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February 1, 2008 at 12:05 pm #89703Stacie JohnstonParticipant
Cleveland Orchestra bassoonist Jonathan Sherwin performs the part of Elvis in a piece titled Dead Elvis by Michael Daugherty.
By LAWRENCE A. JOHNSON
Elvis may have left the building for the last time 30 years ago, but he reemerged to take the spotlight at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tuesday night’s concert by the Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Players.
If the program of edgy, modern works for mixed winds, strings and piano was aimed at deflecting criticism about Cleveland’s overly conservative downtown repertoire, it succeeded to a large extent. The event offered just 30 minutes of music, and the only complaint was that the evening was far too short.
An audience of more than a hundred filled the narrow MOCA room. The industrial nonchic space offers a dry acoustic yet one that suited the aggressive music, and the Cleveland players’ technical security and laser-like concentration were most impressive, even up close in the unforgiving aural glare.
Michael Daugherty has often mined pop-culture icons for his music and never more audaciously than in Dead Elvis, a brief, hard-charging bassoon concerto that calls for the soloist to dress like Elvis. The Cleveland Orchestra’s Jonathan Sherwin did the honors, looking great in his late Vegas-Elvis motif with sequined white suit, big matching shades and expansive sideburns.
Dead Elvis may be partly shtick, but Daugherty’s music is undeniably clever, with quick-hit appearances of It’s Now or Never and what sounds like a bossa-nova retooling of the Dies Irae. Under Cleveland’s assistant conductor Jayce Ogren, Sherwin and colleagues threw off the rollicking music with apt velocity, rousing bravura and good-humored panache.
Thomas Ades’ chamber retooling of Cardiac Arrest by the 1980s British ska band Madness opened the program with heavy-metal propulsion, and Ades spices the original with rhythmic hairpin turns and blues and Middle Eastern flavors.
Petroushskates by Joan Tower was inspired by her twin interests in Stravinsky and ice skating, though the Petrouchka tribute/cribs were more apparent than any skating element. The music is fluidly crafted, and the graceful performance was aided by Andrea Levine’s superb clarinet work.
Lee Hyla’s Ciao, Manhattan was the most restrained work on the program, a delicate farewell, of sorts, to his hometown. The dry room diluted some of the subtler hues, but Hyla’s innovative writing is consistently fascinating, the barely audible cello tremolos and pointillist piano effects evoking a melancholy, urban expression.
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