Ellen Ruth Harrison is a composer who currently teaches as an Adjunct Instructor of Composition at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She is also chair of music theory and composition in CCM’s Preparatory Department. Her music has been acclaimed as “stunning” and “sophisticated”, with “contrasting moods and atmospheres”. Her piece Ein Hauch Um Nichts will be performed by clarinetist Andrea Vos-Rochefort on our April 11 Solo Soundbox Concert in collaboration with 21c Museum Hotel.
CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer?
ERH: My music is essentially melodic, although color, texture and, increasingly, rhythm and meter also play an important role. Extra-musical ideas often serve as a point of departure, whether through evocative language, visual arts, book reviews, even conversations and restaurant menus. Whatever the source of inspiration is, it conjures up some sort of imagery that grabs me on a very elementary level. This imagery might help me express a mood or atmosphere, or create some kind of character, such as a charlatan, a masked being, a Diva, a She-Devil.
CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, Ein Hauch um Nichts?
ERH: I became interested in Rilke after hearing a wonderful setting of four of his sonnets by my friend Cindy Cox at Aspen. I picked up a copy of his Sonnets to Orpheus and was very taken by the third sonnet in which he writes, “Song is being. For the god, a simple matter. But when do we exist? . . True singing is a different breath. A breath for nothing. A wafting in the god. A wind.” I was particularly struck by the rhythm and sound of the line, “Ein Hauch um Nichts,” and thought it would be a fitting title for a clarinet solo that features the lyrical, singing quality of the instrument.
CSB: How have you seen the environment for new music in Cincinnati change throughout your time here?
ERH: I moved to Cincinnati from Paris. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two cities since Paris is so much larger and at the time was the center of most of France’s new music. Of course, there was much less going on here. Regardless, I found people to be quite interested in contemporary music. I remember that Ann Santen had a radio show once a week that featured new music. In general though, most of the new music took place at CCM. That has certainly changed now with the advent of concert: nova, All of the Above, and your group, Cincinnati Soundbox, among others. It’s a very exciting scene now. And I believe the CSO is performing contemporary music on 9 or 10 of its concerts next season!
CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?
ERH: All of the Above’s flutist, Nave Graham, is giving a recital of contemporary music at Xavier University on April 7. She and Jackie Stevens are premiering a work of mine for soprano and flute, Between Magic and Possibility. It’s a setting of fragments from Norman Finkelstein’s, Track. He’s a professor of English at Xavier so I’m excited that the premiere will happen at the chapel there. A couple of weeks later, the Oak Park Concert Chorale will give two performances of my choral work Music Is, a setting of a wonderful text by Joshua McGuire. And in late May, Weston Gilbert will premier the violin version of Solitude.