Saturday, January 10, 2015

Cleveland Orchestra: Franz Welser-Most Conducts Mozart and Ravel

Mozart: Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter") in C major, K.551
Ravel; Daphnis and Chloe: Choreographic Symphony In Three Parts (with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco, director)
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Bleh.

2015 will be the year where I become far more opportunistic regarding which Cleveland Orchestra concerts I choose to attend, primarily due to a number of unfortunate changes artistically and administratively -- the most unfortunate of which being the extension of Franz Welser-Most's contract with the Orchestra -- as well as a number of resignations and retirements from within the artistic and administrative staffs, and a increasingly demanding professional workload -- I no longer feel the level of engagement with the orchestra that I once did.

Tonight's performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 41 left me sitting thinking of all of the things that I could have been doing with the time I had set aside to attend the concert, not to mention the money used to purchase the ticket. Running down I think any of them -- including changing the oil on my car -- would have been a better use of my time. Mr. Welser-Most's rendition was un-engaging and dispassionate that rather than taking me to a different world, as a great concert will do, I had to struggle to keep my attention on the piece rather than, say, the laundry I could be doing.

I've often said that the reason I enjoy live classical and detest listening to recorded classical is the dynamic range and exchange of energy that you get from the live orchestra -- I got neither of those tonight.

During intermission I pondered my predicament -- I generally like Ravel whereas I tend to lean indifferent to Mozart -- I decided with how miserable I was feeling toward the first piece and despite the investment in the ticket, I would be far better off just heading home to do laundry. And I feel good about that decision.

I think the lesson learned from tonight, and in the spirit of being more opportunistic (with the side benefit of saving some money for our trip to Paris in March) I will not be attending next week's concert -- nor, do I expect, other concerts conducted by Mr. Welser-Most in the near future. I am optimistic about the concert on January 24th (including Pictures at and Exhibition) 


Lincoln

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society Concert 3: Cavatina (Spain/Bosnia) A Cleveland Debut

Bach: Sonata in C Major for flute and continuo (BVW 1033)
Piazzolla: Adios Nonino
Assad: Three Balkan Pieces
Takrmitsu: Towards The Sea
Thomas: Out of Africa
Sor: Variations on "O Cara Armonia" from Mozart's The Magic Flute
Piazolla: Oblivion (encore)
Eugenia Moliner, flute; Dennis Azabagic, guitar. At Plymouth Church UCC, Shaker Heights.


Winter has most definitely arrived in Northeast Ohio, making the warm and simple feeling evoked by the first piece on the program -- J.S. Bach's Sonata in C -- of listening the the piece while sitting in front of a medieval castle's roaring fireplace. Interestingly, the couple noted that the authorship is somewhat questioned based on departures from Bach's typical stylem including ending on a Menuet movement.

An emotional farewell to father (Adios Nonino) took the second slot on the program with an interesting "squeaky" technique and sound from the guitar. Initially chipper, it concluded on a combination of somber and soaring tones. Ms. Moliner commented that it was an emotionally difficult piece to play based on the recent loss of her father.

Incidentally, the couple's -- yes, they are married -- onstage banter and needling added an extra texture and enjoyment to the concert.

The third "piece" on the program was actually a collection of three Balkan pieces -- the first, Kalajdzijsko Oro (traditional Macedonian) provided a fluttering flute punctuated by a guitar -- almost as if a soaring bird was punctuated by updrafts of wind. The second, also traditional Macedonian, Ajde slusajm slusaj  was soothing and relaxing, and the third, traditional Bulgarian, Ratchenitsa was more upbeat and carried a very different sound than the first two pieces.

Following intermission, Toward the Sea, commissioned by Greenpeace for its Save the Whale Campaign was captivating in its use of both the alto flute and its use of not only music but periods of silence to mimmic the sounds and communication of whales -- the imagery was unmistakable,

Out of Africa, also a thematic piece -- who's five movements covered the span of a single day in Africa, from the Call at Sunrise, Morning Dance to the mid-day Zenith, and the evening and night Evening Dance and Cradle Song was soothing and engaging with a clear arc in the tone from the bright morning to the slowing evenings. Both amusingly (and somewhat diffracting) the piece also covered the arc of consciousness of a very visible Hawken student -- with large yawns in the "morning", falling horizontal with one knee in the air at the zenith, and finally achieving a completely horizontal position through the evening and conclusion of the piece (and published program)

The last piece on the published program, variations on O Cara Armonia from Mozart's The Magic Flute was lively but not particularly evocative of particular emotion or imagery.

