November 9 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
November 10 – Friday at 8:00 p.m.
November 11 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Leader, Colleague, Soloist
The Cleveland Orchestra has long been renowned for the chamber music qualities of its playing — for the unity and clarity of its sound, for the careful listening of the musicians to one another. This week’s concerts, led by William Preucil from his position as the Orchestra’s concertmaster, showcase this reputation into a different reality. Two symphonies and a concerto are presented, without the customary coordinating hands (and eyes and ears) of a fulltime conductor.
The conductor of an orchestra — as we know the position today — developed only in the first half of the 19th century. Previously, as chamber music groups were expanded to be come “orchestras,” the coordination of performances most often came from within each group, with someone leading only as necessary — and everyone listening closely to one another. The leader was often the first violinist — in Great Britain, the concertmaster position is still called “leader.”
As the 18th century turned to the 19th, musical works were also becoming more complicated. In newer genres like opera, the coordinating figure was often the composer, conducting from the keyboard but still directly involved in actual musicmaking. Various methods were employed to keep everyone together, from tapping a staff in time against the floor on into varying early renditions of what we know to day as conducting.
Felix Mendelssohn, whose “Scottish” Symphony ends our concerts this week, is often hailed as one of the first great conductors. His deft artistry in shaping a performance helped establish the value of someone leading who was totally unencumbered by the need to simultaneously play an instrument. In their lifetimes, composers Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler were as renowned as supremely gifted conductors as for the music they wrote. Johann Strauss Jr. (and his brothers) were equally adept in the previous style, often leading their orchestras while playing solo violin and acting as concertmaster.
This week’s offering is a rare treat to experience The Cleveland Orchestra’s famed unity, ensemble alone, together onstage. —Eric Sellen