Composer Spotlight: Michael Abels
Meet the man partially responsible for your goosebumps while viewing the hit films Us and Get Out: Michael Abels. In addition to being a critically-acclaimed film composer, Abels maintains an equally impressive repertoire of concert music. Cedille Records features his composition ‘Winged Creatures’ as the title track on their latest album with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, clarinetist Anthony McGill, and flutist Demarre McGill. We had the opportunity to chat with Abels about ‘Winged Creatures’, his experience as a composer of color, collaborating with Jordan Peele, and more.
What brought you to the concept of ‘Winged Creatures’?
I wanted to write music that showcased a very quick interaction back-and-forth between the flute and clarinet solos. When I wrote music that achieved the effect I wanted, it sounded like butterflies to me — deft, lighter-than-air, but somewhat erratic. That got me thinking about the flight patterns of other animals like seagulls, bats, etc., and how I might use music to depict the differences between them.
Did you participate in any youth arts programs (similar to the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra) growing up?
As a pianist, I wasn’t a regular member of a youth orchestra, but I went to summer music camps regularly through my middle and high school years, and a lot of my friends were playing in youth orchestras. My first completed piece was for piano and orchestra, and I got to play the solo part with a high school orchestra at summer camp. A hugely formative experience for me.
Describe your compositional approach.
My concert music always starts with some kind of program, meaning an extra-musical idea that I want to explore through my work. So, the concept comes first, and then the music flows from there.