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What a Night at the Knight!

Knight Concert Hall
01/27/2012 -  & January 28, 2012
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Major, op. 83
Sean Shepherd: Wanderlust
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, op. 54

Yefim Bronfman (piano)
Cleveland Orchestra, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor)

(© Roger Mastroianni/CO)

This program is really something that Miamians should be proud of. Of course, the Cleveland Orchestra has given some great performances here, but this program wasn’t selections from the concert repertory’s A list; maybe not even the B. Respect was shown that we are ready to explore things that are more demanding and for many far more rewarding than another Pictures at an Exhibition or Scheherazade. I doubt that even those who live only for the beautiful and comforting top ten classical hits were not impressed with this program.

It seemed unusual to start the evening without a warm up and go directly to the showpiece. But the great Yefim Bronfman made his entrance at once and started the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. Bronfman is an immense man. He exudes little of the personal charisma that has become the norm today. Yet, at the same time, there is something thrilling about his old-fashioned unapologetic stage deportment; we came to hear great music played by a great musician and Bronfman wastes no time getting down to business. And at the same time, he was most kind to the audience by slipping from his transcendence to offer a one second acknowledgement of inappropriate applause between movements. The guy is a gentleman.
Though we know this piece quite well, many people said at intermission that it was the first time they had heard it live. It isn’t so often that a virtuoso comes along who can do it, let alone one who can offer the endless nuances that Bronfman does. And Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra give the greatest deference to Mr. Bronfman who must for a time in the third movement take backseat to the cellist making an exciting and very moving experience.

The only problem during the concerto did not belong to the musicians but to those responsible for seating latecomers between movements. Adults who do not receive discipline become unruly children. And though today it might not be overly distracting, imagine what it will be in ten years as technology gives people even more opportunity to be disrespectful. The two women in front of me thought nothing of talking throughout the performance. I find it hard to believe that this misbehavior is rampant in every city in which the Cleveland Orchestra appears. Grow up Miami.

The middle selection was Sean Shepherd’s Wanderlust. I was not familiar with Shepherd and won’t deny being snobbishly suspicious of new works, aren’t we all after some of the tortures we have endured. But after Wanderlust I am eager for more. Though I was told that Mr. Shepherd would be giving a talk before the concert and there were extensive program notes, isn’t it better to just allow the composer’s music to speak for him? The sounds were original and there is a sort of cheeriness as we find ourselves being taken on a journey in three short movements. It isn’t altogether a pleasant, lilting ride in fact the percussion at times is downright abrasive, but this is a most rewarding piece. From the audience’s reaction, my opinion is in the minority though once Mr. Shepherd arrived on stage for his bows, the ovation grew noticeably stronger as if concertgoers were afraid of being perceived as rude to a host, and said, “Though we didn’t like the dinner, thanks for inviting us anyway.”

Audiences have sometimes expressed caution regarding Shostakovich, but why? He is so accessible. The first movement is the tough one. For those not familiar with it, concentration is essential and it is not unreasonable to find oneself distracted. Remember the first time you tried to meditate? But with an orchestra as polished as this one, we can be taken to a very intimate and challenging place. For me, it was a near eastern land of yogis. The second movement is a sort of release from the profound first with an edgy lightheartedness that moves in complete contrast to the first. The third movement might sound like a Russian Rodeo. The music is so filled with fun, youth and happiness that it seems as if it would be perfect for an ambitious choreographer. Shostakovich must have intended for us to have ear to ear grins.

So again, thank you Cleveland and Mr. Welser-Möst for living up to your reputation and reminding us that there are some jewels in the concert repertory that should be uncovered more often.

Jeff Haller



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