Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Blomstedt: Conducts Dvorak and Tchaikovsky

Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B minor (op. 104) (Mark Kosower, cello)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") in B minor Op. 74
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor.

While exchanging greetings with an usher before tonights concert she observed, regarding the weather,  "with a day like today its hard not to be in a good mood". Indeed, however, with a concert like tonight's its impossible not to be in a good mood.

While, honestly, I've had a hard time getting truly excited about the past few concerts, I was utterly euphoric about Dvorak's Cello Concerto and Mr. Kossower's fine handling off the piece -- so much so that I had to physically restrain myself from applauding at the end of the first movement.

The first movement starts with the orchestra laying a bed that sounds not at all unlike an enchanted forest, while As the piece progresses, Mr. Kosower's cello takes on the feeling of an impassioned --very impassioned -- lover calling at his target, the orchestra's window. The second movement communicates more of a contemplation of a painful decision followed by a painfully lonely walk in no-longer enchanted woods. The third and final movement was a bit more of a folksy air of an approaching march followed by a triumphant ending -- and an immediate standing ovation.

Following intermission I found it hard to focus on Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") with the same level of intensity as the cello concerto, and had at best fleeting impressions -- the beginning was far more burnished and less romantic than the Dvorak -- the second movement was like a light spring day; the third was insistent and fairly happy, while the final movement was far more somber. I should also note that I have a tremendous sense of de ja vu -- I could swear that I've heard this piece in the very recent past, however, I do not have it noted.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Amici Quartet - Beethoven's Famous Last Quartets

Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135
[The Amici Quartet: Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for Takako Masame, violin; Miho Hashiume, violin; Lynn Ramsey, viola; Ralph Curry, cello]
At the Barrie Carriage House, Cleveland Heights. 

Cleveland Heights poet laureate Kathleen Cerveny opened this spring afternoon concert with readings of poetry from E.E. Cummings and Ohio poet Mary Oliver before turning the stage over to the "Amaci Quartet Minus One, Plus One" as cellist Ralph Curry introduced the ensemble -- with Cleveland Orchestra associate concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for injured-on-tour quartet member Takako Masame.

The program took a longer form than may normally be expected, starting with Beethoven's seven movement 41-minute String Quartet -- though  despite the longer-than-typical running time and twice as many movements as the typical piece, time seemed to fly, though the piece was generally somber, particularly in the earlier movements and the pained searching opening notes, though as the piece progressed the mood improved to an energetic, almost galloping passage that seemed a bit like trying to catch a wild animal. This was certainly a piece where I found myself just closing my eyes and enjoying the sounds of the impassioned playing of professional musicians.

It was particularly interesting to me as I don't believe I've heard Ms. Ramsey or Mr. Curry play in such an intimate setting before, and I always relish the opportunity to hear fine musicians, and particularly the members of The Cleveland Orchestra, in a more intimate setting.

Following intermission, the shorter but still substantial String Quartet No. 16 concluded the afternoon's performance. In his remarks before the piece, Mr. Curry indicated that despite being a stressful time in Beethoven's life -- including a major illness and serving as guardian for his incorrigible nephew -- this piece had a sunnier disposition generally. On whole, though, the piece struck me as only slightly brighter than the prior quartet, with much of that energy in the second movement (vivace). The third movement (Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo) though had a almost mass-like mourning hymn, and the fourth movement -- featuring a "question" and "answer" in the notations, and with increasing intensity of discourse between the violins and lower strings.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Yuja Wang Plays Rachmaninoff

Prokofiev: Classical Symphony, Op. 25 (Symphony No. 1)
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D-minor, Op. 30 (Yuja Wang, piano)
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scherazade, Op. 35 (Symphonic Suite after The Thousand and One Nights) (William Preucil, solo violin)
Gincario Guerreo, conductor.

Based on how awful I found last week's program and considering the piano features prominently tonight as well, I had seriously considered saving the roughly $150 and skipping this week. I decided otherwise. By the time intermission had rolled around, there was not the slightest doubt as to if my decision.

The opening piece on the program, Prokofiev's Classical Symphony  set the tone for the evening: Swiftly moving without being rushed with a varied texture and interesting development. Mr. Guerrero's facial expressions -- when he rotated enough for them to be visible from Box 3 -- conveyed the excitement and intensity of a television chef brewing fine cuisine. Later in the program, I realized the style was much as I would expect if Julia Child were to conduct an orchestra.

