‘In The Act Of Living, You’re A Revolutionary’: Anthony McGill Talks With Lara Downes

Anthony McGill is a musician's musician. You might remember his performance with Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Gabriela Montero at President Obama's inauguration in 2009. You might have seen him leading the clarinet section at the New York Philharmonic, or as a soloist on stages around the world. Or maybe you've heard that he's won the 2020 Avery Fisher Prize, a $100,000 award given to a musician "whose vision and leadership expand the reach of classical music."

Anthony extends his reach even further as he joins me to talk about the intersection of artistry and activism and the surprising paths we sometimes take to get there.

On May 27, two days after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, McGill picked up his clarinet and offered a musical response to systemic racism and violence. He asked his fellow musicians to join him with these words: "This time, let's try and take two knees in the struggle for justice and decency. No guidelines. Your message, your voice, your mission, your focus. Just two knees for what you believe in. Pass it along."

And we did. From our homes around the country, we poured out our grief and rage into hundreds of quiet, solo performances. Together they sounded a lot like transformation — from what Martin Luther King called the "jangling discords of our nation" into "a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

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