Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels Win the Pulitzer Prize for Music

“I mean, look, I’m going crazy right now,” said polymath musician Rhiannon Giddens from his home in Ireland on Monday. Pulitzer Prize Winner for music.

She was speaking in a phone interview with composer Michael Abels who joined by another call from the US. Together they wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Omar.” This is an opera about Omar ibn Said, a Muslim scholar who was captured in Africa in the early 1800s and sold into slavery in Charleston, South Carolina. At the Spoleto Festival USA.

Giddens wrote a libretto based on Said’s autobiography and recorded a self-accompanied demo, and Abels responded with a fleshed out score. The result was a multi-genre, multi-cultural vortex, a tour around the sound world of Islam, bluegrass, spiritual and more. In my review of the premiere, I described it as “the unforced ideal of the American sound: expansive and ever-changing.”

Abels has written for concert halls and films, including the “Get Out” soundtrack. Although best known as a folk musician, Giddens has trained as a classical singer and in recent years has ventured into opera, hosted the Aria Chord podcast and performed works by John Adams. And now, to accolades like the Grammys and MacArthur’s “Genius” grant, Giddens, who never studied composition, can add Pulitzer.

“Nobody has decided to be a composer,” she said. “We have to stop the separation and who will be called the composer. There are many who can write the next ‘Omar’.”

During the interview, Giddens and Abels were able to hear the phone ring and congratulations.

where is your head now

Rhiannon Giddens Michael and I just put what we know into this, so it feels great. It was a love letter to my country. There are a lot of things I don’t like about it, but what I like is the ability to bring people together and have to create something new and amazing. American music is a spectrum.

Michael Abels It is about the importance of telling all our stories through our fine arts, how people are awakening to the truth of that statement, and how our stories are part of our full artistic heritage. It shows the importance of some things. I just saw some shows in Boston. [at Boston Lyric Opera]In each city, I have seen people who had never been to an opera before, moved, and welcomed into an artistic space they had never been before.

Rather than following the traditional route of dramatic ending, the opera ends with a communal spiritual experience. Can you talk about why?

Giddens There was a lot of instinctive writing. If someone asked me this when I was writing the ending, I would say, “I don’t know, just do it this way.” I quickly learned that having a conventional narrative wouldn’t work, as the autobiography is poor in detail.

There were American operas with very American topics, but for African Americans there was “Porgy and Bess.” It’s a beautiful opera, but now we’re starting to tell the story. And then we have to think about the stories we tell and how we want the audience to come out of the theater. The last had to be about him and his faith, it had to be about healing.

Abels I never thought it would be unusual for the first part to be a story and the last part not to be. Everything ended up where it needed to be. As a performing artist, [Rhiannon] Always structure the evening for the audience. I think her understanding that she needs to take care of the audience at the end of this piece comes from her being a performer.

Giddens It shows that you don’t have to be like everyone else. I have never taken a composition class in my life. But I have lived composing in a different way.

What is the future of this opera?

Giddens of ojai music festival Commissioned a short concert version of “Omar”. And I boldly hope that today inspires us to record.

And are you two collaborators?

Abels Rhiannon is one of the most talented people I know in terms of diversity and breadth of talent and I am thrilled to be a part of her musical life.

Giddens I’m not blowing smoke when I say I don’t know what angel whispered Michael’s name. But I didn’t know what would happen. I had an instinct that it would work.I don’t know how I was so lucky to find a collaborator.I can’t imagine not doing more together. Check out this space.

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