrial cities. Informal segregation operated in the city to keep them in this area of older, less expensive housing. The name of the neighborhood is often erroneously believed to be a reference to the African-American community that developed in the 20th century, but it was named during the colonial era by the early French settlers because of its dark, fertile topsoil (known as river bottomlands). Black Bottom/Paradise Valley became known for its African American residents’ significant contributions to American music, including Blues, Big Band, and Jazz, from the 1930s to ’50s. Black Bottom’s substandard housing was eventually cleared and redeveloped for various urban renewal projects, driving the residents out. By the 1960s the neighborhood ceased to exist.
2. From the Bantu language of Swahili, “Roho, Pumzika kwa Amani” (Spirits, Rest Peacefully) is a lullaby. My humble offering to the many souls who came before me, and preserved through the middle passage, decades of slavery, disenfranchising laws, and inequality. I am who I am because of those who stood before me. May their spirits rest peacefully.
3. Orchestra Hall where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra now performs closed in 1939, but reopened in 1941 as the Paradise Theater. For 10 years it would then offer the best of African-American musicians from around the country. Duke Ellington opened Christmas week with his big band, admission was 50 cents, and patrons could stay all day. There were 3 shows every day and 4 on weekends. “B” movies where shown between acts. During the glory days of jazz the Paradise Theater saw Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Billie Holiday, and many more. “Paradise Theater Jump” is dedicated to the famed theater and harkens to the up-tempo style of “jump blues,” usually played by small groups and featuring saxophone or brass instruments.
One can learn more about this part of Detroit’s history by visiting the Detroit Historical Society website at detroithistorical.org.
An American in Paris
In An American in Paris, Gershwin aimed to create one of his more serious works despite his natural affinity for frivolity. He consulted Ravel about this conundrum, who wisely instructed that if Gershwin was making more money than Ravel (which he was), he shouldn’t change how he writes his music. He sought advice from Nadia Boulanger, the great teacher of Aaron Copland and others. She also wisely suggested to Gershwin try to be no one but Gershwin. And so, using complex motivic development which is constantly modulating and changing form, Gershwin manages to create his most accessible, but simultaneously most complex piece of music. Among the challenges Dutch saxophonist Raaf Hekkema faced in arranging the work was how to convey these ideas with only 5 instruments. Hekkema brilliantly takes a smaller color palette and combines the instruments to create more textural possibilities than the listener could ever predict. In ways, while Gershwin’s orchestration maximizes the orchestra’s capabilities, the listener might find Gershwin’s ideas even easier to deduce in the chamber music format. The continually repeating and evolving motives make for a challenging but thrilling performance which Akropolis is delighted to bring to the stage.