Its difficult to quantify the 45 minutes of musical excitement that was Yuja Wang's performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto -- played as one continuous piece without pause between movements the piece flew by. I was just beginning to ponder the length of what I perceived as the first movement, when I found myself compelled to stand and join the packed house in offering applause.

The final piece on the program brought the exotic notion of the Thousand and One Nights (also known as the Arabian Nights) and once again Mr. Guerreo and the orchestra wove a compelling tapestry of musical imagery. Of particular note the delightful work of the violin (William Preucil), cello (Mark Kosower), and clarinet (Franklin Cohen) principals -- though each section was well represented.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K456 (Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor)
Mozart: Symphony No. 23 on D major K.181 (William Preucil, leader)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K459 (Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor)

If there's one thing the nicer weather has me less than crazy about its the effect spring has on my allergies. And indeed, if my sinuses are any indication, it seems spring hath most certainly sprung. That and my general apathy for Ms. Uchida (its worth nothing that the lack of empty seats in the hall may indicate I may be alone in that apathy) didn't pit me in the best mental frame for tonight's concert.

In the end...or before the end... I didn't even make it to intermission -- finding myself completely unmoved. As Piano Concerto No. 18 droned on I found the rational version of myself promising the impatient version of myself that even if Symphony No. 23 were to be intolerable, with a running time of 10 minutes and no Uchida to speak of I could use Intermission as an escape.

However, Concerto No. 18 continued for what felt like hours (in reality, only about 35 minutes) and felt completely distant and unengaging. Though I've felt apathetic about other pieces, I can't recall having this much flat-out hatred of a Cleveland Orchestra performance. Finding myself unwilling to offer even tepid applause, and with a growing headache [I'm more inclined to blame this on flickering house lights than the music -- and to be fair, house management was looking into that issue and offered reseating--but I had made my decision] I left quickly and quietly before the second piece had started.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society: David Russell

Giuliano: Rossiniana No. 3
Scarlatti: Sonatas K.490, K.491
Granados: Valses Poeticos
J.S. Bach: Partita I, BVW 1002
Albeniz: Capricho Catalan
Albeniz: Granada
Albeniz: Asturias
Two encores, unannounced.
David Russell, guitar
At Plymouth Church UCC, Shaker Heights.

Tonight's concert marks the last in Cleveland Classical Guitar Society's fifth season. Despite less than favorable weather and the possible competition for audience  from a Cleveland Orchestra concert a few miles away -- Grammy-winning guitarist David Russell played a wonderful concert to a nearly sold-out audience. 

Inspired by the arias of Mauro Giuliani's Rossiniana No. 3 opened the concert with crisp sounds and despite some drama the result was soothing and tranquil. Mr. Russell introduced the second piece by noting that the inspiration was a Spanish practice around Easter of processing a statute of the Virgin Mary through the village -- and Domenico Scarlatti's Sonatas had the feeling of a respectful procession with occasional hints of tributes. Closing out the first half of the program, Enrique Granados's Valses Poeticos -- said to be inspired by unknown poetry and consists of 8 waltzes -- while delightful to listen to, I can't say that I really heard waltzes. 

Following intermission, Mr. Russell's transcription of Bach's Partita I, with doubles captivated the audience -- and again was delightfully relaxing to listen to, I didn't find the music to particularly evoke the feeling of dance. 

The final pieces on the program wee composed by Issac Albeniz and brought a brighter feeling and a bit more lively mood than those preceding. Capricho Catalan had a slightly haunting air and made me think about wandering through unknown neighborhoods after dark. Granada, on the other hand, made me think of having drinks with friends in a neighborhood bar -- very even-keeled but with occasional surprises and exclamations, and meandering through the stories of friends. Finally, Asturias was fast and lively with musical exclamation points. 

The concert concluded with two unannounced encores dedicated to his Producers, Sound Engineer, and Editor for his CDs. 

Season tickets for Cleveland Classical Guitar Society's 6th season are available now. 


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Cristoph von Dohnanyi Conducts Schumann

Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor.

