Starting the Vibration: Earth and Air’s First Season


By David B. Ellis


Strings in the earth and air

Make music sweet;

Strings by the river where

The willows meet.


There’s music along the river

For Love wanders there,

Pale flowers on his mantle,

Dark leaves on his hair.


All softly playing,

With head to the music bent,

And fingers straying

Upon an instrument.


-James Joyce


Earth and Air: String Orchestra started as an interesting combination of circumstances.  I really wanted to start a group in Cleveland.  This was partially because I am from here originally, but I wanted to contribute to what has really become an exciting growth in recent years.  But it needed to be a group which Cleveland did not already have.  Between the various chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras, youth orchestras, baroque ensembles, and everything else in between, Cleveland already has many exceptional groups it can showcase.  But what Cleveland also has is an almost infinite amount of highly talented string players.  Not only are they technically proficient, but they play in a manner that is distinctly Cleveland, with a sensibility and nuance which could only be derived from our own Cleveland Orchestra.

So the idea of a purely string orchestra came to fruition.  As I researched more and more repertoire for this ensemble to play, classics naturally came to the fore, such as Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and Strauss’s Metamorphosen.  However, what was most intriguing was finding an enormous wealth of pieces by Penderecki and Xenakis which had rarely been recorded, if at all.  And gems would appear even from less avant-garde eras as well.  For example, one of the pieces we played on our first concert, Suk’s Serenade for Strings, is a piece I have never seen on a program before, and the orchestra found that, as technically difficult as it was, it is a truly wonderful piece.  So the mission of this orchestra evolved.  This was no longer a group that would simply perform music for string orchestra, but one which adventurously explores music for this ensemble, be it rediscovering interpretive and historical nuances in Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht or playing exciting, yet seldom heard works by composers such as Enesco, Lutoslawski, or Schnittke.

The Earth and Air String Orchestra. Photo Credit: Alex Belisle 

The Earth and Air String Orchestra. Photo Credit: Alex Belisle

2015 marked our first season, and we have had one concert and have two more upcoming.  Our first, entitled Prague Serenades, was performed this past October, and featured Dvorak’s Op. 22 and the aforementioned Suk Op. 6.  Our next concert, on January 29th, will feature a fantastic piece called In the White Silence by John Luther Adams.  This hour and fifteen minute long work features vibraphones, a celeste and a harp in the mix of string players.  And our third concert, which is on April 8th, de las Americas consists of Latin American music of Carlos Chavez, Villa-Lobos and Ginastera.This is the first of what I hope will be many seasons to come.  We do not intend to remain a purely classical ensemble, but rather we hope to explore other genres, such as jazz, R&B, hip-hop, rock, metal, and many more.  We hope to look into ethnic music.  Not just classical music inspired by ethnic music, but ethnic music at its roots, featuring all kinds of nationalities.  We plan to work with more living composers, both inside and outside of Cleveland, to try and expand the repertoire possibilities for this unusual ensemble.  But most importantly, we intend to be educators, not just by performing for local schools, but also by building programs and presentations to develop adventurous listeners of all ages.

Hope to see you around.


A conductor, cellist, and viola da gambist, David B. Ellis serves as the Executive and Artistic Director of Earth and Air: String Orchestra.  A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, David has performed with ensembles around the United States, including Apollo’s Fire, Catacoustic, The Newberry Consort, Les Delices, and the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra.

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