Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Bela Fleck All American

Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Fleck: Concerto for Banjo and Orchestra (Bela Fleck, banjo)
Copland: Suite from Billy the Kid
Gershwin: An American in Paris
The Cleveland Orchestra
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor.

It's fitting that after a tour of an American factory (along with a visit to the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky earlier today, but more about that later) we returned to Cleveland in time for me to attend tonight's made-in-America program with The Cleveland Orchestra.

In truth, this was perhaps the first "normal" Cleveland Orchestra concert I've put in the "eagerly awaited" column -- if you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that Aaron Copland is among a very few composers I might describe as my "favorite". Gershwin isn't far behind, and I generally have no complaints with John Adams. Indeed, when I saw this program on the season calendar, this was going to be my "Absolutely no way I'm going to miss it, clients be damned" concert*.

It would seem I wasn't completely alone -- the concert was down to standing room only availability, and the seat I was able to get was the worst seat I've had in a while. That didn't significantly detract from the experience though -- and it was worth rushing north from Cincinnati to hear.

Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine was short at perhaps five minutes, and put me back on the road with the persistent click from percussion reminding me of the passing dashed stripes zooming by on the freeway, although enjoyable at times the percussion overwhelmed the remainder of  the orchestra.

I was not particularly looking forward to the Concerto for Banjo beyond, perhaps, the novelty of a banjo on the Severance Hall stage, but in keeping an open mind the listener was rewarded with an intriguing piece in three movements, the first movement -- a little lighter and laying the groundwork for the remaining movements. Pragmatically, it seemed like the banjo spent time wandering alone against the orchestra as a society but I noticed (and this is echoed in the program notes) that the banjo was gaining its identity as a banjo as the piece developed: The unformed child, the rebellious teen, and finally accepting its role in lit.

Following intermission, the piece I had been waiting for was delightfully played. Copland is one of few "classical" composers that can be found on my iPod, and the complete score for the ballet Billy The Kid is in that collection. Although I prefer Appalachian Spring (And I have an awesome recording of Copland rehearsing an orchestra for a recording of Appalachian Spring that I love listening to -- and listening to Copland describe the effects he wants, but I digress), but the Billy the Kid Suite was everything had hoped for, but with the added warmth and clarity of hearing The Cleveland Orchestra perform the piece in Severance Hall -- the first time since February, 1943* was completely engaging.

I was running on the last of my steam for Gershwin's An American in Paris, but like the Copland, although it's a piece I'm more familiar with, I loved to hear the familiar sounds with the passion and precision of the Cleveland Orchestra.

I can only hope that future seasons will bring more [tonal] American composers to the program, and that it won't be another 49 years before we hear Billy The Kid in the hall.

Unfortunately, it appears the Christmas Concerts for the days I'm actually in Cleveland have sold out so this may be my last visit to the hall for 2012 -- and if it is, it was a great concert to end the calendar year with.

*- I do really wonder about some of the artistic decisions when there are some pieces that appear on the program seemingly every year, yet Copland's suite from Billy the Kid -- not obscure by any means -- was last played in the hall over a year before my father was born, and An American In Paris looks to be played nearly as often.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Made In Ohio Tour: The KitchenAid Factory

I've been dating Rachel for one year, eight months and fourteen days -- not like anyone is counting -- for nearly as long Rachel has been talking up the awesomeness of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I was planning on simply getting her one for Christmas -- which doubles as Rachel's birthday, so you may occassionally hear me refer to it as Rachemas... until I learned they're manufactured in Ohio.

1701 KitcheanAid Way in Greenville, Ohio -- a little North and a little East of Dayton -- to be percise. And they offer factory tours Tuesday-Friday at 12:30. So I asked Rachel to let me know when she may have a Friday off before Christmas and we'd go on a surpise road trip (though I think she figured out where we were going...)

Thursday evening after we both got off of work, we pointed my car Southwest and drove towards Dayton. Cashing in a few Hilton HHonors points, we overnighted at the Hampton Inn in Sidney, Ohio -- a hotel that is exceptionally well-kept, well-staffed, and friendly, given its somewhat "middle of nowhere" location off of Interstate 75. This morning, we slept in, grabbed breakfast and launched in for the last 45 minutes of so of the drive to Greenville.

Not being sure entirely what to expect -- the KitchenAid website is a little light on details, and unless you're bringing a tour bus, the toll-free information number doesn't go much further -- we showed up way too early, and after confirming the yes, indeed, there would be a tour (and learning for the first time, the tour is $5 per person, cash only) we had about an hour to kill.

I had planned on stopping by the KitchenAid Experience -- the KitchenAid store in beautiful and historic downtown Greenville, Ohio (which reminds me a lot of St. Ignace, Michigan) -- after the tour to let Rachel pick her color, and with the surprise no longer a surprise, we decided to do that first. We found a 5 Quart model in the Red she had her heart set on at a good price and I whisked it out to my trunk.

