Detroit based Akropolis Reed Quintet releases Ghost Light, a collection of works written for them that are in dialogue with various "ghosts" — histories that are manifest in personal, collective, and even organic contexts. Featuring music by Stacy Garrop, Michael Gilbertson, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Theo Chandler, and Jeff Scott with poet Marsha Music, Akropolis' precise and dynamic performances are matched by their curatorial creativity and commitment.
Rites for the AfterlifeStacy Garrop
|Akropolis Reed Quintet|
|01||I. Inscriptions from the Book of the Dead|
I. Inscriptions from the Book of the Dead
|02||II. Passage through the Netherworld|
II. Passage through the Netherworld
|03||III. The Hall of Judgement|
III. The Hall of Judgement
|04||IV. The Field of Reeds|
IV. The Field of Reeds
Kinds of LightMichael Gilbertson
|Akropolis Reed Quintet|
|Akropolis Reed Quintet||7:20|
Seed to SnagTheo Chandler
|Akropolis Reed Quintet|
|13||The Valley, the Bottom, and Hastings Street: Part 1|
The Valley, the Bottom, and Hastings Street: Part 1
|14||Homage to Paradise Valley: I. Ghosts of Black Bottom|
Homage to Paradise Valley: I. Ghosts of Black Bottom
|Akropolis Reed Quintet||9:05|
|15||The Valley, the Bottom, and Hastings Street: Part 2|
The Valley, the Bottom, and Hastings Street: Part 2
|16||Homage to Paradise Valley: II. Hastings Street Blues|
Homage to Paradise Valley: II. Hastings Street Blues
|Akropolis Reed Quintet||7:56|
|17||Homage to Paradise Valley: III. Roho, Pumzika Kwa Amani (Spirits, Rest Peacefully)|
Homage to Paradise Valley: III. Roho, Pumzika Kwa Amani (Spirits, Rest Peacefully)
|Akropolis Reed Quintet||4:46|
|18||The Valley, the Bottom, and Hastings Street: Part 3|
The Valley, the Bottom, and Hastings Street: Part 3
|19||Homage to Paradise Valley: IV. Paradise Theater Jump!|
Homage to Paradise Valley: IV. Paradise Theater Jump!
|Akropolis Reed Quintet||5:17|
Born out of their mission to create new music that connects their audience to one another and the outside world, the Akropolis Reed Quintet returns with their fourth album, Ghost Light. Featuring a diverse collection of world premiere recordings, Ghost Light is a meditation on life, death, and rebirth. Ghost Light shines a light on the ghosts all around us and grapples with the issues of mortality and with our personal and collective history.
Inspired by the ancient Egyptian belief in the soul’s journey to the afterlife, Rites for the Afterlife by Stacy Garrop opens the program. The music in the opening movement is searching and plaintive as it reflects the wandering and uncertainty of a soul leaving the body and beginning the next phase of its existence. In the second movement, the soul travels through the Netherworld where it encounters demons, serpents, crocodiles, and lakes of fire. In their evocative performance, Akropolis creates a sense of foreboding as different terrors move into the foreground. In the third, the soul stands before 42 divine judges in the Hall of Judgment. The music grows increasingly insistent and probing as the judges interrogate the soul until they finally pronounce judgment. In the fourth movement, “Field of Reeds,” the soul passes through to the afterlife where it will live forever next to the Nile. Garrop evokes the expanse of the field of reeds with Copland-like gestures and we feel a sense of peace as we come to the end of our journey.
In contrast to Garrop’s programmatic work, Kinds of Light by Michael Gilbertson is a more abstract exploration of the nature of light. Each of the four movements allows us to, as it were, see the wind quintet in a different light. In particular, the second movement, “Twilight,” has the effect of viewing a stationary object from an ever-shifting perspective. The movement is homorhythmic but Gilbertson contrasts harmonic and timbral change with the stasis of the rhythm to give a sense of a changing view. The third and fourth movements contrast this homorhythm with greater textural diversity as the voices constantly shift and combine in different ways in an act of true chamber music virtuosity from both composer and performers.Read More
Firing Squad by Niloufar Nourbakhsh is inspired by the opening sentence of 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez:
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon his father took him to discover ice.”
