"The ravishing wondrous innermost black islands of you were never sunk, no matter
the number of cannon balls sent to sink… "
– Nikky Finney, At War With Ourselves - 400 Years of You
Created by two of the country’s most esteemed artists, composer Michael Abels and poet Nikky Finney, and brought to life by the most legendary ensemble in contemporary classical music, the Kronos Quartet, At War With Ourselves - 400 Years of You is an evening-length oratorio that explores race relations, social justice, and civil rights. Written for string quartet, narrator, vocal soloists, adult chorus, and girls chorus, At War With Ourselves has been in development since 2013. It will be workshopped and given its first preview performance at the University of South Carolina from March 30-April 3, preceding the world premiere on May 9 and 10, 2020 at SFJAZZ Center.
Related events in Kronos’s week-long residency (see below) at UofSC, all open to the public, include presentations, discussions and Q&A sessions with the work’s creators and artists, masterclasses, poetry readings, and a film screening at the Nickelodeon Theatre.
Finney’s evocative poetry, which directly inspired Abels’ music, was written in 2019,
the 400th anniversary of the African presence in America. The intimate, emotionally-charged
text — in turns both bold and seductive, and always deeply personal — flits throughout
history, with allusions to slave ships, Harriet Tubman, black astronomer Benjamin
Banneker, and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos. In Finney’s words, the work
is addressed to “both black and white, both enslaved and free, bystander and non-bystander.
We were then and now, At War With Ourselves. All of us, one human battlefield.”
At War With Ourselves - 400 Years of You
Free Public Preview Performance
Friday, April 3, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Koger Center for the Arts
Michael Abels, composer
Nikky Finney, librettist
4 Vocal Soloists (TBA)
Conducted by Valérie Sainte-Agathe
Related Residency Events
All events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.*
March 30–April 3, 2020
Monday, March 30
Seminar Presentation - "A Kronos Quartet Primer: 47 Years of BIG Listening" - David K. Garner, UofSC professor of composition
1:10-2:00 p.m., School of Music Recital Hall (Room 206)
Kronos Quartet Master Class
7:00–9:00 p.m., School of Music (Room 016)
UofSC student string quartets performing
Tuesday, March 31
Poetry and Social Justice - featuring Nikky Finney and UofSC students
7:30–9:00 p.m., The Big Apple (1000 Hampton St.)
Includes poetry readings and a presentation by Finney on At War With Ourselves - 400 Years of You
Wednesday, April 1
Seminar Presentation -"50 for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire” Presentation – Kronos Quartet
1:10–2:00 p.m., School of Music Recital Hall (Room 206)
Thursday, April 2
Luncheon and Q&A with Michael Abels
11:30 a.m. –1:00 p.m., Patterson Visiting and Performing Arts Community
*Open to a limited number of UofSC students and faculty who reserve a space.
Composer Michael Abels and Dr. Birgitta Johnson, UofSC professor of ethnomusicology / African American studies
6:00–6:50 p.m., Nickelodeon Theatre
Talk and Q&A about Abels' music for the films Get Out and Us
* Screening of the film Us
7:00–9:00 p.m., Nickelodeon Theatre
Directed by Jordan Peele, music by Michael Abels. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Elisabeth Moss. Purchase tickets at the Nickelodeon.
Friday, April 3
Colloquium Presentation - "50 for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire” Presentation
– Kronos Quartet
Janet Cowperthwaite, executive director, Kronos Performing Arts Association
1:10–2:00 p.m., School of Music Recital Hall, Room 206
Pre-Concert Conversation with Nikky Finney and Michael Abels
6:30–7:00 p.m., Koger Center for the Arts
Led by Michael Harley, artistic director, Southern Exposure New Music Series
Preview Performance - At War With Ourselves - 400 Years of You
7:30 p.m., Koger Center for the Arts
About the Creators
Michael Abels - Based in Los Angeles, composer Michael Abels is best known for his critically lauded,
award-winning scores for the Oscar-winning film Get Out and its follow-up Us, both directed by Jordan Peele. Upcoming works include the scoring and orchestration
of a new opera by Rhiannon Giddens, to be premiered in Charleston at Spoleto USA on
May 22, and Abels’ own score for the HBO film Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman. As a concert composer, Abels has received grants from the
National Endowment for the Arts and Meet The Composer; his orchestral pieces have
been performed by the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and many others.
A South Carolina native and the daughter of a lawyer and a teacher, Nikky Finney’s writings are deeply influenced by her lifelong engagement with political activism. Her poetry is known for its graceful, heartfelt synthesis of the personal and political. She won the National Book Award in 2011 for Head Off & Split, her fourth full-length collection of poetry. Finney is currently the John H. Bennett, Jr. Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina.
About the Performers
The adventurous, inimitable Kronos Quartet, based in San Francisco, was founded by violinist David Harrington in 1973. With
thousands of performances, numerous worldwide tours, pathbreaking projects and commissions,
and over sixty recordings to their credit, Kronos may be the best-known and most influential
contemporary chamber ensemble in the world. Kronos has commissioned more than 1,000
works and arrangements for string quartet in a broad variety of musical genres, and
collaborated with many of the world’s most accomplished composers and performers.
They have performed with artists including Allen Ginsberg, Astor Piazzolla, The National,
Wu Man, Zakir Hussain, Amanda Palmer, k.d. lang, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Paul McCartney
and Björk, and recorded with musicians such as Nelly Furtado, Faith No More, Joan
Armatrading, Nine Inch Nails and the Dave Mathews Band.
Conductor Valerie Sainte-Agathe, artistic director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus since 2013, has collaborated with artists such as Deborah Voigt, Philip Glass, Aaron Jay Kernis, Gustavo Dudamel and Michael Tilson Thomas. She has perfomed with the New Century Chamber Orchestra, The Knights Orchestra, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Kronos Quartet and Tenet Ensemble. In 2018 she made her Carnegie Hall debut, conducting the Philip Glass Ensemble. During the 2018-19 season she served as artist in residence for Kronos Festival 2019. Ms. Sainte-Agathe served as music director for the Young Singers program of the Montpellier National Symphony and Opera in France from 1998-2011.
The adult chorus for At War With Ourselves: 400 Years of You is comprised of professional singers from throughout the Columbia region, many of them also teachers. Included are students and professors from University of South Carolina, Allen University, Morris College, South Carolina State University, Columbia College, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and Dreher High School. The girls chorus is made up of 14 singers from Columbia’s Trinity Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls. Both choirs were prepared by Jared Johnson, Canon Organist and Choirmaster, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.
Featured Visual Artist
Each Southern Exposure concert is paired with a local visual artist whose works relate thematically and visually to the evening’s musical program. This concert’s featured artist is Tyrone Geter, a Columbia-based artist who formerly taught at Benedict College. Selected paintings and drawings will be on display in the Koger Center on April 3, and in the School of Music Library the weeks preceding and following the concert. Mr. Geter’s art can be seen here.
Produced by the Kronos Performing Arts Organization, Director Janet Cowperthwaite. The Kronos Quartet residency is sponsored in part by a Visiting Scholars Grant from the UofSC Office of the Provost. At War With Ourselves is being created with funding from a Hewlett Foundation 50 Arts Commission and the MAP Fund, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional co-commissioning support is provided by ASU Gammage at Arizona State University, Hancher Auditorium – The University of Iowa, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, SFJAZZ, and the University of South Carolina.
Questions about the At War With Ourselves: 400 Years of You workshop and performance may be directed to Michael Harley.
More information about the University of South Carolina's Southern Exposure New Music Series is here.