Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Kavakos Plays Siebelius

Mussgorsky: Prelude to Khovanshchina
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47*
Unannounced Encore: Solo Violin*
Debussy: Prientemps (Spring): Symphonic Suite
Debussy: Rondes de printemps (Spring Rounds)
Liszt: Les Preludes: Symphonic Poem No. 3
Jun Markl, conductor; *- Leonidas Kavakos, violin

As I wrote very early in the history of this blog, one of the primary reasons I attend Cleveland Orchestra concerts is for the discovery of new music. Call me a snob, but while I'll listen live classical all day*, I just can't get into listening to recorded classical; it doesn't grab me...even the best recordings are so undeniably flat and lifeless by comparison to the energy that is shared between audience and orchestra, and the immersive qualities of being in the same room. Lucky enough to live in a city that has both the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Institute of Music to feed that craving, I fully realize that that position may be untenable in other cities. But that's one of the Cleveland Pluses.

When the Orchestra goes on tour, indeed, it leaves an unfulfilled craving, a hunger that grows and I'm always hesitant upon their return that they will fail to satisfy exaggerated expectations; just like I'm always afraid when visiting home that an In-N-Out Burger (#2, spread only, extra-large Coke, please) won't be as wonderfully delicious as I remember.

Those fears were quickly and summarily but to rest as conductor Jun Markl made his Cleveland Orchestra debut. (Happy sigh). Opening the program with the prelude to Mussgorsky's Khovanshchina Mr. Mark's gesturing caught my attention but I was not immediately taken to the music; as the short piece reached the midpoint something subconscious took over, my heart rate slowed, my eyes closed, and an intractable smile enveloped my lips.

Sibelius's Violin Concerto, with the stunning work of Leonidas Kavoks likewise didn't initially grab me on a concious level, by the second movement the subconscious reaction was undeniable, something in the music bowing heartstrings just as finely as the instruments and nearly moved me to tears. Mr. Markl heald the absolute silence -- from both orchestra and audience -- following that movement, that when he finally relaxed I realized that I had at some point stopped breathing. The third movement was as stunning on a conscious level as the other two were subconsciously, and the end of the piece was greeted with the most enthusiastic applause -- and quickest standing ovation -- I can recall. Mr. Kavakos recriprocated with an unannounced solo-violin encore that was nearly as stunning as the concerto.

Debussy ruled the second half of the programs with Printemps and Rondes de printemps. For Printemps The orchestra so clearly evoked the fresh start of spring -- new growth, triumph over winter, that I feel compelled to describe the music as verdant. Certainly inspiring hope within the audience for the coming (soon, hopefully) literal thaw and spring growth. This piece, I know, left me longing for my weekend walks to the Museum of Art and Shaker Lakes that retreated to hibernation with the coming of snow.

Rondes de printemps, while perfectly enjoyable to listen to didn't inspire the same feelings. Likewise, Liszt's Les Preludes, when put up against the other pieces on this extraordinarily strong program -- and at the end of a concert charged with subconscious emotion -- I found it hard to really push myself into the piece, yet even still, the last few minutes were positively delightful.

*- Well, as one of the CIM Gala Concerts proved, about 6 hours without food or drink is my comfortable limit.


  1. Was the encore Bach? It sounded like Bach's Andante...but if so, my I must have slipped into a hallucination of happiness, as I think it was played ricochet! Was that my imagination, or did Kavakos really do that?

  2. I don't know the classical canon well enough to say what the encore was... I do think it was played ricochet, but to tell the truth I was just enjoying the moment too much to pay careful attention! It was amazing, wasn't it?

  3. Completely. Kavakos is mind-blowing. I'm an expressive listener, and was grinning throughout the entire last half of the concert (and, bizarrely enough, the really intense and very NOT smiley last movement of the Sibelius).

  4. I understand completely... it was the type of playing that reminds me truly how far I have left to go with my study of the instrument.

  5. Oh I you play the violin too?

  6. It really depends on how you define "play" ;) I've been taking lessons for about 18 months (It's my first instrument)... I'm to the point where I can sightread decently but still have a very long way to go. I enjoy the challenge! I take it you're a violinist?

  7. Yup...going on 13 years now. Sight-reading is the best part! Especially with friends. Because it's new music, nobody cares if you mess up!
    Well, and performing. and practicing. I take it back. it's all the best :)

  8. The encore on Saturday was an arrangement of Recuerdos de l'alhambra - , I believe. I think he played Bach as an encore Friday, but since I wasn't there that night I'm not sure exactly.

  9. Ah, that answers that question. Thank you!