Saturday, September 22, 2012

Heights Arts: Academy of Bluegrass in the Field (a Benefit)

I've been eagerly awaiting the Cleveland Orchestra's return to Severance Hall for a new seson -- for me, that's tomorrow night. Tonight, though, we were treated to several members of the Cleveland Orchestra plying their trade in a different genere as a benefit for Height's Arts Close Encounters series of intimate cocncerts.

Incidentally, both individual and series tickets for the 2012-13 Close Encounters series are on sale now via Height's Arts web  site.

For a concert of bluegrass music, the Dunham Tavern Museum was the ideal Cleveland venue. Although all of the musicians on the program are members of Cleveland Orchestra, Derek Zadinsky was the only musician playing his "normal" instrument. Mark Dumm, Cleveland Orchestra first violn aptly weaved from banjo to fiddle to mandolin. Trina Bourne, best known as the Orchestra's principal harp, showed off her skills with a much smaller instrument -- the fiddle. Jeffrey Zehngut, orchestra 2nd violin donned a mandolin, guitar, and soprano sax. Orchestra bassists Henrey Preureburne spent the night with a guitar, while Derek Zadinsky nimbly navigated the largest instrument before us. If they were at all out of their comfort zone, their playing gave no indication.

The program was not published (though my attempt at capturing the pieces announced from the stage follows this post) but was a fantastic mix of bluegrass music running the gamut from slow and soulful to bubbly and pure fun.

Starting with the rousing Orange Blossom Special, the ensemble seamlessly transitioned through Ole Joe Clarke to Ashokan Farewell, a piece I heard arranged for orchestra at the beginning of the summer when The Cleveland Orchestra shared the Blossom stage with Time For Three. While I loved both versions, tonight's version had a much more tender and intimate feeling. Takin a piece originally written for Double Bass, Cello, and Mandolin and substituting a saxophone for the cello, the light Butterfly's Day Out took on a delightful urban, almost jazzy feel. Taking things in a different direction, The Cannon was an almost lullaby with the sounds of the bass and violin, which Rachel felt was more evocative of the flight of the butterfly.

Taking things in a completely different direction, we had the pleasure of hearing Bach's Gigue in G minor played by a leading violinist -- but instead of violin and bow, we heard it with the sweet sounds of the mandolin. Rounding out the first half of the program, Mr. Zehngut demonstrated his vocal ability with I'm a Man of Constant Sorrows  from Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

After intermission, a lively interpretation of dueling banjos with a banjo and mandolin pitted against a good natured guitar, F.C.'s Jig for violin and cello played by fidle and bass -- and Mr. Zadinsky covered every inch of his much larger bass substituting for a cello.

12th Street Rag gave me visions of a barn dance in the Dunham Tavern Museum's barn and I harbored visions of spinning Rachel around while (attempting) swing dancing in the back of the barn. Luckily for the audience (and Rachel) I did not attempt such a feat.

One of the great things abut a concert like tonight's is that the musicians' individual personalities can really shine through in a relaxed environment, and nothing showed that more than the next piece on the program -- while I didn't catch a title, it was a musical look at the less-glamorous side of orchestral touring following an introduction wherein we learned one member of the orchestra is particularly unlucky at finding the bus in one particular European city.

Attempting to cut the concert short by at least one banjo piece, Mark Dumm announced that he only had one banjo thumb pick and it was on its last legs. Before he could get much further, a new pick had mysteriously appeared from the back of the room -- now who happens to have an extra banjo thumb pick on them. In Cleveland. In September? Anyway, replacement pick in hand, the concert continued with Pinkin and Grinnin (punctuated with jokes -- and a touch of self-deprecation) and Foggy Mount Breakdown from Bonnie and Clyde. And the cherry on top of the concert, the encore was I Don't Love Nobody.

It was such a fantastic concert for a great cause and it is always an extreme pleasure to see Orchestra musicians out in the wild, and in this case playing music that may be a little off of the norm. Plus it highlights low lucky Cleveland is to have such a broad and deep pool of committed world-class talent.

I can't wait for the next one!


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