Williams conducts Williams at Severance Hall

Cleveland Orchestra
John Williams, conductor
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
April 8, 2018

Sound the Bells!
Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
“Hedwig’s Theme”, “Nimbus 2000”, and “Harry’s Wondrous World” from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“With Malice Toward None” from Lincoln
“Adventures on Earth” from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
“Flight to Neverland” from Hook
A Child’s Tale: Suite from The BFG
“Out to Sea” and “Shark Cage Fugue” from Jaws
Theme from Sabrina
“The Rebellion is Reborn” from Star Wars: The Last Jedi
“Rey’s Theme” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Main Title from Star Wars

Encores:
“Han Solo and the Princess” from The Empire Strikes Back
“The Raiders March” from Raiders of the Lost Ark
“The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back

While gearing up for a trio of complete performances of Wagner’s monumental Tristan und Isolde, The Cleveland Orchestra – perhaps by design, perhaps by happy coincidence – presented two radically different programs that nonetheless both bore Wagner’s far-reaching influence: Joseph Suk’s Asrael Symphony, a work of rich (i.e. Tristan-infused) chromatic harmony, and the film scores of John Williams conducted by the composer himself, works that employ a sophisticated use of leitmotifs and scoring for massive orchestra, surely taking an unapologetic cue from late 19th-century Romanticism. Though Williams has conducted TCO on multiple occasions at Blossom, Sunday night counted as his Severance Hall debut, a venue he touchingly referred to as a “magical place.”

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John Williams and The Cleveland Orchestra, © Roger Mastroianni, Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra

At 86 years old and with no less than 51 Oscar nominations to his name (second only to Walt Disney), there’s quite a sense of occasion in seeing Williams in the flesh, the performance having been sold out since August (and how often does one have the opportunity to hear a conductor lead an entire program of their own compositions?). Despite such acclaim, Williams comes across as remarkably humble and down to earth, in one of his spoken interludes between selections joking that it’s good for the vanity of a composer to present the score without the distraction of the film. The scores certainly thrived as concert music independent of their respective films, and in the hands of The Cleveland Orchestra, never have these iconic film scores sounded so good.

The evening opened with a brief but energetic fanfare in Sound the Bells!, a 1993 work written in honor of the wedding of Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako – a festive affair with emphasis on the brass and titular bells. A suite from Close Encounters of the Third Kind followed with dissonant glissandos suggesting an alien landscape, with matters in due course turning heroic and quite lyrical. The magical sound of Joela Jones’ celesta was instantly recognizable as “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a leitmotif that binds the music of all the films in the franchise together, even after Williams passed the baton to others. The theme was presented again in the brass, and the music took flight with rapid celesta fingerwork. “Nimbus 2000” featured some featherlight interplay in the winds, while “Harry’s Wondrous World” burst with a youthful vigor, again interpolating the Hedwig motif.

Principal trumpet Michael Sachs has an association with Williams dating back to at least 1996 when he premiered Williams’ Trumpet Concerto, and was thus an ideal choice to deliver the solo part of “With Malice Towards None” from Lincoln. His clarion and stately playing beautifully captured the president’s grace and seriousness of purpose. The first half closed with what Williams referred to as the “last reel” of E.T., essentially a ten-minute tone poem. A graceful theme rose higher and higher as if leaving the Earth, depicting that classic scene of the bicycle flying past the moon.

“Flight to Neverland” from Hook was bold and brassy, the textures dense but never muddled. Scoring for harp and celesta gave the suite from The BFG a fantastical, dreamy quality, and a flute solo from Joshua Smith suggested a certain innocence, countered by more sinister material. Two excerpts from Jaws followed, although neither contained the famous half-step gesture. “Out to Sea” had a nonchalance, unaware of the dangers awaiting, while “Shark Cage Fugue” was dark and dramatic, as impressive a display of contrapuntal mastery as any. Concertmaster William Preucil served as another featured soloist in the Theme from Sabrina, a 1995 remake of the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn, to whom Williams dedicated the performance. Preucil’s solo was lush and lovely, and the music clearly came from the same pen as Schindler’s List, evidencing Williams’ more subtle side, aided and abetted by gentle touches on the piano and harp.

Inevitably, the program closed with music from Star Wars, beginning with “The Rebellion is Reborn” from last year’s installment, music calculated to reinvigorate, sounding fresh even 40 years after the original film. “Rey’s Theme” furthered demonstrated Williams’ fondness for the celesta in this affecting character portrait, and the Main Title was given a powerhouse workout. Three encores were played, with additional Star Wars tracks – including a touching rendition of “Han Solo and the Princess” – framing a rousing “Raiders March” from Indiana Jones. It’s worth noting that Williams as well as the orchestra musicians donated their time for Sunday’s performance, with the evening’s proceeds going towards the musicians’ pension fund. A thoroughly enjoyable and memorable entry in The Cleveland Orchestra’s blockbuster centennial season.

