Members of the Utah Symphony commissioned a new orchestral work by an up-and-coming Black composer as a way to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The piece — a four-minute brass-and-percussion work called “Changes/Transitions,” by composer Quinn Mason — made its premiere Friday in a video posted on Facebook and YouTube. The work is performed by 13 members of Musicians of the Utah Symphony, with the symphony’s conductor and musical director, Thierry Fischer, leading the group.
“This project feels more appropriate and timely than anything else to share with the community, given the dire need to change the social injustices that continue to happen,” said trombonist Mark Davidson, who organized the production and was the video’s artistic director.
“Changes/Transitions,” Davidson said, “can help the listener ask their own questions to themselves as to how best to do their part so we as a culture can implement change and transition for racial injustices.”
The video, which is mostly in black-and-white with strategic splashes of color, shows the musicians performing separately, at home or in studios. COVID-19 made performing in the same room impossible, Davidson said, particularly for brass musicians, who can’t wear masks while they play.
All the performances were shot on a smartphone, coordinated by videographer Matthew Pool. Each musician listened to a “click track,” devised by Mason and Davidson, so they could keep time and hit their cues. In some cases, Davidson went to musicians’ homes — wearing personal protective equipment — to help with the recording.
The musicians’ images were assembled, and intercut with footage of Black Lives Matter protests, and an aerial view of the Black Lives Matter mural on the pavement outside City Hall in Salt Lake City.
Mason, 24, is based in Dallas, and his works have been performed by orchestras across the country. Davidson said a mentor recommended Mason, who “responded right away with his shared interest, honor, and appreciation for the opportunity.”
Fischer has been riding out the pandemic at his home in Geneva, Switzerland, and “immediately responded with support and loved the idea, concept, and what it says and stands for,” Davidson said.
After seeing the final cut of the video, Davidson said, Fischer programmed “Changes/Transitions” for the symphony’s Masterworks subscription series for the 2020-2021 season.
The Utah Symphony has not performed since March, when the pandemic began. The symphony is aiming to start performing again in September, if it’s safe to do so.
The video ends with a street-art image of a clenched fist, and a question: “What can we do now to get to where we need to be?”
“I hope it speaks volumes,” Davidson said, that all the musicians in the video happen to be white men. “We all have to be voices for change.”