Within EarShot: a look at the composers behind this DSO program

Arts / Article

On Sunday, March 9th at 3 p.m., the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will partner with EarShot, a nationwide network for classical composer development, to launch their first-ever new music readings for African-American composers, in a free show open to the public. Readings—which are similar to the kind of table reading the cast might do before beginning a movie shoot—are a major coup for composers, as it is understandably rare to be able to martial a group of 80+ professional-caliber musicians to perform work. The chance to hear and workshop a composition, as well as create a symphony recording, is a dream opportunity, and the excitement of all the weekend’s composers shines through.

Jonathan Holland.

The program will consist of Flint native Jonathan Bailey Holland’s  composition “Shards of Serenity,” a piece that was commissioned by the Chicago Sinfonietta in partnership with the Chicago Architectural Foundation, part of a series based on buildings in Chicago. The building Holland chose is Crown Hall, designed by Mies van der Rohe, which houses the architecture school at Illinois Institute of Technology. Holland says of the piece, “Modern buildings have a sense of motion and energy, but this particular building was almost the opposite. Basically, it’s just a box that’s got glass around it. But on the ground floor there are no walls inside, it’s just a big open space. There’s nothing guiding you through the building. Similarly, there’s not a clear program in the piece from beginning to end, it’s about atmosphere, space.”

Matthew Evan Taylor (2)

Matthew Evan Taylor.

Also to be featured is Matthew Evan Taylor, a native of Birmingham, Ala. With roots in jazz, and a post-collegiate stint on saxophone and keyboards for Moses Mayfield, a rock band signed to Epic Records, he shifted courses in 2009 when he moved to Miami to start graduate school. Having completed a Master of Music at University of Miami, he is on his way to a Doctorate of Musical Arts in composition. His piece for Sunday was composed as an academic assignment, to make a piece responding to “Symphonie Fantastique,” written by French composer Hector Berlioz in 1830. A history buff, Taylor researched 1830 and found out that the July Revolution was also called, “The Three Glorious Days,” which inspires the title of the work, “Three Glorious Days for Orchestra.” Musically, he is examining a part of the fourth movement where Berlioz recreates the execution by guillotine of the central character (one of the original work’s claims to fame is its introduction of the idee fixe, or character associated with a musical theme).


Kevin Scott.

Kevin Scott, who is currently the director of the concert band program at SUNY Orange in Middleton, N.Y., offers a piece he composed as a method to process the loss of tennis great Arthur Ashe. Of the inspiration for the work, “A Point Served…(In Remembrance Arthur Ashe 1994-2002),” Scott says, “His passing was a profound tragedy to the world of sports and world in general. One afternoon I decided to think about how someone would play tennis, and while thinking about a tennis game, also mourning the man who was responsible for bringing the sport to a new community. A man who stood up for his own being, his own courage, in doing what he wanted to do.” Scott is also unique in pursuing a dual musical life as both composer and conductor—while once a commonality of classical music, now rare to be seen. He will not be conducting his piece on Sunday, however, joking that he thought he should “probably leave that up to DSO conductor Leonard Slatkin!”

Erica Lindsay

Erica Lindsay.

Finally, Erica Lindsay brings us “Mantra,” which seeks to integrate her roots as a jazz musician into an orchestral context. Having come to composing through the first EarShot Jazz Institute program in 2011, Lindsay remains interested in the polyrhythmic nature of African music, and seeks to experiment with integrating that with the pulse of one on the downbeat that is endemic to classical music. As the weekend’s only female composer, I wondered if Lindsay carried any baggage around that perspective. Says Lindsay, “My career has been as a tenor saxophonist, which is very rare [for women], so I kind of grew up always being kind of different in that regard.”

But this Bay Area native has acknowledged great transformation in her lifetime about roles and expectations surrounding gender; so too is her life and work informed by a childhood spent between Europe, Louisiana and Detroit, where she would come to visit an aunt in the summers. She expressed eagerness to see the city again, as it’s been 10 years since her last visit.

Sunday’s free show will be followed on Monday, March 10th by professional development workshops running from 1-7 p.m. You can check out the offerings and RSVP for the free concert here. Don’t miss this opportunity to witness composers at the forefront of classical music development make their mark!