Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra and Kent/Blosom Chamber Orchestra: French Connection

Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra
Debussy: Clair de lune [Moonlight] from Suite Bergamasque
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
James Feddeck, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra
Berlioz: Overture to Les Francs-Juges [The Free Judges], Op. 3
Saint-Saens: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 (Cederic Tiberghien, Piano)
Debussy: La Mer [The Sea]
Stephane Deneve, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra and the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra
Ravel: La Valse [The Waltz]
Stephane Deneve, conductor

As the Cleveland Orchestra and the Kent/Blossom Chamber orchestra were concluding the program "side by side" playing Ravel's La Valse, I was desperately trying to find something -- anything -- from tonight's program that was likable. Sure there were brief passages here and there but overall, I have to say I spent most of the concert wishing that I had a "Next Track" button. It was particularly disappointing in contrast to how much I enjoyed last weekend's concert.

[In all honesty, if it wasn't for the fact that I need to drive to Michigan tomorrow--and it's Rachel's last day working retail--I would have attended that program instead of tonight's]

The pacing -- particularly for the Kent/Blossom pieces--seemed slow, the balance between sections seemed off, and there seemed to be a certain lack of cohesiveness that muddied the sound.

Next weekend Rachel and I will be in a different part of Michigan vacating over a long weekend (I need a vacation) but those programs sound promising, I will admit that I'm a bit disappointed to be missing Holst's The Planets.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Porgy and Bess

Williams: Liberty Fanfare
Williams: Music from Lincoln
Navarro: II Concerto for clarinet and orchestra (Franklin Cohen, clarinet)
Hogan: Three Spirituals (Blossom Festival Chorus with Laquita Mitchell, soprano and Eric Greene, baritone)
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess (highlights from the opera) Arr. Bennett (Blossom Festival Chorus, Laquita Mitchell, soprano; Roderick Dixon, tenor; Eric Greene, baritone)
Encore: Ward: America the Beautiful
James Feddeck, conductor.

Arriving early for tonights concert I meandered into the pavilion after enjoying a few moments respite in the cool breeze of shady Kulas Plaza. Finding my seat and settling in, the sounds of a harpist warming up rolled out over the pavilion much like the breeze in the plaza momenta earlier. Joined for a brief time with a xylophone, then a marimbist and bassists it was a great relaxation for a summer evening.

The concert did not disappoint -- without a doubt my favorite thus far in the Blossom season. I'm a fan of John Williams's works -- one of my three gateways to classical music, but so frequently concerts of his works are the same rote selections. Tonight opened with two uncommon Williams works. The first, Liberty Fanfare was amazing with sweeping strings giving the image of tall ships cutting across the ocean, or a the opening of an evening newscast, though with a softer edge than The Mission -- Mr. Williams's theme for the NBC Nightly News.

The second Williams selection was a bit more recent -- three selections of music from the film Lincoln. The first, The People's House was somber and dark with heavy winds; the last, With Malice Toward None, was longing with a beautiful solo cello and restless strings. The middle selection, Getting out The Vote was my favorite from the work with a country fiddle and a light fun air.

Rounding out the first half of the program, and my favorite work from the evening -- and one of the most enjoyable in months -- was II Concerto for clarinet and orchestra with Franklin Cohen playing the solo part. Starting with a fairly unsuspecting repetitive three note "drip" from the orchestra, it swelled into an enchanted lagoon with a Spanish flair (with much of the rear of the orchestra clapping), before turning dramatic as if  approaching a deadly waterfall. After a very long pause (long enough that despite Mr. Feddeck's outstretched arms a fairly enthusiastic applause emerged) the piece continued with a much brighter mood, though with a more "real" feeling, as if we had emerged from the musical fantasy into the real world.

