Tuesday, April 01, 2014

News from EMI

WARNER CLASSICS LAUNCHES EXCITING NEW
CAMPAIGN TARGETING OLDER AUDIENCES

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In a bold strategic move, Warner Classics has unveiled a new campaign centered around attracting older consumers.  The initiative will extend across a variety of new releases and marketing efforts, helping to build strong ties with the always-important 85+ demographic.

The campaign will launch with a brand new reissue series entitled Golden Years Classics, featuring such compilations as “Classical Music to Drive Slowly and Erratically To” and “100 Best Classics for Sitting in a Rocking Chair and Incoherently Mumbling about ‘Kids These Days.’”  Upcoming photoshoots for new releases will also feature current Warner Classics & Erato artists dressed alluringly in matching top-and-bottom velour track suits and the latest New Balance sneakers. And starting in May, Warner will begin pack a sizeable square of delicious Peanut Brittle inside each new catalog box set release!

This summer will see the launch of a riveting concert series fusing traditional Classical music with the dangerous “Hot Jazz” that’s got all the hippest joints in town a-swingin’.  And speaking of hip joints: Warner Classics will be conducting a global contest where one lucky winner will receive a brand new replacement free of charge!

Says Warner Classics’ Global President: “We firmly believe that the elderly are the future, and we’re confident that this innovative new campaign will help convince them that classical recorded music is not, in fact, just ‘some new-fangled technological doo-dad that came straight from the Devil,’ but is in fact one of life’s great joys, and something which we are proud to champion.”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Penderecki in Mexico

I was lucky to attend the Orquesta Filarmonica de la UNAM concert Saturday night in Mexico City. The guest conductor was Krzysztof Penderecki, who brought several  of his works, as well as some other concert gems to the stage.
Serving as a tribute to John Paul II, the Chaconne from the Polish Requiem was arranged in 2005 for strings. It is deeply touching and lyrical. The strings of the OFUNAM were very responsive, and sensitive solos from the principals were delightful.
Joining the group in the next two selections was flutist Massimo Mercelli - a giant of musicality and physical presence. The Sinfonietta #2 by Penderecki received its Mexico premiere in grand style. Listeners may know the Clarinet Quartet, where this piece has its origins, but the fresh arrangement increases the drama and sombre tone of this work.
Mercelli and Penderecki with OFUNAM
Contrasting these pieces was a real classical charmer, the D major Flute  Concerto by Franz Pokorny - once thought to be written by Luigi Boccherini. Mercelli showed great poise, and technique - never too flashy, but always on the front of the ensemble. Colors in the adagio were brilliant, and the rondo, while overly simplistic, made one smile.
Massimo treated the audience afterwards to a gift of Debussy's Syrinx as an encore - complete with gorgeous hues and ample dynamics. Unfortunately at the very end an usher's walkie talkie added to the otherwise glorious performance.
The second half was my favorite Dvorak Symphony - Number 7 in d minor. Now the full orchestra was on stage - one that I have been fortunate to hear now over the lastfew weeks.  I heard new things in this performance, which is almost always a good sign!
Penderecki did not use a baton (the last time I saw him in person was with the Philadelphia Orchestra) and while I had known for him to use his left hand (like Donald Runnicles) throughout the evening, the beats were directed with either hand, wherever the melody needed it, left or right.
The opening two movements were less focused, some ensemble and intonation problems with the strings and winds, but the lines were sometimes blurred. Other times in the Allegro maestoso and poco adagio, the excitement was obvious.
The scherzo was much more defined and bouncing rhythms shone - the finale sizzled and kept your toe tapping.
Penderecki and Clare backstage
Many curtain calls, a standing ovation, and flowers (from the orchestra and audience!) really expressed the appreciation that we had for Maestro Penderecki. At 80, he is still creating and inspiring music. He received a few friends and fans afterwards. I was happy to catch up with him - he even remembered our interview a few years ago.
There is another performance today at 12pm at Sala Nezahualcoyotl, UNAM, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Alessio live!

