Opera Philadelphia

Published10 Feb 2021

Courtney Bryan’s Blessed premieres February 26 on the Opera Philadelphia Channel

The second world premiere in the Digital Commissions series, Blessed was created with filmmaker Tiona Nekkia McClodden, soprano Janinah Burnett, and vocalist Damian Norfleet

Courtney Bryan’s Blessed takes its inspiration from the righteous uprisings of 2020, when the Bible verse from Matthew 5, “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” kept running through her head.

 “I spent some time really thinking about why the word ‘meek,’” Bryan said, “and what it means to me is those who are humbly focused on standing up for what is right, for the good of all.”

Inspired by the protests in response to police brutality against Black men and women, and conceived in the leadup to the November election, the creation of the piece was also impacted by the pandemic. The work was composed, recorded, and filmed by the creative team from around the country, working individually in COVID-safe environments.

Bryan improvised her musical responses to the Matthew 5, and the themes she sensed in the text of darkness and light, and her piano improvisation became the basis of the work. Some of the material draws on her musical experiences in the Anglican church, Bryan said, including a musical meditation on hope and love in the middle of uncertain times.

Allowing for improvisation in the piece created space for the singers to express their responses to the themes and inspiration. Bryan worked remotely with soprano Janinah Burnett and vocalist Damian Norfleet, as well as sound designer Robert Kaplowitz, to record and layer each part together digitally in a process she described as “sonic quilting.”

Likewise, the deeply collaborative film by conceptual artist and filmmaker Tiona Nekkia McClodden weaves together footage from New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia. The film mirrors Bryan’s musical themes of light and dark while also exploring the process of creating Blessed.

“This piece has both been a chance for me to have an artistic and emotional outlet while going through this pandemic and the political turmoil of this time, and a chance to experiment with new ways of creating music and also analyze collaboration approaches that relate to these other projects, and to my process in general,” Bryan said. “And it has been a chance to work with artists who I really find amazing and to create something really special together.”

Bryan has also been working with Opera Philadelphia on Awakening, a project in partnership with FringeArts and the International Contemporary Ensemble that is set to premiere in 2022. 

“Courtney is an artist unlike any other and welcomes you with an emotive language unique to her,” said Sarah Williams, Opera Philadelphia’s Director of New Works & Creative Producer.  “She demands your attention without you even realizing it and expresses it all through an array of genres and traditions. She’s really special and I couldn’t be more grateful that she was equally interested in responding and exploring in this way.”

 Blessed premieres on the Opera Philadelphia Channel at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 26, 2021. It is available with a Season Pass, as a seven-day rental for $10, or as part of the $25 Digital Commissions Bundle.

About the Artists

Courtney Bryan is “a pianist and composer of panoramic interests” (New York Times). Her music is in conversation with various musical genres, including jazz and other types of experimental music, as well as traditional gospel, spirituals, and hymns. Bryan has academic degrees from Oberlin Conservatory (BM), Rutgers University (MM), and Columbia University (DMA) with advisor George Lewis, and completed postdoctoral studies in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. Bryan is currently the Albert and Linda Mintz Professor of Music at Newcomb College in the School of Liberal Arts, Tulane University and a Creative Partner with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. She was the 2018 music recipient of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, a 2019 Bard College Freehand Fellow, a 2019-20 recipient of the Samuel Barber Rome Prize in Music Composition, and is currently a recipient of a 2020-21 Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, and a 2020 United States Artists Fellow. Learn more about Courtney

Tiona Nekkia McClodden is a visual artist, filmmaker, and curator whose work explores and critiques issues at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and social commentary. McClodden’s interdisciplinary approach traverses documentary film, experimental video, sculpture, and sound installations. Most recently, her work has explored the themes of re-memory and narrative biomythography. She is the recipient of a Bucksbaum Award for her work in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts (2019), a Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism from Bard College (2018), and a Pew Fellowship (2016), among others. She currently lives and works in Philadelphia and is the Founder and Owner of Philadelphia based conceptualfade. Her writing has been featured on the Triple Canopy platform, in Artforum, Cultured Magazine, ART21 Magazine, and many other publications. Learn more about Tiona

Janinah Burnett is a world-renowned soprano who performs in opera and on Broadway. She is a graduate of Spelman College and the Eastman School of Music. She recently released her debut album Love the Color of Your Butterfly. Learn more about Janinah

Damian Norfleet is a contemporary classical vocalist who, in addition to being a member of the socially conscious new music group Ensemble Pi, has collaborated with Works & Process at the Guggenheim, The ACLU of Massachusetts, WQXR Radio, Brooklyn Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and more. Learn more about Damian

About the Opera Philadelphia Channel

The Opera Philadelphia Channel creates a digital space in which artists can perform and explore, through a series of new commissions by visionary composers and dynamic performances produced for the screen. Season subscriptions priced at $99 are offered along with pay-per-view rental options for individual performances. The channel is available for viewing on computers and mobile devices, and on TV screens via Chromecast and the Opera Philadelphia Channel app on AppleTV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon FireTV.

The Opera Philadelphia Channel has been made possible by the Disosway Foundation, Inc., and by Wyncote Foundation at the recommendation of Frederick R. Haas and Rafael Gomez. Major Support has been provided by Ms. Robin Angly, Maureen Craig and Glenn Goldberg, Joel and Sharon Koppelman, and Ellen Steiner. Additional Support has been provided by Mr. Jeffrey P. Cunard and Ms. Mariko Ikehara, Katie Adams Schaeffer and Tony Schaeffer, the Howard and Sarah D. Solomon Foundation, and Laura A. Williamson.

For more information, visit operaphila.tv.

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