While performances of “Brea(d)th” at Orchestra Hall ended last weekend, some cast members will perform portions of the piece Thursday at George Floyd Square.
MINNEAPOLIS — Back in 2020, the Minnesota Orchestra was one of several entities to cut ties with Minneapolis Police in response to George Floyd’s murder.
Three years later, it’s presenting a new piece on racial justice, “Brea(d)th,” which combines classical music and spoken word.
In-person rehearsals of this world premiere ramped up a few days before the third anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s death, with many of the performers meeting in person for the first time at Orchestra Hall downtown. Involved were conductor Jonathan Taylor Rush, librettist and spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and composer Carlos Simon – three Black men leading and collaborating with the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale, choir 29:11 from Cape Town and other partners.
“People literally from all over the country and all over the world are coming together to perform this piece,” Joseph said.
The Minnesota Orchestra commissioned Joseph to write the lyrics he and others performed on May 18-20 this year, as well as Simon to compose the instrumentals. Both live in D.C.
“I set up the piano and the music just came out of me,” Simon said.
During the composition and writing process, the gentlemen visited George Floyd Square.
“We spent several hours there just talking to people,” Simon recalled.
“I remember the pain, but I’m an artist,” Joseph said. “I don’t really have time to not be hopeful. It’s actually my job to cultivate hope.”
Joseph explained why the piece is called “Brea(d)th.” He said the word represents breath, bread, and breadth.
“‘Brea(d)th’ is first a response to George Floyd’s final struggle, ‘I can’t breathe,’ but also bread as in, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ as in the Lord’s Prayer but also in value,” Joseph said. “A man robbed of breath over some bread.”
Simon explained breadth as being the big picture of which everyone is part.
He said, “The piece is really a call to action and the last words that the choir says and Marc says as well is, ‘So much work has been done, who does the work that’s still left?’
“If racism is systematic, anti-racism also has to be systematic, and everybody has a part to play.”
A broadcast of the Orchestra Hall performance is available to view for free online.
Although the live show at Orchestra Hall wrapped up over the weekend, some of the cast members will perform portions of “Brea(d)th” with spoken word artist Brittan Delaney on Thursday, May 25 at 8 p.m. at George Floyd Square. Entry is free and open to the public. This performance is part of a larger event called Rise & Remember, which also includes a candlelight vigil.
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