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Liza started young -- in the second grade. The Detroit Symphony visited her elementary school, and when the conductor asked if anyone in the audience wanted to try conducting, Liza was first off the mark! She raised her arms, grinned, and launched a downbeat. The orchestra played. She doesn't remember what, exactly, but it doesn't matter. She went home that day and told her parents she wanted to play the violin.

A week later, she had her very own violin, half-size. 'I still have that violin,' she says with a grin. 'It was too big for me, but that didn't make any difference. I joined a beginning string class, and here I am -- still playing violin. And viola.' Did she have any idea that she'd still be playing after all these years? 'Not by a long shot,' she responds. 'But I did know I'd be doing something with music.'

Being a section player in school orchestras provided lots of opportunities to study the various conductors who appeared. After graduation, Liza came to Cleveland and from there it was a fairly short path to founding her Contemporary Youth Orchestra -- the only orchestra in the world that is comprised of high school age musicians that plays mostly contemporary orchestra music on the very same program as rock and roll. Or blues. Or jazz.

Liza Grossman. Photo © 2006 Kelly Ferjutz
Liza Grossman. Photo © 2006 Kelly Ferjutz

I've heard several of these concerts, and as a confirmed classical music person with no knowledge whatsoever of rock, it's been an eye-opening experience. And ears, too, for that matter. I'm not a convert and don't expect to become one, but seeing these students devote such attention and energy to playing their kind of music -- as well as mine -- on the same program is just simply awesome. If the amount of energy expended on the Blossom stage last week could have been contained and re-marketed, the energy crisis would have taken a big hit!

In past years, the guest artists have been (among others) Graham Nash, Jon Anderson, Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo. This year, Liza approached the rock band STYX, hoping for one musician to come and appear with the CYO. Instead, the entire band came, all six of them. It's hard to say who had more fun: STYX or the CYO. You can read the band's reaction at their web-site:

I really didn't know what to expect from this concert, either, other than noise, of which there was plenty. To my surprise, a lot of it was very musical noise. Certainly, the energy as well as the commitment from everyone was impressive. It also came as a bit of a surprise to learn that many of today's rock musicians had classical training in their younger days. Otherwise STYX keyboardist Lawrence Gowan would never have been able to riff on Mozart the way he did in one virtuosic solo turn. Hmmm. I wonder how many times Mozart has been on a rock concert?

There were lots of special effects in addition to those provided by Mother Nature: an abundance of lightning, thunder, rain and more rain. From my seat mid-way in the Pavilion, I could easily see the fantastic technical effects: constantly changing colored lights from the grids on-stage as well as around the perimeter of the inner roof-line of the Pavilion; smoke clouds rising from the back of the stage, and the kaleidoscopic designs created by the lighting crew that spattered the side and rear walls of the stage. At one point bubbles morphed into a leopard print design. Very impressive.

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Copyright © 3 June 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland, USA


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