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Clevelanders brave bad weather for Beethoven in final Blossom concert of the season

Jahja Ling
Cleveland Plain Dealer

By Zachary Lewis

Not even a storm could keep Northeast Ohio music-lovers from their Beethoven.

Disproving the rule that weather affects attendance at Blossom Music Center, the audience for Saturday's superb season finale by the Cleveland Orchestra displayed exceptional devotion and inundated the venue almost as thoroughly as the rain.

Both pavilion and lawn were packed with patrons gathered for the Cleveland premiere of a double concerto for timpani and a charged, tightly knit performance of Beethoven's Ninth under guest conductor Jahja Ling.

The weather-battling effort was worthwhile, presumably even for the many attempting to enjoy one last night on the lawn under tarps and umbrellas. The reading by Ling struck the ideal balance between pacing and boldness of expression, carrying listeners to the "Ode to Joy" on an unstoppable wave.

To an extent, Mother Nature herself even cooperated, timing the night's strongest downpour to the Molto Vivace, including some of the symphony's darkest strains. But it would have been a thrilling moment, anyway, so alert and fiery was the performance.

Perhaps that's also why the Adagio had effect it did. After such tumult inside the pavilion and out, the slow movement arrived like balm, all the more so for the luminous, richly emotional manner of its delivery.

And none could have asked for a finer "Ode." Ling laid a robust, boldly outlined foundation, ensuring a dramatic entry for the ever-capable Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and setting up the guest vocal quartet -- soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, tenor Sean Pannikkar and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny -- to do its distinctive best.

All told, listeners got exactly what they came for: a grand release of pent-up emotion and another unfolding of Beethoven's expansive vision of unity. On the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, one would have been hard pressed to find a more fitting score or a more stirring performance.

Where the thrill in Beethoven's Ninth was in traversing well-known territory, the evening opened with a work of non-stop surprise, James Oliverio's "Dynasty," a double concerto for timpani. The occasion marked the work's Cleveland premiere, following the world premiere in June by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, musical home of timpanist Mark Yancich, one of the work's two dedicatees.

The Cleveland connection was Paul Yancich, Mark's brother and the principal timpanist of the Cleveland Orchestra. It's he who befriended Oliverio, a Cleveland native, in college and maintained the relationship that last weekend blossomed in the composer's second major collaboration with this orchestra.

What a work it was. In five movements, Oliverio managed not only to reveal something of the two artists' personalities but also to set new boundaries for the instrument. Endlessly fascinating, the score offered effects ranging from the solemn and ritualistic to the colorful, playful and humorous.

That "Dynasty" made the brilliant impression it did is also due largely to the Yancichs themselves, who handled its technical and melodic aspects with confidence and suavity. Near its end, the brothers even engaged in a musical duel.

Neither won, of course. Just the audience, who was rewarded for its bravery by witnessing a beautiful addition to the repertoire.