20 September 2017

Two Grands. Eight hands – Gay Guerilla at Fluid Festival

By Annabel Clarke

Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was a gay African-American experimental composer who often gave his minimalist, engaging works provocative titles such as 'Crazy Nigger'; 'If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?' and 'Gay Guerilla'. Through his music and performances he pushed the boundaries of both sexual and civil rights.

Dying homeless and alone at such a young age, it seemed that his work might have been lost. Luckily, fans have not let that happen.

On Saturday evening, the rarely performed 'Gay Guerilla' will be presented as part of FLUID Festival with two grand pianos and eight hands.

Led by international pianist and composer Rolf Hind, he will be accompanied by Siwan Rhys (both teaching at the Guildhall School of Music) as well as Birmingham Conservatoire’s Yfat Soul Zisso and Steven Giles. A minimal, yet expressive piece with overlapping, sweeping sounds, it reminds us that pianos can also be a percussive instrument. Listen very carefully and you may even notice a Bach Chorale and a riff from Donna Summer’s 'Hot Stuff'.

Due to Eastman’s pieces being so controversial in title and performance at the time, it prompted him to make pre-concert statements on the works. Eastman said of 'Gay Guerilla':

‘These names, either I glorify them or they glorify me. And in the case of guerrilla, that glorifies gay… A guerrilla is someone who in any case is sacrificing his life for a point of view. And you know if there is a cause, and if it is a great cause, those who belong to that cause, will sacrifice their blood because without blood there is no cause.’

'Gay Guerilla' will be performed on Saturday 23 September as part of FLUID Festival at Nicholson School of Dance from 5-11pm.
Tickets for FLUID can be bought here or on the door at Minerva Works.

Rolf Hind will also be talking at FLUID Conversation from 2pm at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday 23 September. This open conversation will discuss what it means to be Queer and composing music today. Rob will be joined by Rebekah Ubuntu, Michael Wolters, Henry McPherson, C N Lester, as well as Darryl W Bullock author of ‘David Bowie Made Me Gay’ to discuss how the sexuality and gender identity of composers influences their music. What does Queer sound like?

FLUID Conversation is free. Tickets can be booked here.

Julius Eastman


This project is supported by the Composer-Curator programme by Sound and Music