Arts preview: Ohio Song Project

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Pianist Scott Ewing and soprano Debra Rentz rehearse Gwyneth Walker's “The Sun is Love” for the Ohio Song Project concert.

The Ohio Song Project launched last year, holding a series of concerts in people's homes, providing a welcoming and intimate experience with classical and contemporary music.

The organization is holding its next concert in a more public space — “Become the Sky: Songs Composed by Women in the 21st Century” will be held Saturday, March 9, at Angela Meleca Gallery — but the intimate and informal atmosphere will remain.

“You don't often hear this music outside of music student recitals and opera stars in concert, and those are still most often in concert halls, and can feel stuffy and like the audience must engage the music like a museum piece,” said OSP founder Scott Ewing. “[19th-century Austrian composer] Franz Schubert, who we think of as one of the fathers of art song, his whole performance mode was, ‘Hey everybody! Come over to my house and listen to these songs I wrote.' It was part concert, part party, and appropriate for the intimate style of the music.

“Our big thing is to take this music out of the ivory tower and get it into people's hands.”

While the art song is not quite congruous with its cousin the popular song — art song typically does not have verses and repeated choruses, for example — the structure of sung melody accompanied by simple instrumentation is shared with the more familiar form. Columbus composer Jennifer Merkowitz also said the text for art song is generally an existing poem, often one that sets a particular mood.

Ewing will accompany mezzo-soprano Jennifer Hambrick on a three-part song cycle by Merkowitz, using texts by poet Jane Kenyon, titled “Let Evening Come.” Merkowitz said that groups such as Ohio Song Project are invaluable to contemporary composers, providing a needed venue for the performance of their work.

“If I wrote a piece and it just sits in the score, it doesn't really have a life. The performance is a vital part of the music itself,” she said.

Merkowitz added that it's not insignificant that OSP is providing a platform for music by women composers.

“It's increasingly clear that composition is not just a men's endeavor,” she said. “There is plenty of work to fill a program, and performers are not only more aware but are actively seeking out music by women.”

“Beyond the Sky” follows a day after International Women's Day. Ewing said the timing is to hopefully heighten the impact of the “all-women composers” nature of the concert.

“We're in a time now for this genre that finds women at the creative forefront,” Ewing said. “Like new classical music itself, that might not get as much attention as it deserves.”

6 p.m. Saturday, March 9

144 E. State St., Downtown

Angela Meleca Gallery