We returned to the Whirlpool facility on KitchenAid way -- that was one of the first things we learned: Since the late 1980s, KitchenAid has been a Whirlpool brand. We signed in, I paid for our tour and while we waited I was impressed by the "Customer First" banner in the lobby (the customer pays our salary, the customer is never an inconvenience, etc.) -- but more impressive, someone had walked in with a blender needing help, and someone who seemed to be straight off of the assembly line provided a replacement part and help in figuring out how to put it back together.

Our group -- there were a total of four of us, Rachel and I and an older couple -- was ushered into the cafeteria where we were given protective eye wear and an assisted listening receiver (to hear our guide over the factory noise). We also met our guide for the day. I had been concerned that it may be a spin-heavy tour lead by a public relations suit. That couldn't be further from the truth. Our guide was a down-to-earth Quality Auditor who has been working for KitchenAid for 34 years -- her job is to take random units off of the assembly line after they've been finished. Once selected, the units are completely disassembled to make sure that they not only look good on the outside but are built perfectly inside. 2% of the plant's production each day gets run through the ringer like this to ensure continuous quality.

The factory tour highlights each stage of manufacturing except casting (which is done in Erie, PA) from paint and polish to gears and building the wire whips. Every KitchenAid stand mixer sold anywhere in the world -- including those exported to China (which made me chuckle) -- rolls off one of the six assembly lines in Greenville. As do the wire whips (which are manufactured at dedicated stations), and most if not all of the attachments for the blenders. KitchenAid blenders and handheld mixers also come off of lines in Greenville.

Also interesting: Some of the pieces of equipment used in the factory today have had long lives at KitchenAid, including making parts to support the war effort during World War II.

On our way out of the factory, we were graciously offered the opportunity to take advantage of a special discount for the holidays and to celebrate KitchenAid's 2 Millionth Mixer -- Where we could purchase a brand new amazing 7 quart lift-bowl mixer (with a capacity of, among other things, 14 Dozen cookies at a time) at a price that was less than what I paid for the refurbished (but still awesome) 5 quart (and a "there's no way that's the right price" less than the price listed on the website): We exchanged the mixers, and it wasn't until I was out in the car and looked at the receipt, which listed the pre-discounted price and nearly fell over (I knew it was a deal, but I didn't know it was significantly more than half off).

While I can't say I go out of my way to buy "Made in America", I am proud to support Ohio manufacturing, from my Honda (built outside Columbus) to the KitchenAid products and it's impressive to see the people and dedication first hand.

So with our visit to the gracious hosts at KitchenAid finished, and being mere miles from the Indiana border, we made a quick jog over to the Fry's Electronics in Fishers (near Indianapolis), grabbed dinner, and headed for the second stop on our tour: A hotel in Wilder, Kentucky where we're spending tonight, before hitting a nearby aquarium tomorrow and heading back to Cleveland -- in time for me to hit a Cleveland Orchestra concert I've been waiting for.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Chopin and Rachmaninoff

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21 (Louis Lortie, piano)
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
Jaap van Zweden, conductor.

Rachel and I spent the last week in California vacating (and before that I spent a week in California working)... so having survived Thanksgiving with part of the family, both parks in the Disneyland Resort [on what would turn out to be one of the busiest days of the year] the Getty Center, Hollywood, The Griffith Park Observatory and other Southern California landmarks, it was nice to sleep in my own bed last night and head to a Cleveland Orchestra concert this evening -- although I will admit that I'm still a bit out of it.

[Incidentally next week The Cleveland Orchestra is joining the Joffery Ballet for performances of The Nutcracker. While I love ballet and the Cleveland Orchestra, unless I can figure out a way to get tickets without having to deal with, let alone support, the insufferable PlayhouseSquare box office, I will not be attending those performances]

The program opened with Chopin's Piano Concerto and I can't say the performance left anything to be desired, but on the same token nothing really grabbed me or pulled me into the music; more like watching a painting from the distance in a crowded museum than being alone with a painting -- or better -- immersed in the scene. This cloud briefly lifted for a few bars late in the piece where pizzicato strings evoked the feeling of a far off dance.

The first movement of the Rachmaninoff didn't fare much better, however starting with the second movement the tide turned. In that movement, the opening sounds like it is trumpeting the arrival of an evening newscast, imparting a sense of importance and urgency before somewhat abruptly trailing off and transitioning to the tranquility of a candlelit dinner. The newscast and tranquility both return for alternating encores within the movement. Meanwhile, the third movement is largely tender and loving as a lover's embrace followed by an outpouring of intense emotion. The fourth movement was slightly stormy but largely summing up the preceding movements.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Franz Welser-Most Conducts Beethoven and Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy

Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60
Pintscher: Chute d'Etolies (United States Premiere, Michael Sachs and Jack Sutte, trumpet)
Beethoven: Grosse Fuge in B-flat major, Op. 133
Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54
Framz Welser-Most, conductor.

From the first piece on today's program, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 I had great hope for tonight's program -- it was marvelously textured and -- though I may be reading too closely -- could almost trace the progression of youth: From the mischievous  introduction that tiptoed around the hall before surging and being a bit more overtly playful. Next was the feeling of romance, courtship with a few flares of drama, concluding with what might be described as a courtier running his fingers through a lover's hair courtesy of the strings, before concluding in a little bit of loss and despair.

