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Inside the Music

Artist Statement: brea(d)th by Carlos Simon and Marc Bamuthi Joseph

A man sits at in front of the Minnesota Orchestra on a stool on the podium. Another man speaks to the Orchestra, while a third man stands in front of the Orchestra facing the audience.
Carlos Simon and Marc Bamuthi Joseph in rehearsal with conductor William Eddins and the Minnesota Orchestra | Photo by Greg Helgeson

The new work brea(d)th by composer Carlos Simon and librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In the years since this event that has forever marked our community, our city, our state and our nation, Simon and Joseph have made frequent trips to engage the Minneapolis community in dialogue and collaboration while working together to build a piece that, as Joseph says, “considers American promise and American history, written by two people that have an extraordinary relationship with American possibility.”  

Read their artist statement below, and see the premiere of this work May 18-20.

"Brea(d)th is a classical work, inspired by the enduring presence of George Floyd the Ancestor, asking America to consider an equitable future. 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. Who would we be if we used covid-19 as an opportunity to focus on both public health, *and* public healing? Our entire country has endured a trauma… how do we publicly heal?...

Brea(d)th is a work in four movements ranging from the Pentecostal to the monastic. I created a libretto that considers bread, as in value, breath, as in lifeforce, and breadth, as in the radius of American promise. Encoded within the work is a reverence for local intelligence, sacrifice, loss, and strength. The Minnesota Orchestra is a citizen institution, and thus the work has an implied and imbued civic import. Truthfully though, our commitment was to make a work that emanated from and responded to a local experience, while recognizing the hollowing hope that vastly stretches across the body of African America. 

Brea(d)th is a moving, yearning, admonition for repair. It was made by two American sons in honor of George, and in reflection of the fellowship of the gone too soon…"

-Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Carlos Simon