Like scattered leaves on the lawn
“Do we all have to talk about Bruckner?” Cleveland Orchestra principal Clarinetist Franklin Cohen asked.
He was sitting beneath the concert stage at Blossom Music Center with colleagues before last week’s concert, talking about upcoming performances. He and the three other players with him will step out from their section chairs to perform concerto solos later this summer.
Bruckner was on everyone’s mind not only because his 9th symphony was on that evening’s program, but because the orchestra will perform no less than four Bruckner symphonies this week during a residency at the Lincoln Center in New York. The musicians were speaking with bloggers and other members of the media. Someone had asked the musicians to compare the demands of playing a concerto solo with the challenge of blending with the rest of the ensemble to make Bruckner’s mountains of lush sound. And from his seat at the front of the room, Cohen could look out over the audience’s heads, through the wall of windows at the Cuyahoga Valley Landscape. And he could see trees.
“Do we all have to talk about Bruckner? I’m looking at these trees out there, and imagining myself as a leaf.”
“[The Bruckner symphonies] are a very large cooperative of sound,” Cohen continued. Every little leaf matters.
Audience members could think of themselves as leaves, too, scattered across the lawn. From my perspective, this tree could use a few more leaves.
Leila Josefowicz. Photo credit: J. Henry Fair
If societies are remembered for their cultural achievement, symphony orchestras like this one are certainly a high water mark. What all the big orchestras have these days–100 or so musicians paid a good, full time wage — is a phenomenon of only the last half-century or so. Prior to that, these were not full time jobs. They didn’t pay so well. There was more turnover. The fact that musicians are now paid to devote full time to the craft , and that they now have stability and security certainly improves the quality and cohesion of their play. If you consider all of history, we live at a simply incredible time and place for listening to classical music.
But as anyone who pays attention to such things knows, classical music is fighting for its life in the 21st century. Or, maybe more accurately, for an audience. It’s apparently not enough for an orchestra to be magnificent: people, it seems, have other things to do.
The orchestra has been proactive at audience building, especially in recent seasons. You want to expose your kids to culture? They get in free at Blossom. Not just the little kids, either: we’re talking up to age 17. Free. To sit in the grass in the midst of a national park while one of the world’s finest orchestras blazes away.
But on a stunning July evening with the amazing Leila Josefowicz playing a driving violin concerto by Adams, and the orchestra playing Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony , I wonder not what more the orchestra can do, but what is going on in Northeast Ohio minds that keeps this place from being packed on nights like this?
The good news is the season is young, and you’ve still got plenty of time to plan your picnic and organize your posse to check out one of the upcoming concerts.
Here are a few snatches of what Franklin Cohen and his colleagues had to say about their upcoming solo roles.
FRANKLIN COHEN, Clarinet
Mr. Cohen, who performs the Weber Concerto No. 2 August 28, was asked how he approaches this work–which he’s played a few times before– differently as he gets older.
“I think I get bolder as I get bolder,” Cohen said. “If you find out that you’re going to live for five more days, what are you going to do, be conservative? My philosophy is, as I get older, to go for it.”
Gary Ginstling, Stephen Rose, Amy Lee, Franklin Cohen, and Paul Yoncich
AMY LEE, Violin
Ms. Lee, who will performs the Stravinsky Concerto in the orchestra pit when the Joffrey Ballet is up on the stage August 20 and 21 (assuming the company solves its labor dispute), was asked about the challenges of preparing to perform a piece for the first time ever .
“This is a really technically challenging piece,” she said. All the movements open with an 11th chord, which is really difficult for my small hands.”
STEPHEN ROSE, Violin
The orchestra doesn’t perform a lot of Bach (or other early music for that matter), and so Rose was asked how the recent surge of interest in early music performance style will influence his preparation for the Bach Violin Concerto No. 1, which he’ll perform August 27.
“I haven’t played it in a long time,” Rose said. “This is a piece that violinists often learn in their earlier years, and then come back to it later.” Theoretically with the wisdom of their age, or some otherwise evolved perspective.
Rose added that in preparing for the concert he had pulled up a multitude of recordings of the same piece on I-Tunes—some from years ago, and some from the last 25 years. The influence of early performance practice on the later performances was “remarkable,” he said.
“My feeling is that we don’t play on period instruments and shouldn’t shy away from that, but a the same time we have all this information about early music performance now, and we should be informed by it.”
PAUL YANCICH, Timpani
Yancich has a remarkable family story. Not only are he and his little brother Mark both timpanists, and not only are they both principals in big city orchestras, but Paul once held the same post his brother now occupies with the Atlanta Symphony. Together they commissioned a fairly unusual thing from composer James Oliverio–a concerto for two timpanists. They’ll perform the work, “Dynasty: Double Concerto for Timpani”, with the orchestra September 10, 2011.
“It’s a beautiful piece because it’s not one versus the other, but both players parts are dependent on the other,” he said. “Timpani are percussion instruments tuned to actual notes. When each of us strikes them, we rely on the other to be there.”
Just like the audience relies on the audience to be there. Tickets for the orchestra’s summer performances at Blossom are available at http://www.clevelandorchestra.com/.
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