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Scratch those images of fawning, camera-wielding parents. The season-opening performance Sunday by the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra was far more than something only a mother or a father could love.
On the contrary, even patrons with no familial connections had reason to listen closely, as the ensemble under James Feddeck presented a substantial program worthy of both serious attention and the venue, Severance Hall. Consider it an excellent warm-up for the group's first international tour this June, when almost no one in the audiences will be related to the musicians.
Most promising in terms of repertoire for the road was Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, the centerpiece of the program Sunday. Even listeners in Prague, the composer's birthplace and site of the work's premiere, are bound to relish COYO's way with this melodious masterpiece.
Once again, it was not only possible but easy to forget COYO's student status. Minor imperfections in terms of notes and ensemble made appearances, but for long stretches, all that really registered was the group's artistic maturity.
Beyond a simple read-through, the young players under music director Feddeck turned in a legitimate interpretation, full of character and shading all their own. Larger structural elements were firmly in place, lyricism abounded, and details emerged in crisp definition. Musical episodes flowed together with a compelling fluidity, and the coda brought down the house.
Which of the other two works on the program will accompany COYO on tour, slated to include visits to Salzburg and Vienna, remains to be seen. Both, though, would appear to be strong candidates as rendered Sunday.
Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture" kicked things off in robust fashion. A bit more tongue-in-cheek playfulness might have been in order, but none could have wished for greater energy or melodic legibility. In several passages here, COYO truly soared.
Schoenberg's orchestration of Bach's Prelude and "St Anne" Fugue seems a less obvious option for the tour, given its complexity and technical challenges. But it's flattering nonetheless.
Occasional murkiness notwithstanding, the work cast COYO in a brilliant light as the players evoked both the vast range of the organ and the agility of a virtuoso. Particularly impressive was the fugue, where the young artists revealed their solid understanding of counterpoint.
As COYO enters its 26th season, Feddeck regards international touring as the next major frontier in the group's artistic development. After its performance Sunday, this listener is inclined to agree. If ever an American youth orchestra were ready to take on Europe, it's this one.