Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Bulletin of the Museum 1957-68 (@ClevelandArt)

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to everyone! I'm staying in Cleveland this year and though it doesn't look like we're in for a White Christmas thus year, the performing arts seem to have pulled up their collective covers for a well-earned respite. I figured I'd take this opportunity, then, to continue my series looking back at The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, a rather large cache of back issues of which I was fortunate to come into several months ago and have been slowly working my way through. The rest of the series, including one from before the Museum's 1916 building had even opened, can be found here.

March 1957. Forty-Fourth Year. Number Three. This issue should--chronologically, at least--have been included in my last post but somehow escaped my hands. In the rest of the world, Standard and Poor's published the first of the now ubiquitous S&P 500 and the Treaty of Rome is signed forming the European Economic Community a major step to what is today's European Union. More amazing, however, is the story that lies under the heading A Missing Fragment Recovered:

"One of the finest objects in the Museum's collection of the Arts of the Americas is the seated figure of a man, Olmec culture, given by Mrs. R. Henry Norweb in 1939. The statute is damaged, the head, the left arm and the left knee are missing but despite these mutilations, it surprises with its classical form its resilience and viral intensity.
"The brilliant visual memory of a friend of the Museum has recently made it possible to restore one of the missing parts of this statute; the left hand and knee. A letter supplies the details of the story, 'When we were in Mexico, we went one evening to the more than modest home of an Indian woman in Inguala who works in the fields at harvest time [...] She had nothing at all of interest ... but as the two men were leaving the son brought out another box of junk, My husband recognized it as probably the missing piece from that figure in the Cleveland Museum. I thought he was mad however, the master's eye was certainly true' "

The odds, to me, of fragments a piece originally sculpted somewhere between 1200 and 300 BC separated by thousands of miles were reunited (after the first fragment had been in the Museum's collection for 18 years) on the strength of chance and visual recollection is stunning (the piece, with Accession Number 1951.179, can be found in the Museum's collection online)

Membership stands at 6,834

September 1957. Forty-Fourth Year . Number Seven. While September of 1957 may be better known in history for the "Little Rock Crisis" of the American Civil Rights Movement   The cover of this issue features a picture of the Northwest-Corner of the "New Wing" -- representing the first capital expansion of the Museum. While the "1958 Building" was demolished as part of the 2005-13 renovation and expansion (and it seems that some of the "damage" to the 1916 building's facade as part of that expansion is still being undone) it blazed the trail in several respects for the current expansion including the complete closure of the museum for a period of time and the and, perhaps most importantly, court-granted permission to use endowment funds to construction.

January 1968. Volume LV. Number 1. There's a ten-year gap in my cache of bulletins and at some point during this time the Bulletin has undergone a massive redesign including color covers and a larger size -- roughly 7"x8.5" instead of 5.5"x8.5" -- a trend that has continued with the bulletin's descendant, today's Members Magazine is a full 8.5"x11". This increase in mass is not wasted: The first entry in this Bulletin spans 17 full pages, more than the entire length of most prior bulletins. Mrs. Albert M. Rankin has joined the Board of Directors -- and she continues to be an active supporter of Cleveland arts to this day.

February 1968. Volume LV. Number 2.

April 1968. Volume LV. Number 4. Though Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, both neighbors to the Cleveland Museum of Art voted to federate in 1967, this issue ends by announcing "The Trustees and the Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art wish to join the University Circle community in taking formal notice of the presidential installation of Robert Morse and the inaugural year of Case Western Reserve University [...] The Museum has traditionally enjoyed a close relationship with the academic community of Cleveland and this relationship has now been made more intimate and productive by the new joint program in the history and criticism of art announced recently.

June 1968. Volume LV. Number 6. The inside front cover contains an artists rendering of the "Proposed Educational Wing" -- today's North Wing and main entrance -- although alterations have been made over the years, the image presented here is still very recognizable. The letter, signed by Emery May Norweb, President and Sherman E. Lee, Director -- is too lengthy to quote here -- but is filled with resonant echos of the current construction project "At the same time we also hope the prospect of things to come will enlist their material support; the physical discomfort of new construction is as nothing compared to the ensuing financial distress."

