Abels: The Legacy of Dr. King

“It’s an intimidating assignment to write a piece on the legacy of Dr. King.” Michael Abels offers some insight into his popular work Dance for Martin’s Dream, which is featured on the Minnesota Orchestra’s July 13 Sommerfest concert, led by music director Osmo Vänskä.

Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä

Co-commissioned by the Houston and Nashville Symphonies, Dance for Martin’s Dream is a single-movement, 13-minute work written as an orchestral homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece received a partial premiere in Houston in June 1997 (conducted by Stephen Stein), followed by Nashville’s premiere of the complete version in January 1998 led by Karen Deal. Since its premiere, it continues to be performed each season by orchestras all over the country. Osmo Vänskä notes, “The Minnesota Orchestra was pleased to perform Michael Abels’ Dance for Martin’s Dream as part of our Common Chords residency in North Minneapolis last January, and we look forward to reprising it at Orchestra Hall as part of our Sommerfest programing.“

Abels continues. “Dr. King’s impact is too great to be contained in a single-movement work. I was a toddler when MLK’s historic speeches were being delivered, yet others are still alive who walked side-by-side with him. So I chose to write a piece that expresses the effect Dr. King’s courage has had on my life. His work was a generous gift that raised the limit of possibility for my generation of Americans. To express that, Dance for Martin’s Dream begins with a mournful elegy, but then takes off on a rhythmic rhapsody of up tempo American-identified genres. Though the music is energetic, there are still stressful, dissonant passages, but always with a drive toward positive resolution…

Dance for Martin’s Dream was written in 1996-97, during a great economic expansion and a period of relative peace and prosperity. If I were to write a piece on Dr. King’s legacy today, I’m sorry to say it would be much darker. But I look forward to a day when this piece feels as accurate to me as it felt then; and, I do believe it’s important to celebrate progress as much as we confront setbacks. This piece celebrates that.”

More Abels news: On June 7, Abels was honored by the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles with a Walt Disney Concert Hall performance of Urban Legends conducted by Charles Dickerson.