Abels: “Borders” Premieres

On September 23, 2022, soloist Mak Grgić, premieres composer Michael Abels’ Borders, Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, with ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra) in Houston, TX. Mei-Ann Chen guest-conducts. The two-movement, 17-minute concerto was commissioned for Grgić by ROCO and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (Iowa). The concert will be live-streamed, and will receive a subsequent performance on the following evening.

Mak Grgić, guitar

Borders,” Abels notes, “is inspired by the museum exhibit ‘Sahara: Acts of Memory’ depicting life in camp ‘Sahara’ that was created in Denmark for housing refugees of the Bosnian War in the 1990s. Among the refugees was graphic artist Ismet Berbic and his family. The exhibit details the Berbics’ struggle to preserve individuality, family and cultural identity in the face of losing country and community. Guitarist Mak Grgić was a friend of the Berbic Family, and experienced the Balkan War firsthand as a child. In the first movement of this concerto, the guitar is a protagonist that is repeatedly confined by sonic bars or walls created by the orchestra. The second movement depicts a child running, sometimes joyfully, but also sometimes in fear.”

Mak Grgić shares some thoughts about Abels’ new work. “When Michael and I first started talking about the narrative of the new guitar concerto, we couldn’t help but notice that we both came from turbulent backgrounds and that music had provided a safe haven for us. It was a sheer coincidence that around the same time, my friend Amir Berbic had an exhibit in Pomona, California about his family’s experience as refugees during the Balkan War in the 1990s. We visited Amir’s exhibit ‘Sahara: Acts of Memory’ together, and it touched us both deeply, providing further inspiration for Michael’s writing for the concerto, entitled Borders.”

Grgić continues. “Constant runs and movement up and down the fretboard, seeming restlessness accented by moments of deep repose, mimic the continuous struggles of the Berbic Family, and, really anyone in such a position. As is typically the case when working on a new piece, Michael and I communicated back and forth about each section of the score as I tried it on guitar for the first time. Working through the nuances with Michael was a joy. I am beyond thrilled that we chose to present music as something that supersedes life’s obstacles, and that the Berbic family’s story of persistence and perseverance has been told so well. I am honored to have a chance to play Michael’s music for the very first time with ROCO!”

For live-stream concert details, visit ROCO, and while you’re there, check-out a preview composer- and artist-chat with Michael Abels and Mak Grgić here.