Niel5 Intro

Severance Hall
October 24 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m. 

October 26 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.


Sorrow, Virtuoso & Battle

Composers are inspired — and driven — by many things.  From vistas and stories to melodies, sounds, complex ideas, and simple rhythms.  The challenge for each composer is to build a structure around or within that inspiration, and to present a whole that resonates, inspires, defies, and/or satisfies listeners.   This weekend’s concerts bring together three examples, two from the 20th century along with one powerhouse concerto from the 19th, all showcasing virtuosity of loud and soft-spoken varieties.

The evening begins with an evocative and moving symphonic poem by Sergei Rachmaninoff — inspired by a painting of an island (real or imagined) of death and sorrow.  A human figure accompanies a coffin by boat to its final resting place.  In this poignant work, Rachmaninoff both depicts and invokes the very mysteries of life and death, memory and mourning.   

Next comes Franz Liszt’s fiery First Piano Concerto.  Sketched and perfected over many years, this work by one of history’s foremost piano virtuosos shines and shimmers in big-hearted — and big-handed — display and show.  Yet the focus is always on the listener, with form and format melding seamlessly together for a rip-roaring goodtime.  Marc-André Hamelin takes up the demanding solo part.

To close, guest conductor Dima Slobodeniouk leads The Cleveland Orchestra in one of Carl Nielsen’s most powerful symphonies.  Not unlike his Scandinavian contemporary Jean Sibelius, the Danish Nielsen built his symphonies from a local perspective — thoroughly woven in his own musical language, while also clearly derived from the larger Germanic traditions of Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms.  His independent voicing brings with it a new sense of space and interaction.  The symphony is built in two halves, with first and second movements paired, followed by third and fourth combined.  In the second movement, a solo snare drum is instructed (in the score) to do battle with the rest of the orchestra onstage.  The ensuing conflict is both thrilling and revealing — with echoes of the fight quietly informing the symphony’s second half.  This is exciting and enigmatic music, designed to speak directly to human emotions and deeper thoughts of life and living. 

Eric Sellen