92NY presents the New York premiere of COTTON: Denyce Graves, mezzo-soprano and Justin Austin, baritone

Music MCM

New York, NY — April 15, 2024 — The 92nd Street Y, New York (92NY), one of New York’s leading cultural venues, presents COTTON: Denyce Graves, mezzo-soprano and Justin Austin, baritone on Thursday, April 18, 2024 at 7:30 pm at Kaufmann Concert Hall. Tickets start at $30 and are available at https://www.92ny.org/event/denyce-graves-and-justin-austin.

Celebrated mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, acclaimed for her riveting performances on the world’s great opera stages, her activism in support of diversity in the arts, and her championing of new music, is featured with exciting rising star baritone Justin Austin and pianist Laura Ward in the New York premiere of this immersive exploration of African American stories through song, poetry, and photography.

A poignant and powerful multidisciplinary work that speaks to the resilience of soul and psyche, COTTON is inspired by photographer John E. Dowell’s haunting images of South Carolina cotton fields – captured in his 2018 exhibit Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous Beauty of the Past. The work comprises a song cycle by acclaimed composer Damien Geter with text from original poems by Nikki Giovanni, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Afaa Michael Weaver, Lauren Alleyne, Charlotte Blake Alston, Glenis Redmond, Alora Young, and Trapeta Mayson, against the backdrop of Dowell’s evocative photographs. The poetry and music were commissioned by Lyric Fest (Philadelphia) which conceived the project in honor of its 20th Anniversary.

COTTON had its world premiere on February 25, 2023, at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, quickly followed by its Washington D.C. premiere at the Kennedy Center as part of their first annual Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Recital, presented by Washington Performing Arts.

“The chance to revisit COTTON with these three phenomenal artists is what I’ve been waiting for since the premiere over a year ago,” remarks composer Damien Geter. “And to bring it to New York, the city which provides the backdrop to some of John Dowell’s photos which inspired the song cycle, feels, in a way, cathartic. I hope that audiences walk away with a sense of purpose after experiencing this multidisciplinary event.”


Denyce Graves, recognized as “an operatic superstar of the 21st century” by USA Today, has garnered unparalleled popular and critical acclaim over the course of the mezzo-soprano’s career. Ms. Graves’ acclaimed appearances as Carmen and Dalila in Samson et Dalila have resounded in the world’s greatest opera houses, and her success has been recognized in notable television appearances, interviews, masterclasses, and magazines. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exclaims, “If the human voice has the power to move you, you will be touched by Denyce Graves.”

In the 2023-2024 season, Ms. Graves returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Sally in The Hours and makes her Seattle Opera debut in Das Rheingold as Erda. In addition, Ms. Graves will be the director for the world premiere of Loving v. Virginia with Virginia Opera in a co-production with Richmond Symphony for their 2024-2025 season.

In the 2022-2023 season, Ms. Graves returned to Minnesota Opera and The Glimmerglass Festival for her directorial debut in two new productions of Carmen. Minneapolis’ Star Tribune wrote, “…in her first directing job, opera star Denyce Graves delivers a superlative staging.” Ms. Graves also returned to the Metropolitan Opera in Peter Grimes as Auntie and in the world premiere of The Hours as Sally, as well as the title role in Glimmerglass Festival’s production of The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson. In recital, Ms. Graves continues to collaborate with Laura Ward, notably presenting her recital program COTTON with Lyric Fest and Washington Performing Arts where she was presented with the Inaugural Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Fund Award.

Her full opera recordings include Gran Vestale in La vestale, recorded live from La Scala with Riccardo Muti for Sony Classical; Queen Gertrude in Thomas’s Hamlet for EMI Classics; Maddalena in Rigoletto with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under James Levine; and Emilia in Otello with Plácido Domingo and the Opéra de Paris, Bastille Orchestra under Myung-Whun Chung, both for Deutsche Grammophon.

