History of CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra
By Donald Rosenberg
CityMusic Cleveland has carved a distinctive place in the cultural life of Northeast Ohio since its founding in 2004. Volunteers created the professional chamber orchestra to present free concerts in neighborhoods where audience members who may have no other access to classical music. The organization has established a fresh orchestral paradigm by forging relationships, fostering community involvement in the arts, and offering programs full of artistic adventure. In its first decade, CityMusic has explored a variety of social issues through intergenerational projects. The first, in 2011, addressed bullying with a commissioned work for narrator and chamber orchestra, Margaret Brouwer's Daniel and Snakeman. A year later, the Holocaust was the subject of a CityMusic program about genocide and oppression that included Hans Krasa’s children’s opera Brundibar, which received its initial performances at the Nazi internment camp Theresienstadt (Terezin) in Czechoslovakia in 1943 and 1944. One of the youngsters in the original casts was Czech-born Ela Stein Weissberger, who since has attended hundreds of performances of the work worldwide, including the CityMusic concerts. The plight of Cleveland refugees was the focus of last year’s project, which presented another commissioned work, Dan Visconti’s Roots to Branches, a percussion concerto. “Wishes and Dreams,” this year’s intergenerational project, focuses on Cleveland’s homeless children with performances of music director Avner Dorman’s percussion concerto Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! and a selection of songs featuring Broadway and Hollywood star Heather Headley.
Along with audience development, CityMusic is committed to teaching young people about the joys of music. Its education program, offered in the Cleveland neighborhood of Slavic Village, is modeled after El Sistema, the visionary Venezuelan music-education that has provided instrumental training for hundreds of thousands of children from poor neighborhoods.
CityMusic has commissioned several works in addition to the Brouwer and Visconti pieces created for the intergenerational projects. Brouwer composed her Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra for the ensemble and soloist Michi Wiancko in 2007. The Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis wrote Redemption: Book I for the orchestra and the Pacifica Quartet, who premiered the score in 2009 under guest conductor David Alan Miller. A year later, CityMusic made its New York debut at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in “A Celebration of America’s Hellenic Community,” a benefit program of music by Hatzis featuring the renowned Greek pop singer George Dalaras.
Since its founding in 2004, the ensemble has performed under two music directors, James Gaffigan and Avner Dorman, and many guest conductors, including David Alan Miller, Joel Smirnoff, and Joshua Weilerstein. Its roster of guest soloists and ensembles has been stellar. Here’s a sampling: violinists Gil Shaham, Jennifer Koh, Kyung Sun Lee, Rachel Barton Pine, and Adele Anthony; cellists Edward Aaron and Jan Vogler; flutist Heidi Kushious; clarinetists Franklin Cohen and Daniel Gilbert; and saxophonist Timothy McAllister.
CityMusic has released four compact discs. One features Brouwer’s Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra paired with Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 under Gaffigan, who also conducts two other recordings of diverse fare. Smirnoff leads a recording devoted to music of Mozart. The discs are available at www.citymusiccleveland.org/Recordings.