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Kennedy Center Launches New Commissioning Program


Launched earlier this month, in conjunction with Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary season, The Cartography Project aims to open the conversation about the future of anti-racism, using music as a tool for healing.

The initiative is in collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and Washington National Opera (WNO) and was created by Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director & VP of Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

It will see to the commissioning of composers and librettists from around the United States, supporting works that respond to an act of violence against the Black community in their own region. According to the press release, "the project aims to position Black dignity as the prevailing narrative of the African American experience, rather than Black trauma."

Bamuthi Joseph explains that they are "mapping, figuratively, these incidents of violence but we are also mapping the possibility of who we can be. We are drawing dots – and those dots not only show how to go between but also how to move beyond. Cartography is inspired by the idea that somebody has to chart the beyond – to chart the course forward. Equally important, we knew we couldn’t do this work without engaging some of the families of individuals who have been murdered in the last several years. It was critical that we let them know that we care about them and think of them, not only in connection with this moment in time but also as the true pillars of dignity that these pieces represent."

The first installment includes eight new commissions that will receive live world premiere performances from WNO singers and members of the NSO and WNO Orchestra — in a concert on March 15 and 16 at Studio K in the Kennedy Center’s new REACH expansion. The music will be accompanied by excerpts from a ten-part docuseries to contextualize each new work. Tickets for the event can be purchased, here.

“Seeing what happened — the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent public response — we at the NSO and the Kennedy Center asked ourselves what role we could play in this watershed moment for the country," said Gary Ginstling, Executive Director of the NSO. "The NSO and WNO also saw this project as an opportunity to address a long struggle with diversity on- and off-stage in our field. Additionally, we see this as a springboard for other organizations in the field to think about contemporary art-makers who are consciously engaging social pathology and creating work in that area."

The eight new commissions are:

1. The Road Ahead

Carlos Simon, composer; Marc Bamuthi Joseph, libretto and spoken word

With Katerina Burton, soprano; Karen Lowry-Tucker, violin; Amy Frost Baumgarten, cello; Robert Ainsley, piano

2. Anthem for GO

Jessica Mays, composer

With Heather LeDoux Green and Jane Bowyer Stewart, violins; Eric deWaardt, viola; David Teie, cello; Jeffrey Weisner, double bass; Scott Christian, percussion

3. Ahead of Time

Nathaniel Heyder, composer

With Paul Cigan, clarinet; Robert Rearden, horn; Jennifer Mondie, viola; Britton Riley, cello; Scott Christian, percussion

4. Breonna’s Lullaby

Derek Douglas Carter, composer

With Paul Cigan, clarinet; Ruth Wicker, viola; Paul DeNola, bass; Jiyoung Oh, piano

5. Mo(u)rning

B.E. Boykin, composer; Brittny Ray Crowell, libretto

With Martin Bakari, tenor; Amy Frost Baumgarten, cello; Dana Scott, piano

6. The Burning Bush

Jasmine Barnes, composer; Joshua Banbury, libretto

With Suzannah Waddington, soprano; Daniel J. Smith, baritone; Roderick Demmings, Jr.; Raymond O. Caldwell, director

7. Progeny of Perpetual Independence 

Liz Gre, composer; Junauda Petrus-Nasah, libretto

With Amber R. Monroe, soprano; Karen Lowry-Tucker, violin; Amy Frost Baumgarten, violoncello; Christian Gray, double bass; Dana Scott, piano

8. Pretty Girl

Jens Ibsen, composer; Yasmina Ibsen, libretto

With Katerina Burton, soprano; Amber R. Monroe, soprano; Robert Ainsley, piano


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