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Energy and Commitment

A concert by Liza Grossman and
Cleveland's Contemporary Youth Orchestra,
reviewed by KELLY FERJUTZ


As the world well knows, Cleveland is a very musical city! We have from one end of the spectrum (The Cleveland Orchestra) to the other (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum) with all sort of things in between -- hip-hop, blues, jazz, whatever. One of the most frequently discussed topics about music these days is the future of classical music, symphony orchestras, opera, etc. Almost every week, the topic appears somewhere: radio, television, newspapers, magazines, the web. And nearly everyone involved has an opinion on what can be done about it.

But, here in Cleveland, someone is actually doing something about it! A gifted young musician, sometimes referred to as a 'classical hippie', took the advice of a noted composer/educator some fifteen years ago, and invested her then-life savings in a new concept. She founded and conducts a youth orchestra, not affiliated with any other musical entity, that plays music by classical composers -- as long as they lived into the 1900s -- plus current composers, and the occasional rock music as well, arranged for symphony orchestra.

Her vision in this attempt, was and is, extraordinary. Liza Grossman is from an artistic family, and grew up in Detroit. She attended Interlochen Arts Academy, studying violin and other subjects, while always aiming at a conducting career. After graduation, she came to Cleveland to study at Cleveland State University, where, a few years later, she met Bernard Rands, who told her, 'You have an ability to hear and teach this music. It is a gift and I think you should start a contemporary youth orchestra.'

Blossom Pavilion at night. Photo © Roger Mastroianni
Blossom Pavilion at night. Photo © Roger Mastroianni

The final concert of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra's eleventh season took place at Blossom Music Center on Thursday 25 May 2006, with special guest artists -- the rock band STYX. The band's music was orchestrated and performed by them plus this high-energy group of some 115 very talented and enthusiastic young musicians. To date, as the students graduate from high school and move on to the next stage in their lives, 100% of them have gone on to college. Many are studying music, as performers or composers, or both. Several of them have already had their works performed-by their colleagues of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.

In its first eleven years, the CYO has performed 39 world premières, all with the composer present. Some years ago, they gave the world première of the 'Doors Concerto' with Cleveland Orchestra violist (and CYO advisory board member) Mark Jackobs as soloist. (The work was later recorded by superstar violinist Nigel Kennedy.) This orchestra is not to be confused with its slightly older sibling in residence down the street at Severance Hall -- the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, which is this year celebrating its 20th season. However, many students are members of both orchestras.

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Copyright © 3 June 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland, USA


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