Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra:Lang Lang Plays Chopin and Strauss

Pintscher: Idyll (for orchestra) (World Premiere performances)
Chopin: Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22 (for piano and orchestra) (Lang Lang, piano)
Strauss: Burleske (for piano and orchestra) (Lang Lang, piano)
Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Ok, so on one hand I was very excited to return to Severance for a new season, on the other hand that excitement was tempered -- almost quenched -- by the news that Mr. Welser-Most's contract was renewed. I was really hoping for a change, and the news out of Austria had gotten my hopes up.

Anyway, this afternoon's concert opened with a half hour of tedium in the form of Matthias Pintscher's Idyll. While not as jarring and painful as most "new" classical at 25 minutes plus it was entirely too long and uninteresting -- sure there were parts that had a tenuous hold of my attention, early on a section reminded me of playful nymphs; later the atmosphere approaching a murder scene in a classic film, but on the whole I would have preferred to do without.

Lang Lang brought Chopin's Andante spianato & Grand Polonaise brilliante to life beginning with a sound I would liken to a delightfully fluffy and delicious pastry for the ears to wash out the foul taste of the prior composition -- although the orchestra was a bit stiff under Welser-Most's baton, it was certainly preferable to the Pintscher. 

Following intermission was like an entirely new concert and could have been cleaved from the first half for a much more enjoyable program on its own. Chopin's Burleske, once again with the piano part played by Lang Lang was sparkling with a bold orchestra embracing in a familiar dance with the piano, while towards the end of the piece brought arguments from the orchestra that puncutated otherwise flowing music. 

Finally the program closed with Strauss's Till Eulenspeigel's Merry Pranks was enjoyable in a fun and lyrical way but I didn't find it particularly memorable


Monday, September 1, 2014

On Serendipitous Discovery: How United Airlines Customer Hostility brought me into the Vancouver Art Gallery (again)

It's no secret that I loved -- and greatly miss -- the customer focused nature of Continental Airlines and loathe the open hostility that "pre merger" United Airlines (pmUA) employees openly display towards their customers, particularly at Chicago's O''Hare ("ex-Cons", on the other hand are still a pleasure to encounter -- when you can find them).

Such utter incompetence on the part of United Airlines staff in Chicago last year (before the two maintenance-related emergency landings, and three days of a four day trip to Richmond without my luggage among other complete service failures) lead me to miss a connection on my way back home to Cleveland.

Arriving at our connecting gate at precisely the same moment -- coming from a different flight, but also missing the connection due to causes within United's control -- was an artist.

While we were waiting for United to figure out how to get us both to Cleveland we chatted, and I started with my typical "What brings you to Cleveland?" The answer surprised me -- she was an artist heading to Cleveland because her work was on display at both the Cleveland Museum of Art and MoCA Cleveland. It turned out I was chatting with Janet Cardiff, and her work on display at CMA was Forty Part Motet, one of the most unique and stirring installations I've encountered, and certainly one you would have to hear to understand.

This brings me to today -- I'm back in Vancouver for the week, mixing business with pleasure and spent the day wandering around downtown. Without question I love this city on nearly the same level as I love London* -- both cities have a vibe that I don't pick up in the states --  and I hadn't planned in visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery again on this trip.

But fate intervened. My wanderings through downtown I walked past the entrance to the Art Gallery and I decided to head in. Thanks to having my CMA Donor card on me, the visit was free (excluding the hundred bucks I managed to spend in the gift shop). And the next few hours just kind of slipped by.

The lower floors, occupied by the Douglas Coupland everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything (closing today) had  pieces that piqued my interest -- including a Lego suburbia -- on a whole it failed to really move me... But as I moved up the building I found myself immersed in an entire floor of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's work via the exhibition Lost in the Memory Palace.

The below video does a far better job of explaining the exhibition than I ever could -- but it's worth noting that I was particularly captivating that the Experiment in F# Minor -- where the shadows of attendees trigger musical sounds -- in effect "playing the table". I was completely transfixed by the Opera for a Small Room -- a twenty minute looped presentation where (for the first time in as far as my recollection will allow me) I stood in the same place for the entire twenty minute loop without feeling the urge to move on.

The Killing Machine was a somewhat horrifying piece that I found to be one of the more thought provoking of my recent encounters -- revolving more or less on capital punishment -- and amplified by the fact that it takes a conscious act on the part of the viewer (pushing the "big red  button") to start the machine.


[*- However it is seeming extraordinarily unlikely I will have a work-related reason to visit London. If anyone knows anyone that needs Crestron programming done in the UK... hit me up ;)]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: A Midsummer Nights Dream

Stravinsky: Suite from Pulcinella
Haydn: Violin Concerto in C major, H.Villa:1 (Peter Otto, violin)
Mendelssohn: Scherzo and Nocturne from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 61
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 ("Italian") in A major, Op. 60.
Jeffrey Kahane, Conductor)

I actually really wanted to attend last Sunday's concert, however, having dropped Rachel off at the airport to begin her internship at the Library of Congress on Saturday only to return to the airport on Sunday to send myself to Minnesota.... The scheduling didn't quite work out. Actually looking at the remainder of the Blossom season only on e Saturday and none of the Sunday concerts is even a scheduling possibility, leaving the very real prospect that this may be my last visit to Blossom for the 2014 season.

