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By Daniel Hautzinger

Stephen HoughThe environment in which you hear music has a potent influence on a concert experience. Obviously, the acoustics and size of a hall impact the sound, but physical surroundings can also intrude upon the music or affect the way you perceive a work. This is especially true at outdoor venues like Blossom Music Center, where nature decided to take a role in the music on July 26, when the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, pianist Stephen Hough, and conductors Brett Mitchell and John Storgårds presented a three-part concert there.

The elements made their most obvious appearance during Liszt’s First Piano Concerto, which Hough brilliantly performed with Storgårds and The Cleveland Orchestra. Read the rest of this entry »


by Daniel Hathaway

MITCHELL-BrettLast Sunday evening was meant to mark the historic return of the 90-year-old, Polish-born conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski to Blossom after a hiatus of thirty-two years. It was historic alright, but for another reason. Skrowaczewski, who first conducted The Cleveland Orchestra in 1958 at George Szell’s invitation, was sidelined by an illness and assistant conductor Brett Mitchell was tapped late in the week to replace him. Mitchell did himself proud leading scores by Weber, Mozart and Shostakovich on a night that will no doubt be inscribed in the annals of Assistant Conductors’ Big Opportunities.

Summer concerts don’t generally come with abundant rehearsals, so Mitchell and the orchestra probably had very little time together to scope out this repertory. The big mountain to scale was Shostakovitch’s fifth symphony, a work Skrowaczewski had conducted in his Cleveland Orchestra debut more than five decades earlier (when spies from the then Minneapolis Symphony were in the audience on the lookout for a new music director). Under the circumstances, the results Mitchell and the orchestra achieved on Sunday were amazing. Read the rest of this entry »

By Daniel Hautzinger

MITCHELL-BrettCleveland Orchestra assistant conductor Brett Mitchell has had an eventful summer. He just got married and moved into a new house, and last weekend he made his debut at the Blossom Music Center, stepping in for Stanislaw Skrowaczewski to conduct The Cleveland Orchestra (TCO) after Skrowaczewski cancelled shortly before the concert because of illness. And on July 26, Mitchell returns to Blossom for what he thought would be his debut there, conducting the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra in a prelude concert at 7:00.

That concert will be followed at 8:00 by John Storgårds conducting TCO in Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture and Liszt’s First Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough. Finally, the jam-packed night will end with the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra, who are students at the Kent/Blossom Music Festival, and TCO in a side-by-side performance of Sibelius’s Second Symphony led by Storgårds.

Things have come full circle for Mitchell, whose first time working with TCO “was back in the summer of 2009, when they hired me to be a cover conductor for a couple of their guest conductors at Blossom,” he said last week over the phone while on the way to lunch in between rehearsals. So a debut at Blossom is fitting. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

STOOKEY-NathanielThe Composer is Dead, a funny musical whodunit by children’s author Lemony Snicket and composer Nathaniel Stookey (left) that “investigates” every section of the orchestra, returns to Severance Hall on Friday, May 16 beginning at 7:30 pm when Brett Mitchell will lead The Cleveland Orchestra in a special Family Concert. The concert features the composer as narrator.

Since its premiere with the San Francisco Symphony in 2006, the piece has quickly become a hit with audiences and orchestras across North America. Prior to the work’s Cleveland Orchestra premiere in April 2010, we had the opportunity to speak to Nathaniel Stookey by phone from his home in San Francisco. The engaging composer told us about his ties to Cleveland as well as the series of “fortunate events” that led to the commissioning of The Composer is Dead. The following is an excerpt from that interview.

Mike Telin: Have you ever worked with the Cleveland Orchestra before now?

Nathaniel Stookey: Only as an usher during the 1988-1989 season while I was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music studying with Donald Erb. So other than that no, I have not worked with them. But I am very excited about this opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hautzinger

MLK1In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 20, The Cleveland Orchestra honored Dr. King’s calls for universal brotherhood by hosting its annual Community Open House featuring various Cleveland performing arts groups.

Severance Hall provided warmth throughout the snowy day, with various performances and activities scheduled. The Bogomolny-Kozerefski Grand Foyer was transformed into a dance floor with flashing lights and an emcee for a fun diversion between performances. Downstairs, in the Smith Lobby, guests were invited to view a display about the life of Dr. King.

Performances began at 12:15 with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus. Directed by Lisa Wong, the enthusiastic high school-age singers demonstrated balance and musical maturity well beyond their years. Read the rest of this entry »

by Guytano Parks

MITCHELL-BrettIt was a beautiful, clear and crisp autumn afternoon this past Sunday in University Circle. Brett Mitchell, newly appointed music director of The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra and assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra, conducted equally clear and crisp performances by COYO in a program at Severance Hall which featured the orchestral sections individually and collectively in works by Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Kilar and Mussorgsky.

A bright and chipper Festive Overture by Shostakovich opened the concert, revealing Mitchell to be a conductor full of charismatic energy and excitement as his enthusiasm prodded the musicians to exciting heights through sharp and precise gestures. Playfully tossing melodies back and forth between sections with effective variances of tone color and character, the music joyfully galloped toward its spirited conclusion.

The winds and strings were featured in the next two works: Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Kilar’s Orawa for strings. In the cubist-like Stravinsky piece — a complex mosaic-like network whose elements combine, conflict and interlock — the players are extremely vulnerable as every detail of articulation, phrasing, dynamics and balance are exposed due to the absence of the cushioning sound of strings. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

MITCHELL-BrettThe 2013-14 season marks Brett Mitchell’s first year as assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra. And on Sunday, November 3 at 3:00 pm, Mitchell will make his Severance Hall debut as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO) in a concert featuring the music of Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Kilar and Mussorgsky.

In addition to his position in Cleveland, Brett Mitchell is currently in his fourth season as music director of Michigan’s Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra. Prior to Cleveland, Mitchell served as assistant conductor of the Houston Symphony from 2007 to 2011.

Additionally, he has led an impressive list of orchestras including the London Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, as well as the orchestras of Baltimore, Memphis, Oregon, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Washington D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Northwest Mahler Festival Orchestra.

Mitchell says that working with young people has always been part of his career and a part that he enjoys enormously. “I love working with kids,” the Seattle native says enthusiastically during our relaxed conversation in his Severance Hall office. “They’re so eager and have such great energy, and are so open and so giving.” He adds that, technically speaking, his first music directorship was with the North Sound Youth Symphony in Bellingham, Washington. “I was halfway through my senior year of undergraduate school when they asked me to fill in for the remainder of that season.” Read the rest of this entry »

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