Sunday, April 3, 2011

Heights Arts: Haydn, Janacek, and Brahms (House Concert Series)

Haydn: String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No. 5
Janacek: String Quartet No. 1 ("Kreutzer Sonata")
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18*
The Omni String Quartet (Amy Lee, Alicia Kolez, violins; Joanna Patterson, viola; Tanya Ell, cello)
* - With Roxanna Patterson, viola; Mark Kosower, cello
Tanya Ell, guest artistic director.
At the
Dunham Tavern Museum Barn, Cleveland.

During tonight's concert -- featuring five members of the The Cleveland Orchestra and one orchestra member's parent by special appearance -- once again I was struck by how fortunate Clevelanders are. The barn, yes, the barn -- a slightly rustic space tucked in an often overlooked corner on Euclid Avenue, next to the hulking skeleton of a long-abandoned factory building, and behind the oldest building in Cleveland still on its original foundation -- hosted those musicians and an enthusiastic audience with countless Orchestra members mixed among newcomers and regulars alike. Amongst those orchestra members in the audience was the orchestra's newest violinist, Ms. Katherine Bormann. It's thrilling to see musicians dedicated to their craft and who clearly don't view their orchestra playing as just a job -- and it shows what good hands the musical reputation of the orchestra is in.

In the front row at tonight's concert I found myself mere inches away from these performers, mesmerized at fingers navigating their fingerboards with the grace and speed of a hummingbird. The final piece on the evening's program with two musicians added to the front of the room, Brahms' Sextet, brought violinist Ms. Lee even closer -- "I'm afraid I'm going to hit you" she quietly cautioned the patron next to me. With the enthusiasm with which that piece was played there were moments where I was afraid to exhale, both for fear of breaking the amazing emotion of the music and for fear of disrupting the arc of Ms. Lee's bow. (The de regur theme park admonishment to "please keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times..." ran through my head each time I contemplated shifting in my seat).

That level of intimacy exposes details that simply can't be captured in the traditional concert setting and makes for an absolutely spellbinding evening. Mr. Kosower, still a relative newcomer as the Cleveland Orchestra's principal cello and Ms. Roxana Patterson, mother of Joanna and in Cleveland on a trip from her Seattle home for this concert, were both delightful additions to the program and left no doubt as to musical talent.

For the second piece on the program Ms. Ell introduced Janacek's Kreutzer Sonata (String Quartet No. 1) based on a censored novel by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, proving some exceedingly helpful background information as well as a few measures each of several themes that can be heard in the piece and her interpretation of their relation to events in the novel.

The Sonata, much like Cleveland Weather, changed moods frequently -- from the use of moving notes that impressioned a train ride, to the romance and illicit affair between married student and teacher, the angst and jealousy of the husband upon discovering the affair, the explosion of murder, and the smooth return to sanity. While it was thrilling to hear all of the musicians play, the sound of angst rising from Ms. Patterson's viola and Ms. Kolez's violin was unmistakable, and unlike anything I've heard from those instruments before.

Ms. Ell, my favorite cellist and one of my favorite musicians. She plays with enviable musical expression that's unmistakable to anyone within earshot, but she also plays with physical expression such that this author can be caught with a slack-jawed stare. The Janacek piece was particularly expressive. I suppose it has to be seen to be understood but in watching her facial expressions there is no lack of confidence nor can the observer have any doubt as to her understanding of the mood of the music.

Preceding these two amazing works, I didn't feel as strong a connection to Haydn's String Quartet as I did the other pieces. In considering it, I have to say that I felt almost exactly the same about his Symphony No. 96 on last night's Orchestra program.

But where else can you find 6 world-class musicians playing in a barn?


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