The annual report continues with reports that the Library's collection totals 59,925 volumes: Today, based on some reports (or rather, a somewhat recent library job posting) the collection exceeds more than 456,000 cataloged volumes and 500,000 digitized slides making it one of the largest art libraries in the United States.

And that seems like a fine place to stop this installment.

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Christmas Concerts

(the program listing for this concert may be found at the conclusion of this post)

The Cleveland Orchestra Christmas concerts have become a bit of an accidental tradition. And I was starting to wonder if it would become rote. To the contrary, both the orchestra and chorus seemed very fresh. Though there were some staple pieces, much of the material was new to me or at the very least lesser known.

The concert began with candle-holding choristers taking the stage and brightly lit garlands hanging from the Box and Dress Circle levels brightly glowing and lead into the happy Presonent hodie which ended with an explosion of voices. That lead into The First Noel where, although the chimes seemed a bit loud the mechanical precision with which the violinists bow strokes alternated was like watching a perfectly tuned 4-stroke engine in action -- but it sounded much better. The third piece in the program was actually a suite of three five carols, two featuring the Chorus, and one each for strings, woodwinds and brass. The story behind these carols was interesting, as was the very different texture given to the first  -- Caroling Carolling, and fourth -- Away in a Manger was interesting with the first being bright and cheerful, as if a group was caroling, and the fourth being quiet and delicate.

The first half of the program ended with two more well-known pieces, Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker, where the introduction didn't strike me as familiar, but as the piece progressed it was the "a ha" moment.  The longest piece from the first part, this was also my favorite. While I love The Nutcracker (and would like to see more classical ballet in general) scheduling conflicts made it impossible to make it to PlayhouseSquare's one-weekend-only presentation of the Nutcracker this year, so this partially helped to fill the void. Last in the first half, the Hallelujah chorus from Messiah which included the obligatory crowd-standing. This year I've managed to avoid hearing the unabridged Messiah, and unlike The Nutcracker this completely filled the void.

I was sharing my box with a mother and daughters having a girls night out and during intermission offered to take their pictures in our box -- their first time at Severance Hall.

Part Two included the obligatory (I swear there's a law requiring its performance) Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson, and the traditional-for-orchestra Twelve Days of Christmas with audience singalong. John William's Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas from Home Alone 2 where the chorus glistened and both chorus and orchestra in a very festive piece.

Walking In the Air from a 1951 short movie about a snowman that comes to life and takes a boy flying up in the air and was a particularly fresh addition to this year's program, and may have been my favorite piece for both chorus and orchestra.

While Jingle Bells at first glance on the program seems overdone, this particular arrangement was a delight to the ears.


The Program:
Traditional: Personent hodie (arr. Lara Hoggard)*^
Traditional: The First Noel (arr. Carmen Dragon)^
A Suite of Carols:
- Burt: Caroling, Caroling (lyrics Wihla Huston)*
- Traditional: Bring a Torchm Jeanette Isabella (arr. Leroy Anderson for strings)^
- Traditional: Coventry Carol (arr. Leroy Anderson for woodwinds)^
- Traditional: Away in a Manger (arr. John Rutter for chorus)*
- Traditional: I saw three ships (arr. Leroy Anderson for brass)^
Traditional: Suo-gan (arr. Mack Wilberg)^*
Menotti: Introduction, March, and Shepards' Dance from Amahl and the Night Visitors^
Traditional: Hark the Herald Angels Sing (arr. David Willcocks)^*&
Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker^
Handel: Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah^*
Williams: Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas form Home Alone 2^*
Tchaikovsky: Final Waltz and Finale from The Nutcracker^
Blake: Walking in the Air (arr. Paul Bateman)^*
Traditional: The Twelve Days of Christmas (arr. John Rutter)*^&
Pierpont: Jingle Bells (arr. Morton Gould)^
Anderson: Sleigh Ride^
Martin and Blane: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (arr. Randol Bass)^*
Unannounced Encore 1: Silent Night^*
Unannounced Encore 2: We Wish you a Merry Christmas^*
With the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Cleveland State University Chorale
Robert Porco, conductor
^ - With Orchestra
* - With Chorus
& - Audience Participation

