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.


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