This Thursday, March 27Alessio Bax – winner of Lincoln Center’s 2013 Martin E. Segal Award – pairs Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s new “Art of the Recital” series at the Rose Studio. Offering an opportunity to hear the pianist’s “formidable and sensitive rendition of the ‘Hammerklavier’” (Alex Ross, New Yorker), which helped him secure first-prize wins at both the Leeds and Hamamatsu international piano competitions, Bax’s solo recital will be webcast live here and archived online for future streaming on demand.

For the pianist, it is no exaggeration to describe the “Hammerklavier” as “one of the great achievements of humankind.” His account of the monumental sonata’s concluding fugue is available on EMI’s 2007 DVD release of the PBS documentary Barenboim on Beethoven: Masterclasses. Reviewing the DVD set, Fanfare magazine concluded:
“Alessio Bax’s performance of the last movement of the ‘Hammerklavier’ … was atmospheric, lyrical, singing, and beautifully played. It had power when needed and, more important, an overall structure and feeling that was most refreshing. This was one instance where the pupil had far more to teach the master. I could find little fault, if any, with Bax’s performance.”
At Lincoln Center, Bax couples Beethoven’s masterpiece with another colossus of the piano literature,Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, in which he has proved himself “simply one of the most vivid pianists around” (Concerto.net). After a traversal of Mussorgsky’s suite in the Portland International Piano recital series, the Oregon Music News pronounced his performance “outstanding,” and elaborated: “Showing impeccable technical control and balance, Bax’s playing revealed all sorts of textures and colors. It was a remarkable concert.”
Following his Lincoln Center appearance, the pianist returns to New York to take part in a 100th birthday celebration concert for Salon de Virtuosi’s Charlotte White in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall (May 7), before reprising “Hammerklavier” and Pictures for a recital in the Music@Menlo series in Palo Alto, CA (May 11).
A complete list of Bax’s upcoming engagements follows, and additional information may be found at his web site:alessiobax.com.

NAD - 3/25

Recognizing the critical role farmers and ranchers play in nourishing today’s population and future generations, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples today encourages Texans to join him in celebrating National Agriculture Day.
“Agriculture is important to Texans 365 days a year,” Commissioner Staples said. “Today, on National Agriculture Day, I ask all Texans to take the time to honor our dedicated farmers and ranchers. It’s critical to remember, food doesn’t grow on grocery store shelves. It takes hard work, sacrifice and perseverance to feed Texans, Americans and the world.”
Agriculture contributes more than $100 billion to the Texas economy each year and supports approximately 1.8 million agriculture-related jobs, ranging from journalism and advertising to commodity trading.
“More than just food and clothing, agriculture contributes to our homes, health, lifestyle and the prosperity of this country,” Commissioner Staples said. “Today’s farmers and ranchers are more productive and efficient than ever before, and as our population grows, there will be an even greater demand for food and fiber. Without our incredible farmers and ranchers, Texas wouldn’t be the powerhouse of agricultural productivity that it is today.” 
National Agriculture Day is part of National Agriculture Week, which runs March 23-29. To learn more about Texas farmers and ranchers, and the everyday ways in which they improve our lives, visit the Agriculture is Your Culture Web page.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Brett ala Bernstein!

Brett Mitchell stepped in on just two hours' notice for an ailing Franz Welser-Möst on Friday, March 7, leading his Cleveland Orchestra subscription debut at Severance Hall. On the program were:

Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Rudolf Buchbinder, piano)
R. Strauss - Don Juan
J. Strauss, Jr. - Aus den Bergen
J. Strauss, Jr. - Csárdás from Ritter Pázmán

Mr. Mitchell will return to the podium on Saturday, March 8, leading a subscription program of:

Sibelius - Lemminkäinen's Return
Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Rudolf Buchbinder, piano)
R. Wigglesworth - Locke's Theatre (U.S. premiere)
Britten - Spring Symphony (Kate Royal, soprano; Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano; John Tessier, tenor; the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; and the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus)

Mr. Mitchell will lead the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra's subscription program at Severance Hall on Sunday, March 9 as scheduled.

