Intriguing musical patterns with the Cleveland Orchestra and Vinay Parameswaran

The Cleveland Orchestra and Associate Conductor Vinay Parameswaran performing John Adams’s Shaker Loops (1978/1983) at the Severance Hall © Roger Mastroianni

The fifth episode in the Cleveland Orchestra’s In Focus online series focuses on musical patterns. Each of the four works featured in this week’s programme are adaptations from their earlier versions. Instrumental guises may change, but musical ingredients, or patterns, remain.

The same goes for the performers. When originally announced last fall, this week’s episode was to be conducted by John Adams, with Vikingur Ólafsson as soloist. As we’ve become used to in the course of the pandemic, things change. 

Luckily, the Cleveland Orchestra Associate Conductor and their Youth Orchestra Music Director Vinay Parameswaran took the podium, while Marc-André Hamelin joined the orchestra in as soloist. The musical pattern of the programme, with its mixture of baroque and contemporary, remained intact. 

One of Arvo Pärt’s earliest forays into the tintinnabuli realm, Fratres (1977) is perhaps the single most iconic piece by the composer. Or rather, a family of pieces, given that there are no less than sixteen versions available in the composer’s catalogue.

Originally conceived as a three-part score without specified instrumentation, Pärt has subsequently produced an ever-expanding series of imaginative adaptations of Fratres for several instrumental combinations, from twelve cellos to saxophone quartet.

In the context of this week’s In Focus progarmme, Fratres is heard in its 1992 version for solo violin, strings and percussion, with the orchestra’s Associate Concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee as soloist.

The 1992 adaptation combines elements from the 1980 version for violin and piano as well as the 1991 version for string orchestra and percussion. The music opens with solo violin’s arpeggio introduction, culminating in a pizzicato, aligned with the first percussion entry.

The gradual pulse is set by bass drum and claves, interwoven with slowly unfolding music for string orchestra. Within the solo part, arpeggiated figures and long-held tones are juxtaposed, with the violin line zooming in and out of the orchestral fabric.

In its ritualistic guise, Fratres is a score of sublime tensions, with a spellbinding effect on the listener, especially in an atmospheric performance like the one recorded here. Jung-Min Amy Lee delivers the solo line with subtle intensity and delicate beauty, with the Cleveland strings and percussion providing a detailed account of the orchestral textures under Parameswaran.

Associate Concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee performing Arvo Pärt’s Fratres (1977/1992) with the Cleveland Orchestra and Vinay Parameswaran. © Roger Mastroianni

As a part of the In Focus programme, Fratres is framed by two works for piano and strings, featuring Marc-André Hamelin as soloist.

The episode opens with Christian Badzura’s reworking of Philip Glass’s Opening from Glassworks (1982). Featured as final track on Vikingur Ólafsson’s Deutsche Grammophon album of Glass’s piano works, Badzura’s adaptation is, in fact, a piece of its own right. 

In his version, Glass’s original solo piano setting appears a middle section, with eloquently simple string ensemble accompaniment. Surrounding it, other entires from the Glass oeuvre appear, as an A section. 

As a whole, Badzura’s version is more akin to Glass’s later pieces, such as the composer’s splendid film score The Hours (2002). Fabulously performed by Hamelin and the Cleveland Orchestra string players, with Parameswaran, the five-minute piece is a grippingly lyrical gem.   

Going back 250 years, Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard concertos were most likely written in Leipzig in the 1730s. In inventing the keyboard concerto genre, Bach sought to adapt his pre-existing concerti for various solo instruments, written during his Köthen years.

It is assumed that the music for the Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV 1056 is recycled from two earlier concertos. The outer movements are dervied from a violin concerto whereas the slow movement began its life within an oboe concerto. The largo movement also appears as sinfonia for the cantata Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV 156 (1729).

The ten-minute concerto is a brilliantly concise work. Bach‘s score lends itself to modern piano and strings quite well, resulting in a timeless feast of counterpoint and melody. A performance of clear-cut musicality, Hamelin, Parameswaran and the Cleveland players provide a fine, airy account of the score, rooted in eloquent phrasing and contrapuntal clarity.

Marc-André Hamelin performing Bach and Glass with the Cleveland Orchestra and Vinay Parameswaran. © Roger Mastroianni

The programme closes with John Adams‘s minimalism-inspired classic, Shaker Loops (1978/1982). Originally scored for string septet, Shaker Loops stems from a withdrawn string quartet, Wavemaker (1977).

Written for Kronos Quartet, the score of Wavemaker was conceived in modules, with the number of repeats left up to performers to decide. Reworked as Shaker Loops, the music was laid out in fixed notation, based on a more firmly established musical architecture.

As suggested by its title, Shaker Loops is built upon oscillating musical patterns, looped into cycles of different lengths. While these procedures can be linked to minimalist techniques of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, Adams‘s sonic architecture adopts more goal-oriented dramaturgy.

Thus, the four-movement score of Shaker Loops echoes a somewhat symphonic scheme, with its prominent opening movement, followed by a reflective, slow(ish) second movement, which, in its turn, flows into a series of pulsating dances in the third movement, before the music resolves into a sum-up finale.

In 1983, Adams transcribed the septet original for a full string orchestra. With more sounding mass added, the music yields to even more compelling physical experience, as demonstrated by the invigorating performance by Parameswaran and the Cleveland strings.

For an intelligible performance, the score calls for a delicate balance between textural clarity and expressive dramaturgy, well adjusted by Parameswaran. The Cleveland players embrace the music with the full scope of their sonic finesse and expression, resulting in the most captivating journey through the ever-inspiring score.

To point out just one example, just listen to the musical build-up in the opening of the second movement, Hymning Slews, where each musical layer is beautifully characterized, leading to enthralling sonic tension and drama. With its four vivid tableaux, the Cleveland Shaker Loops is pure joy.

A thrilling programme altogether, Musical Patters is a lovely affair – an intriguing playlist inspiringly performed.

The Cleveland Orchestra

Vinay Parameswaran, conductor

Marc-André Hamelin, piano

Jung-Min Amy Lee, violin

Philip Glass: Opening from Glassworks (1981/2017), reworked by Christian Badzura

Arvo Pärt: Fratres (1977/1992) for solo violin, strings and percussion

Johann Sebastian Bach: Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV 1056 (c. 1730s)

John Adams: Shaker Loops (1978/1982) for string orchestra

Recorded at the Severance Hall, Cleveland, 4-5 December 2020

First released on Thursday 28 January 2021 on Adella Live

© Jari Kallio

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