"(...) When Chicago pianist Miguel de la Cerna was growing up on the South Side, the sound of jazzand blues, gospel and funk, R&B and soul was everywhere. It blasted out of clubs and apartments, car radios and storefronts, inspiring a kid growing up near 41st Street and Berkeley Avenue to build his life in music.
Now de la Cerna, 51, has tried to translate what he calls “the landscape” of his musical childhood into an ambitious composition that will receive its world premiere Sunday evening at the Music Institute of Chicago. But de la Cerna’s “Livingston 8 – A Fantasy” veers far from the jazz-band settings where listeners usually encounter him.
Instead, he has scored the piece for the Orion Ensemble, a classical chamber group that commissioned him to write the work for its “Chamber Treasures Meet Chicago Jazz” concert, which will be repeated in Chicago on Wednesday and Geneva on May 13 after Sunday night’s premiere.
Before the Orion Ensemble approached him about the venture, he never had entertained creating such an opus.
“I was kind of nervous at first,” he says. “But I had to kind of jump at the challenge, and that’s how it happened.”
Actually, it was a bit more complicated than that. Even after he accepted the commission, he thought he might write a thorny, 12-tone work that he believed might suit the high-toned classical aesthetic of Orion.
“I had been listening to a lot of Gunther Schuller and things like that,” adds de la Cerna, referring to a major American composer who’s proficient in both classical and jazz idioms.
But Florentina Ramniceanu, the Orion violinist who originated the idea of the commission, “said they wanted me to write from my heart – what I feel.”
Not that 12-tone music can’t have plenty of heart, as many works of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg attest. Yet de la Cerna took Ramniceanu’s advice as a cue to think beyond compositional technique and reach for something bigger and deeper. This led him to thoughts of his childhood on the South Side and the transformative effect music of that corner of the world has had on his life. (...)"