I live in the U.S.A. It is a wonderful land with wonderful people and a wonderful culture.
When I walk down a lonely street in New York at night, I am afraid. Afraid of criminals. If my skin was black, however, I'd have to be more afraid of the police than criminals.
Eric Garner has become a symbol.
He had double bad luck. First off, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But most of all, he had the wrong skin color. His crime: selling cigarettes. And being an African American. The police thought he was a bootlegger, and took him into custody. During this process, he suffocated. He was an asthmatic. His last words were: "I can't breathe!"
Those responsible for his death weren't acquitted. They never even had to go to court.
This was not an isolated incident.
Protests erupted. The slogan "Black lives matter!" was carried in prominent demonstrations throughout the land. With this piece, I declare my solidarity with the protesters.
"I can't breathe" for solo trumpet, in memory of Eric Garner begins - quite traditionally - with a dirge: an open cantilena within the world of twelve tones. The intervals then start to contract. The song suffocates more and more, ending in a sixth-tone scale. This self-constricting dirge takes place within a sound realm of widely spaced trumpet tones of extreme register and varying color - perhaps careful symbols for the world out of which the victim was violently ripped.
I give no sound to the perpetrators.
The performance requires many quick mute changes and slow mutations of muted color. Marco Blaauw's double bell trumpet is ideally suited for these effects.
I want to thank the Kölner Philharmonie, I thank Heinz Holliger and I thank Marco Blaauw for making this performance happen on such short notice. I also want to thank those responsible at Ensemble Musikfabrik for forgoing their right to the premier performance, in order to make this piece public as soon as possible.
Georg Friedrich Haas, december 2014
08.02.2015, 6 p.m., Cologne, Philharmonie
Georg Friedrich Haas | I can't breathe (2014) | for solo trumpet | in memory of Eric Garner | world premiere
Commissioned by Ensemble Musikfabrik, supported by the North Rhine-Westfalia Ministry for Families, Children, Youth, Culture and Sports
as well as works by Holliger, Mahler and Debussy
Anna Larsson | alto
Marco Blaauw | trumpet (soloist of Ensemble Musikfabrik)
Musicians from MCO Academy at Orchesterzentrum|NRW
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Heinz Holliger | Dirigent
The concert is available on livestream on www.philharmonie.tv