Friday, January 4, 2013


Cleveland Museum of Art
January 2

Modern music amid historic masterpieces.

Cleveland’s newest contemporary music ensemble drew a capacity crowd to the Art Museum last Wednesday for a performance in the European “Naturalism and Idealism” gallery. As it happens, that title also provides a good capsule description of the concert – a group of natural talents aiming high with a mostly 20th-century program that produced results a bit more uneven than the masterworks surrounding them.

The ensemble, which features student players from the Cleveland Institute of Music, is led by Shuhai Wang, an accomplished pianist and faculty member at CIM. She is also the director of Classical Revolution Cleveland, the outreach effort to put classical music in unorthodox venues that has been such a wild success at the Happy Dog tavern, where it gave birth to a recording project.

Wang took a back seat at this performance, giving her young charges most of the limelight. Flutist Madeline Lucas opened the program with two solo works: a brief flight of fancy by Katherine Hoover, and Arthur Honegger’s charming Danse de la Chèvre, which offers some technical challenges. Lucas played with spirit and energy, though there was not much definition in her sound, which would have benefited from sharper development.

Guitarist Krystin O’Mara showed rock star technique on a trio of short pieces by Joaquín Rodrigo. Though her fingerwork was dazzling, O’Mara seems not to have much performing experience. She was focused on the fretboard to the point of ignoring the audience, and fell apart at the end of the concluding “Zapateado,” finishing short of the actual ending with a quick flourish of slides. Still, her raw talent is unmistakable.

Harpist Shelly Du provided the best pure sound of the evening with mesmerizing renditions of a Bach fugue and Listz’s Le Rossignol, S.250/1. Neither piece was written for harp, but they both sounded superb in the gallery space, which gave the instrument a rich, deep resonance. And Du is a very good player, creating sounds in the Liszt work that sounded identical to piano keys. Hers was the only performance of the set that stopped all the bustle and noise on the edges of the room, as even passers-by were transfixed by the sound of her playing.

A duet by violinist Emily Cornelius and cellist Carlo Javier showcased the group’s weaknesses and strengths. The caliber of their playing on the first movement of Honegger’s Sonatine for Violin and Cello was quite good, capturing the changing tempos and moods with professional precision. But there wasn’t much depth to their performance. That usually comes with time, so it will be interesting to hear what Cornelius and Javier can do after they’ve played together for a while.

That was also true of the final work, Jacques Ibert’s Deux Interludes, performed by Cornelius, Lucas, and Wang on harpsichord. After a first movement that didn’t quite gel, the second movement picked up feeling and energy and blossomed into the most impassioned segment of the evening. As a preview of Ars Futura’s potential, it was a thrilling moment. And it was great fun to hear Wang providing a backbeat on harpsichord. She showed the same mastery of technique on two solo Martinů pieces preceding the trio, which offered the rare treat of hearing 20th-century chords and ideas played on a Baroque instrument.

Flaws aside, this was a lovely concert. Ars Futura may be in its infancy, but the caliber of the players, the intelligence of their program, and the liveliness of their performance suggest great things to come. And the power of performing amid the angels and saints and painters like Cavallino, Reni and Caravaggio can hardly be underestimated. Great art elevates everything in its proximity, and as CMA’s Music in the Galleries series continues to demonstrate, the synergy created by combining art and music can be sublime.

For more on Ars Futura and their CMA concert:

Photo: Greg Donley/Cleveland Museum of Art

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see your review from the CMA. Susan Slaby