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Perlman delights in Lyric Opera recital

Itzhak Perlman, violin
Rohan De Silva, piano
Civic Opera House
Chicago, IL
April 23, 2017

Vivaldi: Sonata in A Major for Violin and Continuo, Op. 2 No. 2, RV 31
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24, Spring
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 73
Ravel: Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major

Encores:
Kreisler: Sicilienne and Rigaudon in the style of Francœur
Tchaikovsky, transcribed Auer: Lensky’s Aria from Eugene Onegin
Wieniawski: Etude-Caprice in A minor, Op.18 No. 4
Williams: Theme from Schindler’s List
Brahms, transcribed Joachim: Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor
Franz Ries: Perpetuum mobile, from Suite No. 3 in G major, Op. 34

An Itzhak Perlman recital is always a major event, as evidenced by the near-capacity crowd he drew at the cavernous Civic Opera House.  With an opera season ending in March, the venue was certainly put to good use in an enjoyable afternoon from Perlman and long-time recital partner, the Sri Lankan pianist Rohan De Silva.  A stage set of classical pillars provided an elegant backdrop (the advantages of performing in an opera house), and video screens showing close-up views in real time flanked the stage, helping to create a sense of intimacy in a large hall.

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Itzhak Perlman, photo credit Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
Perlman arranged his program chronologically, beginning with the Sonata in A major for Violin and Continuo by Vivaldi.  An energetic presto opened, effectively serving as a warmup to the sprightly second movement.  The slow movement was brief but genuinely expressive, and a joyful finale rounded off this compact work of a mere seven minutes.

In an unannounced change from the printed program which suggested Beethoven’s first violin sonata (Op. 12 No. 1), Perlman elected for the more seasonally appropriate though well-worn Spring sonata (Op. 24).  It opened with a wonderfully bucolic grace, although Perlman’s intonation was regrettably suspect at times.  A languid Adagio molto espressivo followed with some especially lovely playing from De Silva.  The two closing movements both were marked by a delightful interplay between violin and piano, and an elegant melody heightened the finale.

Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 offered some Romantic fervor, with Perlman presenting them in the continuous, unbroken cycle that the composer intended, rather than three separate works.  I was struck by the rippling of the first and the fire of the last, yet in these works originally envisioned for cello or clarinet, they sounded somewhat timid on the violin, requiring more vigor to compensate than Perlman managed to muster.

Ravel’s relatively brief Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major was the only work programmed for the second half in what was surely a calculated move to allow ample time for encores.  Beginning with a single note line in the solo piano, the first movement was one of coloristic writing, pitting the violin and piano on more austere terms with one another than the previous works which favored conviviality.  Ravel’s own take on American musical traditions came to light in the second movement “Blues”, much like in the Piano Concerto of a few years later, replete with blue notes and slides.

Perlman played the accented pizzicatos with his bow hand and the others were plucked up on the fingerboard, but in the former one wished for a greater abrasiveness.  The last movement was acutely virtuosic, yet the delivery was rather dry and detached – but certainly not enough not to garner an enormous standing ovation, as much a recognition for Perlman’s extraordinary career as for Sunday afternoon’s performance.

And ample encores there were – no fewer than six.  While the four sonatas fared a bit lackluster, it was during the encores that the violinist truly sprung to life, and Perlman became Perlman.  With a charismatic stage presence, he explained to the audience that he brought with him a list of every work he’s played in Chicago – humorously suggesting it dated back to 1912 – so as to avoid duplication.  No Perlman recital would be complete without a work of Kreisler, and he offered the illustrious composer-violinist’s Sicilienne and Rigaudon in the style of Francœur, once erroneously thought to be a bona fide work of its namesake.  Perlman exuded an effortless charm in the Sicilienne; the Rigaudon proved that his remarkable prestidigitation is still very much intact.

“Lensky’s Aria” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin followed – quite appropriate as Lyric Opera presented the complete work on the same stage just a few months prior – in a transcription by the legendary Leopold Auer.  A work of rich melancholy, it proved to be surprisingly well-suited to the violin.  The Wieniawski Etude-Caprice in A minor came next; a signature work of Perlman, it never fails to impress.  This was only outdone by the Theme from Schindler’s List – one of John William’s finest film scores, it should be remembered that Perlman played in the original soundtrack.  His deeply moving performance had particular poignancy on Sunday given the proximity to Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Two briefer works brought the afternoon to an agreeable close: the searing passion of the first of Brahms’ rousing Hungarian Dances, and the dizzying acrobatics of Franz Ries’ Perpetuum mobile.

Perlman Lyric
Civic Opera House