PHILLIPS The Grey Land

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Mariel Roberts



Label: New Amsterdam Records

Media Format: CD or Download

Media Runtime: 62



Catalogue Number: NWAM147

NWAM147. PHILLIPS The Grey Land


Composition Artist Credit
The Grey Land Joseph C Phillips Jnr, Composer
Ana Milosavljev, Electric violin
Kenneth Browning, Narrator
Mariel Roberts, Composer
Michael Hammond, Electronics
Rebecca L Hargrove, Soprano

Joseph C Phillips Jr’s immersive multimedia opera The Grey Land takes its title from Richard Wright’s novel of alienation, Native Son. It begins with the monochrome blocks of a chorale, ‘The people get tired of dying’, and ends with the cry of a black mother grieving her dead child. In between, Phillips and 28 members of his Numinous ensemble deal with the sad, lonely iniquities of her life. It would be devastating live-streamed. As it is, the closely produced recording captures the claustrophobia of her oppression and the highly charged intensity of the words, and suits perfectly the documentary news style in which it is framed.

The major set piece, ‘Ferguson: Summer of 1914’, written to express ‘a more wistful contemporary America’ than Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, is followed by ‘Tender sorrow’, a tour de force for solo cello played by Mariel Roberts with superhuman daring and skill.

‘We wear the mask’ has the feel of a Shakespearean masque frozen in jewels. ‘I should have been a mother****ing Black Mamba’, ripped by gritty riffs led by Ana Milosavljevic on a Viper electric violin, is a brilliant montage of downtown streets like Billy Joel’s ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s words questioning justice for all in ‘Liberty Bell’ are introduced by an ironic minute of child’s bells.

Before the end, in ‘The Sunken Place’, serene voices straining to be heard sink with other dead souls into uninhabitable regions. As she has in previous arias, soprano Rebecca L Hargrove brings to the concluding ‘Streets of sighs’ something troubled, noble and inconsolable.

Explore the world’s largest classical music catalogue on Apple Music Classical.

Included with an Apple Music subscription. Download now.

Gramophone Print

  • Print Edition

From £6.67 / month


Gramophone Digital Club

  • Digital Edition
  • Digital Archive
  • Reviews Database
  • Full website access

From £8.75 / month



If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.