Oberlin Chamber Orchestra Brings Passion to Cleveland’s Severance Hall
Unusual programming characterized the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra’s concert in Cleveland this past Tuesday. Led by conductor Bridget-Michaele Reischl in her Severance Hall debut, the ensemble presented Symphony No. 7 by Beethoven along with The Garden of Cosmic Speculation by M. Gandolfi. Alex Klein, OC ’87, joined them for Strauss’s oboe concerto.
Conservatory Dean David H. Stull announced in a short speech that the concert was dedicated to the memory of the late James B. Caldwell, oboe professor at the Oberlin Conservatory.
“He was a phenomenal teacher, musician and artist,” said Stull.
Architect and critic Charles Jencks’s 30-acre Garden of Cosmic Speculation inspired Gandolfi’s composition.
“I have long been interested in modern physics, and it seemed proper for music to participate in this magnificent joining of physics and architecture,” he said.
For the first movement, “Introduction: The Zeroroom,” Gandolfi stated that he “composed a work in which a succession of episodes emerge from and acquiesce to a ‘cosmic cloud,’ depicting this journey from the macro view of the universe to the micro view of a yew tree.” The orchestra was used as a tool for sound painting — after the translucent silence in the strings in the opening, many unusual sonorities settled in; the drops in the harp were really enchanting. The silence from the first bars returned to end the movement.
“Soliton waves,” the second movement, kept a persistent wandering sound quality, the orchestra cleverly followed the instructional title. The intense ostinato of the beginning, the offbeat accents and the syncopations were all precisely interpreted. Especially notable was the brief trumpet solo by sophomore Mike Brest.
The presence of the gong seasoned “Interlude: The Snail and the Poetics of Going Slow” with a quasi-mystical flavor. The unison of the harp and strings was fun to follow, and the duet between the principal violist, junior Anne Ristorcelli, and the principal second violinist, Tae-Hee Im, was warm and passionate. At the end, the music silently thinned away.
The last movement, “The Nonsense,” sounded more traditionalistic than the previous three. It is described by Gandolfi as a “small building that occupies a prominent position in the garden. The front of the building was designed by James Stiling from fragments of the Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, while the back of the structure was designed by Jencks. I chose to incorporate references to modernist music of the mid- to late-20th century to match the postmodern architectural design.” The last presentation of one of the main themes bore noble characteristics. At the end, all sound gradually disappeared.
The woodwind and brass sections had a truly stellar moment in this movement in a bright forte dynamic, while overcoming the difficulties in the constantly changing meter. The double basses and the percussionists also deserve praise for their sound and good teamwork.
Strauss’s concerto is considered to be one of the most difficult oboe compositions because of its long melodies without any breaks, leading the soloist to play constantly throughout the whole piece. Klein, however, a true professional, did not falter. His solos were singing and warm, gliding high above the orchestra, which Reischl held almost muted most of the time, except in the passionate tutti sections.
There was a fine partnership in the short dialogues between the oboe and the flute or the strings. The double basses’ phrases added shape and depth in the second movement. Orchestra and soloist breathed together in a perfect unity, soaring from line to line. Klein’s tasteful, involved interpretation and his enthusiastic enjoyment with the music making were contagious for everyone in Severance Hall. The fiery stretto at the end of the fourth movement was followed by a standing ovation.
“It was quite a privilege to listen to and make music with Alex Klein, who definitely engendered in me a heightened appreciation for the oboe,” said principal cellist senior Paul Dwyer.
Beethoven’s Seventh remains an old crowd-pleaser since its more than successful premiere in 1813, when the audience demanded a repeat of the Allegro movement for an encore. It’s often programmed evergreen, and its relentless dance rhythms make your toes move about.
“It was rewarding to play in the beautiful hall with such nice acoustics. Performing Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony has always been a thrilling experience,” said Dwyer.
The Oberlin Chamber Orchestra successfully overcame a big part of the symphony’s technical and musical challenges. The piano dynamic in the violins in the first movement was careful and crafted, almost tiptoed. The second violins should be praised for their well-presented melodies. Reischl led the students through the details and even seemingly unimportant phrases were not left to pass unnoticed or uncared for. The rests were interpreted with sensitivity and understanding — the music breathed, sounding even in the silence.
The second movement, the infamous Allegretto, is often performed slower than marked, like a funeral march. Reischl stuck to the author’s note and probably disappointed some people’s expectations. But the dark, sad and yet dignified character persisted from the first sound in the celli through the overlapping melodies in all sections until the end. The winds had their own beautiful moment, too.
The third movement was packed with unexpected rhythmic and dynamic changes, a true showoff for the performers’ spirit and abilities. It sounded like a playful invitation to a dance in an old German pub.
Even fiery, exuberant fourth movement had several dim and dramatic moments. The rest was all fireworks, ardent culminations and hard dancing with breathless energy.
For most of the time, the demanding parts of the brass and the woodwinds were handled well. Unfortunately, there were moments when intonation mishaps reminded the audience that the performers on stage were still students and ripening in their education.
“I felt great about the concert because we worked so hard leading up to
the concert that during the actual concert, I was excited to show everyone that
supported us how much we grew getting ready for this concert,” said Im.