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What I Do For Love

Severance Hall
01/29/2011 -  
Jerome Kern: Medley from Show Boat
Marvin Hamlisch, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter: Medley of Academy Award Losers
Marvin Hamlisch: Themes from Sophie's Choice, Ice Castles, and The Way We Were
Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II: All the Things You Are
Scott Joplin: The Entertainer, and The Maple Leaf Rag
Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner: On the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady
George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin: Someone to Watch Over Me
Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim: Somewhere
Stephen Sondheim: Send in the Clowns
Jerome Kern & P.G Wodehouse (rev. by Oscar Hammerstein II): Bill
Marvin Hamlisch: Medley from A Chorus Line
Harold Arlen: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Claire Connelly (soprano), Megan Hamm (soprano), Oswaldo Iraheta (tenor), Elizabeth Tredent (mezzo-soprano)
The Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra, Marvin Hamlisch (piano & conductor), Carl Topilow (conductor & clarinet)

M. Hamlisch (© Jason Cohn)

Marvin Hamlisch, the composer and pianist, has taken home three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, three Golden Globes and a Tony Award. He brought his act to the stage of Severance Hall last Saturday, playing medleys of his music (and some, that he, in his words, "wished he had written") on the piano, and also led the CIM orchestra in several numbers. While I found Mr. Hamlisch's playing tedious - his rhythms had little variation - and his “schtick” campy and occasionally inappropriate considering that he was directing his barbs towards students who were thrilled to have gotten the chance to work with one of the legends of late 20th century composition - there were some truly outstanding moments that came from the orchestra and some of its featured soloists.

This benefit concert for the Cleveland Institute of Music got off to a late start due to the delayed appearance of the Patrons who were occupying the Dress Circle. Perhaps the clocks weren't coordinated in the area where they were dining and taking part in a silent auction, but it was quite disruptive to have the Concertmaster enter, tune the group and then to have them sit and wait while dozens of people noisily took their seats. This then caused others who were stuck behind the throng to be denied seating until the first break in the program. It was disrespectful to the performers and annoying to those who were already seated and ready.

In theory, this program of American music should have worked well, but when combined with a night-club act, a symphony orchestra made to sound like a “pit band” and budding opera singers venturing into territory those older and more seasoned sensibly shy away from made for an amalgamation that didn't quite come off as well as one would have hoped.

No doubt Mr. Hamlisch's routine works well in a more intimate setting, but in Severance Hall it quickly became annoying, full of lewd jokes, innuendos (such as his "Nobody Does It Better," which he introduced with a ribald story about playing the song for Carly Simon while her husband then, James Taylor, was away, informing us that the title was autobiographical), and way too much “me-me-me”. His piano playing sounded like a child's music box and it quickly became clear that he had not spent nearly enough rehearsal time with the orchestra. Fortunately, the Cleveland Institute of Music is one of the nation's top conservatories and attracts some of the finest young musicians. They are very well trained under the able baton of Carl Topilow who led them (and also played a great clarinet solo!) during the Scott Joplin set. The dynamics of the “dance band” sound that Mr. Hamlisch wanted from them resulted in the violins playing double forte during the first half of the program. In the second part, it was clear from the first eight notes that the set was going to be a disaster. For some reason, Mr. Hamlisch had decided to conduct this set in cut time, which caused the flutes to sound logy and the lower brass to overpower the strings, not allowing them to produce the sparkling, skittering patters that are so characteristic of the overture. Thankfully, Concertmaster Ben Odhner, contributed a lovely solo to I Could Have Danced All Night, which was the bright spot of that arrangement.

It's not hard to understand why CIM instrumentalists find spots in the major orchestras the group, one of several at the school is comprised of excellent young musicians, and several of them deserve a mention for their outstanding contributions during this concert: In the strings, besides Mr. Odhner, the first and second chairs of the second violins, Sharon Chang and John Heffernan, had tones that soared above the rest, and Mr. Heffernan's carriage and demeanor make him someone to watch in future. On drum set, John Sullivan brought a more intimate sound to the large group while Michael Jarrett, the tympanist, performed with a calm ease seldom seen in musicians of twice his age and experience. Their fellow percussionists, Dylan Moffitt and Jeffrey Deroche handled the rest of section with skill. In the brass section, Kyle Dobbeck (trumpet), Whitney Clair (trombone) and Nicholas Bjornson (tuba) rocked out the Maple Leaf Rag, along with woodwind players Yunhong Chi (clarinet), Mackenzie Danner and Katrina King (flutes) and Jeriran Hasan (piccolo). Ms. Hasan in particular had a wonderful tone and contributed to several other selections as well. Others of note were William Wollett, the English Horn soloist for Sophie's Choice and oboist Gretchen Myers featured in Ice Castles.

Four singers from the CIM opera department were featured on the program as well, and while there was no denying the talent in the group, when classically trained singers attempt to perform musical theatre, the outcome depends upon the piece they are performing and whether they can bridge the divide between Broadway and opera. The first and youngest member of the contingent was Elizabeth Tredent, tall and elegant in a sapphire blue gown, who was assigned the rough task of singing Rodgers and Hart's, Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered. Lovely voice aside, this was not the right piece for this senior who has sung many mezzo-soprano roles during her four years at CIM it's a “down and dirty”, brassy, jazzy song, definitely not classy. Ms. Tredent is very talented with a bright future and she deserved much better. Megan Hamm will obtain her Professional Studies certificate from CIM this spring and has performed in the Cleveland area for the last several years. She was given the beautiful song All the Things You Are, which is also deceptively difficult, and her voice, though very pretty, was used to the higher tessitura of soprano operatic roles and it seemed hard for her to negotiate the semi-tone modulations and the enharmonic substitution that make up this piece. The only man in the group was Oswaldo Iraheta, also a professional who made the innocent mistake of mentioning that this was his “18 month anniversary of being a tenor”. Mr. Hamlisch meanly seized upon this comment and a stream of lewd comments about precisely what caused Mr. Iraheta's fach change and reminding him of the fine quality of the hospitals in Cleveland, all inappropriate and unnecessary. At the end of the tirade, the young tenor sang On the Street Where You Live, which he had just learned and which was taped onto the music stand in front of him. He has a lot of potential in opera (a Puccini tenor, perhaps?), but he held back too much here, showing that musical theatre isn't right for him. The final singer of the evening was Claire Connelly, pretty in a teal, full-skirted gown who sang the ballad, Bill. This piece, from Show Boat is one in the musical theatre repertoire that crosses over and makes it easily sung by one who is classically trained. Ms. Connely did everything right, her relaxed demeanor making it across the gulf from the stage to the audience and delighting everyone right into the upper reaches of the balcony. Her statement, “I'll sing anywhere that someone will pay me!” resonated with the supportive crowd of students who were in attendance.

Suzanne Torrey



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