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U-M School of Music to commission 10 new orchestral works from Black composers over next decade

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Posted at 1:13 PM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 13:13:41-05

(WXYZ) — The University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance is launching a new project to commission 10 new orchestral works by Black composers over the next 10 years.

The Initiative for Black Composers was established in 2020 at the university by Grammy-nominated conductor Kenneth Kiesler, who is the director of university orchestras for U-M.

According to the university, Keisler had several goals in mind for the project. He wanted to increase the representation and recognition of Black composers, offer students a broader repertoire and said it's important to feature brand-new pieces of work from Black composers on top of existing works.

Kiesler said he envisioned "creating an initiative that would have an impact over the long term. We plan to record all of these pieces for wide distribution, and we hope to help orchestras expand their view of programming so that these works become woven into the fabric of their regular repertoire."

According to the school, the new works will be premiered and recorded, and each composer will also work with students to premiere and record it.

So far, three compositions have been commissioned. The first called "Tethered Voices" was recorded on video in September 2021 but will have a live performance in front of an audience on April 6, 2022. It was composed by James Lee III, who attended U-M's School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

The second work is titled "Tales: A Folklore Symphony" and is a 20-minute multimovement work by Carlos Simon based on African American and African folk tales. It will premiere by the U-M Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 26, 2022.

The third composition is a concert-length work from Nkeiru Okoye for orchestra, chorus, four vocal soloists and a speaker. The work is inspired by writings by and about Maya Angelou and will be premiered in the spring of 2023.

"I see our role as educating our students to be citizens, beyond being musicians and through being musicians," Kiesler said in a statement. "We want them to realize that they can be ambassadors or disciples for the arts beyond a very narrow repertoire, honoring tradition while also advancing that tradition by amplifying new voices."