Skip to main content

World-renowned composer Anthony Davis visits Trinity Laban

Thu 7 December 2023

We were delighted to welcome Anthony Davis to Trinity Laban last week on Thursday 30 November. His visit followed the EU premiere of his work You Have the Right to Remain Silent, performed by Anthony McGill and Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court. Discussing his musical experience with our Head of Composition, Dominic Murcott, the celebrated composer led an insightful seminar based on an extract from his opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

Anthony Davis visited King Charles Court to speak to our music students about his compositions and experience in the music industry. An internationally recognised composer of operatic, symphonic, choral, and chambers works, he is also a virtuosic solo pianist and leader of the ensemble Episteme. He was a classical pianist up until he was 16, but then discovered jazz: a revelation which completely changed his musical direction. The records of Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, John Coltrane (among others) inspired him to improvise and begin composing in the style of jazz. Studying at Wesleyan and Yale universities, he was Yale’s first Lustman Fellow, teaching composition and Afro-American studies. Later appointed Senior Fellow with the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, he then returned to Yale as Visiting Professor of Music. He became Professor of Music in Afro-American Studies at Harvard University in the fall of 1992, and assumed a full-time professorship at the University of California at San Diego in January 1998.

Davis’s early university experience was marked by social unrest and the developments of the Civil Rights movement. He actively monitored the demonstrations of the Black Panthers, trying to ensure that no one was killed by the National Guard. The desire for social and political change was reflected in his music. “Music in the spirit of revolution greatly resonated with me”, he says – indeed, his early pieces focused on the injustice within the trial of Bobby Seale. His first opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X was the first of a new American genre: opera on a contemporary political subject. Selling out houses at its premiere at the New York City Opera in 1986, it made its debut at the Met this year to great critical acclaim.

Davis won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for his most recent opera, The Central Park Five, based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case. Also of note are his instrumental compositions, particularly the recent EU premiere of his You Have the Right to Remain Silent. Inspired by the moment Davis was pulled over by an armed police officer during the 70s, the piece is defined by “the orchestra interrogating the clarinet”. It was favourably described by The Boston Globe as poignantly recasting “the traditional mythic narrative of the individual versus the collective” through “the modern prism of racial prejudice”. Bachtrack also paid credit to Davis’ versatile composition, reporting that it “seamlessly mixes modernist techniques with jazz, hip-hop, and other popular idioms”.