Last Night: The Cleveland Orchestra at the Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

The Cleveland Orchestra

The Knight Concert Hall

April 4, 2009

Better than: 'A Sleigh Ride Through Siberia.'


The Do's and Don'ts of attending the symphony are pretty simple: do remain seated during a performance, don't applaud between movements, and, whatever you do, don't ever arrive late. Why? Because you won't be seated, that's why.


I know this. And so does everyone else who digs classical concerts. But even if I didn't, there'd be no escaping the embarrassment I felt from last night's lateness. I mean, there's nothing to fully redden a man's face like standing outside the hall while an orchestra is onstage.


Thankfully, the kind folks at the Cleveland Orchestra opened their season-closing show with Samuel Barber's 8-minute long "School for Scandal Overture" so my pals and I got to be seated before things really got going. Then again, I would've preferred catching Sammy Boy's sideswipe rather than Brahms' interminable "Violin Concerto."


Now, don't get me wrong. Brahms has his moments. Unfortunately most of those moments involve piano, which was the man's main instrument. In fact, Brahms' "Piano Concerto No. 1" is one of my favorite pieces. And I still fail to see why audiences hissed at its debut. Then again, I've always been a sucker for works written on the heels of a close friend's death, especially when the composer has fallen for the widow.


Yes, Brahms completed his first piano concerto after his pal Robert Schumann died in a loony bin - and while he was pining for the widow Clara.


But I digress. To me Brahms' sole violin concerto is about as soapy as Romantics get. And even the accomplished fingerings of Danish soloist Nikolaj Znaider couldn't pull it outta the realm of melodrama.


Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 4" on the other hand is about as grand and robust a work as there is. And last night the Cleveland Orchestra made it even greater still.


Composed in 1877 while dear Pyotr was struggling with his homosexuality, the first of Tchaikovsky's great symphonies is a study in what some call Imperial Style - and what I'd deem Russian Romantic sturm und drang. From the jarring cymbal crash that kinks off the piece and the low brass bombast which follows throughout the first movement, through the melancholy oboe and subsequent stringing of the second and third, it's a torridly bleak yet ever uplifting affair of a very broken heart.


Tchaikovsky's 4th also is a perfect example of a man at once steady and unhinged. It is said that the composer was near suicidal at this point in his life, so he turned all of his attention to his work. But sequestering himself in his study - he'd also complete the opera Eugene Onegin later that same year - in no way masked the desperation he must've been feeling. If anything, the immersion only enabled him to reveal even more of his core.


And in the hands of Conductor Pinchas Steinberg and Cleveland's namesake Orchestra, that core is realized with all nuance and care with which it was written - and all the sweep and the majesty with which it was always meant to be heard.


Personal Bias: My pal Cleaveland Jones has family ties to the Cleveland Orchestra, so I'd probably be on their side even if they weren't absolutely terrific.


Random Detail: From what I could tell the concert was sold-out, which is a heartening thing to see in this day and age.


By the Way: The Cleveland Orchestra's latest Miami stand included Music at MOCA, master classes at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music and a weekend program with the Overtown Youth Center. Let's hope they reprise their residency next year.