In Saturday’s (5/2) Plain Dealer (Cleveland), Zachary Lewis writes about the new piece by Los Angeles composer Paul Chihara that the Cleveland Orchestra premiered this weekend. “Whether or not ‘When Soft Voices Die,’ a commission from the orchestra, becomes the next great viola concerto remains to be seen. But between principal violist Robert Vernon, its ardent protagonist, and former resident conductor Jahja Ling, the work receives a strong shot at life. The score itself, a single continuous movement based on a poem by Shelley, roughly mirrors the composer’s own journey writing the piece. From a ruminative, diaphanous opening inspired by Debussy, it climbs to carnivalesque heights in a vast sashaying waltz, only to nearly burn out before emerging more balanced, if still a bit ambiguous. Throughout, a swooning melodic fragment keeps reappearing, transformed, in Berlioz-like reminders. … If Ling, now music director of the San Diego Symphony, is a lively partner steering ‘Soft Voices’ to life, he’s the prime animating force on the rest of the program.” The program also included Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony and Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.

Posted May 4, 2009