CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 16 APRIL 2009
Igor Stravinsky: Dumbarton Oaks—Concerto in E-flat Major for Chamber Orchestra. Osvaldo Golijov: Azul. Charles Ives: Ragtime Dances. Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45. (Alisa Weilerstein, vc.; Michael Ward-Bergemann, hyper-accordion; Jamey Haddad, Keita Ogawa, Dylan Moffitt, perc.; Ludovic Morlot, cond.)
Budding musicians who are tired of trombones or bored with bassoons can take heart. Just over a month ago, Georgia Tech hosted the first Guthman Competition, which awarded cash prizes to inventors of new musical instruments. Among the innovations: a device that generates tones based on the thread-count and seams of a piece of fabric, a motorcycle engine controlled by a keyboard, and a set of numbered blocks that emits either pleasant noises or horrific dissonances depending on how well you're doing solving a Sudoku puzzle.
This weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts don't include any Sudoku-related instrumentation. But they do feature an exotic invention dubbed the "hyper-accordion," which brings the instrument of Myron Floren and Frankie Yankovic into the age of the guitar synthesizer and electronic drums. It's played by its inventor, Michael Ward-Bergemann, in Osvaldo Golijov's Azul, which also enlists the services of cellist Alisa Weilerstein and three percussionists—among them Jamey Haddad, who's played with musicians ranging from Paul Simon to David Liebman.
A bit of klezmer...a touch of tango...fragments of Eastern European folk...such is the vocabulary of Golijov's music. And it's crafted by the composer into rich musical paragraphs that are more coherent than you might expect. Weilerstein takes the starring role in Azul's first two movements, shaping long melodic lines that, like the Song of Solomon and the poems of Hafez, seem to straddle the border between religious and sensual passion. The third movement, titled "Transit," is a sort of world-music jam session for Weilerstein and her four fellow soloists. And though it took a couple minutes Thursday evening for the quintet to really gel, it was a welcome opportunity to witness a type of spontaneous interaction more frequently seen in jazz clubs than at Severance. The opening of Azul's final movement, "Yrushalem," was disappointingly conventional. But the piece ended, as it had begun, on a passionate, even ecstatic note, prompting a standing ovation and an electrifying encore by the soloists: the late Brazilian accordionist Sivuca's "Feira de Mangaio."
Guest conductor Ludovic Morlot filled out the evening with more familiar works. He led a tidy but slightly subdued version of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto. Severance Hall's acoustics tended to blur some important details, including first-movement runs of sixteenth-notes in the bassoon. And Morlot's upholstered rendition of Charles Ives' Ragtime Dances didn't have the energetic brashness of the music's most familiar recording: a disc featuring Orchestra New England led by the Dances' editor, James Sinclair. Morlot was at his best in an energetic, carefully scuplted interpretation of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances.
But it was Golijov's Azul that made this one of the most memorable concerts of the year. It's the perfect prescription for classical listeners who don't think they like contemporary music...or fans of rock and world music who aren't too sure about classical...or, heck, even those who automatically associate accordions with Oktoberfests and Branson's Lawrence Welk Theatre. An old joke asks: "What's the song most often requested of accordion players?" The answer: "Can you play 'Far, Far Away'?"
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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