Thursday, April 22, 2010

In Minnesota Again

So I find myself back in Minnesota this evening, I'm actually at the Rochester, MN Doubletree, getting ready to spend tomorrow with one of my company's clients, ahem, who has no relationship to the condiment that they share a name with. I like the city, and enjoy the client. Like the painting the Golden Gate Bridge, I have doubts that this project will ever be "finished" but it certainly has been one of my more challenging and rewarding pursuits thus far.
For those who don't know me, I long ago sold my hotel soul to the Hilton family of hotels in exchange for Hilton HHonors Diamond VIP status. Here I find myself on the executive level, greeted by the above sign in the elevator lobby. I can't help but to snicker at the prospect of being labeled an Executive... but it occurs to me that other labels have stuck recently that I find so much more laughable. Then it occurs to me that labels are easy, as Ryan Bingam says in Walter Kern's novel Up in the Air (which I was reading while, um, up in the air, this afternoon) "I'm like my mother. I stereotype. It's faster." -- perhaps labels are a form of society-approved express lane stereotyping.
Anyway, my thoughts are meandering. The first thing I did upon landing in Minneapolis (after having a long and frustrating conversation with various Continental representatives about fare construction, break points, and how they managed to screw up my itinerary when I gave explicit instructions) was make a beeline to the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: A participant in the Cleveland Museum of Art's membership reciprocity program, it costs me nothing to get in and I was impressed by collection on my last visit.
Some considerable changes have taken place since my last visit and much more gallery space is open -- with much more art on display. I love their collection, perhaps even more so than MoMA in New York City and certainly a greater quantity of contemporary/modern art than is on display at my home museum.
Walking across the street to the Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens I enjoyed my time -- last time I was here, mid-October, it was a little too chilly to spend much time appreciating the art. I make some quick passes -- a giant spoon with a cherry is the centerpiece of the garden, and I recognized it in a profile photo but thought "how was Minneapolis?" might be a touch creepy from a stranger--and the profile wasn't otherwise that compelling.
I walk up stairs to the end of a pedestrian bridge to get a broader view of the garden. A man sits on a bench reading a newspaper. At first glance he could be homeless -- scruffy beard, ill fitting clothes, rugged skin -- I take a few pictures. He asks where I'm from, We start talking.
He asks if I'd like to smoke some weed. This is the third time in the past few months that queston has been asked. Why do random people keep asking me that question? Do I look like I smoke weed? I immediately declined, but for a brief moment thoughts of "what would it be like" drifted through the less rational part of my brain. While I'm processing the public drug offer, he notices the violin lapel pin on my jacket. "Do you play?" "I try", I respond. "We have the world's greatest orchestra" "You shouldn't tell that to a guy from Cleveland" "Well, I guess, the last time the Europeans picked yours... but ours is just as good" -- at this he reaches into his backpack, and pulls out a can of beer, pops it open, takes a drink.
He then tells me that he's not so excited about this weekend's concerts since they're chior concerts -- but he's sure next weekend's Mahler will be fantastic. While his beard is being blown by the light breeze he discusses how great the Minnesota Orchestra's music director is. Is he conducting this weekend? He rummages through the backpack looking for the concert schedule, but doesn't find one... a suspiciously small little baggie falls out and is quickly replaced. I don't ask questions. He mentions that he's recently seen the Cleveland Orchestra play on PBS and was impressed by how well the violins held together, while the Minnesota Orchestra's cellos and basses really hold themselves together. He's also excited about an upcomming Santanna concert with a noted jazz pianist.
I excuse myself to go see the rest of the gardens while it's still daylight, and as I walk away the sheer oddity of the conversation I just had is being processed by my brain: Someone who doesn't look like the "typical" orchestra goer (at least not the typical Cleveland/New York orchestra goer) is passionate about his local orchestra, has a very well honed sense of where the "best" seats in Orchestra Hall are, and a suprising grasp of classical repitore for a non-music major under the age of 50 (rough guess). He's huge fan of the music director, and if he's not conducting this weekend's concerts I "have to" come back to hear him.
One wonders how institutions in Cleveland can get this level of engagement from patrons outside the core audience that has sustained them over the past several decades...

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