As Colonel Buendia faces imminent death, Nourbakhsh hones in on the juxtaposition between the intensity of the present moment and the memories of past life. In a confluence of past and present, Akropolis is brought into contact with their own memory as they perform with an altered recording of themselves. As past and present coalesce, Nourbakhsh brings the piece to an emotionally wrenching climax and forces the listener to confront nothing less than their own mortality.
Moving to the natural world, Seed to Snag by Theo Chandler is an exploration of the lifecycle of organic matter. Chandler uses Baroque forms throughout this piece and the first movement, “Sprout,” is reminiscent of a heavily ornamented Baroque prelude. Evoking birds and other natural sounds, the music evolves organically as it represents the slow emergence of plants. The second movement, “Stretch,” is an expressive and virtuosic bassoon solo – played brilliantly by Ryan Reynolds – that recalls an aria with harpsichord accompaniment. The other voices echo the pitches of the bassoon as the aria grows and stretches outward. With its consistent pulse, the third movement, “Sow,” represents seeds as they fall from a tree and spread to the earth before ending with a recapitulation of material from the first movement as the life cycle begins again.
The final work on the album, Homage to Paradise Valley by Jeff Scott, is rooted in the history of the predominantly Black neighborhood of Black Bottom in Detroit. This piece is a reflection on the life and death of this neighborhood and the way in which Black Bottom’s contributions – musical, personal, and historical – impact us today. The extensive musical legacy of Black Bottom is felt throughout this piece, both in the second movement’s homage to the nightclubs on Hastings Street and in the fourth movement’s tribute to the famed Paradise Theater. The composer describes the third movement as a “humble offering to the many souls who came before me and persevered through the middle passage, decades of slavery, disenfranchising laws, and inequality.” Poet and self-described Detroitist Marsha Music reads her poetry interstitially in this recording.
With Ghost Light, Akropolis demonstrates their unique sensibility and curatorial instinct by performing music by a diverse range of voices who each challenge the listener to confront the fundamental issues of life and death and to consider how our personal and collective history affects us today. The listener leaves the album ready to engage more deeply with the world around them.
-- Caleb van der Swaagh
Producers: Courtney Snyder Ng, Elliott Tackitt, Akropolis
Production Assistants: Thomas Morris
Recorded at First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti, MI & Tempermill Studios
Recorded, Edited, Mixing, & Mastering: Dave Schall Acoustic
Album Artwork: Ashton Springer
Publicist: Unfinished Side
Celebrating over a decade of music making, the Akropolis Reed Quintet, with their “infallible musicality and huge vitality” (Fanfare), has sparked a revolution in wind chamber music. An untamed band of 5 reed players and entrepreneurs, the members of Akropolis are united by a shared passion: to make new music that connects and reflects real people.
Akropolis delivers an average of 120 concerts and educational events nationwide each year; has premiered more than 130 works; runs an annual new music festival in Detroit called “Together We Sound”; is in residence at 3 Detroit high schools; and their third and latest album, The Space Between Us, was dubbed “pure gold” (San Francisco Chronicle). Akropolis believes anyone can compose great music, and during their 20-21 season will premiere and record more than 30 works by youth aged 12-22, including 12 Detroit high school students. Generously supported by 200+ donors and foundations nationwide, Akropolis is a 7-time winner of America’s foremost chamber music prizes including the 2014 Fischoff Gold Medal, and was founded at the University of Michigan in 2009.https://akropolisquintet.org/
Stacy Garrop’s music is centered on dramatic and lyrical storytelling, and she shares these stories by taking audiences on sonic journeys. Garrop is a full-time freelance composer. She has received numerous awards including an Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Fromm Music Foundation Grant, Barlow Prize, and three Barlow Endowment commissions. Notable commissions include The Battle for the Ballot for the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Goddess Triptych for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Glorious Mahalia for the Kronos Quartet, Give Me Hunger for Chanticleer, The Transformation of Jane Doe for Chicago Opera Theater, and My Dearest Ruth for voice and piano with text by the husband of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The works of Michael Gilbertson have been described as “elegant” and “particularly beautiful” by the New York Times, “vivid, tightly woven” and “delectably subtle” by the Baltimore Sun, “genuinely moving” by the Washington Post, and “a compelling fusion of new and ancient” by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Gilbertson is the BMI Composer in Residence with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and is a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Quartet. His works have been programmed by the Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Washington National Opera, Albany Symphony, and San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, among many others.