Some good news

Ten wounded service members, recipients of the Purple Heart award, received a special gift today, tool sets valued at $1,000 each. The tools were provided by the Sons of the American Revolution at an event at Operation Homefront Village. Operation Homefront, the San Antonio-based national non-profit that provides emergency financial and other services to military families and wounded warriors, offers transitional housing to wounded warriors and their families at three Villages in San Antonio, southern California, and outside Washington, DC.
“It’s going to extremely help me and my family,” said Jimmy Hall, a purple heart recipient and former Village resident who received a toolbox. “The tools and there quality are great and as a mechanic they will help me greatly.”
The tool sets were presented by Pastor James Taylor, former President of the San Antonio chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution along with Chapter President Bob Hancock. Pastor Taylor noted that the tool sets were the brainchild of Clarence “Bud” Shepherd, founder of the Resource Exchange Association, with a goal to give a toolbox to every wounded warrior in the nation. The tool sets include products donated by Husky, Stanley, Black and Decker, and Home Depot.
“It’s an honor to be here and present these tools to our Wounded Warriors,” said Chapter President Bob Hancock. “We want to honor you today and wish you the best of luck and thank you for your dedication to our country.”
Said Aaron Taylor, Operation Homefront spokesman: “I want to thank the Sons of the American Revolution for this opportunity, in partnership with Operation Homefront, to be able to sustain and build this program for wounded warriors. It’s a very special gift whenever we can give back to our service members.”

Friday, March 07, 2014

Protest Whole Foods

On Saturday, March 8th, International Women’s Day, activists from UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization, and Fight for 15, concerned citizens, and customers will rally outside Whole Food Stores around the country demanding justice for Rhiannon Broschat, a single mother from Chicago who was fired from her job at Whole Foods after missing work to care for her special needs son during the polar vortex. More than 50,000 Whole Foods customers have already signed on to demand justice, but Whole Foods has still not rehired Rhiannon.

WHERE: Whole Foods World Headquarters. 550 Bowie Street, Austin, TX
WHEN: Saturday, 08 March 2014. 9:00 A.M. CT

The rallies will also take place in more than a dozen cities including Chicago, Austin, St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and Toronto.
See the full list of events here: http://act.weareultraviolet.org/signup/WF_dayofaction/
“We demand that Rhiannon be immediately reinstated,” explained Melissa Josephs, Director of Equal Opportunity Policy of Women Employed. “No working mother should have to choose between paying her bills and taking care of her children.”
The actions come after Whole Foods rejected numerous efforts to reinstate Rhiannon or follow its policies on weather disasters so that no employee has to choose between a sick child and a paycheck. More than 50,000 members of UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization, have signed onto a petition demanding that Whole Foods “reinstate Rhiannon Broschat and honor your policy to make room for family leave."
See the petition to Whole Foods here: http://act.weareultraviolet.org/sign/WholeFoods

Rhiannon's situation is not unique. Nearly 40% of US households have a female breadwinner and the US is the only industrialized country in which sick days are not guaranteed, meaning that nearly 80% of low-wage workers in the country are forced to make the choice between staying home sick or with their sick children and earning enough to pay their bills or buy groceries.
“Whole Foods markets itself as a progressive company, but it’s forcing moms to choose between caring for their children in an emergency and keeping their jobs. That’s wrong, and tens of thousands of Whole Foods customers, workers, and moms across the country want answers,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet. “Whole Foods relies on it’s progressive reputation in selling their products at high prices, and customers don’t want to pay those prices to contribute to a moral injustice. Their response to this controversy has consistently shown that they don't support working moms.”

