The former Augustan, who now lives in New York City, has had a robust musical career without them. He teaches conducting at the Manhattan School of Music, has published original works through labels such as Bill Holab Music, Oxford University Press, Sony/Columbia, Rounder, and Warner Bros. He freelances as a cellist and his works have been performed nationally and internationally by ensembles such as the Philarmonic Orchestra of the Americas, Left Bank Ensemble, Exclesior Trombone Ensemble and L’Opera du Village.
But when he came across a competition to compose a piece commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, he wanted to enter.
“I almost never (enter contests) for a number of reasons,” Brantley said. “I did do this because of the subject matter.”
He was chosen over 282 composer candidates to receive the commission to write The Rebirth of the Dream, a symphonic work for a standard 80- to 100-piece orchestra that will also involve a gospel chorus. It will be performed by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra May 16.
The commission includes an educational component – an ensemble that will be performed in fifth-grade civics classes in charter schools.
Brantley said right now he is exploring King’s inspirations: Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, Ghandi and Jesus.
“It’s almost like the seeds of Martin Luther King,” he said.
“I’ve just begun the piece. I don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said.
To be ready for the performance in May, Brantley needs to complete the piece by February so it can be rehearsed.
Most orchestral commissions are given a year or two in advance, Brantley said, but he has only four or five months to complete it. Still, he said, he feels honored to have the opportunity.
“The idea of addressing that legacy is daunting and humbling. All I can do is just do my best,” he said.
A graduate of the Academy of Richmond County in 1979, Brantley experienced desegregation and said he feels as though he lived through the “second stage” of the civil rights movement.
“It was really an intense time,” he said. “Augusta is a much better place for it. I feel in a small part a part of that era. It’s all a direct result of all of Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts.”
Brantly received his first major commission in 1986 to mark Augusta’s 250th anniversary. It was the same year as the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
He wrote a piece commemorating both that was performed by the Augusta Symphony. At the time, he had just completed his bachelor’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music and was preparing for graduate school.
He said he no longer allows that piece to be heard. While he’s proud of what he wrote, he said he could do much better now. The Rebirth of the Dream will give him that opportunity.