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Afterword: An Opera in Two Acts

by George Lewis & International Contemporary Ensemble

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    releases October 6, 2023

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Afterword, Act One: Prologue to Scene 1
Afterword, Act One: Scene 1: Down South
Afterword, Act One: Prologue to Scene 2
Afterword, Act One: Scene 2: In Chicago
Afterword, Act One: Scene 3: The Cemetery
Afterword, Act One: Prologue to Scene 4
Afterword, Act One: Scene 4: First Meeting
Afterword, Act One: Prologue to Scene 5
Afterword, Act Two: Improvisation: Remembrances
Afterword, Act Two: Scene 6: Ariae
Afterword, Act Two: Scene 7: The Split
Afterword, Act Two: Scene 8: Death
Afterword, Act Two: Scene 9: Departure
Afterword, Act Two: Scene 10: Paris
Afterword, Act Two: Interlude
Afterword, Act Two: Scene 11: Afterword


International Contemporary Ensemble releases Afterword: An Opera in Two Acts by George Lewis on Friday, October 6, 2023 on Tundra Records/New Focus Recordings. Lewis’s first opera, Afterword, premiered in 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and subsequently appeared in European and US venues.

The opera was created in conjunction with the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, as part of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the Chicago-born and now internationally acclaimed African American collective whose members have explored an unprecedentedly wide range of new and influential ideas in new music.

The opera takes its title from the concluding chapter of Lewis’s history of the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008). In this chapter, Lewis selects quotes from nearly one hundred interviews with AACM members that engage aesthetic, social, cultural, and political issues that the organization and its individual members have faced across the historical periods through which the collective’s members have lived, an era marked by the Great Migration, the urbanization of American life, the civil rights struggle, and decolonization.

Lewis describes Afterword as “an opera of ideas, positionality, and testament…exploring history to reaffirm fundamentally human perspectives that mark not only the AACM, but also any social formation.” The opera presents the AACM not as a set of fixed characters and plot lines, but as an avatar for experimental Blackness itself. As the action unfolds, we witness young Black experimentalists interrogating issues of power, authority, identity, representation, culture, economics, politics, and aesthetics; self-fashioning and self-determination; personal, professional, and collective aspiration; and tradition, innovation, change, spiritual growth, death, and rebirth.

Act One begins with reminiscences of Black life in the Southern United States, from antebellum days to the early Great Migration and the first stirrings of the Black Power movement, which inspires the musicians to create a better future for themselves and their community through the interlocking powers of music and collective action. The founding meetings of the AACM, where the musicians realize that creativity itself could play a crucial role in fostering social, political, and cultural change, are portrayed in a scene drawn largely from audio recordings of AACM meetings from 1965 and 1966.

Act Two sees the AACM exploring the new individual and collective they have fashioned for themselves. Clashes between avatars and subject positions allow listeners to eavesdrop on history as it is being made in real, human time. In the wake of conflicts between tradition and innovation and the untimely passing of two AACM members, the musicians are invited to France as they turn toward an understanding that life is fleeting, mobility is power, and the world is open for them to explore.

George Lewis calls Afterword a Bildungsoper, a term derived from the Bildungsroman—a coming-of-age novel. Traditionally, Bildungsoper refers to the practice in opera for characters to realize themselves in the course of the story, as in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In an interview with musicologist Alexander K. Rothe, George Lewis notes, “This is an opera about coming of age. The organization comes of age, and the people do too. They start out in Coon Town and the Great Migration. They go to Chicago and they live on the South Side and, you know, do stuff like hustling people for money and pickpocketing, living in these horrible places and doing what the migrants did to survive. Then they decide to do something to better their lives. They form an organization to better themselves. They go off to Paris and learn a lot there, they start to find out things about themselves and about the nature of the world.”


releases October 6, 2023

George Lewis, composer & librettist

Joelle Lamarre, soprano
Gwendolyn Brown, contralto
Julian Terrell Otis, tenor

Otis Harris, Zachary Nicol, Ninah Snipes, actor-movers

International Contemporary Ensemble:
David Fulmer, conductor
Joshua Modney, violin
Michael Nicolas, cello
Brandon George, flutes
Joshua Rubin, clarinets
David Byrd-Marrow, horn
Cory Smythe, piano
Ross Karre, percussion
Levy Lorenzo, audio engineering

Sean Griffin and Catherine Sullivan, directors

With cameo vocal appearances by Ann E. Ward, Douglas R. Ewart,
Discopoet Khari B., Coco Elysses, Zachary Nicol, Ninah Snipes, and Otis Harris

Recorded live, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, October 16 and 17, 2015

Recording Engineer: Levy Lorenzo
Mixing, editing: Ryan Streber, Jacob Greenberg
Mastering: Ryan Streber, oktavenaudio.com

For the International Contemporary Ensemble:
Jenni Bowman, Executive Producer
Jacob Greenberg, Director of Recordings

Design and layout: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
Cover photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Stage photos: Nathan Keay and Sean Griffin
George Lewis photo by Maurice Weiss
David Fulmer © Sonja Georgevich; Joelle Lamarre © Teresa Dalbéra; Julian Terrell Otis © Elias Rios; Gwendolyn Brown © Devon Cass

Synopses: George Lewis
Publisher: Edition Peters
All compositions © 2023 C.F. Peters Corporation, BMI




New Focus Recordings New York, New York

New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers. ... more

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