Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s Summermusik series concludes its four-week season on Aug. 25 with The Hero Within, a program that includes world-premiere compositions honoring living heroes that were written and will be performed by four Cincinnati musicians under the age of 20. The program also features Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Eroica (or “the heroic”) symphony, as well as Dmitri Shostakovich’s first piano concerto featuring pianist Christopher O’Riley and CCO principal trumpeter Ashley Hall.
Defining a hero conjures images of fire fighters, soldiers and anyone facing a dangerous, sometimes insurmountable challenge. CCO’s music director Eckart Preu had already programmed Beethoven’s symphony for the program’s second half, so he wanted to try a different take in the first half.
“We wanted a young people’s perspective on who is a hero, and we found four super-talented musicians from the Music Resource Center,” Preu says, adding, “It wasn’t just their talent — they are sharp, observant and sensitive.”
Cincinnati’s Music Resource Center opened in 2008, headed by artist Karen D’Agostino, who was inspired by the original MRC that was founded in Charlottesville, Va. in 1995. The Cincinnati center now occupies a 3,700-square-foot space on Woodburn Avenue in Evanston. Students ages 12 through 19 have access to “a ton of rooms outfitted with Apple computers loaded with GarageBand and Logic Pro X, musical instruments and a 200-seat performance space,” says Kyle Cadena, MRC’s studio director.
All members must be enrolled in public, private or home school. Access to higher-level equipment, instruction and participation in larger projects is based on an incentive track: silver, gold and platinum levels.
“We chose these four upper-tier artists because we knew they could handle the demands and they’re musically diverse,” Cadena says.
When the composers were notified last year, they had the option to interview a veteran, facilitated by the Armed Forces Tickets Association, or to base their composition on a hero of their choice.
Jacob Strom, then a senior at Walnut Hills High School, interviewed U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Mather, who served three tours of duty in Iraq. Strom, who since has graduated, wrote “Forward Mission” based on Mather’s account of being wounded by a sniper in Baghdad in 2008.
“He got shot in the back of the neck and didn’t feel it, but everyone else was freaking out,” Strom says. “Michael was the scout, ahead of everyone else going into no man’s land. And it gave me a bigger idea of moving forward with how we think about war and about humanity.”
He adds that some of Mather’s words were lyrics in themselves. Strom’s songs reflect Pop influences, a style he’s been playing since his first band in high school.
Chaya Jones, a Walnut Hills sophomore, spoke to Patrick Tierney, a retired U.S. Navy petty officer.
“Patrick joined the Navy when he was 17 because he wanted to escape the gangs and drugs in his high school. He told me the Navy saved his life,” she says.
Jones’ lyrics describe Tierney’s anxiety about leaving home and also the realities of war. A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist influenced by Jazz and Soul, Jones says her piece is a mix of all three.
Percussionist and rapper Roberto Parker, a Music Resource Center alumnus, was inspired by his cousin Robert Salazar, Jr., an Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
“He’s always been an inspiration, and I wrote an old school Hip Hop track about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from multiple perspectives,” Parker says.
Grace Mouch is a home-schooled junior who describes her songs as “a mix of everything — Pop, Rock and Indie.” Her song is a ballad, inspired by two people she’s close to and whose identities she doesn’t share. “Knowing their flaws, people can still influence you in such great ways. They’re very human heroes,” she says.
All four will perform their songs, which have been arranged for the CCO by Scot Woolley. And each one is profoundly grateful and still somewhat dazed by the opportunity to be backed by a professional orchestra. The feeling is mutual, Preu says.
The Hero Within will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at School for the Creative and Performing Arts, 108 W. Central Parkway, Over-the-Rhine. Tickets: ccocincinnati.org