top of page
Songs of Protest & Injustice

February 23, 2022

7:30pm Mead Witter Concert Hall


Chamber Percussion Ensemble
Works by Frederic Rzweski & Darian Thomas
Guest Artist: Paul Rowe

Fall of the Empire (2007)                                                                                 


            Global Warming

            The Ground


Stephon Clark from Lynchedman’s Songbook (2018)                 


Coming Together (1971)                                                                                  

Attica (1971)

Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021)

Darian Thomas (b.1993)

Frederic Rzweski (1938-2021)

Frederic Rzweski (1938-2021)

Paul Rowe, Speaker

Anders Frank
Bradley Fremder
Madelyn Kudronowicz
Trygve Lebakken
Trevor Maliborski
Lauren Rault
Adina Shaikh
Reyna Meyer Torres
Michael Walling

Antony Di Sanza, director


Fall of the Empire, Frederic Rzewski

The texts in The Fall of the Empire are about the fall of a great empire as it disintegrates from within. From Rzewski’s point of view, they clearly allude to the breakdown of the current American democratic, capitalistic, political, and foreign relations systems (e.g., the war in Iraq). Music that addresses socio-political content can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about current, yet long-term and recurring, societal issues. The Fall of the Empire was written for and premiered by Allen Otte on June 14, 2007, at the Music 07 festival at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. The piece consists of a prologue and seven short acts. Each segment is for percussion and spoken text by the performer. (John Lane)

Text for the movements performed:


         Prolog (Thomas Jefferson):

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

         Global Warming (Rzewski)

“Global warming. I don’t give a shit about global warming. I only care about my care. Am I getting what I paid for, or am I getting shit. You can’t trust anybody. I’ll take that back. You can trust some people sometimes. But, you don’t know who or when. It happens sometimes. Maybe even most of the time. But you can’t count on it.”

         The Ground (Rzewski)

“In the beginning there was nothing. Then, there was something. Why something and not nothing. Something is work. Nothing is easy. We think we are something. We’re nothing. Everything is like that when you start something. You never know what’s going to happen. Where it’s going to end. In whose backyard. The Emperor does not care what you think. His sights are set lower. He cares about oil and the ground that you are standing on.



Stephon Clark from Lynchedman’s Songbook, Darien Thomas

Stephon Clark was shot and killed March 18, 2018 by the Sacramento Police Department. The two cops were looking for someone reportedly smashing windows and found Clark in his grandmother's yard. He resisted confrontation and ran, and the police swore he was pointing a gun at them. So, they shot at him twenty times. Once closer to the dead body, they found that there was no gun - only a white iPhone. Eight bullets had made contact - six in his back. Stephon was a father of two, in his grandmother's yard. At the end of the cops' body cam video, a cop suggests "Hey, mute?" just before the audio recording stops.


Stevonte Clark (brother): “Say his name. You’re going to know him. You’re going to remember this.


Sequita Thompson (grandmother): “C’mon now, they didn’t have to do that.”


Darrell Steinberg (Sacramento Mayor): The questions raised by the community and council members are appropriate and must be answered during the investigation. Based on the videos alone, I cannot second-guess the split-second decisions of our officers, and I’m not going to do that.”


Police: “Hey, show me your hands. Stop. Stop. Hey – show me your hands. Gun, gun, gun. We need to know if you’re ok. We need to get you to medics, so we can’t go over and get you help until we know you don’t have a weapon. …Hey, mute?”


Thomas includes this note; “For four player on tom toms. Become gunshots.”



Coming Together & Attica, Frederic Rzewski

Coming Together was written in November and December of 1971 in response to a historical event. In September of that year inmates of the state prison at Attica, New York revolted and took control of a part of the institution. Foremost among their demands was the recognition of their right "to be treated as human beings." After several days of fruitless negotiations, Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered state police to retake the prison by force, on the grounds that the lives of the guards whom the prisoners had taken as hostages were in danger. In the ensuing violence forty-three persons, including several of the hostages, were killed and many more wounded.


