Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cleveland Chamber Music Society: Linden Quartet (Benefit House Concert)

Bartok: Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85 (1927)
Beethoven: Quartet in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2
Sarah McElravy, Catherine Cosbey, violin; Eric Wong, viola; Felix Umansky, cello.
At the Luke Residence, Cleveland.

After the concert, I was asked by an anonymous patron, "You must be related to one of the musicians." "No, I've just head the Quartet play before," was my response. "I can see why you would want to hear them again. That was phenomenal," declared the patron as she walked away. I have to agree.

Particularly with the announcement that the Linden Quartet is moving to New Haven as Yale's Graduate Quartet-in-Residence--literally, as it turns out, hitting the road tomorrow--and the programs that this concert was to benefit--I didn't want to miss the opportunity to hear them again.

While I enjoyed the concert, I'm not sure how I felt about Bartok's quartet--the instruments were used in unconventional ways to generate unconventional sounds (plucked strings, playing near the bridge, tapping the strings with the back side of the bow) it was hard for me to really dig into the piece.

When I'm truly enjoying listening to a piece of music I have a tendency to involuntarily close my eyes and just let the notes play on my ear; with this concert--particularly the Beethoven piece--the reflex was so strong that I had to force my eyes open lest anyone think that I had fallen asleep. Ms. McElvray's introduction deserves particular note based on her clear familiarity with the with the background to the music.

The concert raised funds to benefit the Cleveland Chamber Music Society's Outreach programs--putting live classical music in primary schools--a general cause (including CityMusic Cleveland's programs, and the Cleveland Orchestra's Community Music Initiative) that I've become increasingly passionate about, and that I wish I had exposure to while growing up.

Safe travels to the Linden Quartet as they embark on their next journey...

(p.s. anyone who wants to make use of my roughly 20x30 living room in Cleveland Heights for a house concert... send me an email.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Bruckner's 8th Symphony

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (1887 version edited by Leopold Nowak)
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

And so it ends...or doth it really end when 'tis merely to begin again?

I'm not sure where that line came from--I'm sure I owe someone an attribution, nonetheless, it popped into my head during tonight's concert and stuck with me for the evening. It's hard to believe that this marks the end of the official Severance Hall season, with only the Composers Connect* event remaining before Blossom.

If one was to judge a score by its cover--rather one of its titles--this piece, sometimes known as Bruckner's Apolcalyptic, would seem like an odd choice to end this season. Beyond the title however, the Cleveland Orchestra treated the listeners to a fitting capstone to a generally wonderful season. Sergiu Celibidache is quoted in the program "...we experience a feeling of perfection -- the feeling of having gone through everything"

I do not know if I experienced, if it is even possible to experience, perfection in the purest sense of the word--if not the the Orchestra took me as close as musically possible. An emotional roller coaster, the piece struck me as bold and sensual, cheerful and dramatic, quiet and loud, fast and slow: Nearly every applicable adjective from one end of a spectrum could be countered with one from the other.

I had a strong preference for the first and second movements with the first movement's subtle building from a barely-audible rumble in the strings to a climatic explosion, leaving only a flute and timpani until the rest of the orchestra recovered. In the second movement scherzo, the program describes the movement as sinister, but I couldn't help but feel it was sinister yet playful, not irredeemably sinister.

I'll interject here that throughout the piece I found no need to remind myself of why there is no substitute for live classical music...the dynamic range was phenomenal, the texture palpable, the type of music where you can just close your eyes and enjoy the notes dancing on your ears.

While I don't typically care for adagios, the third movement ("Solemnly slow but not dragging") truly did not feel anywhere near its half-hour running time; the finale ("Solemn, not fast") likewise had enough variation to hold my interest. It seemed as if tension was building throughout the finale but never released, giving the end of the piece almost the feeling of a cliff-hanger "to be continued" from a television series finale. For some reason I doubt that that is the case here, nonetheless, I'm looking forward to next season.

(As near as I can tell, I didn't miss a concert weekend this season. I plan to put together a recap within the next two weeks)
*- If anyone can assist in procuring a box seat--or even merely an assigned seat, I'd be in your debt. Will gladly trade GA ticket ;)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Paciencia y Fe / Owner of a Lonely Heart

The title of this post (Translation: Patience and Faith) is the title of a song -- and a recurring theme -- in the musical In the Heights. While I am In the Heights, but not in the Heights that the musical is based in, I find two aspects of my life where I am reminding myself of the importance of both Patience and Faith.

I'm having one of those biweeks that simultaneously uplifting and depressing: On the uplifting front, in the past two weeks I've bumped into more people I "know" in places I wouldn't expect in the nearly five years since moving to Cleveland, it kind of makes me feel like I have a place, on the not so uplifting...

Violin Wise... I really thought I was doing reasonably well, but I had an awakening about exactly how bad my intonation is. I feel like I've taken a big step backwards, but I'm working on it: Over the past week if I play at somewhere around 1 BPM I can usually hit fairly close to the note I want. Of course, it's a matter of practice, practice, practice, and training my ear to hear the oh-so-subtle differences between perfectly "on" and a more-than-a-little "off".

