Dr. William "Bill" Banfield is Professor Emeritus and Founding Director of the Center for Africana Studies/Liberal Arts at the Berklee College of Music. He taught in the Department of Composition and in the graduate program from 2005 to 2020. He is the Composer in Residence for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra fulfilling a three-year appointment that began in the summer of 2021.
Having served three times as a Pulitzer Prize judge and chair in American music (2010/2016/2020), Banfield is an award-winning composer whose symphonies, operas, and chamber works have been performed and recorded by major orchestras across the country.
In 2019, Banfield was appointed as a research associate with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH), one of the Smithsonian’s 12 research and cultural centers. His work focuses on what he identifies as cultural through-lines, delineating the ways in which contemporary artistry and new works harken back and hold onto critical cultural linkages.
In 2002, he was a W.E.B. Dubois fellow at Harvard University and was appointed in 2003 by Toni Morrison to serve as the visiting Atelier Professor, Princeton University.
Banfield's symphonies (13), operas (8), and chamber works have been performed and recorded by major symphonies across the country including the National, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Dallas, Indianapolis, Akron, Detroit, San Francisco, New York Virtuoso, Grand Rapids, Richmond, Toledo, Savannah, Chicago Symphonia, Sphinx, Sacramento, San Diego symphonies and the Havana Camerata of Cuba. In 2012, his Symphony 10 was commissioned and premiered by the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center with Sweet Honey in the Rock, and his Symphony 11 was performed, and recorded in Switzerland with the Evoca/ECJ Symphony and Chorus. Symphony 14 will receive its world premiere in March 2023 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
For more of Dr. Banfield’s works, visit billbanfieldmusic.com.
About his opera EDMONIA
EDMONIA, the opera, relates the compelling story of Edmonia Lewis and celebrates this undaunted 19th-century Black and Native American (Ojibwe) sculptor who carved out her artistic identity against all odds and, in so doing, impacted the life and culture of her times and beyond.
The opera was originally commissioned in 2000 by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, with collaboration from poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Musically set by Bill Banfield, the opera presents an artistic rendering of Lewis' extraordinary life, travel, and career in Oberlin, Boston, Florence, Italy, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia at a time when travel, career, and sometimes life itself were not accessible to Black and Native American women.
Edmonia Lewis is one of the most important documented and celebrated Black cultural figures of the 19th century. Yet her story is largely untold, her life forgotten. Composer Bill Banfield engages his prodigious musical prowess to correct this erasure through the epic medium of opera.
The opera originally commissioned in 2000 by Toni Morrison, with collaboration from poet Yusef Komunyakaa, now emerges fully set presenting an artistic rendering of her entire life and activities in Oberlin, Boston, Florence, Italy, and frequent travels and showings in Chicago, San Fransisco, and Philadelphia.
The libretto is loosely based upon the work of Edmonia Lewis scholar Marilyn Richardson. In Richardson's correspondence with Dr. Banfield, she remarks: "Your audience will be entranced, moved, surprised, and impressed. They will, however, also leave with "knowledge" of Lewis that is a creative narrative of fact and fiction. When we first talked, I realized you had re-imagined the historical Lewis, quite appropriately...I really look forward to the premiere and continuing to raise up EL (Edmonia Lewis) and her life and work in many ways and forms! And PLEASE keep sending me the wonderful music!"
The work will be performed by an ensemble of singers, actors and orchestra. Banfield has created his opera as a sweeping song cycle revealing poetic renderings of the people, times and places that impacted Edmonia’s artistic, professional and emotional life. "My challenge with Edmonia was to present a historical figure, her inner story, in the context of a balance of hybrid art that mirrors contemporary songs, operatic convention, presenting a storyline of actions with songs, letters, narrator, choral pieces, acting, dancing, images of art and places, lots of music within stylistic diversity, making it all adaptable..”
Driving the narrative, is the question... what happens or what we do we miss, if we don’t discover our rich heritages and the people who help to cultivate culture, all around us? In Banfield’s words: “God only knows the meaning of what, who, when and why treasures are lost then found. Our only guess is, the best will rise from truth that is pressed into the ground.”
For more about EDMONIA, visit edmoniaopera.com.