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CIM: Elinor Rufeizen Junior Recital (@CIM_edu)

Debussy: Premiere Rhapsodie (Rafael Skorka, piano)
Hersant: In the Dark (for solo clarinet)
Reich: New York Counterpoint (solo clarinet with recorded  music)
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto, K. 622 (solo clarinet with chamber orchestra)
Elinor Rufeizen, clarinet, at Mixon Hall, the Cleveland Institute of Music.

I had been invited to Elinor Rufeizen's Junior Recital tonight by an acquaintance and patron of the arts. Although one of my goals has been to attend more individual student recitals, on the heels of my event last night I had contemplated a quiet evening instead. Rachel and I however made the quick trip to CIM for the recital and it was a delicious blend of music.

The program moved at a brisk pace and my interest never seemed to wane. From the two well known composers on the program -- Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie beginning on the program and Mozart's K. 622 Clarinet Concerto ending the program -- the passion was clear and the notes comfortably expanded to fill the hall -- in the latter, Ms. Rufeizen played dual roles as solo clarinet and conductor to a chamber orchestra that supported her playing without trying to out play her.

In the middle of that sandwich was Philippe Hersant's In the Dark--a composer and composition known to few, if any, of the audience members and had a catchy, almost jazzy sound. One recurring, rounded, series of notes reminded me of the musical signature used in the movie Catch Me If You Can (odd connection, I know) and the abrupt ending caught me a bit by surprise.

The third piece on the program, another lesser-known composer and the most interesting to me from the evening, Steve Reich's New York Counterpoint, a piece for solo clarinet with recorded music and electronic effects, was layer upon layer of music created a polyphonic chaos that grew and subsided, ebbed and flowed: A note would build, reverberate, then decay while another note existed in the same space. Then other notes would appear and take over the stage. You could hear the sounds of the subway ... then the hustle and bustle of a crowd on the sidewalk ... then a traffic jam. All of the ambient noise you encounter in New York captured by a solo and recorded clarinet. It should be mentioned that playing to recording is much less forgiving than playing with live ensemble who can adjust on the fly -- but tonight there didn't seem to be anything that needed to be forgiven.

After the recital, the acquaintance and patron who had invited us to the recital hosted a wonderful reception in her home with a variety of conversation to round out the evening.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Isabel Trautwein: Bach Ciaccona (In My Living Room)

Bach: Ciaccona (from Partita for Violin No.2)
Isabel Trautwein, violin.
At my home, Cleveland Heights.

Last year Heights Arts' 10th anniversary party had a silent auction where I bid on and won a performance by Cleveland Orchestra cellist Tanya Ell in my living room. This year, at one of the Heights Arts House Concerts, a similar silent auction included Cleveland Orchestra violinist Isabel Trautwein offering her services.

Based how much fun I had the first time I couldn't help but to aggressively bid again. With the privilege of placing the winning bid, tonight a small group of friends and acquaintances assembled in my living room to hear Ms. Trautwein play Bach's Ciaccona, the final movement from his Partita for Violin No. 2.

Before playing, Heights Arts Executive Director Peggy Spaeth provided background for the organization that ultimately made the event possible, and Ms. Trautwein provided a deliciously detailed background not only on the piece but on Bach's family (a line of well-respected church musicians) his life (as one to organize and save his family's music, and as one who travelled with his patron) and on the piece. It is said that Bach was traveling with his patron for six weeks and and upon his return he found that not only had his wife died in his absence, she was already buried. This clearly had a profound effect on the composer.

