Monday, September 05, 2005

Cleveland leave a bit of a Missa behind in London

Last year's planned Cleveland Orchestra Proms appearances were binned as agreement couldn't be reached with their musicians union on the fees for webcasts of the concerts.

This year's performances of Mahler's 3rd Symphony (right) and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis went ahead last week, and the orchestra became the only major US orchestra to appear this season. But somewhere a God was angry as two of the soloists for the Beethoven fell ill, and then the Royal Albert Hall's air-conditioning failed leaving the audience sweltering in truly biblical heat.

The problems didn't end there. The Cleveland musicians union contract now only allows live internet streaming - not delayed streams. So the two concerts can't be reprised on BBC Radio 3's Listen again service if you missed them first time round. But they will be broadcast in the US by WCLV, WCPN and WKSU in September

The irony is that the two Cleveland concerts were two of the least memorable of the season. Nothing dreadfully bad, but equally nothing outstanding. Music Director Franz Welser-Möst didn't overwhelm London audiences during his period with the London Philharmonic in the 90's, and I'm afraid he didn't overwhelm this time either. (During his period with the LPO Franz Welser-Möst earned the nick-name 'frankly worst than most' from the rank and file players. However an incandescent Meistersingers with the Zurich Opera in London last June indicated that the 39 year was maturing into a conductor of stature.)

In Tuesday's Mahler 3 the last movement was drawn-out to the point where the musical thread was in danger of breaking. The Beethoven Missa Solemnis the following night just seemed a strange programming choice for a touring orchestra with an itinerant choir, and when musicologists ares changing the way we think about, and play, the work. It came over as a good try in the circumstances. But given the overall quality of Proms performances this year (particularly from the new wave of 'pick-up' bands) that just wasn't enough.

Memo to Cleveland Orchestra management. Webcast repeat fees aren't as important as performance quality. Remember that shit happens in the real world, and don't programme two blockbuster choral works on successive nights when touring thousands of miles from home. And the next time you play the Albert Hall bring a supply of portable aircon units.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgown path to Philly's profit share fillip invisible hit counter

3 comments:

Pliable said...

The above was my take on the Cleveland Orchestra's Proms appearance.

For an alternative viewpoint read WKSU's Mark Urycki reports who says, among other things, about the Proms..." The pay is small, the hall is too big. There are questionable acoustics, no air conditioning, and not enough restrooms. !!!!

Pliable said...

If you don't know it, Franz Welser-Most's recording of Franz Scmidt's The Book of the Seven Seals with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and Choir is strongly recommended.

Pliable said...

Richard Morrison in the Times is a bit more forthright than me about the Cleveland Missa Solemnis

He says..."There are many puzzling mysteries about the classical-music business. But one of the weirdest must be the mindset that considers it not just sensible but desirable to fly a very ordinary 150-voice amateur chorus across the Atlantic to sing the Missa Solemnis in a city that already has ten choruses which could sing it better. I hate to be so rude about a visiting ensemble, but to hear a masterpiece of this epic stature reduced to the aural equivalent of mushy peas and suet pudding was, well, disappointing is the most charitable word."

If there is any lesson to be taken from this rather sorry story it is that the core problem was not a musical one. The core problem was programming and planning, which the management and music director must take the blame for - not the chorus and players.