MUSIC REVIEW: Cleveland Orchestra @ Blossom Music Center by Roy Berko

Fri 7/5 & Sat 7/6

Where can you sit in a covered amphitheater with near-perfect acoustics, surrounded by the wonders of nature, be startled by cannon shots and see a wonderful fireworks show while listening to one of the greatest orchestras in the world? The answer: Blossom Music Center!

The venue’s July 5/6 program, Rhapsody in Blue, showcased the extraordinary conducting skills of Roderick Cox and featured symphonic suite from On the Waterfront, Rhapsody in Blue, the suite from The Firebird (1919 revision) and Festival Overture: The Year 1812.

Written by Leonard Bernstein, the score for On the Waterfront has the gritty sounds of conflict and an intensity of tension. It’s the world of prize fighters and dockworkers, the violence of gangs with the underbelly of a love story. Strains of Bernstein’s On The Town and West Side Story pepper the audience engaging score. Handsome young conductor Roderick Cox became so physically engaged in the music to the degree that the intensity of score emanated from his tall, muscled body.

Rhapsody in Blue, a jazz-style concerto for piano solo and jazz band plus strings, was beautifully interpreted by the orchestra and award-winning pianist Aaron Diehl, whose delicate touch and emotionally involving playing brought a deep depth of feeling to the piece. Barely caressing the keys, the light fingering of the difficult score brought about strong audience response. He rewarded the assemblage’s extended standing ovation with a very seldom seen mid-concert encore.

Just before the piece started, a yelp from the stage and sudden movement revealed that a bird had tried to land on the shoulder of a violinist. She jumped, the bird tumbled to the ground, rolled to the lip of the stage, was quickly scooped up by a patron in the front row, eliciting cheers from the audience. The quick thinker carried the avian over to an usher who gained more applause when he set the bird in flight. Only at Blossom!

The program ended with the enthralling suite from The Firebird, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score, based on a Russian folk tale, which had been arranged as an orchestral suite to be performed without dancers.

The program ended with cannons firing, fireworks shooting into the air during and after Tchaikovsky’s Festival Overture: The Year 1812, and the audience shrieking well-earned approval.

Tchaikovsky once said of the piece, a musical commemoration of the victory of Russian forces over Napoleon at the gates of Moscow, “It will be loud.” And he was absolutely right! Loud, in the best sense of the word.

Capsule judgment: Cleveland Orchestra’s July 5/6 concert was an encompassing delight. The orchestra performed masterfully under the disciplined baton of Roderick Cox. Aaron Diehl brilliantly interpreted Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the cannons and fireworks ended an evening of memorable music.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

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