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Photographer unknown, image courtesy Bowerbird

‘Julius Eastman: That Which Is Fundamental’

The composer, pianist and vocalist Julius Eastman left behind a piecemeal legacy when he died, at fifty, in poverty and isolation: stray fragments of scores; sporadic records of performances; stories his collaborators told. Born in Ithaca in 1940, he had a mercurial yet seductive personality. He was also one of the few openly gay black men in the circles of minimalist and experimental musicians he moved in, and he performed his difference with fierceness and resolve. “These names,” he said in 1980 when introducing three pieces, two of whose titles included a racial epithet, “either I glorify them, or they glorify me… I use [the title] Gay Guerrilla in hopes that I might be one, if called upon to be one.”

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of a number of his friends, relatives, and admirers, Eastman’s music — long pieces in which, say, four pianists or ten cellists exhaust themselves keeping up with his hammering, eddying melodies — has had a resurgence in recent years. It’s now the subject of a concert series and a pair of exhibits in Philadelphia, both organized by the group Bowerbird and curated by Tiona McClodden and Dustin Hurt. A stirring assemblage of photographs and documents and an ambitious survey of Eastman’s extant compositions, this project deepens our sense of a figure who strained for a musical language that, in his words, “eschews that which is superficial, or, could we say, elegant.”
For more information, visit thatwhichisfundamental.com
Category: Exhibition, Music
Slought Foundation
4017 Walnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA