Q&A with Composer Anthony R. Green

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Photo Credit: Anthony R. Green

Composer Anthony R. Green’s Peace Till We Meet Again was selected for the 2020 Underwood New Music Readings, where it will be rehearsed and performed by American Composers Orchestra under the direction of conductor George Manahan, with mentorship from composers Derek Bermel, Jonathan Bailey Holland, and Melinda Wagner. Reading sessions are free and open to the public at City College on March 12, 2020 at 9:30am and March 13, 2020 at 7:30pm. Click here for more information.

The creative output of composer, performer, and social justice worker Anthony R. Green includes musical and visual creations, interpretations of original, contemporary, and repertoire works, collaborations, educational outreach, and more. Behind all his artistic endeavors are the ideals of equality and freedom. His work has been presented in 20+ countries by Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, Eunmi Ko, the McCormick Percussion Group, Boston Landmarks Orchestra, counter)induction, Tenth Intervention, NOISE-BRIDGE, Access Contemporary Music, the Playground Ensemble, Ossia New Music Ensemble, and Alarm Will Sound, to name a few. His work has been presented at the ACA festival, the Grachten Festival (Amsterdam), Gaudeamus Muziekweek (Utrecht), Fulcrum Point New Music Discoveries (Chicago), and Ft. Worth Opera Frontiers (Texas), amongst others. A McKnight Visiting Composer, he has received support from numerous foundations and residencies in the US and Europe, including Kimmel Harding Nelson, VCCA, VICC (Sweden), Space/Time (Scotland), atelier:performance (Germany), and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. As a performer, he has appeared at venues across the US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, presenting piano and chamber music recitals, interdisciplinary and experimental performances, and lecture-recitals that fuse performance with research. Green’s most important social justice work has been with Castle of our Skins, celebrating Black artistry through music.

We spoke with Anthony about his piece and the upcoming readings.

American Composers Orchestra: Your work that will be read at the Underwood New Music Readings, Peace Till We Meet Again, is a “dedication to Black people who were killed by cops.” How do you convey this in the music?

Anthony R. Green: Peace Till We Meet Again is originally the third movement of a 30-minute piece for flute, viola, cello, spoken word artist, and voice, commissioned by Castle of our Skins. In this movement, either a narrator or the members of the ensemble speak names of Black victims of police and racially-motivated rogue violence (as in the case of Trayvon Martin). The music reflects a transition from being completely stunned when the news breaks to growing deflated but reflective, personally trying to come to grips with such senseless atrocities. While the orchestration of this work does not include the narration, the music still encapsulates these two very different worlds.

ACO: You’re a composer, performer, and social justice worker. How do these three things intersect in Peace Till We Meet Again?

ARG: These three aspects of my practice always speak to each other in everything I do. Specifically for Peace Till We Meet Again, the composition and social justice aspects are quite splattered on the front page. From a performance point of view, my recent performances have heavily involved engaging with names of Black people shot and killed by US cops. The worst aspect about this work is that new names are consistently added, thus my engagement with these spirits will (hopefully not) be a lifelong process. As a Black man myself, I always feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness when another name is released. Through music, I can attempt to do my part to make sure these lives were not lost in vain.

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Photo Credit: Colin Conces

ACO: In your bio, you talk about your work as the Associate Artistic Director for Castle of our Skins. What aspect of that work has been the most fulfilling? How does it inform your compositional process?

ARG: As Associate Director and Composer-in-Residence of Castle of our Skins, I’m constantly engaging with Black composers from around the world and constantly doing research and listening to new music by Black composers throughout history and geography. Learning about these incredible creatives and increasing my engagement with this music has truly helped me to see more of the complete picture of classical music, considering that Black people have a 500 year history within the genre. Matching this Black timeline with the general timeline that we are all taught (and the narrative that is still constantly being pushed as primary) has lead me to compare racial struggle and oppression throughout history with timeline/narrative of classical music, thus forming a macro-picture that has informed much of what I do, especially in lectures. Compositionally, it has just affirmed my drive to compose more and encourage other Black composers to create, apply to opportunities, and collaborate.

ACO: Returning to the Underwood readings: what are you doing to prepare for them?

ARG: To prepare for the readings, I wish I could say I am doing more than what I am doing! To be honest, this particular time is extremely packed for me. It includes giving 4 lectures, 2 workshops, attending a recording session of a new work, participating in 4 performances, and attending at least 3 premieres of my own works across 9 cities, on top of admin work for Castle of our Skins, composing for other deadlines, and attending to my duties as a graduate fellow at the Berlin University of the Arts. I am also dealing with a recent death in the family — my beloved grandmother of 95 years old. Thus I am trying to take each day one step at a time.

ACO: What are you most looking forward to about the readings? What do you hope to take away from the experience?

ARG: I am most looking forward to hearing this work transition from paper to the “real world.” This is always the most exciting moment for me as a composer — the birth of a composition! I am primarily a chamber music composer, thus orchestral opportunities are quite rare for me. I hope to take away from this experience a deeper understanding of this world in the event I receive other orchestra commissions in the future.

ACO: Back to your personal art: who are some of your collaborators that you’re especially excited to be working with this coming year?

ARG: ALL OF THEM! I know I will miss some names (and I apologize), but this year I have an exciting project with Guerilla Opera in Boston (who will also do a half portrait concert along with the incredibly talented composer Victoria Cheah). Castle of our Skins will play my one-hit-wonder string quartet at the Phillips Collection in DC as well as in Boston. This will be my DC premiere, and I am so proud of this as I was born and partly raised very close to DC (in Arlington, VA). I will also have a portrait feature during the Twin Cities New Music festival, produced by the 113 Composers Collective. For this feature, Chartreuse (string trio) will perform three of my string works (solo, duo, and trio works), and I will perform for the second half (works by myself and other artists). It is a true portrait of me as it will contain major glimpses of the three main aspects of my practice! I’m also looking forward to performances by Meraki and the consortium members of my new piece “Be Still My Child” for clarinet in B-flat and piano, recording a new work with Orlando Cela and the Lowell Chamber Orchestra, the premiere of a new commission for Box Not Found in East Boston, performing for Re:Sound 2020 produced by CUSP (Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project), and I will also give workshops, lectures, and performances this year in Oslo, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, and some other places which I cannot officially announce yet! In short … exciting!

Hear Anthony R. Green’s Peace Till We Meet Again at the Underwood New Music Readings. Reading sessions are free and open to the public on March 12 and 13, 2020 at City College. Click here for more information.

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