Sadly that is where enjoyment of the concert ended. The next piece on the program, Matthias Pintscher's Chute d'Etoiles -- receiving its United States premiere with this weekend's performances -- was downright painful and is best described as a bad combination of "Subway train with bad brakes" meets "Apocalyptic Horror Film Soundtrack". The trumpet work, featuring two of the Orchestra's members was interesting, mixing sounds that evoke a muted jazz scene, adult "talking" from Peanuts cartoons, and most frequently the tubes from the Blue Man group -- but that was the only highlight from an otherwise insufferable piece.

I had hoped that following intermission the second Beethoven, Grosse Fuge would return the positive vibes from the program's opening, but it and the Poem of Ecstasy both seemed two dimensional and flat, not really earning Mr. Welser-Most's full involvement, much less that of the audience, though the climax and release at the end of Poem of Ecstasy was well executed. My applause following these three pieces was one of the few times I found myself applauding out of a sense of obligation rather than genuine admiration. Based on the rather apathetic applause it seems the majority of the audience was similarly unmoved.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Trout Playing In American

Schubert: Four Art Songs (Im Haine, Der Jungling an der Quelle, Ellens Gesang II, Die Forelle)
Schumann: Piano Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 47
Schumann: Four Art Songs (Widmung, Der Nussbaum, Heiss mich nicht reden, Kennst du das Land)
Schubert: Piano Quintet in A Major, D. 667 ("Trout")
Jung Oh, soprano; Sonja Braaten Molloy, violin; Mark Jackobs, viola; Charles Bernard, cello; Charles Carleton, bass; Christina Dahl, piano.
At the Rawson Cowap Residence, Shaker Heights.

Had everything gone as planned, I would have missed this afternoon's wonderful concert -- instead I would have been on a flight back from a week in New York. Though it is one of the more interesting travel stories of my career (involving a one-way flight and a one-way rental car), I'll save that for now, but needless to say -- I made it and was able to attend with  Rachel.

The musicians featured on tonight's program -- the string players all Cleveland Orchestra members -- were all new to the Heights Arts Close Encounters (House Concert) series, and it was interesting to see and hear more top musicians at the in an individual and more intimate setting than the concert hall.

The program was also an interesting mix of art songs (with soprano Jung Oh accompanied by Christina Dahl) and instrumental pieces. The concert stated with Ms Oh singing Schubert -- two love songs, a lullaby, and a cautionary tale about a trout. Rachel leaned over at the conclusion of the set noting that Ms. Oh made German sound less harsh -- and indeed, the entire set sounded sweet and rounded, unlike the harsh angular edges typically associated with German. Ms. Oh also sounded wonderfully warm and her voice amply filled the room.

The Piano Quartet covered a range of musical feelings -- from the galloping/driving feeling of the second movement scherzo to the loving and delicate andante cantabile third movement to a somewhat angry and more agitated vivace third movement.

The program concluded with the technically difficult and beautifully executed Schubert "Trout" piano quintet. I've heard the quintet before -- at a CIM recital -- but in the context of a private residence it takes on a much more intimate feeling between quintet and musicians [Without looking through my notes, I'm fairly certain this is the first time I've heard an upright bass in a house concert even if it wasn't the first time, it was a rare treat and pushed the entire ensemble even closer to the very appreciative audience.


Theater Ninjas: Marble Cities

(Thursdays-Saturdays through November 17th at the Ohio City Masonic Temple)

It's been a little while--ok a long while--since my last Theater Ninjas experience, and it is always a unique experience. This production is themed as completely as a Disney attraction. It starts by leveraging the inherent mystique of the venue, an active Masonic Temple, and caries through an interesting preshow display that seamlessly into the actual action.

Arriving at the venue Rachel and I were handed cards, "I am here because I was invited. I beg admittance to this circle. I have told no one. My motives are my own" which heightens the dramatic tension before the audience is ever seated.

While the story is not one that can be described as simple nor straight forward (and if you've seen previous work by the Ninjas this should not be of any surprise) throughout the play I found  myself questioning the characters' latent and explicit motives and the complex interrelationships among several strangers, themselves invited to this secret meeting but unaware of why they were selected reflecting on what in each characters past has lead them to today, and what will propel them beyond today...if they survive.

Through excellent and organic staging, compelling and three-dimensional acting on the part of the entire ensemble, I was engrossed in something that was for the most part something that was so real I had no problem suspending disbelief. That said, I think every actor stumbled on one line, and for each rough recovery, my suspension of disbelief was momentarily revoked and I was oh-so-briefly returned to the clutches of  the "real" world looking in from the outside, until I returned to a state of total engrossment.

I can't remember the last time my brain has been forced to think so much, let alone so deeply, about the ultimate meaning of the piece, and being left feeling so open ended. Indeed, this is a play that, while seeming to curve that direction in places, does not force one true ending on  the audience. Instead, it gives you a lot to consider before you reach your own conclusion -- or conclusions.