I also feel like my rhythm is slipping out of control but that seems like it's easier to fix at tempo...just when I fix that any semblance of proper intonation goes out the window. Paciencia y Fe. It's of no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I am not the most patient person out there, apparently, particularly when it comes to dotted notes where I don't pause long enough. My violin teacher circled all of them in a piece that I'm working in to remind me to slow down... I couldn't help but to think that they all looked like happy faces. How can you say no to two Gs on the linked on the same bow? Paciencia y Fe.

all I can say is Pacinceia aargh Y aargh Fe. (I'm temporarially supressing the rest of this category under the heading of "questionable judgement"...but it may return.


Monday, May 24, 2010

UPDATED: Contemporary Youth Orchestra: State of Independence (with Jon Anderson of YES)

(The program for this evening's concert may be found at the bottom of this post)

This concert was an impulse buy. The name "Contemporary Youth Orchestra" didn't ring any bells when I saw it pop up on the Severance Hall schedule, but not having any other plans for this warm Monday evening I figured there was nothing to loose.

My relative lack of enthusiasm* for the two "headliner" concerts in The Cleveland Orchestra's Celebrity Series combined with my "Who's that?" reaction both "Jon Anderson" and "YES" left me questioning my sanity after purchasing the ticket. Wow. Quite simply this was the type of concert that it was impossible not to enjoy; not to have fun; or not to get in the groove. While the music was played with all due precision, everyone on stage was relaxed and they were clearly enjoying themselves.

One of my chief complaints regarding the aforementioned Celebrity series concerts was that the sound of the Orchestra was drowned out--and in some cases completely obliterated by--the so-so headliners. If anything the balance tonight's concert drifted the other way early on, but found the perfect center within the first few songs. The orchestra, chorus, and Mr. Anderson were at near perfect balance with each other and I found myself nearly completely absorbed in the beautiful essence that was the music.

To say that I preferred the second half of the program to the first would be true, but it wouldn't do justice to the first half. The only music I recognized from the program was "Owner of a Lonely Heart"--yet only recognized as the basis for "Owner of a Loaner Car" from an episode of The Simpsons**. Though, that said, there weren't any songs from the first half that I particularly loved.

The second half, though, included Your Move/I've Seen All Good People which was quite enjoyable, and then the words-cannot-accurately-describe-how-much-I-enjoyed State of Independence. Wow... Impressive melody with soaring strings, forceful bursts from the choir, though I hesitate to call it my favorite performance of non-classical music, I do not know why. I was thrilled that that this piece was reprised for the second encore.

I do have to note that Mr. Anderson seemed a little caught up in the moment during the quartet of pieces seeing their world premiere at this concert. The TV crew was also relatively intrusive with a jib camera occupying a fair amount of my visual field (and, in my ADHD state playing "follow the bouncing camera" and "who has the tally light"). I have no idea when it can be expected to air on HDNet.

UPDATE November 23, 2010: The Concert will be airing on HDNet Sunday November 28th at 8pm ET. HDNet is available to AT&T, Charter, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, Insight, and Verizon subscribers.

This post would not be complete if I failed to mention the delicious irony of having a Sign Language Interpreter at an orchestra concert, but even he was a pleasure to watch and was clearly having fun.

So, here's the program:
Anderson (arr. Podell): Open
Anderson and Howe (arr. Mowrey): Starship Trooper (1971) (reprised as Encore #1)
Anderson (arr. Mowrey): Long Distance Runaround (1971)
Anderson and de Rosa (arr. Leary): Music Is God (unrelased, 2009)
Anderson (arr. Leary): Show Me
Anderson (arr. Leary): Big Buddha (unreleased, 2004)
Anderson, Squire, and Rabin (arr. Mowrey): Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983)
Anderson (arr. Leary, Orch. Poddell): Children Yet to Come/Earth Singing/Breathing/Love is All (World premiere, 2010)
Anderson and Howe (arr. Groupe): And You and I (1972)
Anderson and Haynes (arr. Leary): Earth and Peace (unreleased, 2009)
Anderson and Squire (arr. Leary/Mowrey): Your Move/I've Seen All The Good People (1971)
Anderson and Vangelis (arr. Leary): Change We Must (1994)
Anderson and Vangelis (arr. Leary): State of Independence (1981) (reprised as Encore #2)
Anderson and Howe (arr. Mowrey): Roundabout (1972)
Anderson (arr. Leary): Soon (1974)

With Jon Anderson, vocals/guitar
Liza Grossman, Music Director/Conductor.

* - If you can believe it, I actually got hate mail after Chris Botti. Not even well constructed hate mail, just anonymous "you're an idiot, the concert was perfect, cuz I said so" hate mail. That was particularly surprising, given that I didn't think my commentary was unduly negative. My favorite piece of hate mail referred to my "old school musical sensibilities"; clearly that person had never been within ten feet of my iPod.

