CityMusic Cleveland opens season with mix of tradition and adventure The Plain Dealer: October 16, 2009
At the start of its sixth season, CityMusic Cleveland can lay claim to being an artistic phenomenon. The fact that the chamber orchestra plays free concerts throughout Northeast Ohio is one sign of its commitment to classical music. But CityMusic does other things equally well: it performs varied, engaging programs on the highest level. The orchestra's first program of the season this week typifies the mix of tradition and adventure that has become an institutional hallmark. Along with works by Mozart and Mendelssohn, CityMusic is giving the world premiere of a commissioned work, Canadian composer Christos Hatzis' "Redemption: Book I" for string quartet and chamber orchestra. Hatzis' score initiates a five-piece cycle about spiritual fall and redemption. The first entry suggests the cycle will be a rich meal with loving tastes of the past wed to modernist flavors. The three movements of "Redemption: Book I" reveal Hatzis' wildly fertile sonic imagination. He makes deft use of the opening from Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra" (so iconically employed in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey) to depict humanity's burden. Elsewhere, the narrative merges novel ideas and established musical forms, including gigue and passacaglia, while traveling between conventional tonality and progressive harmonies. Hatzis makes sure the string quartet, portraying humanity, is placed in lucid balance with the orchestra, which sighs, roars and produces vocal effects. There are moments when the expansive score feels episodic, but Hatzis sustains ample dramatic tension amid vivid instrumental interaction. Adam and Eve's fall from innocence is a gorgeous ballad for string quartet that stops time. Thursday's performance at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights must have come close to Hatzis' dream. The Pacifica Quartet - violinists Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson, violist Masumi Per Rostad, cellist Brandon Vamos - gave eloquent voice to the central duties, conveying the tenderness and torment at the music's heart. Guest conductor David Alan Miller and the orchestra were forceful allies in the voyage. The ensemble's chamber-music roots surfaced in Mozart's Serenata notturna, performed minus conductor, with Ganatra, Bernhardsson and Rostad joining CityMusic bass player Tracy Rowell as cadenza-crazy soloists. The account was trim and mirthful, full of witty references to other Mozart works and even Beethoven's Symphony No. 1. Miller's sensitivity to detail, shape and sonority honored selections from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The playing was nimble and poetic, with superb solos by flutist Heidi Ruby-Kushious and hornist John Boden, and glowing in the oh-so-familiar wedding march.