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Cellist Seth Parker Woods Takes Audiences on a Sonic Journey

Hailed by The Guardian as “a cellist of power and grace,” Grammy-nominated cellist Seth Parker Woods has established a reputation as a versatile artist and innovator across multiple genres. These qualities are on full display in his Cedille debut album, Difficult Grace, the audio version of his evening-length, multimedia concert of the same name. In concert, Difficult Grace features Woods in the triple role of cellist, narrator/guide, and movement artist performing works written for and with him.

Showcasing works by Frederick Gifford, Monty Adkins, Nathalie Joachim, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Alvin Singleton, and Ted Hearne, Difficult Grace is a semi-autobiographical exploration of identity; past/present histories; and personal growth that draws inspiration from the Great Migration; the historic newspaper, The Chicago Defender; immigration; and poetry by Kemi Alabi and Dudley Randall.

The album’s titular work is Fredrick Gifford’s Difficult Grace for solo cello (2019). As Gifford and Woods brainstormed a new work that would simultaneously feature his voice and cello playing, Gifford asked Woods to name authors and works that were important for him. Gifford was struck by Dudley Randall’s poem “Primitives,” which formed the basis for Difficult Grace. From the composer’s program notes: “I wanted to create a musical process, a kind of sonic network of relations that would set Randall’s original poem in dialogue with itself in musical time, both verbally and sonically.”

The album also features a new musical commission from composer Ted Hearne. Hearne’s suite of songs for cello, voice (also performed by Mr. Woods), and electronics features a libretto by poet Kemi Alabi, winner of the 2021 Academy of American Poets First Book Award.

Additional world premiere recordings include Monty Adkins’ (b. 1972) Winter Tendrils and Nathalie Joachim’s (b. 1983) The Race: 1915. Joachim’s Dam Mwen Yo, featuring Joachim as vocalist, and solo cello works by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and Alvin Singleton round out the program.

In its review of a live performance of Difficult Grace, The New York Times described Woods as “a cellist of prodigious technical gifts and sharp intellect… Woods is an artist rooted in classical music, but whose cello is a vehicle that takes him, and his concertgoers, on wideranging journeys.” I Care if You Listen wrote:

Difficult Grace posed the daunting task of intertwining a complex past with a developing present… With music at its core, each artistic medium on the program complements the others. The program’s intention to highlight underrepresented voices is in line with its central message of bringing perspectives together to explore the concept of identity.


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