** - Yes, I do watch TV, I just don't blog about it. I'd be lost without my TiVo and its suggestions.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven Eroica

Beethoven: Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62
Berg: Symphonic Suite from Lulu
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) in E-flat major, Op. 55

Going in I desperately wanted to love this evening's Beethoven sandwich of a concert, yet I can only muster like and even that has reservations attached. In general, the Orchestra seemed overly restrained--even stiff--at times, I can't help but wonder the travel to and from Friday night's sell-out concert in New York may have put a damper on the energy. The best, though not entirely accurate, comparison I can draw is that of a musical pit bull tied to a too-short leash.

The overture from Beethoven's Coriolan kicked the concert off to a reasonable start and was certainly enjoyable to listen to, but I never got the sense of "furrowed brow and raging ferocity" that, according to the program notes, are "given musical substance" in this piece.

The suite from Berg's Lulu was interminable and seemed just odd; perhaps as a staged opera--or more than mere excerpts--it would have been more cohesive, but as excerpts it just seemed to meander pointlessly for an unnecessarily long time. While waiting for it to end, I found myself considering is as a good piece for hold music. In short, I have a very strong contender as my least favorite piece of the 2009-10 Cleveland Orchestra season.

And that leaves us with Beethoven's Eroica. When I heard the piece performed at CIM earlier this year, I described it as an "Unexpected, pleasant, suprise". I was looking forward to hearing it again: Though overly restrained and given, to my senses, a leasurely pace it was still quite plesant to listen to.


By the way, mark your calendars: Blossom Festival single tickets go on sale June 1st. It looks like a good lineup, and I already know the first two tickets I'm buying...

Opera Cleveland: Lucia di Lammermoor

The short version: There's very little not to like about Opera Cleveland's production of Lucia di Lammermoor (And if you've never heard Opera before this is a good way to wet your toes -- last chance is Sunday afternoon at 2, use "OPERAGO" for a nice little discount, too).

The longer version: Opera has its share of stereotypes: Interminably long productions, a patron base with one foot in the grave, the fat lady with horns singing on a barren stage--heck, even the phrase "it ain't* over 'til the fat lady sings". Opera Cleveland's production of Lucia doesn't fit any of these.

The generally young cast belts it out with a level of theatricality that makes it more and more difficult to differentiate between opera and musical theater; there's not a 'fat lady' in the cast, the set had a stunning visual interest, and it was probably the youngest** audience I've ever seen at an opera.

A preshow "cocktails and conversation" with Artistic Director Dean Williamson drew an interesting attendance -- including at least one pair of first time operagoers. Based on his discussion of the evolution of opera away from "park and bark" I took the opportunity to ask where he would draw the line between musical theater and opera, Mr. Williamson answered that he didn't think that you could draw that line any more, and I'm inclined to agree.

The set, re-purposed from another company's production of a different show, carried visual interest on its own but were extended through both front and rear video projection. Shakespeare's Fallstaff said that "The better part of valor is discretion" and Opera Cleveland's discretion as far as utilizing technology requires credit. The creative team remained innovative while steering well clear of overuse and the other usual pitfalls of projection; the rear projection, carefully used, and certainly not overused, particularly was of stunning quality and there were a few moments where I didn't think that I was watching projected scenery.

The story, pulled into a 1930s mob context by stage director Tomer Zvulun, was moved effectively by the cast. Nili Riemer as Lucia was a particular standout including singing on her back and a beautiful duet with flute, but the remainder of the cast didn't trail far behind. The Opera Cleveland Orchestra, likewise, didn't leave anything to be desired. Perhaps, most telling is that the three act two intermission two hour and forty minute performance seemed to fly by, and I not once had the urge to check the time. Truly, the only complaint I had was so minor as to qualify as a nitpick: The spotlight operators seemed really rough.

Over the past week I've heard countless times from countless members of the company that they though this may be the best production Opera Cleveland has put on. I'm inclined to agree.

*-This, prayerfully, will be the only time you see the psuedoword "ain't" typed by these fingers.
** - By highly unscientific visual poll, consisting mostly of the questions "Do most of them have hair?" and "Is that hair a color other than gray?".

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Opera Cleveland: Opera Sampler - Lucia Di Lammermoor

I'm a sucker for anything that gives a glimpse into the creative process--or offers free food, so when Opera Cleveland's "Opera Sampler" invitation arrived in my inbox it didn't take more than a few seconds to sign up.

The agenda for the evening, hosted by Opera Cleveland Marketing Director Paul Jarrett was simple yet effective: Talk, listen, tour, eat. And if you read no further, I have to say that the rehearsal I heard of Lucia's Act I this evening was one of the more compelling pieces of opera I've heard. You have one weekend -- Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday next week to catch the performance: With a early dress rehearsal that was this well played and sung I'm eagerly looking forward to hearing the full opera next Saturday... When evaluating that sentiment, consider that I've had very mixed feelings about opera.

The evening began with an introduction by Artistic Director and conductor Dean Williamson: Each time I've had the pleasure of hearing him speak on an opera, the piece gains an amazing clarity and it is clear that he understands the material. I found the set conception -- recycled pieces from another opera company's set, combined with both front an rear video production intriguing, as well as the "slightly modernizing" aspect of pushing the setting into the 1930s mobster era to add realatability. Generally interesting were Mr. Williamson's comments on the acoustics of Playhouse Square's State Theatre; and his casual yet confident demeanor really helps to take the "stuffy" edge off Opera.

