Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Plain Dealer reviews Cleveland Chamber Symphony

Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg, recently deposed as the reviewer of the Cleveland Orchestra but apparently still allowed to cover other classical music events, has reviewed Sunday's Cleveland Chamber Symphony concert. There's no reporting in Rosenberg's piece on why the CCS apparently was downsized for Sunday's event.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Randolph Coleman to retire

Randolph Coleman, a composer and longtime professor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (43 years!) is retiring at the end of the semester, according to this article I spotted in the Oberlin Review, which is apparently the student newspaper. It's a well-done article; I'm not familiar with Coleman's music but apparently he is kind of a recovered modernist.

In the article, he describes having roots in late modernism, then adds, "This was an aesthetic cul-de-sac burdening my generation until the late '60s when the bubble finally exploded. Unfortunately many of us got trapped there, never to evolve even as it became evident to almost everyone that, as a culture, we had moved on."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

My Donald Erb souvenir

I have a ping-pong ball in my bedroom now, one that's covered in bright orange paint. It's my souvenir of today's Cleveland Chamber Symphony concert, held in honor of the late composer Donald Erb at Baldwin-Wallace College.

Erb, who died this year, was a prominent Cleveland composer. The CCS did two of his pieces at today's concert. "The Devil's Quickstep" was a collection of interesting sounds, but I'm afraid my brain had trouble converting them into a recognition of them as music.

The second piece was "Souvenir," and it was the last piece of the program. It was a great deal of fun. The program note for it said it was composed in 1970 "and might be considered an example of one of the 'happenings' of that time, although the piece is far more universal than that." That seems like a fair description. The lights were turned down and what looked like a black light was turned on. Objects that appeared to glow in the dark were deployed. I was sitting in the balcony, and a gentleman in the corner of the front row tossed out big, colorful balloons, then sprayed what appeared to be Silly Putty at the audience below, then threw out a whole box of colored ping pong balls.

I talked to the man after the concert, and he explained, "I'm Donald Erb's son." He told me he had been helping with the performance of the piece since he was a teenager. He pointed out to me other members of the performer's family. As I left the theater, a woman insisted to me that a colored ping-pong ball had been placed in the composer's coffin before he was buried.

Also during today's program, the CCS performed "Compline" by Christopher Rouse, maybe my favorite piece in the concert; I'll try to hunt up a recording. There was also "Tatterdemalion" by Libby Larsen, which I had no opinion on one way or the other, and William Bolcom's chamber music suite, "Orphee-Serenade," which I liked. Bolcom seems to be have written a large amount of enjoyable music; I've yet to hear something I dislike.

The symphony was much smaller than usual; the program listed 14 musicians, and each piece seemed to use fewer than that. I don't know what was going on with that. The program wasn't the same one that had been announced a few months ago.

Update: Composer Jeffrey Quick's thoughts are here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Cleveland Chamber Symphony slates Sunday concert

The Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Cleveland's top new music ensemble, returns this weekend with a season-opening concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at Gamble Auditorium at Baldwin Wallace College. The concert is free and will include music by Christopher Rouse, Libby
Larsen, William Bolcom and noted Cleveland composer Donald Erb, who died earlier this year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Donald Erb dies

Breaking news: Jeffrey Quick has just reported that Cleveland composer Donald Erb has died. (Quick, a composer himself, is president of the Cleveland Composers Guild). More news as it becomes available, Quick says.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Music criticism hits new low

Here's a technique for critiquing performances that Alex Ross probably never thought of: Bring a claw hammer with you and use it to bang out a bad review for musicians you don't like.

The Sandusky Register reported that a Baldwin-Wallace College music graduate and music teacher named Richard Rice armed himself with a hammer before taking on a rock concert in his neighborhood in the small city of Huron, Ohio. "The band was out of tune and loud," Rice explained.

Accounts differ on whether Rice swung the hammer at music equipment and a spectator, depending on whether you believe other people at the scene or the allegedly drunk music critic. Witnesses says he did, although Rice said the hammer was just a prop.

"I had a hammer in my hand," he concedes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cleveland Chamber Symphony lists 2008-2009 concerts

The Cleveland Chamber Symphony — as far as I'm concerned, the top new music group in Cleveland — has posted its upcoming concert schedule on its Web site.