Clinic Closures in Rural Texas

Yesterday, two reproductive health clinic closures were announced in rural Texas, as a result of Texas House Bill 2, disproportionately affecting low-income women in the south and east of the state. These were the only clinics in East Texas and Rio Grande Valley.
“The closure of Whole Women’s Health clinic is a tragedy for women in Texas and indicative of the cost when we allow politicians to use deceitful back-door tactics to rob us of our fundamental rights,” said Ilyse Hogue, NARAL Pro-Choice America President. “The majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose the healthcare and reproductive options best for us, yet anti-choice lawmakers have run rough shod over that sentiment and now are endangering the lives of the state’s most vulnerable women. While it is our hope that this bill will be overturned, this situation is a painful reminder of why we need federal legislation like the Women's Health Protection Act to ensure that the Constitution and women’s rights, regardless of where they live, are respected.”
“Safe, legal options for women in need of abortion care are now nonexistent in south and east Texas, and that is no accident,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Anti-choice lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing when they pushed for the abortion restrictions in HB2 and these clinic closures are exactly the result they were seeking.”
A survey from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that 7 percent of women who were seeking abortion care reported trying to self -abort at some point during their pregnancy.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

On Hearing the Cleveland Orchestra

The Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall
I have been listening to the Cleveland Orchestra for many years. One cannot avoid it if your interest is in great music being played at the highest level. The Cleveland Orchestra has always been in the upper echelon of not only American orchestras, but on the international stage as well. However, my own orchestral roots run to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My teacher, Wayne Barrington, was a member of the CSO from 1954 until 1964, so when I began studying with him in 1967 I felt I was connected to the Chicago traditions, the Chicago sound, and the Chicago style of orchestral playing.

When I arrived in San Antonio in 1975, taking the position of 3rd horn in the San Antonio Symphony, I found myself among enthusiastic musicians, about my age, from a range of different stylistic backgrounds. By 1976 a group of musicians was gathering regularly at my house to listen to music together. Our extracurricular music appreciation club was just about equally divided between those who had studied the Chicago style and those who came from the Cleveland tradition. Although we actively promoted our own roots, Chicago or Cleveland, we ultimately came away with deep mutual respect for both these important institutions. My record collection, at that time only beginning to grow by leaps and bounds, is now large, reflecting my varied musical interests. But at the heart of the orchestral recordings are many performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, mixed with a significant number of recordings by the Cleveland Orchestra. Both orchestras are great. They have each changed over the years and decades, while managing to maintain the highest level of excellence. To hear either orchestra, from just about any point in the stereo era, is enlightening and inspiring.

Prior to last Sunday, I had only heard the Cleveland Orchestra live one time, a concert at the Blossom Music Festival 20-something years ago. On the other hand, I've heard Chicago on tour in Austin back in the early 70s, then on three occasions at Orchestra Hall Chicago. I also had the opportunity to spend a week around the orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, around 1978 or '9. Each time hearing the CSO live has been a thrill, perhaps never more than hearing a program of Wagner, Chavez and Beethoven at Orchestra Hall in 2010. My sister Brenda and I splurged on great tickets to hear that matinee program.

When I heard the Cleveland Orchestra was going to be in Austin to play a couple of concerts as part of the 2014 Menuhin Competition, I made the mental check mark – yes, I will attend. But as the weekend of their concerts grew near, I found that one of the concerts was sold out and the other was selling fast. I feared I might miss hearing them and probably would have just let it go if not for a phone call from my friend Margaret Ayer. She also wanted to hear the orchestra's final concert Sunday night. We also wanted to see an old mutual friend, Hans Clebsch. Hans is the 3rd horn in the Cleveland; he's been there for 18 years, although it seems no more than 15 years ago that Hans was playing 4th horn to my 3rd at the Mineria Festival in Mexico City. That 15 years ago was, in fact, more like 25 years ago.

I contacted Hans to see if he could get us complimentary tickets. Negative. The tickets were all in the hands of the Menuhin Festival and the sponsoring Texas Performing Arts. I priced tickets, but found only a few seats with a $104 price tag placed on them. Out of my range. Margaret and I decided to go to the concert anyhow, enter backstage, then play it by ear. At worst, we could hear the concert from the wings of the stage. Margaret knows the concert venue very well. The Long Center is home of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, where Margaret plays 4th horn, so she was confident we could come through the backstage door. She was right. Once we were backstage we moved freely among the musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra. This is not surprising. Orchestra musicians everywhere are comfortable backstage or onstage. It's being on the other side of the proscenium which often makes us nervous.

