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by Jarrett Hoffman

A live gerbil as compositional material—it’s the most recent suggestion for a “secret musical ingredient” on the Iron Composer competition’s Facebook page, and contest director Joe Drew, for one, is open to it. “People say stuff, and they think it’s too crazy, but I could see a scenario where that would work,” said Drew over telephone as we talked about the upcoming 8th installment of Iron Composer, a project of Analog Arts. The competition will take place September 26 and will culminate in a free public concert at 8:00 that evening at the Great Lakes Science Center on Erieside Avenue in downtown Cleveland. Emceed by Mark Satola of WCLV, the concert will also be broadcast live on the station (104.9 FM) and on

If you’re not familiar with Iron Composer, the Iron Chef-inspired composing contest unveils an instrumentation and a secret ingredient in the morning, then gives five composers just five hours to craft compositions around those specifications. After receiving thirty minutes of rehearsal each, the pieces are performed that same night and judged based on a set of criteria including their use of the secret ingredient and their originality. This year’s winner will come away with $500 in cash as well as a $500 commission by Blue Water Chamber Orchestra for a new work to be performed during their 2014-15 season.

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by Daniel Hathaway

BW-H&G-Costumes“We started out knowing the story,” said stage director Benjamin Wayne Smith, but then we realized that there’s more there than we all thought — layers and layers. It functions on so many levels. You can bring your six-year-old and they’ll be enchanted with what they see from the naturalistic colors of the first two acts to the garish, bright candy colors of the third act. Plus there’s so much nuance in the music that it appeals both to the seasoned musician and the casual listener. It’s so tuneful you fall in love with it right away.”

Englebert Humperdinck’s operatic version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel can be played in many different ways, but Smith took his cue from the music in conceptualizing Baldwin Wallace’s production of the show, which opens in the John Patrick Theatre at the Kleist Center in Berea on Thursday evening, February 20 and runs through four performances, ending with a matinee on Sunday, February 23.

“The opera is just not as dark as the original story, especially in its portrayal of Hansel and Gretel’s parents. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Theofanidis---ChristopherLast week at Baldwin Wallace University, Christopher Theofanidis joined a distinguished list of composers — including such names as William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Witold Lutoslawski and Krzysztof Penderecki — whose music has been gathered into a week-long Focus Festival to be rehearsed, discussed and performed by BW students and faculty. Begun in 1984 by Loris Chobanian and Elinore Barber, the festival was revived this year by BW composer-in-residence Clint Needham, who chose Theofanidis as the person to celebrate.

The festival culminated in a Friday evening concert by student chamber ensembles, a Saturday evening concert by the Motet Choir, Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra and a Sunday afternoon concert by faculty chamber ensembles. I “attended” the Saturday concert via BW’s new streaming service — along with fifty-some fellow viewers — and heard the Sunday performance live.

Unlike some of the thornier composers in Focus Festival history, Christopher Theofanidis makes friends quite easily through his music — a remarkable trait because there’s nothing facile or consciously ingratiating about his musical style. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Theofanidis---ChristopherBaldwin Wallace University is in the middle of a busy week celebrating and performing the music of one of our century’s most popular composers. Christopher Theofanidis, whose best-known work, Rainbow Body, has been performed by more than a hundred symphony orchestras, is the subject of the University’s most recent “Focus Festival,” an immersive experience recently revived by its new composition professor Clint Needham, himself a BW graduate.

“It’s the first thing we talked about after I arrived,” Needham said in a phone conversation. “We hope to do a Focus Festival every two years.” How did BW arrive at its choice of composer this time? “Chris immediately came to mind. I’ve known his music for a long time and he mentored me with an Orpheus Chamber Music Commission. We wanted someone who could communicate and make new music engaging and interesting for undergraduates. Chris has taught at Juilliard, Peabody and Yale. It was almost a no-brainer.”

Theofanidis will find BW to be a hotbed of young composers. “I have twenty-one composition students!” Needham exclaimed. “We auditioned last year and I thought that half of the people we invited would accept, but they all came. That’s a good problem to have!” Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway & Mike Telin

STRAUSS-MichaelEven before the Labor Day weekend, many of Northeast Ohio’s universities, colleges and conservatories were already up and running. Because students have only just moved in, concerts at the beginning of the term usually feature faculty recitals and performances by visiting ensembles, and there are several of them scheduled for the early days of September.

The first faculty event at the Oberlin Conservatory this fall will feature violist Michael Strauss (left) and his colleagues Alexa Still, flute, and pianists Monique Duphil and James Howsmon in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, op. 147, Maurice Duruflé’s 1928 Prélude, Récitatif, et Variations for Flute, Viola, and Piano, Op. 3, and Paul Hindemith’s Viola Sonata, op. 11, no. 4, in a free concert in Kulas Recital Hall at the Oberlin Conservatory on Saturday, September 7 at 8.

The staff discussed who would perform the first recital of the semester”, Strauss told us by phone. “I said, yeah, I can do that. I’m sure that many of the faculty would have been fine with the slot, it’s just that no one had made the move.”

Now in his second year as associate professor of viola and chamber music, Strauss admits that opening with Shostakovich’s last work is a little risky. “It’s quite a dark piece and it is a big test in keeping your wits about you. I started looking at music that would fit and I thought of going heavy and then lightening up.” Read the rest of this entry »

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