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by Robert Rollin

A packed house and lawn at Blossom on August 24 (photo by Roger Mastroianni)

A packed house and lawn at Blossom on August 24 (photo by Roger Mastroianni)

On Sunday evening August 24, the Cleveland Orchestra, with guest conductor and Philadelphia Pops Orchestra director, Michael Krajewski, celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America. Classical Mystery Tour, a group that transcribed and performed note for note over two dozen well-known Beatles songs, made the concert truly exciting.

The four musicians played accurate versions of many songs originally created in the studio with orchestral arrangements, but never fully played live during the original group’s performing days. Producer/arranger George Martin helped create many of these intricate works in consultation with The Beatles. Read the rest of this entry »


by Robert Rollin

GRAMS-AndrewOn Saturday evening August 23, the Cleveland Orchestra, Blossom Festival Chorus and Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus presented an exceptional concert under talented young conductor Andrew Grams. Grams served as assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra, and as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, from 2004-2007. He has guest conducted many of the world’s great orchestras, and showed excellent ensemble control and remarkable interpretive skills all evening.

The highlight was a marvelous performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (1936) scored for soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists, children’s choir, chorus and large orchestra, mixing words from both Latin and old German. The text comes from a significant collection of 12th century Latin and old German secular poems recorded in manuscript in an abbey near Munich, where German monks preserved it for future generations. Johann Andreas Schmeller published the first edition in 1847. The first performance in 1937 was a staged version, though the large majority of subsequent performances were in concert format. Read the rest of this entry »

by Kelly Ferjutz, Special to ClevelandClassical

HALLS-Matthew2Mother Nature was apparently clued in – and ready – for the Saturday evening concert by the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Center on August 9. During the first half of the program, the birds and the frogs and the crickets started warming up. By the time the Orchestra took the stage for Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the sounds of nature were ready! And then came Supermoon! It really was spectacular. Those music lovers on the lawn had a better glimpse of it, perhaps, but once we were out in the parking lot, there it was in all its huge, luminous splendor. The weather was simply perfect for enjoying the moon and the music!

Of course, that’s because the Orchestra, with guest conductor Matthew Halls, was luminous enough in itself to have lit up the skies like daylight. The evening’s program – and homage to Mozart — began with the overture to his opera Idomeneo. Mr. Halls drew lovely sounds from the musicians in front of him with his decisive movements and graceful hand motions. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

HALLS-MatthewOn Saturday evening, August 9, the Blossom Festival presented an exemplary Cleveland Orchestra Mozart concert under the gifted young British conductor, Matthew Halls, making his debut with the group. The Oxford-educated musician first became known as a keyboard player and conductor of early music. Since then he has come to prominence as Director of the Oregon Bach Festival and through appearances with major professional orchestras and opera companies in Europe, Australia, and North America.

The entire concert was a delight, thanks to the orchestra’s wonderful talent and to Halls’s remarkably colorful dynamics and sensitive control of tempi. Notwithstanding his youthfulness, Halls showed mature and outstanding interpretive skills, lending grace and beauty to the entire concert. Read the rest of this entry »

by Nicholas Jones

MA-Yo-YoYo Yo Ma is as close as the classical world is likely to get to a rock star. On Saturday night, the near-sellout crowd at Blossom was certainly rocking as Ma took the stage, strutting like a winning prizefighter with his cello triumphantly raised above his head.

But antics gave way to artistry almost immediately as Ma took his seat and launched into the Elgar cello concerto, stamping its opening chords with a ferocity that would alternate with lyricism throughout the performance.

In 1919, Elgar’s cello concerto suffered from a disastrous first performance, and for almost half a century it was barely played. A key figure in its rediscovery in the late 1960s was the charismatic young cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who reinterpreted it as a document of introspection and anxiety for a world newly tossed by war and social change. One of the cellos that Yo Yo Ma regularly plays is the Davidov Stradivarius on which du Pré also performed. Read the rest of this entry »

By Daniel Hautzinger

Otto-Peter-180x200“Honestly, I’ve only heard this piece played very badly,” Cleveland Orchestra first associate concertmaster Peter Otto said of Haydn’s first violin concerto. Otto will perform the work with The Cleveland Orchestra under Jeffrey Kahane at Blossom Music Center on August 10. “Most often, a very old-fashioned, heavily edited version is played, even by people today. I have the critical edition, so there are a lot of different notes and different rhythms. Playing it from the bare bones text makes it sound like a completely different piece.”