Hans Clebsch, 3rd horn in the Cleveland Orchestra
Already I was getting excited, just hanging out with the orchestra. We had walked in with Michael Sachs, the Principal Trumpet, talking musician small talk. Nice guy. We looked around backstage for Hans, but couldn't find him. We also looked for Ellen Dinwiddie Smith, another former student of Mr. Barrington, who was subbing with the orchestra that week. She normally is 3rd horn in the Minnesota Orchestra.

In the end, we got the opportunity to take a couple of vacant seats in the second row for the second half of the concert. What good fortune, for the second part of the program was Tchaikovsky's "Fifth Symphony," one of the greatest of Romantic symphonies and arguably Tchaikovsky's finest. Conducting was Giancarlo Guerrero, the Costa Rican musician who has succeeded on stages around the globe. His regular gig these days is as Music Director of the Nashville Symphony, but he works regularly with the Cleveland Orchestra as their Principal Guest Conductor. The orchestra seems to like him very much, and they should. It was amazing to watch him lead the orchestra with clarity and musicality. He was having a great time, literally dancing around the podium, at times more encouraging the orchestra than leading them. You can do that with a great orchestra and it is breathtaking when it happens, a tour de force of mutual trust.

Giancarlo Guerrero, Principal Guest Conductor
From the very first note of the Tchaikovsky, the orchestra was in fine form. We were seated no more than 20 feet from the first violins. In front and to our left were the first violins. If we looked to the right we saw the viola section. The Cleveland strings sit with the cello section between the violas and the second violins. From where we sat, we could not see the winds and the brass, though we could hear them fine. Our vantage point gave us a near perfect perspective for hearing the strings. If anything, I couldn't hear the basses as clearly as I would have liked, but they were definitely there, just a bit under-present. There is so much to praise, I don't know where to begin. I will say up front that this was one of the greatest listening experiences I have ever had. I often say that the best seat in the house is in the middle of the orchestra. I stick with that, but acknowledge that the seat I had stumbled onto last Sunday night was pretty incredible. The strings were nothing short of amazing. They played perfectly together. But even more incredibly, they phrased together. I heard nothing unmusical in the entire performance. And then there was the conductor, Guerrero. (Why didn't the San Antonio Symphony go after him when he was climbing his way up through the lower echelon of orchestras?) He danced, he encouraged, he cued and conducted with great clarity while never becoming mechanical about his craft. And he smiled! It was a smile of appreciation, the smile of a man madly in love with the place he found himself, in front of one of the world's greatest orchestra.

Both Margaret and I leaned forward ever so slightly as the second movement began. We knew the introductory measures from the strings were all just a setup for one of the most famous first horn solos ever written. Guerrero relaxed his baton, letting Principal Horn Richard King lead the orchestra. It was oh so fine, as good as it could be played. Pardon me a moment for a bit of technical talk. The Cleveland orchestra's horn section comes from a long tradition of playing Conn 8Ds. These are instruments from a famous American music instrument maker (C.G. Conn). Just about any American who plays the horn has played at one time or another on an 8D. Some are more passionate about the experience, others not so much. Suffice it to say that I become somewhat bored when I play an 8D. I much prefer the more varied sound palette of the style of horn made by Carl Geyer and his numerous disciples. That said, I have nothing at all to criticize about the sound of the Cleveland Orchestra's horn section. If I could sound like that, I would consider playing a Conn 8D again. Bravo to Richard King! He absolutely deserved the extended solo bow he got at the end of the evening.

Considering the important role Tchaikovsky played in Russian dance, it's no surprise that so much of his music dances, whether intended literally for that purpose, or not. The Third Movement of the "Fifth Symphony" is a good example. By this time Sunday night, Giancarlo Guerrero and the Cleveland Orchestra had the Long Center audience in the palm of its hand. The crowd was well behaved, suppressing its coughs despite the fact another cold front had rolled into Austin earlier in the day. The one exception was a several syllabled shout from someone at the end of the Andante Cantabile Second Movement. It was not offensive, just someone expressing his appreciation for the beauty of the moment. Onward went the orchestra, with little pause. Of course, this is nothing new to the Clevelanders. They are these days a much traveled orchestra, with a series of concerts ongoing in Miami on top of various short tours and runouts to other zip codes around the country. The month of February had been somewhat brutal. In talking to my friend Hans over brunch earlier in the day, I heard the orchestra had just finished part of a week in Miami. Earlier in the month, they had played a several city tour in Nebraska, including a stop in Lincoln. It's interesting that I just read an article declaring Lincoln, Nebraska the happiest small city in America. Perhaps they took that measurement just after the Cleveland Orchestra had been there.

