by Brittany Brahn
Brittany Brahn is an Oberlin student who participated in the Winter Term course in Digital Musical Journalism co-sponsored by ClevelandClassical.
The tradition of the Cleveland Orchestra performing at Oberlin College is a long and well-loved one, which began in 1919 only six months after the orchestra was first formed. Since that initial concert, the Cleveland Orchestra has performed at Oberlin 209 times through the college’s Artist Recital Series, which is incidentally one of the oldest continuing concert series in the United States. In addition to the Cleveland Orchestra, the Artist Recital Series has also brought musicians such as Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, Denyce Graves and Juan Diego Flóres to the campus, much to the delight of the students and residents of Oberlin.
The Cleveland Orchestra’s latest return to Oberlin was on the evening of Friday, February 25th in Finney Chapel under the direction of Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko. The program, Boreyko’s debut with the Cleveland Orchestra, showcased a refreshing array of Eastern European works that complemented each other well, including Stravinsky’s Divertimento from the ballet Le Baiser de la fée, Peteris Vasks’s English horn Concerto, and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major. The sweetness of the Divertimento provided an enjoyable juxtaposition to the full-bodied, fiery drama of the Symphony.
Vasks is a Latvian composer who is less familiar to Western audiences than Stravinsky or Prokofiev, yet his English horn concerto proved to be an ambitious and highly successful addition to the repertoire. By the time Vasks had written the piece in 1989, he had spent the majority of his compositional life overshadowed by the rigid policies of the Soviet Union. Two years prior to Latvia’s independence, the English horn concerto was commissioned by the American musician Thomas Stacy and the Stamford Chamber Orchestra.
Haunting and highly atmospheric with nods towards traditional Latvian folk music, the piece continues to have a profound impact on both Eastern and Western audiences today. During Friday evening’s concert, Oberlin professor and performer Robert Walters imbued the lyrical English horn solo with particular expression and strength while maintaining the melodic line’s characteristic clarity. During the opening “Elegy I” movement of the piece, one little girl in the third row, who up until that point in the concert had been quietly hunched over reading Twilight, peeled her eyes away from the novel and sat in rapt attention. By the time the house lights rose at intermission, Walters had garnered enthusiastic praise from the audience, loudly vocalized in cheers and yells.
Boreyko brought the evening to a satisfying close with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. He fluidly led the orchestra through the myriad emotions present within the piece, which ranged from the powerful and intensely energetic Allegro giocoso movement to the lilting Adagio with its expressive strings and dark horn section. With his confident, graceful conducting style, Boreyko appeared to be quite at home on the stage.
The Cleveland Orchestra will return to Finney Chapel on March 25th under the direction of Franz Welser-Möst to perform Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.