Cleveland Orchestra’s Fridays@7: A Hit

I have to admit (in the most gudging way) that the Cleveland Orchestra’s Fridays@7 concerts appear to be a success, at least by observable standards.  I attended the second of this season’s series on November 20.  Virtually every seat was full and there was a sense of excitement that is normally missing with the usual gray-hair crowd that populates the regular Friday night concerts.  The average age of the audience member was considerably younger, and they were well behaved and attentive.

The scheme of the Fridays@7 concerts is that there is an early start time (7:00 PM),  a straight-through, without intermission concert by the Cleveland Orchestra for about 75 minutes, followed by a party in the main lobby with cash bar and informal “world” music and lots of schmoozing.

British conductor Jonathan Nott was the guest conductor this weekend. The opening set included Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with former Clevelander Alisa Weilerstein as the soloist. She gave a lovely performance.  The second work on the program was Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, known most notoriously as the main theme from Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a fact which did not escape one of my fellow concert goers sitting near me; during the opening bars, in full voice he said, “That’s 2001!”  There is, of course, another thirty minutes.  I was reminded how many of the amazing orchestral techniques that Strauss used in Zarathustra that he later recycled in other works.  (I think especially of the long passages for low strings that later play such a role in Salome.)  The work has thrilling climaxes but ends inconclusively.

After the main part of the concert, those who wished (which seemed to be a large portion of the audience) adjourned to the lobby for another session of music “curated” by percussionist Jamey Haddad.  It was very crowded at first, but the crowd thinned out after while to make a more comfortable setting.  Ms. Weilerstein joined the ensemble for works by Astor Piazzolla, Bill Evans and others.

The evening had the feel of great novelty.  It remains to be seen if the format can be sustained over time.  I have doubts without someone creating very imaginative secondary programming that will continue the novelty.  For now, however, the Cleveland Orchestra appears to have a hit.

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