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Announcing The Grey Land, a mono-opera written by Joseph C. Phillips Jr. and recorded with his ensemble, Numinous.
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.
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 began in 2011, it was 2014 while deep in production of his album Changing Same—an album recorded by Numinous and released on New Amsterdam in 2015—and 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 emotions—joy of anticipation married to the anxiety about the world our future child would inhabit—moved 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.
released November 20, 2020
THE GREY LAND
by Joseph C Phillips Jr
Soprano (Mother) – Rebecca L Hargrove
Narrator (Son) – Kenneth Browning
Katie Cox – Flute, Piccolo
Sammy Lesnick – Bb Clarinet, Eb Clarinet
Chris Bacas – Alto Saxophone
Sara Schoenbeck – Bassoon
Alicia Rau – Trumpet, Flügelhorn
Lis Rubard – Horn
JC Sanford – Trombone
Amanda Monaco – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Mike Baggetta – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Sebastian Noelle – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Magdalena Abrego – Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Deanna Witkowski – Yamaha Electric Piano
Andrea Lodge – Rhodes Electric Piano
Kate Sloat – Harp
Aubrey Johnson – Voice
Tammy Scheffer – Voice, Bells
Sara Serpa – Voice
Bogna Kicińska – Voice, Bells
Emilie Weibel – Voice, Bells
Amy Cervini – Voice, Bells
Ana Milosavljevic – Violin, Viper/Electric Violin solo (“…Black Mamba”)
Josh Henderson – Violin
Frederika Krier – Violin
Libby Weitnauer – Violin
Hannah Levinson – Viola
Brian Lindgren – Viola
Matt Aronoff – Electric Bass
Mariel Roberts – Cello Solo (“Tender Sorrow”)
Joseph C Phillips Jr – Composer/Conductor/Bells/Co-Producer
Oded Lev-Ari – Bells/Co-Producer
Michael Hammond – Electronics/Drum Programming (“…Black Mamba”)
Joseph C Phillips Jr – Electronics/Audio Collage (“One Side Losing Slowly” & “The Sunken Place”)
Numinous is a flexible and unique ensemble of up to 30 musicians that was founded in 2000 by composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr.
to perform his music.
Part chamber orchestra, part contemporary alternative group, Numinous reflects Phillips’s musical philosophy of "mixed music," a fusion of artistic and cultural influences into one distinctive and singular vision....more
supported by 184 fans who also own “The Grey Land”
The notes mention Reich and other minimalists, which makes sense, but what makes this different/new is that it isn't all set around a beat, easy to follow section breaks, or repetitive chords/lines. It really does 'drift' at times from soundscape to soundscape, more akin to, say Ligeti's micropolyphony where you can't hear all the details but everything moves and morphs together somehow. Blending in and out of electronic and acoustic , creating sounds I've never heard before - excellent! Giles
supported by 179 fans who also own “The Grey Land”
"Eastman lived his life veering between irreconcilable extremes." Pitchfork has a great article that provides context: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/17803-jace-clayton-the-julius-eastman-memory-depot/ Joe Holt
supported by 178 fans who also own “The Grey Land”
Very complex neo-classical music. This has lots of layers to it, and sounds at times discordant, but I like it more with each listen. This band requires some patience, but I think you get rewarded for that patience. Found in Ed Buckley's collection. Roy Meerkamper