The Accidental Composer
The string and percussion ensemble CutTime Simfonica (CTS) came to life over 11 years within the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO).
After five years of transcribing symphonic works for CutTime Players (CTP), CutTime founder Rick Robinson had a vivid dream in 1999 with evocative music. He captured this and by 2003 completed a 20-minute work for full orchestra, Essay No. 1 (After Sibelius). It was read publicly in 2004, and then premiered in 2006, both by the DSO and with Thomas Wilkins conducting.
Following the premiere Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker wrote that Robinson was “an armchair composer with promise and a taste for fleshy, romantic textures and orchestration.” Only then did Robinson attempt to live up to that promise, still self-taught, and launch this second unique outreach ensemble. The results are a dozen funky-romantic new works that make a smooth bridge into classical music for new audiences, and all with a new club band that completely resets (balances) altogether the context for classical, and esp. symphonic music.
Simfonica launched in 2010 with the celebrated DSO musicians pictured here:
With the Sextet for Strings in A-Major (Mighty Love) (2007), Rick Robinson built the Simfonica engine on a middle-rich string sextet of 2 violins, 2 violas, cello & bass. Mostly autobiographical, Mighty Love is the first five stages of romantic love in strong instrumental prose. With the 50-minute work Robinson made a 1st-person movie soundtrack with some dancing action, a ghost, a sex scene, a woodland chase & the merging of two perople. Listen to the start of Celebrations and how it dawns on him he wants to marry her. He pops the question. She responses. And then they ring families. Before the fighting starts.
Rhythm and Class
The next suite of compositions form the Gitcha Groove On! album of 2009. This begins with two German-inspired works for solo English horn (Idyll) & solo oboe (Gigue Rondo) with string quintet, based on famous melodies by Mahler and Bach respectively. The Gigue Rondo features a rock groove that could bring a young audience to its feet.
This intersection of music was a revealing avenue for Robinson. Reveling that his favorite composers often wrote dances, even into symphonies, he found this avenue largely deserted before riding it all the way downtown on the title track Gitcha Groove On!.
Next he visited Mexicantown for some spicy-hot Pork ‘n Beans with cole slaw to cool off. Finally he recalls his strategy to study school without getting beat up in Highland Park, MI: City of Trees. This blended hip-hop, gospel and funk for a inspiring, bittersweet truth.
Robinson discovered that grooves not only make ideal contrast to counterpoint, but they also make audience participation possible with toy percussion. Robinson’s music so far references many popular styles: classic rock, funk, blues, jazz, Latin, samba, African, R&B, gospel, funk, hip-hop, reggae, tango, jubilee, juapango, bluegrass and country. These works hold up a mirror to America and prove that classical music is a living art tool that almost anyone can use.
Sample five of these in a short video from the CTS inaugural concert in 2010.
As with CutTime Players, Simfonica programs also feature lively transcriptions from hit symphonic and now piano works, such as Chabrier’s Espana Rhapsody, Enesco’s Romanian Rhapsody, Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata and Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in g-minor Op 23, No. 5. Sheet music for many of these works are also available for purchase.
Robinson also wrote two powerful elegies. The first is a dramatic Elegy recalling Bach’s fugues and Beethoven’s Eroica, while First Grief (2011), for his father, solidifies the formation of the classical soul style Robinson has been pioneering.
Robinson’s new works refresh the tonality and conventional composing skills of German-Romanticism so they work in our time. By recalling many favorite composers, such as Brahms, Dvorak, Hindemith, Strauss and Mahler, Robinson invites new audience to see themselves, and disparate others, in and around the classical music canon. Rich melodies, modulations and counterpoint, plus strong development still drive the human mind. Thousands of haunting works build to cathartic climaxes when played well.
CutTime collaborates often to reconnect the humanities (spoken word, drama, geometry, architecture, dance, Olympics and democracy) to instrumental music (sonata). In 2010 CTS began working with Detroit Jit grand-masters Hardcore Detroit on City of Trees and Pork ‘n Beans. Recent readings with Detroit poets are expanding into bolder plans. A recent addition is Robinson’s music for Louis Aguilar’s stageplay Art As a Weapon: (Five Scenes of Frida and Diego in Detroit) in 2015.
Back to the Future
2010 was a pivotal year for CutTime, launching CutTime Simfonica® (CTS) in May, and the next month Robinson won a Kresge Artist Fellowship for composition. In August we launched a budget string quartet version of Simfonica (above) just as DSO musicians began what would become a 6-month labor strike. The free time let us launch a Classical Revolution Detroit (club classical) series with volunteers in December. Dozens of local classical musicians feed the vacuum for party classical in now-non-smoking bars, cafes and coffeehouses. Classical music goes middlebrow for the masses.
Robinson resigned from DSO in 2012, to develop the Classical Revolution Detroit series, to arrange and compose more music, and to travel nationally with CutTime music, recruiting musicians to read, rehearse & perform as part of the two CutTime ensembles. Mr. CutTime plays, directs and shares many reasons & methods to reset the classical context in popular culture. Adding light drumming in 2013, a sharp beat gives those fleshy textures the crispness the broader public gets excited about, esp. participating with toy percussion. CutTime is a new path available to all classical musicians and institutions.
“In both of these [Pork ‘n Beans and Gitcha Groove On!] I was most impressed with his remarkably fluent and original contrapuntal writing. There was a fully realized, quite complex fugue with a spicy Latin beat by the bass that was the equal of any contemporary fugal writing.” – Jeffrey Rossman of CVNC
CutTime offers 75% of Simfonica music and new orchestrations for purchase and rental.