When the playing began it was almost overwhelming. The Ciaccona, to quote from Wikipedia, "This ciaccona is considered a pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire in that it covers every aspect of violin-playing known during Bach's time and thus it is among the most difficult pieces to play for that instrument." And Johannes Brahms is said to have written that "[o]n one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind."

The Ciaccona runs 15 minutes, 256 measures, exceeding the combined running time of the preceeding movements in the partita.

After the music concluded there was a moment of brief, but absolute, silence before a guest exhaled a "Wow" and the applause erupted. In that 15 minutes of musical passion the rest of the world seemed to stop and when my conscious reappeared it is impossible not to acknowledge this as fantastic benefit to living in Cleveland: Not only do we have a world-class orchestra (and museum and performing arts and...) but the talented individuals that compose those institutions are passionate, engaged, and sociable.

A brief question and answer followed before we adjourned for a variety of foods (many deliciously prepared by Rachel), cheeses, an deserts -- not to mention wines flown in from Temecula, my hometown in Southern California -- and conversation lasting late in to the night.

It was a delightful evening and I hope to host another musical gathering  in the not too distant future.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Saint-Saens Organ Symphony

Barber: Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 
Bernstein: Serenade (after Plato's Symposium) (Peter Otto, violin)
Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 ("Organ Symphony") in C minor, Op. 78 (Joela Jones, organ)
Marin Alsop, conductor.

I spent most of today alternating between putting my house in order for the party I'm hosting tomorrow and fitting in some painful (to the ear, not physically) but much needed violin practice, so my trip to Severance Hall this evening was a welcome respite.

The first piece on the program and my unqualified favorite of the evening and one of the most enjoyable of the season thus far, Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1 is a single continuous piece with four sections (It didn't sound any different than a four-movement piece played without pause, the labeling seems a semantic exercise). The piece began with a dramatic introduction and continued engagingly delightfully quickly until reaching the third section (adante tranquillo) where the music took a turn from bright and somewhat agitated to tranquil where the oboe laid in a soft bed of strings, before the piece ended with something that sounded vaguely familiar.

Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 ("Jeremiah") was on the program at the first Cleveland Orchestra concert I attended--one of the things that got me hooked on classical--so I was eagerly looking forward to his Serenade. I didn't feel the same connection to Serenade, though it was splendidly played by Peter Otto, First Associate Concertmaster. The five movements build upon each other and are all dominated by Mr. Otto's violin. If connecting to Plato's The Symposium, one almost gets the sense of the violin as speaker and the string orchestra as a quiet audience.

The second movement, struck me at first as a bit solemn then cheeky features a passage where it seems as if Mr. Otto's instrument was asking a question being answered by the harp. The third movement seemed the shortest of the five and was quite excited and punctuated with musical exclamation points. The fourth movement returned to a lonely feeling: As if it would be perfect music for a cinematic scene with the heroine sitting in the edge of a bed crying and the orchestra sweeps over when the the soloist stood idle. The fifth movement is where the orchestra finally seems to awake and for the first time overpowers the soloist.

During a conversation with a patron I asked if they had heard the Organ Symphony prior to this weekend's concerts: "I've heard some truly awful renditions and it was nice to hear it in the spirit that was intended" was the answer. Played in two movements that both span a variety of tempo notations for the majority of the piece the organ either idle or unobtrusive and was well-woven into the musical fabric. In fact, the first time I noticed Ms. Jones' Organ was midway through the first movement there the organ seemed to slowly awake with two quiet, layered, noted and then a long sustained rumble. The orchestra was passionate. The second moment, likewise, was well underway before the organ was noticed -- but when the organ was noticed it practically screamed and its presence was impossible to ignore (perhaps the one instrument that can out-volume the timpani)


Friday, December 9, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Chinese Art Music: Yang Wei and Ensemble (@ClevelandArt)