On Oct. 5, a Sunday afternoon (the exact time is not posted) at Baldwin-Wallace College's Gamble Auditorium, the symphony will perform "Terpsichore's Dream" by Augusta Read Thomas, the world premiere of a new work by Larry Baker, "Cayuga Lake (Memories)" by Karel Husa and "Solstice" by Donald Erb. Erb is a Cleveland-area composer, and "Solstice" (which sounds like a winter storm) is a piece about 12 minutes long, available on the Cleveland Chamber Symphony's excellent "New American Scene III" album.

On March 22, 2009, also at Gamble, look for a new flute concerto by Jing Jing Luo, a new work by Jeffrey Mumford and "Kammersymphonie No. 1" by Schoenberg.

May 10, 2009, at Glick Recital Hall at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, expect "Boston Fancies" by Steven Stucky, "String Quartet" by Steven Smith, "Tatterdemalion" by Libby and "Nine Poems" by Dan Visconti.

May 16-17 2009, back at Baldwin-Wallace, is reserved for the Young and Emerging Composers Competition.

Monday, July 28, 2008

New album features Duckworth's music

An an Overgrown Path reports on a new album featuring music by William Duckworth, one of my favorite composers. The new Boston Secession album, "Surprised by Beauty," includes seven selections from Duckworth's "Southern Harmony" and compositions from Arvo Part, Gavin Bryars and others. Pliable's posting goes into considerable detail to discuss Duckworth's career and explain why the album is recommended.
I'm back

I apologize for my silence of the last 3-4 months. I have not lost interest in music, but I have been called away by a variety of other interests and pressing concerns. I have not lost interest in publicizing new music and Cleveland (and around the world), and I am resuming posting.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Cleveland Chamber Symphony followup

I asked the music director of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Steven Smith, when his band's next CD will be coming out; he said he doesn't know and said there are no agreements in place now for the symphony to record anything.

I mentioned that I remembered that I recalled that the CCS had recorded Gerald Plain's recorder concerto last year; Smith said Plain had a grant to record it. "I imagine that will come out on a disk of his music," Smith said. (Does anyone have more information?)

Smith said the orchestra is still accepting $25 a measure donations to pay for the cost of Marta Ptaszynska's composition that premiered Sunday, "Lumen."

If you liked some of what you heard at Sunday's Cleveland Chamber Symphony at Baldwin-Wallace, here are some links that may be useful.

A search for "Monica Houghton" on Emusic.com turns up nothing; a search of Amazon for her turns up only a brief track on a collection of organ music. But her web site offers about an hour's worth of MP3 tracks.

Loris Chobanian offers only sound samples on his site; searches an Emusic and Amazon show that his works turn up on several albums.

Dennis Eberhard is represented on Emusic.com by an album that includes "Prometheus Wept," the piece played Sunday; Amazon has the same Naxos album featured on Emusic.

Amazon lists for Marta Ptaszynska albums; I can't find anything of hers on Emusic.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A fitting tribute

At his death in 2005, composer Dennis Eberhard was perhaps Cleveland's most-successful and best-known composer. Sunday's thrilling Cleveland Chamber Symphony concert at Baldwin-Wallace College's music conservatory turned out to be a tribute to Eberhard, with three of the four pieces linked in some way to him.

The opening number, a premiere of Monica Houghton's "Osa Sinfonia," especially written for the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, was dedicated to Eberhard. (Houghton also wrote the biography of Eberhard printed in the program notes.) The piece, which I liked, sounded very ominous to me, like a soundtrack for a thriller. Houghton wrote in the notes that "Osa" was linked to her trip "to the remote Osa Peninsula on the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica" and says the music "was written in celebration of the beauty and mystery of the natural world."

The next piece before the intermission was a three-movement "Concerto for Cello" by Loris Chobanian. The piece didn't interest me very much, although there was nothing wrong with it and the soloist, Regina Mushabac, played very well. Chobanian is the composer in residence at B-W College.

