Thursday, April 24, 2008

CONCERT REVIEW: CSO wows crowd in Valencia

April 17, 2008
The Cincinnati Enquirer
By Janelle Gelfand

VALENCIA – The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra landed in Spain on Wednesday afternoon, for the final leg of its 12-city, five-country tour. Enthusiastic audiences and glowing reviews have met nearly all the performances, and the musicians’ playing has been extraordinary.

The orchestra received a wildly enthusiastic response to its Valencia debut Wednesday evening in the beautiful and modern Palau de la Musica. The hall appeared sold out, and the crowd, a wide range of ages, stood and cheered after two encores until conductor Paavo Järvi pulled concertmaster Timothy Lees off the stage.

•">Read more about the symphony's tour of Europe on the classical music blog

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Valencia seems poised to be a major center of arts and culture. Its Palau de la Musica, which has a distinguished season of major artists, sits on the edge of the lush Turia Gardens cutting a swath through the city, a dry river bed of the diverted Turia River. At the other end of the park is Valencia’s futuristic City of Arts and Sciences designed by native son Salvatore Calatrava, which includes an opera house, Imax cinema, planetarium, science museum and an open-air oceanographic park.

Famed tenor Placido Domingo has said “Palau is a Stradivarius,” and on Wednesday, one could hear why. Here was yet another European hall with wonderful acoustics, where the orchestral sound had brilliance, clarity and a rich presence that was almost palpable to the audience. Built in 1987, it has balconies that stagger down the walls vineyard-style on all sides of the orchestra, similar to Berlin’s Philharmonie.

The audience animatedly discussed the music at intermission in the lovely atrium overlooking the garden fountains.

Järvi opened with Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro.” It was stylishly led and exuberantly played, despite having traveled for six hours that day from Düsseldorf. Violinist Janine Jansen brought deeply interior and fiery playing to Britten’s Violin Concerto, and Järvi made the most of its moments of sultry Spanish atmosphere.

In the second half, the orchestra’s performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth was devastating for its intensity and discipline. Järvi magnificently captured the work’s mixture of bleakness and irony. The scherzo’s portrait of Stalin was more driven and crazed than ever, with Järvi punching the air and the audience leaning forward in their seats. The orchestra will record it for Telarc shortly after returning home.

There have been few snafus so far on this European tour, which involved eight flights, four trains and lots of dragging of bags to buses and through airports. One unpleasant surprise was the “excess baggage” surcharge on one Air France flight, which levied as much as 200 euros ($320) for some musicians who exceeded the allowed 20 kilos (44 pounds) in total baggage weight.

And one musician, Belinda Burge (a sub for the tour), was bonked hard on the head by a falling music stand, causing the audience to gasp, as the orchestra made its “European entrance” in Dortmund. (She’s fine.) The musicians have not walked in together European-style since then.

Today, a bus driver taking the orchestra to the Düsseldorf airport began pulling luggage off the bus, saying he had another assignment. Violist Paul Frankenfeld, who is fluent in German, convinced him to have the company send another bus. Frankenfeld, then had to run back to the hotel for a misplaced jacket, and made the plane by taking the subway.

Each musician has coped with the rigorous schedule in his or her own way.

“I anticipate that there will be snafus, but you can’t let it get you down and spoil your spiritual flow,” says cellist Norman Johns. “I enjoy interacting with the audience. It’s nice to finish up, catch someone’s eye and share a smile and know that they appreciate you.”

With the intense schedule picking up again, many of the musicians were looking forward to returning to Cincinnati. They were playing Barcelona on Thursday and Madrid on Friday – a concert that begins at 10:30 p.m. They return on Saturday.

“I think we’re ready to go home,” says violinist Eric Bates.

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