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Mahakala Oratorio Première

Chatterbird presents the virtual world premiere of Mahakala Oratorio, by composer Leila Adu. Join us for this free event as chatterbird presents this one-of-a-kind video project, featuring contributions from interactive media artist Aaron Sherwood, along with the talents of Videographer Lauren Balthrop and Recording Engineer Kevin Edlin.

Mahakala Oratorio will feature 14 chatterbird musicians, led by conductor Joe Lee, along with the vocal talents of Rebekah Alexander and Leila Adu.

Following the world premiere, chatterbird will host a virtual Q&A panel with Adu, chatterbird musicians, and others involved in the recording process. The Q&A will be facilitated by Colleen Phelps, the Host of “Classically Speaking” on Nashville Public Radio.

Mahakala Oratorio’s inspiration draws directly from the Buddhist deity of the same name. Leila Adu adapted Plainsong Pujua of Mahakala, originally compiled by Lama Chimé Shore from ancient texts from the late Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche and the late Ven. Kalu Rinpoche, describing Mahakala as a tool to empower listeners to consider the idea of radical compassion in this era of social, political, and environmental extremism.There are abusive states, new in the world. Look now all around! There are abusive states careless of all life, immersed in selfish wants. Burn the fog of apathy, burn the fog of apathy, burn the fog of apathy!” The music itself reflects Leila’s genre-mixing style, which draws on the traditional music of New Zealand; her informal training in punk, indie, and hip-hop as well as freely improvised music in the African-American free jazz tradition; and formal training for chamber ensemble and orchestra.

This project is supported in part by New Music USA, Tennessee Arts Commission, Metro Arts, Puffin Foundation West, LTD., and MediaTHE Foundation.

To find out more about Chatterbird or experience Mahakala Oratorio post-première:

Mahakala Oratorio Première & post-concert Q&A

  • To find out more about Chatterbird or experience Mahakala Oratorio post-première:
  • Following the world premiere, chatterbird will host a virtual Q&A panel with Adu, chatterbird musicians, and others involved in the recording process. The Q&A will be facilitated by Colleen Phelps, the Host of “Classically Speaking” on Nashville Public Radio. Register HERE for the post-concert Q&A:

Thursday, December 17: 7PM CST / 8PMEST (Fri Dec 18: Wellington NZ 2-2.30PM/Perth Aus 9-9.30am)
Watch Mahakala Oratorio Première

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Yet Unheard – A Collaboration With The London Sinfonietta

On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, Leila Adu-Gilmore’s Freedom Suite will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of the beginning of The London Sinfonietta’s new season.

The London Sinfonietta begins its Southbank Centre season with a concert of music by established and emerging black composers, co-curated by leading composer and new music thinker George Lewis and experimental vocalist, movement artist and composer Elaine Mitchener.

Partly inspired by the seismic changes in society over the summer, this varied and powerful programme addresses a range of under-represented points of view: Hannah Kendall’s unsettling Verdala explores the experience of the British West Indian Regiment in the First World War in her typically uncompromising and richly textured style, while Courtney Bryan’s intensely rhythmic Sanctum explores the sound of improvisation in Holiness-preaching traditions. The exciting music of Cuban composer Tania León begins the programme, while George Lewis’ energetic Assemblage provides a taste of what’s to come in his upcoming commission for the London Sinfonietta.

This concert is part of London Sinfonietta’s 2020/21 season curated as a response to the times in which we live. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 28 October, or watch the streamed video recording from Wednesday 25 November, the event brings new music not heard in the UK before to new audiences.

Jason Yarde Rude Awakening (arr. Yong) 6’
Leila Adu-Gilmore Freedom Suite I and II 10’
Hannah Kendall Verdala 6’
Tania León Indígena 9’
George Lewis Assemblage 15’
Courtney Bryan Sanctum (arr. Bryan) 12’

Elaine Mitchener vocalist
Vimbayi Kaziboni conductor
London Sinfonietta

Useful Chamber performs “Negative Space” from Freedom Suite

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Long Beach Opera 2020 Songbook

Last season, Long Beach Opera launched a successful new series of “UnGalas.” This year, Leila Adu joins the continued series, titled 2020 Songbook with a live and fully virtual new music extravaganza premiering on Sunday, November 15th, 2020 at 5pm PT.

The 2020 Songbook is a ticketed fundraising event featuring the premieres of up to twenty newly commissioned works created by emerging composers. The only parameters given to the emerging composers are that the piece be a reflection of an event or experience from 2020, be between 3-5 minutes long, and feature voice plus instrumental or electronic accompaniment if desired. The resulting 2020 Songbook will serve as an artistic time capsule of this very unusual time, as well as contribute to the creative economy by encouraging the creation of new works. The event will include world premiere performances of the new pieces, behind the scenes moments of creation, and interviews with the many artists and performers involved in the project.

The commissioned composers will be mentored by Anthony DavisAnnie GosfieldDavid LangGeorge Lewis, and Du Yun, who among them have won three Pulitzer Prizes, a MacArthur Genius Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship and have premiered some of the most interesting and dynamic contemporary operas presented in the 21st century.

