Monday, November 21, 2005

CSO names Coleman composer-in-residence


Paavo with Charles Coleman after the World Premiere of "Streetscape", September 2001

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, November 21, 2005

The last time composer Charles Coleman came to Cincinnati was the day after 9-11.

The staff of the Cincinnati Symphony had been unable to contact him and was uncertain of his fate, since he lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center.

With all flights grounded, the 32-year-old New Yorker headed west by car, arriving safely for the world premiere of his "Streetscape" by music director Paavo Järvi and the CSO on Jarvi's inaugural concert on Sept. 14, 2001, at Music Hall.

Coleman will return to Cincinnati next season as composer-in-residence with the CSO. He will spend five weeks here as a participant in the "Music Alive" residency program sponsored by the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer (national service organization for composers).

During that time, he will compose a work for Järvi and the CSO, to be premiered during the 2006-07 season, work with the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, visit area schools and serve as an advocate for new music in the community.

"We knew we wanted to work together again in the near future. We just didn't know how we were going to do it," said Coleman, by phone from New York where he still lives "five blocks above where the Trade Center used to be."

The impetus to apply for the residency came from the CSO.

"Julie Eugenio (CSO manager of artistic planning) gave me a ring and said, 'What about this Music Alive thing? Do you have any scores and recordings you can lend me?' We decided to pursue it and it paid off. I am very excited about it," he said.

Coleman, 36, is one of seven composers selected by the ASOL and Meet the Composer for two to five-week residencies with American orchestras next season.

Although the precise timing of his visit is to be determined, it will have three phases spread through the season:

Theme and variations project with the CSYO.

CSO Young People's Concert and in-school visits.

CSO premiere.

The theme and variations project recalls CSO music director Eugene Goossens' 1945 "Jubilee" Variations. To celebrate the CSO's golden jubilee season, Goossens wrote a theme and submitted it to 10 composers, each of whom wrote variations (you can hear Aaron Copland's contribution performed by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops on their 1987 all-Copland disc for Telarc).

The Youth Orchestra led by CSO assistant conductor Eric Dudley will play and study "Jubilee" Variations. Orchestra members will be given a theme by Coleman and asked to write variations on it, after which the work will be performed.

During the second phase of his residency, Coleman will visit four of the CSO's "Sound Discoveries" partner schools, where he will speak to classes from grades 1-6 on composing music. He will participate in an onstage presentation as part of a CSO Young People's Concert for grades 4-6 at Music Hall, to include the U.S. premiere of Coleman's "The Lime Factory" (2003).

The third phase will consist of the world premiere and a demonstration to the CSO board of trustees, with participation by Järvi and members of the CSO, of a living composer's approach to creating musical textures.

During his visits, Coleman also will present master classes and be the guest speaker for "Classical Conversations" preceding CSO concerts.

The world premiere is still in the planning stages, he said, but will be "generally, a 15-minute work to be the opening piece on a concert."

"The Lime Factory" is "very percussive and energetic," a musical interpretation of a steel-making factory, inspired by a photograph of an abandoned lime factory at dusk.

Born in 1968 in New York City, Charles Farmer Coleman (civil rights leader James Farmer was his godfather) got his start singing in the Metropolitan Opera children's chorus. A kind of operatic child star, he sang Feodor (son of the czar) in Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" at the Met in 1982. He earned his master's degree in composition at the Manhattan School of Music, where he met Kristjan Järvi (Paavo Järvi's younger brother).

In 1997, he became composer-in-residence of the Absolute Ensemble, a jazz/rock/classical music ensemble founded by Kristjan Järvi in 1993.

Coleman's works have been performed on the ensemble's recordings, including "Absolution," nominated for a Grammy for "Best Small Ensemble Classical Recording" in 2001.

He also does orchestrations for Absolute. "Over the past year, we did a series of concerts called 'Absolute Zappa' in which we did about 20 songs, nearly half of which I orchestrated."

A continual frustration for composers is getting performances after the world premiere, he said, though "Streetscape" has been a happy exception.

"Paavo did it with the San Francisco Symphony (2002) and again in Cincinnati and in Japan (2003). But the big, definitive thing for me was that it got performed about a year ago in Latvia (by the Riga Festival Orchestra). That came out of nowhere.

"The great thing about that was it was not only a different orchestra, but a different conductor than the one who commissioned it. That the piece has a life beyond its initial world premiere - for a living composer to witness this is quite astonishing."

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