Today, GRAMMY-nominated musician Carlos Simon releases his new album, brea(d)th. Commissioned and premiered by Minnesota Orchestra and conducted by Jonathan Taylor Rush, the landmark work was written following George Floyd’s murder as a direct response to America’s unfulfilled promises and history of systematic oppression against Black Americans. Simon wrote the work alongside activist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who provides a spoken word libretto that considers bread, as in value, breath, as in lifeforce, and breadth, as in the radius of American promise. In preparation for writing brea(d)th, Simon and Joseph made several trips to the Twin Cities, working with the orchestra to connect with local artists, activists and community members. The pair took a pilgrimage to George Floyd Square where, among others, they met with Angela Harrelson, George Floyd’s aunt, which allowed them to learn more about Floyd’s personal life.
brea(d)th continues Simon’s dedication to telling the rich history and stories of Black Americans, building from his own life experiences and the accounts of others. He sees himself as a conduit, a vessel used by God to deliver a musical message to the people. Simon’s 2022 debut LPRequiem for the Enslaved is a musical tribute to commemorate the stories of 272 enslaved men, women and children sold in 1838 by Georgetown University. The work debuted at the Library of Congress on 5 November 2021, and earned Simon a Best Contemporary Classical Composition nomination at the 2023 GRAMMYAwards.
Simon recently told the New York Times that many of his tales offer “a positive message, the positive response to the struggle,” like Portrait of a Queen, which celebrates Black womanhood and “Breathe,” inspired by the theology of Howard Thurman. Through brea(d)th, Simon attempts to provide an antidote and asks listeners to consider an equitable America. The fifth and final movement, “breadth,” is a tension-building reflection led by Joseph’s impassioned libretto — “So much work has been done…Who does the work that’s still left?”
Carlos Simon, Marc Bamuthi Joseph & Minnesota Orchestra present brea(d)th
While the work was composed with Minneapolis in mind, its message transcends far beyond the city. brea(d)th’s five movements include the prologue, sections titled bread, breath, and breadth, and Elegy, a piece Simon composed in 2015. Subtitled A Cry from the Grave, the lament is dedicated to those who have been murdered wrongfully by an oppressive power; namely Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The predominant essence of Elegy is sorrowful and contemplative, yet there are moments of extreme hope represented by bright consonant harmonies. The music’s inclusion in brea(d)th serves as a powerful reminder to maintain hope in the face of adversity.
As Simon and Joseph wrote in their artist statement, “We come to the resilient and root-rich Twin Cities as outsiders, but we composed this work from within the walls of Black emotion, curiosity and dignity. The piece explores a historical timeline that stretches from the pre-colonial to the present condition, and perhaps further, into a post-pandemic America.” Read their full artist statement here.
brea(d)th was recorded live over the course of a three-day world premiere 18 – 20 May 2023, at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall. The concerts were performed by Minnesota Orchestra and conducted by Jonathan Taylor Rush and featured Marc Bamuthi Joseph as spoken word artist, the Minnesota Chorale, vocal ensemble 29:11 and Twin Cities Choral Partners.