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Grace under pressure

Music by Henri Dutilleux, reviewed by KELLY FERJUTZ


Dear Alice,
You should have been here!

Desmond Hoebig, principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra for the past year and a half, provided a stunning demonstration of 'grace under pressure' at tonight's Cleveland Orchestra concert (17 March 2005), led by guest conductor David Robertson.

Less then two weeks ago, Dawn Upshaw (who had been the scheduled guest artist) was forced to cancel her concerts for a while. She was going to sing Correspondences by Henri Dutilleux. So, orchestra management pondered with Mr Robertson to find a substitute. Bingo! Our very own orchestra had given the American première of Tout un monde lointain ... ('A Whole Distant World') by M Dutilleux in 1980, with Mstislav Rostropovich (I was there!) and lo and behold! Mr Hoebig had not only performed the Canadian première in 1993, but also played the work at the 80th birthday celebration of the composer in 1995! Seemed like the perfect solution, don't you think? And it was, it was.

The problem was the music stand provided for Mr Hoebig (who could hardly have memorized the piece in two weeks time!) which would not keep the music from trying to decorate the floor. Mr Robertson dashed off-stage and returned with a notebook. After several attempts at balancing, the music began.

You would greatly admire the wonderful warm and robust sound of Mr Hoebig, it's so all-embracing, whether subito or fortissimo. All of a sudden, about two minutes in, a page of music started to drift floorward. Mr Hoebig jabbed at it quickly with his bow, but had to return his attention to his playing. Ellen dePasquale, concertmaster for the evening, lunged forward and skewered the page at one end with her bow, while Maestro Robertson leaned down and bolstered her effort at the other end.

Finally, it seemed as though all would be well, so concertmaster and conductor returned to their respective duties, namely accompanying Mr Hoebig in his task of performing this fiendishly difficult yet astonishing beautiful piece of fairly new music.

The tranquility did not last, however, and once again the pages began to drift. An alert young lady, seated in the front row of the audience (undoubtedly a cello student) dashed to the edge of the stage, reached up and secured the page. She remained in that position for approximately the first half of the concerto. Finally, it seemed all would be well, and at a nod and brief smile from the soloist, she returned to her seat.

Alice -- it was astounding! To be sure, I am not intimately acquainted with this music, but I am positive that not one note was missed -- anywhere! Certainly not one hair on Mr Hoebig's head was ruffled, in spite of his near gymnastics to keep himself, cello, bow and music all where they belonged. I am equally certain that anyone listening to an audio rendition of this work would not be able to realize anything was amiss. It was truly a dazzling performance.

Desmond Hoebig. Photo © Roger Mastroianni
Desmond Hoebig. Photo © Roger Mastroianni

Mr Hoebig certainly had all the notes at his fingertips -- amazingly so. And there are an awful lot of notes in there, especially the third and fifth segments. The fourth movement Miroirs was all delicate, shimmery silk before the more rambunctious final Hymne.

Needless to say, Mr Hoebig was accorded a huge ovation by the large audience, as well as his fellow musicians. A very young miss handed him a bouquet of flowers, which he accepted with a broad smile. Although he carried them offstage with him, he brought them back out again, and motioned to the young lady who had been so prompt and adept with the recalcitrant sheets of music. Her actions during the performance had been entirely unselfish, but this gesture by the soloist was too much for her, and she was too shy to step forward to accept his thanks. At that point, Maestro Robertson took the flowers, jumped down to the floor (four feet or so!) and handed them to her with a theatrical flourish. Another loud ovation followed before the musicians left the stage for the interval.

The rest of the concert was perfectly splendid: Haydn's Symphony No 82 (The Bear) before the cello concerto and Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra after intermission. It did seem to me that the opening organ note (the 32-ft bombarde, perhaps?) had a frog in its throat, but it rumbled wonderfully well, anyway.

You'd have loved it, too, I know. Until next time,
Your friend in Cleveland,
Kelly Ferjutz

Copyright © 21 March 2005 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA



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