Friday, October 14, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Fridays@7 - Bolero

Stravinsky: Agon (complete ballet score)
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 35 (Nikolaj Znaider, violin)
Ravel: Bolero
Franz Welser-Most, conductor
(Post-concert entertainment by PolkaFest with the Eddie Rodick Orchestra and Hoedown with Back Porch Swing Band and square dance caller Larry Ward)

Last season my work (i.e. the thing that pays for my concert habit) travel schedule prevented me from taking advantage of the Fridays@7 series; I was interested to attend again this season, and brought Rachel to the hall with me this evening.

The Cleveland Orchestra's portion of the program tonight was varied in tone, texture, era, and reception. Unfortunately, the tone-setting piece for the concert was one of the most disappointing pieces I've heard the orchestra play. While Stravinsky's Agon, the score for a ballet with original choreography by Balanchine  was interesting -- and it was certainly easy to visualize the physical dance related to each movement (as described in the program note), but without dance there wasn't really anything musically compelling, let alone captivating about the piece. The program introduction refers to the piece as a "masterful work of modern angles" -- if that is the case, there were too few lines. From the unusually light and overly polite applause meeting the piece it was clear that I was not alone.

(As an aside, given the post concert entertainment, it seems Copland's Appalachian Spring would have been a better fit...and a composer much less known to the orchestra)

It took much of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto to wash away Agnon. One critic early in the concerto's life declared that it "stank to the ear" - but that was not the case as Mr. Znaider's impassioned playing sparkled from the first notes. Rachel mentioned that it frequently seems to her that soloists are trying too hard, where tonight Mr. Znaider felt at ease... I can't say I've noticed the trend, but it is undeniable that he was at ease. His playing was so well received that he was accorded not one but two standing ovations: The first after the first movement nearly as enthusiastic at that at the conclusion. I enjoyed the echos and variations on echos that occurred between orchestra and soloist; I don't recall them being so clear the last time I heard this piece)

Rounding out the program and my uncontroverted favorite from the evening, although it was the least complex musically, was Ravel's Bolero. The steady rat of the snare drum began so quietly that it was barely noticeable -- I think the first few notes (along with a light pizzicato from the cellists) were lost among the subdued rustling of concertgoers -- it grew in intensity throughout the piece, as the 13 variations bounced around the orchestra's instruments and likewise grew in intensity and, it seemed persistence.

Following the concert, it was odd to step out from the box level it was a little odd and surreal to hear the sounds of a square dance caller in the Severance foyer, and it was fun to watch in the beginning, but unlike previous concerts where the post-entertainment was largely organic, this felt forced: Much of the lobby floor was occupied by professional dancers with attendees crammed around the edges; and then it took on more of the flavor of dance than fun causing the audience to think quite quickly. More fun and a bit more relaxed -- though with similar space issues, PolkaFest with the Eddie Rodick Orchestra offered lively polka to which Rachel and I closed out the evening watching.


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