The Cleveland Orchestra’s summer opener at Blossom, marking 50 years in that venue, began with noticeable changes, a look into the past, a glimpse of the future. The Blossom shed which previously sold Cleveland Orchestra merchandise, including numerous CDs, now sells food. CD sales have been moved over to a concession (there were only two titles), along with apparel and spirits. Blossom’s informal, festive atmosphere was symbolized by a cardboard cutout of Beethoven, along with an ideastream announcer dressed up as Mussorgsky.
“I said, they are playing your music tonight!”
Entry into the shell revealed two large video screens – more on these later. Just before the concert, executive director André Gremillet made a brief tribute to several retired players who were in the audience, along with Emilio Llinás – still in the orchestra – who performed at Blossom’s opening concert. He also delivered well wishes from Franz Welser-Most, who was unable to conduct this weekend due to a bacterial infection in his right hand. His substitute was Jahja Ling, well known to Cleveland Orchestra audiences.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is generally not considered one of his greatest works. Writing a concerto that features three divergent instruments – violin, cello, piano – more or less equally, is a considerable challenge. Further, Beethoven seems to have written it for a teenaged piano pupil – as the piano part is not particularly challenging. On the other hand, the work requires a top rate cellist to carry it off, and Mark Kosower, principle cello of our Cleveland Orchestra, certainly fit the bill. Stephen Rose admirably filled the violin part with Joelle Jones on piano. Although I would have welcomed a bit more assertiveness in the piano part, the essentially chamber music approach to the work resulted in a unanimity of conception that revealed the work’s structure admirably. Ling kept matters moving along tidily.
Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition is far from the only version of this piece, but it launched the work as a repertoire staple – and it remains the most popular version, far outstripping Mussorgsky’s rather clumsy original. Ling held the piece together masterfully, avoided cheap sonic effects, with each part in balance – building to the inevitable climax at The Great Gate of Kiev. Special commendations go to Steven Banks for his alto-saxophone solo in The Old Castle, and Michael Sachs on trumpet as Schmuÿle, along with the entire brass section during the menacing Catacombs.
As mentioned earlier, there were two large screens presented in collaboration with , which presented a more detailed view of the proceedings – closeups of players and the conductor. This was a double-edged sword: Certainly, we saw aspects of the performance one would not see from a seat on the main floor; on the other hand, the cutting between sections was not always handled well, with close-ups occasionally out of time with the music, so we would get a shot of a soloist just at the end of the solo. But it was an interesting enhancement which, if further refined, could yield real benefits.