by Mike Telin
“Creating an ensemble dedicated to the performance of music for large string ensemble is an idea that has been circulating in my thoughts for some time,” conductor, cellist, and viola da gambist David B. Ellis said during a recent telephone conversation.
On Thursday, October 8 at 7:30 pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, Ellis will realize his dream when he leads the newly formed Earth and Air: String Orchestra in a concert entitled Prague Serenades. The program will include Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 22 and Josef Suk’s Serenade.
In case you’re wondering about the ensemble’s name, it was inspired by the James Joyce poem, Strings in the Earth and Air. “I remembered taking voice lessons in high school and singing some Barber songs,” Ellis said. “Although I never worked on his setting, I remembered the poem, and when I went back and read it, everything clicked. It was a wonderful coincidence that the poem reflected exactly the diversity of sounds that I was hoping to get from the group. And it’s Joyce, so it’s beautifully worded as well.”
Ellis said there were a lot of factors that led him to create an ensemble dedicated to the exploration and performance of music for large string groups that will specialize in music from the 19th to the 21st Centuries. “A professional string ensemble like this doesn’t exist in the area, which means there’s a lot of wonderful repertoire that is not getting performed around Cleveland all that often. It’s understandable why music for string ensemble doesn’t get programmed a lot, whether it’s a professional or student orchestra, because you need to make sure the winds, brass and percussion have something to play. But in a way that is a shame, because a lot of string orchestra pieces are not being touched, and there are a lot of hidden gems out there.”
At Thursday’s concert Ellis will lead an ensemble of sixteen players, all of whom live in the area. “To a degree, the idea behind Earth and Air is the repertoire, but I also wanted to create a group that would be Cleveland-based. We have so many very talented string players here that it made sense to form this kind of ensemble.”
Regarding the program for the ensemble’s debut concert, Ellis said that the two works complement each other perfectly. “The two pieces are so similar, even though they were written twenty years apart. Suk was a student of Dvořák, and he wrote the Serenade at request of his teacher. In some ways, Suk carbon-copied from Dvořák, and if you put the two scores side by side there are places where they’re very much alike. But at the same time there are places in the Suk where you expect Billie Holiday to show up. There are early — or what would later become — jazz chords, so there are a lot of early twentieth century influences coming through. Yet even though the two pieces are similar, there are enough varied qualities in them that you do feel like you are taking a journey through Czech music.”
For the time being, Ellis said his plans are to keep the organization small. Earth and Air is currently operating under the fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas, and a number of people are assisting with behind-the-scenes needs like creating a website. The organization does plan to gradually expand its scope of activities with an eye to becoming education-based.
Future performances by Earth and Air: String Orchestra include: John Luther Adams’s In the White Silence on Friday, January 29, 2016, and a program titled de las Americas On Friday April 8, 2016. Both concerts begin at 7:30 pm and will be held in Tucker Hall at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com October 7, 2015.
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