Cleveland Museum of Art Plays Muse to International Composers

Composer Cenk Ergün listens in the distance (far right) to musicians perform various tones in Cleveland Museum of Art atrium
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On a recent evening, Turkish composer Cenk Ergün works with four vocalists and two trombone players testing tones for Ergun's newly commissioned work, "Formari," inspired by the museum's atrium.

He is one of several internationally-acclaimed composers invited to Northeast Ohio to visit, react and compose new works inspired by what they see at the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

David Hector, Max-Olivier Houtris, Kira McGirr, Kiki Weinroth, Melanie Emig and Elena Mullins with Cenk Ergün

It's the latest initiative of the Cleveland Foundation's Creative Fusion residency program, which, since 2008, has brought international artists to Cleveland to collaborate and create.

This new cohort brings composers from Italy, America, Japan, Serbia, Rwanda, and Turkey to Northeast Ohio to research and then compose six original works inspired by the museum.

It's the brainchild of Tom Welsh, the museum's director of performing arts.

"We're in a very unique position at the art museum to be a tremendous platform or area for churning up ideas and inspirations," Welsh said. "So what if we have composers in and say, with very few or no restrictions, 'This is all here for you. What comes from this?'  And a broader, wider open space to think deeply about what moves us and what can come from that."

Max-Olivier Houtris and Elena Mullins

The Cleveland Foundation's Vice President of Strategic Grantmaking, Arts & Urban Design Initiatives, Lillian Kuri, was impressed with Welsh's idea to do something new and use the Creative Fusion program to put Cleveland in the international spotlight.

"It's not a small idea, to bring six international composers from around the world who're really advancing and top in their field.  Three of them are women which is really unusual.  To bring them here in an arrangement by which they've been given really free license to do things they wouldn't normally be able to do and then to come back and premiere the work here in Cleveland, " Kuri said.

Cenk Ergün

Having visited the museum before, Cenk Ergün was blown away by CMA's three-story high, glass-enclosed atrium which serves as the inspiration, and the venue, to his piece.

Elena Mullins and Kira McGirr sing as Cenk Ergün listens in the distance

"I have a lot to learn about how these musicians can produce sounds and how these sounds ultimately interact with each other in such a giant space that is not meant to be a concert hall.  It's just a big reverbant space," Ergün said.

While Ergün plans to compose a piece inspired by one of the museum's spaces, Japanese composer Aya Nishina discovered her inspiration in CMA's renowned Asian Collection.

Aya Nishina

"I had a chance to visit the Korean art.  There was this broken porcelain by a Korean collector but it was sewed with this gold technique called 'kintsugi' a Japanese technique," Nishina said.

Bottle, 12th century. Korea, Goryeo period (936-1392). Celadon ware with inlaid white and black slip decoration [courtesy: The Cleveland Museum of Art]

The piece she fell in love with is a 12th century Korean Goryeo-period celadon vase repaired with the Japanese art of "kintsugi," which mends pottery with an elegant glue of gold laquer.

"This piece was conceived during that time Japan and Korea had a very difficult time together.  But it was owned by a Korean collector.  It's very inspiring to me that the cracked piece of her or his country he chose specifically Japanese kintsugi technique to pull it together.  I saw it as a message of something that we can definitely learn now in the modern days," she said.

Tom Welsh looks for the music generated by program to reach beyond Northeast Ohio.

Tom Welsh, Aya Nishina and Dan Polletta

"The dream is that the work is so strong and beautiful and distinctive that it's going to live well beyond Cleveland itself and all of us," Welsh said.

Three of the compositions, including Ergün's and Nishina's, premiere in the spring at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and three more debut during the following concert season.

"This is the wonderful thing about music.  It's for everybody," Welsh said.  "It can be repeated multiple times anywhere in the world and say as distinct from objects in a collection which are unique.  There's only one, it happens to be here, and you have to come here to see it.  But music, we can release it into the universe.  Wherever it goes, Aya's music in this case will take the Cleveland name with it."  

All Creative Fusion Composers:

Luciano Chessa, Italian

Cenk Ergün, Turkish

Aya Nishina, Japanese

Sophie Nzayisenga, Rwandan

Henry Threadgill, American

Aleksandra Vrebalov, Serbian



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