After the intermission, the symphony played Eberhard's atmospheric, elegiac "Prometheus Wept," a fine piece for strings. The last piece was another premiere, "Lumen" by Marta Ptaszynka, and for me it was the best number of the evening, a composition that produced a variety of thrilling sounds from the orchestra by a composer who until now had been unknown to me.

"Lumen" was written for the Cleveland Chamber Symphony's Public Commissioning Initiative; members of the public were invited to pay $25 a measure to pay for the piece. I'd say the people who underwrote it got their money's worth. (Fromm Music Foundation also chipped in, the program says.) Eberhard originally had been the composer picked for the commission; when he died, the commission went instead to his friend, Ptaszynka, who wrote in the notes that it's in memoriam of Eberhard.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sunday: Cleveland Chamber Symphony

I've been waiting for months for Sunday's Cleveland Chamber Symphony concert, set for 3:30 p.m. at the Kulas Musical Arts Building at 96 Front Street in Berea. The show is free; lots of free parking, too, a short block away west in a parking lot across from the Giant Eagle. The program: "Lumen" by Marta Ptaszynska; "Prometheus Wept" by Dennis Eberhard; "Osa Sinfonica" by Monica Houghton, and something by Loris Chobanian. Three out of four (Ptaszynska the exception) are Cleveland folks. We'll have to see, but the program looks very promising.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Red (an orchestra) folds

Red (an Orchestra), a Cleveland chamber orchestra which emphasized modern music and innovative programming, has shut down, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports today in a page one story. The orchestra had been running a deficit; the death blow was a blizzard that wiped out two planned concerts on March 7-8.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cleveland Orchestra announces new music concerts

The Cleveland Orchestra has announced its 2008-2009 season, and the list of concert programs includes a new music festival on May 23, 2009, conducted by Oliver Knussen and featuring works by Julian Anderson, Luke Bedford, Sean Shepard and Augusta Read Thomas.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Donald Rosenberg has a roundup on the new season here; his article includes a listing of the season's programs that's easier to scan through than the official listing at the orchestra Web site. Rosenberg's article also notes concerts featuring other current composers, such as George Benjamin and Osvaldo Golijov.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Latest John McLaughlin Williams news

Conductor John McLaughlin Williams, who last year won a Grammy Award with the Cleveland Chamber Orchestra for a performance of Olivier Messiaen's "Oiseaux Exotiques," get a nice writeup in the Springfield State Journal Register.

The bad news: Although the guy is a former Cleveland resident, he doesn't live in the area now, as I had assumed, but rather lives in Livonia, Mich.

The good news: He has a bunch of new recordings and thinks he has a "very good shot" at another Grammy The paper reports, "On Feb. 26, the Naxos label released another in its American Classics series featuring Williams conducting the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in two symphonic masses, “Missa Sinfonica” by Nicolas Flagello and “Symphony No. 5” by Arnold Rosner.

"His next major release will be in March, again by Naxos, and will feature Williams conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine with Elmar Oliveira on violin, performing violin concertos by Ernest Bloch and Benjamin Lees.

"He’s also recorded, in Kiev, the music of composer Deon Nielsen Price, whose works document California culture and history. That recording will be on the Cambria label."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

March concerts in Cleveland

Here are some concerts this month in Cleveland, all free, that might interest fans of new music. At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, the Cleveland Institute of Music will present a Cleveland Composers Guild concert at Mixon Hall featuring works by Margaret Brouwer, Jeffrey Quick and Jeffrey Mumford. Info here. (If you follow the link, note the March 19 faculty recital featuring Penderecki and Golijov.) The Cleveland Contemporary Players over at Cleveland State University are presenting a concert by the San Antonio Chamber Choir at 8 p.m. Monday, March 17, at Drinko Recital Hall in the Music and Communication Building. The program isn't listed, but it "focuses on the 20th Century." More here. At 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 30, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony will present a concert at Baldwin-Wallace featuring work by Marta Ptaszynska, Dennis Eberhard, Monica Houghton and Loris Chobanian. More on the latter concert soon.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Jennifer Higdon: The hot composer?

Today I interviewed Allan R. Scott, music director of the Helena Symphony, for a story for my newspaper, The Sandusky Register, advancing this Saturday's Firelands Symphony Orchestra concert, where Mr. Scott will serve as the guest conductor. (Mr. Scott is one of the finalists for the Firelands music director job.)

