‘Apology’ and redemption – Entertainment & Life – Worcester Magazine
GRAFTON — An extraordinary set of circumstances came together to provide the inspiration for performer, composer and social activist Anthony R. Green’s short but impactful new work “Apology.”
In an extraordinary year, world-renowned pianist Stephen Drury thought that now was the right time to encourage Green by working with him and performing it.
“Apology” will have its world premiere when Drury performs a free live-streamed virtual concert from Great Hall in Grafton at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 as part of the ongoing Small Stones Festival of the Arts.
Green, who grew up in Providence but has been based in Europe for several years, said “Apology” came about when he was artist in residence at Gettysburg National Military Park for a month prior to the pandemic.
“The first day I was there I said, ‘OK, I’m going to church this Sunday,'” Green recalled. St. Paul’s AME Zion was “a wonderful looking church” on the outside, with a plaque commemorating the hundreds of Black soldiers who participated in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Inside, however, Green was very surprised to find a congregation of just four people (including an older white man) and a pastor playing music from an old laptop.
“I’m very accustomed to churches, especially Black churches, being packed and bringing together musicians. That was my experience going to church in Providence, Rhode Island, although it was not the biggest church,” Green said.
At St. Paul’s there were six people, including Green, and no musicians. “It was quite a shock.”
As the service progressed, the pastor said, “We have a visitor today,” and Green stood and introduced himself. The pastor gave a sermon, called for intercessory prayer, and everyone went to the altar. In a journal Green kept and refers to as notes for “Apology,” the older white man then said, ” ‘I have a confession to make. I haven’t told anyone here this before but … I was a racist’ … He proceeded to say that as he grew and realized how disgusting racism is, he felt ashamed. He was honored that St. Paul’s welcomed him, and he asked for forgiveness, and to one day be considered a brother. By the time he finished, we were all practically in tears. The pastor and the congregation hugged and embraced him. And I was the last one to give him a significant hug. I also said, ‘I definitely consider you to be a brother.’ ”
In a recent telephone interview, Green said “It was completely unexpected and you could tell by the tone of his voice and his physical gestures that his apology came from the heart. And when he asked if he could be considered a brother, that’s what tipped people over. It didn’t seem like there were six people in the room, it seemed like there were these past spirits. It confirmed how much I needed to be there.”
Running at about five minutes, “Apology” has “this juxtaposition of being sparse and focused as well as inwardly tumultuous,” Green said. It culminates with “an upper chord of the piano, a symbol of an awakening.”
Drury, who is on the faculty at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, said that “Apology” is “an enigmatic piece. It’s a lot of difficult thought packed into a small time.”
Green was a student of Drury’s at the New England Conservatory, and the two have stayed in touch.
“I’ve known Anthony for ages. He’s an interesting guy. Well-informed, thoughtful,” Drury said.
“With 2020 and the way the world has unfolded, it seemed apropos for him (Drury) to work with me that way (perform a new piece). When I told him the situation on which the work was built and we thought it would make a wonderful musical experience,” Green said.
“With the events of this summer, I thought it’s my move,” said Drury.
“Apology” will open the Oct. 25 concert, followed by American composer Frederic Rzewski’s 1975 masterpiece “The People United Will Never Be Defeated,” consisting of 36 variations of the song.
Drury has a repertoire that stretches from Bach to Liszt to the music of today and has worked closely with many of the leading contemporary composers including Rzewski, John Cage, Steve Reich, Olivier Messiaen, John Zorn, Luciano Berio, Helmut Lachenmann, Christian Wolff and John Luther Adams. He said he was first drawn to contemporary music when he found a book at his piano teacher’s house at the age of 8 that featured such avant-garde composers as Cage.
“You have the opportunity to do stuff that’s never been done. I want to hear a sound I’ve never heard before,” Drury said. “Whatever people are doing now is whatever people are doing now.”
By the same token, with a work such as “The People United Will Never Be Defeated,” “I hope the context of the piece is such that the music should be more than entertainment. Whether that translates to your own solace or own action, I hope it provides something that’s needed in that way,” Drury said.
Green said “a big part of my fascination” with contemporary music came from when “I saw a string quartet playing a modern work on ‘Sesame Street.’ I just remember being fascinated.”
Asked how the music is faring these days, Green said, “It’s difficult to say. In Germany classical contemporary music is watched and performed and shared and cherished and loved. You can’t say the same about this music in Italy.”
The important thing is that “there are artists that continue to create and inspire no matter what the climate is,” Green said.
Green was speaking from Germany, where he has recently been a fellow at the Berlin University of the Arts. But since 2013 he’s spent most of his time in Holland. He won’t be able to come here to attend the premiere of “Apology,” but one silver lining of the pandemic is that he will be able to watch online.
“Yes definitely. This is an event I do not want to miss.”
As for observing current events in the United States from a distance removed in Europe, he said there can be confusion when decisions are made that don’t affect him directly but do affect the world. “The experience is really different, especially when you’re Black and you kind of feel that you’ll never really be part of the fabric of the country to which you’ve been born. I’m very happy to say I’m Black. I don’t have to say I’m American, I’m German, I’m Dutch. I’m very happy to say I’m Black.”
Drury’s notes for “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” state that Rzewski “creates a concert work for solo piano of epic proportions, held together not only by the theme from which the variations spring, but also by an overriding form which binds the entire set together as architecture, narrative, and metaphor. Through his use of variation form, Rzewski creates an aural image of ‘the people united’ — individuals in all their diversity coming together, bit by bit, to form a unity.”
Asked what he hopes people will take away from the performance Oct. 25, Drury said, “I hope they go out and vote.”
To sign up for the concert, visit http://bit.ly/ssfa2020.
Three regional arts organizations — Apple Tree Arts of Grafton, the Worcester County Camera Club and the Blackstone Valley Art Association — have collaborated to create an extraordinary newly envisioned virtual fine art and photography exhibit and music program this year for the Small Stones Festival of the Arts. The festival is usually held in-person, but its reputation is such that when Drury was contacted about participating this year he said he immediately said yes.
A series of events, talks and workshops are being presented by Zoom and recorded for the web at www.smallstonesfestival.org. All artwork that met acceptance criteria is being displayed online. A distinguished panel of jurors will select 144 works to appear in the printed exhibit catalog as well as select cash prize winners in the photography and fine arts categories. Cash awards are $500 for first; $250 for second; and $100 for third place. A popular choice award for each category will be voted by viewers online. The exhibit catalog will be sold online.
A prize ceremony via Zoom will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 23. Juliet Feibel, executive director of ArtsWorcester, will be the keynote speaker.
Also, a free workshop for artists and photographers will be presented by Donna Dufault and Scott Erb of Erb/Dufault Photography from 7 to 8 p.m. Oct. 21, and Small Stones Festival jurors Jim Welu and Ron Rosenstock will give their views on some of their favorite works from this year’s exhibition from 4 to 5 p.m. Oct. 24.