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Fink-&-RobertsonDaniel Hathaway’s review of Thursday’s Cleveland Orchestra concert is now posted on Classical Voice North America (the national website of the Music Critics Association). The concert will be repeated tonight (Saturday, May 3 at 8) and broadcast live on WCLV 104.9 FM (streamed at wclv.com). >>read the article

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by Mike Telin

FINK-Mary-Kay“As a child, I loved classic fairy tales as collected and told by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and others,” American composer Gabriela Lena Frank writes about her new work, Will-o’-the-Wisp: Tone Poem for Piccolo and Orchestra. “As a composer, I’ve often enjoyed using some my childish and fancifully personalized re-interpretations of myths to inspire pieces, with varying degrees of overt Latin American musical (especially indigenous Indian) influences.  [And this] is one such piece.” On Thursday, May 1 beginning at 7:30 pm in Severance Hall, Cleveland Orchestra Principal Piccolo Mary Kay Fink performs the world premiere of Frank’s new concerto under the direction of David Robertson.

Will-o’-the-Wisp was commissioned by The Cleveland Orchestra for Mary Kay Fink, although finding a composer for the project turned out to be a long process. “I was working with the artistic administrators of the orchestra. I would suggest a composer and they would make suggestions back to me,” Fink said in a recent telephone conversation. “We approached a few composers who turned down the offer because they were too busy.”

As luck would have it, Fink attended a recital given by Canton Symphony principal flutist Katherine DeJongh which included a piece by Gabriela Lena Frank. “I had not heard of Frank and was unfamiliar with her music,” Fink recalled, “but I loved her piece. It was my favorite work on the recital.” 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 »

by Daniel Hathaway

Dick-RobertComposer and flutist Robert Dick got energized about contemporary music at Yale in the early 1970s, where he was part of a small group of students who worked in a classic electronic studio even before the birth of the synthesizer.

Dick left school after undergraduate and graduate studies with a big vision. “I thought I would have the possibility of a huge international solo career playing new music. I really thought that the best music in the best performances would win the day and overcome the reluctance of people to listen to things that were unfamiliar to them,” Dick told us in a telephone conversation.

The size of everything turned not to be what I dreamed. Music that really asks something of the listener is challenging, and the mass audience is not willing to take that challenge. The person who actually loves the experience of really listening to music is rare.”

Dick attributes the demise of active listening to changes in education. “In the 1970s, music was stripped out of the public school curriculum all over the country, which is probably the single root cause of why things are the way they are today.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Sinaisky-VassilyNow that classical music has become increasingly homogenized through globalization, there’s something deeply satisfying about experiencing works from a national tradition interpreted by conductors and soloists who grew up speaking the language. On Thursday evening, Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky and Russian-born pianist Kirill Gerstein treated the Severance Hall audience to deeply-felt performances of music by Liadov, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Led early on by Russian conductors, The Cleveland Orchestra has a near-native feel for this repertory and played it with expressive passion coupled with New World precision.

Conducting with his bare hands, Sinaisky, who is music director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, painted perfect little scenes for each of Anatoly Liadov’s Eight Russian Folk Songs to open the program. English horn and bassoon solos (Robert Walters and Barrick Stees) set a solemn mood for the “Religious Chant,” an affect that first assistant principal cellist Richard Weiss recaptured later in the “Plaintive Song.” “Dance of the Gnat” created a buzz both in the strings and an amused audience. Mary Kay Fink’s piccolo soared out over pizzicato strings in the “Round Dance,” and a vivacious orchestral tutti brought the set of tiny pieces to a celebratory ending in the “Village Dance Song.” 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

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 »

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