MUSIC REVIEW: Cleveland Orchestra Season Opener by Laura Kennelly

Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Thu 9/19

Festive spirits ruled Thursday night at Severance Hall, in part because it was the first night of the 2019-2020 season and in part, perhaps, because many audience members had also toasted the opening concert in the new Lotus Club lounge. (Curious? Check with the ticket office when you buy season tickets.) The program conducted by Franz Welser-Möst included works by Franz Schubert and Sergei Prokofiev.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 is rarely heard, perhaps because he was only 17 when he composed it. It’s an exciting, upbeat composition packed with danceable rhythms and melodies. The opening chords made the balcony floor vibrate — or so I thought. Well, at least a little. In the final movement, the orchestra seemed to bounce faster and faster as the dotted rhythm intensified. (Of course, because many of my musical references are now dictated by music theater, during that section [“Presto vivace”] I kept hearing Sporting Life’s words to Bess in Porgy and Bess when he repeatedly urged her to leave Charleston and hop a train to New York — “It only takes a half a day to be a thousand miles away.” Take a listen; it’s on YouTube.)

The big piece came after intermission when Act One of Prokofiev’s score to Romeo and Juliet, written for the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, accompanied thoughts of young love and (since we didn’t hear the tragic end of the story) delighted in its joy and passion. The mix of traditional romantic melodies and instrumentation with an occasional whiff of modernity (for example, Steven Banks on saxophone) sounded fresh and new. Overall, the Prokofiev work highlighted the strength of the orchestra’s sections as well as individual players as various instruments suddenly slid into the solo spotlight (if there had been a spotlight). At times strange and savage (the Dance of the Knights), at others youthful and sexy (as in Love Dance), Romeo and Juliet won hearts again.

After several curtain calls, Welser-Möst announced that now it was time for dessert, and so for an encore the orchestra played a fluffy pastry from The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai.

Bottom Line: It should be a great season.

[Written by Laura Kennelly]

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