John Adams’s Violin Concerto at Severance Hall

This week at Severance Hall James Gaffigan, the Cleveland Orchestra’s assistant conductor, is leading the subscription concerts for the first time. It is an interesting program: Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring suite (performed at a Severance Hall subscription concert for the first time since 1973), Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” and, most unusually, the Cleveland premiere of John Adams’s Violin Concerto, with the 20-something violin virtuoso Leila Josefowicz as the soloist. I heard the Friday evening performance.

“John Adams: Tromba Lontana; Violin Concerto; The Wound-Dresser” (Christopher Maltman, John Adams, John Adams, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Gareth Bimson, Martin Hurrell, Leila Josefowicz)

Ms. Josefowicz has performed the concerto on numerous occasions and recorded it with the composer. The concerto has all the usual Adams characteristics, especially the “caffeine music” (Adams’s wife’s term) of the third movement. This week’s performance was spiffy, with all concerned really getting into it. There was a spontaneous ovation at the end.

The Copland was a solid start to the program; Gaffigan was in control, but the performance seemed a bit studied, without the joyful flow of Copland’s or Bernstein’s recorded performances. The Rachmaninoff was also quite fine.

There were many empty seats in Severance Hall. The concert is being performed four times this weekend; was that a wise choice?

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