Composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery can capture a huge sweep of music in a single movement. Montgomery’s “Source Code” has brief bits where it evokes familiar pieces of 19th century chamber music. But it spends a lot of time nodding to modernist classical music, winking at jazz traditions, and draws inspiration from Black artists of the civil rights era.
In early March, Castle of our Skins will bring Montgomery to the Longy School of Music at Bard College for a three-day residency that will feature lectures, master classes and open rehearsals culminating in the concert “Break Away.” A local concert and educational series devoted to celebrating Black artistry through music, Castle of our Skins will put on the residency — a wonderful chance to bring more attention to Montgomery’s growing catalog of compositions — as part of a long 12 months of expanding its reach and audience.
“This is our second residency, the idea being an annual experience where we bring a living composer from the African diaspora to be on campus to work with the students and work with us,” said Ashleigh Gordon, the co-founder and artistic and executive director of Castle of our Skins. “Some of (Montgomery’s) pieces come very much from the physical aspect of playing and exploring her own instrument. … Her work comes from a confluence of all her studies, many genres and generations, lived experiences, cultural experiences.”
In the wake of twin pandemics — a deadly virus and the unrelenting, devastating impact of racism — Castle of our Skins has only expanded its mission and highlighted both storied and almost-unknown Black artists.
“Like other Black arts organizations, we have had an astronomical donation season without even having to press or ask,” Gordon said. “It’s been overwhelming at times to translate energy into sustained momentum.”
Co-founded by Anthony R. Green, who is the associate artistic director, Castle of our Skins has made strategic moves — such as adding needed staff. It has also built an astonishing season of programming.
What started with more humble ideas, including the Black Composer Miniature Challenge that had it premiering short pieces written specifically for the organization, rolls into an impressive spring. After the Montgomery residence, “Dream-Visions” will see the first collaboration between Castle of our Skins and Winsor Music, a chamber music group based in Boston, and with “From the Motherland,” the organization presents its first concert program dedicated entirely to the continent of Africa.
Gordon isn’t just the leader of Castle of our Skins, she is a violist who needs to keep her skills sharp, even in a socially distant world. She has somehow found a balance between playing and rallying artists.
“I’ve managed to keep a pretty busy schedule of playing during this pandemic,” she said. “I’ve also been able to offer other artists opportunities to engage, been able to create platforms for them to engage. That’s been a pure necessity of mine as a creative person. I need to keep creative energy alive.”
Learn more about Castle of Our Skins at castleskins.org.