Abels: Exciting Winged Creatures

“[I was] reminded of the flight of a butterfly — exciting, graceful, but also uneven and frenetic.”  — Michael Abels

On the eve of its June 14 premiere, Michael Abels shares the inspiration behind his newest work Winged Creatures. Written for soloists Anthony and Demarre McGill, the 13-minute double concerto was commissioned by Cedille Records. Allen Tinkha leads the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras in a featured concert during this year’s League of American Orchestras’ Annual Conference. The performance is a homecoming for both McGill brothers who are youth orchestra alumni; they later became principal players in two of America’s top orchestras: Anthony — principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, and Demarre, who serves as principal flute at the Seattle Symphony.

Anthony McGill, clarinet, (left) Demarre McGill, flute (right); Courtesy: Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras

Abels continues. “It was a huge treat to create a work for Anthony and Demarre McGill. I wanted to write something that showcased their phenomenal abilities which had the two parts interacting intricately, sharing melodic fragments cooperatively, but also sometimes competing. [After the ‘butterfly’] music came to me, this got me thinking about the differing styles of flight among creatures of the air. Some soar, some fly with speed and purpose, some seem random and erratic. As the piece developed, I tried to depict these contrasts, so that the solo parts are at turns delicate, frenetic, soaring, and powerful. Besides this programmatic writing, the piece also contains a musical acknowledgement that the soloists are alumni of the orchestra accompanying them…Perhaps one of today’s orchestra members is tomorrow’s soloist.”

Cedille Records president James Ginsberg shares some thoughts about Winged Creatures. “[For] Anthony and Demarre McGill’s upcoming album of duo concertos, we wanted to include a new commission reuniting these prominent African-American soloists and major orchestra principal players, with the organization that was so central to their musical education: the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. We also wanted a piece that would immediately connect with audiences. That the first composer who came to mind for this [project] was himself African-American was icing on the cake. It has been my pleasure to [have already produced] musical projects with Michael Abels, including his toe-tapping Delights and Dances and thought-provoking Global Warming for Cedille Records. So I knew what he was capable of. I am greatly looking forward to producing the premiere recording of Winged Creatures.”