So if you’ve heard this concerto before and dismissed it (“the first movement is often played by ten year-olds,” Otto said), the Blossom concert might be a good time for a reappraisal. Read the rest of this entry »

By Daniel Hautzinger

Stephen Hough 2Interviewing Stephen Hough is a daunting task. Besides being one of the most successful, talented, and intelligent pianists of his generation, he composes, is a visiting professor at Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music, writes wide-ranging regular blog posts for The Telegraph and articles for other publications, has published a book, The Bible as Prayer, writes poetry, and has given a solo exhibition of his paintings in London. Where do you even start?

Luckily Hough is an amiable, disarming conversationalist, exuding the air of a well-mannered English gentleman. (At one point, he enthused over a hat store in Chicago, recommending it as “a wonderful place, well worth seeing.”) He is extraordinarily genial, both in the sense of being friendly and displaying genius. And he is an engaging musician, who will perform Liszt’s First Piano Concerto with John Storgårds conducting The Cleveland Orchestra on July 26 at Blossom Music Center. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

SkrowaczeswkiNote: Last Sunday, July 20, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski was scheduled to conduct The Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom. He cancelled due to illness late in the week and was replaced by the orchestra’s assistant conductor, Brett Mitchell. We spoke to Maestro Skrowaczewski on the Wednesday before his Blossom concert and are reprinting the concert preview as a feature.

In 1957, Polish conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski was one of the local hosts for The Cleveland Orchestra’s first European tour — an event which established the ensemble’s international reputation. It was also an important moment for Skrowaczewski, whose first meeting with George Szell in Warsaw launched his own career in the United States.

“It was just after I won first prize in Rome,” Skrowaczewski said in a telephone conversation from his home in the Minneapolis suburb of Wayzata. “That was important in Europe because it was the first international competition after the war, so it had a certain value. Szell knew it, and he knew a little of my composition, Symphony for Strings, which he thought was very well written. He asked if I would mind to play it with his orchestra in Cleveland next year. The arrangements were very simple.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

GOMYO-KarenClassical music under the stars continues this weekend at Blossom Music Center when conductor Bramwell Tovey leads The Cleveland Orchestra in a performance that includes Bizet’s Suite from Carmen and deFalla’s The Three-Cornered Hat. The concert, which begins on Saturday, July 19 at 8:00 pm, also marks the return of violinist Karen Gomyo to the Blossom stage for a performance of Saint-Saëns’s Violin Concerto no. 3.

Upon answering the phone in Switzerland, the extremely gracious Karen Gomyo immediately thanked me for calling her in Europe. No problem I tell her, I’m calling her on Skype. Gomyo uses our brief opening conversation to talk about all that is wonderful with modern technology, and how easy it makes our lives, as the perfect lead-in to talking about the Saint-Saëns concerto. “It’s funny because I read somewhere that Pablo Sarasate, just knocked on Saint-Saëns’s door and asked him for a concerto. That is unthinkable these days because, like you said, we have all these modes of communication. But I guess back in that time you could really just show up in person.” Read the rest of this entry »

By Mike Telin

Capuçon-Renaud“I look forward to coming to Cleveland,” exclaimed French violinist Renaud Capuçon during a recent telephone conversation from his home in Paris. “I’ve been to the city before, but this is my debut with the orchestra, although I have heard them in Paris and in Lucerne with Franz Welser-Möst.”

On Saturday, July 5 at 8:00 pm at Blossom Music Center,Hans Graf will lead the Cleveland Orchestra in a concert featuring Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”. (Graf replaces Jaap van Zweden, who is being treated for a shoulder injury). The evening concludes with post-concert fireworks.

