The offer came in this week -- get comp tickets to a Cleveland Orchestra performance and "blog about the experience." When our schedule cleared up for Friday night, I accepted the offer and took Kid Z along. I assume the offer came to me because I participated in a similar outreach by Opera Cleveland last summer, which in turn happened as a result of knowing that organizations communications director through her blog. These things can happen when you blog.
Despite being mostly a rock fan, I've seen quite a bit of the Cleveland Orchestra. In fact before we became parents Prof. W and I had a Severance Hall subscription. Not to say I can tell you why the orchestra is generally acknowledges as among the three or four best in the world. I just know they are and that they sound great.
Let's think a bit about Cleveland being home to one of the best orchestras in the world. Face it, one reason we are collectively gripping about the possibility of LeBron James leaving town is what it says about Northeast Ohio. He grew up here following the team and has been embraced as a hometown hero, and the team will be able to match whatever another team will pay him. And yet he might leave. If he does we are left with yet another bit of evidence that this is just not a place where people of excellence wish to live.
We're concerned that if he leave, the team will suck; we're really scared that if he leaves, it means we suck.
But we do have our pockets of excellence, and few if any are more excellent that the orchestra. It seems almost impossible that lowly, perennial joke-butt Cleveland could have anything, much less a highbrow cultural institution that ranks so highly.
Of course once you go you are reminded where you are. We have a world class cultural institution, a jewel of a venue in Severance, and perfectly abysmal parking. So the first part of the experience was getting there just in time, which meant that everything was parked up and we would be late.
So we followed winding roads to, I think, Parma, laid in provisions for the trek back to Severance and set out. As a result we got there midway through the first movement of Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B Minor. Watching from the wings was nonetheless impressive. Again I know tiny bits about string playing (mostly from watching my kids take lessons) but soloist Alisa Weilerstein gets truly impressive sounds out of her instrument.
Once that piece was over, we were seated. The Orchestra apparently likes bloggers as they gave us seats on the floor three or four rows back. Viewing and listening from this distance is a whole new experience. First off you see things. Like everyone dresses in all black, but up close you see that some men wear tuxedo pants, some where regular dress slacks and one of the first violins wore ratty black cargoes. Who knew?
But more than that, the sound is stunning. Premium seats at the orchestra won't set you back much more than nosebleed seats at an aging rocker's Retirement Villa Tour at Quicken. But instead of muddy sound and dubiously tuned instruments you can hear what precision playing sounds like. I still listen to mostly rock and jazz at home, but increasingly classical is what I want to see live.
From that vantage we listened to Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra." You know the first section better as:
The piece starts with basses rumbling so low they set up vibrations in your diaphram before you hear them. And of course the piece has far more to it than the now-cliche opening.
After the orchestra's performance internationally renouned percussionist Jamey Haddad set up shop in the lobby with a band of his students from Cleveland Institute of Music and Oberlin Conservatory, playing polyrhythmic jazz pieces deep into the night. The real treat of that portion was Ms. Wallerstein sitting in.
Like everyone else, the orchestra is hurting economically. And as noted, it is a can't miss gig. They never show up half in the bag and play half a set. And they won't turn free agent at the end of the season. Check them out. And if you can get away tonight, they are playing the Dvořák, which you really want to see.
The orchestra has a blog with tons of pics from last night. The PeeDee's review of the concert is up.
(Image from the Cleveland Orchestra)