Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Severance Hall
May 12

A fitting finale to an impressive tenure.

Sunday night’s concert was an emotional one for conductor James Feddeck, who had to leave the stage at the conclusion of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration to compose himself before returning for final bows.

It’s a beautiful piece of music,” he said backstage afterward.

But the moment was fraught with much more than Strauss. It capped Feddeck’s final performance with the Youth Orchestra, which he has guided for the past four years. During a brief speech, he described his time leading the young musicians as “an incredible journey,” a sentiment they evidently shared. There were many wet eyes and hugs exchanged as he left the stage for the last time.

This season also marks the end of Feddeck’s tenure as assistant conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra, which has been another incredible journey. In the past two months alone, Feddeck stepped in as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Franz Welser-Möst for four mammoth performances of Carmina Burana, and established an historic benchmark with the “California Masterworks” concerts at the Art Museum. Transfiguration indeed.

The hallmarks of the Youth Orchestra under Feddeck have been its professional standards and sound, which shone brightly in his concluding concert. Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal got it off to a brisk start, with sharp opening chords setting the tone for a witty, energetic romp. Feddeck was able to develop surprisingly deep dynamics that at times grew fuzzy around the edges, but were otherwise an adept rendering of the work’s animated orchestration.

Eloquent expression.
Dvořák’s Cello concerto in B minor, Op. 104 is a sophisticated piece for any orchestra to take on, and the young age of this one was evident in the work’s heartfelt but thin emotional veneer. It was nonetheless lovingly crafted, with Feddeck striking a superb sound balance between the orchestra and the soloist, Hannah Moses. She showed impressive command of both the music and her instrument, a 1929 Carletti cello that seems not to have a harsh note in it. Moses played a lustrous second movement that featured an eloquent closing dialogue with the woodwinds, and a particularly expressive third movement backed by full-bodied lights and darks in the orchestra. Though they lack seasoning, the players showed a great feel for the material, and Moses displayed a technical fluency that will only get better.

The second half opened with Szymanowski’s brief Etude in B flat minor, Op. 4, No. 3, which was perhaps the most nuanced piece of the evening. Feddeck started soft and built the sound very gradually, as it might have emerged in the original piano version. Warm and subtle, it set the stage for his “bittersweet” parting speech and the concluding Strauss work.

Death and Transfiguration proved to be a perfect send-off, a professional-caliber performance that started with dark, airy strains and swelled to a great dramatic sweep. The sound was surprisingly supple coming from such a large ensemble, with seamless segues between the many vignettes, especially the transition from fever dreams to the momentary respite of gentle, sparkling strings. The final section of the tone poem could have been written for the occasion, with its heroic horns and rising theme suggesting a sense of accomplishment and new vistas beckoning. As it faded out, the piece seemed to breathe with the rhythm of a heartbeat.

As good as it was, it will not be this critic’s lasting memory of Feddeck. That came almost a year earlier, at the Rudolfinum in Prague, where the young conductor was leading his even younger ensemble on their first international tour. They came to Dvořák’s house to play his music, fully aware of the challenges and boldness of such a move – and pulled it off. The hall was full and the comments afterward were glowing. It was a proud moment to be from Cleveland and a milestone for the Youth Orchestra that will provide lasting inspiration not only for those who achieved it, but generations to come.

Feddeck photo by Roger Mastroianni

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