The Program as Presented:
Busy Horses Deliver the Grain (Harvest) (Yangquin,eng, ehru, cello)
Tai Ping Tune (Pipa, sheng, erhu, dizi, cello)
A Plum Blossom--3 Variations (Ruan, sheng, pipa, dizi, cello)
Green Song (sheng, pipa)
Three Sighs at the Guan Pass (vocals, cello, guanzi, pipa, sheng)
Jade (pipa solo)
Autumn at Dressing Table (ruan, sheng, dizi)
Melody of Jin (cymbals, sheng, pipa)
Jian Nan Ho (pipa, sheng, maguhu)
Xiang Yun (Musical Sound of Hunan) (ruan, sheng, ehru, dizi, cello)
The Ancient Battlefield (pipa solo)
Lantern Festival (erhu, sheng, cello, pipa, dizi)
(Yang Wei, pipa, yangquin, ruan, music director; Wu Wei, sheng; Wang Hong, ehru, guanzi, maguhu; Miao Yimin, dizi; Mike Block, cello, ruan, vocal. At the Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art)

Rachel suggested that we attend tonight's concert at the Cleveland Museum of Art and I accepted eagerly... this afternoon though I was under a bit of an Advil-resistant headache. Based on what happened last time we almost forwent this concert. But we didn't and it was a great way to spend an evening -- and a relaxing way to end a stressful day.

The program -- as you can see above -- was extensive, with twelve pieces selected from a total of fourteen listed in the program and announced by Mr. Wei as the program progressed. Being introduced to the Ehru earlier this week as a solo instrument with Wednesday's Concert in the Galleries it was interesting to hear that instrument tonight as a part of an ensemble.

Between most pieces Mr. Wei provided commentary and background information -- for example there is apparently a contentious debate as to if the Ehru is a traditional Chinese instrument or not -- and the long histories of the instruments in the Chinese tradition used for tonight's performance -- from as old as 8,000 years to as "new" as 1,000 years.

Generally speaking the moods of the pieces played fit into one of three groups: Festive, Meditative, or Anguished. My favorites from the evening fit into that first category: The celebratory and energetic Busy Horses Deliver the Grain, according to the program note inspired by a dance tune opened the program and featured the only use of the Yangquin, a "hammer dulcimer", on tonight's program. Coming full circle to the Lantern Festival, where through bright musical colors it was easy to imagine lanterns being released above a celebratory and festive crowd. In between, Melody of Jin (a place) was the most percussive of the pieces was bright and chaotic with the only appearance of cymbals on the program.

The most meditative of the pieces -- Jade-- a piece for solo pipa was introduced by Mr. Wei noting that that Pipa colors can be "warm, dark, fresh, or messy" and that the composer had asked for varied colors. As the playing commenced I slipped into another world while I just let my brain go blank. In Jian Nan Ho, literally "The Beauty of Jian Nan", the balanced melodic sound of the piece seems to emulate that of a gently flowing river that moves on to a bit faster trot.

Spanning the meditative and anguished worlds, one of my favorite pieces was Three Sighs at the Guan Pass, based on a poem about forced exile and a man departing friends for an unknown future. The Chinese text of the poem ("The morning rain of Wei city drenches the light dust. The willow leaves near the inn appear to be greener. Let us toast one more time before departing, for after going through the West Gate, we, old friends, might never meet again") was sung by cellist Mike Block and was haunting.

Green Song originally composed in the late 80s for soprano and pipa but played tonight with sheng and pipa, was inspired by the poetry of Li Po, and Mr. Wei mentioned that the same poet had inspired many of Fu Baoshi's works. Though the program notes give no further background, listening to the piece I get the sense of two instruments searching against a desolate sound scape in solitude and an unrelenting and extremely heavy sense of pure anguish.

