Review: Cleveland Chamber Symphony 10/7

The Cleveland Chamber Symphony's concert yesterday at Baldwin-Wallace was their usual mix of new pieces, modern repertoire, and 20th-century classics. It began with a commissioned work, In Memoriam David Lelchook: For the Victims of War, by Michael Leese. The program says that the commissioning body was the "Cleveland Chamber Symphony", but the notes say that it was "commissioned by Judith Lelchook in memory of her beloved brother...", so maybe the version in the program should have been, "commissioned by Judith Lelchook for the Cleveland Chamber Symphony." This sort of private patronage should be encouraged as much as possible. Ms. Lelchook was present to hear "her" piece and was acknowledged by the audience.

She got a lot of bang for her buck. Micahel has always written solidly professional music, but nothing that has gotten into me quite like this piece. The program notes were not encouraging..."Oh gawd, another anti-war piece with snare drum gunfire" (which, in the event, I missed), but the reality was something different. The thing which made the work special was the coexistence of lyricism and "wars and rumors of war", not alternating, but as material that was somehow both. This is a piece that could grow legs, especially with world events being what they are.

This was followed by the John Adams Chamber Symphony. It's not the first time the CCS has played this work, but the first time in the Steven Smith, post-Ed London era. I was not much taken with it last time I heard them play it, but it's a piece that grows on you with familiarity. I tend to prefer the serious Adams to the "playful ear" Adams (though the portentious can easily become pretentious) and this is definitely in the latter category (So is Century Rolls, but concertos are supposed to tickle the ear.) The piece is hard as hell to play. Special mention should be made of the violin work of Susan Britton, especially in the last-movement cadenza with tambourine (played by Andrew Pongracz; easily the most musical tambourine playing I have ever heard, from an implement which I generally consider a "musical instrument" only by courtesy.)

After intermission was the old classic, Atlas Eclipticalis by John Cage. I was happy that they did it; Cage must always be remembered, even if only for the same reason we remember 9/11. It was a bit odd to do an orchestral piece with only 7 musicians though; it gave the work a post-Webern feel which I don't believe was intended. I entered into the spirit of the experiment, and found that "tonality happens"; indeed, I even heard an antecedent-consequent phrase or two. The instrumental parts (or in the case of bassoonist Mark DeMio, parts of instruments) were of course expertly played. I'd rather have heard Morton Feldman, but hey, you take what you get.

The final piece, Big Band, was by Elizabeth Joan Kelly, a recent MM grad of CIM who was born in Slidell LA but is now resident in Tallahassee. It was performed on last year's "Young and emerging" concert, and the band liked it so well that they repeated it on a regular concert. It was a good call. Kelly has taken sonic objects which are recognizably jazz-derived and worked them in a totally non-jazz way. In this, there's a superficial resemblance to the music of Jeff Harrington. But where Harrington's usable past is in minimalism (he hates to hear that, but it's so), what I heard here was the ghost of Xenakis (!), particularly in the opening. The work had a fresh voice and did not outstay its welcome, and I predict a bright future for its composer.

Tom Jackson's review is here.


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Thanks for your thoughtful review of my work "In Memoriam David Lelchook: For the Victims of War." I am sorry the program notes conveyed a sense that it is an anti-war piece, because it is not. In my press release I very clearly state: "The music Michael Leese wrote reflects on the perspective of the victims of war, not on the reasons for war, or any ideology concerning war."

See the release here:

I really do not see any need for protesting war, because it is often inevitable and sometimes even necessary....

Michael Leese


Posted by: Jeffrey Quick
Posted on: November 9, 2007 08:27 AM

Thanks for the clarification, Michael. Program notes are the most damnedable things to write. My own take is that "less is more"and that they might as well be entertainment in themselves as explanation of musical processes that should be obvious. In this case, you had David's story to tell, and a certain amount about the general trajectory of the piece, so you almost HAD to go there. Anyway, damnfine piece.

Your take on war is pretty healthy, I think. It's a lot like death in general: unavoidable and sometimes necessary, but I'm certainly not going to praise it. And while I might find it personally necessary to write anti-death music, that won't add a second to anyone's life.

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