For nearly 25 years, Ava Ordman was one of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s most prominent musicians.
The principal trombonist was a frequent soloist with the orchestra, which she first joined while she was a student at the University of Michigan.
Along with mezzo-soprano Linn Maxwell Keller, she gave the premiere performance of Libby Larsen’s “Mary Cassatt: Seven Songs for Mezzo-Soprano, Trombone and Orchestra,” commissioned by The Keller Foundation and the Grand Rapids Symphony, in March 1994.
Along with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and violinist Miriam Fried, Ordman was one of three soloists on the 1995 album Donald Erb: Three Concertos featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony under former music director Catherine Comet, issued by Koss Classics.
Now a professor of music at Michigan State University, Ava Ordman returns for her first solo appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony in more than 20 years with a concerto composed especially for her by David Biedenbender titled “Their Eyes Are Fireflies”
The concerts on May 3 not only feature a woman as soloist, they also highlight female composers. Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Symphony in The 20th/21st Century Concert: Celebrating Women with 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.
Biedenbender said the piece was inspired in part his two young children, Izaac, age 5, and Declan, age 2.
“I often wonder what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of my children,” he wrote in about the concerto. “The title, 'Their Eyes Are Fireflies,' is a metaphor for the magic and joy they bring to my life. The light in their eyes—both the way in which they take in the world with wonder and amazement as well as the way they add light to the world with their innocence and joy—has shaped and changed my perspective in profound ways.”
Ordman, who is a professor of music at Michigan State University, asked Biedenbender to be sure there are challenges for the soloist.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.