And, based upon the first half if it is to be my last, it will certainly be the best I've attended this season. While Stravinsky is known for his riotous--not to mention cutting edge--The Right of Spring, the suite from Pulcinella was equally pleasing but substantially more nostalgic and circumspect -- music that while good, and knowing its good, is trying to pass without drawing too much attention to itself.

Peter Otto's performance in Haydn's violin concerto had a similar restrained air. Once I was able to tune out the harpsichord (what can I say...I am no fan of its twang) I just let my mind go soft and before I knew it the piece was complete.

Following intermission the two selections from a Midsummer Night's Dream -- the Scherzo and Nocturne  passed by quickly covering the span of about five minutes in total. The scherzo was light and airy, while the Nocturne was more somber but clearly shared some of the same musical DNA as the Wedding March, also originally from this piece. 

The program closed out with Mendelssohn's Italian symphony and it's famous opening theme; unfortunately, I didn't really find myself engaged beyond that opening and repetitive theme.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Broadway Standing Ovations

Arr. Every and Barton: Overture: Broadway Divas
Wildhorn and Bricusse: This Is The Moment from Jekyll and Hyde (Crawford)
Bernstein and Sondheim: Maria from West Side Story (Keegan)
Arr. Barker: Love Duet Medley (Bianco, Crawford, Keegan)
Wilson and Hayman: Seventy-Six Trombones from The Music Man (Orchestra)
Schwartz: Defying Gravity from Wicked (Bianco)
Arr. Everly: Leading Men Medley (Crawford, Keegan)
Bernstein, arr. Peress: Overture to West Side Story (Orchestra)
Kinder and Ebb arr. Gibson: Chicago Medley (Orchestra)
Hansard and Irglova arr. Everly: Falling Slowly from Once (Bianco, Crawford)
Webber and Hart: The Music of the Night from the Phantom of the Opera (Keegan)
Schoenberg, Boubill, Natel, Kretzmer arr. Barker: Selections from Les Miserables (Bianco, Crawford, Keegan, Remke, Chorus)
Jack Everly, conductor; The Men of the Blossom Festival Chorus, Robert Porco, director; Christina Bianco; Ben Crawford; Ted Keegan; Ron Remke)

It was like Jekyll and Hyde this evening trying to get from Cleveland Heights to Blossom-- leaving my house I had the windshield wipers going fast and had to dodge a number of closed roads, but approaching blossom the skies cleared and the jacket in was wearing seemed positively foolish.

The first half of tonight's concert was similar -- while it was clear our orchestra wasn't being particularly challenged there were parts of the concert that were eminently enjoyable to listen to (the selection from Chess in the Leading Men Medley; most but not the entirety of Defying Gravity from Wicked) there were other parts that were nearly painful (such as the nasaly-to-New Jersey moments of Ms. Bianco's early parts of the Love Duet Medley), and on balance was largely meh -- the uninspired and overly burnished vocal performances generally outnumbering the captivating and inspiring.

As I posted the above from my phone during intermission, I sincerely hoped that the second half of the program would salvage the evening. Unfortunately -- having made it home safely -- I have to say it did not. While I despise Chicago the musical -- it's a contributing factor to the why I haven't returned to Playhouse Square in a few years -- the medley from Chicago combined with The Music From the Night as highlights, though I have to say my favorite selection was the excerpt from Chess in the Leading Men Medley. 

For those highlights though, you have to subtract selections from Les Miserables which were full of vocal over reach, and the Ms. Bianco's Divas Impressions which beyond the initial and moderately tolerable Julie Andrews bit was pure agony that could not end quickly enough and killed whatever good will I had toward the program. 

If this were at Severance Hall, I'd give it a "Meh" overall, but given the effort to get to Blossom and the price premium (~$40) attached to this concert over over typical Blossom pricing... I can't even rate it as high as a "Meh". 


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: A Taste of Spain

Bizet: Suite from Carmen
Saint-Saens: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 (Karen Gomyo, violin)
De Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat (complete ballet music) (Emily Fons, mezzo-soprano)
Bramwell Tovey, conductor.

Between work obligations (with the related travel) and a desire to just have a lackadaisical summer I'm being note selective in my Blossom attendance this summer... And on my drive down from Cleveland Heights I found myself wondering about this choice -- with light drizzle for the drive and me donning a jacket at Blossom for the first time I can recall.

The first half of the program was quite interesting -- opening with a suite of six selections from Bizet's Carmen, the familiar March of the Toreadors launched things with an impressive tempo, and the harp and flute leading into the strings for the Intermezzo was intoxicatingly relaxing. The Habanera, another well known selection, had a certain air of mystery, and the Dance Boheme had a folksy rustic dance air before picking up tempo.

