The Rapidian

Grand Rapids Symphony celebrates women with music composed by women, featuring a female trombone soloist

Former GRS principal trombonist Ava Ordman is featured in program of music by pioneering women in classical music on May 3
Ava Ordman, formerly principal trombonist of the Grand Rapids Symphony, returns as soloist on May 3.

Ava Ordman, formerly principal trombonist of the Grand Rapids Symphony, returns as soloist on May 3. /Jessica D. Cowles

Coming next to the Grand Rapids Symphony stage

STAR WARS, STAR TREK, MIDDLE EARTH AND MORE!

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 10-12

3 p.m. Sunday, May 13

DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW

  • Tickets for the Fox Motors Pops series start at $18 adults, $5 students.

 

CHOPIN AND BRAHMS: MARCELO AND HIS MOM

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 17-18

DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW

  • Tickets for the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical series start at $18 adults, $5 students.

Go online for a full schedule.

Call (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to GRSymphony.org for more.

St. Cecilia Music Center, founded by women in the 1880s, welcomes the GR Symphony for a concert titled 'Celebrating Women.'

St. Cecilia Music Center, founded by women in the 1880s, welcomes the GR Symphony for a concert titled 'Celebrating Women.' /Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Symphony for the final 2018-19 Great Eras Series concerts

Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Symphony for the final 2018-19 Great Eras Series concerts /Grand Rapids Symphony

Casual fans of classical music sometimes wonder about such terms as “concerto.” Generally speaking, it’s a piece for a featured soloist plus orchestra. If you want to drill down a little further, it’s a showpiece for a soloist to show off, backed by an orchestra.

Trombonist Ava Ordman joins the Grand Rapids Symphony to show what she can do with a concerto composed especially for her by David Biedenbender titled “Their Eyes Are Fireflies”

It’s a homecoming for Ordman, who formerly was principal trombonist of the Grand Rapids Symphony for 24 seasons from 1973 until 1997.

It’s also a concert highlighting women in music. The concert titled The 20th/21st Century Concert: Celebrating Women features music by women plus a woman as guest soloist.

Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Symphony in music that shattered glass ceilings, composed by pioneering women who broke new ground and blazed new trails in music.

The concert at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 3, in St. Cecilia Music Center features music by American composers Ruth Crawford Seeger and Joan Tower and by British composer Anna Clyne, three women whose careers spanned more than a century from the early 20th century to the present.

Ordman, who is a professor of music at Michigan State University, asked Biedenbender, a colleague at MSU, to write a challenging piece for her.

“It can’t be, you know, a piece of cake. There’s got to be difficult things in it,” Ordman said in an interview with Jamie Paisley of WKAR-FM in November 2018.

I said, ‘You just write me a great piece of music, and I’ll figure out how to play it,” said Ordman, who premiered the piece with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra last fall.

Biedenbender said the piece was inspired in part by life these days with his two young children, Izaac, age 5, and Declan, age 2.

“This particular piece, because I was thinking about the melodies and the more kind of emotional, more kind of a humanist perspective, I kind of thought of my sons immediately,” Biedenbender said in the interview with WKAR-FM.

The final concert of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2018-19 PwC Great Eras series, the program also is part of the orchestra’s efforts to highlight the work of contemporary composers as well as to draw attention to the work of overlooked composers. Next season, one of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Great Eras Series concerts will feature music by Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann in March 2020.

“The Grand Rapids Symphony is such a wonderful symphony, and we really do have something for everyone,” said Music Director Marcelo Lehninger about the concert.

Highlights of the evening concert will be given at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 3, as The 20th/21st Century Coffee Concert. Part of the Porter Hills Coffee Classic series, the one-hour program is held without intermission. Doors open at St. Cecilia Music Center  at 9 a.m. for complementary coffee and pastry.

Tickets for the evening Great Eras Series concert start at $26 adults, $5 students.  Tickets for the morning Porter Hills Coffee Classics concert start at $16 adults, $5 students. Tickets are available at the door or call I616) 454-9451 or go online to GRSymphony.org

Each of the three featured female composers shattered the glass ceiling in her own way.

In the first half of the 20th century, Ruth Crawford Seeger, a folk music specialist as well as a composer, became the first female composer in history to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1930. Though Seeger’s compositions included several modernist works that would inspire important composers throughout the 20th century, the Grand Rapids Symphony will perform two works by her, including “Rissolty Rossolty,” a fantasy for orchestra based on American folk tunes.

Joan Tower, who turned 80 last September, in 1990 became the first woman in history to win the Grawemeyer Award for composition, a prize worth $100,000 today. Tower’s composition “Made in America,” which uses snippets of “America the Beautiful,” won her the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition plus two more Grammys for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Classical Album for the recording made by the Nashville Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin. Grand Rapids Symphony will perform her work titled “Chamber Dance.”

Anna Clyne, a British-born composer, now based in the United States, is a winner of the 2010 Charles Ives Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2016 Hindemith Prize. Her double violin concerto, “Prince of Clouds,” was nominated for the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Grand Rapids Symphony will perform her piece titled “Within Her Arms.”

Ava Ordman, who became principal trombonist of the Grand Rapids Symphony in 1974, is the only woman to hold a principal or assistant principal chair in the orchestra’s brass section since the Grand Rapids Symphony began the transition to a fully professional orchestra in the early 1970s.

She has given the world premieres of several works including Steven Smith’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra with the Eugene Symphony Orchestra, and Libby Larsen’s “Mary Cassatt” with the Grand Rapids Symphony. Together with the Grand Rapids Symphony, Ordman recorded Donald Erb’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra for a CD released by Koss Classics in 1995.

Ordman has performed regularly with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra, with the Cabrillo Music Festival in California, with the Western Brass Quintet at Western Michigan University and with the American Classic Trombone Quartet.

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