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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 »

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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 Mike Telin

Ensemble-HD-Happy-DogWhat I think is great about NEOSonicFest is that the groups that are performing are a good balance and represent what is going on in the music scene here in Cleveland,” Ensemble HD and Cleveland Orchestra principal flutist Joshua Smith said recently by telephone. “I think people will find there is a broad spectrum of musical examples of what the term New Music means.” On Sunday, March 30 beginning at 7:30 pm in Harkness Chapel at Case Western Reserve University, Ensemble HD with special guests Verb Ballets, will feature music that represents a variety of musical styles and combinations of instruments.

Ensemble HD first gained national attention by bringing classical music to new audiences with their performances at the Happy Dog Bar on Cleveland’s near West Side (above). Led by Joshua Smith, the ensemble includes pianist Christina Dahl, associate professor of music at SUNY Stony Brook, and four of Smith’s fellow Cleveland Orchestra members: violinist Amy Lee, oboist Frank Rosenwein, cellist Charles Bernard, and violist Joanna Patterson-Zakany.

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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 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

SMITH-COHENViolinists and pianists — with cellists not so close behind — are the usual suspects for concerto soloists with a symphony orchestra, but this weekend, The Cleveland Orchestra will reach into its own wind section for soloists in concertos by Wolfgang Amadè Mozart and Oscar Navarro. Principal flutist Joshua Smith will play Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 in G under Nicholas McGegan on Saturday, July 20 at 8 pm and principal clarinetist Franklin Cohen will join his colleagues for Navarro’s II Concerto on Sunday, July 21 at 7 pm under the baton of James Feddeck, taking over for Robert Porco, who is indisposed.

Joshua Smith finds Mozart’s first concerto entirely delightful. “Is it on the same level of writing as the piano concertos? No, but it’s Mozart in a young, charming, good mood,” he told us on the phone. “It’s frothy, really operatic in the slow movement, and the minuet is completely fun. The finale is a real gas to play with lots of things bouncing back and forth between the soloist and the orchestra.”

Mozart wrote the two flute concertos as part of a commission for the Dutch flutist Ferdinand de Jean but he never got around to a promised third concerto. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

Ensemble-HD-GroupToday, May 15, 2013 is here and so marks the official release of the highly anticipated recording Ensemble HD – Live at The Happy Dog. So much has happened since June 23, 2010 when Cleveland Orchestra principal flutist Joshua Smith and Happy Dog proprietor Sean Watterson decided to take the plunge by bringing live “classical” music to a venue more known for presenting local rock and polka bands. But what this album celebrates most is the shared vision and philosophy of creating something that would put a new face on classical music which Smith and Watterson brought to a reality.

In the album’s informative liner notes, Charles Michener insightfully writes

Yet, perhaps what ails classical music has less to do with the audience, the nature of the music or the people who play it, then it does with the places and the manner in which it is usually played.” Michener suggests, “What if one could experience Beethoven and Bartok in a setting other then a shrine-like auditorium…? What if the players arrived not in formal evening dress but as people who look and act just like the rest of us? What if you could enjoy Beethoven and Bartok in a casual public watering hole on an ordinary urban street while chatting with your companion, ordering food and drink, and even glancing occasionally at a TV monitor where an NBA or NFL game is in progress.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Gordon-Square-BannerDetails are now in place for the inaugural neighborhood residency of The Cleveland Orchestra, which will find the Orchestra and members of Severance Hall ensembles engaging the community in numerous activities ranging from performances to a soccer match in the Gordon Square Arts District on Cleveland’s West Side from May 11 through May 17.

The full Orchestra will play a free evening concert (now sold out) and a morning educational concert at St. Colman Church under assistant conductor James Feddeck. A special City Club forum will discuss the impact of arts and culture on neighborhood development.

Other performances include a variety of Cleveland Orchestra soloists and ensembles performing in Gordon Square cafés, wine bars, a health campus, galleries and food stores as well as in La Sagrada Familia Church and Cleveland Public Theatre.

Ensemble HD, made up of Cleveland Orchestra musicians, will join Classical Revolution at the Happy Dog to celebrate the release of its vinyl recording, Ensemble HD Live at the Happy Dog.

Other activities include a Capitol Theatre screening of part of the Orchestra’s Bruckner Fourth Symphony Performance at St. Florian Abbey and that neighborhood soccer game, which will involve seventeen Orchestra musicians and staff and young people from the neighborhood. Read the rest of this entry »

by Timothy Robson

ARTMarch24SzaboFlutist Joshua Smith must be one of Cleveland’s busiest musicians, from his position as principal flute in the center of the Cleveland Orchestra, to his teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music, to his many chamber music appearances, including founding the semi-regular classical music performances by Ensemble HD at The Happy Dog. He was joined by pianist Christina Dahl and Cleveland Orchestra principal percussionist Jacob Nissly on Sunday afternoon, March 24, at Pilgrim Church for a concert as part of the Arts Renaissance Tremont Series. The program looked daunting, with composers of such scary repute as Busoni, Kurtág, and Xenakis. In fact, the well-attended concert was varied and entertaining, with top-drawer performances from all three musicians.

Ms. Dahl opened the concert with Ferruccio Busoni’s 1892 transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor, from the solo Violin Partita, BWV 1004. Read the rest of this entry »

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