In Perfect Harmony

UMD and Phillips Partner on “Migration Series” Concert
by Sala Levin '10 | photos courtesy of Geoff Sheil, Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series: Panels No. 1, 31 and 3 (1940–41), The Phillips Collection.

The soundtrack: the brash blare of trombones, the wail of saxophones and the gentle hum of violins and violas. As musicians played their instruments, paintings depicting scenes of rural poverty or crowded cities were projected onto a screen overhead.

The tempo picked up for figures in motion—on a train, passing churning smokestacks or heading en masse toward a common destination—and the tone turned brooding and mournful for figures seated at a table of empty plates or sitting slumped in front of a noose after a lynching.

The Dec. 2 concert at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center brought together the Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band—two UMD ensembles that don’t often mix—to perform composer Derek Bermel’s “Migration Series” in a major collaboration with the Phillips Collection, the noted D.C. museum that forged a partnership with the university in 2015.

The 2006 musical composition was inspired by “The Migration Series,” a sequence of 60 paintings by Jacob Lawrence portraying the mass movement of African Americans from the South to the North between World Wars I and II. The Phillips Collection displayed all 60 of the “Migration Series” paintings from October to January; generally half are kept at the Phillips and half at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Caroline Mousset, director of music at the Phillips Collection, said Bermel’s “Migration Series” fit perfectly with her goal to organize a University of Maryland concert focused on the current global migration crisis. The fact that the piece was written for a symphony orchestra and jazz ensemble together was a bonus, as was its direct link between music and visual art, which the student musicians saw for themselves when they ventured to the Phillips before the concert.

“It’s amazing how the composer was really able to evoke the moods of the panels,” said Morgan Daly, a graduate student in double bass performance.

Patrick Warfield, associate professor in the School of Music, noted that the level of expertise demanded by the music, originally commissioned for trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis, “shows us what our students are capable of doing. They’re able to perform at an extraordinarily high level.”


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