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< Swans, crossing over | Main | He-e-e-e-e-e-e-re's Alice! >

Playing with Yo-Yo, and Cleveland memories

Posted at 8:40 AM on December 12, 2008 by Fred Child (1 Comments)

Two topics in this entry -- skip down for PT listeners' fond memories of the Cleveland Orchestra. First, the project Yo-Yo Ma talked about on the show today.

His new CD is a collection of collaborations with his musical friends. But Yo-Yo is going interactive online, too. He's recorded a simple, spare solo cello version of the old canon "Dona Nobis Pacem." He's inviting everyone to download that track, record a collaboration with him, and post it online. Entries are due December 31. Yo-Yo will pick his favorite, and that person will get to record with Yo-Yo Ma in person.

You can hear all the submissions right here.

I'm a little surprised that only 41 folks have posted collaborations so far...get yours in, you have a decent shot to record with Yo-Yo.

To collaborate with Yo-Yo, start here, and follow the directions.


All week, we've been playing recent concert highlights from the Cleveland Orchestra (named this month among the top ten orchestras in the world by Gramophone magazine, btw.)

I asked PT listeners to send memories of Cleveland Orchestra concerts and recordings, and the response has been amazing. Here's a sampling.

Mark Brill, San Antonio, TX:

You requested favorite memories about the Cleveland Orchestra. Here's mine:
When I was at Oberlin College in the 1980s, the Cleveland Orchestra played at Finney Chapel in Oberlin twice a year. (I don't know if they still do that). I believe it was in 1984 when they played at on a VERY hot September evening. They sweated through the first half, all dressed in formal attire. During intermission, Christoph von Dohnanyi came out and asked it would be OK if the musicians took off their coats for the second half, to which the audience, mostly latter-day hippies in shorts and tye-dies, enthusiastically cheered and applauded. The orchestra then came out in shirt sleeves and gave the most resounding performance of Schubert 9th, one which is still legendary on campus to this day. After that, we always hoped for more shirt-sleeve performances.

Mary Shields, Fairbanks, AK:

In 1990, I was invited to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to help with Balto Days, the celebration of the sled dog famous for delivering diphtheria serum to Nome, Ak in 1925. I am a dog musher in Alaska. After a day of festivities at the Museum, my hostess Jonas Stokes, treated me to a concert at Servrens Hall, The CS performing Beethoven's 9th Symphony. We had seats in the third row and I was thrilled with the excitement. When they got to the Ode to Joy, the entire audience stood up and my heart was about to burst. Never had I heard such joyful music. Thank you CS. I'm still singing along with you.

Robert Kunath, Jacksonville, IL:

I grew up in Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The Orchestra has a wonderful music education program and almost all of the area elementary schools take their students to children's concerts at Severance Hall. I was 10 years old in 1968, when Mrs. Fry's 5th-grade class went to its Cleveland Orchestra children's concert. We had been told that we would hear part of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, so my father had given me an old mono LP of Beethoven's 5th and 8th symphonies with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony. I liked the 5th a lot, and I was excited about hearing it played. We only got the first movement, of course, but I vividly recall the electric tension of the performance (this was the Cleveland Orchestra at the height of the Szell years, of course). The conductor was in furious motion, and as soon as I got home from the concert, I put the Toscanini 5th on my dime-store record player, seized a pencil off the living-room desk, and began to conduct the performance. And that's where it all began: now I'm 50, I own close to 2,000 classical recordings, and, though I haven't lived in the Cleveland area since leaving for college in 1976, I've probably heard more than 50 of their concerts since that day in 1968.

But I never did hear the Orchestra under Szell, who died in 1970. Some years ago, I wondered who the frizzy-haired, third-string assistant conductor had been who had conducted the children's concert I heard. I checked an old Cleveland Orchestra personnel listing from the late 1960s, and I'm dead certain it was the "Kulas Foundation Apprentice Conductor": James Levine. That's a pretty heady combination for one's first classical concert: Beethoven, Levine, and Cleveland. No wonder I was hooked for life!

Warm congratulations to the Cleveland Orchestra on its 90th birthday, and, God willing, I hope to be in Severance Hall in December 2018, when they turn 100.

Richard Humber, Ithaca, NY:

In this week celebrating the Cleveland Orchestra, I have to recommend the most astonishing piece performed by George Szell & CO in what was, I believe his last concert in the US: William Walton's Variations on a Theme by Paul Hindemith is a GORGEOUS piece recorded on a disc with Hindemith pieces (I don't have the info at hand at this moment). The recording's ending has nothing to do with the magic that Szell worked in the Seattle Opera House with it -- and I have never again heard anything so sonically astonishing in my entire life (I was a grad student back then, and am 61 now). My friend and I looked at each other with open mouths and wide eyes in response to such virtuosity as transitions of a single chord from one section to another at the softest possible volume without hearing any attacks, nothing more than a shift in the timbre, and then the entire orchestra together subsiding in volume with excruciating (for the winds!) slowness to a volume where you were straining to know if they were still playing, and STILL able to hear every instrument from the top piccolo down to the bottom tuba. Unbelievable and unforgettable. Most of your audience will have never been exposed to this work, but it is Walton at his very best and in completely world class form!

Flora Gutierrez, Albuquerque, NM:

Alice Chalifoux was the principal harpist for the Cleveland Orchestra for over 40 years and also its first female member. The only recording of her as a soloist with the orchestra is of the Debussy Dances and she used to tell the story that the recording was done on the first take and only a short time after a cast was removed to mend a broken hand. Miss Chalifoux died July of 2008 at the age of 100. Many of her former students hold positions in orchestras around the world.

Comments ( 1 )

During the summer of 1971 I was working with the evening maintenance crew at Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts just outside Washington, DC--it was its first season. It was a wonderful summer job for a classical music-besotted college junior, despite the overnight trash runs and restroom cleanup disasters. A definite perk was being able to be on hand for the performances (we were "on call" and required to be near the theatre) each evening. A concert by the Cleveland Orchestra under Pierre Boulez remains an absolutely riveting memory for me: Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" and "La Mer," plus Stravinsky's "Song of the Nightingale" and Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin" suite. The control exerted by Boulez and the orchestra in each perfomance was revelatory to me, and truly opened my ears even more to music I had just begun to learn about. Even in the twilight outdoor setting--with buzzing cicadas and chirping birds all around--the sound from the orchestra (plus the music shed's subtle sound system) was a model of clarity and concision. It was fascinating to hear oceans and avalanches of sound emanating from the orchestra, while Boulez gave out the only most subtle of gestures compared with many windmilling conductors I had seen up that point. He made the music simultaneously subtle, scientific, and very expressive--through his rehearsals, I'm sure--and the effect of this unusual conductor employing such economy of motion in eliciting the players' exquisite execution of this challenging music suggested his complete confidence in the Cleveland Orchestra and its wide array of capabilities in all kinds of music. I recall that evening, still, with awe and amazement.

Posted by Gordon Hogg, Lexington, KY | December 12, 2008 4:33 PM

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