The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s theme for its One City, One Symphony initiative is personal for the musicians involved — including Michael Fiday, associate professor of composition at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Focusing on the theme of “home,” the One City, One Symphony initiative is the CSO’s community-wide project that aims to unite people through music. The initiative’s Thanksgiving weekend concert features the world premiere of Fiday’s CSO-commissioned symphony alongside works from American composers Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and John Williams at 8 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26 at the Taft Theatre.
“Cincinnati has been my cultural home base for 14 years,” says Fiday, who began teaching at CCM in 2004. “In that time I’ve become close friends, acquaintances and colleagues with a good number of CSO musicians and gotten to know their sound quite well.”
CCM Professor Michael Fiday teaching a composition student. Photo by Andrew Higley.
Fiday, whose recent work with the CSO was featured in Movers and Makers magazine, chose to incorporate the “home” connection in symbolic ways. The piece’s title, Three for One, is an allusion to the One City, One Symphony initiative and how Fiday approached the orchestra.
There aren’t many solos in Three for One. Fiday treated the orchestra as if it were “a collective body moving together towards a common goal.”
He began working to create his 15-minute piece with the CSO in January 2016. Three for One isn’t a symphony in the traditional sense, Fiday says. He describes it as a three-movement work with a fast-slow-fast format that is similar to the emotional arc of a full-length symphony.
The three movements each focus on a family of instruments — woodwinds in the first movement, strings in the second and brass in the third. The other instruments join the fray to reinforce the sound as the music builds with the entire orchestra playing as one.
Fiday titled the first movement “starting over” and describes it as “brief, punchy and puckish.” The second movement, “presence/absence” is a slow elegy dedicated to composer Richard Toensing, a former teacher, mentor and friend of Fiday’s who passed away two years ago. “Twitter,” the final movement, is fast and split into two halves. Fiday describes the first half as “gossamer and transparent” and the second half as “fairly blunt and aggressive.”
The CCM-based composer brings his own unique style to the One City, One Symphony concert’s all-American program but also celebrates the American roots nested within the musical styles of all of the composers.
“I think it’s impossible for me, or any other American composer for that matter, to not have American elements in our work,” he says. “Sometimes we don’t even notice them because they’re bred so deeply in our bones.”
Fiday favors using perfect fifth harmonies, which create that great “open” sound that is instantly recognizable as American-bred. His love of jazz found its way into Three for One as well. Some of the “crunchier” harmonies in the piece harken back to legendary jazz artists Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, Fiday says.
“The rhythmic profile, which is a very important element of almost all of my music, stems from my love for both jazz and popular music — music that is propulsive and energetic, yet also unpredictable.”
Although Fiday has been commissioned to write compositions for multiple organizations, including the National Flute Association and the American Composers Orchestra, Three for One is his first commission for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
“I’m very proud of the CSO for their increased interest in commissioning new music; a situation I think has improved greatly in the time I’ve been in Cincinnati, particularly during the past four or five years,” he says.
Fiday not only works to create his own new music but also fosters that creativity within his students. CCM has one of the nation’s top 10 music composition programs, according to the US News & World Report. Student composers enjoy opportunities to work with CCM ensembles and community organizations for hearings and performances.
Engaging one of CCM’s own composers exemplifies One City, One Symphony’s “home” theme, uniting the community through locally-made music. According to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, “By connecting music the CSO performs to themes relevant in our everyday lives, One City, One Symphony inspires us, provokes our thinking, and celebrates our shared humanity.”
For more information about the concert, visit www.cincinnatisymphony.org or call the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at 513-621-1919.
Story by CCM graduate student Charlotte Kies