Rachel and I made it back from London over the weekend -- I will conclude that series this weekend, time allowing -- and while I was pleasantly  surprised that thee affects of the time change were not particularly felt, my internal clock is *yawwwwwwnnnnnn still a few hours off.
A Cleveland Classical Guitar society concert for Saturday pushed me into Severance Hall this evening for a pleasantly short (by orchestra standards) 90-minute concert of Schumann lead by Cleveland's prodigal conductor, Christoph con Dohnanyi.

As the compile beyond me in my box tonight commented just before intermission, "well, he can certainly make them sound good!" -- and I must say I like the more balanced sound of dividing violins across both sides of the stage versus the more common modern staging (a helpful commenter mentioned tube more usual staging was a product of stereo recordings and broadcasts)
First on the program was Schumann's Symphony No. 4 and while I didn't fond it emotionally evocative, I could certainly feel the music pulsing through my veins and I found a tender violin solo part (played by William Pruecil) a highlight of the piece.

The second and last piece on the program was Schumann's Symphony No. 2 which once again was a delight to listen to (leaving the hall a fellow patron commented that "He (Dohnanyi) and the Orchestra always have such vitality when he comes back to Cleveland") despite not evoking particular imagery -- particular highlights came from the explosive energy at the culmination of the second movement and then after a short breath starting the third movement on a slow, tender mood. 


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lincoln and Rachel in London: Day 5

Rachel and I on an Escalator; Reflection from window at Tate Modern
As our week in London comes to an end I think Rachel and I are starting to loose steam, but we're still enjoying every minute of our time here--save perhaps our feet. It's also worth noting that -- according to Rachel, at least -- I have been randomly breaking out in a variety of accents, including Scottish, Irish, and a few "unidentifiable muddles".

One of the works that attracted my attention: Untitled 1-5 by Dan Flavin
This morning we headed in a new direction and started the day with a visit to Tate Modern. While I'm typically fond of modern and contemporary art (while Rachel prefers the classics -- it's true opposites attract) there were only two or three pieces I found even moderately compelling and none that I was profoundly attracted to -- as I told Rachel on the way out "tis better have visited and not liked, than to have not visited at all"
Nothing to See Here: Through a construction portal at Tate Modern -- and my general feeling after a visit. 

After descending from  the heights of the Tate we walked along the River Thames, passing Shakespeare's Globe, a modern recreation of the historic theater a few hundred meters from the historic site, and continued until stumbling into the "Gourmet Burger Kitchen" on Clink Street.
Tower Bridge (and a small football [soccer] game in the foreground)

The burger was mediocre -- perfectly edible but nothing like the one we sampled from the Volunteer earlier in the week -- but the street was more interesting: As it turns out the street lent it's name to the popular euphemism "in the clink" after a infamous prison on the street until the late 1700s.

Continuing on the cobblestone street of Clink, we arrived at the modern London Bridge (not the one in Arizona), surfacing for a moment to view our ultimate goal: The Tower Bridge. We continued in that direction stopping in the More London complex to take a few pictures, before ultimately arriving at the London's iconic bridge. We walked across the bridge to cross that off our list (I've now walked the length of the Golden Gate, Mackinac, and Tower bridges), passed the Tower of London and made our way out of the neighborhood.
Tower Bridge
(I should note that at one point we along our walks today we found a warning advising of a "Humped Pelican Crossing" -- neither Rachel nor I had the foggiest clue what that was, but no large fishing birds were seen crossing the road. Further research indicates that that may simply be a pedestrian crossing with speed bumps.

Say what?
Leaving that neighborhood, we moved to Covent Garden where Rachel picked up an assortment of tea for herself and coworkers at Tea Palace, crossing the beautiful shopping area and visiting the London Transport Museum, where 15 GBP per person gives you an overview of the history of London Transport. While I didn't get the impression it was as comprehensive as the New York Transit Museum, it was nevertheless worth the visit.

Leaving the transport museum we had time to return to the hotel and freshen up before heading out to our anniversary dinner (our actual third anniversary is tomorrow, however travel considerations made tonight the more sensible choice. Rachel planned dinner and it was a delicious steak and martini at the bar of Le Point de la Tour (unknown at the time, but the same restaurant that Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were dining at when their motorcade was separated due to the opening of Tower Bridge)

We're now back at the DoubleTree for the evening; tomorrow we shall check out from this hotel and after our last full day in London board Heathrow Express to the Hilton Heathrow Terminal 4 in preparation for a morning return to Cleveland.