Composers Inspired By Cleveland Museum Of Art

Composer Aleksandra Vrebalov works with trumpeter, Daniel Gelman, on new music inspired by the Cleveland Museum of Art [ideastream]
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Six international composers are making music inspired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Two of their musical compositions are influenced by CMA's architecture both inside and out.

Once the music is written, the works are performed at the museum.

The composers hail from countries including Turkey, Serbia and Japan and were commissioned to create new works with the Cleveland Museum of Art serving as muse.

Cleveland Chamber Choir's Scott McPherson, Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and the Cleveland Museum of Art's Tom Welsh discuss rehearsal at CMA [ideastream]

It's the brainchild of the museum's director of performing arts, Tom Welsh.

"We're in a very unique position at the art museum to be a tremendous platform or area for churning up ideas and inspiration. So what if we have composers in and say, with very few or no restrictions: 'This is all here for you, what comes from this?'" Welsh said.

In 2019, one of those performers, Turkey's Cenk Ergün, premiered his work at CMA.

Turkish composer, Cenk Ergün [ideastream]

Ergün took a non-traditional approach by having his composition performed in the space that inspired him - the three-story high, glass-enclosed atrium.

"I had visited the museum and had been blown away by the space. And when I knew I had the chance I came and one of the days I'll never forget... I had some free time and I just sat here and listened and observed, and I really fell in love with the space even more," Ergün said.

That day Ergün focused his attention on the distant corners of the atrium noticing some people sitting on a far bench.

Cenk Ergün listens to his piece "Formare" performed at the Cleveland Museum of Art [ideastream]

"I realized I could not understand quiet dialogues happening in the distant corners, but I could hear them. I could hear every little sound that was happening in every little corner of the atrium. That was the moment when I was like, I can comfortably put any kind of instrument here without amplification and make something special happen with sounds appearing from different corners of the room," he said.

The Cleveland Chamber Choir's Kira McGirr sings for Cenk Ergün's "Formare" at the Cleveland Museum of Art [ideastream]

Ergun likes to compose for the human voice because of its flexibility in creating different tones. For this piece he decided to pair voices with an instrument that's also very flexible.

"A trombone has a slide that can get tuned to any note imaginable. Same with the voice. So I knew I wanted voices and trombones," Ergün said.

Trombonist Lee Allen performs Cenk Ergün's "Formare" at the Cleveland Museum of Art [ideastream]

Last May, the concert took place with local vocalists, trombone players and harpsichordists scattered around the atrium.

Harpsichordist Qin Ying Tan performs Cenk Ergün's "Formare" at the Cleveland Museum of Art [ideastream]

"The point of each performer having these little repeated melodic fragments is when they all come together they form one sort of giant texture that's sustained," Ergün said.

"There's no story, there's no narrative, there's no message. It's just sound, a thing made of sound," he said.

Audience members listening to Cenk Ergün's "Formare" in the Cleveland Museum of Art's atrium [ideastream]

Next in the series is a work that's currently being written by Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov.

She too is inspired by the building itself. However, for her, it's more than just the atrium.

Composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and Cleveland Chamber Choir's Scott McPherson rehearse Vrebalov's new work inside CMA atrium [ideastream]

"First of all the collection is amazing and everything is inspiring. The two buildings are really interesting because we have the old one and the new one. So that sets a dynamic that opens questions about ... if there is such freedom do I choose a path to do a concert piece of music or do I actually want to respond to the architecture and the space that's so beautiful," Vrebalov said.

Scott McPherson rehearses Aleksandra Vrebalov's piece with members of the Cleveland Chamber Choir inside CMA Atrium [ideastream]

Also excited by CMA's collection of Byzantine art, Vrebalov will incorporate traditional Byzantine chants to be performed by Serbian monks next spring.

"I just thought having the original Byzantine chant with somebody from that community doing it in the gallery space as the kernel of the whole event would be just an amazing thing to see," Vrebalov said.

Aleksandra Vrebalov and Tom Welsh discuss Byzantine "Icon of the Mother of God and Infant Christ" at the Cleveland Museum of Art [ideastream]

The monks will join dozens of local singers in the performance that will begin in the museum's old building before making their way to the atrium.

Last October, Vrebalov tested her musical ideas in a workshop at the museum.

"There is no melody. It's basically just human breath converted into one pitch that's being carried by strangers. So I'm hoping that there will be a sense of togetherness and care and listening," she said.

Aleksandra Vrebalov works with trumpeter, Luke Hamilton, during rehearsal in CMA's armor court [ideastream]

"Also at the same time there will be four trumpets and two organs in other parts of the building. The sound will be coming from all over the place. So, as we move through the galleries, there will always be something else to pay attention to," she said.

Aleksandra Vrebalov debuts her piece at the Cleveland Museum of Art on March 27.

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