Fat Guy on the Road – #SummerOfMusic2017 – By Adam

A Summer of Music at Blossom

In my little part of the world, the Summer of 2017 has become known (to me at least) as the “Summer of Music”. Why? Well, quite simply, this is the busiest concert off-season that I have ever had. During a normal season (September to April roughly) my sister and I volunteer for the Erie Philharmonic (http://eriephil.org/), and in between those events, we try to attend concerts offered by some of the other regional orchestras. In our case that’s the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to the south (https://www.pittsburghsymphony.org/) and The Cleveland Orchestra to the west (https://www.clevelandorchestra.com/), and over the last three or four years, we have thoroughly enjoyed each orchestra’s offerings immensely.

This summer however, has been different. Both orchestras (Cleveland and Pittsburgh) have summer concert offerings, but this year has been exceptional. With the Cleveland Orchestra in particular, I was able to avail myself of the following six concerts (a personal best) at the spectacular Blossom Music Center (the orchestra’s summer home): July 3rd – Independence Day concert with my Dad (his first time seeing a major orchestra and Blossom), July 22nd – Dvorak’s NEW WORLD featuring the Kent Blossom Chamber Orchestra (flew solo for this one), July 29th – A Rachmaninoff concert featuring Symphony No. 2! (with my Sister), August 5th – An All Tchaikovsky concert featuring his Fifth Symphony and the famous Piano Concerto No. 1 (My Mother’s first time seeing a major orchestra and Blossom), August 26th – Holst’s “The Planets” + Dvorak’s Violin Concerto (with a good friend – her first time seeing a major orchestra and Blossom) , and last but not least September 1st – Blossom Movie Night: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (with a few friends young and old).

We also attended one other concert outside of Blossom at Heinz Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony. As a high school graduation gift to my Sister, I bought tickets to a concert that featured Tchaikovsky’s universally beloved Piano Concerto No. 1. The famous Concerto is my Sister’s favorite piece of music on Earth, and it was also one of the first concerts I took her to in Cleveland that started our concert-going in the first place. The Cleveland Orchestra, with Lang Lang as the soloist, performed the Concerto a few years ago, and it was a marvelous evening to be sure! The last note had barely died away, and my Sister was out of her seat clapping like a fool. She denies this, but it’s true. 🙂 Getting back to Pittsburgh though… We had pretty good seats in the Gallery of Heinz Hall, and something that always strikes me about these concert halls is their enduring beauty and splendor. A lot of work goes into maintaining these shrines to Concert Music, and I hope that the effort put forth as well as the results are not lost on the concert-going public. Regardless, for that evening, the PSO was being led by guest conductor Vasily Petrenko. The piano soloist, Behzod Abduraimov, was even younger, but that didn’t prevent him from delivering a powerhouse performance. His interpretation was just right, and Petrenko led the orchestra with an easy adeptness that seemed to indicate his comfort with the works of the Russian Masters. The whole performance was one of the better performances that we (my sister and I) had heard to date, but we both agreed that Lang Lang with the Cleveland Orchestra was just that much better, and I believe that an even better combination would be the soloist Abduraimov combined with Cleveland (little did I know, that would come later in the year at Blossom!!). We didn’t stay for the second half since downtown Pittsburgh was hosting several major events, and I wanted to get while the getting was good. The second piece was one we hadn’t heard before, but we both listened to it ahead of time and agreed that we would prefer that the memory of the beautiful Piano Concerto 1 not be sullied. Now on to the Blossom season!

Each concert at the Blossom Music Center showed the dynamic range of the Cleveland Orchestra’s members, and it offered a look at several guest conductors and artists! Not once have I seen the Music Director, Franz Welser-Most, at any concert at Blossom. He conducts a couple of them, but none of the ones that I attended. He is most active at Severance Hall during the regular season, and they have a very ambitious season coming up.In addition to a busy season overall this year, this also marked the year where the bulk of my family (and a few friends) attended concerts with me. Typically, my Sister is my long-suffering and constant Concert-going companion, but she kindly ceded the role to a few others this year in the hope that more would be able to appreciate beautiful music played LIVE by a world-class orchestra. I’ve heard people say that home stereos (even “counter-top radios”) are good enough these days to be able to forego the experience of hearing a piece played live right before there very eyes and ears

The beautiful Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh
The Cleveland Orchestra warming up before a performance at Severance Hall

, but I strongly disagree with that statement. There is no device that I have tested so far that reproduces the same richness of sound that is inherent to a 100+ member orchestra playing in a venue with proper acoustics. Blossom is largely an outdoor venue, but the acoustics there are great compared to most indoor spaces that I have experienced, but it can’t match places like Severance Hall or Heinz Hall (Pittsburgh).

