by Mike Telin
Northeast Ohio audiences are in for a treat next week when the Cleveland Institute of Music plays host to celebrated composer Shulamit Ran for a three-day residency. On Tuesday, January 26 at 4:30 pm, the Pulitzer Prize-Winner will discuss her music in Studio 113. The event is free and open to the public. The following evening at 8:00 pm in Kulas Hall, guest conductor Steven Smith will lead the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra in a concert that will include Ran’s Legends and Violin Concerto featuring Laurie Smukler as soloist. The program will also include Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question.
“Shulamit is fantastic in every way,” Keith Fitch, who heads the Composition Department and holds the Vincent K. and Edith H. Smith Chair in Composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, said during a recent telephone conversation. “She’s had such a long and distinguished career as a composer, teacher, and advocate for new music. She’s so good with students, and she’s a great mentor and role model.” Ran recently retired from academia, having taught at the University of Chicago since 1973.
“I’ve always admired Shulamit’s music so much. Not only is it beautifully crafted, it’s also emotionally powerful, and so engaging. There’s this fearless quality to her music that I really love.”
Fitch recalled his first encounter with Ran back in the mid-1990s when she was composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony, as well as music advisor for the Chicago Civic Orchestra. “I had just moved to New York,” said Fitch, “and out of the blue I got a call from Shulamit saying that the Civic wanted to do a piece of mine on one of their programs. She told me they would play whichever piece I wanted them to. I’ve never had such carte blanche as a composer before or since,” he said with a chuckle.
During Wednesday’s orchestra concert the performance of Ran’s Legends will be dedicated to the late John Duffy, the founder of Meet the Composer. “That program was integral to Shulamit’s appointment as composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony, and she wrote the piece for the CSO at that time.”
Fitch said that the inclusion of Ran’s Violin Concerto on the program came about through a bit of serendipity. “Shulamit proposed some ideas, and then said that Laurie Smukler is playing her concerto and doing a brilliant job. I knew of Laurie when I was teaching in New York, but I didn’t know she was from Cleveland and studied with Margaret Randall at CIM Prep, or that she made her debut with The Cleveland Orchestra when she was fourteen. To add another pleasant surprise to the mix, her mother, Barbara Smukler, was a well-known Cleveland artist and there’s a gallery show at ARTneo that includes some of her work.”
Wednesday’s concert will be a sort of homecoming for conductor Steven Smith as well. Currently in his sixth season as music director of the Richmond Symphony in Virginia, Smith is a CIM graduate. He continues to serve as Music Director of the Grammy Award-Winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony, and from 1997 to 2003 he was Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra.
“Steve is a frequent visitor to CIM,” Fitch said. “He’s conducted the David Del Tredici and Bernard Rands birthday concerts. He works so well with the students, and he’s an excellent musician.”
Regarding the opening work on the program, Fitch said The Unanswered Question is a fabulous piece that will set up Shulamit Ran’s music very well. “Even though it was written in 1908, it’s one of those pieces that still sounds brand-new. It’s also a piece that the students probably have all studied at some point in music history, but they listen to a recording and that’s it. I would suspect that the vast majority of our students may never have heard the piece live, so they don’t understand how revolutionary it was at the time it was written, with three different musics going on simultaneously.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com January 19, 2016.
Click here for a printable copy of this article