The Next Cleveland Classical Guitar Society International Series concert Gaelle (France) on February 28th.

Lincoln

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Weilerstein Plays Elgar

Part: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Elgar: Cello Concerto (Alisa Weilerstein, cello)
Unannounced encore for solo cello (Alisa Weilerstein, cello)
Adams: Harmonielehre
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

"Meh." Leaving at intermission, I found myself so completely uninspired that I contemplated skipping text for this entry. The first half of the program was well played but entirely too depressing and funereal in tone only slightly captivating and not at all inspiring.

Combined with word that a beloved orchestra staffer has resigning (no, not Gary Hanson) in addition to another recently announced departure, and a lingering day-long headache, I saw no point in--let alone being in the proper mood for-- sticking around for Adams. The minor traffic jam in the parking garage suggests I was not alone in reaching that conclusion.

Lincoln

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Heights Arts: Factory Seconds Trio - "Second to None"

Bardin: Sonatine en Trio (1982)
Leonin: Viderund omnes
Hovhaness: Fantasy No. 1 (1967)
Flothius: Sonatine (1946)
Hidas: Triga (1992)
Bassett: Trio for Brass Instruments (1953)
Needham: Mobiles (2013)
Frackenphol: Brass Trio (1966)
Jack Sutte; trumpet, Jesse McCormick, french horn; Rick Stout, trombone, with poetry readings by Kathleen Cerveny. At the home of Mark and Sue Hollingsworth, Shaker Heights

If The Cleveland Orchestra is the five-star fine dining of Classical music in Cleveland, Heights Arts is the gourmet food truck -- serving up delicacies for smaller audiences in slightly less predictable and more nomadic fashion. Indeed, aside from the fantastic music performed by amazing musicians, I like the experience if seeing inside some of the beautiful and unique homes on the East side -- and today's concert in the beautiful Hollingsworth residence was no exception.

What was unusual were the instruments -- a trio of brass players taking the name "Factory Seconds" in homage to their roles as the second for their instruments in The Cleveland Orchestra. I was a little nervous going in to today's program that brass, let alone a trio of brass, would overwhelm the small spaces and intimate audiences of the typical Heights Arts concert. That fear was misplaced.

I found that I enjoyed the first half of the program slightly more than the second half with Bardin's Sonatine en Trio, the opening piece on the program, setting an excellent mood with the spirited but playful marchesque first movement, the subdued evening walk of a second movement and the lively third movement.

The second an third pieces on the program were offered as a sandwich with a piece of poetry in the middle -- while I enjoyed Viderunt Omnes, said to be the beginning of Western music, I think I spent too much mentally time trying to connect Fantasy No. 1 to that piece and the poetry to enjoy it musically.

Flothius's Sonatine's four movements blended into a single fluid work and right around the time I had decided I was enjoying the quick pace of the first movement (which at the beginning I related to a festive almost circus-like feeling) I realized the piece had ended. Finishing out the first half of the program, Hidas' Triga offered a slightly more burnished fanfare.

The program following intermission, though notable for featuring all living American composers didn't capture my interest in the same way or to the same degree -- I had a hard time formulating a reaction to Bassett's Trio for Brass Instruments. Needham's Mobiles Started out with a subdued, dreamy nighttime walk on a quiet alley, met and crossed a busy thoroughfare, before returning to the shadows.

Lincoln

Saturday, November 1, 2014

BlueWater Chamber Orchestra: A Night Of Fright and Delight

Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Respighi: Trittico Botticelliano for chamber orchestra
Deak: Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra "The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow" (Kenneth Johnston, Charles Morey, violins; Kirsten Docter, viola; Bryan Dumm, cello; Robert Conrad, narrator) Carlton R. Woods, director.
At Plymouth Church, UCC, Shaker Heights

Late Fall has certainly arrived in Northeast Ohio and while I was out of town Thursday and Friday, after spending a lazy day under warm covers Rachel and I headed to Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights to hear BlueWater Chamber Orchestra's Halloween-appropriate program. BlueWater, as a chamber orchestra, is an example of what makes greater Cleveland a great place to live with the wealth of musical talent in a slightly more compact and intimate format than the full-blown orchestra.

While the third work on the program, a concerto based on the short story The Headless Horesman of Sleepy Hollow" was initially what I thought was most intriguing, in execution the first two were the strongest showings.

Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is always enjoyable to hear and tonight's performance was particularly enjoyable thanks to an energetic delivery and the additional color brought by the addition of a harp -- while subtle it added a sparkle that made the afternoon of the faun that much easier to imagine.

