The Cleveland Orchestra marks its 100th this week at Carnegie Hall

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jserraglio
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The Cleveland Orchestra marks its 100th this week at Carnegie Hall

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jan 22, 2018 2:34 pm

        New York Times
        James Oestreich


        CLEVELAND — Sound the trumpets, peal the bells! The Cleveland Orchestra, which many consider one of the finest ensembles in the nation and the world, turns 100 this year.

        But don’t necessarily expect the orchestra, which plays two soberly sensible programs at Carnegie Hall this week, to join the clamor. There is no major commissioning project, such as you might see from other orchestras; no nationally televised gala.

        “It’s kind of an understated celebration,” said Gary Hanson, the ensemble’s executive director from 2004 to 2015, “and that is absolutely true to the Cleveland Orchestra’s character. It would rather not make noise. The quality of the performances is always supposed to be the loudest voice.”

        Franz Welser-Möst, music director since 2002, elaborated: “We shouldn’t be celebrating ourselves. We should be celebrating the city and the community.”

        The city and community have backed the orchestra through thick and thin. Mostly thin, in recent decades, though Cleveland seems finally to be rebounding economically.

        To anchor the season, Mr. Welser-Möst devised the “Prometheus Project,” an exploration of Beethoven’s music. It included an educational venture involving some 250 students of the Cleveland School of the Arts. Orchestra members worked with students of dance, painting, photography and the like for six months, and 11 young musicians from the school were coached to join the ensemble in the season-opening performance of Beethoven’s overture to “The Creatures of Prometheus.”

        More grandly, the orchestra has embarked on a slightly expanded series of international tours; a trip to Vienna last October, with an innovative production of Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen,” said to have been the first opera staging in the history of the fabled Musikverein; and a return to Vienna in May with all nine Beethoven symphonies, followed in June by a repeat of that cycle in Tokyo.

        The Carnegie repertory this week is substantial but low-key: on Tuesday, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and the New York premiere of a work commissioned for the occasion, “Stromab,” by the Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud; and on Wednesday Haydn’s oratorio “The Seasons,” with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.

        The orchestra has long been renowned for its sound — precise, lithe and transparent, yet not lacking in power or color — and its disciplined work ethic, both honed by a series of strong maestros in the modern era. Much of the credit invariably goes to George Szell, the legendarily authoritarian music director from 1946 to his death in 1970. Christoph von Dohnanyi, Szell’s elegant and punctilious successor from 1984 to 2002, liked to say, “We give a great performance, and George Szell gets a great review.” (Pierre Boulez was the orchestra’s musical adviser from 1970 to 1972; Lorin Maazel, its music director from 1972 to 1982.)

        In truth, Szell’s legacy, at least when it came to sound, was mixed. In search of a dry, clear, immediate acoustic, he had the great Skinner organ in Severance Hall, the orchestra’s classic Art Deco home of 1931, walled off by an acoustical shell filled with sand. The hall, magnificently restored, reopened in 2000 (complete with organ) and it continues to shape the orchestra’s sound.

        “Severance Hall gives us wonderful feedback,” Mr. Welser-Möst said, “in colors, pliancy and intonation.”

        As for the institutional ethos, the terrors of the Szell era left behind an enduring pride and sense of unified purpose. Morale remains strong.

        “In general, people are on the same page,” said Mark Kosower, the principal cellist (one of eight principal players hired by Mr. Welser-Möst, of 17 total). Mr. Kosower describes a self-regenerating tradition in which “the musicians check their egos at the door and give what’s best for the orchestra.”

        Where other symphony orchestra may complain about rehearsals that run too long or conductors who talk too much, Cleveland players tend to complain if they feel they have not had enough rehearsal or enough direction from the maestro.

        Two incidents leading up to the Carnegie concerts spoke volumes about the ensemble’s seriousness and adaptability. On Jan. 13, after performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony on the two nights before, Mr. Welser-Möst led the orchestra in a superb third reading. If it did not have the warmth of, say, the Bruno Walter recording that long ago introduced me to the work, it was superbly played and full of the requisite tension. I detected no need for further rehearsal.

        Mr. Welser-Möst and the players felt differently. Some requested more work on the second movement. So half an hour of intensive work on that movement was wedged into a rehearsal on Friday earmarked for a Beethoven concert that night.

        This was no small matter. Players needed for the Mahler but not the Beethoven, who would otherwise have had the morning off, had to report for duty, and the orchestra’s contract requires that any such change be approved by a secret ballot of all members. The vote was taken, and permission was granted.

        And last Thursday, the first presentation of “The Seasons” foundered when two of the three vocal soloists fell ill just hours beforehand. Replacements could not quickly be found. Mr. Welser-Möst decided in the late afternoon that the performance would go on in a much-abridged form (75 minutes of the two-hour piece), featuring the chorus and the last soloist standing, the brilliant South African soprano Golda Schultz.

