Saturday, February 23, 2013

Magical Cleveland Orchestra: Dvorak's New World Symphony

Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") in E minor, op. 95
Encore: Dvorak Slavonic Dances
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor.

From my seat: Following the encore.
A few months ago, I took part in an interview session sponsored by Cleveland Foundation. One of the questions was "What makes the perfect concert?" It's a feeling -- an ever-so-rare feeling -- not unlike love: Your pulse quickens, time seems to stand still, and the not only does the world outside the hall cease to matter, it effectively ceases to exist. For me, it's about one concert a season. In a great season. With one of the world's best Orchestras. But it is also the concert that makes those that fall at the other end of the spectrum so worthwhile.

Tonight was that perfect concert.

As I sat overlooking the house from my perch in box 3, I couldn't help but to note the unusually lively atmosphere in a sold-out Severance hall. For a few moments one may have had the impression they had walked into an opulent sporting arena. For as boisterous as the house was before the music started, it was dead silent while the orchestra was in action.

Far from the manic convulsions associated with the conducting trade, Mr. Blomstedt is generally subtle; for the most part, if he were conducting w

Mr. Blomstedt is a generally subtle conductor. Far from the manic convulsions typically associated with the trade, if you removed the orchestra from his audience passersby may think it just a slight tick. The effect is that when expansive language draws out that much energy from the orchestra.

The Mozart was simply a piece of abstract beauty -- from the famous opening of the first movement to the more settled second and the precise surges of energy at the transition from the third to fourth movements.

For the abstraction in the Mozart, the imagery of Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, From the New World is crystal clear. That piece is my favorite from the pre-1900 repertoire, and perhaps one I've heard most often. Tonight's rendition, however exposed subtleties in the piece I can't recall having heard in any of the live -- or recorded -- performances I've heard to date. Hearing the piece and the pulse that weaves its way through I imagine the American frontiers of the late 1800s and those of the populations who's native sounds are captured in the piece.

While listening to From the New World -- one of my favorite orchestral pieces -- I can't help but to imagine the setting of Frederic Edwin Church's Twilight in the Wilderness, painted only a few decades before Dvorak composed his musical postcard and one of my favorite pieces in the Cleveland Museum of Art's Collection  -- both invoke very similar feelings.

But if you weren't at this weekend's concerts (plus a matinee tomorrow) you missed a magical concert with a fantastic ensemble.


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