Through the second piece on the program brought the audience Respighi's reactions, in musical form, to three works by Botticelli in Florence's Uffizi gallery via Trittico Botticelliano for chamber orchestra. The first, Primavera, was an energetic almost marching delivery that reminded me of a conversation in music with an interesting rhythm and more interesting texture. Second, L'adorazione dei Magi was a little bit more subdued and if I had to ascribe a specific feeling to it, "slightly middle-eastern"; the final movement, La Nascita di Venere was more of a meandering walk on a tepid fall day with a passionate delivery by the orchestra.

The concert concluded with Deak's Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra "The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow", narrated by Robert Conrad of WCLV, a piece I was really looking forward to hearing, especially with Mr. Woods's introductions for the soloists (Ichabod was represented by the two violinists on account of his "complex personality", Katrina represented by the viola "in a frisky kind of way", and the cello was "just strange") -- and Mr. Conrad's distinctive voice built for narration -- but the balance seemed a little lacking and I found myself struggling to hear Mr. Conrad's narration over the orchestra at times which distracted me from simply enjoying  the piece. Despite that challenge, the piece was enjoyable with overlapping textures a fun and lively "barn dance" and musicians clearly having fun with the performance.

Lincoln


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Bach Brahms, and Mendelssohn

Bach: Cantata No. 199, BVW 199 (Yulia Van Doren, soprano)
Brahms: Song of Destiny [Schichsalslied], Op. 54 (Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco, director)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 ("Reformation") in D major, Op. 107
James Gaffigan, Conductor.

[I should note that next Saturday, BlueWater Chamber Orchestra is offering a promising concert at Plymouth Church including Robert Conrad narrating a string interpretation of  Washington Irving’s story “The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow”]

While it was quite disappointing to hear not only Hillary Hahn had withdrawn from this weekends performances but that, in the words of another patron "they really  couldn't find another violinist!?! In Cleveland?" I have to say I enjoyed the replacement.

While someone who knows me well remarked "I wasn't expecting to see you-- there's more singing than you usually care for" and I, honestly, wasn't expecting to like Bach's Cantata No. 199, Ms. Van Doren and the predominantly string chamber orchestra delivered a well-balanced passionate piece that was delightful to listen to.

Likewise, while it seems a waste of the Chorus for only 15 minutes the initially meditative turning explosive Sing of Destiny had me bolt upright with attention. Mr. Gaffigan's expressive conducting, particularly in the third movement with hair flying despite very sharp conducting was the theatrical cherry on the top -- and the delta between the restrained and respectful first and second sections and the fierce and bold third was delicious.

Following intermission Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 was the piece I had most looked forward to on tonight's program -- and while it was as enjoyable to listen to as the other pieces on the program, something felt not quite right, or the piece didn't seem to quite fit with the rest of the program -- I couldn't put my finger on it.

Lincoln

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra:Lang Lang Plays Chopin and Strauss

Pintscher: Idyll (for orchestra) (World Premiere performances)
Chopin: Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22 (for piano and orchestra) (Lang Lang, piano)
Strauss: Burleske (for piano and orchestra) (Lang Lang, piano)
Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Ok, so on one hand I was very excited to return to Severance for a new season, on the other hand that excitement was tempered -- almost quenched -- by the news that Mr. Welser-Most's contract was renewed. I was really hoping for a change, and the news out of Austria had gotten my hopes up.

Anyway, this afternoon's concert opened with a half hour of tedium in the form of Matthias Pintscher's Idyll. While not as jarring and painful as most "new" classical at 25 minutes plus it was entirely too long and uninteresting -- sure there were parts that had a tenuous hold of my attention, early on a section reminded me of playful nymphs; later the atmosphere approaching a murder scene in a classic film, but on the whole I would have preferred to do without.

Lang Lang brought Chopin's Andante spianato & Grand Polonaise brilliante to life beginning with a sound I would liken to a delightfully fluffy and delicious pastry for the ears to wash out the foul taste of the prior composition -- although the orchestra was a bit stiff under Welser-Most's baton, it was certainly preferable to the Pintscher. 

Following intermission was like an entirely new concert and could have been cleaved from the first half for a much more enjoyable program on its own. Chopin's Burleske, once again with the piano part played by Lang Lang was sparkling with a bold orchestra embracing in a familiar dance with the piano, while towards the end of the piece brought arguments from the orchestra that puncutated otherwise flowing music. 

Finally the program closed with Strauss's Till Eulenspeigel's Merry Pranks was enjoyable in a fun and lyrical way but I didn't find it particularly memorable

Lincoln