The Cleveland Museum of Art's Performing Arts Series Offers Something for Everyone

Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9.
Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9. Photo by Stephanie Berger

For nearly all of its 100-year history, the Cleveland Museum of Art has presented music from around the world, and the museum continues that long-standing tradition this year with the annual Performing Arts Series that kicks off on Oct. 4 with the Chamber Music in the Galleries program. This year's series runs a wide gamut and showcases everything from 1920s jazz to music for the gamelan and kayagum to surrealist film scores. "We aim to present the greatest examples of the widest range of the most beautiful musical traditions to Cleveland audiences," says Tom Welsh, the museum's director of performing arts. "Every year is totally different because the artists who come through are new each time."

The CIM/CWRU Joint Music Program that launches the series on Oct. 4 features artists from the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University's early and baroque music programs. The musicians will present mixed programs of chamber music, and the concerts regularly feature instruments from the museum's keyboard collection. "We have a terrific relationship with them," says Welsh. "We present young artists performing chamber music in the galleries. It's very beautiful and simple in its elegance. We push music out into the galleries, and people love it. It's been a quiet success for us, so we want to keep it going." Those concerts take place in the museum's galleries on the first Wednesday of the month through May 2018.

Then, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, pianist Henry Butler brings his jazz combo Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9 to town. Butler and trumpeter Steven Bernstein first worked together in 1998 in the Kansas City All Stars. They reunited in 2011 for a concert in New York where they performed pieces by Bessie Smith and Jelly Roll Morton. "We're doing this as a great celebration of the museum's major exhibition in the fall, which is The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s," says Welsh. "You can't have a jazz exhibit without music. These are two great artists who are not only superb jazz musicians but historians of the field of jazz. They put together this band that springs from the music of the 1920s. They add their own irreverent twist to the music."

On Oct. 20, CMA pays tribute to composer Lou Harrison with Lou Harrison Centennial!, a program that includes Harrison's Concerto for Piano and Javanese Gamelan, featuring pianist Sarah Cahill. The program also includes a performance by Gamelan Galak Tika under the direction of Evan Ziporyn. "There's attention all over America for his centennial year," says Welsh. "He integrated non-Western traditions of Asia and Southeast Asia into what we think of as classical music and did it in a sophisticated way. He was a contemporary of John Cage and Henry Cowell and among the first wave of truly American composers who shined a light on traditions beyond the European classical tradition. You can't get enough of Lou Harrison's music in my opinion."

An Akron native, director Jim Jarmusch brings his experimental duo SQÜRL to town on Nov. 1.

Jarmusch, who plays electric guitar, and drummer Carter Logan describe the group as an "enthusiastically marginal rock band from New York City." Jarmusch and Logan started scoring music for film in 2009; you can hear them in Jarmusch's latest films Only Lovers Left Alive and Paterson. "Jim's film career speaks for itself, but he loves playing music, and I think this is really a passion project for him," says Welsh. "We'll enjoy another aspect from his creative mind." The program features scores by Jarmusch and Logan for four silent films by dada and surrealist artist Man Ray. Relying heavily on loops, synthesizers, and effected guitars, the semi-improvised scores emphasize the band's more experimental, ambient, and drone-like tendencies. Reto Thüring, curator of contemporary art, will host an onstage conversation with the duo after the performance.

In conjunction with the exhibition Chaekgeori: Pleasure of Possessions in Korean Painted Screens, kayagum virtuoso Ji Aeri will deliver an "intimate" concert of Korean music, both traditional and contemporary, on Nov. 5. The kayagum, a zither-like instrument with 12 strings, is related to the Japanese koto and the Chinese guzheng. "She will perform both contemporary and traditional music on her instrument," says Welsh. "[Chaekgeori] is a beautiful focused show on a particular Korean art form, and I was eager to include a companion concert." The performance takes place on the closing day of the Korean screens exhibition. 

Most recently the organist-in-residence at the Kitara Concert Hall in Sapporo, Japan, Davide Mariano has performed as organist, harpsichordist and pianist in prestigious venues in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. He performs on Jan. 14. "We intend to feature our organ each season," says Welsh. Mariano's Cleveland debut will feature works by Schumann, Widor and J. S. Bach. 

The classic children's book and Academy Award–nominated film Paddle to the Sea is the focus of a new project that "looks at our relationship to the bodies of water that connect our lives." On Feb. 11, the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion performs its new score for the film, which tells the story of a native Canadian boy who carves a wooden figure called Paddle-to-the-Sea. "They're a razor sharp and fast-rising new music ensemble," says Welsh. "The film is a quasi-documentary film. They stripped off the original score and re-did it. It's a beautiful program of film and live music. I saw them do rehearsals of it and it's very beautiful." The score features new music by composers such as Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman and the traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.

A second percussion ensemble, Mantra Percussion comes to the Transformer Station for a special performance on Feb. 23. Mantra Percussion has commissioned or premiered over 40 new works for percussion ensemble since it formed in 2009; it'll perform "Timber," a piece it co-commissioned with Bang on a Can's Michael Gordon. "The piece is written for these particular pieces of wood," says Welsh. "It's a post-minimalist piece. Audiences can move around them or sit in a chair. It's a gorgeous piece."

On March 4, Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble will play a program that will be announced closer to the date, and on March 11, there will be a CIM Organ Studio Recital with conservatory musicians who work with acclaimed organist Todd Wilson. They'll present an afternoon recital of works for solo organ on the museum's McMyler Memorial Organ. "This makes a nice companion piece with CIM. Oberlin's Contemporary Music Ensemble is devoted to the music of our time and both programs greatly expand the repertoire available to our audiences."

Wu Man will perform with Huayin Shadow Puppet Band on March 21. An internationally renowned pipa virtuoso, Wu Man will join the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band for a program of old-tune traditional music with shadow puppetry. "She was here a few years ago," says Welsh. "She's part of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. She's probably the most famous traditional Chinese musician playing the concert halls in the world. She uses her success to share the spotlight with lesser known artists of Chinese music like the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band. It's a rural musical troupe, and it's fantastically fun folkloric music with shadow puppets."

Founded in 1973 by director Peter Phillips, Tallis Scholars perform on April 13. Through their recordings and concert performances, they've become the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. "They're the best in Renaissance choral music." They'll play "War and Peace," a program commemorating those who lost their lives in the First World War that features works by Josquin, Guerrero, Pärt, Mouton, Lobo, Victoria, Tavener and Palestrina.

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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