Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Holywood Movie Magic

(The program for this evening's concert can be found at the end of this post)

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but inside it's so delightful..." is an exceedingly apt description of the evening: Normally the drive from my place to Severance Hall is 5-10 minutes (15 on a really bad day). I figured I'd leave a bit early from my normal a bit early "just in case". 50 -- yes, five zero -- minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic later I'm pulling into the Severance Hall garage, and I found my way to my seat about 10 minutes prior to the 8pm concert start time.

It was eerie. There were only two other people on the entire box level; maybe 10 people on the main floor and no one that I could see in the Dress Circle [though from the boxes not much ofthe dress circle is visible]. I don't think I've ever seen the hall that empty that close to a start. The program was delayed by 15 minutes, and patrons did filter in -- but it was still the emptiest house I can remember, no doubt the severe weather deterring attendance, particularly families (I know I nearly gave up!). The assembled audience was treated to a great show by the Cleveland Orchestra and choruses.

If you had the misfortune of reading my treatise on box offices, you'll recall my reference to Disney's good show/bad show paradigm. Though the front of house was sparsely staffed, a phenomenal example of good show unrelated to the music: During intermission, Orchestra literally opened the bars and treated the audience to complimentary beverages as a "thank you" for making the trek. I can't remember a venue ever doing that in the past.

Ok, on to the music: Generally the orchestra sparkled, and the choruses were delightful (though there were a few cases where the chorus seemed to get lost under the orchestra). Though this wasn't "serious" music like this past weekend's wondrous Mahler, the Orchestra played with no less passion and, from reading facial expressions, seemed to be enjoying themselves through most of it.

I felt that the second half of the program was a bit more familiar, while the first half was a variety of music that, for the most part, I can't recall having heard before. In the first half, I loved The Holly and The Ivy, which was a delicious reminder of many of the traditional Christmas sounds. The Skaters Waltz from The Bishop's Wife and The Nativity from Jesus of Nazareth weren't really my thing and actually had a bit of a hard time holding my attention.

In the second half, the 1994 version of the Suite from Miracle on 34th Street compared favorably to the 1947 overture (heard in the first half); Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and I'm Dreaming Of Home were both beautiful - the former with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, the latter with the Youth Chorus. The two selections from Home Alone stood in clear contrast with each other, my preference being ever so slightly for the energy of Holiday Flight.

And thus we arrive at the Suite from The Polar Express. A piece that's been in rotation on my iPod since well before I moved to Cleveland, let alone heard my first true orchestral concert. I love the varied texture, soring strings and uplifting voices in the piece and it was near ecstasy live... sharing the room with the graceful power of musicians and choristers. I was so intently focused, in fact, on the violins directly in front of me, that I noticed I had started to develop a bit of tunnel vision. The urge to air conduct, something I do frequently while walking or driving, was just barely repressed--a good thing since I've been roasted for it before.

The staple White Christmas ended the official concert but didn't really do it for me -- perhaps I was still up from the Suite from The Polar Express, perhaps having heard that song 25 times this week, or perhaps after spending 10 times longer than usual in my car the last thing I'm dreaming of is a White Christmas.

All in all, as usual, worth the drive but I couldn't justify a standing ovation. I was in the minority on that point.


Part One
Traditional: The Holy and the Ivy (arr. Arnold)
Herman: We Need A Little Christmas from Mame (1974)
Mockridge: Overture to Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Rozsa: Suite from Ben Hur and King of Kings (1961)
Friedhofer: Skater's Waltz from The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Jarre: The Nativity from Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
Waxman: Suite from A Christmas Carol (1938)
Tiomkin: Suite from It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
Part Two
Broughton: Suite from Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Blane/Martin: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, arr. Bass)
Elfman: Orchestra Suite: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Rombi: I'm Dreaming of Home from Joyeux Noel (2005, Lyrics Barth/Lewis)
Williams: Home Alone (1990, Holiday Flight and Somewhere in My Memory)
Berlin: White Christmas from Holiday Inn (1942, arr. Bass)
Encore: Music from A Christmas Story

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