Each concert was a tour-de-force for the Orchestra. Each work, from the smaller chamber-sized pieces to the massive “Planets” and the film score to E.T. demonstrated the Orchestra’s range, pure skill, and unparalleled passion for the music and the performing arts. The first concert at Blossom I attended with my Dad, on July 3rd, is an annual tradition in Cleveland where the Blossom Festival Band (or concert band) plays numerous patriotic tunes, Sousa Marches, and other related pieces in their broad repertoire. The conductor of the Band, Loras John Schissel, is both talented as a conductor of Band Music, as well as being a good storyteller and host. He shared a brief story with us in which he expressed a desire to have the phrase “The 4th of July” removed as a reference to Independence Day, and instead use the name Independence Day. He went on to explain why by stating, “The Fourth of July is just a day, like any other, but it’s more than that! Would you husbands out there refer to your anniversary or your Wife’s birthday as say, the 28th of September?? No! Of course not, so why then should we refer to the birthday of our Great Country as simply the Fourth of July?! We should not! We should hold it in higher regard than that, and I make you a promise, I am going to do my utmost to cease from referring to the anniversary of the day which we Declared our Independence  by its proper name, and in light of that statement, please allow me to wish you all a very Happy Independence Day!!” (Paraphrase of course) This was met with loud approval from the audience, and the Band launched into our National Anthem. Amidst all of the turmoil in our country these days, it is very refreshing to be able to participate in a concert where the audience members and the musicians on stage check politics at the door. No kneeling, fist pumping, or any other current popular response to the playing of our National Anthem, only singing and solemn respect. The same kind of unity of spirit was shown during the Armed Forces Medley when all of the various musical themes associated with the branches of our Armed Forces were played, and those members of the same rose to their feet to be recognized by the audience for their past and present service to our Country. No yelling of epithets, no rude gestures, no posters or banners, just enthusiastic audience participation. It was a great concert, and it always is. It is becoming a Independence Day tradition for me, and I hope to continue it in the years to come.

The second concert of the Blossom season that I attended was a huge concert in three parts with two intermissions. The reason for the breaks was due to the fact that the Kent Blossom Chamber Orchestra was giving a presentation first, then the Cleveland Orchestra, and finally they would be doing a side-by-side presentation of Dvorak’s enduring Ninth Symphony! The Chamber Orchestra opened with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Running Set and then followed that with Mendelssohn’s Symphony (also know as the “Italian” Symphony). Both were masterfully performed, and I was most blown away by the level of skill displayed by the students! When the Cleveland Orchestra played their solo portion of the concert, I was struck by how little difference there was in the sound of the orchestras. Bravo to the Kent Blossom Chamber Orchestra members and leadership! In the second portion of the program, the Cleveland Orchestra performed the Overture to the Barber of Seville by Rossini and Paganini’s First Violin Concerto, which featured the Orchestra’s own Assistant Principal Second Violinist as the soloist. I had never heard the Barber of Seville piece in person, but I’ve heard it many times in recordings, and most famously as the soundtrack to the Looney Tunes episode entitled, “The Rabbit of Seville”, featuring Bugs Bunny as a Barber. Needless to say, due to the aforementioned association, that’s all that was going through my head the entire time it was playing out on stage! Here’s a link to the cartoon as featured in Bugs Bunny at The Symphony II: “The Rabbit of Seville“. The next piece presented by the Cleveland Orchestra was Paganini’s First Violin Concerto. I had never heard the piece before, and I intentionally didn’t listen to it ahead of time. Normally I would, but I decided to go against my normal routine of preparing for the concert. The concerto itself was amazing, but the skill displayed by the soloist made me wonder why he was working in the Second Violins. I have looked at various performances floating around YouTube, and this guy was equal to the best of them. Needless to say, as the last note faded away, the audience was on their feet roaring their approval. It was a masterful performance, and the three curtain calls were well deserved. After the second intermission, the Side-By-Side performance began. The last piece of the evening was Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony “From The New World”. I absolutely LOVE the work, and it was the primary reason for my attendance. As the orchestra gracefully played through each movement, I was struggling to tell who were the professional musicians and who were simply the students; yes, it was that good. The conductor (former Assistant Conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra, Jahja Ling) chose a couple of the students to carry key solo parts in the absolutely gorgeous second movement of the Symphony. The students rose to the occasion and performed beautifully! It was glorious, and as the fourth movement came to a close, the audience was out of their seats attempting to “raise the roof” with the amount of noise that they were making. With Symphonies like Dvorak’s Ninth, it is very difficult to hold the applause until the end of the work, but we did and at the end there was no delay in the audience rising from their seats to give the combined orchestras a well-deserved standing ovation. What a night!

The third concert of the Blossom season I attended in the company of my Sister. We are both fans of the Russian masters, and that night the orchestra was presenting Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. The Symphony is still one of the Composer’s most well known works, and I have yet to tire of hearing it. The work is soul-moving in it’s beauty (to me anyway), and the Third Movement in particular is pure Romantic Period Classical Music on glorious display. The Symphony was preceded by Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, and while it was very good, it wasn’t what either of us was there to see. The guest conductor for the evening was Vasily Petrenko, and if you want to hear some wonderful interpretations of the music of the Russian masters, check out this guy. He’s good. Add to that the Cleveland Orchestra, and you have a recipe for concert music bliss. Another memorable evening.

