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Bravi, Thank You, & Come Again Soon

Knight Concert Hall
03/23/2012 -  & March 24, 2012
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major, “Pastoral”, Opus 68
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 16
Ottorino Respighi: The Pines of Rome

Gabriela Montero (piano)
Cleveland Orchestra, Giancarlo Guerrero (conductor)

G. Guerrero (Courtesy of C.O.)

For the final program during this season’s visit to Miami, Cleveland Orchestra is serving symphonic comfort food. They have provided us with a few tasty unfamiliar dishes this season but sometimes nothing is more rewarding than musical meatballs or sauerbraten.

The program began with Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral. Anyone expecting the usual take on this beloved piece was either greatly disappointed or like myself, thrilled. The tempo for the opening two and closing movements are much slower than we usually encounter. It is dangerous because without a conductor as commanding as Giancarlo Guerrero it could slip into tedium. But the man in charge knew exactly what he wanted so we were treated to a very loving and playful interpretation. Nature images always abound in the Pastoral and it is not possible to prevent yourself from enjoying the merriment, the minor danger and the last movement’s triumphant restoration. No Beethoven symphony has such a feel good sensibility and by the conclusion, Mr. Guerrero and his team make us feel completely refreshed. It is performances like these that make one embarrassed at the self-snobbishness of sighing with disappointment when seeing the over-served chestnuts on the bill yet again. Guerrero reminds us that these works are only tedious when approached without rethinking and that they never need be unwelcome.

Next up was, Grieg’s Piano Concerto given by the Venezuelan Gabriela Montero. This is another warhorse that could sink into monotony but is brought to thrilling life by a dedicated artist. Guerrero is at the helm with the orchestra but it is always intriguing to see how a conductor defers to his soloist. Since his trust in her is complete, he follows her lead not the other way around. My companion for the evening is an admirer of classical music who wouldn’t be described as a devotee. When she saw that the Grieg Piano Concerto was coming up, she wasn’t sure if she knew it. I said, “I am not going to hum it for you, but trust me, you know it.” After Montero struck her first chords, a smile of familiarity crossed my friend’s face. She sat mesmerized for the rest of the concerto, leading the ovation. Montero is the sort of artist whom classical music lovers should most appreciate. Yes, she looked lovely and seemed happy by the applause she received, but this is an artist, not a star. Montero made it very clear that Mr. Grieg was the celebrity we were really applauding.

The program ended with Respighi’s Pines of Rome. It might be useful to point out that I have never been particularly fond of this piece yet had never heard it live which, for me, made it the most anticipated selection on the program. After the concerto, as the piano was being replaced, Mr. Guerrero gave a brief introduction making an insightful comparison of that piece’s structure to that of the Pastoral Symphony. Once again our imaginations are given free rein to allow the music to create mental images. The titles of the movements probably mean very little to the average American, yet each of us undoubtedly finds a unique vision. Any lover of music cannot help but hear the influence that this piece has had in shaping film music not to mention on composers following Respighi. There is a section during Pines of the Janiculum in which many might find a comparison with the most moving and lonely sections in Copland’s Billy the Kid. It is easy to recognize how the triumphant end of this piece, though sounding nothing like the last movement of the Pastoral Symphony, matches it emotionally.

So our friends from Cleveland have ended their visit. I hope we were as good hosts as they were guests and am gratified to see that they will be staying an additional weekend next season in November. Enjoy your summer, gang, we miss you already.

Jeff Haller



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