Ms. Graves is a native of Washington, D.C., where she attended the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. She continued her education at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory. She is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Denyce Graves Foundation which aims to promote equity and inclusion in American classical vocal arts through an unprecedented approach: championing the hidden musical figures of the past while uplifting young artists of world-class talent from all backgrounds. The foundation has been featured on Good Morning America and The New York Times Style Magazine for its successful programs. Ms. Graves’ dedication to the singers of the next generation continues to be an important part of her career; she is a member of the voice faculty at the Peabody Institute, and a distinguished visiting faculty member at The Juilliard School.

Possessing a “mighty lyric voice” (The New York Times) and praised as “vocally impressive, verbally elegant” (Opera News), Drama Desk Award-nominated baritone Justin Austin has appeared on concert and operatic stages worldwide since age of four. Born into a musical family, his early career took him to venues such as Teatro Real, Bregenzer Festspiele, Lincoln Center, and The Kennedy Center.

As this year’s Marian Anderson Vocal Award winner, Justin is featured in recital at The Kennedy Center, presented by Washington National Opera. He also gives solo recitals at Carnegie Hall, Pickman Hall with the Celebrity Series of Boston, and Spivey Hall in Atlanta this season. On the operatic stage, he makes a return to Lyric Opera of Chicago, starring as Young Emile in Terence Blanchard’s Champion; Washington National Opera’s production of Romeo and Juliet, portraying Mercutio, at The Kennedy Center; Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in The Barber of Seville, playing Figaro; and the Metropolitan Opera in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Justin also joins Des Moines Metro Opera for the world premiere of Damien Geter’s full-length American Apollo; stars in the New York premiere of Lyric Fest’s COTTON, composed by Damien Geter, at the 92nd Street Y; and performs in two renditions of Fire Shut Up In My Bones: Opera Suite in Concert at the Kimmel Center and then with Strathmore and Washington Performing Arts.

Last season, the “standout” (Operawire) baritone appeared as Ned Keene in Peter Grimes at the Metropolitan Opera; sang Carl Nielsen’s third symphony with The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Alan Gilbert; premiered Damien Geter’s song cycle COTTON alongside Denyce Graves with Lyric Fest in Philadelphia and Washington Performing Arts at The Kennedy Center; and premiered a new edition by Damien Sneed of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in the roles of Scott Joplin/Remus. Justin also sang on a concert tour of Our Song, Our Story, a tribute recital to African American operatic pioneers Jessye Norman and Marian Anderson, with music director Damien Sneed, giving performances in Tucson, St. Louis, Washington D.C., Akron, and Aspen.

Favorite highlights of recent seasons also include his house debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Marcellus in the company premiere of Brett Dean’s Hamlet; his house and role debut as Charles in Fire Shut Up In My Bones at Lyric Opera of Chicago; starring as George Armstrong in Lynn Nottage and Ricky Ian Gordon’s Intimate Apparel at Lincoln Center Theater; joining Washington National Opera in his company debut and Des Moines Metro Opera as Thomas McKeller in the chamber version premiere of Damien Geter and Lila Palmer’s American Apollo; starring as Captain Macheath in a film adaptation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera produced by City Lyric Opera; and debuting at the Bard SummerScape Festival as Mordred in Chausson’s Le roi Arthus. Justin created the role of Pyarelel Kaul in the critically acclaimed world premiere of Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph’s Shalimar the Clown at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and was featured on the commercial recording of the work.

In concert, Justin recently presented a solo recital at the Park Avenue Armory with pianist Howard Watkins. He has appeared at Carnegie Hall in the title role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Oratorio Society of New York and as the baritone soloist in Margaret Bonds’ Ballad of the Brown King with the Cecilia Chorus; and with New York Festival of Song for their debut concert at Little Island in addition to their mainstage series at Kaufman Music Center. He has been featured with the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Maine, Opera Saratoga, Mistral Music, Voices of Ascension, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Copland House, and Strathmore Music Center, plus the Hamburg International, Penn Square, Lakes Area, and Moab Music Festivals. Justin has previously joined IDAGIO for online concerts at the Global Concert Hall.

