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Alvin Singleton's 56 Blows (Quis Custodiet Custodes?) Performed at the Aspen Festival

Jul. 15, 2021

On July 18, James Conlon led the Aspen Festival Orchesta in a performance of Alvin Singleton's powerful work, 56 Blows (Quis Custodiet Custodes?). Alvin Singleton composed the work as a musical mediation on the infamous beating of Rodney King by the LAPD in 1991. He was inspired to write the piece after watching Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ)'s evocative speech on the Senate floor where he described the attack graphically, repeating the word "Pow!" a total of 56 times in 81 seconds. In a 1994 interview, the composer noted:
"The No. 1 reason for me to write about this was what it said about the abuse of power. Rodney King could have been anybody. I don't want people to associate this piece with the beating. When people think about this piece in the future, I want them to think, "Now, what was that piece about? Oh yeah, it's about the abuse of power."

Abuse of power is referred to in the title itself: "Quis Custodiet Custodes?" or, "Who guards the guardians?". In the same interview, Alvin Singleton noted, "People have been combing my score looking for those 56 blows or drumbeats. But what you expect to hear I don't give you - at least not when you are expecting it."

Ensemble Modern, led by Enno Poppe perform Alvin Singleton's Again at the opening concert of the Darmstadt Summer Course on July 31. Again was commissioned by the Austrian Radio and awarded the Musikprotokoll kompositionpreis. It lives sonically in two worlds, both jazz and classical. Winds, brass, strings, piano and percussion cycle through a variety of solo and ensemble textures. Again was first performed by London Sinfonietta in 1979 at the Styrian Autumn Festival in Graz, Austria.

Finally, Alvin Singleton's Ishirini was performed on July 2 at the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival by violinists Elizabeth Chang and Kevin Lawrence. The score is available for purchase from PSNY here.

Listen to Alvin Singleton's After Fallen Crumbs (1987):

(After Fallen Crumbs/Alvin Singleton/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Louis Lane, conductor)

To learn more about Alvin Singleton, visit:

Alvin Singleton
56 Blows (Quis Custodiet Custodes?) (1993)
for orchestra, field drum, timb, 3 tom-t)-hp-str

Again (1979)
for chamber orchestra
1(pic).1.1(bcl).1-, 4bng, 2tom-t)-pno-str(

Ishirini (2003)
for two violins