by Mike Telin
“One day my husband put an article on my desk about the plight of homeless children in New York City,” Eugenia Strauss, executive director of CityMusic Cleveland recalled during a recent telephone conversation. “I read the article and was astonished by the facts, so I began to make some telephone calls to find out what the situation is here in Cleveland.” What Strauss learned from those telephone calls became the seed that grew into CityMusic’s most recent project devoted to heightening community awareness of a social issue.
On Thursday, May 28 and Friday, May 29 at 8:00 pm in Masonic Auditorium Performing Arts Center, CityMusic Cleveland, under the direction of Avner Dorman, will present Wishes and Dreams, a Homeless Children Project. The concert will feature the Grammy- and Tony Award-Winning singer Heather Headley (pictured above). The program will also include Dorman’s Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! featuring percussionists Luke Rinderknecht and Haruka Fuji.
Past CityMusic social awareness projects have addressed the issues of genocide and bullying. Last season’s Journeys of Hope highlighted the area’s refugee population. Strauss said that although she is aware of the immense problem of homelessness, educating herself further about the issue was an eye-opener. “According to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, there are over four thousand homeless children in the City,” Strauss pointed out. “Many years ago the District created Project Act, which is in charge of making sure the children can get from the shelters, or wherever they are, to school and have a roof over their heads and medical care.”
In addition to the concert, other project activities will include a talk by Marian Wright Edleman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, titled Ending Child Poverty Now at the City Club on Friday, May 22. On Thursday, May 28 from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm, CityMusic, in partnership with Project ACT and Bellefaire JCB, will hold a “Super Conference on Homeless Children and Youth” at Masonic Auditorium. (Information about speakers, topics and registration appears at the end of this article)
Strauss admitted that next week’s concert is a bit out of the ordinary for CityMusic, but their task for the project was to create a concert that would attract a diverse audience, and they are certain that a singer like Heather Headley is just the artist to do that. “Heather has a beautiful voice and has been incredibly nice and easy to work with,” Strauss commented. “She completely understood the mission of the project and has been very thoughtful about choosing her songs.”
Some songs that will be included on Headley’s playlist will be Home (Michael Buble); I will always love you (Dolly Parton); One last cry (Brian McKnight); Over the Rainbow (Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg); Superwoman (Karyn White) and I wish (Stevie Wonder).
“This is a very big project,” Strauss said, “but luckily I have a tremendous chairperson in Audra Zarlenga.”
Once the CityMusic artistic team had settled on the details for the concert’s second half, they needed to decide on what the first half would entail. “We had a few ideas about that,” said Avner Dorman, music director of CityMusic. “It quickly became clear to us that the first half needed to be something that would have a broad appeal, and maximize the work that everyone has put into the project. That’s why I suggested Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! It’s been performed many times at concerts and summer festivals, and it’s a piece that speaks to a broad audience.”
Dorman said that Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! had an interesting genesis dating back to 2000 while he was still a student at the Academy in Tel Aviv. “Tomer Yariv and Adi Morag, who formed the percussion duo PercaDu, were also students at the Academy and they wanted me to write a piece for them.”
At that time Dorman said he had very little interest in writing music for percussion, but he did begin to do so in earnest. “Their practice room was right across the hall from the computer studio, were I essentially lived, and they were there all the time too, so I would write these little snippets of ideas and we’d try them out. At one point, I had the idea of using some Indian Ragas and rhythm cycles on the marimba, and it did produce an interesting sound. That idea turned into an eight-minute piece, which became very popular. They played it a lot, won a competition with it, and took it on tours.”
The opportunity for Dorman to turn the piece into a full-fledged concerto came after conductor Zubin Mehta saw PercaDu perform on a late night television show. “He phoned the Israel Philharmonic offices to tell them he wanted to work with the duo. When they went to audition for him, the first thing they played was my piece. Mehta said that he wanted to do a concert with them and that my piece needed to be part of it. So the Israel Philharmonic put together a commission and I turned it into a concerto. They premiered it in 2006.”
The idea for the concerto’s title came about during a conversation that Dorman had with PercaDu. “We were discussing the feeling of the first movement, and we came up with the idea of spices, perfumes and toxins. Most of the time I choose a title after I write a piece, but in this case having the title served as a source of inspiration — to know that the second movement was going to be about how perfumes work. The same is true for toxins.”
Dorman described the process of writing the concerto as collaborative. “I think working in collaboration helped to make it very percussion-centric. Percussionists often tell me that the piece feels like a percussionist wrote it, but essentially it was PercaDu who taught me how to write for percussion.
“Writing for percussion is very different from writing for other Western classical instruments. There are percussion instruments that are not pitched, and those that are pitched, but those pitches behave very differently from each other. Even with instruments like the marimba that are close to the keyboard, you have to understand that the keys physically get bigger as the notes get lower and smaller as it gets higher. On a piano the keys are the same width from low to high. On a marimba they range from really wide to really narrow, and if you’re using two mallets in each hand, the player will have to be moving them constantly. When you’re writing for a drum set, you need to know how far the snare is from the tom. And you need to know where all the instruments will be physically placed, so you have to figure out how the players will walk between the instruments and calculate the time it will take for them to get from one place to another.”
To this day, Dorman is still surprised by how popular the piece has become, and that popularity has demanded that he re-orchestrate it on several occasions. “The version we’re playing is reduced from the original large orchestra version. I did it in 2012 for the Salzburg Camerata who wanted to take it on tour, so the piece now has an original version, the reduced version, and recently I made a version for wind symphony. I once spoke with the film director William Friedkin, who made The Exorcist and French Connection, and he told me that some films are just blessed. I think that is true of this piece, it’s just blessed. There are so many things about it are just out of my control. People like it, the title works, and it has a great story behind it. I’m lucky because I do get to hear it a lot, but this will be the first time I will get to conduct it, and that’s very exciting.” (Read Avner Dorman’s composer notes here)
“It’s been a lot of work to put this multi-layered project together,” Eugenia Strauss said, “but we’ve learned a lot, and I think audiences will learn a lot. We cannot fix the problem, but what we can do as an orchestra is to pull all of the resources together and help people to become totally aware of the situation. Maybe that will spark something good.”
Super Conference on Homeless Children and Youth
Including speakers such as:
Susannah Wayland, Ohio Department of Education, Coordinator for Homeless Children and Yout
Matthew Bennett, Chief innovation Officer, Coldspring Center for Social and Health Innovation
Karen McHenry, Bellfaire JCB Homeless Youth Programs Director
Anne de Mare, award-winning director and her homeless youth movie The Homestretch
Leslie Perkul Strnisha, Vice President, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland
Dr. Cynthia “Mamma J” Johnson, Educator and National Speaker: You’ve Got The Power!
Registration: at www.clevelandmasonicauditorium.com or call (216) 881-6350
* Conference participants receive a 10% discount to evening concerts with Heather Headley
Published on ClevelandClassical.com May 20, 2015.
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