(Directed and Devised by Jeremy Paul; Created and preformed by David Aguila, Ray Caspio, Brittany Gaul, Ryan Lucas, Cassie Neumann, Michael Prosen, Emily Pucell and Colleen Uszak; Asistant Director Ray Caspio; Stage Manaer Katilin Kelly; Lighting Design Benjamin Gantose; Costume Design Kevenn T. Smith; Technical Director Val Kozlenko; Installation Design Joan Hargate; House Manager Cassie Goldback)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto

Liadov: The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (Simon Trpceski, piano)
[Encore] Piece for solo Piano (Simon Trpceski, piano)
Sibelius: Symphony Mo. 2 in D major, Op. 43
Robin Ticciati, conductor.

Once again The Cleveland Orchestra provided a dazzling performance; while each of the pieces could have aptly stood on its own or provided ballast for a lesser performance but together the program left nothing to be desired -- except perhaps more.

The Enchanted Lake, one of the shortest pieces I've heard the Orchestra play outside of a pops concert, at just about five minutes, emerged from darkness as a quiet [the first several bars were, essentially, lost to a chorus crinkling programs and shifting patrons]. The overall sound generally captured a mystical place with a dark and murky feel, of particular note, the sounds from the celesta [for some reason "struck idiophone" always makes me giggle] instantly reminded me of dripping water.

In listening to the magnificent performance of Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto by Simon Trpceski with the Orchestra I found myself wondering my general distaste for the genre may simply because I've never found a pianist worth loving. Mr. Trpceski fills that void and meshes wonderfully with the Orchestra. The moods of the three movements could easily be phases of a romance: The first is dark, stormy, and intensely passionate appeal. The second movement takes a cooler tone and, as the program note mentions, seems apt for a romantic candle lit dinner -- in listening I felt like I was eavesdropping on a dinner date conversation between pianist and orchestra. The third movement was more dramatic than the second and less tense than the first, with the Orchestra taking the forefront.

While I spent much of the piece with my eyes closed just absorbing the wonderful sounds emanating from the stage, in the second movement I opened my eyes during a moment while Mr. Trpceski was playing unaccompanied to watch maestro Ticciati's baton slowly sweep, parallel to the floor and otherwise motionless, from left to right, as if a teacher selecting a student, before arriving at and engaging with a flute, invited to join the piano.

After his dazzling performance (and one of the quickest standing ovations I can remember) Mr. Trpceski announced that he was "very sad to have to leave Cleveland tomorrow" and offered an encore that was as engaging and captivating as it was fast-paced; though he announced the composer and the piece from the stage I wasn't able to make note of it -- though it was based on folk piece.

Finally, one of my favorite composers -- and one who doesn't get programmed nearly enough -- Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 which begins punctuated with delightful -- if repetitive -- material that coalesces into a delightful whole; the second movement begins on an aggressive note (with pizzicato basses and cellos) before calming with a gentle violin that picks up a more full-bodied sound. The fourth and final movement, though, is some of my favorite orchestral music with broadly cinematic climaxes that just pull you in.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

(Post #500) Cleveland Orchestra: All Russian - Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky

Rimsky-Korsakov: Suite from The Golden Cockerel
Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, Op. 32
Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky, Op 78 (The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Roberto Porco, Director; Sasha Cooke, Mezzo-soprano)
Pinchas Steinberg, conductor

As a blogkeeping note, Blogger is telling me that this is post #500 (including a few unpublished drafts that may or may not ever be published) and I have to say thanks to everyone who has been reading over the past few years.

While milling around Severance Hall's lobby this evening my nose lead me to something I hadn't seen in the building before: A patron eating a genuine, no-doubt-about-it medium pepperoni pizza--packaged in a to-go box and clearly ordered on his way to the hall, aside from making me very hungry (it smelled good) I internally bemoaned the lack of a decent "quick, easy, and inexpensive" light food option near the hall.*

Making my way upstairs and settling in for the concert I wasn't sure how I was going to react to an all Russian program. Generally I like the region, but would two hours be too much? It would seem not. Starting with a suite from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel the concert was vibrant, textured, and colorful: From the first movement which reminded me of a nighttime scene -- tiptoeing through a house to avoid disturbing the other occupants (before bumping into something and creating quite the disturbance) through the mystery (helped with a pointed celesta) and some of the most stunning turn-your-head-and-perk-up-your-ears playing from the orchestra's viola section. The piece culminated in an explosion of sound.

The middle piece on the program didn't engage me to nearly the extent as the two outside pieces, and I let my mind wander (mainly to contemplating how much business I've generated in the last week, and the amount of work associated thereto) and stayed mostly in that area until I was pulled back into the piece by Franklin Cohen's beautiful clarinet laid on a luxurious bed of understated strings.