The fourth concert of the season I attended with my Mother! It was her first time at Blossom, and it was also her first time hearing one of the world’s greatest orchestras. The fare for the evening was an all Tchaikovsky program consisting of his immortal Piano Concerto No. 1 and the equally beautiful Fifth Symphony. I had never heard the Fifth Symphony in person, but this was the second time hearing the concerto (and seeing the same soloist playing it) this year. The soloist was Behzod Abduraimov, and once again he delivered a powerhouse performance of the work, and from what I could tell, he was working a little harder in light of the fact that the concert was outdoors. It’s a lot different sitting in a facility like Blossom versus a more traditional concert hall like Heinz or Severance.  Regardless, the concerto was expertly played by Pianist and Orchestra, and its completion was met with uproarious approval by those of us who were sitting in the audience. It remains one of my favorite works in the modern concert repertoire. The second half of the concert consisted entirely of the Fifth Symphony. The Symphony is one of the more well-known and often played works by Tchaikovsky, and for very good reason. The final movement ends in a grand manner is always a good way to get the audience up and out of their seats. That night was no exception. Just gorgeous from start to finish.

The fifth concert of the season I attended with another good friend. She too had never been to Blossom nor had she seen or heard the Cleveland Orchestra in person before, and the evening promised to be excellent! The Orchestra was presenting Dvorak’s Violin Concerto (with soloist Augustin Hadelich) and Holst’s “The Planets”.  The second piece of the evening was reason enough to attend, and the Dvorak concerto was just an added bonus. On top of all that though, the soloist gave an encore! This isn’t unheard of, but it is a little rare, and the encore itself was Paganini’s 24th Caprice. If you have ever heard Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, then you’ve heard the 24th Caprice. It was AMAZING! Expertly performed, and by a very generous soloist (the encore came after only the second curtain call!). The second half of the concert was what we were there to see. The Planets is one of Gustav Holst’s most recognizable works, and continues to be a fixture of the performance repertoire. Needless to say, the Cleveland Orchestra performed the piece flawlessly. One of the highlights of the work is the fourth movement, “Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity”. You might know it better as the music to the hymn I Vow to Thee My Country, and as the movement ended, I was genuinely shocked that the audience didn’t break with normal concert etiquette and start applauding (yes, it was that good). The work also features the Organ, and if you haven’t heard an organ in concert before, do yourself a favor and find a performance at a venue that has the pipes built into the hall. Both Severance and Heinz Halls have an Organ integrated into the building, and when it is played, it’s one of the rare times where the sound level is almost uncomfortable. It’s a sonic experience beyond compare. Check it out, you won’t regret it. To continue… each movement was excellent, and another highlight is the final movement, “Neptune: The Mystic” Why is it remarkable? Well, it marks the first use of the “fade out” effect that is so common in certain genres of music today. There was an all women chorus off-stage singing a series of tones (no words), and it did indeed produce a very other-worldly effect. The fade out is produced by the chorus as at that point, the orchestra is barely playing. If you attend a presentation of The Planets, watch the conductor before applauding. A truly marvelous performance!

The last concert of the Blossom Season was E.T. The Extra Terrestrial In Concert. Attending with me was another good friend (the Husband of the friend who attended The Planets with me) along with two of their five children. It was his second time at Blossom and their first time. It was fun to see their expressions as the concert played on.

It’s always a treat to be able to watch a film with the score being played in real-time by an Orchestra (and a world class one at that!). The conductor for the evening was Brett Mitchell (who very recently left his Assistant Conductor position with Cleveland to take the position of Music Director with the Colorado Symphony), and one cool thing about Mr. Mitchell is that he is a movie music enthusiast. He loves film scores, and it was evident in his performance with the orchestra. Just before the concert started he commented on how things work with performing music in this manner, and he referred specifically to “sync points” or key points where the score must match up with the film. He said that he and the orchestra would try their best to hit all of the points, and I just chuckled to myself because the Cleveland Orchestra is more than equal to the task. Needless to say, they knocked one out of the park, as it were, and just WOW what a performance! Any time you get to hear a John Williams score, you know it’s going to be good, but then there’s the dynamic of having a real live orchestra performing it right in front of you. Pure bliss! It was a marvelous way to round out a glorious year at the Blossom Music Center!

The Cleveland Orchestra just before the start of ET In Concert




What a year it has been so far, and a summer in particular, in and out of concert halls! It is a rare privilege to have three very good orchestras in such a relatively small area, and if you get a chance, go check out the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony or the Erie Philharmonic. Each is world-class in their own way, and the Cleveland Orchestra is consistently ranked as one of the best orchestras in the world. As a music lover, I am spoiled for choice in this little corner of the world called Erie, PA. Thank you to each of you who attended a concert with me. Your tolerance of me as a travel companion means a lot to me as does your friendship (yes, even or especially you Dear Sister – Hehe) Until next time…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.