Tuesday, May 21, 2013


St. Colman Church
May 16

A full house for a meeting of the sacred and sublime.

The Final Judgment could not have packed St. Colman Church any tighter than the Cleveland Orchestra did last Thursday night. There was not a single empty seat in the pews when assistant conductor James Feddeck strode into the sanctuary, filled wall-to-wall with musicians, and struck up the opening strains of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture.

The capacity crowd was indicative of the entire week at Gordon Square, where the orchestra launched the first of its neighborhood residency programs. The idea was to connect the orchestra with the community by taking it out of Severance Hall and putting the players in unorthodox settings – restaurants, bars, galleries, theaters, schools and a health care center – where residents could experience classical music up-close and meet the musicians. If anything, the week was too successful, attracting overflow crowds to most of the 16 events.

St. Colman, a sprawling neoclassical structure on West 65th St. with a mammoth, handsomely decorated interior, is 6.5 miles from Severance. But a walk through surrounding streets is like a visit to another planet, with small, tidy homes sandwiched between boarded-up houses and vacant lots overgrown with weeds. It is not Cleveland’s poorest neighborhood, but it is an accurate reflection of the city’s housing blight and socioeconomic downturn. On the plus side, the racial vibe is relaxed, with whites, blacks and Hispanics mingling easily on the streets and front porches.

In such settings, miracles can happen – one being the survival of St. Colman. Four years ago, it was on Bishop Richard Lennon’s hit list as he began shutting down Catholic parishes throughout the city. Incredibly, St. Colman’s activist congregation was able to convince him to keep their church open. On Thursday, the comparatively minor miracle of hosting a world-class symphony orchestra started outside the church with a touch of class, typical of the way the Cleveland Orchestra does business. Uniformed policemen directed traffic and helped elderly residents across the street, while a shuttle bus brought people who parked at a nearby recreation center.

Inside, staff members in Gordon Square Residency t-shirts took tickets and showed a rainbow of audience members to their seats. The orchestra, looking sharp in summer white tie, was arrayed across the entire three-altar sanctuary, filling every square foot of space and a riser extending out to the first row of pews.

The program was surprisingly refined for a neighborhood outing. After a spirited Hebrides, Feddeck led a lustrous, erudite treatment of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony in D major. Understated percussion anchored a nimble but powerful performance hindered by the sound going squishy at times – there is no other way to describe what often sounded like a monaural recording in the bathtub acoustics of the church.

Heavenly solo work.
But that did not deter principal flutist Joshua Smith from delivering a fine solo in Cécile Chaminade’s Flute Concertino in D major. The reverb and echo effects of the church added charm, and Smith played with such tenderness that a baby’s cry in the audience fit right in. Feddeck managed to create captivating colors and hues in Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, and cranked up a big, boisterous sound for Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. William Preucil embellished the latter with a fine violin solo, though the clearest and most striking sound in the piece came, appropriately, from the harps.

The concert ended with the audience on its feet, cheering and whistling like the home crowd at a softball game. That energy carried over to the sidewalk, where small groups gathered in what felt like a wedding atmosphere. There was no rice, or bride. There were, however, plenty of tuxedoed men waiting to get on the orchestra bus. All they needed was a “Just Married” sign and tin cans hanging off the back.

The St. Colman concert was recorded for broadcast on both radio and television. To watch it, turn on WVIZ/PBS at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 24. To hear it, tune into WCLV on Sunday, June 16 at 4 p.m.

Photos by Steven Mastroianni

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