Thursday, December 17, 2020

Announcing "The Grey Land," a mono-opera written by Joseph C. Phillips, Jr. and recorded with his ensemble Numinous on New Amsterdam Records

The Grey Land
New Amsterdam Records
Joseph C. Phillips, Jr.

New Amsterdam Records

Featuring soloists soprano Rebecca L Hargrove and narrator Kenneth Browning, the undefinable work, written in Phillips signature "mixed music" style, chronicles a single Black mother and her son for a dynamic exploration of race, class and power in 21st century America.

"Joseph C. Phillips Jr. creates music that sounds classical, funky and sometimes cinematic ... hard to categorize." NPR

"very clearly 21st-century musicincorporating a broad range of styles while being ultimately beholden to none" Frank Oteri, New Music Box

“... he made all the world...a vast grey land where neither night nor day was, peopled by strange men and women whom he could not understand, but with those lives he longed to mingle once before he went.” Richard Wright, Native Son

As Phillips explains, The Grey Land is "a story of a Black mother trying to survive the reality in this land that doesn’t fully see her continued hope: that the great American experiment will one day become a belonging place where anyone can dream of 'stillness and stars' free from fear and want; a place where the beautiful promise of happiness, liberty, and life may yet manifest true to finally include her family too.

"With a libretto written by Phillips, The Grey Land weaves in additional text from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to author Isaac Butler to Abolitionist Frederick Douglas to Mothers of the Movement, an organization founded in 2013 by Black mothers after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin and dedicated to fighting police and gun violence, The Grey Land is at once intimately personal and an incisive commentary for our time as Phillips looks at "humanity and identity through the lens of the intractable triumvirate of race, class, and power in American society" through a non-traditional score and narrative that "embraces social and musical multitudes and the dichotomies of high and low, inside and outside, tradition and innovation.”

Although Phillips' initial research for writing an opera that addresses endemic injustice in America beganin 2011, it was 2014 while deep in production of his album Changing Samean album recorded by Numinous and released on New Amsterdam in 2015and preparing for the birth of his first child, that The Grey Land really crystalized.

"I was already deep into researching & thinking about what the opera was going to be when the events of Ferguson, Missouri, happened in that beautiful summer of nesting in upstate New York," he recalls of that time. "My conflicting emotionsjoy of anticipation married to the anxiety about the world our future child would inhabitmoved me to want to more directly address the systemic issues long plaguing the U.S., particularly for Black and brown people.

"Phillips himself coined "mixed music" to describe his compositions. "Mixed music is an organic fusing of various elements from many different influences forming compositions that are personal, different, and new," he explains. 

That signature sound was recently featured in The New York Times piece "5 Minutes That Will Make You Love 21st-Century Composers" for his piece "19" from Changing Same. "Here, his ensemble, Numinous, nails his hairpin turns ... while offering pristine vocal and string blends," writes Seth Colter Walls.

The Grey Land was originally made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation and New Music USA. 

The compositions of Joseph C. Phillips Jr. are not limited or defined by any one genre but rather are an amalgamation, transmuted into a singular and individual style. He has received a NewMusic USA project grant, a American Composers Forum Jerome Foundation grant for New Music, a Brooklyn Arts Council Arts Fund grant, Meet the Composers Creative Connections grant, an American Music Center CAP grant, two Live Music for Dance commission grants, two Puffin Foundation grants, and was a finalist for both the Sundance Institute Film Composers Lab Fellowship and the Opera Company of Philadelphia Composer-in-Residence. In addition to the worldwide performances of his works, including the Steve Reich Festival in The Hague, Netherlands, new works have been commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Next Wave Festival, the Kaufman Center and Ecstatic Music Festival, pianist Lara Downes, the NextNow Fest for the Invoke String Quartet, Simone Dinnerstein and the Neighborhood Classics Concert Series for Face the Music, Dave Douglas and the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT), the Rhythm in the Kitchen Festival, Concrete Temple Theatre Company, St. Olaf College, University of Maryland, University of Denver, The Fieldston School, Edisa Weeks and the Delirious Dance Company, Take Dance Company, Maffei Dance Company, and others.

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