Roscoe Mitchell's 'Conversations for Orchestra' Gets Its Bay Area Debut

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Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell listens to a solo on stage during the "Jack DeJohnette's Made In Chicago" performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, on Aug. 1, 2015.  (Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images)

In June, it was discovered that Mills College intended to lay off at least 30 employees, including Roscoe Mitchell, a renowned saxophonist and composer the New York Times once described as "one of the most important musicians in jazz." The news of Mitchell losing his job outraged the international music community, a petition against his dismissal circulated online, and Mills College ultimately decided to keep the esteemed professor on staff.

"I'm truly inspired by your impassioned, coordinated efforts to loudly proclaim your respect for the work being done by myself and my colleagues at Mills," wrote Mitchell in a open letter to his supporters. "My hope is that your actions will pave a way for us all to move forward with increasing focus, during this ever-crucial period for music, art, and other creative endeavors."

Now that Mitchell's teaching position is secure, the composer is preparing for the Bay Area debut of his new work, Conversations for Orchestra, at the de Young Museum on Friday, Sept. 8, at 7pm. For the free performance -- set to take place in front of Number 197, a site-specific installation by Leonardo Drew -- Mitchell has assembled a 34-piece chamber orchestra comprised of Mills faculty and former students. The piece draws from Mitchell's improvisations from his albums, Conversations and Conversations II. For Conversations for Orchestra, he enlisted two former students, Christopher Luna-Mega and Daniel Steffey, to transcribe his atonal, whirlwind saxophone playing for a full-on orchestral performance.

"I was excited about this invitation because it provided me an opportunity to define more clearly my work on the relationships that exist between composition and improvisation," wrote Mitchell in an email to KQED in June.


The performance is free of charge and open to the public.

For more information about "Roscoe Mitchell x Number 197," visit the de Young Museum's website.