Sitting second row, center at the Long Center, listening in super sound to the Cleveland Orchestra! I kept thinking what a lucky guy I was to be there. I suspect anywhere in the hall would have been satisfying, yet there wouldn't have been the same clarity of sound and stereo image. In the Third Movement the orchestra has an ongoing thread of conversation throughout. The woodwinds and brass punctuate and underscore the elegant lines of the strings, and they did it on this evening with such grace! During those countless afternoons and evenings long ago in San Antonio, listening for hours on end to the Chicago Symphony, then the Cleveland Orchestra, attention was always drawn to the Cleveland woodwind section. It is said that George Szell, the at times autocratic conductor in Cleveland for many years, would personally coach each of the principal players of the orchestra. This produced a unanimity to the orchestra's phrasing, in the 1960s perhaps most apparent in the woodwinds. I know now that our listening club of San Antonio musicians had a tendency to paint too often in primary colors, at times simply in black and white. After all, everyone knows the Chicago Symphony is the one with the world's greatest brass section, the Cleveland has the finest woodwinds and the Philadelphia the best strings. We were like a bunch of conservatory students listening through aural blinders. Thankfully, I have come well beyond this compartmentalized view of the orchestral world, and I hope all of my other friends from back in the mid-70s have done so too. Our way of listening back then was intense, and that's good. It was passionate, and that's a good thing. But it has taken time to learn the true art of music appreciation. Yes, the more knowledgeable we are about the music, the better. Rudimentary knowledge of harmony, of musical architecture, of the instruments of the orchestra enhances the listening experience. But in the end, we have to allow ourselves to be swept away. I guess it's like all of the permissions we have to agree to when installing a new app onto our phones or computers. Yes, yes, yes. You have permission to post emotions directly to my heart. You can delight my intellectual centers. Carry me away. Once we give ourselves over completely, unconditionally, the full experience of listening to music can sweep over us, knock us off our feet, send shivers down our spines, cause our hearts to palpitate and tears to flow freely. This is what music is, what it should always be. It's a complex blend of intellect and emotion. It's the past, present and future. It's MAGIC! It's not wallpaper!

Smiling statue
Xalapa, Mexico
At the Anthropology Museum in Xalapa, Mexico, a museum ranked as second only to the museum in Mexico City for the importance of its collection of pre-Columbian art, there is an entire section devoted to masks from the Blanco and Papaloapan basins, representative of the Classical period (300-900 A.D.). Every face is smiling, not just a polite and dignified Olan Mills smile, but an over the top bursting all barriers smile. Who knows what is making these faces of centuries ago smile with such unselfconscious delight, but I challenge anyone to walk into that space and not mirror what they are seeing around them.

The playing of the Cleveland Orchestra was beginning to have that same effect on me. I was smiling ear to ear, and so was the orchestra, some with a more Mona Lisa smile, while others wore their smiles more broadly as testament to their enjoyment of the moment. The conductor smiled, too, perhaps the biggest smile of all. Who wouldn't, conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, playing in the Cleveland Orchestra, sitting second row center listening to the Cleveland? To borrow a phrase from my old friend David Amram, this was “outta sight.” In the Third Movement there are many moments about which to smile. There's none of the high drama of the other movements. This is pure dance. I watched the first violins execute lines of filigreed elegance without the slightest error. The line was then carried across the front of the orchestra to the violas, often the butt of musician jokes. None of that in this great orchestra! Tchaikovsky ups the ante, allowing the violas to mirror the line of the violins, then extend it. It's perfect, so perfect that Tchaikovsky writes it again. I smiled once, I smiled again and the movement transitioned without pause into the Finale of the "Fifth Symphony."

