by Jarrett Hoffman
TODAY ON THE WEB WITH O’BRIEN:
Vocalist Connor Bogart O’Brien joins Carl Topilow and the Cleveland Pops Jazz Ensemble tonight at 8 as part of the Silver Hall Series from the Maltz Performing Arts Center. Seats in the hall will be empty, but you can stream it live for free.
A native of Ashtabula, O’Brien is both a stellar performer and an incredibly fun person to talk to. In an interview with Mike Telin in 2015, O’Brien discussed his musical versatility (ranging from opera to musical theater to rock) and his experience learning an entire show in Mandarin, phonetically.
In 2017, he shared some of his thornier travel stories, and his journey into home renovation. (“My life is now a strange juxtaposition,” he said. “I’m either smashing out drywall at my house on the west side of Cleveland, or dressed in a tuxedo performing onstage for a couple thousand people.”)
And in 2019, O’Brien talked about finally singing his dream role of Tony in West Side Story — after having turned it down multiple times — and the unexpected setting where he proposed to his girlfriend: a ride on a gondola, yes, but in Dallas.
For more from the Pops, you can also check out this recent stream from the ensemble’s pianist, Rock Wehrmann, where Carl Topilow picks up his clarinet — or rather, clarinets.
September 14 marks several notable birthdays: Austrian composer Michael Haydn (1737), Italian composer Luigi Cherubini (1760), American composer and organist George Whiting (1840), and French pianist and composer Gabrielle Ferrari (1851), as well as the death of American composer and pianist Mary Howe (1964).
We’ll focus on Cherubini, who was known for both sacred music and opera, and for his stylistic straddling of the Classical and Romantic eras. His best known work is the opera Medea, which tells the story of that mythological character who killed her children in revenge after being abandoned by her husband Jason.
One rare Northeast Ohio performance of Medea came in 2017 from the Cleveland Institute of Music Opera Theater program. In a preview conversation with Mike Telin, director David Bamberger cautioned against judging the title character too harshly: “In Euripides’ play, it’s clear that our sympathies are supposed to lie with her even though she does terrible things.” Read Daniel Hathaway’s review here.
Cherubini also ties in to one important moment in the area’s history. On June 3, 1970, Robert Shaw led a community performance of the composer’s Requiem in c at Kent United Church of Christ to commemorate the tragedy of the Kent State shootings.
Back to September 14 — that was also the day in 1814 when Francis Scott Key completed his poem Defence of Fort M’Henry, which would become the text to The Star-Spangled Banner.
In July of this year, Daniel Hathaway reflected on Key and his poem in the context of 21st-century America:
The problem with Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer and district attorney, is that he had owned slaves since 1800. While he went on public record to oppose human trafficking, he also represented the owners of runaway slaves.
The problem with his poem is that for 21st-century America, its sentiments seem less and less conducive to uniting a divided nation.
Hathaway mulls different options for a new national anthem, but finds that there may not be a worthy successor. Read more here.