That segued into an early dress rehearsal of Act I which was beautifully sung, and beautifully played. I took the invitation to move around to heart using the opportunity to both see and hear the opera from literally every corner of the theater: Aside from the loge I lucked into for Solome, I've never really found a seat that I loved for opera--the floor-level side boxes are lousy, and the front few rows of the orchestra (my normal preference for anything but opera) leave a bit to be desired if you're trying to watch the action and read the surtitles at the same time. Based on my informal survey, I think those may be only really bad seats. Sure, the loges are supreme, but the first few rows of the balcony (where my subscription seats are this year) are good offering a full view of the stage, good view of the surtitles, and an amazingly clear and well balanced auditory experience. Even at the back row of the upper balcony or orchestra, it sounds great and the surtitles are legible, though you may wish to take opera glasses if facial expressions are important.

Things wrapped up with a quick backstage tour including a brief appearance by Opera Cleveland's technical director -- who I could have smothered with questions if time allowed -- before winding up across the street at Bricco with free pizza and no-so-free drinks (Ok, seriously, the martini that goes by the name "Apple" is probably the among the best drinks I've had in years) with very casual socializing -- including bumping into two people I recognized from other cultural events). I even met Carl the Opera Chicken, a photo may be (crosses fingers) surfacing soon can be found below.

Did you know that a chicken has been hidden in every Opera Cleveland production?

It was a great event and I hope it will be offered again; certainly a good way to dip your feet into the opera experience.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Dreams and Prayers

Strauss: Overture to Die Fledermaus (The Bat)
Golijov: The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (for klezmer clarinet and string orchestra), Franklin Cohen, clarinet.
Berlioz: Symphone Fantastique (Episode in the Life of an Artist), Op. 14
Tito Munoz, conductor.

I'll bite and take the cheesy cliche: The Symphony Fantastique tonight wasn't merely the final piece on the program, but an apt description for the Orchestra playing the program.

Under Mr. Munoz's artful direction The Cleveland Orchestra tonight formed a fantastic sandwich of music. Golijov's Dreams and Prayers was without a doubt, the meat of the concert, but the bread was no less delectable with Strauss's sparkling overture kicked the evening off to a lively start.

I've been a fan of Mr. Cohen's playing since I first heard him in a chamber concert last year; I've also heard quite a bit about Golijov, quite possibly this decade's most talked about composer and I was eager to hear the combination. My expectations were quite well exceeded with Mr. Cohen nimbly cycling though four clarinets--including a bass clarinet which I don't believe I've seen or heard previously. The balance between soloist and orchestra was among the best I can recall and the piece had a lively, almost spiritual quality.

Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique ran a bit longer than my attention span, but each movement had it's notable passages; I think the second, fourth, and fifth movements were among my favorites. Subtitled Episode in the Life of an Artist, while my attention was wondering I found myself intrigued by Berlioz's inspiration for the piece. According to the program notes, Berlioz had fallen madly in love with a woman that the composer had never met: He sent love letters that the target of his affection never responded to, "fearful of encouraging a madman". Quoting further from the program notes "Berlioz, distraught and unable to work or sleep or eat, wandered the countryside around Paris until he dropped from exhaustion and had to be retrieved by friends".

Are all artists crazy?


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Like a Sack of Bricks

So... Anyone who knows me knows my allegiance to both Hilton Hotels and Continental Airlines. Continental, in particular, I feel a corporate connection to, and almost ownership of, that is inexplicable.

"People make a company" is true in any industry, but with how commoditized air travel has become, it's particularly true in this field: Lots of people are flying rock-hard seats in metal tubes through the air at a few hundred miles per hour, but the level of service along the way is wildly different -- ranging from Delta, who despite having some 200,000 miles banked you couldn't pay me enough to fly them again*, to the middle of the road Southwest and American, to Continental where I really feel like my business is valued and I'm treated as an individual, not just a random confirmation number.

I make a point to thank everyone that helps me on my journeys--from check-in to the gate, to the flight attendants, and if possible the pilots, all of them go a long way toward making spending a couple hours on rock hard seats in a metal tube not merely tolerable but usually rather pleasant.

For the past few years, around the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) I've made a point of handing every Continental employee I crossed paths with a printed "Thank You" card, expressing my gratitude for their help in getting me from Point A to Point B during the preceding year. I felt a little goofy doing it, and wondered how many people actually read the cards or if the gesture was appreciated, but on the same note given how trite the verbalized "Thank You" has become in modern usage I thought something more substantial was warranted to express my true gratitude.

Today, I received an email from the spouse of a Continental employee who has recently passed away: Apparently my card has been in his backpack and lifted his spirits on overwhelming days; she found it while going through his things.

That would have been touching on its own, but, what particularly hit home is I remember her husband quite well: I needed to be in Grand Rapids immediately following a need to be in Richmond, so my trip was booked Cleveland-Richmond; Richmond-Grand Rapids (with a 45 minute stop in Cleveland); Grand Rapids-Cleveland. That day there was some weather and the flight from Richmond to Cleveland was going to be delayed long enough for my connection to be in jeopardy.

