Students, Faculty Participate in Detroit's Resonate Symposium

Multi-year collaboration results in Oberlin ensembles performing new works by composers of the African Diaspora

April 14, 2023

Cathy Partlow Strauss ’84

Faculty composer Michael Frazier receives ovation for a performance in Finney Chapel.
Faculty composer Michael Frazier receives ovation for a performance in Finney Chapel.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Two years in the making, Oberlin Conservatory students and faculty are in midtown Detroit, April 14-15, to participate and perform in the Resonate Chamber Music Symposium, held at The Carr Center—an organization dedicated to showcasing Black arts and artists. 

Resonate is a multi-year collaboration that explores the African Diaspora through the lens of contemporary American chamber music. The project, under the direction of Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings and The Carr Center, commissioned six American composers to create new works that have been performed by each of the collaborators during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. 

Participating composers are Michael Frazier, Adolphus Hailstork, Nathalie Joachim, George Lewis, Patrice Rushen, and Pamela Z. 

Schools of music that embarked on the project along with Oberlin Conservatory, are Western Michigan University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Bowling Green State University. Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings and The Carr Center are also performing partners of the works composed under the auspices of Resonate. 

A developmental feature of the two-day symposium is the focus on bringing high school and college composition students together with the community to discuss the career and craft of being a composer in today’s world.

Each day, the symposium presents a concert showcasing the featured Resonate composers' works that were commissioned over the last two years.  

Oberlin Sinfonietta, with director Timothy Weiss, will perform the work BlackPortrait by composition faculty Michael Frazier at the symposium's closing concert on Saturday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. The ensemble includes student musicians Daniel Jordan (flute, alto flute), Keyvar Smith-Herold (bass clarinet), Brin Jaeger (percussion), Kelvin Tang (piano), Natalie Hsieh (violín I), Laoise Matsumoto (violin II), Solomon Leonard (viola), Miles Reed (cello), and Caeden Brusett (bass).

Sinfonietta has performed BlackPortrait in Oberlin twice: first in February 2022, and just this week on April 13, giving two different groups of students the opportunity to participate in bringing this new music to the stage.

Frazier is a Black and Latino composer specializing in acoustic, electronic, and electroacoustic music. Heavily influenced and inspired by his love of jazz and hip-hop music, his music explores a broader history of Black creative artistry. Of BlackPortrait, Frazier said it was, "A piece meant to reflect my own personal musical state-of-mind at the end of my doctoral studies, and is inspired by the three-section formal structure of Charles Mingus’s 'Self-Portrait in Three Colors.'"

Oberlin ensembles have been giving performances of other works commissioned for Resonate over the last year, as have all the collaborating partners in the project. One of the goals of the project was to ensure numerous readings of these works on stages across the Midwest.

Oberlin Sinfonietta just gave the world premiere performance of Pamela Z's work, titled Differences, on the April 13 performance in Oberlin's Warner Concert Hall. In November 2022, two other works created with support from Resonate—Nathalie Joachim's Radical Revelations for reed quintet, and Adolphus Hailstork's Monuments, which also featured Oberlin trombone professor John Gruber as soloist—were performed by Sinfonietta and the Contemporary Music Ensemble, respectively. 

Two students representing the Oberlin Composition Department have also traveled to Detroit to take part in the symposium. They will attend keynote addresses, master classes, Q&As, and panel discussions. Both students, Isaac Santos and Jake Berran, have had their works performed by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, under Weiss' direction. 

Weiss' work with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble over the last three decades has expanded the repertoire heard on the Conservatory's stages, and inspired young musicians to champion the work of living composers. In recent years, Weiss has focused on amplifying the voices of underrepresented composers. He believes this work squares beautifully with the purpose of the Resonate project. 

“The Resonate project is a perfect fit for Oberlin—from how we celebrate the creation of new music to how our students are animated by the school’s small ensemble culture," says Weiss. He adds, “This is a great opportunity for our students to engage in community outreach and interact with the composers and performers from the other institutions.”

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