One of the dead was Sam Melville, a prisoner who had played a significant role in organizing the rebellion. In the spring of 1971, Melville had written a letter to a friend describing his experience of the passage of time in prison. After his death the letter was published in the magazine, Ramparts. As I read it, I was impressed both by the poetic quality of the text and by its cryptic irony. I read it over and over again. It seemed that I was trying both to capture a sense of the physical presence of the writer, and at the same time to unlock a hidden meaning from the simple but ambiguous language. The act of reading and rereading finally led me to the idea of a musical treatment. The text is as follows:


"I think the combination of age and a greater coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time. It's six months now, and I can tell you truthfully few periods in my life have passed so quickly. I am in excellent physical and emotional health. There are doubtless subtle surprises ahead, but I feel secure and ready. As lovers will contrast their emotions in times of crisis, so am I dealing with my environment. In the indifferent brutality, the incessant noise, the experimental chemistry of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity and meaning. I am deliberate, sometimes even calculating, seldom employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others. I read much, exercise, talk to guards and inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life."


Attica was originally intended to follow Coming Together after a short silence, so that the two pieces together would form a pair of dark and light images of the same subject. In this case it is a survivor of the event who speaks; Richard X. Clark, who was freed on parole some weeks after the massacre. As the car taking him to Buffalo passed the Attica town line, the reporter sitting next to him asked him how it felt to leave Attica behind him. His answer, "Attica is in front of me," became the text for this piece. (Rzewski)

About Composers


Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021)

Rzewski initially studied piano with Charles Mackey in Springfield and went on to study composition with Walter Piston (orchestration) and Randall Thompson at Harvard University and with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt at Princeton University. His musical collaboration with Luigi Dallapiccola marked the beginning of his career as a pianist for contemporary music. He continued his studies with Elliot Carter in Berlin from 1963 to 1965. His friendship with Christian Wolff and David Behrman and his acquaintance with John Cage and David Tudor influenced his development, both as a composer and as a pianist. From 1977 to 2003, Rzewski was a professor for composition at the Conservatoire Royal in Liège/Belgium. He also taught at various other universities, among them Yale University, the California Institute of the Arts and the Berlin University of the Arts.


Through the live electronics ensemble Musica Elettronica Viva, founded by Rzewski together with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum in Rome in 1966, he was introduced to politically active colleagues and jazz musicians. The aim was to revolutionize contemporary thinking about classical composition and performance. These musical experiences with the ensemble are reflected in Rzewski’s compositions of the late 1960s and the 1970s. They combine elements both from improvised and composed music. After his return to New York in the early 1970s, his politically outspoken compositions probably made it difficult for him to obtain a long-term teaching position in the US. Rzewski continued to compose politically charged pieces, such as 1979's A Long Time Man, which presents variations on a Texas chaingang song, the 1980s composition The Price of Oil, which drew on newspaper articles, and 1992's piano piece De Profundis, based on the writings of Oscar Wilde, which addressed such themes as imprisonment and homosexuality, and required the pianist to sing and shout.


Darian Thomas (b. 1993)


Darian Donovan Thomas is a Brooklyn based composer, multi-instrumentalist, and interdisciplinary artist. He is interested in combining genres into a singular vocabulary that can express ideas about intersectionality (of medium and identity). Necessarily, he is interested in redacting all barriers to entry that have existed at the gates of any genre - this vocabulary of multiplicity will be intersectional, and therefore all-inclusive.


He has received a Bachelors in Music Composition from The University of the Incarnate Word, and was a 2018 New Amsterdam Composer Lab Fellow, 2018 SoSI Composer Fellow, and 2019 Banglewood Composition Fellow. He is currently touring with Moses Sumney and Balùn.

Darian has been commissioned by YOSA (the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio), Bang on a Can’s summer festival Banglewood, percussionists at Bard College Conservatory, Sam Houston State University, among others. His music has been premiered by So Percussion, YOSA, Bang on a Can Banglewood Fellows, SoSI Fellows, and performed in Iceland, Switzerland, Canada, and all around the United States.


On any given night you can find Darian performing anywhere from a salon house show to a grungy basement to a bar/venue to a formal concert hall. As a means of exercising his interdisciplinary nature, Darian is currently performing with eight bands and ensembles in New York, as well as creating interdisciplinary work in different visual mediums.


He has recently performed with Moses Sumney on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in a Tiny Desk concert with critically acclaimed dreambow band Balun, toured internationally to Iceland with Apartment Sessions, toured nationally and recorded with the Katie Martucci Band, is performing with MEDIAQUEER, Mordechai, String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Prompts Collective, and constantly performs his solo set in different venues around NYC. He has toured China, England, Wales, and has performed nationally with the Josh Abbott Band to audiences of thousands of people. 

bottom of page