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CityMusic Cleveland St. Noel Church 10/16/09
10/16/09

Along the lines of ‘If you build it, they will come’ CityMusic Cleveland had a better idea. Five+ years ago, the brain trust behind the organization decided to give multiple performances of each program during a given week at various venues around the area. They would offer art exhibits, child care, and refreshments in most places, and the best part was - the concerts would be free to attendees. Radical notion! (They do happily accept contributions¸ however!)
They surely did something right, however! Last week began their sixth season, and in the words of guest conductor David Alan Miller, “They are perhaps unique in the world-presenting professionally-performed music on a regular basis, free to all.” Furthermore, they’ve ended each season in the black!
In honor of this accomplishment, CMC expanded their horizon a bit by commissioning a work from the renowned Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis to feature the equally-renowned Pacifica Quartet as soloists with the orchestra. The Pacifica just recently was named Quartet in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, hard on the heels of having won a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance earlier in the year. It’s easy to see why these achievements came about.
The Pacifica Quartet members are violinists Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson; violist Masumi Per Rostad and cellist Brandon Vamos. They play with passion and playfulness to such an extent that the audience cannot help but be swept along with them and their music.
Mr. Hatzis blends the old and the new into one intriguing mixture in his Redemption: Book 1, which sort of tells the story of Adam and Eve and the beginning of time. Except for cellist Vamos, the quartet members stand in front of the orchestra, requiring a much higher than usual podium for Mr. Miller to be seen by all the members of the orchestra. Fortunately, the height didn’t seem to bother him at all. Currently Music Director of the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra, he has a solid foundation of conducting both old and new music, standing him in good stead for this near-symphonic venture.
The creation was depicted by cacophony, which set the scene for all sorts of interesting developments and instruments. Most unusual of the latter category was the ‘bowed waterphone’ a metal long-necked container with a bulbous-bottom, from which metal spikes (about the size of a sturdy nail) protruded upwards. When bowed by the percussionist, it emitted an eerie sound not unlike the theramin. Very interesting.
There were numerous episodes of ‘Nova Scotia fiddling’ which is joyous to the extreme, lovely lyrical sections, almost danceable in nature, thunderous bass drum beats, gongs, a beautiful flute obbligato plus whistles and shouts from the orchestra musicians.
The Pacifica had its own music to play, sometimes along with, and sometimes in contention with the orchestra. It all came out as it should, including the slightly ‘tweaked’ quote from Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Mr. Hatzis was present to provide a brief spoken introduction and to accept the rapturous response from musicians and audience.
After intermission, it was music more familiar to most ears - that of Mozart and Mendelssohn. For the former’s Serenata notturna, K239, three of the Pacifica’s members-- Ganatra, Bernhardsson and Rostad--joined with CMC bassist Tracy Rowell for an upbeat performance, sans conductor.
Mr. Miller returned for the overture and other selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn. After composing the overture at the age of 17, other music drew his attention, so it was not until some 17 years later that he completed the incidental music for Shakespeare’s great comedy. The musical performance matched the playwright’s vision: witty, buoyant, insouciant and a gloriously festive Wedding March at the conclusion. (Note to the CMC brain trust. This suite would make a wonderful recording!)
The next concerts are more Mozart with guest conductor (and president of CIM) Joel Smirnoff, from December 9 through 13. A complete list of dates, locations, soloists and music to be performed may be found at the web-site: http://www.citymusiccleveland.org