Commissioned composers include Anahita Abbasi, Leila Adu, Benjamin Beckman, Jessie Cox, George N. Gianopoulos, Phillip Golub, Clifton Joseph Guidry, III, Carla Kihlstedt, Sonja Mutić, Marcus Norris, Shahab Paranj, Hunter Prueger, Tomeka Reid, Bahar Royaee, Aida Shirazi, Niloufar Shiri, Olivia Shortt, Theresa Wong, Katherine Young, and Bethany Younge


Grammy Consideration

Leila Adu-Gilmore’s collaboration with Cellist Amanda Gookin has been met with widespread acclaim, and the album featuring her work is now up for Grammy consideration in several categories:


Dam mwen yo by Nathalie Joachim

Garth MacAleavey, Mike Tierney

Amanda Gookin, Louis Levitt

The seven works on this album were the first Forward Music Project commissions. This embodied performance is best summed up in The WholeNote album review, “It is the highest level of artistry that can realize a message, a story, or an emotion while seeming to have not performed it at all.”

Forward Music Project shares stories that need to be heard and brings new sounds to ears around the world.


The Kennedy Center Arts Across America

Amanda Gookin presented Leila’s solo cello piece, “For Edna,” along with a handful of other composers during a concert at the Kennedy Center last week.

Jannina Norpoth performed works for solo violin by Contemporary Black Composers and Amanda Gookin presented selections for solo cello that elevate stories of feminine empowerment through her initiative Forward Music Project. The two joined composer Dameun Strange from American Composers Forum to talk about the practice that has led them to prioritize representation and social consciousness in their programming, commissioning, and performing.

View the full promotional page here and listen to the concert below:

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Roulette 2020 – 2021 Commissioned Artist

Leila Adu has been selected alongside eleven other artists to create and present new works this coming season at Brooklyn’s Roulette.

Roulette remains an essential and centralized place for artists to realize their creative visions, even in times of great uncertainty and as such, they began to work with artists in early March to build a safe, exciting, and unique body of new work. Pianist, singer, composer, and improviser Sonya Belaya, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, composer and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, artist and interdisciplinary designer Crystal Penalosa, and jazz performer and vibraphonist Joel Ross have been selected for year-long residencies. Commissioned artists include song-writer and vocalist Leila Adu; vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy; alto saxophonist and composer Darius Jones; multidisciplinary performer and sound artist Luisa Muhr; sound artist and composer Teerapat Parnmongkol; interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist Mary Prescott; and composer and saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins.

Each artist will present at Roulette in 2020–2021. The performances will be broadcast live from our theater, with the possibility of a limited in-person audience depending on what safety and public health guidelines allow.

Read more about this event here.


Belvedere Chamber Music Festival

Maeve Brophy, piano

Leila Adu’s piano solo, Colour Wheel, was recently featured at this year’s socially-distanced and remote Belvedere Chamber Music Festival. The mission of the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival is to perform masterpieces of 20th and 21st century music as well as new works by emerging composers. In addition to performances, the festival also offers educational opportunities for young composers and performers through lectures, masterclasses, and private instruction.

Listen to the work above and find each movement at the following timestamps:

0:08 I. Headbanging(ly)
1:48 II. Clear Stream
3:47 III. Rags
4:36 IV. Quip
5:23 V. Mirage
6:32 VI. Woods
8:26 VII. Danse
9:26 VIII. Hope and Fear


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Billboard Classical Charts

Leila Adu-Gilmore’s composition For Edna, featured on cellist Amanda Gookin’s new release, Forward Music Project 1.0, debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart. The release features multimedia works for solo cello that elevate stories of feminine empowerment, commissioned by Gookin, who writes: “For mothers. For sisterhood. For brave storytellers and quiet listeners. I sing, I gasp, I fight, I breathe life into the work of these fearless artists. I founded Forward Music Project for you. And you are not alone.”

In For Edna, Adu-Gilmore sought to encapsulate the strength of women. “At first, I was going to write something physically and aurally demanding – hard. I then realized that our strength is perseverance and endurance, adaptability and openness, and connection to others.”

For more information and to purchase the album, visit the Bright Shiny Things website


New Music USA Grant Awards

Chatterbird, a Nashville-based chamber music ensemble focused on exploring alternative instrumentation and stylistic diversity, will collaborate with New Zealand-American composer Leila Adu to commission and perform a 20-minute chamber opera for two female soloists and a 12-member ensemble. The world premiere will take place in Nashville, Tennessee in November 2020. In addition to the ensemble and vocal soloists, the performance will feature guided improvisation from a local youth choir of eight to fifteen middle and high school students.

Adu’s new work will explore themes of environmentalism as seen through multiple lenses: her own cultural background (born of New Zealand and Ghanaian descent), that of the Buddhist faith, and the perspectives of our nation’s indigenous peoples. The composer’s genre-mixing style reflects this multi-faceted thematic element. Her major areas of influence include the traditional New Zealand folk music of her childhood; her informal training in American genres like punk, indie, hip-hop, and free jazz; and her formal training in notated music for chamber ensembles and orchestras.

A professional visual artist will create a motion-based, interactive art component to accompany Adu’s work, and a second artist will used recycled material to create murals based on thematic components.

Read more about the project at New Music USA


‘flowers or die’ EP — out now!

Leila breaks into 2020 with a new EP that proves yet again, she won’t allow herself to be boxed into just one genre or style of music. The new release, flowers, or die, explores the nuances of singer-songwriter territories, while breaking away from the generic form that this style of music is often critiqued for. In an EP that folds together four lilting, keyboard driven-protest songs, Leila manages to showcase a kaleidoscope of ideas that simply must be listened to on repeat.

In celebration of the ‘flowers, or die’ release, Lauren Vanzandt-Escobar has created a limited series of one-off hand-made paper with embedded and collaged etchings in Veracruz, Mexico.

All proceeds from the album will go to the clean-energy charity

flowers, or die out now on Belts & Whistles label through: Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes and Bandcamp

Listen to the single “Tar Sands”