The Cayuga Chamber Orchestra’s (CCO) 2013-2014 season promises a new and exciting programming element, as each concert, all conducted by music director Lanfranco Marcelletti, will begin with the premiere of an original work, commissioned by and composed for the orchestra. The opening program this Saturday, September 28, also presents the second piano concerto by Chopin, Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 nicknamed “The Bear.” (Each program also includes a “big” well-known work.) The first Composers Showcase selection is “Soft and Salty Winds,” by Casey O’Neil. The concert in Ford Hall at Ithaca College starts at 8 p.m. and will be preceded by a pre-concert chat at 7:15 p.m.
Marcelletti, now starting his sixth season with the CCO, is very excited by this whole process. The idea is to promote new works for chamber orchestra and to offer a performance opportunity for rising composers. CCO required that the composition title be related to the Earth—this season’s theme for the orchestra series—have a ten-minute limit, and follow standard chamber orchestra instrumentation.
In response to this commission proposal, the orchestra received 17 submissions (a score and a recording for each) to be judged by the conductor. “I could choose only four works,” Marcelletti admitted with some regret, “but I loved eight or nine of them.” The candidates came from a wide variety of backgrounds and from several foreign countries besides the U.S., with a good number of women (two were selected). Although there is no stipend, the composers have a fully paid trip to Ithaca, the chance to hear their pieces played by a really good orchestra, and receive a CD of the performance. The four works were programmed according to the most suitable date for each composer. Everyone gains from the experience, Marcelletti added, the orchestra has new repertory to play, the composer’s work is publicly performed, the audience can listen to what is happening today. He wants to try this idea out in Mexico, where he leads a another orchestra. He sees a lot of potential in this initiative.
As for Casey O’Neil, he started out at age seven taking private trombone lessons, and ever since has played trombone and similar instruments. At one point he was the first alto sackbut in the Christ Church Consort of Rochester. At 22, he has written more than fifteen film scores, including some for full-length features.
When I asked him what was different about composing for a chamber orchestra versus for the movies, he said the important thing for him was creating a good melody, and the major difference was how you use that music dramatically. This composition is inspired by the sea, as calm, ever moving, still waiting to resolve. It started out as a little tune for a trombone quartet, which then was scored for chamber orchestra for a class at the Eastman School. Nothing came of either version. “I wanted to write something new for this competition,” he said. It would be a challenge for him, but then time ran out, and another piece he had written filled all the requirements. He had only to adapt the instrumentation. Now he admits it is “the piece I am the most proud of. It’s the first thing I knew I really liked.”
Following the showcase work is the cheerful Haydn Symphony in C major, one of six “Paris” symphonies dating from 1785–1786 commissioned by the large, chiefly amateur orchestra in Paris. The commission awarded the composer more money than he had ever earned for any group of six pieces. The “Bear” nickname, according to a Haydn expert, comes from the droning bass accompaniment in the finale. The concert concludes with Chopin’s Concerto in F minor, Op. 21, with Ithaca College professor Jennifer Hayghe as soloist. Marcelletti wanted to invite her back; she performed the Beethoven fourth concerto back in 2008, in his first concert as music director. It is the first time she has performed it, she told me: “I’ve played the first concerto all over the place, but I have always wanted to play this one, I just love the second movement, and I am always excited about doing something new.”
The remainder of the season promises more beautiful music, with Milhaud’s La création du monde, Honegger’s Pastoral d’été, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring on November 9. On March 29 comes a really big work, Die Schöpfung (Haydn’s Creation to be sung in German) with the Ithaca College Choir directed by Janet Galván. The last concert on May 10 includes performances by two Youth Concerto Competition winners (both violinists), Handel’s Water Music Suite no. 2, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) for a grand finale. And each will begin with the Composers Showcase selection.
The CCO chamber series held at the Unitarian Church on Sunday afternoons, features programs of diverse music played by nine musicians. All the concerts—on October 20, November 24, March 2, and April 27—comprise a duo, a trio, and a quartet. The annual holiday concert, Caroling by Candlelight, is on December 15 in the First Presbyterian Church.
Marcelletti feels that every year is “unique.” As personnel in the orchestra and on his musical advisory committee changes, “we always get different ideas.” He feels “very blessed, we are always able to work together.” How good that is for his audiences. Come meet the young composers and hear the music, both brand new and familiar.