Clarinetist Anthony McGill is described as “a citizen musician [who] works to promote greater connection, equality and justice in all that he does.”
McGill is the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, the first Black musician to hold a principal chair in the orchestra’s 178-year history. During his time there, he has wowed audiences and impressed critics with his technique and silky tone. He also has used the platform to promote social justice issues, specifically racial equity in classical music.
Despite the amount of music that has been written by Black composers over the years, just a fraction of it has been recorded. There are many overlooked and sidelined composers that McGill believes would only add to the canon.
Certainly the most provocative statement that McGill has made came shortly after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. He went to YouTube and recorded “America the Beautiful,” a song he grew up singing, and turned it into an achingly beautiful acknowledgment of injustice.
“It's a beautiful, beautiful song,” he said later. “But sometimes we get a little off. Sometimes it's not all in a major key. And we shouldn't pretend like life and the world is always major because we want it to be. Sometimes life is minor. It goes off its true melody.”
The music finishes like a lingering question. McGill then drops to his knees in silence.
It’s this sort of activism that led to him winning the Avery Fisher Prize, for musicians who represent the highest level of excellence and whose vision and leadership have expanded the reach of classical music.
Host: Vernon Neal
Producer: Dan Nass
Writers: Andrea Blain and Scott Blankenship
Executive Producer: Julie Amacher
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