Columbus’ Weekend of World Premieres

ProMusica Chamber Orchestra Conductor and Founding Music Director, Timothy Russell, takes his final bow Sunday night at the Southern Theatre after 34 amazing years.(Photo: Nick George/Columbus Foundation)
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra Conductor and Founding Music Director, Timothy Russell, takes his final bow Sunday night at the Southern Theatre after 34 amazing years.(Photo: Nick George/Columbus Foundation)

Cow Town rules the arts again. Columbus saw two world premieres by world-class composers this past weekend, both written expressly for local ensembles.

Dreamsongs for Solo Cello and Orchestra by Pulitzer Prize winner Aaron Jay Kernis was written to celebrate Timothy Russell’s tenure with ProMusica. Russell co-founded ProMusica in 1978 and is retiring as Music Director. For 35 years, ProMusica has offered programs mixed with old friends and new discoveries. They went in to business especially to commission and perform new music.

About new music. My criteria for the success of a new work is, “Do I want to hear this again?” Sometimes, yes, sometimes no, sometimes I’m grabbing for the aspirin or worse.

Do I want to hear Dreamsongs again? Yes. I have no doubt this high voltage cello concerto will enter the repertoire. It offers plenty of flash for the soloist, guitar pick included. The writing for the orchestra has occasionally density-think of molasses, rich and luscious-and the wit of small groups playing musical tennis.

The success of Dreamsongs this weekend had a lot to do with the excellence of Russell’s performance with ProMusica.  And it certainly had a lot to do with a bespectacled young cellist called Joshua Roman.  He looked for all the world like an MIT cum laude, but make no mistake, the guy kicks musical butt. There was nothing he couldn’t do with the cello.  Nothing.

ProMusica’s concerts were preceded by a beautiful made filmed tribute to Timothy Russell. Our own Boyce Lancaster and Beverly Ervine offered tributes.

Over at the Columbus Symphony we heard magnificent performance of the Brahms Requiem. Who knew when this was programmed how sadly appropriate this music would be this week. Brahms doesn’t give us a thunderbolt hell fire liturgical mass for the dead.

The German Requiem is about comfort and solace. It’s magic worked in the throats of the splendid Columbus Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, with chorus director Ronald Jenkins and conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Everyone on stage understood how important these performances were this week.  If not a mighty roar, they provided a lovely blanket to comfort and encourage,  all including this chubby Bostonian.

Before the Brahms there was the world premiere of Of Songs and Singing by Stephen Paulus. The Columbus Symphony Chorus raised the money for this work in tribute of Jenkins’ 30 years as chorus music director. This was money well spent.

Paulus joined me for Friday’s pre-concert talk-and witty and charming he was. I first encountered his music in St. Louis with his opera The Postman Always Rings Twice. Remember Lana Turner? She wasn’t in the opera.

We didn’t Lana in the Ohio Theater either. The four sections of Songs and Singing use texts by Whitman, Shaeskspeare, Runi and Henry Heveningham. Paulus wanted the words to be clear and they were. I remarked later that this was music anyone could sing. I meant that as a high compliment. The writing is grateful for the voice, there’s no shouting at ether hand and this music really moves. The second part, Whisper Music is a capella so choruses will always have something to sing even if an orchestra is not available.

You’ll hear both of these works again. I wish they had been repeated in their first performances. Both were cheered to the walls, as were the conductors and ensembles who made them happen.

Only in Columbus, folks.

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