This Tuesday, August 17, the BBC Proms hosts the music of Julius Eastman for the first time in its history. Alongside an eclectic mix of harpsichord music performed by Mahan Esfahani, the Manchester Collective will give the first performance of the string orchestra arrangement of Eastman’s The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc.
This is the latest performance in a resurgence of interest in Eastman’s work over the past few years, since the publishing of Mary Jane Leach’s book ‘Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music' (2015). Eastman is a composer who has been praised for his fearlessness and originality as an artist, performer and pianist. Mostly active in the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote with an unabashed pride in his race and sexuality and with a pioneering synthesis of minimalism and improvisation. 'What I am trying to achieve is to be what I am to the fullest', Eastman said in 1976. 'Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, a homosexual to the fullest'. Eastman tragically fell from the public eye during the final years of his life, plagued by mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness. He died on May 28, 1990, in Buffalo, NY, and it would be nine months before a proper obituary was published in The Village Voice. The canon of American contemporary music cannot be considered complete without inclusion of Eastman’s compositions, which until recently have gone largely neglected. His Symphony No. II for example will receive only its second ever performance in the New York Philharmonic’s 2021/22 season, following its premiere in 2018, but it still awaits a European Premiere.
Writing about The Holy Presence of Joan d'Arc for its premiere in 1981, Eastman addressed the protagonist herself: “Dear Joan, when meditating on your name I am given strength and dedication… I shall emancipate myself from the bind of the past and the present; I shall emancipate myself from myself.”
Joining the Eastman are Gorecki’s Harpsichord Concerto and a rare outing of Joseph Horovitz’s Jazz Concerto - a work of exhilarating virtuosity, invention and charm. Click below on Horovitz’s blistering Vivace (piano version) to get a taste before Tuesday’s concert.
BBC Proms: Manchester Collective
19:30 Tue 17 Aug 2021, Royal Albert Hall
Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord
Rahki Singh, violin/director
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki: Harpsichord Concerto, Op. 40
Edmund Finnis: The Centre is Everywhere(13 mins)
Julius Eastman: The Holy Presence of Joan d'Arc
Dobrinka Tabakova: Suite in Old Style, ‘The Court Jester Amareu’
Joseph Horovitz: Jazz Harpsichord Concerto