During Black History Month there did not appear to be huge rush to present the works of African-American composers to the San Diego classical music audience. UCSD professor/composer Anthony Davis did see two productions of his choral work Voyage Through Death to Life Upon These Shores, by Sacra Profana, but he has yet to have one of his large-scale works performed by the San Diego Opera or the symphony.
Five, an opera by Anthony Davis
Trilogy: An Opera Company presents a full-length opera about the divisive trial that sent five innocent teens to prison for 6 to 13 years each.
“I don’t think it’s ever easy,” Davis explained. “I’ve been at this for a long time and it goes up and down. There were probably more opportunities for me in the ’80s or early ’90s than there are now. Now they seem to be looking for composers under the age of 40, and there’s a relationship to rock music that has become more trendy and white, which is always kind of funny to me. Everyone knows that the origins of American popular music [come from] African-American sources — that goes without saying.”
But the composer isn’t planning on making any compromises. “It’s always a struggle to bring your music with you,” he said. “But if I were to abandon my roots, music would be an empty vessel for me.”
Davis’s latest opera, Five, is a work that documents the infamous case of the Central Park Five, which made its debut last year in New Jersey. Donald Trump plays a central role. “He started a cultural war with his rage back then that we haven’t really recovered from. He was demanding the death penalty for these young men [all five were exonerated after years in prison].”
The composer had a scare on the day following the election. “I was driving back to the city after rehearsals for Five and somehow my rental-car GPS took me through Central Park where they were having a massive anti-Trump demonstration. My van had West Virginia [red-state] plates and people were livid. They started pushing on my vehicle. I tried yelling that I was from California — ‘Don’t blame me!’ I wasn’t that far from Trump Tower.”
Davis believes in remaining aware. “We have to realize that racism and corruption were at the foundation of our country. It’s something we have to struggle to overcome and work against all of the time.”
Meanwhile, he’s optimistic about bringing Five to a larger audience. “I’m hoping that the New York City Opera will stage a full production next year. I know it will be controversial, and I’m sure I’ll hear from Donald Trump afterwards [laughter].”