Speaking of anguish -- while the concert itself was delightful and far from it, the audience members surrounding us pushed both Rachel and I to our limits between the excessive -- and excessively loud program flipping plus elbowing and in-concert texting of one gentleman, and the pervasive conversations behind us left us both on the brink.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Concert in the Galleries (@ClevelandArt, @CIM_edu)

Britten: Three Movements (I, II, IV) from Suite for Harp (Jennifer R. Ellis, harp)
Handel: Andante Allegro from Harp Concerto in B-flat major (Jennifer R. Ellis, harp; transcribed by Carlos Salzedo for Solo Harp)
Scheidt: Selections (5) from Passamezzo (Paula Maust, organ)
Tian-Hua Liu: Bird Whispering in the Mountain (Yu-Cheng Lin, ehru)
Hai-Huai Huang: River Water (Yu-Cheng Lin, ehru)
Hai-Huai Huang: Horce Racing (Yu-Cheng Lin, ehru)
Klughardt: Quintet, Op. 79 (Hyunji Kim, flute; Chistopher Connors, oboe; Drew Sullivan, clarinet; Anthony J. Slusser, bassoon, Samuel Hartman, horn)
in Galery 201 (Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Gallery), 1916 Building, Cleveland Museum of Art.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Cleveland Institute of Music and the historical performance program of Case Western Reserve University continues a series which brings students of those institutions, toting beautiful music, accompanying the art that graces the Museum's walls. The series continues the first Wednesday of every month until May, 2012.

Tonight's concert started at 6pm -- a little too early for me to escape from the office and make my way to the museum before the concert started. Luckily Rachel was in the area and staked out two stools for us. Arriving in the 1916 building after parking and journeying through the tunnel I let my ear draw me to the music. I found the empty stool next to Rachel in the front row while Ms. Ellis was performing the Britten Suite, a portion of which may have been the most ominous I've heard the harp -- what I typically think of as a "lighter" instrument -- play with a little bit of a theme that seemed "twilight zone-ey" for lack of a better description.

In Ms. Ellis's introduction to the second piece she helped the audience to understand the difficulty of playing the Harp Concerto on instruments of Handel's era, and explained the purpose of the harp's pedals -- 7 pedals, one for each note on the musical scale, each with three stops Flat-Natural-Sharp. The selected movement twinkled and resonated in the galleries such that the paintings on the wall behind seemed to come to life.

Following, Ms. Paula Maust, played five of twelve selections from Samuel Scheidt's Passamezzo. From Northern Germany we were warned of a Baroque-sounding  counterpoint and  that each of the selections shared a common chord progression. As the selections were played -- on an interesting looking organ from the Museum's collection (CMA has musical instruments in its collection!?!? How did I miss that one?) they sounded remarkably different -- some ominous and dark, others brighter. Not generally a fan of organ music, I found this interesting and pleasantly brief.

Though tonight's concert was generally of lesser-performed instruments, Ms. Yu-Cheng Lin offered a most unconventional (for Westerners) instrument -- the solo Ehru. A two-stringed bowed  instrument it bears a resemblance, in a long-lost cousin sort of way, to the violin, and its sound is a bit sweeter than a fidde, and it nearly instantly evokes an Asian connection. Though the three collectively were my favorite set from the evening, the first Bird Whispering in the Mountain composed by Tian-Hua Liu was my favorite with a delightfully romantic character.

Closing out the program, Klughardt's Quintet, Op. 79, was the only ensemble piece and was described as "Schumannesque". The second and third (Allegro vivace and Andante grazioso, respectively) movements were my favorites from the piece with a lighter, almost lilting that seemed pastoral and relaxed in the second movement providing a welcome relief from the dark and ominous Allegro non tropo first movement. The third movement was as relaxed and enjoyable but seemed almost regal at points. Unfortunately, there was an odd resonance or acoustical effect in the gallery -- or at least from my location in the gallery -- which  made the fourth movement a bit difficult to listen to.