A gracious and humble conversationalist, Capuçon thanks me for calling him at exactly the appointed hour. Like many violinists, Capuçon began studying Sibelius’s concerto at an early age, in his case at 14. “My copy has 1990 written in the small writing of a kid, so I’ve kind of lived with it. It’s one of those pieces that is exactly connected to the soul of the composer. It’s like his second symphony. You have pictures in your mind coming straight at you.”   Read the rest of this entry »

CLEVELAND, February 16

TCO@BlossomThe Cleveland Orchestra has announced the 2014 Blossom Music Festival season, a total of 18 concerts between July 3 and August 31, including 15 by The Cleveland Orchestra, two Blossom Festival Band concerts, and one concert by the Blossom Festival Orchestra. The complete schedule follows.

* Denotes fireworks following the concert, weather permitting
** Blossom Debut *** Cleveland Orchestra Debut

Thursday, July 3, 2014, at 8:00 p.m.*
Friday, July 4, 2014, at 8:00 p.m.*
Blossom Festival Band
Loras John Schissel, conductor

A Salute to America
Music by Bernstein, Gershwin, and John Philip Sousa, with Tchaikovky’s “1812” Overture and fireworks, weather permitting. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

Pixar-in-ConcertThe Cleveland Orchestra closed its Blossom Festival summer season on August 31 and September 1 with two performances of Pixar in Concert. I attended the Saturday performance, a delightful evening conducted by Richard Kaufman. Kaufman was for eighteen years music coordinator at MGM, supervising both film and television projects. He is now an active pops conductor.

Pixar, the most innovative animation company in recent years, has had a remarkable succession of hits since Toy Story (1995), and the evening concentrated on the quality film music that has helped usher in this new era. Several enormous screens projected the film visuals. Pixar’s skill has been in humanizing digital animation characters, whether children’s toys, monsters, fish, automobiles, insects, or rats, by giving them personalities, endearing expressions, and showing them in life and death struggles to fight the good fight simply to do what is morally right.

Kaufman skillfully coordinated the correlation of music with the films’ visual actions. Though a few musicians wore earphones providing click tracks to maintain ensemble, the large majority relied on Kaufman’s clear beat to stay together. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

Kaufman,-Richard---by-Eric-StonerI’ve been very blessed,” conductor Richard Kaufman says of his impressive musical career — most of which he has devoted to conducting and supervising music for film and television productions, as well as performing film and classical music in concert halls and on recordings. On Saturday, August 31, and Sunday, September 1, at Blossom Music Center, Richard Kaufman will lead The Cleveland Orchestra in Pixar in Concert. The production includes musical selections from A Bug’s Life, Brave, Cars and Cars 2, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and 3, Ratatouille, Up, and WALL·E along with video clips of each film. Both concerts will be followed by fireworks, weather permitting.

I was part of the team that created the show at Disney and this weekend’s program is a montage of the 13 Pixar films’ music.” Kaufman points out that performing live to animation is not an easy task. “I have to say that I have played violin for many film scores but I think that playing for animation is by far the most challenging. In animation everything moves very quickly: you have to be able to turn on a dime. In the studio all the musicians use click-tracks but this weekend only part of the orchestra will be using click-tracks. And the fact that The Cleveland Orchestra is going to be playing this music on two summer evenings at Blossom is truly wonderful. It’s like all of the Planets have aligned.”

Born in Los Angeles, Kaufman began studying the violin at the age of seven. “There were amazing music programs in LA when I was growing up and my youth orchestra would often play arrangements of film scores right along with the music of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Read the rest of this entry »

by Nicholas Jones

AFKHAM-DavidSaturday’s Cleveland Orchestra concert at Blossom took its lead from the young – two guest artists barely thirty, and two composers even younger.

The brilliant German conductor David Afkham, returning to Blossom where he debuted in July of 2011, brought fire and freshness to a familiar program of music by Beethoven and Schubert. A former Dudamel conducting fellow, Afkham shares with his mentor a focus on the details coupled with an unflagging sense of the big picture.

