Review: Cleveland Orchestra’s Fridays @ 7 (March 13)

By Jane Berkner

If the goal of the Cleveland Orchestra’s Fridays @ 7 series is to create more diversity in their audiences, the concert in Severance Hall on Friday, March 13 can be considered a fantastic success. Curated by Jamey Haddad, the pre- and post concerts that sandwich the orchestra’s performance included music from singer, songwriter and accordion player Magda Giannikou, students from Oberlin’s performance and Improvisation Ensembles, and the eclectic jazz and funk band Snarky Puppy.

Members of Snarky Puppy joined Giannikou in Reinberger Hall for a pre-concert of song infused with jazz and world music. Early in the concert, a group of Oberlin students were invited on stage, performing her arrangements and improvising on cello, violin, bassoon and clarinet. Giannikou and Snarky Puppy bandleader and bassist Michael League had led a three-day improvisation workshop at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, culminating in the evening’s performance.

Giannikou is a world music force. With her clear, velvety voice and quirky, warm and generous personality, she clearly loves life, music and working with students. Casually prompting and persuading band, students and audience alike, she began pieces by clapping or pounding out rhythms on her chest, coaxing us to join her in her rhythmic world. She cajoled the students into improvising beneath her impromptu story telling, and at one point got the audience to sing along. She marveled that it was the first time in audience participation history that everyone ended together on cue, saying, “perhaps that means we should encourage the youth to go hear orchestras.”

The orchestra performed two works under the baton of Italian conductor Fabio Luisi during the hour-long concert in the main hall. The first, a composition by Luca Francesconi titled Cobalt, Scarlet: Two Colors of Dawn was composed in 1999-2000. This 25-minute work employed a large-scale orchestra, with extra winds, brass and percussion spilling onto the edges of the packed stage.

The program notes touted the work as “a testimony to Francesconi’s consummate craft as an orchestrator and weaver of Polyphonic webs.” His creative pairing of instruments to produce unusual colors was ample evidence of this throughout the piece. Hearing the work performed live also enhanced the appreciation for his use of space as an orchestration technique. The opening percussion notes gave a feeling of distance when sounded from different parts of the stage, and frequent scalar lines passing through sections of instruments added to this spatial sense. The piece is dark and brooding, and the orchestra brought a great deal of energy to the jazzy rhythm at its climax.

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