CARLOS SIMON (b.1986)
Fate Now Conquers (2020)
Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai
2020: FRAMING "FATES"
The world's fate changed in 2020, the same year Carlos Simon's Fate Now Conquers premiered. Composed for the Philadelphia Orchestra, the work's musical confrontation with unsurmountable circumstances was prophetic of the emerging global health crisis. The scheduled March premiere became a victim of the coronavirus pandemic and the cascade of shutdowns. Then, on March 6, Honolulu reported its first case of COVID-19.
Pivoting to digital delivery of performances, the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra offered the first of its Sounds of Resilience programs in September, live-streamed from the Hawaiʻi Theater Center. In October, Simon's work found a similar fate, premiering by a digital platform. The work represented a life-changing fate, launching Simon's in-demand career and destiny to reshape the American symphonic landscape.
THE PREACHER'S SON
Carlos Simon is a composer, curator, and activist. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, his compositions range from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism. "My dad, he always gets on me. He wants me to be a preacher, but I always tell him, 'Music is my pulpit. That's where I preach,'" says Simon.
Having grown up in Atlanta, with a long lineage of preachers and connections to gospel music to inspire him, Simon proves that a well-composed song can indeed be a sermon. He is the current Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and frequently writes for the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera, with the 2022/23 season seeing premieres with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Art Song Society, Minnesota Orchestra, and a large-scale tribute to George Floyd in the ongoing movement for racial justice. These follow recent commissions from the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and performances from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, and American Ballet Theatre.
A "young composer on the rise, with an ear for social justice" (NPR), Simon's latest GRAMMY-nominated album, Requiem for the Enslaved, is a multi-genre musical tribute to commemorate the stories of the 272 enslaved men, women, and children sold in 1838 by Georgetown University. Released by Decca in June 2022, this work sees Simon infuse his original compositions with African American spirituals and familiar Catholic liturgical melodies, performed by Hub New Music Ensemble, Marco Pavé, and MK Zulu.
Acting as music director and keyboardist for GRAMMY Award winner Jennifer Holliday, Simon has performed with the Boston Pops Symphony, Jackson Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony. In addition, he has toured internationally with soul GRAMMY-nominated artist Angie Stone and performed throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Simon earned his doctorate at the University of Michigan, where he studied with Michael Daugherty and Evan Chambers. He has also received degrees from Georgia State University and Morehouse College, is an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Music Sinfonia Fraternity, and a member of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Society of Composers International, and Pi Kappa Lambda Music Honor Society. In addition, he has served as a member of the music faculty at Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and now serves as Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. Simon received the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence, the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization to recognize extraordinary classical Black and Latinx musicians, and was named a Sundance/Time Warner Composer Fellow for his work on film and moving images.
Fate Now Conquers was commissioned with the support of The Philadelphia Orchestra and premiered under Yannick Nézet-Séguin on October 8, 2020. The score runs five minutes and calls for a piccolo, flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
THE COMPOSER SPEAKS
"The piece was inspired by a journal entry in Ludwig van Beethoven's notebook written in 1815:
ʻBut Fate now conquers; I am hers; and yet not she shall share
In my renown; that life is left to every noble spirit
And that some great deed shall beget that all lives shall inherit.'
Using the beautifully fluid harmonic structure of the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony, I have composed musical gestures that are representative of the unpredictable ways of fate. Jolting stabs, coupled with an agitated groove with every persona. Frenzied arpeggios in the strings that morph into an ambiguous cloud of free-flowing running passages depict the uncertainty of life that hovers over us.
We know that Beethoven strived to overcome many obstacles in his life and documented his aspirations to prevail, despite his ailments. Whatever the specific reason for including this particularly profound passage from the Iliad, in the end, it seems that Beethoven relinquished to fate. Fate now conquers." – Carlos Simon
© 2020 Michael-Thomas Foumai