I was not as crazy for the second half as I was the first, but it was still above average. With Three Choruses arranged for unaccompanied chorus by Moses Hogan, the show was as visual as it was audible. While the pieces didn't move me, watching a very animated Mr. Feddick gesticulate across the expanse of empty orchestra chairs and music stands to the unaccompanied chorus was a sight to behold, almost as if he were a preacher physically reaching into each singer's soul to extract the notes.

Twelve selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess closed out the published program, and again I wasn't crazy about the work as a whole -- and soprano Laquita Mitchell's vibrato seemed overdone -- the seventh selection with Eric Green and the chorus's Oh, I got Plenty o' Nuttin' was among my favorites, and the eighth Bess, You Is My Woman Now where Laquita Mitchell and Eric Green played off of each other and gave a touching romantic feeling. The best balance between Orchestra, Chorus, and soloist came from Rodrick Dixon, in It Ain't Necessarily So, where Mr. Dixon also hit a seemingly impossible -- and impossibly loud note.

The program concluded with an unannounced encore of Ward's God Bless America, which was simply beautiful.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Wagner's Valkyrie (at Blossom Music Center)

Wagner: Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan and Isolde (Christine Brewer, soprano)
Wagner: Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music from Die Walkure (Alan Held, bass-baratone)
Wagner: Orchestral Selections from Brunnhilde's Immolationfrom Gotterdammerung
Franx Welser-Most, conductor.

I spent the day in Akron working -- I think the first Saturday I've actually worked (as opposed to travel-for-worked) in my career, but my client's client had unique scheduling demands. I made it out of the World Headquarters and to Blossom in the nick of time, but I don't think I ever really settled in. I'm not sure if it is a result of not being settled or not, but as a whole the concert felt distant. Under Mr. Welser-Most's baton this evening, I felt as if the orchestra was overly restrained -- the orchestral equivalent of the 6-foot-leash holding back a pitbull. 

 Though the orchestra was restrained, both soloists seemed easily overpowered, for better or worse [what can I say, I like the music, but I'm not a fan of many opera singers] at times. My favorite moments from the program were those that were purely orchestral. The musical space (filled in by chirping birds, and if I'm not mistaken, a hooting owl) and romance tinged by tragedy in the Prelude and Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey / Sigfried's Death and Funeral Music from Gotterdammerung. The sung passages, it was fair to say I was ambivalent about -- soothing and enjoyable but not really memorable or provoking.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Heroic Beethoven (at Blossom)

Beethoven: Grosse Fuge [Grand Fugue] in B-flat, Op. 133
Liszt: Totentanz [Dance of Death] (for piano and orchestra) (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") in E-flat major, Op. 55
Franz Welser-Most, Conductor.

My attendance at tonight's concert was anything but certain: My mother arrived in town Friday morning for a weekend visit, and I wanted to keep the schedule open. She had never been to Blossom and Rachel was able to wrestle the evening off so the three of us headed back out to Blossom Music Center for tonight's concert. (Incidentally, I've been assured that the chime issue I mentioned in my last post will be resolved quickly)

Beethoven pieces bookended the concert and I realized in listening to both pieces that while his music is beautiful musically, listening to it doesn't really evoke imagery, which makes it difficult for me to express my reaction to it. That said, Grosse Fuge immediately struck me as both sweet and deep and throaty, the sense of repetition made it very relaxing, though the hammering of an increasingly violent rain virtually drowned out (figuratively and almost literally) some of the quieter passages.

That rain also served to delay the beginning of the second piece (and the volume of water was forming and impressive waterfall off the pavilion roof), which was the unanimous favorite because we all found it particularly evocative -- "birds" said Rachel; "soundtrack to a horror movie" was my mother's take; "Pirates of the Caribbean" was my four-word take. The piece began with an ominous and intense funeral march--being literally hammered out on the piano, and you could almost see taunting skeletons dancing, before taking a lighter, almost fantasy air as  if passing through the gates to the after world. Darkness and light trade places again during the piece including a brief portion of "light" where the piano took on a but more of a baroque sound.