        Ordinarily, the orchestra’s librarians would have put scores on the musicians’ stands detailing cuts and the order of play, but there was no time for that. Instead, Mr. Welser-Most himself hastily drew up a road map to be placed on each stand, with notes like “No. 29 (up to measure 32 then cut to measure 55, letter B).”

        “In this orchestra,” he said later, “everyone takes responsibility for what they do.”

        Mr. Welser-Möst, no fan of the early-music movement, led a robust, full-bodied account of what remained. And between movements, he delivered amusing commentary off the cuff. The orchestral introduction to “Winter,” he said, characterized “the weather here in Cleveland in November.”

        It was all a model of professionalism, leaving the audience obviously entertained and feeling in no way shortchanged. The tenor and bass-baritone soloists sang in the second performance, on Saturday, and are expected to appear on Wednesday. Despite the shortened rehearsal time, the Beethoven concert on Friday was excellent, as was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration the Sunday before.

        Skeptics say that touring orchestras are steeled and on their mettle when they visit Carnegie Hall, adding, “They don’t play that way every week at home.” The Cleveland Orchestra, as I learned during a season (1988-89) spent as its program annotator and editor, plays that way every week, no matter what or where.

        Cleveland Orchestra Tuesday and Wednesday at Carnegie Hall.

        Lance
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        Re: The Cleveland Orchestra marks its 100th this week at Carnegie Hall

        Post by Lance » Tue Jan 23, 2018 1:10 am

        Congratulations on their centennial. 100 years for an orchestra is wonderful. I have long revered my SZELL recordings of the Cleveland Orchestra and learned much from them. I truly believe he "made" that orchestra into the great ensemble it was during his tenure. I have never felt 100% that it is the same orchestra it was back then, but nothing is, even ourselves! I would also say it is pretty tough to follow on the heels of a master conductor (and wonderful pianist) as Szell. Big shoes to fill for certain. He set the precedent.
        Lance G. Hill
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        jserraglio
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        Re: The Cleveland Orchestra marks its 100th this week at Carnegie Hall

        Post by jserraglio » Tue Jan 23, 2018 4:47 am

        Szell was really special, but Rodzinski had the orchestra in pretty good shape long before Szell got there, Maazel, Boulez and Dohnanyi kept it up long afterwards, and recordings of all four conductors with this orchestra show it. I have heard the CO live and they still project that blended, chamber-music aesthetic that Szell inculcated. Everybody else in the US, except maybe the CSO, pretty much sounds like everybody else.

        maestrob
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        Re: The Cleveland Orchestra marks its 100th this week at Carnegie Hall

        Post by maestrob » Tue Jan 23, 2018 10:33 am

        jserraglio wrote:
        Tue Jan 23, 2018 4:47 am
        Szell was really special, but Rodzinski had the orchestra in pretty good shape long before Szell got there, Maazel, Boulez and Dohnanyi kept it up long afterwards, and recordings of all four conductors with this orchestra show it. I have heard the CO live and they still project that blended, chamber-music aesthetic that Szell inculcated. Everybody else in the US, except maybe the CSO, pretty much sounds like everybody else.
        Yes, that glorious Philadelphia sound that I grew up with is now quite a thing of the past. <sigh>

        As for Szell, my two favorite recordings from that era are a glorious Mahler IV with Judith Raskin (who studied with my voice teacher and taught his technique at the Manhattan School for many years), and a stunning Bruckner VIII that I still play at least once a year.

        jserraglio
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        Re: The Cleveland Orchestra marks its 100th this week at Carnegie Hall

        Post by jserraglio » Tue Jan 23, 2018 12:35 pm

        Some of Szell's live concerts are pretty spectacular too. An Emperor with Curzon, best ever heard IMO, and some modern works: Lees, Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra and Rochberg's Second.

        THEHORN
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        Re: The Cleveland Orchestra marks its 100th this week at Carnegie Hall

        Post by THEHORN » Mon Feb 12, 2018 3:12 pm

        I don't think "everybody pretty much sounds like everybody else ". I haven't had a s much chance to hear America's different orchestras and compare them in recent years , because, unfortunately, they have been making far fewer recordings , radio and TV broadcasts and telecasts are far less common than they used to be .
        As far as I can tell, the Philadelphia orchestra is still capable of sounding every bit luxurious as it used to , but not all music calls for smooth plush sounds . Ormandy tended to apply that plush "Philadelphia sound " to whatever he conducted in a kind of one size fits all manner . But orchestras should be flexible , and able to change their sound and style depending on th nationality of the composer and the period in which the music was written .

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