Over the past several years the Cleveland Orchestra has instituted a number of new concert opportunities to attract a new, younger audience, in response to the “greying” of its traditional audience base and the diminished interest in a season-long commitment to regular concerts. One of these new series is the “Fridays @ 7” concerts begun four years ago, with expanded concessions available before and after the concert, a shortened formal concert, usually without intermission, and an “@fterparty” [sic.] with various types of jazz and world music after the concert. The first “Fridays @ 7” for the 2012–13 season took place on 5 October, with the orchestra’s assistant conductor James Feddeck on the podium. Two works also heard on the regular subscription concerts for the weekend appeared the program: four excerpts from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé Suite no. 2. Following an extended intermission, the orchestra and the Dallas-based world percussion ensemble D’Drum performed the Cleveland premiere of Stewart Copeland’s 2011 Gamelan D’Drum. Mr. Copeland, who was present for the performance, will be remembered as the drummer in the group The Police, as well as a composer of numerous film scores, and other symphonic and operatic works.

© Roger Mastroianni
© Roger Mastroianni

Each of the four movements of Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed here links one scene to the next. The Scherzo depicts the fairies in the forest and is Mendelssohn at his most light and delicate. Cleveland Orchestra principal flutist Joshua Smith played the extensive flute solo with precision and panache. The Intermezzo describes Hermia’s distress at waking up to find Lysander missing. As she wanders off into the forest in search of her lover, the music changes, and Mendelssohn introduces the rustics arriving for the rehearsal of their play, complete with imitations of the drones produced by folk instruments. The Nocturne features a beautiful horn solo, well played here by Michael Mayhew, supported by bassoons and low strings. The final movement of the suite is the famous Wedding March. Although performed at countless weddings, few ever hear the complete movement in those settings, so it was a pleasure to hear it in all its orchestral glory.

The orchestra’s performance of Ravel’s second Daphnis and Chloé suite was a model of sensuousness, from the the opening swirling, magical flute and clarinet arpeggios of “Daybreak”, with its depictions of birdsongs and other natural sounds, through the virtuosic flute solos of the “Pantomime” and the wall of sound in the closing “General Dance”. The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus made atmospheric contributions in their wordless choruses, especially in the first movement. In the third movement the balance between orchestra and chorus seemed askew, with the chorus being too prominent and not an integral part of the orchestral texture.

After an extended intermission required to move the huge battery of percussion instruments, including two complete gamelans, into place for the Copeland work, the performance of Gamelan D’Drum was preceded by an on-stage interview of Stewart Copeland by Cleveland drummer and percussionist Jamey Haddad, who curates the music for the after-parties following the Fridays @ 7 concerts. Gamelan D’Drum evolved from Mr. Copeland’s association with Ron Snider, leader of D’Drum. The Dallas Symphony commissioned Mr. Copeland to compose a work for D’Drum and orchestra, which resulted in the present work, premiered in Dallas in 2011. One assumes that the commissionees’ performance here was authoritative. A timeless masterpiece it is not, but it was fun to see the members of the ensemble move around the entire front of the stage striking, banging and pounding their vast array of instruments, and there were any number of arresting musical sounds throughout.

There was a strong element of theater to the work, from a very quiet beginning of a wooden wind chime playing presumably from an unseen offstage fan. The solo ensemble then processed from the distant recesses of backstage with Balinese drums and cymbals. Mr. Copeland has a very intuitive ear, and is clearly influenced by jazz, rock, pop and any number of classical composers; however, one would be hard pressed to describe anything in the piece as genuinely “Copelandesque”. According to the composer’s program note, there are elements of improvised percussion, as well as fully notated passages. Especially interesting were the passages for the gamelan instruments, banks of tuned gong-like instruments, played in increasingly complex rhythmic patterns, a kind of Javanese minimalism. The second, slow movement was quite beautiful in its harmonies and melodies and the interplay between percussion and orchestra.

As for the Cleveland Orchestra, let’s say that their parts did not appear to be very challenging, but they and Mr. Feddick provided able backup to the virtuoso percussionists. Mr. Copeland does know how to structure a musical climax, and at the end of the closing movement of Gamelan D’Drum there was a thunderous ovation. D’Drum was called back for an ensemble encore without orchestra.

After the formal concert, which lasted the better part of two and a half hours, the after-party music continued in the main lobby of Severance Hall, featuring Jamey Haddad, drums and percussion; Alon Yavnai, piano; Jay Ashby, trombone; Kip Reed, bass; and Dylan Moffitt, percussion. The crowd and the loud music bouncing off the marble-clad walls soon became oppressive for this listener, who departed for home; the young people in the audience who remained seemed to be having a great time.