Review: NEOSonicFest, Ed London Tribute with CCS & CYO at Waetjen Auditorium (Mar. 24)


by Daniel Hathaway

NEOSonicFest planned a big agenda for its fourth concert at CSU’s Waetjen Auditorium on Tuesday, March 24. The Cleveland Chamber Symphony brought works by five “Young and Emerging Composers” to life under music director Steven Smith; Liza Grossman and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra reprised Stefan Podell’s Concerto for Two Violas and Orchestra with Lynne Ramsey and Jeffrey Irvine; and the two orchestras played side-by-side under Smith’s direction in a performance of Bernard Rands’ London Serenade to honor the memory of CCS founder Edwin London.

Those five composers, who represented four different colleges or universities in the region, had ‘emerged’ through a competition. The prizes were performances of their works by a professional ensemble — priceless, as the credit card commercial would put it. Steven Smith invited each composer to come to the stage and say a bit about what the audience was about to hear.

J.M. Caffrey’s Thinking captured the wanderings of a fertile mind. The College of Wooster theory student and percussion major wrote especially skillfully for his own family of instruments, which kept Andrew Pongracz, CCS’s lone percussionist, busy throughout the piece. Bent pitches from flute and oboe over string chords and woozy wind meanderings alternated with lyrical passages. The piece ended with a gong.

Samuel Boateng born in Ghana and a graduate student at Kent State University, drew on an African children’s game for his Pi’ Lolo (a dance for marimba), which also gave Andrew Pongracz a lot to do, this time in the way of four-mallet work. Marimba was eventually joined by cellos, then strings, then woodwinds in this pleasantly hypnotic piece.

Aubrie Powell’s The Hermit is one of a series of pieces the Baldwin Wallace composition student wrote using the idea of Jungian archetypes (“Examples of a Hermit can be Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi from ‘Star Wars’ and Nietzcsche’s Zarathrustra,” she wrote in her program notes). Open fifths and harmonic gestures at the beginning were reminiscent of Copland. The work crested in a big climax, ending softly in the minor with a pizzicato.

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