Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Neilsen's Inextinguishable

Sibelius: Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105
Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35*
Unannounced Encore: Solo Violin*
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 ("The Inextinguishable"), Op. 29
Thomas Dausgaard, conductor; *- Frank Peter Zimmerman, violin.

Arriving at Severance Hall this evening, something felt a little off: Not musically, but in the ambiance of the foyer. As the hall opened and the concert starting time approached that feeling carried into the hall and on to the stage where there was a rather unusual "musical chairs" episode in the cello section just before concert start time. That unsettled feeling unfortunately stayed with me throughout the concert. Programmatically this concert also felt weird: After a desert of Sibelius, it stuck me as odd that his works were programmed back-to-back, the same with violin concertos.

Watching Mr Dausgaard conduct the Sibelius and Neilsen pieces -- which were done from memory -- was interesting, particularly as far as his physical relationship to the orchestra was concerned: Not only did he make full use of his podium but there were moments where he appeared to cross over the top of the musicians' stands to arrive practically in their faces.

The only work I felt fully engaged by was Sibelius's symphony, with pastoral images floating on a serene brook with moments of uncertainty and mystery returning to ease with triumph and including what I envisioned as the sun rising on a spring day (can you tell what I'm looking forward to right now?) from a horn call late in the symphony.

While I have no objective criticism for the Szymanowski violin concerto (or Mr. Zimmermann's playing of it) or Neilsen's symphony, I couldn't really even muster the feeling of apathy; while each had some interesting moments I was generally uninspired. Between these two The Inextinguishable would win by a hair -- particularly for the unusual placement at the front corners of the stage and the chaotic, war-like feeling they inspire late in the piece. Rereading the program note to alleviate the boredom, a letter describing the inspiration is quoted as
" express what we understand by Life Urge or Live Expression -- that
is, everything that moves, that has the will to life, that cannot be called
either bad or good, high or low, large or small, but simply... 'That which has
the will to life'... just life in motion, though different, very different, but
connected and as if constantly flowing, in one great movement of flow..."

and in that context, though I didn't love the piece musically the execution was crystal clear.

Beyond the music, it's always interesting -- particularly on the box level -- to hear the stories of how patrons came to the orchestra*. The gentleman in front of me "grew up in this box" but moved away from Cleveland, he returned to attend the screening of a film he produced in the late '60s that included members of the Cleveland Orchestra. This was his first time in the hall since the renovation in the early 2000s, and it was interesting to hear his impressions of the hall.

As for the film, Double-Stop, screening at the Cinametheque on Sunday, I had actually heard of it a few weeks ago and am intrigued both by the subject matter -- Cleveland's school busing for racial integration -- and time period, but it is only scheduled to screen once and I have a prior obligation. It was nonetheless interesting to meet the filmmaker, and I do hope that there will be an encore.

*- Previous "How long have you been coming to Severance?" answers have included, among others "Well, we've had this box for 43 years..."

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