The best was certainly saved for last with Prokofiev's seven movement Alexander Nevksy. With seven movements in just about forty minutes, the piece was bound to move. Aside from moving, it had a beautiful range of emotion and texture. The foreboding overture-esque and instrumental Russia under the Mongolian Yoke lead into to the crisp and restrained voices in Song about Alexander Nevsky (which sounded like a hushed tale to be told around a campfire). The third movement was ominous and repetitive along the lines of a march to the death, but the fourth movement was my favorite from the concert and took the form of a stirringly patriotic call to action. The fifth movement captured elements of the previous movements (especially the third)) but was more insistent, and had an urgency emphasised by impressive speed and volume. By contract, the sixth movement -- the only one featuring the soloist -- was slow, mournful, and restrained, before reaching the reprieve and happy ending.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society: Paul Galbrath In Concert

Bach: Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, BVW 1012
Hindemith: Harp Sonata (1939)
Traditional Catalian: El Testament d'Amelia
Ponce: 20 Variations and Fugue on "Las Folias de Espana"
Torroba: Burgalesa
Paul Galbrath, Eight-Stringed Guitar (all pieces arranged by the artist)
at Plymouth Congregational Church, Shaker Heights.

The guitar is an often overlooked member of the classical world. Fortunately, Cleveland has an outlet specifically for this corner. I know people who have spoken highly of the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society, but until tonight's concert I had not experienced one of their concerts myself.

I have a feeling that even had I experienced a CCGS concert prior to this evening's, tonight still would have been a very unique presentation -- Paul Galbrath plays an eight-stringed guitar, more striking, however is the playing position: Upright with a tail piece resting on a resonance box, much like the modern cello (two of the eight strings extend the full length of the instrument). That is where the similarities to the cello -- at least to this writers eyes and ears end.

After a long day -- capping off a longer week -- I found the sound throughout the concert to be invitingly warm and very conducive to relaxing meditation. While it's a state that's very conducive to preserving what little is left of my sanity, it is not conducive to noting specific emotional responses to specific pieces. Needless to say, though, Rachel and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Even when the music took a turn for the louder, faster, and generally more energetic, the sense of an inner calm persisted through Mr. Galbrath's playing. Aurally, I was also struck by how harp-like, more than any other instrument, much of the program sounded. On the other hand, visually, for as big and room-filling as every piece sounded, Mr. Galbrath's movements were small and precise, sometimes verging on barely noticeable.

The next Cleveland Classical Guitar Society concert is on Friday, November 16th and features Edel Munoz (More information here)


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Stravinsky's Petrouchka

Stravinsky: Petrouchka (complete ballet music, 1947 revision)
Paulus: Violin Concerto No. 3 (World Premiere, William Preucil, violin)
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole
Giancario Guerro, conductor

I've sat in many of the boxes at Severance, and while the lower numbers (closest to center) are undoubetely my favorites, thus far Box 1 has eluded me. Tonight through good fortune I found my way to Seat F in that elusive box -- dead center in the hall for what was without reservation my favorite concert so far this season -- and the polar opposite about what I felt towards last week's concert.

Opening with the complete ballet music to Petrouchka in four scenes; and it was one of those glorious pieces where I just got lost in the music without needing to look any deeper -- the piece had energy, it had texture. It was bright and focused -- exactly the characteristics that got me got me hooked on the Orchestra and live classical generally. Every section sparkled but worthy of particular note were Joella Jones stunningly fresh statements from the piano.

The story behind Violin Concerto No. 3 was almost as fascinating as the piece itself; Mr. and Mrs. Hoeschler and Mr. and Mrs. Dahlen, all of Minneapolis, commissioned the piece that received its world premiere with this weekend's concerts. This is the latest in a series of commissions and it was interesting to hear their thoughts and goals attached to each commission. Following a tradition repeated every five years since the Hoeschler's 15th wedding anniversary, Violin Concerto No. 3 was commissioned to celebrate their 45th (If I ever get married I may have to steal this wonderful idea). As for the piece, many people have modern music stereotyped as atonal -- this was very musical, though without a forced program.

Listening to the first movement, I had the impression of Mr. Pruecil's violin as a driver rushing down the street trying to make a date with the sounds of the orchestra as the sounds of a busy city outside. In the second movement, the tender romantic sounds from Mr. Pruecil's violin with the gentle bed of the orchestra made me imagine a serenade by musician-as-romancer outside the romancee's window--on the edge of tears beautiful, while the third movement was unsettled and agitated.

The desert on the three-course (I almost wrote chorus) evening at Severance was Ravel's Rhapsodie espagnole, a quick fifteen minutes trip to Spain with sounds randing from a restrained and a kind of cautious mystery to a fiery explosion of festive music.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Column and Stripe: Transformer Station Hard Hat Tour (@ClevelandArt #ColumnAndStripe)

I'm a sucker for a construction site -- I'm see a lot of interesting sites through my day job (a hard hat and a reflective safety vest are perpetually in my trunk) but some of the sites I find most interesting are a little bit trickier to access -- the Cleveland Museum of Art's new gallery space (I am forever tempted to sneak around the barrier and go for a look-see) being one example. [Rachel and I did sneak in for the Atrium preview which was an amazing opportunity to peek in].