I had to be in Grand Rapids the next day. Greg went above and beyond to get me reaccommodated on to a Northwest flight that was leaving in 20 minutes to Detroit and then on to Grand Rapids--saving a delicate relationship with one of my clients, and keeping my sanity in check. Now he didn't have to do that since it was a different airline and at that point the "official" delay left about 2 minutes to spare, but he understood my concern, saw that that was the best way to handle it and expertly executed the change--even including making sure my luggage made it to the new flights. I thanked him profusely, and handed him one of my Thank You cards while turning and running for my new flight.

In the time since then, I've flown through Richmond a few more times--one of my favorite clients has their Capitol there--each time keeping an eye out for Greg wanting to thank him again in person. I never saw him again (such is the life of travel: Every human relationship is by definition transitory). I've used the example of his assistance as one of the reasons why I won't fly anyone other than Continental.

Today I found out he appreciated the note. And that he passed away last month.
It kind of hit me like a sack of bricks.

It almost seems fitting for this to be my last post of being 25, standing on the threshold of 26 and the year ahead.

Say Thank You--mean Thank You.


*- They lost my luggage. Then a supervisor literally screamed at me and accused me of lying including the phrase "my airline doesn't loose luggage". Recently they managed to loose an entire dog... and then only offered a a $200 voucher for future Delta travel.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Classical Revolution Cleveland @ Prosperity Social Club

Guerrilla -- or Organic -- Classical at its best.

To paint the setting in one word: Bar. To use slightly more words: A narrow, old-school bar in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood. The door is flanked with "Thank You" and "Call Again" neon signs; the paneled walls--looking slightly older than the 1940-70s vintage to which I typically attribute that architectural detail--hold advertisements for karaoke, happy hour, and other such events. A lone and strangely out of place disco ball spins in the front corner. The bar itself is well-worn, with the finish giving way to bare wood at places... behind the bar is the standard assortment of alcoholic beverages. Tables are scattered throughout, and a couple pool tables fill a back corner.

Yet in the front corner is something atypical for a bar: A collection of music stands and musical instrument cases.

In fact, this is the first time I've heard classical in a bar... It seems like an odd combination in theory, and it's certainly an odd combination in practice... the din of conversations in a bar, the occasional "thwack" of a pool cue against the cue ball, clanking of glasses and plates. This certainly was not intended to be an environment for critical listening; but that wasn't the point. Nor was this precision playing: This was a let your hair down "jam session" (another first as it relates to classical, for me at least) of pretty darn good musicians... who happened to be playing "Connect 4" and enjoying adult beverages when they weren't making music.

This, on its own was impressive: For the most part, it seems, musical selections were made on the fly, the musicians playing them also arranged themselves on the fly, and there wasn't necessarily the opportunity for advance rehearsal or even coordination [there were several pauses to determine tempo, and I heard "this movement doesn't make any sense" midway through one piece.] Anyone can sound good with enough practice... but to pick up a piece of sheet music and play music that sounds reasonably good on the fly and with a "new" group is an impressive skill.

It was a touch surreal to order a vodka & Coke with a cheeseburger with Schubert being played less than 6 feet away from me, but it worked.

I heard about the event on Facebook via CIM's Twitter feed, and it was aparently sponsored by Cleveland Classical... I hope I don't miss the next one!

As for Tremont, this is the first event I've sucessfully done in Tremont; I've attempted a few events but given up in fustration before finding a place to ditch my car. Parking this evening wasn't too bad, and this non-parallel parking ex-Californian is becoming not-horrible at pulling off the feat.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Never Judge a Book By Its Movie

Quite a while ago I posted on the immesurable connection I felt between myself and Ryan Bingham, the fictional character at the center of both the novel and flim Up In The Air.

I enjoyed the film enough that it joined my DVD collection -- that is, the four other discs sitting next to my DVD player in the equipment rack downstairs; I also figured that the novel--ordered from my friendly neighborhood bookstore, Mac's Backs on Coventry--would be worth the read. When I say "novel" I do mean the dead tree, ink on paper version, which--despite my predisposure to technology--I find so much more tangibly satisfying than an eBook.

Years ago I heard the line "You should never judge a book by its movie", and that's certainly the case here: Beyond the first few chapters the two follow radically different storylines, with the chief antagonist in the film entirely missing in the novel.

The novel doesn't benefit from quite the variety of oneliners that make their way into the film but I think paints a much more accurate picture of the road warrior, take for example this quote from Page 91 of the trade paperback:

I pour a glass of water to drink in bed but but it tastes of chlorine, so I collect some change and step out into the hall to find a soda. Paper menus with early-morning breakfast order, and I read a few of them. Coffee, juice and muffins -- they're all the same. If the doors were to become transparent suddenly, the people behind them would all be the same, too: asleep with the
news on, their bags beside their beds, their next day's outfits hanging on the desk chairs."

