Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: A Midsummer Night's Dream [and Meet the Musicians Picnic]

Mendelssohn: Three movements from Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 61 (Sherzo - Nocturne - Wedding March)
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (Baiba Skride, violin)
Strauss: Don Juan, Op. 20
Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A major, Op. 11
Bramwell Tovey, conductor.

Earlier this week I received an emailed invitation to a picnic with musicians from The Cleveland Orchestra on the Blossom lawn before tonight's concert. I was on the fence (let's face it, I don't do well with strangers--and I had this vague vision of "Hi, I stalk your concerts weekly" being the only musterable conversation-- but after arriving and feeling the well-marked group it proved a great evening. The musicians were spectacularly hospitable, the conversation was good, and spanned all topics [including, perhaps most surprisingly, a discussion on weather Wendy's or White Castle was more representative of the American hamburger]... and it was just great to talk to the talented musicians of the Orchestra outside of the musical context with a very organic and free-form feeling.

In the group that I settled into, was Assistant Conductor Sasha Makila who's work I have admired but whom I had not yet met. In addition to being funny and charming, I appreciated his willingness to answering some questions on conducting that have had be wondering for a while.

It was a great opportunity and one that I hope will be repeated frequently: I made it to my seat in the pavilion just in time for the start of the concert. Plaguing the first half of the program more significantly than the second half, Mr. Tovey seemed really stiff and restrained, and as a result, the first two pieces on the program felt overly restrained and a bit stunted.

That said, In the Incidental Music from A Midsummer Night's Dream -- aptly placed on a midsummer's night -- Scherzo was beautiful, and Nocturne didn't hold my attention (that could be restrained conducting, or it could be the extremely loud unexplained crash that reverberated in the pavilion). The three selections concluded with one of the best known pieces in the classical repertoire--but the first time I've heard it played by an orchestra--the Wedding March. Though thoroughly enjoyable, was much quieter than, and the celebratory feel was a bit more muted I would have expected (Though I have to admit pondering what kind of fee the orchestra would require to play the Wedding March for an actual ceremony)

For Bruch's Violin Concerto, I have to say that Baiba Skride's performance was amazing. Her sound was fascinatingly sweet, and at some point early in the first movement the conscious brain switched off and my ears and subconscious just enjoyed the sound while I stared off into the Blossom rafters, lingering there through the second movement, and returning to the real world in the Allegro energico Finale -- wihch between the warm energy of the music and the Ms. Skride's sweet sound made my favorite movement of the evening.

Following intermission, Mr. Tovey seemed notably looser and less restrained than the first half of the program and the overall sound of the orchestra benefited greatly. I enjoyed Strauss's tone poem of the story of Don Juan: The bravado, the romantic chase, an orchestra that, to borrow the words of the program note, "charges along undaunted". As the piece approaches the end pauses can be seen as a dying breath (the program note's interpretation) or perhaps of something finally slipping out of grasp.

Closing out the program Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1. In his remarks to the audience, Mr. Tovey mentioned that the orchestra had last performed this work in the 1950s* (which would place it around the time of the composer's death). The first time I've heard any of Mr. Enescu's works, I thoroughly enjoyed it: With roots in folk music, the piece begins with sounds moving around the orchestra, building, and eventually involving the entire orchestra in a vibrant and energetic sound evocative of a folk dance.

*-Curiously, the program for this week's concert was missing "At A Glance" information for all four pieces, which would typically include orchestration, running time, and previous history of the piece with the Cleveland Orchestra.

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