The Transformer Station, on West 29th Street on Cleveland's West Side is an interesting collaboration between the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation and The Cleveland Museum of Art, with each organization programming the space for six months out of the year. Tonight, the Bidwells and their Architect invited Column and Stripe and AIA Cleveland members for a presentation on the project and to tour the space well before it's February 1, 2013 public opening.
Once the formal presentation had ended the assembled guests were free to roam throughout the building and peek into, over, and under every nook and cranny of the space -- from an old tunnel that one presumes brought the conductors  powering Cleveland's street cars in and out of the building and glass insulators on the ceiling in the historic original building to the elevator shaft and gallery space in the new addition (oh and the 15-ton capacity overhead crane in the original building definitely makes a unique statement in the appropriately named crane gallery.
After the nooks and crannies had been thoroughly explored, Column and Stripe's president Graham Veysey hosted the attendees in his hip pad across the street at the Ohio City Firehouse with an assortment of beer, appetizers, conversation, and food courtesy of Touch Supper Club's food truck.

(Full disclosure: I serve as the chair for Column and Stripe's Philanthropy Committee)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Love and Mozart

Mendelssohn: Four Entr'actes from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 61
Mozart: Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, K.191 (John Clouser, bassoon)
Berlioz: Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 (Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco, director)
James Feddeck, conductor.

Mediocre is not a word I commonly associate with the Cleveland Orchestra, yet, with tonight's concert I can't offer any higher prase. Going into the hall tonight something felt a little off but I couldn't -- and still can't put my finger on it. Once the concert started (after a well-deserved award recognition to Milton and Tamar Maltz) I found myself craving for each piece to end. I had contemplated leaving during intermission, but convinced myself to stay hoping to be blown away by the second half. I was not.

I was inclined to blame it on my seat -- a bit further to the left than I prefer. But I've had this seat before, and wasn't as put off. I thought it may be the conductor, but I've heard Mr. Feddeck before. While he's not my favorite conductor, I've never had this negative a reaction. In any event my chief complaint -- aside from the aforementioned "something feeling off" -- was that the entire concert, from the opening note of the Mendelssohn up until the last few pages of the Daphnis and Chloe it felt flat and disengaged -- like looking at a photograph of a painting rather than standing in the room with it and admiring the texture (the reason I love live classical and can't stand recordings).

There were a few highlights, namely the Wedding March from Four Entr'actes from A Midsummer Night's Dream -- which although flat trumps any performance I've heard at an actual wedding and had me briefly wondering how much it would cost (logistical issues aside) to have The Cleveland Orchestra perform the Wedding March at an actual wedding. The other highlight came in the last few bars of the Daphnis and Chloe suite where both The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Orchestra itself came to full power and delivered an impressive and slightly eerie chant. But even this felt a bit overly rounded at the edges.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cleveland Museum of Art: Concert in the Galleries (with Cleveland Institute of Music students)

Kodaly: Sonata for Solo Cello, op. 8 (Mvt. III)¹
Piazzolla: Tango Etude No. 3²
Grgin: Cappriccio for solo clarinet 3²
Kovacs: Hommage a Manuel De Falla²
Molnar: Haru No Umi³,ª
Debussy: Sytinxª
Hoover: Kokopelliª
Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 No. 3 (Mvt. I)º
¹-Matthew Allen, cello; ²-Nikola Djurica, clarinet; ³-Joseph Rebman, harp; ª-Jeiran Hasan, flute; º-Veridian String Quartet (John Heffernan, Deborah Milburn, violin; Catherine Schilling, viola; Genevive Tabby, cello)
In the Reinberger Gallery, Gallery 212, 1916 Building at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

It's already been a loooong week, so while I was somewhat tempted to skip this month's free concert in The Cleveland Museum of Art's galleries and perhaps find a strong margarita. Instead, I met Rachel and her brother in Gallery 212 for bite-sized collection of classical music among classical art.

Since the series debuted last year I've been a fan -- bringing students from neighboring University Circle institutions The Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University into the beautiful galleries of The Cleveland Museum of Art for a collection of relatively short pieces for solo instruments and small ensembles.

Acoustically, Gallery 212 is rather live and rather reverberant (echo-y, if you will) which I think helped to draw out the sounds, particularly in the strings, while not being as complimentary to the woodwinds and occasionally muddying the quartet's otherwise delightful performance.

The program set off to a rousing start with cellist Matthew Allen playing the lively third movement (Allegro molto vivace) of Zoltan Kodaly's Sonata for Solo Cello. Early on the piece caught my ear with layered sounds that reminded me a little bit of a gallop before taking on a more marine feeling.

Nikola Djurica was next up with three pieces for solo clarinet each having very different sounds -- ranging from fluttering and airy in Pizazolla's Tango Etude No. 3 to Grgin's Cappriccio for Solo Clarinet, a piece that seemed to pull in the jazzy, swinging enthusiasm of the roaring 20s tempered with a hint of the depression. Mr. Djurica's final piece was a clarinet homage to Manuel De Falla, and while I picked up a bit of the Spanish sound, I think the room's acoustics diminished the effect.

