Babcock Season Event Akropolis offers fresh take on classical music

Posted on October 09, 2017 by Janika Carey

Akropolis Reed Quintet Akropolis Reed Quintet was founded in 2009. Photo by Heather Nash

Sweet Briar College’s 2017-2018 Babcock Season kicks off with a concert by the Michigan-based Akropolis Reed Quintet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in Memorial Chapel. “Under the Influence” will also include the premiere of a newly composed work by assistant professor of music Joshua Harris.

According to the program, the quintet will present classical music with a “wide array of influences,” from jazz and folk songs to modern American life: “Each work absorbs the characteristics of a different genre, style or era, and then creates fresh, relevant music, reflecting upon the original and looking forward.” Akropolis will also explore the musical influences that have shaped their unique “genre-bending” identity.

Tickets go on sale Monday, Oct. 9, at or through the box office at 434-381-6120 and are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for non-SBC students and free for the Sweet Briar community and for children younger than 12.

Akropolis will arrive on campus Wednesday, Oct. 18, for a meet-and-greet dinner with Division of the Arts students. A composition master class on Thursday morning and an entrepreneurship workshop that afternoon will give Sweet Briar students a glimpse of what it takes to be successful as an artist. An open rehearsal Friday morning will get everyone warmed up for the evening event. The concert in Memorial Chapel will be followed by a reception in Pannell Gallery that is open to all ticket-holding guests. Performing members of Akropolis will be present to meet and greet.

Included in the program are Leonard Bernstein’s “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs” and Nico Muhly’s “Look for Me” — which “buries the melody of ‘Mother in the Graveyard,’ a folk song created in the Vermont Appalachia, inside destabilizing, modernized textures and interjections.” George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” closes the first half of the concert.

Next up in the program is the premiere of “Geryoneïs,” a new work by Sweet Briar faculty member and composer Joshua Harris. “Geryoneïs,” or “The Song of Geryon,” was inspired by Anne Carson’s translation of the surviving fragments of Stesichorus’s tale of Geryon, the red monster of Greek mythology, served as the inspiration. It is Harris’s first reed quintet.

Joshua Harris portrait Josh Harris

“‘Red Meat’— Carson’s title — tells from the monster’s perspective the story of Hercules killing Geryon and his dog and stealing Geryon’s prized herd of red cattle,” Harris explains. “This Geryon, however, is a pitiable monster and one in appearance only. He is the innocent victim of Hercules’s murderous rampage — the hero and the monster having switched roles.”

His piece, Harris says, was “conceived as 16 musical fragments — matching Carson’s 16 fragments of verse — interwoven into a dynamic tapestry of different-each-time textures and harmonies.

“As with much of my music, I’m especially interested here in overlapping layers that may or may not complement one another, which are well-suited for evoking the kind of jagged non-linearity I associate with the memories of traumatic experiences. Specifically, the competing themes at play are otherness and family, tragedy and heroism, violence and pastoral peace, heaven and hell.”

Akropolis concludes the program with “Sorrow and Celebration” for reed quintet and audience, a work “teeming with optimism even as it grieves.” Composer John Steinmetz wrote the piece in 2014, “during a summer brimming with tension and opportunity in many American communities,” according to the program.

“This piece imitates a ceremony or ritual, calling people together to mourn and rejoice,” Steinmetz said. “As I began composing, the deaths of two young African-American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, were on my mind. The sorrow in this music started there, but it is meant to honor any grief, whether individual or shared.

“After mourning, the music changes mood, eventually becoming dance-like. Sometimes sorrow, in bringing people together, can cut through the illusion of separateness, and that is cause for gratitude and celebration.”

The Akropolis Reed Quintet was founded in 2009 at the University of Michigan and is the first ensemble of its makeup to win a Fischoff Gold Medal (2014), the Grand Prize at the Plowman and MTNA national competitions and six national chamber music prizes in total. Hailed by Fanfare for its “imagination, infallible musicality and huge vitality,” Akropolis has performed from Juneau to Abu Dhabi and has showcased at five national conferences, including as a participant in APAP’s prestigious Young Performers Career Advancement Program (YPCA). Winner of the 2015 Fischoff Educator Award, Akropolis conducts extensive educational residencies and impacts thousands of children each year.

Akropolis has commissioned more than 25 reed quintet works and recorded three albums, including the 2017 release, “The Space Between Us,” which the San Francisco Chronicle calls “pure gold.” Akropolis has received grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and Chamber Music America for its community programming in Detroit, Mich., as well as operating support from Aaron Copland for Music.

For more information, email Natalie Szabo at, call the box office at 434-381-6120 or 434-381-6350, or visit