Thursday, November 09, 2006

CSO DVD is a touching musical memory

CSO DVD is a touching musical memory
By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, November 9, 2006

This fall was the fifth anniversary of 9-11.

It's been five years, too, since Paavo Järvi became music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Oddly enough, the anniversaries are related. On Sept. 11, 2001, Järvi, 38 at the time, led his first rehearsal as CSO music director.

His inaugural concerts were Sept. 14 and 15 at Music Hall.

A special celebration had been planned, including a street fair in Over-the-Rhine, a world premiere commission by American composer Charles Coleman and the CSO debut of Norwegian cellist Truls Mork.

In light of the World Trade Center disaster, the street fair was canceled.

Flights were grounded and Mork was unable to travel to the U.S. Debussy's tone poem "La Mer" replaced Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1.

Coleman, who lives in lower Manhattan near the disaster site, rented a car and drove to Cincinnati for the premiere. Barber's Adagio for Strings was performed in memory of those who died in the 9-11 attacks.

The concert, telecast live by CET in conjunction with Brandenburg Productions, Inc., raised spirits, closing with Tchaikovsky's stirring Symphony No. 5. The CSO has released a commemorative DVD in observance of Jarvi's fifth anniversary season. Entitled "The First Concert: September 2001," it includes the entire two-hour program, not just the 90 minutes aired nationally by PBS in 2003 (the later telecast omitted Barber's Adagio).

It's a choice item for holiday giving and a must for Järvi and CSO fans (also local history buffs and music-lovers in general).

Visually as well as musically engrossing, it will turn back the clock for anyone who was there in Music Hall five years ago.

Differences then and now include Jarvi's "look." He dressed traditionally at those first concerts, in white tie and tails.

He prefers mandarin jackets now. His hair was longer, and like his father Neeme Järvi, he tucked a blue handkerchief in his jacket pocket in honor of their homeland, Estonia.

Music Hall is captured in all her splendor (and nearly full for the occasion). Different colors light up the acoustical towers behind the orchestra.

The enormous crystal chandelier is caught in several breathtaking shots from the gallery.

Brandenburg's expert crewmen, who produced the CSO's first PBS concert in 1997, do their magic again here.

You get so close to the players that you can watch their fingerings and embouchures (positions of the lips). Brandenburg director Phillip Byrd knows the score well enough to zoom in on a player or section at just the right moment - former principal hornist Robin Graham's solo in the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky, for example, or a side view of the brasses at full-bore moments. But it's not just principals who get close-ups.

You can check out section players, too.

A portrait of New York, Coleman's vibrant "Streetscape" seemed uncannily prescient in the 9-11 aftermath. You can watch the percussionists re-create city sounds with hammers and sand paper blocks, and iridescent lighting heightens the pizzazz.

(Coleman, jubilant onstage with Järvi, will be in residence with the CSO later this season and has written a new work for the orchestra, "Deep Woods," to be premiered at Music Hall in May.)

"La Mer" and Tchaikovsky's Fifth get handsome treatment. Blue-lit "La Mer" radiates musical color - sprays of harp, the haunting oboe near the end. Bathed in red-orange, the towers seem to reflect heat from the CSO in the finale of the Tchaikovsky, where Järvi whips up a victorious sound.

The CSO maestro rewards his players with smiles and "bravos" at the end of each piece. The chemistry between them is palpable.

Seeing what the musicians see is a real treat - snarls, beatific expressions and all - making a case for video screens at Music Hall.

Barber's Adagio, performed just after the National Anthem in 2001, is heard as a final, "special tribute."

It's a poignant episode, musically and otherwise. Järvi, who prefers not to address audiences, does so here, simply and directly.

The CSO strings join him in a searching exploration of grief. He kept his hands raised at the end, eyes closed, then drew them together in front of his face, signaling a long moment of silence before the applause began.

The DVD is $20 at the CSO's Bravo Shop, open in the Music Hall foyer before and during intermissions of CSO concerts.

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