Composer Anthony Davis, Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music and Professor of Music at University of California at San Diego, joins Professor Anthony Cheung as a guest speaker for Cheung’s course, MUSC 2120 The Jazz Orchestra and Orchestral Approaches to Jazz. The virtual talk is free and open to the public. Please write to Professor Cheung directly, if you would like to attend.
Guest Speaker Series
Professor Davis’s visit is part of a series of MUSC 2120 The Jazz Orchestra and Orchestral Approaches to Jazz guest talks this semester. Click here to view all upcoming MUSC 2120 talks in the series.
About Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is an internationally recognized composer of operatic, symphonic, choral, and chamber works, and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his opera The Central Park Five. He is also known for his virtuoso performances both as a solo pianist and as the leader of the ensemble Episteme, a unique ensemble of musicians who are disciplined interpreters as well as provocative improvisers. In April 1993, Davis made his Broadway debut, composing the music for Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, directed by George C. Wolfe. His music is also heard in Kushner’s companion piece, Perestroika, which opened on Broadway in November 1993.
As a composer, Davis is best known for his operas. X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X, which played to sold-out houses at its premiere at the New York City Opera in 1986, was the first of a new American genre: opera on a contemporary political subject. The recording of X was released on the Gramavision label in August 1992 and received a Grammy Nomination for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition” in February 1993. “[X] has brought new life to America’s conservative operatic scene,” enthused Andrew Porter in The New Yorker, “it is not just a stirring and well fashioned opera – that already is much – but one whose music adds a new, individual voice to those previously heard in our opera houses.” Davis’s second opera, Under the Double Moon, a science fiction opera with an original libretto by Deborah Atherton, premiered at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in June 1989. His third opera, Tania, with a libretto by Michael-John LaChiusa and based on the abduction of Patricia Hearst, premiered at the American Music Theater Festival in June 1992. A recording of Tania was released in 2001 on Koch, and in November 2003, Musikwerkstaat Wien presented its European premiere. A fourth opera, Amistad, about a shipboard uprising by slaves and their subsequent trial, premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in November 1997. Set to a libretto by poet Thulani Davis, the librettist of X, Amistad was staged by George C. Wolfe.
Reacting to two of Davis’s orchestral works, Maps (Violin Concerto) and Notes from the Underground, Michael Walsh said in Time Magazine: “Imagine Ellington’s lush, massed sonorities propelled by Bartók’s vigorous whiplash rhythms and overlaid with the seductive percussive haze of the Balinese gamelan orchestra, and you will have an idea of what both the Concerto and Notes from the Underground sound like.” Davis’s works also include the Violin Sonata, commissioned by Carnegie Hall for its Centennial; Jacob’s Ladder, a tribute to Davis’s mentor Jacob Druckman commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony; Esu Variations, a concert opener for the Atlanta Symphony; Happy Valley Blues, a work for the String Trio of New York with Davis on piano; and “Pale Grass and Blue, Then Red,” a dance work choreographed by Ralph Lemon for the Limon Dance Company. His orchestral works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, Beethoven Halle Orchestra of Bonn, and the American Composers Orchestra. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Davis’s opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X in concert in November 1992. The Pittsburgh Symphony commissioned a concert-opener from Davis entitled Tales (Tails) of the Signifying Monkey. In the 2003-2004 season Davis served as Artistic Advisor of the American Composers Orchestra’s Improvise! festival and conference which featured a performance of Wayang V with Davis as piano soloist. Oakland Opera Theatre presented X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X in 2006, and Spoleto Festival USA produced Amistad in its revised and reduced form in 2008. The La Jolla Sympony premiered Amistad Symphony in 2009.
Born in Paterson, New Jersey, on 20 February 1951, Davis studied at Wesleyan and Yale universities. He was Yale’s first Lustman Fellow, teaching composition and Afro-American studies. In 1987 Davis was appointed Senior Fellow with the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, and in 1990 he returned to Yale University as Visiting Professor of Music. He became Professor of Music in Afro-American Studies at Harvard University in the fall of 1992, and assumed a full-time professorship at the University of California at San Diego in January 1998. Recordings of Davis’s music may be heard on the Rykodisc (Gramavision), Koch and Music and Arts labels. His music is published by G. Schirmer, Inc.
About MUSC 2120 The Jazz Orchestra and Orchestral Approaches to Jazz
MUSC 2120 Instructor: Anthony Cheung
This course offers several views of what it means to write for the “jazz orchestra.” As the history of jazz tends to prioritize the contributions of individuals and small groups, what does it mean for composers who have ambitions that extend beyond typical expectations of instrumental forces, duration, and form? We will focus on specific examples that have challenged conventions and redefined idioms. From the innovations in orchestration and scale of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the classic Gil Evans/Miles Davis albums, to the “progressive” experiments of Stan Kenton (and later Don Ellis), to the intergalactic theater of the Sun Ra Arkestra, to works for full symphony orchestra, we will examine complex issues of tradition, community, and race that have accompanied these collaborations, and the compatibility (or not) of musical challenges regarding improvisation, notation, and pedagogy.