I noticed that Scott seemed to be more interested in modern music than some of the other conductor candidates I've met, so I asked him who his favorite living composers are. He mentioned John Corigliano and John Adams, names that don't really surprise. His repertoire listed on his Web site includes Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine." I've always wondered why the piece doesn't get performed more by regional orchestras.

But I was surprised that Scott went on and on about how much he likes Jennifer Higdon. He's performed her "blue cathedral" in concert and told me audiences have reacted really well to her work. He also said Higdon gets so many commission requests she can't keep up with them.

Higdon was nominated for a 2008 Grammy for "Zaka" on eighth blackbird's "Strange Imaginary Animals" album. She didn't win (Joan Tower won instead for "Made in America") but the album itself nabbed a Grammy for eighth blackbird for "Best Chamber Music Performance."

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Steven Smith's new gig?

Letter V, the Virginia classical music blog, reports that Steven Smith, music director of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, is one of nine finalists for the job of music director of the Richmond Symphony. The new music director is expected to be named at the end of 2009.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Breaking news: Kerry loses, eighth blackbird wins!

Oberlin College alums eighth blackbird won a Grammy Award, uh, more than a week ago, for "Best Chamber Music Performance" for the album strange imaginary animals. Congratulations to a fine band. I was just listening to the album on the way to work this morning. News roundup on the Grammy win available here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Detroit Symphony to debut Brouwer piece

Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer may still be waiting for her first performance by the Cleveland Orchestra, but over in nearby Detroit it's a different story. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has announced that it will perform a world premiere piece by Brouwer on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, 2009, as part of its 2008-2009 season. Details available at the symphony's Web site. The Detroit Free Press' Mark Stryker says the event will be a highlight of the season, and explains that Brouwer is winner of the orchestra's "2008 Lebenbom Competition for women composers."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

John McLaughlin Williams' new Rosner album

Cleveland composer Jeffrey Quick notes that Grammy-award winning conductor John McLaughlin Williams has a new recording on Naxos of Arnold Rosner's Fifth Symphony, with Nicolas Flagello's "Missa Sinfonica." It's probably "the best performance of a Rosner orchestral work that I've heard," Quick says. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Rosner (as I confess I am), Quick provides a handy overview.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Feb. 24: Cleveland Composers Guild concert

The Cleveland Composers Guild returns for a free concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2592 W. 14th St. in hip Tremont (i.e., Cleveland). Local composers represented this time include Fredrick Lissauer, Christopher Auerbach-Brown, Loris Chobanian, Robert Rollin, Monica Houghton and Katharine Louise O'Connell. It's a good lineup of some of the top local composers.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The new Margaret Brouwer recording

The latest audio CD containing work by Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer is an enjoyable CD called "CityMusic Cleveland Live," issued a few weeks ago by CityMusic Cleveland, an orchestra which plays free concerts in the Cleveland area.

The Brouwer work is her "Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra," about 24 minutes long, featuring the orchestra and soloist Michi Wiancko. When I heard the piece last year, I thought it was one of Brouwer's best, and still think so after listening to the CD several times. The interplay between percussion instruments and the solo violin is particularly interesting. Press reports on the concerto said that Brouwer was influenced by trip hop, and indeed there are moments in the second movement that sound a bit like Portishead. It's clear the orchestra, conductor and soloist worked hard to give Brouwer's work a good introduction.

Also on the CD are Stravinsky's "Danses Concertantes," which gets a warm, melodic reading that brings out the charm of the piece, and Mozart's 39th Symphony. The Mozart is one of my favorites, and I'm glad they did the 39th rather than the more familiar 40th or 41st, but the performance did not strike me as particularly crisp.

The CD is just $10. In Cleveland, it's available at CityMusic Cleveland concerts, at the Borders bookstore chain and probably some other locations; Barnes and Noble isn't bothering to carry it. It's available online from Amazon.

Michi Wiancko's thoughts on the concerto are here.

The CD doesn't say when the music was recorded, but it would have been during a series of concerts from March 28 through April 1 2007. My article about Brouwer and those concerts is here.