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by Daniel Hathaway

WelserMostBlossomAs the normally-resident birds gave way to the end-of-summer locusts, The Cleveland Orchestra bade farewell to Blossom on Sunday evening in a season closer that also served as a send-off for the ensemble’s forthcoming European tour. Like Friday evening’s Summers @ Severance performance, the repertoire was a condensed version of what audiences in London, Lucerne, Berlin, Linz, Vienna, Paris and Amsterdam will enjoy in thirteen performances from September 7-22: works by Johannes Brahms and Jörg Widmann, the orchestra’s former Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow (an entire concert in Berlin’s Philharmonie on September 11 will be devoted to Widmann’s music).

Widmann’s Con brio: Concert Overture began Sunday evening’s concert on many witty notes. Commissioned by conductor Mariss Jansons to headline a concert of Beethoven’s seventh and eighth symphonies and scored for those orchestral forces, the overture was first performed by The Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall performances led by Christoph von Dohnányi in January of 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Timothy Robson

Smith & Welser-MostAs a prelude to its three-week European tour, Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra previewed some of their tour repertoire in the third of the 2014 Summers @ Severance concerts on Friday, August 29. This was no summertime “orchestra-lite” concert, but featured two demanding and arresting works by Jörg Widmann, the orchestra’s former Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow, as well as that monument of the orchestral repertoire, Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68. Severance Hall was well filled with a very diverse audience of Cleveland Orchestra fans.

Jörg Widmann’s music brilliantly combines skillful use of orchestration with modernist compositional techniques, at the same time retaining just enough references to recognizable musical styles to make his music appealing to a wide audience. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

JoshFranzThis Friday evening at Severance Hall and Sunday evening at Blossom, music director Franz Welser-Möst will give audiences a taste of the repertory The Cleveland Orchestra will play in thirteen concerts in seven European cities between September 7 and September 22.

On Friday, August 29 at 7:00 pm, to end the new Summers at Severance series, Welser-Möst will lead Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 and Jörg Widmann’s Lied and Flûte en suite with principal flute Joshua Smith as soloist (pictured above). The flute concerto was written for Smith, who premiered it at Severance Hall in 2011, and will play it six times during the September tour.

On Sunday, August 31 at 7:00 pm in the Orchestra’s Blossom European Tour Send-Off, Welser-Möst will conduct two more Brahms symphonies, Nos. 3 and 4, and another work by Widmann, the concert overture entitled Con brio.

At home, The Cleveland Orchestra and up to 2,400 patrons at a time enjoy the visual and acoustic splendor of Severance Hall, opened in 1931 and renovated in 2000. On the tour, the Orchestra will play in some of the world’s other great concert halls. Here’s an overview of where the music will be heard. Read the rest of this entry »

by Guytano Parks

BuchbinderSpringtime was heralded in at Severance Hall last Thursday evening when music director Franz Welser-Möst led The Cleveland Orchestra, soprano Kate Royal, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, tenor John Tessier and The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and Children’s Chorus (prepared by Robert Porco and Ann Usher) in Benjamin Britten’s Spring Symphony. Earlier on the program came Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder, Sibelius’s Lemminkainen’s Return, and Ryan Wigglesworth’s Locke’s Theatre.

Welser-Möstled a bold and sweeping account of the Sibelius (No. 4, from Legends, Op. 22) to begin the program. Emphasizing the dark, serious nature of its opening bars, he coaxed expressive, colorful sounds from the orchestra, full of rhythmic vigor and effective dynamic contrasts.

Buchbinder played Rachmaninoff’s popular Rhapsody in a straightforward manner, but still full of interest and excitement. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

hereFor the second of his January homestand weekends before the orchestra travels to Miami for its residency, Franz Welser-Möst gave Severance Hall audiences a Mozart symphony, a Beethoven piano concerto and the United States premiere of a substantial and brilliant new work that has been making the rounds of European and Asian concert halls.

Replacing Radu Lupu, the superb pianist Yefim Bronfman returned to Severance Hall on Thursday for a memorable reunion with the orchestra in Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. Playing calmly and with a perfect sense of proportion and scale, Bronfman made this most engaging of concertos sound like an easy piece of work (which it really is not).

