Cleveland: Grads and Scads of New Music

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Zachary M. Lewis
Photo by Nowell York

They most likely weren’t there for the contemporary music per se but that’s exactly what the local parents and relatives of musically inclined teenagers got when they attended the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony’s year-end concerts earlier this month.

Between two concerts, the two large groups that comprise the area’s premiere youth wind band ensemble managed to present eight pieces of music by contemporary American composers at Severance Hall.

Imagine the mass exodus that would ensue were their professional adult counterparts to do something similar. This was a ticketed affair, too.

CYWS Music Director and co-founder Gary Ciepluch, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, led a few of the performances. More often, though, he lent the baton to one of five variably capable assistant or graduate assistant conductors. A number of guest soloists also took their places in the program where necessary.

Ciepluch founded the CYWS in 1989 with sponsorship from CWRU and the Cleveland Institute of Music. A second group, CYWS II, branched off in 1995. The two ensembles, together totaling some 250 musicians, meet for rehearsal every Saturday from mid-September through May.

These being student players, the performances May 9 and 10 were not without their flaws, but to enumerate errors would be beside the point that these were not your average band concerts.

The events also served as occasions to honor the symphony’s graduating high school seniors, but even here, contemporary music was an integral part of the proceedings. Standard repertoire by Dvorak, Saint-Saëns, and Holst got their turns, but they were the exceptions, not the rule.

Instead of the ubiquitous “Pomp and Circumstance,” Lee University wind ensemble director David Holsinger’s To Tame the Perilous Skies was the homage to the first batch of graduates. Alfred Reed’s El Camino Real: A Latin Fantasy, a Flamenco-inflected 1984 commission by the United States Air Force Band, serenaded the second.

Both concerts opened with new music as well.

Ciepluch kicked things off the first night with a soaring, fast-paced workout for saxophone and percussion called Ride by the Pittsburgh-area teacher and composer Samuel Hazo. Melissa Lichtler, conductor of the CYWS II, began her concert with a movement called “To the Summit!” from a suite titled Strive for the Highest by the Florida-based composer Robert W. Smith.

James Barnes, a professor of theory and composition at the University of Kansas, was doubly represented on the program, first by the “Jubilation” movement from his Fifth Symphony (Phoenix) Op. 11, then by Centennial Celebration Overture on the second concert.

“Jubilation,” performed by the CYWS I, was the more interesting of the two: a brisk, syncopated perpetuum mobile that had six guest trumpeters trading low, elongated melodies from their antiphonal positions on either side of the stage.

Student trumpet players in the CYWS II got their moment in the spotlight in The Dream Chasers, a sparkling overture-like piece by Jared Spears, an emeritus professor of music at Arkansas State University.

James Hirt, a composer and teacher at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, was present to hear the CYWS II perform his Baroque Celebration, a four-movement suite of stylized material. The players seemed to have the most affinity for its slow middle section, a mournful arioso.

No doubt the musicians were grateful to have Hirt, a real live composer, in the audience, but his attendance will yield the most fruit if he spreads the word to his composer colleagues that apparently there’s a demand for new symphonic wind music in Cleveland.

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Zachary Lewis is a freelance arts journalist in Cleveland, Ohio. He covers music primarily but also dance, art, and theater. He writes regularly for the Plain Dealer, Cleveland Scene, Angle, Dance Magazine, and Time Out Chicago. Lewis studied piano performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music and holds degrees in English and Journalism from Ohio University and Case Western Reserve University, where he will conduct a Presidential Fellowship in arts criticism in the fall of 2006.