I remember May of 1980 and the highly-anticipated release of The Empire Strikes Back. I had memorized the portion of Star Wars available on LP (that’s a long-playing, 33-inch record to the younglings reading), collected the trading cards, read the comics, and yes, collected and tested the toys. How would the saga continue? To say my eight-year-old self was chomping at the bit to experience this movie would be an understatement, and I was lucky to have parents who recognized and obliged my Star Wars obsession.
We piled into the crowded Showcase Cinemas in Erlanger, Kentucky, and after a few previews, the 20th Century Fox logo appeared on the screen with its traditional music fanfare. The sold-out house cheered. Then the words, “Star Wars,” burst onto the screen, accompanied by John Williams’ iconic score, and my eight-year-old self thought, “They put in the wrong movie. This is supposed to be The Empire Strikes Back.” We didn’t know all the movies would begin with “Star Wars” back in 1980. I was quickly reassured it was the right movie as the words “The Empire Strikes Back,” began to scroll.
We are now ten movies into the Star Wars saga and The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite. With distinct environments ranging from the ice planet of Hoth to the swamp on Dagobah to the Cloud City of Bespin, the movie-goer is treated to developing heroes and villains, witty banter, pulse-pounding action sequences, a startling family revelation, a cliffhanger of an ending, and special effects that hold up to this day. We are introduced for the first time to iconic characters like Yoda, Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, and ever so briefly, Emperor Palpatine. There’s so much to like in this movie.
A large chunk of the population has only experienced this movie on television screens, so the idea of experiencing it on a big screen with an audience is special. The opportunity to experience it on the big screen with John Williams’ amazing musical score performed live by the Cincinnati Pops is beyond exciting. I can’t wait to introduce my son to The Empire Strikes Back, and I am thrilled to have our friend Damon Gupton, who also grew up loving this film, on the podium for what I’m confident will be an unforgettable experience. The Force will be with you. Always.
I’ve never heard anyone express regret over attending too many live musical performances over the course of a lifetime. Concerts are among the most enriching and fulfilling experiences, and I have the good fortune to attend many on a regular basis. If pressed, I’m confident I could rattle off several favorites spanning a few decades. Why those performances? It may have been the state of mind I was in at the time, the company I was with, or even the energy of the audience, but more often than not, I simply witnessed an absolutely electrifying performance of music that resonated on an emotional level, leaving a forever impression. I bet many can relate to this.
When the CSO successfully engaged piano sensation and Musical America’s 2019 Artist of the Year Daniil Trifonov for concerts on May 3 and 4, I immediately began anticipating one of these forever impressions. At age 28, Trifonov has already left audiences and critics from around the world breathless, crediting the pianist’s artistry and staggering technique. Following a concert in the nation’s capital earlier this year, Washington Post critic Anne Midgette described him as the “hipster poet of the piano who caressed the keys until they yielded music that was like a sinuous being of its own.” The New York Times’ Anthony Tommasini called him the “young conqueror of the keyboard,” and former New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert said Trifonov was “unique and compelling—a once-in-a-generation phenomenon.”
For the CSO’s May 3 and 4 concerts, Cincinnati has an opportunity to experience this “once-in-a-generation phenomenon” performing Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto live with Louis Langrée on the podium. Not only is this a season highlight, but it is a concert program I believe Cincinnatians will be talking about for years to come.
For the 2018–19 season, we have looked to Composer-in-Residence Jonathan Bailey Holland for the inspiration-seeking part of the CSO’s mission “to seek and share inspiration,” and the impact of his residency has been meaningful.
Jonathan’s history with the CSO dates back to 2003 when the Orchestra commissioned his Halcyon Sun, written and premiered in honor of the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, with former Music Director Paavo Järvi conducting. A live recording of that piece was included on the CSO’s 2011 CD American Portraits, and a 2011 WTJU review calls the work “an amazing example of orchestral mastery... that shimmers as light through a prism.” Halcyon Sun opens the March 30–31 CSO concert program with Louis Langrée conducting.
