Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Blogger's Night

Before this evening's concert (see this post), the gracious hosts of the Cleveland Orchestra had offered an invitation to a "Meet the Musicians" panel in a room deep below the Blossom stage, providing a great opportunity to meet other orchestra fans and--more so, of course--to hear from Orchestra musicians, particularly:

Franklin Cohen - a clarinetist who I've become familiar with via a series of house concerts and intimate recitals, joined the Cleveland Orchestra in 1976. On August 28th, Mr. Cohen will be playing Weber's Clarinet Concerto No. 2. The third time he's played this piece with the orchestra, he commented as he's gotten older he's gotten bolder and it's paid off. Mr. Cohen related the humorous story of when he and his mother attempted to hear the piece from the front row of Carnegie Hall when he was 10 -- after a long string introduction, the clarinet is supposed to enter with a high note: In that case, all that came out was a long squeak, and the 10-year-old Mr. Cohen and mother were overcome by laughter and had to leave the hall. For his part, Mr. Cohen promises a squeak-free performance.

(Jung-Min) Amy Lee - a relative newcomer to the Cleveland Orchestra, starting as Associate Concertmaster in 2008, started piano lessons in her native South Korea at the age of five. Her teacher felt that she was musically talented but that she shouldn't be playing the piano. After her mother eliminated cello from the running (fearful, understandably, that she would be stuck carrying the instrument) Ms. Lee found her way to the violin. Presuming--and hoping--that the Joffrey Ballet's labor issues are resolved prior to their scheduled engagement August 20th and 21st, Ms. Lee will be playing Stravinsky's Violin Concerto from the Blossom pit to accompany George Balanchine's choreography for one piece. Although Ms. Lee has never played this concerto, she has always wanted to and feels that it is technically challenging.

When asked the differences between solo, chamber, and orchestra playing, Ms. Lee remarked that playing with The Cleveland Orchestra is like playing with a big group of people who are plying chamber music, and not many orchestras have that quality.

Principal Second Violin Stephen Rose will be playing Bach's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom on August 22nd. Commenting on the piece he remarked to the effect that sound is influenced by the instruments, and as the orchestra doesn't play on baroque period instruments there will be differences--the bows are different, the violins themselves are different, and the method of playing has evolved, but there are no appologies to be made*. A CIM graduate who had previously attended a music festival in Hudson (a common string between Mr. Rose and Ms. Lee) he remembers the first time he heard The Cleveland Orchestra, it was at Blossom and with a violin soloist. No doubt those memories will be rekindled on August 22nd.

Last but not least, Principal Timpani Paul Yancich, who joined The Cleveland Orchestra in 1981 spoke about Dynasty Double Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra which he and his brother commissioned from composer James Oliverio, and which will be played for only the second time by he and his brother, Mark, on September 10th, the last concert of the 2011 Blossom Festival season. Despite any lingering sibling rivalries, Mr. Yanchich comments that the two parts are wholly interdependent and on roughly equal footing. Speaking of feet, Mr. Yanchich comments that as opposed to violin where you have five fingers and access to all of the available notes within the roughly foot of fingerboard, the Timpani is tuned by foot and you really only have two hands to play with making it a more limited instrument... but in the case of this concerto, the composer has access to four hands and four feet to push the envelope a bit.

Lead by Orchestra General Manager Gary Ginstling, following the discussion on individual concertos, the discussion turned Brucknerian -- between the topic of this evening's concert and the Orchestra's impending visit to New York's Lincoln Center -- and his distinctive "wall of sound". Mr. Rose commented that with Bruckner, every musician was but a small part of the sound, and Ms. Lee added that she felt the main job was to blend, and if you are able to here yourself play outside of the whole you are playing too loudly. Mr Cohen, looking out on to the trees of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, embracing Blossom, noted that while it is a wall of sound that wall is composed of many leaves of different colors, and while nothing stands out if you start to take away the leaves the wall fades. Finally, Mr. Yancich observes that for the timpani the pieces are slower moving and you have an opportunity to hone in more on the essence of the sound along with calm rolls on the instrument.

*- I feel like I've done a particularly poor job of summarizing Mr. Rose's comments; if anyone there has a better version, I'd be glad to hear it.

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