The opening piece was Beethoven’s stormy “Coriolanus” overture (in C minor: the rest of the program moved to the sunnier key of C major). While there was a little rhythmic uncertainty as the piece began, the conductor soon established control. Afkham has a sure hold on how important contrast is to Beethoven: the overture unmistakably showed the contrast between the angular theme that depicts the overbearing Roman general with its abrupt leaps and terrifying silences, and the gentler tune usually associated with the pleadings of Coriolanus’s mother. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

CHEN-RaySometimes everything works together for the good. On Sunday evening, perfect weather, a gifted young soloist, an engaging program and an energized conductor all conspired to create a memorable evening at Blossom. The soloist was violinist Ray Chen, his vehicle was Vivaldi’s popular quartet of concertos, The Seasons (teamed up with Rossini’s irresistible La gazza ladra overture and Mendelssohn’s scenic Scottish symphony), and the podium was commanded by an old Blossom friend, the estimable Jahja Ling. A large crowd assembled on the lawn and the pavilion was two-thirds full.

Though Chen, who is Australian, playfully suggested beforehand that he might start with Winter and play The Seasons in Down Under order, he began with Spring, as is customary, immediately creating synergy with concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee and principal second violinist Stephen Rose in a delightful series of bird calls. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

Sacre-1913In his book, First Nights, Harvard professor Thomas Forrest Kelly begins his description of the premiere of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris with reflections by its ballet master and a famous composer who happened to be in the audience.

I think the whole thing has been done by four idiots: First, M. Stravinsky who wrote the music. Second, M. Roerich who designed the scenery and costumes. Third, Mr. Nijinsky who composed the dances. Fourth, M. Diaghilev who wasted money on it. —Enrico Cecchetti

The choreography is ridiculous, the music sheer cacophony. There is some originality, however, and a certain amount of talent. But taken together, it might be the work of a madman. —Giacomo Puccini

This Saturday and Sunday, August 17 and 18 at 8:00 pm at the Blossom Music Center, Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet will join The Cleveland Orchestra, Tito Muñoz, conducting, in Robert Joffrey and Millicent Hodson’s 1987 recreation of Nijinski’s original choreography for The Rite of Spring. The score will be played in a reduced orchestration for stage performances by noted conductor Jonathan McPhee published by Boosey & Hawkes (the only reduction to be authorized by the Stravinsky Trust). Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

KosowerFor reasons unknown, Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto in A minor has never garnered the attention that is enjoyed by the composer’s violin concerto. But on Sunday, August 4 beginning at 7:00 pm at Blossom Music Center, Cleveland Orchestra principal cellist Mark Kosower hopes to do his part in changing that when he performs the Cleveland Orchestra premiere of the work. The concert, under the direction of Bramwell Tovey, also includes Walton’s The Spitfire: Prelude and Fugue and Holst’s ever popular The Planets.

We spoke with Mark Kosower by telephone and began by asking him why he decided to perform Barber’s concerto.

Mark Kosower: I’ve always had an affinity for the piece ever since I learned it back in 1996. It was a piece I came across in 1995 and I immediately fell in love with it. The combination of the beautiful lyricism of the writing combined with motoric and rhythmic drive make the piece really exciting from beginning to end. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Tiberghien-CedricThe most fascinating paragraph in the program booklet for last Saturday’s Cleveland Orchestra concert at Blossom was in the sidebar summing up salient facts about Camille Saint-Saëns’s second piano concerto: “The Cleveland Orchestra first presented this work in November 1919, with a piano playing from a mechanical roll recorded by Harold Bauer.”

That was a marketing ploy by the Aeolian Piano Company which evidently helped fund a nice chunk of the orchestra’s second season, while nearly driving conductor Nikolai Sokoloff to distraction. Happily, on July 27, 2013 there was nothing whatsoever mechanical about French pianist Cédric Tiberghien’s thrilling progress through the piece in tandem with French conductor Stéphane Devène, which was at times expansive and lyrical, and at others positively seismic.

