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ARCHIVE: Cleveland Orchestra (November 2015)

Originally published 11/20/2015


Tonight, I heard Bob Vernon and Lynne Ramsey play a double viola concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra. It was written by Ricky Sortomme and was loosely based on the Smetana String Quartet "From My Life." It was written as a musical tribute to Bob on his last season and his unsurpassed tenure as principal viola in Cleveland. At Bob's request, it was crafted as a double concerto so as to include Lynne, his stand-partner for 28 years. With both standing on the right side of the podium, in front of the viola section, it was unusual to see Lynne on Bob's left side. It made no difference to their closely connected playing and charming non-verbal communication. Each played beautifully, with their distinct timbres outlining the shared solos. Ricky's friendship with Bob goes back 50 years, and they performed the Smetana together in Alice Tully Hall as students at Juilliard. That concert was the first time I heard Bob play viola. I think the walls there are still vibrating. Tonight, there was a touch of pathos with the realization that Bob's 40 years at the helm of one of the great viola sections in one of the greatest orchestras was nearing completion. His are big shoes to fill, not to mention a big sound, too. Looking among the countless terrific students he has produced would be a good place to start.


Former music director Christoph von Dohnányi began the concert with the Overture to the Bartered Bride and concluded with Schubert's 9th Symphony. Both works were immaculately paced and executed. The precision and unanimity of ensemble of the Cleveland Orchestra is usually reserved for recordings afforded multiple takes and edits. Each string section played as one, and the winds and brass were impeccably balanced. The prominent oboe part in the Schubert was outstanding. The Cleveland audience gave warm applause and standing ovations for the performances. They were in the presence of greatness and knew it.

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