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Reimagining Carmen: Courtney Bryan’s Carmen Jazz Suite on Themes by Bizet

Orpheus commissions composer Courtney Bryan to produce a jazz suite that celebrates an imagined world in which Carmen lives and wins.


Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has commissioned pianist and composer, Courtney Bryan to create a contemporary and experimental orchestration entitled Carmen Jazz Suite on Themes by Bizet. Inspired by Georges Bizet’s classic 1975 opera, Bryan will take selected themes and transport the audience to the jazz era, where we will celebrate the independent and infectious spirit of Carmen. Bryan will rewrite Carmen’s fate with a fresh perceptive – one in which Carmen lives and her freedom is not a decision to be made by the men she encounters. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis’ brilliant interpretation and improvisation will be a feature in the 20-minute jazz suite.

The new work will premiere on January 8, 2021, while the orchestra is on tour, with the first performance taking place in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Following the debut, it will be performed in eleven cities in California, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, Chicago, and New York, and reach approximately 15,000 listeners.

New Orleans native Courtney Bryan has a musical worldview that is both deeply rooted and sweepingly expansive. Bryan shares, “My pursuit of uninhibited beauty has led me to unite parts of my practice that were once separate: composition, improvisation, collaboration, genre, spirituality, and social and political concerns.” Her music ranges from solo works to large ensembles in the new music and jazz idioms, film scores and is in conversation with various musical genres, including jazz, traditional gospel, spirituals, and hymns. Bryan’s compositions explore human emotions through sound, confronting the challenge of notating the feeling of improvisation.

Branford Marsalis is a saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and educator. The oldest son of pianist and educator and brother of Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, Branford rose to prominence as part of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet and formed the Branford Marsalis Quartet in 1986. Classical music inhabits a growing portion of Branford’s musical universe. A repeat collaborator with Orpheus, Branford serves on our Advisory Council.

Leading up to its 50th anniversary in 2022, Orpheus has reexamined its philosophy to be inclusive of modern audiences and present artists and a repertoire that reflects the community in which it calls home. Like the reimaging of Carmen, the orchestra has spent the last three years reimagining its identities and priorities, accounting for diversity and inclusion. Orpheus has committed to commissioning new music from women of color over the last three seasons, making room for new and different voices to share with our audience and educate our traditional patronage.

As a conductorless chamber orchestra committed to enriching lives and empowering individuals in NYC and across the world, Orpheus strives to bring the joy of music to everyone in its community, especially to those who would not be able to listen to it otherwise. Through Access Orpheus, a music education program for K-12 NYC public school students, Bryan’s jazz suite will be heard by approximately 500 students  when it is presented at Carnegie Hall. Access Orpheus is offered free of charge to all schools and participants. Orpheus prioritize Title I schools when contacting schools and reserving program space.

Project Media

Valerie Coleman: Phenomenal Women
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Phenomenal Women is a suite of four movements inspired by admirable women and named after Maya Angelou’s poem. Her Phenomenal Women “is about celebrating women’s efforts to overcome adversity, no matter who and where you are,” Coleman states. Various musical styles and sections of the orchestra were used to develop each movement and represent Maya Angelou, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama—and the women of the immigrant caravans journeying to the American border. Orpheus performed Phenomenal Women in June 2019 at the Library of Congress.

Jessie Montgomery: Swift, Change, Turn, and Variation
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This piece was performed on Orpheus’ 2019, Opening Night concert at Carnegie Hall. The work employed drone-like wind intonations and charted an engaging course of shifting dissonances across four delineated sections. Ms. Montgomery describes this commission as “a great opportunity to contribute to the tradition of writing a piece based on season, as change and rotation is something that we all experience as humans.” She noted that the work is “a musical exploration of both the external and internal season.”

Courtney Bryan: Shedding Skin

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Features: Courtney Bryan

Shedding Skin for Orchestra is inspired by the poem of the same name by Harryette Mullen from her book Tree Tall Woman (1981), as well as by conversations from the JCOI-ACO Institute in 2012. Shedding Skin deals with the question: what does it mean to notate improvisation? How does one who is at home in a jazz improvisatory context translate certain values and concepts into notation for performers in a classical orchestral context? This sample was provided by Bryan and is read by American Composers Orchestra.

Start and End Dates



New York City, New York

Project Created By

New York, New York
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra believes in empowering the unique voice of all people to make a valuable contribution. Working together as a collective of leaders, members explore each other’s musical ideas using their signature collaborative method, the Orpheus Process®, and give flight to vibrant, unconventional interpretations. Orpheus performances unfold dynamically, moment-by-moment, creating an energy shared by…

In Collaboration With

Pianist and Composer


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