After intermission, Beethoven's Eroica (Symphony No. 3) finished out the program and, as with the earlier Beethoven was beautifully played, and still nice an throaty but not as sweet, but without imagery it didn't really hold my attention--but I did find it quite relaxing (and a nearby patron was lulled into a very relaxed looking sleep)

Overall a good exposure to my Mother of the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom and a good "first" (for me, actually second) concert of the 2013 season.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra/Blossom Festival Band: A Salute To America

I've lived in Cleveland for about eight years and two weeks. Tonight, Rachel and I headed out to Blossom for my eighth fourth of July with Loras John Schissel* and the Blossom Festival Band. The first half of the program had some staples, but a number of fresh and very enjoyable pieces. An intermission snafu** had me too livid, and Rachel in too much physical pain to really enjoy the second half, though, I didn't get the sense of much fresh blood there to begin with.

As always, first up on the program was the traditional Star Spangled Banner.  Immediately following, Joseph Wilcox Jenkins' American Overture for Band blew fresh air into the pavilion and created the imagery of wide open prairies, neighborly small towns, and even a hint of industry -- one of my favorites from the program. While listening to Sousa's Century of Progress, an addition to the program, I found myself thinking--and jotted down the note "feels like music for a World's Fair exhibit" (thinking of the faded old film strips of the "world of tomorrow" from the '30s and '40s) -- and Mr. Schissel satisfied my curiosity by mentioning that it was written in anticipation of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

Ballad for Band, Morton Gould's contribution as the fourth piece on the program, started significantly more subdued than the other pieces on the program and developed like a starless night before firing off some fireworks and ending with a musical kiss goodnight. Fillmore's Miami, another addition to the program, didn't do much for me but the sounds made me think "cruise ship". Lincoln's Funeral March scored for band by Jari Villanueva based on the original piano score by General J.C. Barnard, though tugged more firmly on the heartstrings and much more vivid imagery: I could see the horses drawing the casket past mourners dressed in black, but in the same token while the music was respectfully mournful, while hinting at optimism. Claudio S. Garfulla's Quick-Step: Skyrockets was a bit less compelling and was largely disrupted by a yakking family in the row behind us.

The eighth piece is listed in the program as Music from Taras Bulba by Franz Waxman and announced as the Ride to Durbano (sp?) and seemed appropriate for a gallop or old-time convertible jalopy ride. Closing out the first half of the program was the light fun of Wilson's A Hunting Scene (complete with animal calls) and the staple, Sousa's Semper Fidelis.

As mentioned, we had no warning of the impending end of intermission, and though my paranoia had Rachel and I heading back to our seats in the pavilion, we were still in transit when the orchestra started tuning and the first piece of the second half. If performed as programmed, Music by George-Lyrics By Ira: A Gershwin Medley--instead of hearing that piece, Rachel, a couple dozen other patrons and I were hearing ushers say that they knew no warning chimes could be heard and it was a ongoing problem but offer no real apology. My blood was still boiling for the second piece -- again, if performed as programmed that would be Leroy Anderson's Serenta.

By the third piece, my irritation had calmed and was replaced by concern for Rachel who was not looking at all comfortable -- and by this point we had reached the rote standards that form part of the Independence Day obligation -- the traditional March-Past of the U.S. Armed Forces, Tchaikovsky's Overture The Year 1812 (incidentally, through Mr. Schissel's commentary I learned that it's only really been an Independence Day staple since the Boston Pops played it in 1976 -- only a bit more than 30 years ago). God Bess America and Stars and Stripes Forever rounded out the musical program before the fireworks started.

*- Senior Musicologist at the Library Of Congress. Incidentally, it's interesting how many unique visitors from the Washington DC area this post in previous years has picked up.

**- Long story, but it involves the customary chimes to warn the impending end of intermission either not being played or not being played at an adequate volume (with a number of unhappy consequences)