Now that there's a regular series of formal presentations would I be pressing my luck if I asked for guerrilla presentations? ;)


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ohio Philharmonic Orchestra: A Christmas and Holiday Celebration

Verdi: Aida (Prelude, Triumphal March & Ballet)
Ravel: Ma mere l'oye / Mother Goose Suite
Anderson: A Christmas Festival
Styne: The Christmas Waltz (arr. Jerry Brubaker)
Arr. Bill Holcombe: Festive Sounds of Hanukkah
Depolo & Depolo: Spirit of Christmas
Anderson: Sleigh Ride
Berlin: White Christmas (arr. Russel Bennett)
Herbert: Babes in Toyland: March of the Toys
One Encore, unannounced
Domenico Boyagian, conductor
at First Baptist Church, Shaker Heights

Without a viable Cleveland Orchestra concert this weekend, until yesterday afternoon I was contemplating taking the weekend off, if you will. On Friday, though, I received an email from Artistic Director William Laufer suggesting that I attend the Ohio Philharmonic's concert at First Baptist Church in Shaker Heights. Not having other plans for the evening and not being familiar with the Ohio Philharmonic -- not to mention it being a free concert -- I figured I'd give it a spin.

Although I'm not familiar with the organization, as I settled into the pew at First Baptist Church and leafed through the program I recognized several of the orchestra members' names from the Cleveland Institute of Music or other local ensembles.

Before the program began, Mr. Laufer introduced the program and mentioned a new competition that will team composers with filmmakers to score short films with the results to be screened with the Ohio Philharmonic playing the score live -- certainly an interesting proposition, and exciting given the quantity of talent in both fields in Northeast Ohio

The program opened with two selections  from Verdi's Aida.. Though it seemed that the prelude was an inauspicious beginning to the concert -- seeming a bit emotionally distant -- and separated from the Triumphal March by comments from Mr. Boyagain (which left me momentarily confused about the location in the program) the Triumphal March had beautifully triumphant trumpets and innocent winds with an ominous string statement and was delightful.

Next on the program Ravel's Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose Suite), five movements based on fairy tales (Pavane of Sleeping Beauty, Little Tom Thumb, Little Ugly Girl, Empress of the Pagodas, Conversation of Beauty and the Beast, Fairy Garden). Pavene of Sleeping Beauty had a delicate, sleeping quality; Little Ugly Girl, Empress of the Pagodas had a fun and decidedly Asian flair -- this was my favorite movement from the set and one of my favorites from the evening. Beauty and the Beast certainly seemed beastly -- as beastly as music can be -- though ended longingly and sadly. The Fairy Garden was quiet and leisurely slow, as if meandering through a garden.

After intermission the program shifted to unquestionably seasonal with Leroy Anderson's A Christmas Festival. Though Mr. Anderson's Sleigh Ride seems to be a immutable staple of Christmas concerts (and appears later on tonight's program) I don't believe that I've heard A Christmas Festival which was a boldly played lively medley of traditional Christmas sounds and was my favorite piece from the program. Taking a break from the speed, Styne's The Christmas Waltz, arranged by Jerry Brubreaker seemed like the perfect soundtrack for a walk down an old-town main street with a light snowfall.

Speeding things back up but with my mind still firmly in soundtrack mode, Festive Sounds of Hanukkah arranged by Bll Holcombe seemed like it could just as easily be an award show theme music.

At number six on the program, a world premiere Spirit of Christmas by twin brother composers Andrew and Jared Depolo was bright and celebratory while maintaining the rounded edges that typify Christmas music. In its short running time it certainly captured the spirit of the season. Following it, Anderson's Sleigh Ride was just as festive, particular note goes to the "clap" mimicking the crack of a whip--this is the first time I've heard the piece where that didn't sound overbearing. [I should admit that I couldn't resist doing a bit of air conducting from my seat]

Robert Russell Bennett's arrangement of Irving Berlin's White Christmas and Herbert's March of the Toys from Babes in Toyland didn't move me as much as the previous pieces on the program though the rendition of White Christmas was acurate enough for me to mentally sing along.

Following a standing ovation, the Orchestra performed one encore which was a delightful end to the concert.

It's worth noting that of all of the ensembles I've taken in, on first pass, the Ohio Philharmonic seems to be the most interested in shaping programs to fit audience interests -- or at least the only one I can recall explicitly stating as much and soliciting input.