CSO's One City, One Symphony concerts explore theme of home through music

Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 25, 2016

CINCINNATI -- Here’s a recipe for home this holiday weekend: Take equal parts conversation, food and music, and throw in a dose of family and friends.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra offers another spin on this recipe, pairing these elements with its fifth annual One City, One Symphony (OCOS) project, which will culminate in performances Friday and Saturday at the Taft Theatre. The community-wide project, which seeks to bring people together through music, this year added another facet with Break Bread + Listen, a series of conversations spurred by the music on the OCOS program.

“You really can connect with people one on one, and that’s the big thing about Break Bread,” said Kathryne Gardette, the facilitator and local civic advocacy and engagement professional that the CSO tapped to lead the conversations.

The series unfolded over the weeks prior to One City, One Symphony in different neighborhoods around the city, including Madisonville, Price Hill, Avondale, Walnut Hills and Covington. Each event featured CSO musicians performing “The Promise of Living,” an excerpt from Aaron Copland’s 1954 opera “The Tender Land,” followed by dinner and discussion.

“[Eating] puts people really at ease and you can have conversations because all of your senses are engaged at that point,” said Gardette.

The music helps, too. “The Promise of Living” is perhaps the best known part of Copland’s opera; it’s an anthem of harvest and gratitude that is especially resonant at Thanksgiving. CSO principal bass Owen Lee and violinist Stacey Woolley each performed “The Promise of Living” on their respective instruments at different Break Bread + Listen sessions.

“Every audience has been moved because it is so unique to hear that instrument play all those tones and notes simultaneously,” said Gardette.

While each Break Bread + Listen event was unified by the theme of home, Gardette said that no two communities’ experiences were exactly alike. Sometimes attendees didn’t even get through all of the questions she prepared to guide the evening.

“There is similarity and yet such diversity in each community and how that unfolded for them,” she said. “The emotion, the feelings -- you could see the joy that came from every person who would share, but they were all different.”

That experience is similar to the concert experience on the whole, said Louis Langrée, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s music director.

“I think this program will speak to each audience member in a particular way specific to his or her own experience,” said Langrée. “A great friend of the CSO, Maya Angelou, once wrote: ‘I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.’ The very presence of music can even be a way that we feel ‘at home,’ even in a place that may be unfamiliar.”

Much of the music on this year’s One City, One Symphony program is familiar, though, as are the composers, all of whom are American, including Copland, John Williams, Michael Fiday and Leonard Bernstein.

“Of course anytime we perform Copland or Bernstein, their ties to Cincinnati are present,” said Langrée. “Both were frequent visitors to Cincinnati during their respective lifetimes. Copland’s music has over time become synonymous with the American spirit. In many ways he somehow captured the sound of the American experience in music.”

In addition to Copland’s “The Tender Land,” the CSO also will perform his music from the film “Our Town.” Bernstein’s overture to “Candide” is on the bill, along with Williams’ “Escapades.” Derived from the 2002 film “Catch Me If You Can,” this piece features saxophonist and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Branford Marsalis.

“Branford was a CSO creative director during the 2012-13 season, so we are delighted to welcome him back,” said Langrée. “He is an incredibly talented musician across all genres.”

Fiday’s work, “Three for One,” is a new piece commissioned by the CSO that will premiere at One City, One Symphony. Fiday is on the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music faculty, and the CSO is in that sense his “home” orchestra, said Langrée.

“We typically associate ‘home’ with the people who make it such, so it’s wonderful that he could have these players in mind as he composed,” he said.

One City, One Symphony

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Taft Theatre, 317 E. Fifth St.