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.

Lincoln 

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". 


Lincoln

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. 

Lincoln

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

Lincoln

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....

Lincoln

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ben Folds and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra (#FoldsCYO)

Zak and Sarah (arr. Iain Grandage)
Smoke (arr. Michael Pigneguy)
Jesusland (arr. Michael Pigneguy)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (Ohio Premiere; orchestrated by Joachim Horsley and Ben Folds)
Landed (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Fred Jones Part 2 (arr. Iain Grandage)
Steven's Last Night (arr. Graeme Lyall)
Effington (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Cologne (arr. Jim Gray)
Annie Waits (are. James Ledger)
+Rock This Hall (aka Rock This B**ch) 
The Luckiest (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Not the Same (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Brick (arr. Paul Buck master)
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (arr. Iain Grandage)
Narcolepsy (are. James Ledger)
Plus encores. 
All songs by Ben Folds
Liza Grossman,  conductor; Ben Folds, piano. 

Last time I attended a CYO show the headliner was someone I had never heard of (Jon Anderson) and it was thoroughly enjoyable -- so when I heard this season was featuring a an artist I not only had heard of, but liked, I knew I had to buy tickets. So after a day in the office (my first in the past two weeks and my last for this week, but that's another story) Rachel and I headed to Severance Hall and once again I found myself perched in the front of Box 3. 

The first three pieces on the program were good, but not quite great -- I think the orchestra and Mr. Folds were struggling to find the right balance and the result was a little muddy (Rachel thoughtTh that Mr. Folds voice hadn't quite warmed up). The fourth piece on the program, a concerto for piano and orchestra was well delivered and interesting but its length seemed a little ouof place for a program otherwise overflowing with shorter pieces. 

The program turned a bend and really picked up steam starting with Landed with a shimmering piano introduction and excellent balance. Likewise, both Fred Jones Part 2 (about a newspaperman being forced out at the beginning of the traditional journalism downturn - a "waltz, as all sad songs about someone loosing their job should be:") and Steven's Last Night (a big-band-swing-feeling piece written for a recording engineer who was leaving town -- but had had another going away party a week prior) were beautiful works of collaborative art -- and Mr, Folds's introduction to the pieces was particularly entertaining. 

After intermission the program resumed with what has become my favorite Ben Folds piece -- Effington --- and the glorious opening phrase tonight voiced by three CYO members ("If there's a God, he's laughing at us and our football team" -- which could be Cleveland's anthem right there) and the on-stage improvisation of the piece in Normal, Illinois (Effington was a actually a misrecollection of Effingham) 

Continuing in the thread of on-stage composition, Cologne was also initially improvised on stage -- with Mr. Folds under the weather and with doctor-prescribed codeine (to which he commented that falling off stage head-first with a five foot drop and performing with a concussion was more enjoyable than the codeine-affected performance) and is also a favorite piece of mine. I was initially apprehensive that the live performance wouldn't live up to my "favorite" version (the "Piano Orchestra" version, putting aside the creepy German music video) -- but those fears were quickly assuaged with a rich and full bodied performance. 

In between Annie Waits and The Luckiest was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen or heard on stage -- best titled Rock this Hall or Rock This B--ch -- Mr Folds improvised a piece leveraging all 116 musicians on the stage, bringing in one section at a time and occasionally changing his mind. I'm sure that this will wind up on YouTube within days (if it's not already there).

The rest of the program was equally enjoyable, but I have an early flight tomorrow so I will leave my commentary here. It was, to say the least, an amazingly awesome show and I am blown away by the talent of the musicians, Ms. Grossman, and Mr. Folds. 

Lincoln

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Tro TaPASi - In Twos and Threes

Schubert: Arpeggione (Tanya Ell, cello; Patti Wolf, piano)
Brahms: G major Sonata (Isabel Trautwein, violin; Patti Wolf, piano)
Mendelssohn: Trio in C minor (Isabel Trautwein, violin; Tanya Ell, cello; Patti Wolf, piano)
At the home of Charlie Cowap and Rachel Rawson, Shaker Heights. 

While last night's season closing performance at the Cleveland Orchestra was delivered forcefully by a massive orchestra, today's season ending performance for Heights Arts' Close Encounters house concert series was no less impactful in an intimate setting with three extraordinarily talented musicians (two of whom --- Ms. Trautwein and Ms. Ell -- are also Cleveland Orchestra members)

All thiree pieces on the program were musically stunning and a pure delight to listen to, although they didn't evoke strong imagery in my mind, which makes describing it challenging -- for many of the movements I found myself just closing my eyes and enjoying the feeling of the notes -- particularly the cello through its end pin -- resonate up through my legs while simultaneously hitting my chest and ears. On the flip side, Ms. Trautwein's violin -- particularly in the third piece -- was less than a yard from my face and the precise dancing across the fingerboard provided a captivating visual.

The comment was made that Schubert's Arpeggione was composed not for the cello but for a "smaller instrument with more strings" -- however from the adept playing you would not have suspected (from Wikipedia it appears Arpeggione was the actual name of that instrument -- and it appears that instrument is essntially a "bowed guitar" -- and this piece had a very warm and tender air between Ms. Ell and Ms. Wolf

The second piece, featuring Ms. Trautwein and Ms. Wolf seemed a little bit more somber and delicate than the first. The third and final piece, Mendelssohn's Trio united all three musicians for a tour-de-force, and a wonderful end to what turned out to be one of my favorite Heights Arts programs.

Lincoln