Thurday Night at The Cleveland Orchestra: a Sublime and Challenging Evening

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Fri, 01/16/2009 - 01:50.

The arctic wind chill made for an interesting evening and it seemed an appropriate night to listen to Richard Strauss's "An Alpine Symphony." I don't recall ever seeing the orchestra crowd dressed so casually. Many audience members chose to wear boots, pants and sweaters rather than heals, dresses, suits and ties.

The program of Ligeti, Debussy, Bartok and Richard Strauss was one of the most stimulating I have ever heard the Cleveland Orchestra play. The four pieces were loosely tied together under the theme of the elements, mainly earth, water and air.

"Atmospheres" by Romanian composer Gyorgy Ligeti was the most interesting piece of the evening. Only ten minutes long, it began with an almost painful high pitched hum. At times it was unsettling -- like listening to a nearby swarm of bees, but that was exactly the composer's intentions. Ligeti experimented with new musical sounds and techniques in Hungary and later West Germany in the 1950s and 60s. In "Atmosphere" Ligeti achieved "stasis through extensive inner motion." In the piece each string player performed his own part, though imperceptibly because they all played at the same time. It was truly a unique sound.

Claude Debussy's Nocturnes have always intrigued me for their close association to Impressionist painting. Debussy did not appreciate such generalizations of his music, though it did not stop me from imagining James Abbott McNeill Whistler's "Nocturne in Black and Gold." You could hear the moist air and subtle breezes.

Bela Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3 was played by the Romanian pianist Radu Lupu. Mr. Lupu has won many awards for his performances and recordings. Mr. Lupu was a treat to hear, though his masterful performance did not overshadow the orchestra's role in the piece. Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3 has an interesting history, it was written by Bartok for his wife pianist Ditta Pasztory to play after his death, so that she might have an income. Bartok knew he was dying of Leukemia at the time he wrote it. His wife did not perform the piece until many years after his death.

Richard Strauss's tone poem "The Alpine Symphony" captures the thrill of mountain climbing in the 19th century when the sport was just beginning. It is a complex "tale" within which Strauss identified twenty two sections. "The Alpine Symphony" was inspired by both specific personal events, historical events and more universal experiences. The piece became quite dramatic at certain points with loud thunder crashes created by some interesting percussion techniques.

The garage was freezing but Severance Hall was warm and luxurious as ever. This program is well worth a trip out in the cold.

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