Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale to perform Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed”

Posted on: May 18, 2022

Adrian Davis leads a choral rehearsal for the Minnesota Orchestra’s performance of Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. Photo: Minnesota Orchestra

“Death after death drove each step of ‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,’ ” writes Jenna Ross in Friday’s (5/13) Star Tribune (Minneapolis). “Eric Garner’s death … is part of what moved [composer Joel Thompson] to write the piece in 2014. News of Freddie Gray, who died of a spinal cord injury in police custody, pushed Thompson to get the piece performed. Then, George Floyd’s death brought the work to stage after high-profile stage. This coming week, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale are performing the multimovement, 15-minute piece. A smaller group will perform it May 28 at George Floyd Square. The work—which sets to music the final words of Garner and six other unarmed Black men killed during encounters with police or authority figures—launched Thompson’s composing career. But its performance always leaves him uneasy. ‘It’s the one piece I’ve written that I hope becomes irrelevant,’ Thompson said recently via Zoom. A conversation in Minneapolis shifted that view, though. Meeting with Jeanelle Austin, lead caretaker at George Floyd Square, she assured Thompson that there’s power in memory, power in memorial.”