Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Emanuel Ax Performs Haydn and Stravinsky

John Adams: Guide to Strange Places
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D major, HobXVII:11 (Emanuel Ax, piano)
Stravinsky: Capriccio (for piano and orchestra) (Emanuel Ax, piano)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

The rapture (or lack thereof) seemed to be the prime topic of discussion before tonight's concert. In the box next to mine, a prominent Clevelander was overheard remarking, "If there is going to be rapture, I can think of no place I'd rather be than at The Cleveland Orchestra" -- probably not the kind of endorsement you're likely to find on a postcard, but apt nonetheless.

The rapture-spurning concert began with John Adam's thrilling Guide to Strange Places which had a strong sense of adventure and a nicely rapid pace, though the middle was a bit bog-ish -- both in tempo and evocative feeling. At any given point in the piece, the sheer number of things happening offered intrigue for both the eyes and the ears, though the first roughly half of the piece was that which I found most interesting and the easiest to relate to. A musical embodiment of the discovery of new places, the uncertainty of if something will be bad, good, or indifferent until after it has been encountered--even the rush of a crowd of people in an unfamiliar train station. In other words, the emotions it evoked were a very good fit for the emotions I felt while exploring Chicago just yesterday.

Next on the program and standing in stark contrast, Haydn's Piano Concerto in D-major which from the first notes was unmistakably classical -- you could tell that they had come from different centuries. My perch in Box 3 gave me a straight view down the piano's keyboard, where when watching Mr. Ax's fingers dance it was difficult to not picture the rapid flap of a humming bird's wings. And the sound was scrumptious. The first movement was lively but dignified with a delightful series of recurring notes, the second a bit more introspective and calmer, and the final movement was cheerful.

The two pieces following intermission didn't grab me as firmly as the first two. Just as the Haydn was unmistakably classical, Stravinsky's Capriccio, was unmistakably of a different era. I've generally found myself to be a fan of Stravinsky -- The Rite of Spring, A Soldier's Tale, the Divertimento from The Fairy's Kiss being among my favorites, I didn't really care for the Capriccio. Likewise, I didn't find Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 particularly endearing with my thoughts being the that piece was generally emphatic and repetitive. I felt the second (allegretto scherzando) movement would have made for some beautiful dancing, while the third movement -- Tempo di Menuetto or speed and style of a minuet -- evoked no such feelings.

Next week is my mom's graduation for her Masters' program so unless I can figure out a way to change my all-day Saturday SNA-IAH-CLE* flights on Continental to something like a late morning LAX-CLE nonstop without giving up an arm it seems I will miss my first Cleveland Orchestra concert weekend in two years--and the end of this Severance season. It seems like it was just last week that the season got kicked off... and Blossom is just around the corner.

*- Or Santa Ana (Orange County/John Wayne) - Houston (Bush Intercontinental) - Cleveland (Hopkins) for those who don't speak fluent Airport Code

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