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An African American Requiem

Portland composer to debut work on racial violence

Portland composer Damien Geter examines the impact of 400 years of racial violence against Black Americans in his original work “An African American Requiem.” PHOTO BY RACHEL HADIASHAR

Portland composer Damien Geter examines the impact of 400 years of racial violence against Black Americans in his original work “An African American Requiem,” debuting with a special concert and national radio broadcast on Saturday, May 7 from the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Featuring the Oregon Symphony and the African American Requiem Choir, made up of singers from the Resonance Ensemble, the concert will be carried live on Portland’s all classical radio station, 89.9 FM, stream worldwide at and simulcast on WQXR in New York City.

“As a Black composer in today’s America, I feel like I've been writing this my entire life,” said Geter “I was hoping there would be a time we wouldn’t need this piece, but I think we always will. I hope An African American Requiem leads to important action that affects change.”

Holding the world premiere in Portland is significant after the year of protests that occurred in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, something that is not lost by those involved in the production.

An African American Requiem was written in memory of African Americans who have lost their lives to racist violence over the last four centuries and aims to evaluate and reframe the Black experience in America, both within the world of classical music and for the general public.

Combining traditional Latin requiem texts with civil rights declarations, poetry, and the famous last words of Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe,” another Black man killed at the hands of police, this performance will honor past and present victims of racial violence and spur reflection on how to build a more hopeful future.

“Music has the power to inspire, educate, and heal,” says Scott Showalter, president and chief executive officer of Oregon Symphony. “It has been an honor to work with Damien and Resonance Ensemble to bring such a relevant and meaningful project to our community that will hopefully serve as a catalyst for action.”

The premiere will feature musicians from across Oregon. William Eddins will conduct, Katherine FitzGibbon will prepare the chorus, and the concert will feature a quartet of renowned African American opera singers: soprano Brandie Sutton, mezzo-soprano Karmesha Peake, tenor Bernard Holcomb, and baritone Kenneth Overton.

The final movement will include words penned and performed by African American poet and Portland resident Dr. S. Renee Mitchell.

Following the world premiere in Portland, he piece will be performed with Resonance Ensemble and the Choral Arts Society of Washington at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on May 23, and recorded for commercial release.

“In 2017, when we commissioned An African American Requiem, we had no idea the path we were about to embark on,” explains Resonance’s Artistic Director Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon.

“After delays due to the pandemic, we are thrilled that Damien’s work will premiere here in Oregon at long last. It is extraordinary and moving, and it’s exciting to see how audiences, community partners, and arts organizations across the country are coming together to watch his vision come to life.”

Tickets to the concert start at $20 and can be purchased online through Oregon Symphony or by contacting the ticket office at 503-228-1353.



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