I have done this. Usually, though I skip the questionably-clean glass of questionable-quality water and head straight for the soda machine (the reason, at any given moment there will undoubtedly be somewhere between $5.00 and 5 pounds of change in my laptop bag): Sprite if I'm in a Coke house; Mountain Dew if I'm in a Pepsi house. I leave a set of clothes at the ready for the next day -- or the midnight fire alarm [Usually immediately followed by the question of how anyone could possibly burn microwave popcorn in a hotel room microwave]. The hotel room television serves as white noise from the moment I take up residence to the moment I leave. Though I'm not one for breakfast, there is a voyeuristic thrill that comes from surveiling the breakfast orders, yet they are undoubtedly nearly identical from door to door.

The quote continues:
"The Coke machine isn't where it ought to be, in a nook by the
stairwell. I'm disappointed in Homestead--they've let things slide. The soul of their business is predictability, and if I were consulting for them I'd yank the name off of any unit caught screwing with the blueprint.
I walk down a floor and resume my search. [...]"

While I simultaneously admire and despise the homogeneity of the hotels that I have slaved myself to -- Hiltons, Embassies, DoubleTrees, Garden Inns, Homewood Suites, and Hamptons, oh my -- particularly with regard to the Homewood Suites and Hampton Inns there is a simple pleasure that comes from not having to search for a soda machine. When in one of those properties, however, and the soda machine is not in the carefully crafted nook (by the elevators for Hamptons, by the stairwell for Homewoods) it is an immensely frustrating experience and if sufficiently undercafinated or late at night can be enough to cause you to question the existence of your chosen deity. (If not on this floor, do they exist in this building? Should I go up or down? Is it hiding somewhere else? What if there's only one and it's out of order?!? Panic begins to set in.)

One the flip side, Hiltons and Doubletrees have far less of a standard floor plate so you wander from one end to the other looking for that fluorescent-lit beacon in the night and the telltale hum of the refrigerator motor. Sometimes you find one, sometimes you cover several floors before determining that the hotel is too upscale to pander to such groundling tastes*, instead expecting you to raid the minibar (if available), order room service, or traipse to the hotel gift shop--both of which have frequently closed mere moments before the hydration craving sets in. You admit defeat.

The end of the book left me a little unfulfilled, but perhaps due to my close personal connection to it it is one of my more enjoyable reads of late. Walter Kern does an amazing job of capturing the essence of modern travel.

"To know me is to fly with me"

* - For examples, Waldorf-Astoria, NYC: I found the 24 hour CVS two tenths of a mile down Lexington Avenue, and stocked up before retiring each night; DoubleTree Hotel Philadelphia: I lucked out and discovered the absence of vending machines while the gift shop was open and put something on ice; Hilton Times Square - Another nearby drug store saved the day; Hilton San Francisco Financial District: Had vending machines, but the Chinatown convenience store 1/4 of a mile past the hotel's front door had a much better selection. Colder too.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

REBLOG: VIDEO: The Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus - GO CAVS!

(Video Originally Found at The Cleveland Orchestra Blog)

It's no secret that I'm not a sports fan, much less fanatic as most of the Cleveland population seems to be (I've been at professional theater productions where the scores were announced as part of the director's curtain speech and again at intermission; I've been to at least one popular music concert who's beginning was delayed waiting for the completion of an Indians game)

Nonetheless, each year as the Cavs enter the playoffs my hopes on behalf of the citizens of this region are briefly lifted and my breath briefly held...

Anyway: The video above features the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus playing the first movement of Orff's Carmina Burana, adopted as the Cav's entry music, with a few soundbites from Orchestra members plucked in: For my readers beyond Cleveland's borders, a taste of what you're missing, and I promise you, while it sounds great it sounds so much better in the hall.

So for the first and perhaps only time: Go Cavs! The city's lackluster self esteem would be immensely helped by a win.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Carmina Burana

Boito: Prologue in the Heavens from Mefisotofele
Orff: Carmina Burana
Robert Porco, conductor

Astute -- possibly even merely literate -- readers will recognize that Thursday is not my typical Cleveland Orchestra evening. Tomorrow my father will be arriving for a weekend visit in anticipation of my 26th birthday (a week from Friday), and despite several attempts I haven't been able to convince him to plan on giving the Orchestra a whirl--while it's entirely possible that Friday or Saturday evening a visit to Severance will occur nonetheless (and my Visa bill notwithstanding), I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the weekend. The same readers will also note that I heard Carmina Burana last weekend in Akron.

Overall, I thought that Cleveland Orchestra's paring of Boito's Prologue with Orff's Carmina made more sense...but I think I preferred Bernstein's Fancy Free Ballet. The Prologue started rather dull, to my ear, and lifeless -- but came to life over the path of the 20-minute piece ending with an impressive display of power, yet still a bit acoustically dull.

For Carmina Burana, the sixth movement dance (Tanz) remained my favorite, but I think overall the Cleveland Orchestra version of the piece was more vibrant and the soloists punched through the music more clearly. Though the piece moved with reasonable dispatch the slower movements seemed to linger more than I would have liked, but I think it has been firmly established that anything slow is generally slower than I would like.

For both pieces it is doubtful that any more musicians or singers could have been fit on the Severance Hall stage without spilling over the apron; as it was the Children's Chorus -- delicately wedged in behind the violins stage right -- seemed to pour out onto the stage, and each time I thought that there couldn't possibly be another young singer one would pop out from back stage.

