Kronos’ Fifty for the Future Composers

Rhiannon Giddens - USA

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Program Notes

Rhiannon Giddens' At the Purchaser’s Option with variations is an instrumental variation of a song from her album Freedom Highway (Nonesuch, 2017), arranged by Jacob Garchik. She wrote the song after finding in a book a 19th-century advertisement for a 22-year-old female slave whose 9-month-old baby was also for sale, but “at the purchaser’s option.” This piece comes from that advertisement, and from thinking about what that woman's life might have been like.

Rhiannon Giddens' At the Purchaser's Option with variations was commissioned as part of the Kronos Performing Arts Association’s Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, which is made possible by a group of adventurous partners, including Carnegie Hall and many others.

About Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens (b. 1977) was raised in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, an area with a rich legacy of old-time music. While studying opera at Oberlin Conservatory, Giddens began to do contra-dance calling on the weekends. At first a playful musical detour, it prefigured the unique course her career would take.

Reviving, interpreting, and recasting traditional material from a variety of sources has been central to Giddens’ career, especially in her groundbreaking work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who routinely bring sold-out concert audiences to their feet. With their two Nonesuch albums, Grammy Award–winning Genuine Negro Jig (2010) and Leaving Eden (2012), the Carolina Chocolate Drops have carried forward U.S. folk-music traditions, while making recordings that are vital, contemporary, and exuberant. Iconic choreographer Twyla Tharp was so entranced by their work that she created Cornbread Duet, a dance piece set to a suite of songs by the Carolina Chocolate Drops that had its world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Giddens met her original Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmates at 2005’s Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC. From old-time fiddle player Joe Thompson, Giddens and her cohorts learned about Piedmont’s traditional music, including many of the songs that would comprise their early repertoire.

Giddens is an American original. Her unforgettable voice culls the music of our collective past to point the way to the future. In 2013, she stole the show at the Another Day, Another Time concert, celebrating the music of Inside Llewyn Davis, performing Odetta’s Water Boy followed by an amazing, tongue-twisting medley in Gaelic. Giddens’ performance has been preserved in a double-disc live recording, to be released on Nonesuch Records in 2015 and in a documentary that aired on Showtime in 2014. In 2014, Kronos performed with Giddens at the Barbican in London and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of Nonesuch’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Giddens is a member of The New Basement Tapes, writing and creating music for recently discovered lyrics by Bob Dylan, along with Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James, and Marcus Mumford. Her first solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, was released in 2015.

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