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A New Romance

Severance Hall
11/11/2011 -  & November 12, 13*, 2011
Ludwig van Beethoven: Romance No.2 in F major, Opus 50
Anton Webern: Im Sommerwind
Max Bruch: Adagio appassionato, Opus 57
Arnold Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande, Opus 5

William Preucil (violin)
The Cleveland Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (Conductor)

A. Gilbert (© Haley Sparks)

I often have a hard time understanding the mysteries of a conductor’s mind when it comes to the selections they choose for a program, but not today. Program notes can trace timelines and delve into composers motives but if the ear and emotions of the listener aren’t engaged then it’s all for naught. That was most definitely not the case at Severance Hall Sunday afternoon when Maestro Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, returned to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra (he served as Assistant Conductor here in the mid-90s). It was evident from the first that this was a man who loves his job and who expects great things from the ensemble in front of him. The combination of this dynamic young conductor and this very talented orchestra yielded one of the most interesting concerts I’ve heard in years. The program was intelligently selected, as if Mr. Gilbert wanted us to work up to the last selection and he walked us along that path, stopping to visit other pieces along the way.

If there was a weak link in today’s concert, it was the opening piece. The orchestra’s concertmaster, William Preucil, was the soloist and seemed to be having an “off” day, not fully engaged, missing some notes and not displaying his usual crisp finger work. The second half of the piece was a bit better and the orchestra was supportive.

In a 180 degree turn, Im Sommerwind (In the Summer Breeze) was a tiny gem. From the control of the lower strings to the lush sounds of the horns, the piece unfurled like a summer afternoon. Brief solos by Peter Otto on violin, Lynn Ramsay, viola, Jeff Rathbun, oboe, and Joshua Smith on flute helped paint the picture that Maestro Gilbert was crafting and it was lovely one indeed.

Mr. Preucil returned to the stage for the orchestra’s first presentation of Max Bruch’s Adagio appassionato and was right on the mark, deftly tossing off the rapid runs and harmonics. The strong rhythmic contrasts offered no problem to him or the orchestra and strong backing from the podium made a very interesting introduction to this piece.

After intermission, Maestro Gilbert returned to the podium and took the microphone in hand to thank the audience for coming, “Especially since there was Schoenberg on the program!” (He should have been more impressed that there was such a large audience on a 65 degree November afternoon!). Knowing that this was a difficult piece to “get into”, Mr.Gilbert took about ten minutes to explain the story of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelleas and Melisande and had select leitmotifs played as illustrations. On the stage was a full complement of strings plus another 40 musicians, a number of which were brought in to augment the ensemble: the resultant sound quite literally bounced off the walls and filled the hall. Principal players in each section handled their solos beautifully and I must make special mention of bass clarinetist Linnea Nereim who set the initial tone by with the brooding “Fate” theme and a very young man filling in in the percussion section who played with the élan of a seasoned professional.

Alan Gilbert was a kinetic presence on the podium, taking advantage of the full floor space, arms raised high and hands always in motion, molding and shaping. A true artist at work, he reminded me of the late Leonard Bernstein in his enthusiasm and involvement and of Phillipe Jordan of the Opéra National de Paris in his nuanced handling of the music and the orchestra. Count me as a fan and make Maestro Gilbert a regular visitor to Severance Hall.

Suzanne Torrey



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