By Mike Telin
The Contemporary Youth Orchestra will present the first concert of its 21st season on Saturday, December 12 at 7:00 pm in Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University. “The orchestra is exceptionally strong this year and has a sense of maturity not just in their work ethic, which they have always had, but also in their technical ability,” CYO founder and Liza Grossman said during a telephone conversation. Grossman will lead her young musicians in Leonard Bernstein’s Mambo, Dee Jay Doc’s Trust-Belt City: Concerto for Turntable and Orchestra, and the centerpiece of Saturday’s program, Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony.
“I like Michael’s music very much and CYO has explored quite a bit of it, including movements from this symphony,” Grossman said, “but I wanted to wait for the right time to perform the entire symphony.”
Inspired by the Superman comics, Daugherty’s five-movement symphony was composed over five years, with each movement receiving separate commissions. The third and fourth movements — “MXYZPTLK” and “Oh, Lois!” — were commissioned and premiered by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. Other commissions for the work have included the Baltimore Symphony (“Lex”), the New Jersey Symphony (“Krypton”), and the Albany Symphony (“Red Cape Tango”).
The entire 41-minute Metropolis Symphony was premiered in January 1994 by the Baltimore Symphony under the direction of David Zinman. The Nashville Symphony’s recording of the work won in three categories at the 2011 Grammy Awards, including Best Classical Contemporary Composition.
“I don’t think the piece has ever been performed in its entirety in Cleveland,” Grossman pointed out. “The orchestra is having a lot of fun with it, and it makes them feel accomplished because it is difficult. They also like the idea that it’s depicting a story, and the fact that Michael uses contemporary language to describe what he wants. For example, in “Oh Lois!” he doesn’t mark presto on the page, but rather ‘faster than a speeding bullet.’ When you see that marking, all of a sudden the bars of sixteenth notes appear very differently, and that changes the way the orchestra approaches the music.”
Grossman said that it is not until the finale, “Red Cape Tango,” that listeners will feel the presence of Superman. “The movement begins with two solo horns — one onstage, one off. I believe those solos are quoting Bill Withers’s Ain’t No Sunshine, but in any case they’re obviously a love call to Lois that shows the relationship between the two of them. I also like the way Michael uses the Tango rhythm against the Dies irae chant that is present throughout the movement. I think for the people who know the Superman tale, the piece will make for an incredible journey. It certainly is for the players, and for me.” Read the entire article at ClevelandClassical.com.