Welser-Möst and the orchestra provided a warm cocoon of sound around the soloist and arrived at tricky meeting points with pinpoint timing. The wind section achieved a particularly impressive blend. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Julia Fischer

Circled by video cameras — including a giraffe-like “jib” that hovered ominously over the front seats on stage right — Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra played the first in a split set of four all-Brahms concerts with the outstanding violin soloist Julia Fischer on Thursday evening at Severance Hall.

The first pair of performances were being recorded for eventual release on DVD and television and over the course of four days, the concerts would include two different overtures and symphonies and four iterations of the violin concerto. Thursday’s concert featured works written in the seven-year period between 1878 and 1885: the Academic Festival Overture, the Violin Concerto, and the Symphony No. 4 in e minor.

Sometimes concert programs are designed to challenge the audience or to juxtapose works in interesting and revelatory ways. Sometimes — as in a retrospective art exhibition — programs are curated for the sheer pleasure of enjoying a body of work brought together in one place. Read the rest of this entry »

by Guytano Parks

BeethovenShostakovichOn Friday, October 25 The Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by music director Franz Welser-Möst, presented the second of three concerts of Beethoven and Shostakovich Symphonies as part of a week-long “Fate and Freedom Festival” — an exploration of the highly tempestuous and deeply emotional intermingling of music and politics.

Included in the Festival were films screened at The Cleveland Institute of Art (A Clockwork Orange) and The Cleveland Museum of Art (The New Babylon, featuring Shostakovich’s first film score), in addition to pre-film and pre-concert talks and a chamber music performance by members of The Cleveland Orchestra. On Saturday afternoon as a related event, the Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Nose by Shostakovich was shown LIVE in HD in select Northeast Ohio movie theaters.

Described by Robert Schumann as a “slender Greek maiden” compared to the Third and Fifth symphonies, Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony in B-flat is considerably less forceful and dramatic. Read the rest of this entry »

by Timothy Robson

BeethovenShostakovichSeverance Hall was sold out for Saturday evening for the third and final concert in The Cleveland Orchestra’s mini-series, Fate and Freedom: Music of Beethoven and Shostakovich. Music director Franz Welser-Möst conducted riveting performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93. The orchestra and it soloists sounded in particularly top form from beginning to end.

The program book featured specially written essays by Welser-Möst and composer/journalist Frank J. Oteri on the relationship of Beethoven’s and Shostakovich’s music to politics. For Beethoven, especially composing the third, fourth and fifth symphonies following the French revolution and under the philosophy of the Enlightenment; and for Shostokovich, enduring the Stalinist period of World War II and the grim Soviet era 1950s following Stalin’s death.

Beethoven’s was a period of social upheaval and political protest; Shostakovich lived in an era of political repression, where a statement against the regime likely would have dire consequences. Both composers expressed their political views through their music: Beethoven the concept of the freedom of all humankind; Shostokovich the idea of political protest hidden in secret messages within his music. The appreciation of these two great symphonies is not dependent on awareness of their context—even when performed together; however, the written commentary did enhance the experience. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

BeethovenShostakovichFranz Welser-Möst returned to the Severance Hall stage on Thursday evening to lead The Cleveland Orchestra in the first of three concerts on consecutive evenings that paired symphonies by Beethoven and Shostakovich under the banner of the orchestra’s “Fate and Freedom Festival.”

In a pre-concert chat in Reinberger Chamber Music Hall with director of artistic planning Mark Williams, Welser-Möst noted that he had been looking for a new way to program a Vienna Musikverein Beethoven cycle and credited the Takács Quartet with the idea of pairing Beethoven and Shostakovich on the same program. (The orchestra will repeat this three-concert cycle in the Austrian capital from November 20-22.)

