This is a picture of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers - where two bodies of water meet but do not immediately mix. The Ohio River was the nation's only physical boundary separating free from slave states, and represents a dividing line between the South and the North.
Ultimately, slavery was abolished; both rivers become one. However the work remains to bring justice and equity for all.
For many of us, it's been an artistically limited year - in that silence, I've been contemplating racial inequality and stratification, the echoes within the world of classical music, and the role I have to play in all of this.
For years, it's felt as if Asians were only accepted and valued in classical music as vessels for Eurocentric masterpieces. In addition to unintentionally perpetuating tropes characterizing Asians as submissive, deferential and hardworking (among others), it's also become increasingly clear that the realm of classical music inadvertently serves to undergird the model minority myth.
Though I feel lucky to have taken part in some beautiful and extraordinary performances over the years, looking back on certain concerts induces discomfort. In particular, a pantomime ballet staging of Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin still haunts me in its grotesque characterization of Asians as exotic and animalistic. At the time, the performance didn't bother me very much (I was ecstatic just to play clarinet on that piece!), but after visiting the Tunnels of Moosejaw (SK, Canada) on our move to Cincinnati, the reality of historical trauma, of what it means to be an Asian immigrant, forever altered my perception. I saw how Chinese immigrants were treated during railroad construction years, sometimes living underground for months at a time and used as a disposable workforce, and learned of the draconian immigration laws imposed against Asian people. This year, in the midst of racist and incendiary terms like "China Virus" and "Kung Flu", I felt a disturbing return to this narrative of Asians as 'dirty', castigated as objects of blame, and like so many people of color, stigmatized as the 'other'.
I want to express that the struggles of Asian people are not analogous to the struggles of Black people, but simply that they are linked; modern yellow privilege has been made possible by anti-blackness. Attempting to understand these histories has led me to explore how I can support and validate BIPOC voices, and to that end, I am honored to be commissioning several new works by composers of color. I am so grateful for this opportunity from ArtsWave; it means a lot to me to be a part of the growing community of voices seeking to create a unified, shared culture in America.
Isolation Commissions is proud to premiere there is always light, Okpebholo's new clarinet, bassoon, and marimba trio.
A widely sought-after and award-winning composer, Shawn E. Okpebholo has been described by Augusta Read Thomas as "...a beautiful artist ...who has enormous grace in his music, and fantasy and color." Okpebholo comfortably composes in various styles and genres, intentional in creating music that is diverse, dynamic, and genuine. His artistry has resulted in many prizes and honors, including The American Academy of Arts and Letters Walter Hinrichsen Award in Music, First Place Winner of the 2020 American Prize in Composition (professional/wind band division) and Second Place Winner in the 2017 American Prize in Composition (professional/orchestral division), First Prize Winner in the Flute New Music Consortium Composition Competition, Sound of Late Composition Contest, Accent06 International Composition Competition, and the Inaugural Awardee of the Leslie Adams-Robert Owens Composition Award.
Okpebholo maintains a dynamic career as a composer, including performances on five continents, over forty states, almost every major U.S. city, at some of the nation's most prestigious performance spaces, including Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and the National Cathedral. He was awarded a two-year residency with the Chicago Opera Theater (2021-2023 seasons) and has had performances by many celebrated artists and ensembles, including The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His compositional and research interests have been a gateway for ethnomusicological fieldwork in both East and West Africa: studying the music of the Esan people in southern Nigeria, the Akambe people in the Machakos region of Kenya, and South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda. His field research has resulted in two chamber works, two symphonic works, transcriptions, and academic lectures.
Isolation Commissions is proud to premiere Ay-Ay, Bopem (A Kazakh Lullaby Without Words).
Meilina Tsui (b. 1993) is an award-winning composer, pianist, singer-songwriter and radio producer and presenter. Born in the former capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, and raised in Hong Kong, Tsui writes music that uniquely combines elements of Eurasian, South-East Asian and Western cultures. Tsui has been described by The Silk Road News and Kazakhstan International News Agency as a composer who “popularises Kazakh music tradition.” Tsui is the first classical composer of Dungan descent (an underrepresented ethnic minority group from Central Asia) who has received her musical education in the West – in the UK and the USA, and whose music has been performed across Asia, Europe, the US and in the Middle East. Besides the many cultural influences and inclination towards fusion of tradition with modernity, her music is also shaped by the principles of socialist humanism and can be largely described as non-esoteric.
International festivals that have featured her work include Asian Composers’ League Festival (Vietnam), highSCORE Festival (Italy), Asia-Europe New Music Festival (Russia), All-Russian Young Composers Festival (Russia), Asia Pacific International Songwriting Camp (Taiwan), Intimacy of Creativity (Hong Kong), Kaleidoscope Concert Series (Los Angeles), Hong Kong Contemporary Music Festival, Vienna Summer Music Festival (Austria), and Midwest Composers Symposium (Bloomington, IN). In 2021, Tsui’s music will be featured at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland, and Aspen Music School & Festival.
Micah Ballard (b. 2003) is the featured emerging composer for this project and is a graduate of Walnut Hills High School. Micah began his music studies early in his youth with his father, who taught him the fundamentals of music theory and harmony. Micah was a member of the Walnut Hills Wind Ensemble, and went on to perform with the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra as a Nouveau Fellow, where he was taught by CSO principal basoonist Chris Sales. As he began to take an interest in music composition, Micah decided to write three compositions for the Interlochen Center for the Arts summer festival. It was after this experience that he decided to pursue composition, and was given an opportunity to study with CCM Professor Ellen Harrison through this ArtsWave grant commission. Micah plans to continue his studies in composition as well as pursue his interests in video games at Miami University in the fall, where he will major in Music Composition and Game Design.
The pieces Micah has composed for this performance is called, "Let America Be America Again", and is composed in four sections. Each section has a statement from the African American poet, Langston Hughes' poem of the same name.