My favorite piece from the evening was a collaboration between harpist Joseph Rebman (who I've heard perform in a bar as well as a proper recital hall) and flutist Jeiran Hasan, Harau No Umi by composer Josef Molnar which was just several minutes of meditative bliss with a distinctively Japanese sound that reminded me of gently falling water.

Ms. Hasan followed up with two pieces for solo flute -- Debussy's Syrinx  and Hoover's Kokopelli which were enjoyable, but the room acoustics did not flatter the performance.

Last on the program, the Veridian String Quartet preformed the first (allegro vivace) movement from Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E-flat Major, was again warm -- assisted by the room -- and captivating with a hint of sorrow.

After the concert had ended the three of us paid Martin Creed's Half the Air in a Given Space (in the Glass Box gallery through Thanksgiving) a visit -- it was a unique experience, and a separate post on that will be forthcoming.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

Hindemith: Kammermusik No.1 (For Small Orchestra)
Strauss: Oboe Concerto in D major, Frank Rosenwein, oboe
Berelioz:Symphony Fantastique: Episode in the Life of an Artist, Op. 14
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

I have to confess that every once in a while I start to question my dedication to The Cleveland Orchestra -- aside from cost (it is an expensive endeavor) the skeptic in me occasionally wonders about the true "average Joe" impression of the Orchestra beyond Cleveland's borders.

Concerts like tonight assuage those doubts. First: The couple in the front of my box drove in from Ann Arbor to hear the concert -- something they do almost monthly, bypassing several other orchestras along the way -- to hear the Cleveland Orchestra in its Severance Hall home. (Equally impressive, they usually make the 3+ hour drive down and back the same day). More importantly it was simply a great sounding concert.

Hinedmith's Kammermusik No. 1 packed four movements into about 15 minutes of playing time starting frenzied (very fast and wild) first movement, to the second movement which alternated between having a somewhat festive, almost carnival like feeling to something dark and melancholy in the second movement with the darkness continuing into the third movement where it seemed as if the flute was alone on a dark deserted street -- or perhaps in a graveyard, only interrupted occasionally by rustling signified by a chime. The energy (and rest of the Orchestra) returned in the Finale: 1921.

The program note revealed an interesting history -- revolving around World War II -- to Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto, with the solo part performed by The Cleveland Orchestra's own Principal Oboe, Frank Rosenwein. I'm always more satisfied when the solo part is performed by an Orchestra member and tonight was no exception -- it feels as if the soloist enjoys a closer connection to the ensemble. The three movements, spanning just under a half hour of playing time, are played without pause. Throughout that time, Mr. Rosenwein's playing remained clear, even, and passionate. During the moments when he wasn't playing, he was visibly buoyed by the performance of his colleagues. When he was playing, his instrument comfortably laid on a bed laid out by the strings, particularly cellos, and drama ebbed and swelled throughout the piece, without overwhelming the tender moments.

Following intermission, the final piece on the program was Hector Berlioz's five movement Symphonie Fantastique, subtitled Episode in the Life of an Artist. If you ignore the subtitle -- as I initially did -- you may be expecting something a but on the lighter and broader side -- as I was. However you would do well to not ignore the subtitle. The first movement pulls the listener through the protagonist's passion, anguish, and despair in the field of far-off-love. The second movement (A Ball) seems to place the strings on the dance floor with the violins embraced by the cellos and violas in a musical dance. The third movement In the Country two Sheppard's are exchanging pipe calls, which I initially found delightful, however the parts of this movement that encompassed the full orchestra felt overdone. The fourth movement, had a distinct feel of pomp and circumstance.

When the end of the fifth movement came, the gentleman seated next to me -- who required assistance into and out of the box -- sprung to his feet and passionately exalted "Bravo!". The rest of the audience was not far behind. Though the box level was somewhat empty, the Orchestra floor appeared to be fairly full -- including (as pointed out by a gentleman in the next box over) a large contingent of students.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra Franz Welser-Most Conducts Mahler Three

Mahler: Symphony No. 3
The Women of The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco, director
The Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus, Ann Usher, director.
Zoryana Kushpler, mezzo-soprano
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Nothing, for me, quite announces that summer is officially over like the Cleveland Orchestra's triumphant return to Severance Hall. While summers at Blossom are lovely, nothing quite matches the splendor of hearing the Cleveland Orchestra back in Severance Hall. What pleasure Monet, Picasso, and Leger bring to the eyes across the street at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the artists within Severance Hall delight upon the ears.

I always have some hesitation with single-composer, let alone single-piece programs but the excitement was palpable: Hovering near the box office and overhearing a cluster of students "I'm going to save this" "Why?" "I save the ticket stub from every great concert I attend". Meanwhile, while I greeted patrons I recognized from least season with a "Glad to be back?" the answer was, in each case, a resounding yes.

Mahler's Symphony Number Three is an epic work covering a wide range of emotions, techniques, and the better part of two hours of time, sans intermission.

The first movement stands alone as Part One, starting with a far off call that begins with a broad cinematic feeling before taking an ominous tone. As the movement continues a delectably fine texture emerged from the aural canvass like the fine brushstrokes in a painting. Mr. Pruecil's solo violin before Mr. La Rosas beautifully lonely trumpet took over the landscape.

