Sunday, February 18, 2001

CSO has warm memories of Europe

Tour gathered mostly good reviews

        It was cold and rainy (except for a few sunny days in Spain), but the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra received a warm welcome during its European tour (Jan. 27-Feb. 11).

        Audiences in Spain were “very, very warm and appreciative,” says principal clarinetist Richard Hawley, who returned last week from performing eight concerts in three countries with the orchestra. In Germany, listeners were “appreciative and respectful,” and in Warsaw, Poland, “they were hysterical with adoration,” he says.

        For the final tour of outgoing music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos, the CSO performed in Poland and Spain for the first time, and made return trips to the famous halls of Munich and Berlin.

        In Spain, critics greeted the return of their native son with effusive praise.

        “The return of a great Spanish artist is always good news. Jesus Lopez-Cobos has been away from our musical world far too long,” wrote El Mundo (Feb. 4) following the CSO concert in Madrid. The writer mentioned Mr. Lopez-Cobos' directorship of the National Orchestra of Spain “which ended in frustration for reasons of little artistic import,” and implied he would be welcomed back to Spain.

        “We wish to see him and enjoy his art, but only he can determine the path of his career,” said the writer, calling him “a first-class director.” After a raucous reception, solo cellist Han-Na Chang performed an encore; later the orchestra performed three more.

        Spanish critics consistently pointed to the maestro's skill, particularly in the encores. For the Barcelona concert, La Vanguardia reported, “No fewer than three encores and at the end a standing ovation certified the success.”

Some mixed reviews

        Not everything was a complete success. In Bilbao, where the tour started, the CSO concert on Jan. 30 had empty seats because of “ticket promotion problems” Mr. Hawley says.

        In Germany, reviews were mixed. The CSO played in Munich's Philharmonie am Gasteig on Feb. 5, where it had performed in 1995 with Mr. Lopez-Cobos. The Suddeutsche Zeitung criticized Mr. Lopez-Cobos' peculiar program order — he began with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique.” Much of the review, by Harald Eggebrecht, took issue with Mr. Lopez-Cobos' interpretation.

        “Nothing against the American musicians, who presented a technically excellent ensemble and joyous playing, but did not display a distinctive sound,” he wrote. The conductor, he concluded was just beating time, “in short, reducing the whole symphony to banality. . . . Happily, Han-Na Chang, 18 years old and presently the greatest cello talent, saved the evening.”

Differing opinions

        The reviewer of the Mannheimer Morgen formed the opposite opinion of the CSO's Feb. 7 concert in Mannheim. “Even oft-played works of the repertoire. . . . can give the impression of being new and wonderfully fresh,” Dorothea Klugmann wrote.

        The CSO performed in Berlin's Philharmonie on Feb. 8, the first time since Max Rudolf brought the orchestra there in 1969. The Berliner Morgenpost praised Ms. Chang and lauded the CSO's performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. “The orchestra showed its virtuosity in the encores,” the reviewer wrote. “The audience cheered.”

        The CSO concluded its tour Feb. 10 for a packed house in Warsaw, Poland. The audience reaction was so enthusiastic, “we could have played two hours of encores,” Mr. Hawley reports. The audience continued clapping even after the musicians had left the stage.
        Of the eight venues, Mr. Hawley was most impressed with the acoustics in Berlin's Philharmonie.

        “You felt like you could play the instrument like you always imagined you could,” the clarinetist says. “You get off of the stage there, and you almost feel frustrated to play anywhere else in the world.”

        Principal flutist Randolph Bowman agreed.

        “It is a remarkable hall; the architecture is in a surround-style,” he says. “The individual risers onstage are in a semi-circle, so you have a lot of contact with your colleagues at the end of the row, and the ensemble is better.”

        For more about the tour, including musicians' diaries and pictures, log onto, and click on “virtual tour.”

        Maestro's plans: There's no news yet where Jesus Lopez-Cobos will go after he leaves the CSO in May. (Although his contract ends in August, he will not conduct at Riverbend this summer, the CSO says.)

        New York Times (New Jersey desk) writer Leslie Kandell speculated last month that Mr. Lopez-Cobos could be scrutinized next season as a possible successor to Zdenek Macal, who announced he is leaving the New Jersey Symphony. Conductors making first appearances in New Jersey next year are Lawrence Foster, former director of the Aspen Music Festival; Vladimir Spivakov (Russian National Orchestra); William Eddins, resident conductor of the Chicago Symphony; Pavel Kogan, principal guest conductor of the Utah Symphony; and Mr. Lopez-Cobos.

        On a roll: Joyce VanWye, co-founder of the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall, is ecstatic that the 1878 building will have a passenger elevator for the first time, announced last week. The elevator, to be constructed on the north wing, will be funded by the Corbett Foundation.

        “This is an answer to a prayer,” she says. “We're on a roll, but we need people to know we exist and are making a lot of progress.”

        The volunteer society, founded in 1992, is dedicated to keeping the National Historic Landmark sparkling. Recent projects include new lobby lighting, signage, carpet cleaning and an historic timeline at the Central Parkway entrance.

        Next on the agenda, Mrs. VanWye says, is to renovate the Green Room (where audience members may meet the conductors and soloists after concerts), dressing rooms and maestro's suite, in time for the next occupant, Paavo Jarvi. The CSO music director-designate will begin in September.

        The price tag: about $300,000. Mrs. VanWye is hoping that people who love the historic hall will donate any amount. “I'd rather see a lot of people give a small amount, because it's their hall,” she says. “We should be proud to have it in our city.”

        Donations may be sent to SPMH, 1243 Elm St., Cincinnati 45210, or call 831-2059.

        Voice in a million: She didn't want her dad to enter her, but Finneytown High School student Jennifer Joy Weber, 15, has won the grand prize in the Ultimate Talent Search 2000 sponsored by Embassy Music in Nashville.

        Jennifer Joy, a contemporary Christian singer who writes her own music, was chosen over 700 other female singers from across the country after her father, Daniel Weber, sent a tape. She will travel to Nashville in July to cut a single.



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