As a multifaceted musician, Justin enjoys performing a wide range of repertoire, from jazz, R&B, and musical theater, to opera and oratorio. He has collaborated, performed, and recorded with multiple groups and artists such as Aretha Franklin, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Mary J. Blige, Elton John, Lauryn Hill, The Roots, 30 Seconds to Mars, John Cale, Ricky Ian Gordon, Kanye West, Avner Finberg, M. Roger Holland, Jack Perla, Peter Andreacchi, and Odeline de la Martinez, plus jazz legends Reggie Workman, Hugh Masekela, and Wynton Marsalis.

Justin strongly believes in utilizing his artistry to benefit music programs, new music projects, and community services worldwide. He works with organizations such as MEND (Meeting Emergency Needs with Dignity), QSAC (Quality Services for the Autism Community), Holt International, and St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital to construct and perform benefit concerts. The proceeds of these projects supply emergent living essentials to those in need.

Justin has received accolades and awards from The Recording Academy, NAACP, George London Foundation, Washington National Opera, Opera Ebony, Gerda Lissner Foundation, Manhattan School of Music, NANM, Choir Academy of Harlem, and Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. He is the recipient of a 2023 Mabel Dorn Reeder Award from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, which goes to “the single artist in each season with the greatest potential to make a significant contribution to the art form of opera.” Justin is under the tutelage and mentorship of Catherine Malfitano.

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Justin Austin is an alumnus of the Choir Academy of Harlem, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Heidelberg Lied Akademie, and Manhattan School of Music (M.M. and B.M.). To learn more, visit www.justin-austin.com.

Laura Ward is pianist and co-Artistic Director of Lyric Fest. As a distinguished collaborative pianist she is known for both her technical ability and vast knowledge of repertoire and styles. Concert engagements have taken her to Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Spoleto Festival (Italy) and the Colmar International Music Festival and Saint Denis Festival in France. She has served on the faculty of The CoOPERAtive Program at Westminster Choir College, The Academy of Vocal Arts, Temple University, Ravinia Festival Stean’s Institute, Washington Opera, University of Maryland and The Music Academy of the West.

Laura’s discography includes Lineage (with Grammy-nominated baritone Randall Scarlata), In This Blue Room – Lyric Fest performs Songs of Kile Smith, Daron Hagen 21st Century Song Cycles, Hat er mir Rosen Gebracht – Songs of Joseph Marx (with soprano Kendra Colton), Songs of Innocence/ The Raven (with The Raven Consort) and most recently, Spirits in Bondage (songs of Benjamin C.S. Boyle). Laura is also a recording artist and editor of song accompaniments for publisher Hal Leonard having co-edited: Richard Strauss: 40 Songs, Gabriel Fauré: 50 Songs, and Johannes Brahms: 75 Songs and recorded over 2000 song accompaniments for Hal Leonard Publishing. These volumes have helped countless singers and pianists experience, learn and enjoy the art song repertoire and also help introduce a world of art song to many who have had little exposure to classical song.

A native of Texas, Laura received her Bachelor in Music degree from Baylor University, holds a Masters in Collaborative Piano at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and a Doctorate In Collaborative Piano from the University of Michigan where she was a student of Martin Katz.

Damien Geter is an acclaimed composer who infuses classical music with various styles from the Black diaspora to create music that furthers the cause for social justice, as well as a celebrated bass-baritone – “amazing to listen to. Possessed of a rolling, resonant voice even at the lowest register” (Northwest Reverb) – whose varied credits include performances from the operatic stage to the television screen. He is Composer-in-Residence at the Richmond Symphony through the 2024-25 season, and serves as Interim Music Director and Artistic Advisor at Portland Opera, as well as the Artistic Advisor for Resonance Ensemble.

Geter’s rapidly growing body of work includes chamber, vocal, orchestral, and full operatic works, with his compositions being praised for their “Skillful vocal writing” (Wall Street Journal). In the 2023-2024 season, Des Moines Metro Opera presents the full-length world premiere of his opera, American Apollo, while Virginia Opera holds a workshop of Loving v. Virginia, a new major work co-commissioned by Virginia Opera and the Richmond Symphony which will premiere as part of Virginia Opera’s 50th Anniversary Season in May 2025. Geter’s Annunciation is featured on Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert Montgomery and the Blacknificent 7, and Richmond Symphony will premiere a brand new work to be conducted by Music Director Valentina Peleggi. Additionally, The Recording Inclusivity Initiative records String Quartet No. 1 “Neo-Soul”.