Whether you care to go deeply into the philosophical and political similarities and contrasts between the two composers, as Welser-Möst did in his program book essay, or simply enjoy hearing a pair of their symphonies in close succession, there was a lot to stimulate the mind and the ear last weekend. Thursday evening’s short performance coupled Beethoven’s third symphony with Shostakovich’s sixth — each written during the composers’ thirty-third year. Read the rest of this entry »

BeethovenShostakovichby Mike Telin

The opportunity to look beyond composers’ music and into the world that shaped their lives and creative output is often available only to students enrolled in music history classes. Beginning tonight and continuing through Saturday, The Cleveland Orchestra presents Fate and Freedom: Music of Beethoven and Shostakovich. Music director Franz Welser-Möst conceived the Festival to look more closely at landmark symphonies by Beethoven and Shostakovich and provide context around their creation, while examining the ever-relevant themes of personal and societal freedom they express.

Franz Welser-Möst is interested in bringing together unusual or disparate elements to see how they change our palette,” the orchestra’s director of artistic planning Mark Williams told us by telephone. “For example, a couple of seasons ago the orchestra played a number of works by Bruckner paired with the works of John Adams. The idea being that maybe Bruckner was the father of minimalism. Whether or not you agree with it, it is a statement.”

Fate and Freedom is a coming together of organizations and experts in their fields of study. On the musical front, Franz Welser-Möst will lead three Cleveland Orchestra concerts on three consecutive evenings, pairing Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 3, 4, and 5 with Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 6, 8, and 10. Read the rest of this entry »

by Robert Rollin

BREWER-&-HELDThough not something one would expect for a summer festival blast off, Franz Welser-Möst turned the all-Wagner evening at Blossom on Saturday, July 13 into a great success. Having two remarkably talented soloists didn’t hurt the concert, a powerful mélange of instrumental music and justly renowned vocal chestnuts, but above all, Welser-Möst’s approach to Wagner made the evening a truly special event. Among connoisseurs, the three operatic excerpts, each preceded by large instrumental segments, are considered the very best of Wagner.

Welser-Möst’s plan was to avoid over-sentimentalizing the music by keeping the tempo moving well, and by not over-fixating on the music’s wealth of details. Music theoreticians can spend hours arguing about harmonic analysis and non-chord tones in Wagner, but for the listener, the large scale lines and buildup to climaxes are of far greater import. Welser-Möst kept these elements limpidly apparent and guided orchestra and soloists into exemplary performances.

The evening’s highlight was the Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan and Isolde. Read the rest of this entry »

by Guytano Parks

THIBAUDETMother Nature let loose her fury this past Saturday evening at Blossom Music Center just as The Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of conductor Franz Welser-Möst was about to begin Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. The music is brusque enough without the rumblings of thunder which accompanied it, and a bit more than halfway through the piece a torrential downpour all but drowned out anything played under a mezzo forte level. However it was quite discernible that this was a probing and driven performance of serious intent in which the distraction failed to foil conductor and orchestra. Patrons may recall a recent performance in November 2012 in the more favorable acoustic conditions of Severance Hall where the sections of repose, resplendent in their many subtle shades of softness, were more audible.

As the piano was moved into place before the second piece on the program — Liszt’s Totentanz — the downpour strengthened, causing members of the orchestra to leave their seats to wait it out in the sidelines as an announcement over the sound system invited audience members on the lawn to take shelter in the pavilion. 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 »

by Daniel Hathaway

TCO&COCThe Cleveland Orchestra Chorus has had a lot on its plate this month, preparing and performing two major works just two weeks apart. This fine, all-volunteer ensemble — now celebrating its sixtieth anniversary — handily swapped the faux-medieval pastiche of Carmina Burana for the witty, cultured music of The Seasons, turning in a splendid performance of Haydn’s underappreciated, second oratorio under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst on Thursday evening, April 25 in Severance Hall — with a little help from The Cleveland Orchestra and three top-notch soloists.

The suddenly-flowering trees out front augured well for the occasion, which opened with an orchestral introduction depicting “the passage from winter to spring”. That was followed closely by the choral caveat: “Do not rejoice all too soon / for often, wrapped in mists, / winter creeps back again and strews / on blossom and bud his rigid poison.” Apparently, what goes for Cleveland also goes for Vienna. Though all four seasons cycled by onstage, Spring prevailed outside on Thursday night.

