Blomstedt Conducts: Thrilling Beethoven 4th and Nielsen 5th

Friday night’s Cleveland Orchestra performance was perhaps the most sparsely attended concert I have ever seen at Severance Hall. Almost half of the balcony seats were empty. (A friend in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus told me that the chorus members were offered up to four free tickets for the Thursday night concert, so it must have been a poor sell all around.) Nonetheless Herbert Blomstedt, best known in the U.S. for being the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony just prior to Michael Tilson-Thomas, led a thrilling program that consisted of the Beethoven Fourth Symphony and Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony.

Both were spectacular, with attention to detail and balance rarely heard lately in Severance Hall. Although I have heard the Nielsen work in recording, I had never before heard it live. It is in two longish movements, with multiple subsections within each movement connected by cyclical themes. There is also a constantly shifting tonality and dramatic changes in mood throughout the piece. (Another friend asked his psychiatric nurse wife if Nielsen was bipolar.) This was one of THE concerts of the season, and it’s too bad more people didn’t hear it.

It appeared that the orchestra members liked Blomstedt: at the conclusion of the concert they gave him a round of applause, a very unusual tribute for a guest conductor. During the curtain calls, Blomstedt made his way back into the orchestra to shake hands with several of the wind players.

Another oddity: usually at Severance Hall, all somebody has to do is to drag a slab of beef across the stage to get a standing ovation. For reasons mysterious to me, this splendid performance—truly deserving of an ovation—did not get people onto their feet. There were bravos at intermission after the Beethoven, and many cheers at the end of the concert.

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