By Daniel Hathaway
The Cleveland Chamber Symphony wrapped up its six-concert NEOSonicFest on Sunday evening in Gamble Auditorium at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory with the second part of its tribute to founder Edwin London. Continuing London’s tradition of orchestral readings of scores by “Young and Emerging Composers”, music director Stephen Smith and the ensemble brought the works of four composers to life in performances bracketed with scores by what might be called the Already Emerged: long-time CSU professor and CCS collaborator Howie Smith and 20th century insurance executive and musical iconoclast Charles Ives.
Each of the four composers — chosen after an earlier reading session — was invited to come to the stage and say a few words about their very different pieces.
Colin Kameny, who is majoring in music theory and mechanical engineering at Case and studying composition at CIM with Jeremy Allen, told the audience that his eight-minute work Allegheny Rain was inspired by a camping trip in Pennsylvania that turned into a downpour the moment he and his friends had picked a site. Kameny’s score was colorful, evocative and full of imaginative details that, further developed, could sustain a much longer piece.
BW’s Sean Ellis Hussey, who studies with Clint Needham, said that his Final Process for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano was a reworking of an earlier choral piece. Spare but clever in its use of color and instrumental effects, the piece easily held one’s attention for its six-minute duration. It ended wittily with a collective puff of air.
Malaysian composer Hong-Da Chin is pursuing a doctorate at Bowling Green and studying with Marilyn Shrude and Elainie Lillos. He took only four minutes to blend the three major ethnic groups in his native country into an agreeable mix in The Color of Harmony. Exotic sounds redolent of the Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cultures came together with beguiling naturalness.
CIM’s Andrew Stock described his Hymn-Fragment as a simple song and an offering to his hometown of St. Louis. A composition student of Keith Fitch, Stock also studies viola performance with Jeffrey Irvine — and obviously knows string orchestra writing from the inside. His complex, mildly dissonant chords created an alluring, six-minute study in texture and color.
According to the program, Howie Smith’s Epilogue from 2004 was to have featured the composer on saxophone, but when Steven Smith gave the downbeat, no soloist was to be seen. Eventually, after an atmospheric introduction, sax sounds mysteriously wafted onstage from behind the scenes, interweaving with the strings and rising to a climax before subsiding back into the original material. Written for CCS’s final season at CSU, Epilogue is nicely reminiscent of Copland’s Quiet City while retaining its own voice.
CCS’s new music festival ended with a piece written 103 years ago. Charles Ives’s busy and dissonant Tone Roads No. 1 for flute, clarinet, bassoon and strings, anticipated a number of twentieth-century compositional innovations. After playing it once through, Steven Smith repeated it, physically separating the ensemble into three groups, which gave greater profiles to the different textures in the four-minute piece. A nice way to tip the hat to one of the pioneers of “new music” in America and to bring the festival back full-circle to its roots.