CIM New Music Symposium and Concert to Take Place
CIM New Music: guest composer Shulamit Ran to be featured in symposium & orchestra concert.
Northeast Ohio audiences are in for a treat next week when the Cleveland Institute of Music plays host to celebrated composer Shulamit Ran for a three-day residency. On Tuesday, January 26 at 4:30 pm, the Pulitzer Prize-Winner will discuss her music in Studio 113. The event is free and open to the public. The following evening at 8:00 pm in Kulas Hall, guest conductor Steven Smith will lead the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra in a concert that will include Ran’s Legends and Violin Concerto featuring Laurie Smukler as soloist. The program will also include Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question.
“Shulamit is fantastic in every way,” Keith Fitch, who heads the Composition Department and holds the Vincent K. and Edith H. Smith Chair in Composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, said during a recent telephone conversation. “She’s had such a long and distinguished career as a composer, teacher, and advocate for new music. She’s so good with students, and she’s a great mentor and role model.” Ran recently retired from academia, having taught at the University of Chicago since 1973.
“I’ve always admired Shulamit’s music so much. Not only is it beautifully crafted, it’s also emotionally powerful, and so engaging. There’s this fearless quality to her music that I really love.”
Fitch recalled his first encounter with Ran back in the mid-1990s when she was composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony, as well as music advisor for the Chicago Civic Orchestra. “I had just moved to New York,” said Fitch, “and out of the blue I got a call from Shulamit saying that the Civic wanted to do a piece of mine on one of their programs. She told me they would play whichever piece I wanted them to. I’ve never had such carte blanche as a composer before or since,” he said with a chuckle.
During Wednesday’s orchestra concert the performance of Ran’s Legends will be dedicated to the late John Duffy, the founder of Meet the Composer. “That program was integral to Shulamit’s appointment as composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony, and she wrote the piece for the CSO at that time.”
Fitch said that the inclusion of Ran’s Violin Concerto on the program came about through a bit of serendipity. “Shulamit proposed some ideas, and then said that Laurie Smuckler is playing her concerto and doing a brilliant job. I knew of Laurie when I was teaching in New York, but I didn’t know she was from Cleveland and studied with Margaret Randall at CIM Prep, or that she made her debut with The Cleveland Orchestra when she was fourteen. To add another pleasant surprise to the mix, her mother, Barbara Smukler, was a well-known Cleveland artist and there’s a gallery show at ARTneo that includes some of her work.”
Wednesday’s concert will be a sort of homecoming for conductor Steven Smith as well. Currently in his sixth season as music director of the Richmond Symphony in Virginia, Smith is a CIM graduate. He continues to serve as Music Director of the Grammy Award-Winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony, and from 1997 to 2003 he was Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra.
“Steve is a frequent visitor to CIM,” Fitch said. “He’s conducted the David Del Tredici and Bernard Rands birthday concerts. He works so well with the students, and he’s an excellent musician.”
Regarding the opening work on the program, Fitch said The Unanswered Question is a fabulous piece that will set up Shulamit Ran’s music very well. “Even though it was written in 1908, it’s one of those pieces that still sounds brand-new. It’s also a piece that the students probably have all studied at some point in music history, but they listen to a recording and that’s it. I would suspect that the vast majority of our students may never have heard the piece live, so they don’t understand how revolutionary it was at the time it was written, with three different musics going on simultaneously.”
From the time she was eight years old, Shulamit Ran aspired to be one thing: a composer. In an interview with the Chicago Reader the Israeli-born Pulitzer Prize-Winner recalled that she began to write melodies at the encouragement of her piano teacher.
“My teacher sent some of those melodies to a local radio station,” she says, "and they ended up being performed on the radio by a children’s choir. It is a vivid recollection — I was eight at the time and away at summer camp; there we all were, the kids and myself, all sitting around a large radio listening to my music coming out of it. That was a revelation for me, because it was the first time that I had the sense my music could live outside of me. What I had made up now had its own, separate existence. It gave me such pleasure and it was a very special feeling, and I knew that I wanted to keep doing this. Although all kinds of other things have always interested me, I’ve never wanted to do anything else but compose ever since.”
Next week, the Cleveland Institute of Music will play host to the celebrated composer during a three-day residency. On Tuesday, January 26 at 4:30 pm, Ran will discuss her music in Studio 113. The following evening at 8:00 pm in Kulas Hall, guest conductor Steven Smith will lead the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra in a concert that will include Ran’s Legends and Violin Concerto featuring Laurie Smukler as soloist. The program will also include Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question. Both events are free and open to the public.
