Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CIM: CIM Orchestra (Franck, Bartok, Plog, Prokofiev)

Franck: The Accursed Huntsman (Le Chasseur Maudit)
Bartok: Viola Concerto (Jamie Sachay, viola)
Plog: Weiter (2007)
Prokofiev: Lt. Kije Suite, Op. 60
Carl Topilow, Conductor
Kulas Hall at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Perhaps the last sign that summer is over is the return of students to music-making work at CIM: Though the first day of classes was just over two weeks ago, the CIM Orchestra for the 11-12 school year offered their first concert tonight. For those just joining me, CIM offers a broad program of concerts and recitals throughout the school year -- most free. I suspect that as an educational institution CIM is free to take a bit more liberties with programming than organizations primarily driven by ticket sales or attendance. This freedom provides exposure for composers and works that may not necessarily be the well known.

Before tonight's concert Rachel and I parked in the new lot behind CIM [note: If you've attended CIM concerts in the past, the parking lot you're used to no longer exists... the new lot is further down Hazel] grabbed a quick bite at the Denny's All Nighter (former Silver Spartan) -- the menu is a bit sparse, but the food is generally decent -- then walked over to the Museum of Art for me to take care of some business, before walking back to CIM for the concert.

And... I felt that the ensemble is still in the process of gelling -- not at all surprising given how early in the year we are. Generally, I felt the balance was a bit off, and at various points (primarily in the first two pieces) I sensed that the orchestra wasn't fully committed to the notes they were playing, instead tentatively letting them hang in the air. I can't help but remember what my mother screamed at me while I was learning to drive, occasionally afraid to commit: Indecision will get you killed. While tentative playing won't get anyone killed (unless, perhaps, the composer is in attendance), it keep a piece from truly shining.

For the music, I only recognized two of the four composers on the program, and none of the pieces, so it was nice to get an evening of new music. Opening the program, Cesar Franck's The Accursed Huntsman was the only piece to receive a program note, and the program note was helpful in understanding the intent of the piece, though it mention that the third section is the tempo slows as deep in the woods the count is cursed by a terrible voice. I didn't this sensation from the music.

For Bartok's Viola Concerto,  Ms. Sachay was a pleasure to listen to (it seems that the viola is so rarely a subject for concertos), but Rachel and I both felt something was slightly off between her and the orchestra. That did not prevent the piece from being enjoyable; indeed, I found that I derived the most enjoyment from this piece's 2nd movement (adagio religioso) by simply closing my eyes and allowing the notes to play on my ears. The gentleman to my right was snoring rather loudly, however.

At intermission, a concert first came for me came while we watched two UCPD* officers carry an apparently unconscious attendee to a wheelchair and depart the hall. I hope that individual is alright.

Resuming the program, Anthony Plog's Weiter (German for "forward" or "further") was described by Mr. Topilow as 5 minutes of perpetual motion, and that it was. The structure of the piece was interesting in that it seemed each group of instruments had their moment to shine before returning to a supporting role while the next took (figurative) center stage. With a title implying progress (and the composer's note read by Mr. Topilow referencing spectators screaming the title at football matches)  I was a bit surprised in that the mood and sound of the piece remained fairly steady and even keeled until a fairly explosive ending.

Concluding the program and my unqualified favorite from the evening, Prokofiev's Lt. Kije Suite, selections from a score composed my Mr. Prokofiev for a film in which a fictional lieutenant -- along with a life story -- is created to avoid having to correct a mistaken Tsar. The five pieces in the suite (The Birth of Kije--Romance--Kieje's Wedding--Troika--The Burial of Kije) follow the milestones in the life of the Lieutenant. All of the movements were enjoyable, but something felt very familiar about the Troika (reading the Wikipedia article for the piece, it seems  that it is a popular "winter" advertising piece--which explains why I was thinking of snow). I thought The Burial of Kije would be depressing, but aside from a few deathly trumpet calls and horn blasts even this movement is fairly upbeat, and I found myself humming the theme most of the way to Rachel's apartment. (Of note, CIM played the version using a tenor saxophone, very well played by Alyssa Hoffert, not the alternate baritone voice version. I rather liked the tenor sax version)

*(non-Clevelanders: this is the University Circle Police Department, providing special police services for the University Circle area of Cleveland, independent of the Cleveland Police Department)

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