Abels: An Advocate for Liquify

Mark Russell Smith

“I am an advocate of Michael Abels’ music; and, I try to program and perform it whenever and wherever I can.” As the Richmond Symphony’s July 30 performance of Abels’ Liquify approaches, guest conductor Mark Russell Smith talks about Liquify and his long-standing relationship with the composer’s music. Smith — music director of the Quad City Symphony — commissioned the nine-minute work which premiered in 2018 as a featured highlight of the orchestra’s centennial season and has subsequently programmed it.

Smith continues. “It is always a joy for me — and I use that word very deliberately — to collaborate with Michael. I’ve known him since the first day of second grade when he moved to Phoenix. Before he arrived, I was the best pianist in my grade, but that ended when Michael came to town. He was a much better player than I was; so, I switched to the cello and we’ve been close friends ever since. We sang together in the Phoenix Boys Choir. We performed together in our 8th grade play Fiddler On the Roof. We both went to Northern Arizona University Summer Music Camp where I conducted Michael’s first orchestral work – a piano concerto that he himself performed. In 1991, I was also fortunate to commission and conduct Global Warming — Michael’s first professional orchestral work — with the Phoenix Youth Symphony. The work was inspired by the historic events of the end of the Cold War era and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.”

Smith offers some thoughts about Liquify. “Michael has called his work ‘…a tone poem, a collection of riverfront scenes.’ He has tremendous skill as an orchestrator and tone poet, and Liquify bears that out.” The Richmond Symphony’s event is part of “American Evolution 2019,” a festival celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the First Representative Legislative Assembly in the Western Hemisphere, which was held in the summer of 1619 in Jamestown, VA. Smith adds, “Liquify is perfect for the Richmond Symphony’s outdoor concert which will take place on an island in the James River. It’s also fitting because the festival celebrates the whole history of American democracy including the vital contributions of African Americans.” For more concert details, visit American Evolution 2019.