Margaret Brouwer's beguiling musical tale of tolerance receives world premiere by CityMusic Cleveland
Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, May 10, 2011
Music's power to unite is one of the key messages in Margaret Brouwer's "Daniel and Snakeman," a disarming piece for listeners of all ages that is receiving its world premiere this week in area churches by CityMusic Cleveland.
The work is part of the chamber orchestra's latest project, a series of intergenerational programs during mornings aimed at attracting a new group of concert-goers. At Tuesday's performance, St. Colman Catholic Church on W. 65th Street was filled mostly with tiny and older students from nearby schools who listened attentively as the adventures of Daniel, friends and enemy unfolded.
Brouwer's score pays tribute to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" in assigning instruments and themes to each character. And like the Russian composer's popular piece, "Daniel" abounds in charming tunes that help catapult Brouwer's story about the eponymous hero who faces nasty, intolerant Snakeman and releases the villain's underground population of people of many cultures.
The music is a melting pot of colorful and lyrical styles, with gallant fanfares for Daniel (horns and trumpets), ominous slitherings for Snakeman (trombone), darting figures for Wiggy the bat (clarinet) and other engaging themes for the remaining characters.
Brouwer doesn't make the mistake of preaching or squeezing too many messages into her tale. It's a light lesson in acceptance and empathy, with enough whimsy, suspense and triumph to make the 27-minute piece fly by.
Performing the work in the glistening St. Colman's reverberant acoustics was a major challenge Tuesday, though most of Brouwer's instrumental colors and clever thematic layerings came through. Scott Plate, the delightful narrator, enunciated like mad to penetrate the sonic stew, and conductor Joshua Weilerstein kept the music in exciting and tender motion.
As the week continues, the performance undoubtedly will become more precise. But the small ensemble of CityMusic players gave "Daniel" an invigorating workout, with particularly outstanding solos by trombonist Eric Starr, clarinetist Bill Kalinkos, bassoonist Laura Koepke (as the elderly Jane) and tabla player Dylan Moffitt (as the drummer Malik).
Weilerstein, a young conductor on a quick international ascent, opened the program with Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" overture. Another rehearsal may have been in order, but Weilerstein's propulsive energy and the orchestra's nimble skills added up to a performance worthy of the piece's most famous reference point – Bugs Bunny.