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Orchestra management was looking for a way to build the audience for concerts at Severance Hall. It was decided to program The Planets for a weekend series, featuring the once-upon-a-time assistant conductor Michael Stern on the podium. (Stern is now musical boss of the Kansas City (MO) Symphony.) This series -- 7-10 December 2006 -- was yet again a departure from the norm, with a total of five concerts: Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, plus matinées on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the musical Planets, Beethoven's overture to The Creatures of Prometheus -- in a crisp and concise performance -- was common to all five programs, while the three evening concerts also featured Ned Rorem's English Horn Concerto handsomely played by the Orchestra's English horn soloist, Robert Walters.

Dr Krauss and his further updated narration were added attractions to the Friday evening plus Saturday and Sunday afternoon performances, all of which sold out all 2000 seats, completely, plus 60-some standing room only tickets! It was a remarkable evening. (I attended the Friday concert.)

Mr Stern grew up knowing the music of American composer Ned Rorem, who is possibly better known to audiences for his vocal music -- or his literary writing -- than his instrumental music. How unfortunate. Even though the English Horn Concerto is not quite twenty-five years old, this was the first ever performance by the orchestra; fitting, perhaps as Mr Walters was making his solo début with the orchestra in this work.

A scene from the December 2006 Cleveland performances of 'The Planets'. Photo © 2006 Roger Mastroianni
A scene from the December 2006 Cleveland performances of 'The Planets'. Photo © 2006 Roger Mastroianni

The soloist begins playing immediately, hardly having had time to get established on stage, while the lush sonorities of the orchestra wrap lovingly around the singing quality of the low-pitched solo instrument. Each of the five movements illustrate a different aspect of the instrument, allowing it to occasionally indulge in jazzy riffs or dialogues with various other instruments. They were all melodic -- never argumentative -- however, and all beautifully played.

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Copyright © 17 December 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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