Jonathan has composed four other works for the CSO through the years, the most recent of which, Ode, had its world premiere in November. Music critic Janelle Gelfand wrote, “Its outer movements were atmospheric and well-crafted. The composer effectively scored a wordless chorus, minimalist-like repetitions and glimmering effects in the mallet instruments. Recognizable fragments of themes from Beethoven’s Ninth glided by, as if in a mist of time. There were moments that were quite beautiful, even mystical.”
According to Jonathan, “There is a comfort and familiarity in getting to work with the Orchestra repeatedly, but also a feeling of honor at being asked to do another work for such a great orchestra,” and Louis wrote, “Jonathan’s music resonates with Cincinnati audiences and the musicians at the Orchestra.”
Jonathan also curated a chamber performance at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in January, and throughout this season he led the CSO’s Young Composers Workshops, during which five young area composers received coaching and the opportunity to write new chamber works. Those works were premiered by CSO musicians on March 29 in the Wilks Studio at Music Hall.
I had the privilege to host a community event with Jonathan at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County last fall and interview him for Episode 13 of the Fanfare Cincinnati Podcast, available to stream on a computer, tablet or smart phone near you.
Having Jonathan as the CSO Composer-in-Residence this season has affirmed and grown our relationship with an important American composer. While his residency is coming to an end, the impact and inspiration from our time together lives on.
In February the Orchestra recorded what will become the 96th Cincinnati Pops album. Unlike the previous two Pops American Originals recordings, which were captured with live audiences, Voyage is a studio recording. That doesn’t mean this massive orchestra was stuffed into a recording studio somewhere, but rather the stage at Music Hall’s Springer Auditorium became the studio.
Look for Voyage, which features great music inspired by space, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing and Ohioan Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” this summer. The title track of the album is the world premiere recording of a piece by celebrated Hollywood composer Michael Giacchino, co-commissioned by the Cincinnati Pops, the National Symphony and NASA. This will be John Morris Russell’s sixth recording as Conductor of the Pops.
The Orchestra is back in the studio during this month of March for another important studio recording, this time as the CSO. Music Director Louis Langrée conducts the world premiere recording of the unabridged version of a new critical edition of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The Orchestra gave the world premiere performance of the new critical edition in Paris during its 2017 European tour, and this month they present the world premiere of the unabridged version of the critical edition. For the first time on a recording, listeners will be able to hear this piece the way Gershwin originally intended.
This upcoming CSO recording, Louis’ third internationally released album with the CSO, also features Edgard Varèse’s Amériques and will be released around the world later this year. So we have an American composer inspired by Paris and a French composer inspired by America, performed by an American orchestra conducted by its French music director. Sounds pretty perfect.
Happy future listening!
Back in September, I wrote about the new Fanfare Cincinnati Podcast presented by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. This half-hour bi-monthly program emanating from Cincinnati Music Hall provides an opportunity for listeners to explore the world of music, the CSO, the Cincinnati Pops and the region’s vibrant cultural life, through conversations with performers, conductors and the people behind the scenes who make the music possible. I pledged then that we would present engaging conversations covering myriad topics—all centered on the music we love.
Through podcast episodes, we’ve unveiled the Orchestra’s audition process, explored the significance of Rite of Spring, considered the changing media landscape’s impact on music and the arts, discussed the latest Cincinnati Pops recording and the deep thinking behind it, taken deep dives into the composition process, highlighted the importance of Education and Community Engagement programs as well as audience engagement programs, and, of course, have come to know Orchestra musicians and conductors as artists and neighbors.
Now in February, with several episodes available and more than 5,000 listens, I’m happy to report that the podcast audience continues to grow. To everyone who has checked it out, thank you!
There’s much more to talk about, and as we prepare for the CSO’s 125th Anniversary Season, I want to hear your podcast ideas. What are you curious about? Who would you like to hear from? If you see me around the Grand Foyer before a concert or at intermission, please feel free to let me know. You can also send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscriptions for the Fanfare Cincinnati Podcast are available through the iTunes store, or you can simply stream by visiting the podcast page.