The size of the choruses and orchestra, didn't do anything but accentuate fantastic dynamic range varying from barely above a whisper (in Prologue) to every part of the body resonating in response to the musical force (in Carmina, particularly, "O fortuna!")

The only thing a bit disappointing is that the program did not include the text and translation for either work: The surtitles were effective (and flown at a reasonable height), and deciding between the two I would probably opt for surtitles, but it would have been nice to have both available.

Thanks to the Cleveland Orchestra Blog, I learned that part of the reason the piece sounds so familiar is apparently due to the fact that it figured fairly heavily in the Cavs' marketing strategy.

And now I return to my borderline compulsive mopping, vacuuming, and glass-cleaning in anticipation of an inbound flight. In the meantime, should you have an opportunity to hear any of the remaining performances of this weekend's program... I would encourage it.


Back from Columbus and Why Long Drives are Dangerous

I just returned from a week in western Columbus (preceded by a day in Detroit) I was surprised by the near complete dearth, at least in the places I looked, of cultural activities and resources given the richness I've come to expect in Cleveland and the larger population numbers down south.

But the truly dangerous thing about finding myself in Columbus is the drive back: My grandfather has always been one for the road trip, in years not too long past driving cross-country several times per year. I'm more likely to choose air if given the choice, and 4 hours driving in any 12 (with iPod full blast, half that without) is about the limits of my sanity .

One advantage--or disadvantage, depending on your feelings regarding concentration while driving--however, is starting about an hour in my mind drifts to concepts even more unusual than my regular thought patterns. During the three and a half hours between Columbus and Cleveland there were too major thoughts: "Did I blow things by revealing my name too quickly" and "The relative importance of American cities through the eyes of the telephone company".

The first would make sense to one person and one person only, so it will not be discussed here. The latter is an interesting prospect: First, does anyone remember a what is rotary (pulse) telephone? The object from which the verb "dial" as in dial a telephone number comes from?

Back in the early days of telephony as we know it, before the advent of touch tone dialing telephone equipment was mechanical: Each pulse from a rotary telephone advanced a mechanical stepper, and as anyone who has used a rotary phone knows, 9 and 0 take far longer to dial than 1 and 2, with each digit having a corresponding number of pulses except 0 which has 10 pulses.

Until relatively recently, the second digit of area codes could only be "1" or "0", and for reasons I've never completely understood, the first and last digits could not be "1".

Based on this rule, the lowest valid area code, with 5 pulses would be 212 (2+1+2); the highest valid area code would be 909* with 28 pulses (9+10+9). At the standard maximum of 20 pulses per second and ignoring the break between digits, that would be 0.25 seconds to dial 212 and nearly 1.5 seconds to dial 909.

Based on the relative scarcity of mechanical equipment to process customer's dialing, it was therefore advantageous to plan things so that one device could handle the most greatest number of calls possible, and to do that ensure that the device spends the shortest amount of time practical on any one call. Of course, some regions will get more calls than others...and with that we arrive at the genius behind the original layout of area codes.

When area codes were originally assigned, and reassigned throughout the rotary era, they were not assigned geographically, but by the relative importance to and the number of telephone calls expected by the AT&T, The Telephone Company (and a family tree that is quite amusing, reminding me slightly of a mercury blob)

Now that we're well into the 21st century, and I may be a member of the last generation to experience rotary dialing it's interesting to think about the historical importance of cities based on their original area codes:

New York (212) and Los Angeles (213) at the more important end make sense; Cleveland (216) seems a bit surprising in a modern context, but makes sense historically; upper Michigan at 906 shows a bit of contempt, but without any industries to drive heavy call volume makes sense. But that's where my historical recollection ended, and about the time I pulled into a rest stop on Interstate 71 I found myself wondering who the other "low pulse" cities were--312 for Chicago, 313 for Detroit, 214 for Dallas, etc., etc.

Of course, it's completely useless information but I thought it was interesting at the time.

Now you have a glimpse of what my mind does when I'm bored :)

*- A significant portion of my childhood and adolescence was actually spent in "The Nine Oh Nine", hoever, this area code came out of 714 in the very early 90s, well after the pulse fad had faded.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I am increasingly convinced...

...that a significant portion of my sanity may be found in a hotel's Lost and Found. The question is, of course, which hotel?

After Saturday night's concert in Akron I drove a little over three hours to Detroit, checking in at just past 1 AM with the help of a slightly confused desk clerk.

My plan had been to sleep in late before catching both the matinee and evening performances of Spring Awakening at the Fisher Theater: In hindsight it would have undoubtedly been wiser to get to my own bed at a reasonable time and then wake up earlier to drive to Detroit this morning. C'est la vie. I made the plan to stay overnight before the end of April and beginning of May turned into "Lincoln-Covers-the-Midwest-then-gets-pre-birthday-visit-from-Dad" and never bothered reevaluating them until it would have been too late to properly* cancel the reservation.

