Damien Geter’s Original Musical Work “An African American Requiem” Debuts This Weekend

The Portland composer’s creation is dedicated to Black Americans who lost their lives to racist violence.

An African American Requiem (Oregon Symphony/Resonance Ensemble )

Oregon Symphony and Resonance Ensemble this weekend will premiere An African American Requiem, an original musical work by Damien Geter that is dedicated to Black Americans who have lost their lives to racist violence.

“As a Black composer in today’s America, I feel like I’ve been writing this my entire life,” stated Geter, who is also Portland Opera’s interim music director and artistic adviser, in a press release. “I was hoping there would be a time we wouldn’t need this piece, but I think we always will. I hope An African American Requiem leads to important action that affects change.”

Geter’s work debuts at 6 pm Saturday, May 7.

The 2016 election inspired Geter to write the opera. He pitched the idea to Resonance Ensemble the next year, and the choral group subsequently commissioned it and recruited Oregon Symphony to be a part of the production.

“Music has the power to inspire, educate, and heal,” said Scott Showalter, president and CEO of Oregon Symphony. “It has been an honor to work with Damien and Resonance Ensemble to bring such a relevant and meaningful project to our community that will hopefully serve as a catalyst for action.”

The concert will feature singers from multiple choirs, including Kingdom Sound Gospel Choir. Also featured in the performance will be a quartet of acclaimed Black opera stars, soprano Brandie Sutton, mezzo-soprano Karmesha Peake, tenor Bernard Holcomb, and baritone Kenneth Overton.

Geter’s influences extend beyond current events. Included in the piece are African American spirituals and the words of civil rights activists Ida B. Wells and Jamilia Land, as well as entire movement dedicated to the last words of Eric Garner before he was choked to death by a police officer in New York in 2014: “I can’t breathe.” And the piece will conclude with a performance by poet, activist and former Oregonian columnist S. Renee Mitchell.

In addition to being performed in person at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, An African American Requiem will be broadcast and streamed by All Classical Portland and simulcast on WQXR in New York City.

“In 2017, when we commissioned An African American Requiem, we had no idea the path we were about to embark on,” said Resonance’s artistic director Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon. “After delays due to the pandemic, we are thrilled that Damien’s work will premiere here in Oregon at long last. It is extraordinary and moving, and it’s exciting to see how audiences, community partners, and arts organizations across the country are coming together to watch his vision come to life.”

Tickets are available at resonancechoral.org.

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