Here was a chance for the orchestra to show its power. But it's not an edgy power, but neither is it restrained. It's just right. There's a sound to the orchestra which some say is European. I was asked what that means, but couldn't express it with words. There's a patina which burnishes the tone of the orchestra. There's a dark hue to the sound. See.....any attempt to describe this European sound seems contrived. But the truth to the statement is found through listening. It is an incredibly lustrous sound. It is balanced. It is a sunset of complex shades and colors. Long after George Szell was dead and gone, one still hears the Cleveland Orchestra referenced as Szell's orchestra. Christoph von Dohnanyi, who served as the orchestra's Music Director during the 80s and 90s, accepted this. He understood what it meant, that it reflected a tradition he was privileged to carry on. I have to admit that this was somewhat on my mind when I heard the orchestra's opening number Sunday night, Dvorak's “Carnival Overture.” The Cleveland Orchestra made a specialty of Dvorak during the Szell era. In some cases, Szell made changes to Dvorak's scores to reflect his own thoughts on the composer's intentions. When I played Dvorak's "Symphony No. 8" for the first time many years ago under the conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith, I saw first hand some of those changes. Smith had been an assistant to Szell and carried that torch to Austin, later to San Antonio, and finally to Colorado Springs. I am sure he would preface every first rehearsal of the 8th Symphony, as he did in Austin in 1972, with musical phrases drawn onto a blackboard, showing Szell's interpretation.

When I heard the Cleveland Orchestra for the first time, years ago at the Blossom Festival, the principal piece on the program was the Dvorak 8th.  I wondered at the time if they were still playing from orchestra parts showing Szell's changes. I suspected they were, for I could close my eyes then and imagine the performance being led by Szell. In truth, I don't remember who conducted the orchestra on that Summer evening. It doesn't matter. It was Szell's orchestra. As Christoph von Dohnanyi famously said: "We give a great concert...and George Szell gets a great review."

So what about today? What did I hear on Sunday night at the Long Center?
Was it Dohnanyi's orchestra? He's been gone for less than a decade. Or is it now Franz Welser-Most's orchestra? He's the current Music Director in Cleveland. Or could this even have been Giancarlo Guerrero's Cleveland Orchestra? He certainly guided the orchestra with a sure and confident hand. But in the end, I came away with the impression that the orchestra today belongs to the musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra. They have taken full possession of their own ensemble and it shows. They care deeply for their orchestra and its legacy and are bound and determined to maintain the highest standards. They want their Cleveland Orchestra to be the best in the world.

Earlier in the day, sitting over brunch with Hans Clebsch, talking about his good fortune at playing with the Cleveland Orchestra, Hans mentioned Mary Kay Fink, the orchestra's piccolo player who joined the orchestra in 1988 when William Hebert, the previous piccolo player of the orchestra retired. Some years later, Ms. Fink won an audition for the piccolo position in the Chicago Symphony, but decided to turn it down, to stay put in Cleveland.

“Why would anyone turn down Chicago to come back to Cleveland?” asked Margaret. It's a fair question and also the perfect setup for Hans' reply.

“Because we are the Cleveland Orchestra.”

                                  - James Baker










Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Welcome Reincarnation of Daniel Catán's "Florencia en el Amazonas"

Kelley Hollis (Florencia) Isaac Bray (Riolobo)
What a joy to hear not only the great news that Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas is scheduled for the 2014-15 season of the LA Opera, but also to find the work brought to life in this performance at Boston University! This remains one of my favorite of Daniel's operas. It always sends a shiver down my spine, prompted not only by the gorgeous vocal writing, but also by the stunning orchestration. When I interviewed him in 2006, he was demoralized by the fact Florencia had seen performances in only three American opera houses, and was only then (2006) getting its first European staging. ¡Qué lástima Daniel is not here to enjoy his continued success! He passed away suddenly in 2011, at the age of 62.

           -James Baker-



Florencia en el Amazonas+ Second Cast » The Boston Musical Intelligencer