More reflections on the recent Cleveland Orchestra residency
February 3, 2013
I thought further reflections on the recent Cleveland Orchestra Residency are in order, in that the visitors’ three-day stay attracted a host of folks from both the on-campus and off-campus community, proved a major investment on the part of the IU Auditorium in what, for its management, has been an often de-emphasized focus on classical music, and built on a potentially salutary collaborative partnership between the Auditorium and the Jacobs School of Music.
Because I needed to be out of town for part of the residency period and had other conflicts, I regrettably did not get to avail myself of the various master classes, seminars and additional sessions that mingled the pros with students.
Nor, most unfortunately, did I get to hear the Schumann-Mendelssohn chamber concert featuring musicians both from the Cleveland Orchestra and the Jacobs faculty.
But I was happily present for the main event: that Beethoven and Berlioz concert by the whole of the Cleveland Orchestra, with Bloomington’s own Joshua Bell as soloist. And I attended two other revelatory events: conductor Franz Welser-Most’s rehearsal with his own Clevelanders and his coaching gig with the IU Philharmonic.
The concert itself I commented on in my review for this newspaper. To reiterate: That concert gave us a chance to hear one of the world’s most distinguished orchestras performing with a pride of ownership. The reading of Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” was astounding for its crispness of attack and brilliance of tonal splendor; one hears such a performance rarely in a lifetime.
What good fortune for the orchestra and certainly for us also to have had Josh Bell as soloist. His presence not only lifted attendance to the sell-out level, but his artistry in the Beethoven Violin Concerto was consummate.
It contained no showing off, no exhibitionism, just playing of the purest, most intimate and intuitive nature. Again, such an exceptional performance is scarce, a treasure.
The morning of the concert, Maestro Welser-Most rehearsed his talented band of brothers and sisters. And that they seemed to be, a family, siblings united in the kinship of music.
For those two-and-a-half hours, as again at concert time, Welser-Most was the benevolent father. In rehearsal, he offered sage advice and carefully instructed the musicians, beckoning them to remember a fine point here and to try for a new effect there.
During the concert, as had been the case earlier, one sensed purpose and determination to achieve the best possible outcome, but one could even spot smiling faces on stage.
There seemed to be absolutely no tension. How changed that was from previous periods, when the likes of Toscanini, Stokowski, Rodzinski, Klemperer and Reiner were appropriately referred to in a book title of the period as “Dictators of the Baton.”
In the Cleveland/Welser-Most relationship, certainly, the atmosphere engendered was one of affection versus fear.
So, too, when Welser-Most stepped upon the podium the previous day in the Musical Arts Center, it was an affable, sharing pro who faced the ranks of the Jacobs School’s most senior of orchestras, the Philharmonic. That two-hour interaction, like most of the Cleveland’s rehearsal, was devoted to the Berlioz. Again, the atmosphere appeared to be relaxed versus tense.
There was more teaching and more learning, to be sure. “It’s wonderful to be here,” the conductor said with a smile, and then: “We start with the Fourth Movement.” He let the students play that short section of the symphony, praised the results in a few words, and declared, “It is always important to know what the music is about.”
In German-inflected English, the native Austrian proceeded to tell them what the music is about, this as prelude to an extended give-and-take during which one heard differing and repeated pleas and insistences, and the do-it-agains were frequent: “When we start, it would be nice if the trumpets sound more bright,” . “The accents have to speak more, have a sharper edge.” . “Don’t lose momentum.” . “Cellos, this is not a march for October Fest. There’s fear here.” . “Don’t forget intensity right from the starting note. And keep it up. Don’t become complacent.”
Guiding the Philharmonic through the Fourth, then the Fifth, then the Second and Third Movements, Maestro Welser-Most sustained a masterful lesson, sometimes singing a point he was trying to get across, sometimes talking: “This is French music, not German. You know the French national anthem. Like that, make your instruments sing.” “When Berlioz wrote that, no one had heard something like it. It was wild. We want it still to be wild.”. “Take a risk. This music is about risk.” . “Now play like you’re really nervous.” . “Spit out those eighth notes.” . “We have to get these two themes together and make them distinguishable.” . “It gets more exciting if you articulate those notes.” . “Play with surprise.” . “You have a great sound. So, use it.”
For two hours, one watched a conductor of professionals teach an orchestra of students, always respectfully, never condescendingly.At the end, from this music director of both the Cleveland Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera, came praise. “See you here again or perhaps in Cleveland or in Vienna.” He smiled once more. The orchestra applauded.
One hopes, of course, that a third Cleveland Residency is in the offing here. And who knows whether one or more of those young musicians in the IU Philharmonic will some day sit amidst musicians that Welser-Most conducts in Cleveland or Vienna? For sure, he’s got a bunch of IU alums working with him in Cleveland already, including none less than concertmaster William Preucil and principal cellist Mark Kosower.
Whether they’ll link up or not, the hundred or so at the Musical Arts Center that afternoon will surely remember the lesson with the smiling, affable and very helpful Franz Welser-Most.
As for me, and a colleague from the School of Journalism who was present, there’s another lesson: that from the discipline and seriousness shown by those talented Jacobs School youngsters. Would that hundreds upon hundreds of non-music students at IU had been there to witness such discipline and seriousness! It might have inspired them make more of their own instructional opportunities at IU.
But to wind this up: The musicians from Cleveland brought valuable gifts. May they come again, and soon.
Reach Peter by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Jacobi” in the subject line.
Courtesy photo The Cleveland Orchestra violinist Isabel Trautwein instructs young violinists at Fairview Elementary.
Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2013