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RIOT, composed by Steven Mackey with poet Tracy K. Smith, receives its world premiere with New Jersey Symphony in honor of their Centennial celebration in April.

On April 21-23, Steven Mackey’s RIOT receives its world premiere with the New Jersey Symphony and Princeton Glee Club Choir led by Xian Zhang, joined by mezzo-soprano Alicia Olatuja and Mackey himself on electric guitar. The large-scale work, written in collaboration with U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, was composed in honor of New Jersey Symphony’s 100th year.

A longtime resident of New Jersey and a professor of composition at Princeton University for nearly four decades, Mackey is a frequent collaborator with the New Jersey Symphony, and serves as Director of the orchestra’s Edward T. Cone Composition Institute.

Mackey states: “"My daydreams, about what I might do for such an auspicious occasion were grand: my friends in the NJSO joined on a packed stage by a vocal soloist, a chorus and myself on guitar, all singing and playing with abandon." He asked poet Tracy K. Smith (who was a colleague at Princeton) to provide text, as “she knows how to make words sing.”

As Mackey and Smith began to work on the piece in summer 2020, what began as a celebratory work shifted following the death of George Floyd to a piece that “foregrounds race and resilience.” The first line written by Smith is a dark, personal statement that Mackey describes as setting up “the interplay between personal and communal, the soloist and the chorus”: “Sometimes I feel / the Black in my heart / like a map / made of tar. You need / only part your lips / to mar what isn't yours.” This is followed by a series of six texts that “trace a trajectory that culminates in positive affirmation and a celebration of hope, perseverance, commitment, and community. The music aspires to honor that trajectory.”

We live—
gold hot bright
the line of us
never tiring
We live—
We live—

The performances of RIOT will mark Mackey’s third major world premiere in as many months, following Concerto for Curved Space with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in January and Red Wood for Delirium Musicum in February, part of the Soraya’s “Treelogy” Project.

Concert Information
Friday, April 21 at 8pm ET
Richardson Auditorium | Princeton, NJ
Saturday, April 22 at 8pm ET
New Jersey Performing Arts Center | Newark, NJ
Sunday, April 23 at 3pm ET
State Theatre New Jersey | New Brunswick, NJ
More info

New Jersey Symphony
Princeton University Glee Club
Xian Zhang, conductor
Steven Mackey, electric guitar
Alicia Olatuja, mezzo-soprano

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Overture to Don Giovanni

>  Further information on Work: RIOT

Photo: Kah Poon

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