Cleveland Orchestra at Benaroya Hall

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Wallingford
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Cleveland Orchestra at Benaroya Hall

Post by Wallingford » Thu Jun 02, 2005 6:00 pm

You almost wouldn't have known it from the lines forming at Benaroya's food stands and at the "Will Call" stand--there were only a tiny handful of people waiting to pick up a ticket to the concert, and a much more massive one at the Wolfgang Puck's. When I was in the hall, I was slightly bewildered at the several-dozen empty seats in an otherwise packed-to-the-gills auditorium.....there were poor concertgoers SOMEWHERE out there in Seattle who'd gladly leap at the chance to observe the great Clevelanders in action.

My neighbors tonight were a gal & her hubby who'd both exchanged tickets for last month's Orpheus Chamber concert since they couldn't stand watching Joshua Bell. At last, a couple of kindred spirits.

But for once, I believe everyone was united in a common aim: to hear AND see what a virtuoso orchestra's about. Myself, I was easily fascinated beforehand, observing first-desk soloists obsessing over this or that passage, from a program filled with repertoire having a significant role in the orchestra's history: Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso, Dvorak's Fifth, & Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra.

Oh, believe me, you'd have been unrealistic to expect this audience to remain politely quiet during each piece, and there was childish excitement aplenty in the first half. It was different this time, however: it was justified. Benaroya being filled with people of doubtless-better financial means than myself and with a slew of CD's in their individual collections attesting to this ensemble's stature, it couldn't be otherwise. And said childish excitement might've reached an unbearable pitch, were it not for the cool showmanship of the orchestra's music director, Franz Welser-Most.

He had a somewhat restless way about him, moving the music along with a singularity of line to the next section with nary a pause; he DID allow a certain span of time between symphonic movements for a small bit of coughing or shuffling(though apparently not to everyone's preferred minimum). He's a musician very, very few Americans--outside of avid collectors--have even heard of, but he's a Germanic conductor of very wide-ranging and cosmopolitan sensibilities.

W-M brought off Alborada del Gracioso with the flair you'd expect any up-to-snuff maestro on CD's to impart to it. Those poor besotted flutes, trumpets & horns had a little more than they could take this evening with those triple-tonguings, but the unity of sound from everyone was astonishing. Observing with my back firmly glued to the chair, I could never fully believe it wasn't something on a CD; only when leaning over was I convinced to the contrary....and I wasn;t the only one.

The Dvorak was the "discovery" of the evening for me--I'd long thought this to be his most underrated symphony. The lower the number, the less hallowed a Dvorak symphony is, and this one (to most) never had anything as ear-catching as, say, the Scherzo to the Sixth, or as mystical as the Eighth's slow movement. But W-M opened the door for me to its real engaging qualities: the woodsy charm of the first two movements, and a somewhat disturbing Scherzo that reminded me slightly of the wicked wedding festivities in "The Wild Dove," my favorite Dvorak tone-poem. What remains is the finale, still a tad too melodramatic.

The last half, the triumphant Bartok, had EVERYONE in the right mood; the audience was actually well-behaved & even QUIET in the soft sections. I could totally relax & hear what W-M had to say on top of Szell's, Boulez's & Dohnanyi;s statements. It seemed a score the orchestra could play in its sleep, W-M obsessing perhaps a tad too much in gliding everything along, though I much admired the greater-than-usual pauses he gave the second movement (my favorite).

In all, a bang-up concert, though--canny crowdpleaser as he is--WM reminded everyone it was now beddy-bye time with a lengthy encore, Debussys Nuages. THAT brought everyone back down below the fever-pitch level. How does this group shape up in comparison to other orchestras I saw in the past? Well, bluntly put, there wasnt the TOTAL mesmerization and quietude when Sawallisch & the Philadelphians came here a few days after 9/11 (no messing up THAT orchestra!); there was much tapping & banging of bows, and liberal page-turning--much like that heard on the old Szell discs, actually. But it was the night that, for me, more than justified an advance booking for the whole series it was in.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

Barry
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Post by Barry » Fri Jun 03, 2005 5:36 pm

Wallingford.
Did that Sawallisch/Philly '01 concert feature a performance of Brahms fourth? I recall them playing that on that tour.
I caught them performing it in Philly late in the regular season that year and it remains one of the two or three greatest orchestral performances I've ever witnessed; and probably the best led by Sawallisch, which is saying something if you know how much I've come to love him as a conductor over the past half dozen or so years.

The only time I saw the Cleveland O live was a couple years ago. They played with perfect precision, but they had what I can only describe as the most generic sound of any of the major orchestras I've heard live (Philly, NY, CSO, BPO, VPO, Concertgebouw). I'd have to say they impressed me less than these other orchestras for that reason; but that's a case of personal taste (tonal quality is more important to me than precision). And also in fairness to them, it was Welser-Most's first season in Cleveland, so they may not have hit their stride yet.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
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Wallingford
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Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:31 pm
Location: Brush, Colorado

Post by Wallingford » Sat Jun 04, 2005 3:43 pm

I agree on your statement regarding tonal quality: when Szell whipped it into shape so many decades ago, it was with the aim of making it comparable to (or, indistinguishable from.....?) any European orchestra--THAT'S why Cleveland's been praised the world over.

But it could just be that other people need to get used to the concept of an AMERICAN orchestra--snazz & spice is what the Phillies have always had, in addition to polish and unsurpassed virtuosity.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

Wallingford
Posts: 4526
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:31 pm
Location: Brush, Colorado

Post by Wallingford » Sat Jun 04, 2005 4:26 pm

And, YES--for your info, on the Phillies concert I saw--the program was Smetana's Moldau, Elgar's Enigma Variations, and BRAHMS' FOURTH.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

herman
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Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 6:00 am
Location: Dutch Sierra

Post by herman » Sun Jun 05, 2005 3:46 am

This sounds like a great concert, W.

Great to hear the Dvorak 5 live; I never did. And Nuages as an encore, totally for free!

jserraglio
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Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jun 06, 2005 4:38 pm

I am a Clevelander still trying to adjust to the sound this elegant orchestra produces.

I usually am struck by their restraint and their cool sonority, especially when Boulez conducts--for forty years, he has influenced this orchestra.

I think one favor Maazel did for Cleveland after Szell was to emphasize tonal color over precision. The pendulum swung back a bit under Dohnanyi (a very fine conductor, deeply interested in challenging contemporary music), but Welser-Most has stated that he wants to help the orchestra open up more by playing vocal-based music it doesn't know very well--works like Humperdinck's Hansel & Gretel, Verdi's Don Carlos, Strauss' Elecktra, Britten's War Requiem. A sign of this shift, perhaps, is his inviting Maazel back to conduct next season for the first time since he left a generation ago.

But I am still adjusting--because when I listen to an orchestra the sound I expect is nothing like the Cleveland sound (except in Mozart and maybe Haydn)--it's the Philadelphia sound under Stokowski-Ormandy or Bernstein's New York Phil sound. These are my touchstones.

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