Sunday, July 20, 2014

"A Taste of Spain" in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

No, this is not a restaurant review, but rather an account of a Cleveland Orchestra concert that I attended last night with a friend.

The concert was held at Blossom Music Center, the orchestra's summer home, located in Cuyahoga Falls, a suburb of Akron, about 30 miles from where I live.  Blossom is a beautiful venue, set in woodlands at the edge of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  It was built in 1968 and renovated in 2002.  The site was chosen not just for it natural beauty, but also for the fact that it is located away from any airline flight paths.  The only sounds to distract the concertgoers are the singing of birds and the occasional summer thunderstorm.  The lawn which slopes down toward the concert pavilion is a favorite place for picnickers to enjoy a summer evening of great music.  I, however, have reached the age where I prefer to pay extra for a seat under the shelter of the pavilion.

I took the photo above last summer.  Yesterday's weather was less perfect.  It was cloudy and had rained much of the day.  The rains held off, however, during the time we were there.  There was a benefit to the threatening weather.  Attendance was relatively low, especially on the lawn.  So we were able to park closer to the pavilion, and when we left there was not the usual snarl of traffic.

Last night's concert was entitled "A Taste of Spain" because two of the three pieces were of a Spanish flavor.  (A perfect concert for a retired Spanish teacher who had just visited Spain earlier this summer!) 

The first piece on the program was a selection of numbers from the "Carmen Suites" by the French composer Georges Bizet.  The orchestral melodies, taken from the famous opera "Carmen", are all very familiar to classical music buffs.  Although written by a Frenchman, the music evokes the rhythms of Spain.  It was masterfully played by our world-class orchestra.

The second piece, the "Violin Concerto No. 3" by another 19th century French composer, Camille Saint-Saens, had nothing to do with Spain.   (Well, there is a remote connection with Spain.  Saint-Saens wrote it for the Spanish violin virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate.) It was a number that I had never heard before.  The concerto was very pleasant, but was not truly memorable.  It didn't "grab" me until the finale, and it's not the kind of composition where the melodies stick in your head afterwards.  The soloist was a talented Canadian violinist by the name of Karen Gomyo. 

After intermission, the final work was the complete ballet music from "The Three Cornered Hat" ("El sombrero de tres picos") by the early 20th century composer Manuel de Falla.  Usually in concert halls you will hear a suite of selections from this ballet score.  The suite is a staple of the concert repertoire, and I have heard it played by the orchestra a couple times in the past.  But this was the first time since 1935 that the Cleveland Orchestra had played the entire ballet music.  So, although there were familiar melodies, it was also a new experience for me.  

I find it interesting that although Spanish music has inspired so many composers from all over the world, there were relatively few classical composers from Spain.  Manuel de Falla is one of the most outstanding, but, even though his music is great, his name is not known to most people.  His 1919 ballet, "The Three Cornered Hat" is based on a 19th century comic novel which is a classic of Spanish literature.  It tells the story of a miller in a Spanish town, his beautiful wife, and the unwanted attentions of the "Corregidor" (the local magistrate).  De Falla's score is filled with Spanish melodies, and ends with a thunderous climax with clicking castanets and crashing cymbals.  The score is a "tour de force" and was superbly played by our orchestra.

I found a clip on YouTube (audio only) of the final dance played by the Cleveland Orchestra if you would like to hear a sample of De Falla's work...

Final Dance from the "Three Cornered Hat"

It was a wonderful concert, and for next weekend I have tickets for another great evening of music at Blossom!


  1. Wow! That looks like a wonderful place for a summer concert. I'm kind of getting the feeling from your blog that Cleveland is somewhat like Boston in terms of weather. We pay dearly during the winter and spring for absolutely wonderful summers and autumns. May you enjoy the good seasons fully.

    As an aside, one of Ravel's contemporary critics dismissed him as the "finest living French composer of Spanish music." Yet Spain has provided an important source of inspiration to many French composers. They should be more grateful.


    Kim G
    Tehuacán, Puebla
    Where we have yet to figure out where the music venues are.

    1. Yes, Blossom is indeed a wonderful place.
      And, yes, Boston and Cleveland have similar climates. However, we also have something called "lake effect snow." Fortunately for me, due to the curvature of the Lake Erie shoreline, it's the eastern suburbs of Cleveland that get hit the hardest, and I live in the western suburbs.

      The comment about Ravel was funny. And it wasn't just the French composers who were inspired by Spain. Rimsky Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol" immediately comes to mind.

      P.S. I suspect that you would have to go into Puebla or DF for any classical music.

    2. I suspect you're right about the classical music. LOL.