I had a hard time getting into the second piece on the program, Saint-Saens's third violin concerto. While delicate and relaxing, I didn't find the piece engaging, and the change in mood of the third movement was jarring. My initial impression was that it would be a great piece for a warm summer evening - bout not a tepid one.

Mr. Tovey provided a wonderfully humorous introduction to De Falla's The Three Cornered Hat. I'm finding I particularly enjoy music intended for dance for its fluid movement and (usually) clear musical story and this was no exception with about 35 minutes of more or less continuous music with a range of mostly humorous and enjoyable music. 

About three readers will appreciate that pleasant coincidence that Mr. Tovey is the music director of the Vancouver (Canada) Symphony -- and this week I confirmed that I'll be returning to the beautiful city of Vancouver late summer or early fall for a project. Once dates get pinned down, I shall have to see if he's conducting on his home turf while I'm in town. 


Friday, July 4, 2014

Blossom Festival Band: A Salute to America

(The full program can be found below)

My personal tradition since moving to Cleveland has been to attend Blossom's Independence Day festivities. This year marked my ninth year attending, and Rachel and my's third year and enjoying the Blossom Festival Band under the direction of Loras John Schissel, an able conductor and a Senior Musicologist from the Library of Congress.

(Incidentally, since I pick up a few hits from the DC area around this time each year, Rachel will be interning with the Library in Washington DC in August and September -- if anyone knows someone whit a spare bedroom or couch available for rent rent in the area please drop me a line at lincoln at lincolnincleveland dot com.)

I had an unplanned trip to New York on Tuesday and had planned on returning Wednesday afternoon, but due to the wonders of United's reliability, about 6 hours after I first started trying to get back to Cleveland I just changed the flight to a 6am Thursday morning -- meaning that I was awake starting about 3:30. Not being a morning person to begin with, by the time concert time rolled around I was basically in a perpetual state of yawn. (You know you're too far gone when the cannon fire in the 1812 Overture doesn't stir you...)

The program was the typical fare -- patriotic pieces with a few more Sousa pieces than I'd personally like-- and you'll find my reactions to many of those pieces in my prior posts about the annual patriotic tradition.

Worth particular note, however were Copland's Variations on a Shaker Melody and Anthony O'Toole's arrangement of George F Root's The Battle Cry of Freedom. I learned from Mr. Schissel's introduction of Variations on a Shaker Melody that it's parent piece (the ballet Appalachian Spring - also a favorite of minewas a commission by The Library of Congress for Martha Graham  The Shaker Melody is also known by its first few lyrics ('tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free...) and the variations were interesting in their treatments of this from delicate and understated to bold, forceful declarations.

Meanwhile, Anthony O'Toole's treatment of The Battle Cry of Freedom -- receiving what is believed to be the first public performance with these concerts -- stated "elegiacal" (to borrow Mr. Schissel's description which I fully endorse) but took on a cinematic and triumphant swell about midway through the piece and became more of a declaration of future freedom the respect for past freedoms that seemed to mark the first half.

Mr Schissel's own November 25, 1963 had an intense and somewhat haunting drum beat

There were at least two encore pieces following the official end of the program, however, I was far too tired to stay and enjoy.

Key (arr. Schissel): The Star-Spangled Banner
Gomes: Overture: II Guarany
Sousa: Federal
Copland: Variations on a Shaker 
Root (arr. O'Toole): The Battle Cry of Freedom
Gould: Pavanne
Sousa: March: Jack Tar
Rodgers: Symphonic Synthesis: Victory At Sea
Goldwin: On the Mall
Sousa: Semper Fidelis
Sousa: Humoresque on Jerome Kern's "Look for the Silver Lining"
Schissel: November 25, 1963
Traditional: March-Past of the U.S. Armed Forces
Tchaikovsky: Overture: The Year 1812


Monday, June 9, 2014

Flight Experience with Premier Flight Academy

I became "old" this past May 14th -- turning 30 to be precise -- and to celebrate, Rachel gave me the gift of a flight experience with Premier Flight Academy. I've been so busy with actual travel that we weren't able to schedule it until this afternoon [In the past four weeks I've been in Ann Arbor, Boston, New York, Minneapolis (and Rochester) Minnesota, Anaheim and Los Angeles, California.

As it would turn out today was a beautiful day for flying and our host, Jake, a certified flight instructor at Premier Flight Academy (at Burke Lakefront Airport just east of downtown Cleveland) was a great host talking us through the pre-flight walk-around, checklists and takeoff sequence. Once we got into the air it was a beautifully smooth flight as he demonstrated the flight controls and brought Rachel and I into 30- and 45-degree banks (in fact, the only bump on our flight was when we crossed our own wake). I was offered the controls but too chicken to grab hold.

My seat while in-air

The entire flight was beautifully smooth -- I suppose I had expected things to be a bit bumpier, but it was not really any different than riding down the freeway. Jeff answered every question we posed -- satisfying some of my long-standing curiosities.

On the way back in we got some excellent views of downtown, before landing on runway 6L -- one of the smoothest I can remember recently & chatted about getting a private pilot's license. It is oh so tempting....