Calliope's Call: Meet the Composer - Anthony Philpott
Summer has already arrived in Boston, and we are eagerly awaiting sharing our summer virtual festival, I, Too, sing America: 3 unique programs that air on July 4, 11, and 18 and roundtable discussions with composers that follow the performances on July 11 and 18. Tickets available now!
In anticipation of our July virtual festival, we will be introducing you to the incredible composers whose pieces won our 2021 Call for Scores competition. Please meet composer, Anthony Philpott, whose work “America” premieres on July 4th.
Who are your favorite poets to set and what specifically draws you to those poets? I mostly set the texts of African-American poets and writers, as I feel their voices are woefully underrepresented in the American art song repertory. Some of the poets I have set include Georgia Douglas Johnson, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and George Moses Horton, among others. My only requirement: a poem must resonate with me on some personal and emotional level to prompt me to set it.
Of which of your works are you the most proud, and why? I am most proud of my winning piece, “America,” because it was the very first art song I completed. The poem, written by one of my favorite poets, Claude McKay, conveys some of the angst felt being Black in America, particularly at this time of social and political unrest. The ongoing fight for racial and social justice affects me deeply, so the journey through setting this poem was cathartic for me.
What role do you think the art song genre fills in today’s classical music space? I feel the art song is a very important subgenre of classical music today. Music is already a great human expression, but adding the singing voice— affected by feelings, desires, thoughts, and LIFE—makes the art song uniquely more personal. You can get a great sonic experience at the symphony, and you can get that plus comedy or drama from opera, but the art song gives all that while simultaneously speaking to all humanity and the individual. Centuries may separate the poet, thecomposer, the performers, and the audience, yet, they are all connected via shared human experiences conveyed and felt in an art song. In a divided country in a tumultuous time, the art song is positioned best in today’s classical music world to foster a greater understanding of and appreciation for our fellow man.
The pandemic has affected the entire arts community in many ways. How has it impacted your career? What are you looking forward to as we move towards re-opening in the musical world? I am working on various music history and archival projects surrounding the lives and careers of past Black classical musicians, and the pandemic has halted my ability to travel and visit the libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions vital to my research. Also, with my colleagues on the executive board of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, we’ve definitely had to cancel concerts and rethink every aspect of how we operate, from financial planning, to marketing, and what our concerts will look like mid- and post-COVID. The same is true for other music organizations I work with, such as the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. I think the pandemic has offered us an opportunity as artists and arts administrators to really recalibrate and focus on creating meaningful and worthwhile musical experiences for our audiences, albeit virtually for now. I anxiously look forward to planning, attending, and being a part of live, in-person performances again.
Don’t miss Anthony’s powerful new work, “America,” in this summer art song festival next month!
I, Too, Sing America: A Virtual Art Song Festival
July 4, 4pm: I Am America July 11, 4pm: The Poet’s Voice (followed by Zoom Roundtable Discussion at 5pm)
July 18, 4pm: Seeking Justice (followed by Zoom Roundtable Discussion at 5pm)