Sleeping in was the first part of that plan that was foiled: I woke up to the sound of rain on the hotel room's bay window [my first encounter with a bay window in a hotel room, I believe], but not the pleasant tap-tap-tap: More along the lines of rapid automatic weapon fire.

Somewhat sleep deprived I make my way to the theatre for the matinee--but first deposit several checks at a nearby Bank of Ameria ATM**--; a group of people was split across several locations on stage, and since I was seated next to one of those people I offered to swap seats so that they could be more closely grouped; by sheer coincidence I wound up in SA13, the same seat I was in when I first discovered the magic of on-stage seating for Spring Awakening in Philadelphia. This performance didn't feel like it had quite the energy, and I was surprised by how empty (and, by average age, old) the house was: I noticed a distracting slapback off of the rear wall that I've never heard in any other venues, but those relatively minor comments didn't keep it from being a worthwhile performance. I'm ashamed to admit that I did almost drift off to sleep on at least two occasions before I caught myself.

After the performance I made my way to Cuisine -- yes, the name of the restaurant is Cuisine -- and had a Cesar Salad (good, plenty of dressing); the Roasted Duck (I think this is the first time I've tried Duck--and I'm not sure I need to do it again) finished with ice cream. Despite the languid pace of service, which I suspect was intentional since I had told the staff I was killing "a couple hours" and was otherwise quite attentive, once I was settled up ($56.00 including tip and without alcohol making it one of my more expensive meals for one) I still had about 70 minutes to kill before the house opened for the evening performance.

In an attempt to nurse a growing headache, I bought some Advil and Mountain Dew from the pharmacy across the hallway from the theater -- from quite possibly the most customer-focused retail clerk I've met this decade, going out of her way to point out cheaper options and then diging out a coupon for the product I did buy -- I retired to my car planning on napping. The near-constant symphony of chirping car horns announcing the arrival of ushers quickly ended that dream.

For the evening's performance I was seated in the second row stage left: The violist and violinist (doubling 2nd guitar) were immediately behind me hidden from the view of most of the audience, with percussion directly in front of me, followed stage left to right by the upright bass, guitar, cello, and keyboard/music director. As a fan of the violin family of instruments who didn't notice the violin on stage until about 4 performances in it was great to hear both the violin and viola so clearly. Being in the midst of the orchestra, there were times when the vocals got lost, but it was nonetheless beautiful music and there were sounds that I had never noticed--either in live performance or listening to the original cast recording.

The slapback that distracted me for much of the first performance was nearly nonexistent from this seat, and I missed being kicked in the face during Totally Fu--ed by what seemed like mere inches: The onstage experience is nothing if not immerse.

Following the end of the performance I returned to my car and embarked on another three and a half hour late night drive: This time to Columbus, marking my sixth hotel in the past three weeks, and once again encountering a slightly confused desk clerk just past 1AM. Unfortunately, I do not have the leisure of sleeping in tomorrow--er--this morning.

If you happen to know where my sanity may be found, please let me know or provide it with forwarding information.

* - As a HHonors "Diamond VIP", I've unintentionally discovered that I can get away with a lot of things that you aren't allowed to do. I probably could have called the Diamond Desk and weaseled a cancellation without penalty, but I didn't feel that was the ethically proper course of action to take.

** - It's funny: Bank of America has always been "my" bank. They display no loyalty to me, but I feel a loyalty to them such that despite not having a single branch or deposit-accepting ATM in Ohio, I continue to use them. Why? I love their online banking, there is a relatively convenient withdrawal-only ATM, and it seems that everywhere outside of Ohio that I find myself has a BofA branch. And I'm too lazy to move my accounts.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Akron Symphony: Carmina Burana

Bernstein: Fancy Free Ballet
Orff: Carmina Burana

My violin teacher had encouraged me to attend this evening's performance, headlined by Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Given that I needed to be in Detroit immediately following tonight's concert, and that The Cleveland Orchestra is performing the same work next weekend--a concert I already have tickets for, and a programming decision that seems questionable on the part of whichever group was the last to announce their schedule--I had thought of skipping. I'm glad I didn't.

My last experience in E.J. Thomas Hall was on the main floor; this time through sheer luck* I wound up on the "Grand Tier" and it was much more acoustically satisfying.

Bernstein's Fancy Free Ballet was delightful, and it is a shame that this work isn't preformed more frequently. My first experience with a complete symphonic work performed live was Bernstein's Jeremiah (Symphony No. 1), and the second movement of that piece is still among my favorite movements. While selections from Bernstein's musicals get more play, I haven't felt the same affection towards them, so it was fantastic to hear another composition -- this, his first ballet commission, and I believe the only other non-musical Bernstein piece I've heard -- that was so fun to listen to.

Carmina Burana was likewise fantastic: I can't think of any other choral work I've heard performed that I'm actually looking forward to hearing a second time. The orchestra-only Dances movement was, I think, my favorite by a hair but the entire piece was well sung by the choir. The soloists (and the program is in my valeted car, so I cannot name them) left a bit to be desired; I alternated between thinking that each had good vocal presence and that their voices were lost among the instruments of the orchestra.

*- More precisely being handed a free ticket just before attempting to purchase one.