In setting Baron von Swieten’s adaptation of a lengthy text by Scots poet James Thomson, Haydn planned a major scene as the centerpiece of each season, calling on the chorus to play joyful, grateful countryfolk in Spring, storm-frightened villagers in Summer, hunters and wine tipplers in Autumn and spinners and storytellers gathered toastily around the fire in Winter. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Welser-Most-MastroianniLooking fit and energized after his recent back problems, Franz Welser-Möst returned to Severance Hall on Thursday evening, April 18 to lead one of the most exciting and highly-polished Cleveland Orchestra concerts of the season. And one of the most varied: the first performance of Sean Shepherd’s Tuolumne shared the program with Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with Frank Peter Zimmermann out in front, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6. One might quarrel with the ordering of the pieces, but the elements that made up this weekend’s musical triptych were smart choices and the performances were winners.

In February, Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow Sean Shepherd completed his impressions of three Yosemite National Park scenes captured by American photographer Ansel Adams, the final commission of Shepherd’s two-year residency with the orchestra. The composer is quick to point out that the piece is not a musical representation of the Adams images but “a kind of response to that set of three black-and-white photographs… a meditation on and celebration of both the place and the images” — exactly what the French Impressionists had in mind a century ago. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

 

We haveFranzBlossom a vision that Cleveland has more people making music than anywhere”, Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Möst said before bringing the Orchestra’s “Make Music!” week showcase concert to a suitably festive conclusion on Thursday evening at Severance Hall. Not every music-maker in this vibrant community and region was in the spotlight last night, but everybody who regularly rehearses and performs under the roof of Severance Hall — plus the kids who make up the El Sistema @ Rainey string orchestra program under founder and director Isabel Trautwein — had the opportunity to demonstrate their wares to a large audience.

 

The two-hour concert culminated in a performance of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus from Messiah combining The Cleveland Orchestra, Youth Orchestra, Youth Chorus, Children’s Chorus, some adults from the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus — and the audience, who were invited to join in, and stood up in time-honored fashion to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

WhenBELL-Joshua violinist Joshua Bell last played in Northeast Ohio two years ago with pianist Jeremy Denk, he packed Finney Chapel in Oberlin and E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron (causing a major traffic jam outside the 2,900-seat Akron venue, whose ushers ran out of programs early on). His return to Severance Hall after an absence of a decade to play the Beethoven concerto last night with Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra also produced long lines of cars looking for parking and the excitement of a full house — something that doesn’t happen too often for a Thursday evening concert.

The crowd had to wait for the second half to enjoy Bell’s luminous performance of the 40-minute concerto, but what went before was anything but mere program filler. Jörg Widmann’s Lied [Song] and Béla Bartók’s Dance Suite offered exciting contributions all their own. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

AfterOHLSSON-Garrick winning the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition, pianist Garrick Ohlsson has built a reputation for being a musician of magisterial interpretive and technical prowess. Beginning on Thursday, January 10 in Severance Hall, the celebrated pianist will join The Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Franz Welser-Möst for three performances of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major.

Boasting a repertoire of over eighty concertos, it was not until this past fall that Ohlssohn gave his first performances of Tchaikovsky’s lesser known concerto. And while he admits to having some initial reservations about the piece, Ohlsson says he has grown to like the concerto very much. We reached the always engaging pianist by telephone at his home in San Francisco. Read the rest of this entry »

Nigel Redden, director of Lincoln Center Festival, and Gary Hanson, executive director of The Cleveland Orchestra, announced on Tuesday afternoon a new multi-year residency for the Orchestra at the Lincoln Center Festival to begin in 2011 and continue in 2013 and 2015.

From July 13-17, 2011, Franz Welser-Möst will conduct four concerts juxtaposing Bruckner’s Symphonies 5, 7, 8 and 9 with works by John Adams, and will also give a master class on Bruckner at the Juilliard School.

The 2013 and 2015 residencies will include fully staged productions from the Vienna State Opera with Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra in the pit of the David H. Koch Theater (Welser-Möst will become General Music Director of the VSO in 2010, in the same year as Dominique Meyer, currently of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysees in Paris becomes Intendant). The second and third residencies will also include concert performances and possibly ballet.

On the web:

The New York Times: Cleveland Orchestra Gets Its Toe in New York

The Cleveland Plain Dealer: Cleveland Orchestra to be part of Lincoln Center Festival

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