Cleveland Orchestra gets right down to business on first full day of Indiana University residency

BLOOMINGTON, IND. – The Cleveland Orchestra wasted not a single second of its first full day in residence at Indiana University.

Almost instantly upon their arrival Wednesday in this charming college town 45 miles south of Indianapolis, the first stop on a three-city Midwest tour, the artists dispersed and embarked on a packed schedule of classes, rehearsals, speeches and other events on their fourth biennial residency at the Jacobs School of Music.

It was a long day for everyone.

A sizable portion of the group finished up at 8:30 p.m., after an evening side-by-side rehearsal with student musicians. Over this impactful event, associate conductor Brett Mitchell presided efficiently, leading the large combined orchestra through Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration” while also giving the Cleveland musicians time to work with students in their sections individually.

And that was just the second shift. Many of those same musicians had already held mock auditions or led repertoire classes earlier in the day. A bold contingency worked even later, too, reading chamber music with students all the way until 11 p.m. in a Classical Revolution jam session at a local bar.

Even music director Franz Welser-Most got in on the action. He spent the late afternoon hours conducting the Indiana University Philharmonic through Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin.”

That the work is near and dear to his heart, and still fresh in his mind from recent performances in Cleveland, was plain. He wasn’t content to let the students simply read through the music. He insisted they capture its bleak, gritty essence.

“Don’t be afraid to produce an ‘ugly’ sound,” the conductor told them, likening the music to Expressionist paintings and asking them to make one passage sound “like a nest of wasps.” “It’s not nice music. It’s amazing how horrifying the intensity of one color can be.”

He even made them laugh. Teaching the students how to interpret a musical murder scene, he pointed out that “[i]t’s not a funny chase. It’s not ‘La la la, let’s go kill someone.’ ”

But it was the conductor’s final words the students are likely to remember longest. By way of farewell, Welser-Most reminded his young audience, “There are no limits in this kind of music. I want to share with you how much possibility you have.”

By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer

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