Enigma Intro

Friday evening, November 3 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday evening, November 4 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday afternoon, November 5 at 3:00 p.m.

 Elgar, Enigma and Emanuel Ax


Music, Family & Friends

This weekend’s concerts offer early works by two well-known composers, performed by The Cleveland Orchestra in collaboration with two legendary guest artists.

The program begins and ends with musical works by Edward Elgar, whose rise to fame at the end of the 19th century coincided with these two pieces — and with the British Empire’s full command as a global power. If later Elgar works came to symbolize Britishness in music, these two earlier works afford us a view of a younger composer, brilliantly finding his own voice. The Serenade for Strings, premiered in 1896, is filled with emotional color and musical talent. This music is often quiet and intensely focused — and remained one of the composer’s favorites to older age.

In the center of the concert is Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, which, in fact, was written after what we know as his Second. Evenso, this is a work filled with youthful power, charm, and a sense of general happiness. Here, Beethoven took the model of Mozart’s concertos and makes it his own. While some see (and hear) it as very Mozartian, many find the telltale signs of Beethoven’s burgeoning genius and the beginnings of a more daring use of musical language — thrilling, entertaining, contemplative, and unifying.

The evening ends with Elgar’s great Enigma Variations, premiered in 1899. Here the composer wrote a series of loving musical portraits of his circle of close friends. The clarity of the depictions is still remarkably fresh more than a hundred years later — with the intensity of some of the relationships and personalities utterly discernible. This is music of great range, from the poignant intimacy to the everyday, from boisterous pomp to romping good fun. (The dog “barking” in Variation 11 is one of my favorite moments.) These are variations to enjoy and cherish.

Joining us this week are two long-time friends of The Cleveland Orchestra, conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy (who has played and recorded all of Beethoven’s concertos here in Cleveland), and pianist Emanuel Ax. Their presence adds extra sparkle to this special 1OOth musical season. —Eric Sellen