By the time Ran was nine years old, she was studying composition and piano with noted Israeli musicians and composers, including Alexander Boskovich and Paul Ben-Haim. At age fourteen, she moved to the United States to continue her studies as the recipient of scholarships from the Mannes College of Music and the America Israel Cultural Foundation. In 1973, at the age of 26, she joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where in the spring of 2015 she retired as the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music.
Ran may be leaving academia full time, but her schedule is as busy as ever. “I’ve done that for quite a few years and I loved it,” the very friendly Shulamit Ran said during a telephone conversation with ClevelandClassical.com. “The University of Chicago is extraordinary, and I will continue to love my colleagues, my students, and the culture of the place. It’s not a matter of leaving academe, but rather saying OK, I’m now going to reshuffle priorities and have a little more flexibility to do that which has always been the core: composing. But I look at my schedule and I say, ‘Where is my retirement? I’m so busy.’ There’s no such thing as retirement for creative artists, for the most part, because what we do is at the core of our existence. It gives meaning to our lives — but that’s OK because that’s the way it was intended to be, so it’s all good.”
Ran said the opportunity to join the faculty at the University of Chicago happened by chance. “At the time, I was living in New York. This was back in the time of LPs — there were no CDs or even cassette tapes. Around 1973, a composition of mine from back in 1969 came out on the other side of a recording of a work by George Rochberg. I don’t know whether it was his publisher or the record company — I don’t know who it was — but someone sent that LP to Ralph Shapey, who was on the faculty at the University of Chicago and was director of the Contemporary Chamber Players. But in any case, he flipped the LP over and listened to my work. By chance, there was a search going on at the department for a composer at the junior level, and Ralph apparently went to the department chair’s office, threw the LP on his table, and said, ‘That’s our composer.’”
In addition to serving on the faculty of a distinguished university, Ran said that having a new music ensemble at her disposal was one of the great draws of the position. “I had heard about the Contemporary Chamber Players (now known as Contempo) from various people, and I was aware of their reputation in the United States and in Europe. Although I had never been in Chicago and I did not know a whole lot about the University, I knew that CCP — as we called it back then — was quite special and very renowned. So it did play into my decision to come for the interview as well as the decision to accept the appointment. There’s no doubt in my mind that the presence of CCP was a major engine behind what has become a vibrant new music scene in Chicago. Now, it’s really a thriving place in terms of new music.”
During next Wednesday’s CIM Orchestra concert, the performance of Ran’s Legends will be dedicated to the late John Duffy, the founder of Meet the Composer, a program that was important to her appointment as composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony, who commissioned the work along with the University of Chicago. “The Symphony joined Meet the Composer at the beginning, and when Henry Fogel came into his position with the Orchestra, he brought in John Corigliano as composer in residence. Later he brought me in. That made a big difference in the whole new music scene in the city. So it’s been an evolution over time — although for a while, if you wanted to hear new music played at the highest level, there was only one place. That was the University of Chicago and the Contemporary Chamber Players.”
Wednesday’s orchestra program will feature Laurie Smukler, Julliard faculty member and one of the founders of the Mendelssohn String Quartet, in Ran’s Violin Concerto. Ran’s recalled first meeting the violinist in the 1980s when the Quartet approached her and commissioned her first string quartet. “We became close, but lost contact over the years just because of life circumstances like raising children and those things that make one triply busy. But we got back together in recent years when Laurie commissioned a piece from me for violin and cello which she premiered with Joel Krosnick.”
Smukler then decided that she wanted to learn Ran’s violin concerto which had been commissioned, premiered, and recorded by Ittai Shapira, who retained the exclusive rights to its performances for five years. But Smukler really wanted to learn it and so she did, eventually performing it with the Mannes Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall in February, 2014.
“Her performance of it was wonderful,” Ran said. “There’s no greater joy for a composer than to have a piece done by different performers — and they are both superb. It’s a very demanding concerto and wow, did she get inside it. I thought it would be terrific if Laurie could to come to Cleveland and play the concerto. Keith Fitch waved the magic wand and made it happen, and I’m delighted about it.”
Smukler’s appearance is especially appropriate because the violinist grew up in Cleveland and studied with Margaret Randall at the CIM Preparatory Department, making her debut with The Cleveland Orchestra at the age of 14.
While at CIM, Laurie Smukler will teach a master class on Tuesday, January 26 at 10:00 am. Shulamit Ran will also coach two of her works — one for solo flute and one for flute and piano — with CIM students. “I always love to do that sort of thing,” Ran said.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com January 19 & 20, 2016.