Future commissions include premieres at Seattle Opera and Emmanuel Music, and world premiere operatic productions in 2024, 2025, and 2026 at the Des Moines Metro, Virginia, InSeries, and Portland Operas. Geter will also have subsequent premieres at Richmond Symphony. Meanwhile, last season, COTTON was given its world premiere in Philadelphia followed by its Washington, D.C. premiere at The Kennedy Center, presented by Washington Performing Arts, and his motet was performed by Emmanuel Music. He also conducted his own piece, An African American Requiem, at Fort Worth Opera, plus led the performance of ABSENCE: Terence Blanchard with Portland Opera.

In 2022 alone, Geter had six premieres as a composer: His large work, An African American Requiem, in partnership with Resonance Ensemble and the Oregon Symphony with subsequent performances at the Kennedy Center; I Said What I Said for Imani Winds, co-commissioned by Anima Mundi Productions, Chamber Music Northwest, and The Oregon Bach Festival; his one-act opera Holy Ground for Glimmerglass Opera; Elegy for the American Guild of Organists; The Bronze Legacy for Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and the chamber version of American Apollo for Des Moines Metro Opera.

Opera Today praises his bass-baritone sound palette, which “is very much his own distinct voice, and invigoratingly fresh”, while The News Tribune calls him “superb”. In the 2023-2024 season, Geter portrays the role of abolitionist and historian William Still in Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec’s oratorio Sanctuary Road, presented by Virginia Opera, and based on the writings of Still, who is credited with helping nearly 800 enslaved African Americans escape to freedom. He also joins Auburn Symphony Orchestra in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony and Rembrandt Chamber Musicians in The Wayfarer’s Melodies: A Musical Journey, singing the John Ireland Songs of a Wayfarer cycle.

Last season’s performance credits featured the vocalist as Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden with Hawaii Opera Theatre, plus concert credits entailing Handel’s Messiah with North Carolina Symphony and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Fresno Philharmonic. Favorite recent season highlights include Geter’s Metropolitan Opera debut in the Grammy award-winning production of Porgy and Bess as the Undertaker. He performed the title role of Quamino in the world premiere of Errollyn Wallen’s Quamino’s Map with Chicago Opera Theatre; as Angelotti in Tosca with the Portland and Eugene Operas; and as Sam in Reno Symphony’s Voices of a Nation: Trouble in Tahiti. In concert, Geter performed as the bass soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Richmond Symphony and in the role of William Still in Sanctuary Road with the Oakland Symphony.

On television, Geter made his TV debut in the role of John Sacks on NBC’s Grimm and was seen in Netflix’s Trinkets. Musical theater credits include Kevin Rosario in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights and Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar.

Geter is an alumnus of the Austrian American Mozart Festival and the Aspen Opera Center, and was a semifinalist for the Irma Cooper Vocal Competition. He also toured with the prestigious American Spiritual Ensemble, a group that helps to promote the preservation of the American art form – the spiritual.

He is the owner of DG Music, Sans Fear Publishing. Music in Context: An Examination of Western European Music Through a Sociopolitical Lens, the book he co-authored, is available on Amazon, or directly from the publisher, Kendall Hunt.Learn more at www.damiengetermusic.com.

About The 92nd Street Y, New York: The 92nd Street Y, New York (92NY) is a world-class center for the arts and innovation, a convener of ideas, and an incubator for creativity. 92NY offers extensive classes, courses and events online including live concerts, talks and master classes; fitness classes for all ages; 250+ art classes, and parenting workshops for new moms and dads. The 92nd Street Y, New York is transforming the way people share ideas and translate them into action all over the world. All of 92NY’s programming is built on a foundation of Jewish values, including the capacity of civil dialogue to change minds; the potential of education and the arts to change lives; and a commitment to welcoming and serving people of all ages, races, religions, and ethnicities. For more information, visit www.92NY.org.

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