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Joel Thompson Talks About His "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed"

The audience response to early performances was mixed, at best. When Dr. Rogers and the glee club toured cities including Washington and Johannesburg, the reaction was sometimes aggressive.

“I took a lot of heat,” Dr. Rogers said in an interview. “I went against many people who asked me not to do the piece. We had people in the audience rip up their programs and throw them in the trash, right in front of the choir, and walk out. I had letters written to my dean about it.”

But now, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the protests about police violence that have engulfed the nation and the sudden, broad realignment of opinion on racial issues, the work is finding new, and newly enthusiastic, listeners. On June 4, Carnegie Hall streamed a recording on its website and social media channels.

“People wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole five years ago,” Mr. Thompson said. “I’m grateful that people are willing to engage with it now, but I’m also simultaneously frustrated. I’m hoping that the people who are sharing this piece come to realize how white supremacy itself has been embedded into this genre. We need to make substantive structural change to how things are run in classical music.”

Had the coronavirus pandemic not hit, Mr. Thompson said, he would currently be lost in the archives of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra; the ensemble received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to commission a piece from him about the 1956 Tallahassee bus boycott. Instead, he spoke from his apartment in New Haven, Conn., occasionally setting the phone down to play riffs from his keyboard as he

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/arts/music/classical-music-black-lives-matter.html

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