The first movement became a vast cadenza with dramatic orchestral punctuation that Tiberghien seemed to be creating on the spot — like a ruminative improvisation by an organist (a role Saint-Saëns filled for 19 years at L’église de la Madeleine). Read the rest of this entry »

by Guytano Parks

FEDDECK-James2The weather couldn’t have been any better for last Sunday evening’s concert at Blossom Music Center and the musical fare was just as delightful as The Cleveland Orchestra under assistant conductor James Feddeck (replacing the originally scheduled Robert Porco) presented a concert featuring The Blossom Festival Chorus, three stellar operatic vocalists and clarinet soloist Franklin Cohen.

John Williams wrote his Liberty Fanfare to commemorate the 1986 centenary of New York’s iconic Statue of Liberty. This short, exuberant piece opened the program, setting an optimistic mood with bold playing by the brass, soaring melodies by the strings and rhythmic impetus by the percussion. Feddeck conducted this, as well as the second offering by Williams, a suite of three pieces from the recent Spielberg film Lincoln, with a keen sense of mood and dramatic understanding. The orchestra responded superbly to his every gesture and nuance as the scenes unfolded. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

Tiberghien-CedricIt’s always a special occasion when a musician has the opportunity to perform as a soloist with The Cleveland Orchestra, and if it’s your own debut there is even more excitement added to the occasion. This summer three young musicians will be making their Cleveland Orchestra debuts — pianist Cédric Tiberghien (Saint-Saëns’s Concerto #2 in g minor on Saturday, July 27); violinist Ray Chen (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Sunday, August 11); and pianist Martin Helmchen (Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #1 in C major on August 24). All three gentleman are lively conversationalists who had plenty to say about being part of the new generation of artists committed to engaging with and attracting new audiences to classical music.

And what does a performance with the Cleveland Orchestra mean to the three? “It’s one of the things that when I look at my calendar it’s a little bit unbelievable,” says Martin Helmchen. For Ray Chen, the opportunity brings on extra excitement: “I remember going to concerts at Blossom and sitting on the lawn when I was a student in 2006 and 2007 at the Encore School for Strings. So this performance has a very personal connection. To have been there as a kid and now to be on the other side, it’s just great!” Cédric Tiberghien calls it “absolutely amazing. It’s an incredible opportunity for me and I’m really looking forward to it.” Today is the first of three features spotlighting the debuting soloists. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

McGEGAN-NicholasDespite muggy weather, many Northeast Ohio music enthusiasts turned out for last Saturday evening’s Cleveland Orchestra Classical Era concert directed by British conductor Nicholas McGegan. McGegan has directed San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra for over 27 years, and made over 100 recordings of Handel, Vivaldi and other Baroque composers. He is also a flutist and harpsichordist. McGegan’s musical energy and imagination are infectious. He conducted enthusiastically without a baton and constantly molded musical flow with his gestures.

Notwithstanding the presence of the Mozart Flute Concerto, the evening’s highlight was Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, The Drum Roll. Like the later Beethoven Seventh, this is a truly great symphony that charms listener with its melodic beauty, invention, and humor. The first movement, Adagio – Allegro con spirito, justifies the symphony’s subtitle by opening with a powerful rolled timpani solo that surprisingly reappears near the final section. Otherwise it is a conventional first movement, serving up a slow introduction followed by two highly animated themes in rapid six-eight meter. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

WelserMostBlossomIf you were expecting American music to open The Cleveland Orchestra’s Blossom season on Independence Day weekend this year, surprise! Richard Strauss and Dmitri Shostakovich were on the menu on Friday, July 5, the date itself an anomaly, because the orchestra normally plays Blossom on Saturdays and Sundays.

Reportedly the result of a scheduling issue with Lincoln Center, this unusual Blossom kickoff had the advantage of bringing music director Franz Welser-Möst back to town for three concerts over two summer weekends — and on Friday for a distinguished opening event however thematically remote from the national holiday.

Slovakian soprano Orgonášová joined the orchestra for Strauss’s Four Last Songs, 25 minutes of exquisite musical poetry which comprised the first half of the program. Written in Switzerland and completed in 1948, the songs were gathered, put in their current order and published posthumously, then premiered in 1950 in London by Strauss’s chosen soprano, Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler. Twelve years later, Flagstad sang three of them with The Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, who conducted all four with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in 1958. Read the rest of this entry »

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