Described as “stark” by WNPR, and “darkly lyrical” by the New York Times, winner of the 2nd Hildegard competition, and recipient of the 2019 Female Discovery Grant from Opera America, Iranian composer Niloufar Nourbakhsh’s music has been commissioned and performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Library of Congress, National Sawdust Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, Women Composers Festival of Hartford, PUBLIQuartet, Forward Music Project, and many more, performed at numerous festivals and venues including Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center. A founding member and co-director of Iranian Female Composers Association, Nilou is a strong advocate of music education.
Theo Chandler is the recipient of the Copland House Residency Award, SCI/ASCAP Graduate Commission, American Prize for Vocal Chamber Music, Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund Award, Charles Ives Scholarship from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Graduate Music Award from the Presser Foundation. He has received commissions from the New York Youth Symphony First Music Program, Tanglewood Music Center, Fischer Duo, Utah Arts Festival, and others. He has been a fellow at the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, Mizzou International Composers Festival, Tanglewood Music Center, Copland House Cultivate, and Aspen Music Festival. Previous residencies include Composer in Residence for Les Délices, Composer in Residence for the Maryland Wind Festival, Fellow for Musiqua, and more.
Marsha Music, daughter of a pre-Motown record producer, grew up in Highland Park and lives in the Palmer Park district of Detroit. She is a self-described Detroitist and writes about the city’s music, its past, present and future. She is a former activist/labor leader and a noted speaker. She has contributed to significant Detroit narratives, including "Untold Tales, Unsung Heroes: An Oral History of Detroit’s African American Community," as well as documentaries on HBO, PBS, and The History Channel. Ms. Music has read her poetry with the DSO; written and performed new poetry with the Detroit Opera Theater as part of their 2020 Drive-Thru opera, Twilight: Gods. She recently published her first book, "The Detroitist."
A native of Queens, NY, Jeff Scott started the French horn at age 14, receiving an anonymous gift scholarship to go to the Brooklyn College Preparatory Division. An even greater gift came from his first teacher, Carolyn Clark, who taught the young Mr. Scott for free during his high school years, giving him the opportunity to study music when resources were not available. Associate Professor of Horn at the Oberlin Conservatory, Mr. Scott's performance credits are many and varied, including The Lion King orchestra (on Broadway, New York) 1997-2005. He has been a member of the Alvin Ailey and Dance Theater of Harlem orchestras since 1995 and has performed under the direction of Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Mr. Scott is also the French hornist in the internationally acclaimed wind quintet “Imani Winds."
Playing together intensively for more than a decade, Akropolis Reed Quintet have evolved a collective voice that appears to be organically integrated. if their technical ability, its scope, precision and finesse, enables these five Detroit based musicians to gel as a unit, total trust has to be a vital factor too. There's nothing tentative in their approach, and that extends to their programming of multifariously challenging and imaginative new works.
Ghost Light opens with Stacy Garrop's Rites For The Afterlife. Kari Landry's clarinet, Andrew Koeppe's bass clarinet, Ryan Reynolds's bassoon, Matt Landry's saxophone and Tim Gocklin's oboe seem to turn around a single axle, like spokes from a shared hub, as their agile instrumental voices trace the journey of a soul, as related in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Michael Gilbertson's Kinds Of Light translates gradations of luminescence into sound, making use of the quintet's remarkable capacity to draw out fine shadings of timbre without compromising the phenomenal coordination of their performance.
Contrasts within Firing Squad, written by New York based Iranian composer Niloufar Nourbakhsh, suggest the disconnect between an execution squad, with its regimented flourishes, and the tormented delirium of their victim. The quintet brilliantly communicate that tragic tension. Theo Chandler's Seed To Snag, enacting the life cycle of a tree, seems consciously to stem directly from the group's organic character.
Finally, Jeff Scott's Homage To Paradise Valley, interleaved with poetry written and read by Marsha Music, reflects upon facets of Black American experience. Sparking together, Scott and Music bring another level of resonance to Akropolis Reed Quintet's repertoire. Ensembles achieving this standard of professional excellence can easily start to sound slick and self-satisfied. But Ghost Light finds this exceptional outfit audibly driven by real excitement and a sense of adventure.
— Julian Cowley, 4.13.2021