Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert

Key: The Star Spangled Banner (arr. Damrosc)*
Johnson: Lift Every Voice and Sing*
Verdi: Overture to La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny)
Mendelssohn: Rise Up, Arise from Saint Paul, op. 36**
Mozart: Allegro from Violin Concerto No. 3, K.216 (Randal Goosby, violin)
Rutter: Alegro vivace from Gloria**
Hoiby: I Have A Dream (words by King, Jr., Brian Keith Johnson, baritone)
Steffe: Battle Hymn of the Republic (Words by Howe)*
Traditional: Elijah Rock (A Capella)**
Traditional: Soon Ah Will Be Done (A Capella)*
Halistork: Epitatph for a Man Who Dreamed - In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Traditional: We Shall Overcome (words by Tindley and others, arr. Brown, Jr.)
Three Unannounced Encores (Two for choir and orchestra, one A Capella)*
Willie Anthony Walters, conductor; *- Central State University Chorus and Celebration Chorus; ** - Central State University Chorus (William Henry Caldwell, director)

(The Musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra donated their services for this evening's concert)

For the past few years I've been interested in attending the Orchestra's MLK concert, but invariably by the time I know tickets are available there are no more tickets to be had. Today the stars aligned. As the end of the published program came, my initial thought was "well, I definitely won't need to do this again." -- three quite enthusiastic encores later, I'm not quite as definite, and kind of feel like finding a gospel church service.

The concert was perfectly adequate, but when presented by an organization who barely has adequate in a dusty corner of its vocabulary it is disappointing, and accompanied by what was by far the rudest audience I've encountered in Severance (patrons coming and going while music was playing, incessant crinking of celophane, and most irritatingly several full-blown, feature-length conversations amongst patrons seated within a few rows of me)

Before discussing the music, something pre-concert bothered me: I've written in the past about my dislike of General Admission seating in large venues; this concert was general admission. With that in mind I arrived well before the 7pm concert start time. Seating began at 5:30 and after finding that my first four preferred areas in the hall weren't actually open for general admission, I wound up in the lower balcony; I selected a seat on an aisle and settled in. At about 6:15 an usher asked if I would mind moving in to to the middle of the row because another patron would like my seat. "I'm sorry, no." she asked again. "I'm sorry. No." -- this was incredibly rude on the part of the usher--implying that though I had arrived early to secure my seating preference, I should give it over to someone who arrived nearly an hour later. But she asked a third time. "I am sorry. NO." Had she asked a fourth time, I think my answer would have been less polite, and possibly in the only other language I speak*: Je suis desolee, non.

If General Admission seating is to be used, ushers should be aware how incredibly disrespectful it is to ask a seated patron to move more than once, let alone the uncomfortable position it puts the patron being asked in.

Ok, that little rant aside... generally, the orchestra sounded dull and when the choir(s) and orchestra were performing together, the sensation was difficult to describe: It wasn't that the orchestra was getting lost under the chorus, or the chorus was getting lost under the orchestra but at times during the first half of the concert it seemed that both were happening simultaneously.

The first several pieces were almost completely unremarkable, save for the fact that all of the musicians (save for the difficulty that would pose for the cellists) stood for The Star Spangled Banner, something I've not seen before, but certainly a show of respect worth repeating. Randall Goosby, the quite talented young violinist playing the solo portion of the Allegro from Mozart's third violin concerto was a highlight of the evening with beautiful technique and a great sound.

I had heard baritone Brian Keith Johnson sing baritone in the Wexford Carol during the Cleveland Orchestra's Christmas concerts and was a fan; tonight I wasn't quite as fond of Mr. Johnson's performance, but I think the selection of works had more to do with it: The I Have a Dream speech is forceful in not just because of its naked words, but in their punctuated delivery. When set to music, at least with this arrangement, it looses the punctuated delivery and a large portion if it's moving force; it didn't help that Mr. Johnson was difficult to hear over the orchestra.

The second half of the program was much stronger; Battle Hymn of the Republic was moving and perhaps the best balance between chorus and orchestra of the evening.

The promise of Elijah Rock was a large part of the reason I stayed through intermission--having enjoyed it when I heard it during the Blossom Festival Season; tonight's A Capella presentation sung by the Central State University Chorus was energetic, clear, and just plain fun, with some humorous displays of talent sprinkled throughout.

I think the full title of Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed may take longer to say than the piece did to play, but it was wonderfully somber tribute.

The three encores -- the first A Capella, the latter two including chorus and orchestra -- saved the evening; though I couldn't actually understand any of what was being sung (and can't even guess what they were) the energy coming from the stage and reflected by the audience was delightful to listen to.

*- for very minimal values of "speak".

No comments:

Post a Comment