Part Two encompassed the remaining movements -- two through six -- each having a slightly different feeling. The second movement was more light and moved quickly. The third movement it both playful and nostalgic at places but struck me as endlessly contemplative. One of only two movements to feature the human voice, the fourth movement, set to Midnight Song from Also sprach Zarathustra was a bit slow and almost depressing for my tastes, but the fifth movement -- featuring the Women of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus was a glimmer of joyous sunshine that took over the orchestra. The sixth movement, marked as slow, peaceful, and with feeling, gives the audience time to reflect upon that which they've just heard and the season ahead.

If tonight was any indication it should be a good season.


Heights Arts: Academy of Bluegrass in the Field (a Benefit)

I've been eagerly awaiting the Cleveland Orchestra's return to Severance Hall for a new seson -- for me, that's tomorrow night. Tonight, though, we were treated to several members of the Cleveland Orchestra plying their trade in a different genere as a benefit for Height's Arts Close Encounters series of intimate cocncerts.

Incidentally, both individual and series tickets for the 2012-13 Close Encounters series are on sale now via Height's Arts web  site.

For a concert of bluegrass music, the Dunham Tavern Museum was the ideal Cleveland venue. Although all of the musicians on the program are members of Cleveland Orchestra, Derek Zadinsky was the only musician playing his "normal" instrument. Mark Dumm, Cleveland Orchestra first violn aptly weaved from banjo to fiddle to mandolin. Trina Bourne, best known as the Orchestra's principal harp, showed off her skills with a much smaller instrument -- the fiddle. Jeffrey Zehngut, orchestra 2nd violin donned a mandolin, guitar, and soprano sax. Orchestra bassists Henrey Preureburne spent the night with a guitar, while Derek Zadinsky nimbly navigated the largest instrument before us. If they were at all out of their comfort zone, their playing gave no indication.

The program was not published (though my attempt at capturing the pieces announced from the stage follows this post) but was a fantastic mix of bluegrass music running the gamut from slow and soulful to bubbly and pure fun.

Starting with the rousing Orange Blossom Special, the ensemble seamlessly transitioned through Ole Joe Clarke to Ashokan Farewell, a piece I heard arranged for orchestra at the beginning of the summer when The Cleveland Orchestra shared the Blossom stage with Time For Three. While I loved both versions, tonight's version had a much more tender and intimate feeling. Takin a piece originally written for Double Bass, Cello, and Mandolin and substituting a saxophone for the cello, the light Butterfly's Day Out took on a delightful urban, almost jazzy feel. Taking things in a different direction, The Cannon was an almost lullaby with the sounds of the bass and violin, which Rachel felt was more evocative of the flight of the butterfly.

Taking things in a completely different direction, we had the pleasure of hearing Bach's Gigue in G minor played by a leading violinist -- but instead of violin and bow, we heard it with the sweet sounds of the mandolin. Rounding out the first half of the program, Mr. Zehngut demonstrated his vocal ability with I'm a Man of Constant Sorrows  from Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

After intermission, a lively interpretation of dueling banjos with a banjo and mandolin pitted against a good natured guitar, F.C.'s Jig for violin and cello played by fidle and bass -- and Mr. Zadinsky covered every inch of his much larger bass substituting for a cello.

12th Street Rag gave me visions of a barn dance in the Dunham Tavern Museum's barn and I harbored visions of spinning Rachel around while (attempting) swing dancing in the back of the barn. Luckily for the audience (and Rachel) I did not attempt such a feat.

One of the great things abut a concert like tonight's is that the musicians' individual personalities can really shine through in a relaxed environment, and nothing showed that more than the next piece on the program -- while I didn't catch a title, it was a musical look at the less-glamorous side of orchestral touring following an introduction wherein we learned one member of the orchestra is particularly unlucky at finding the bus in one particular European city.

Attempting to cut the concert short by at least one banjo piece, Mark Dumm announced that he only had one banjo thumb pick and it was on its last legs. Before he could get much further, a new pick had mysteriously appeared from the back of the room -- now who happens to have an extra banjo thumb pick on them. In Cleveland. In September? Anyway, replacement pick in hand, the concert continued with Pinkin and Grinnin (punctuated with jokes -- and a touch of self-deprecation) and Foggy Mount Breakdown from Bonnie and Clyde. And the cherry on top of the concert, the encore was I Don't Love Nobody.

It was such a fantastic concert for a great cause and it is always an extreme pleasure to see Orchestra musicians out in the wild, and in this case playing music that may be a little off of the norm. Plus it highlights low lucky Cleveland is to have such a broad and deep pool of committed world-class talent.

I can't wait for the next one!


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Am I breaking up with, or cheating on, my dry cleaner?


If you haven't figured it out by now I'm either very loyal to inanimate objects, have a high degree of corporate inertia, or both. Perhaps the most shining example is the fact that I still bank with Bank of America -- nearly 9 years after moving to a state, perhaps the only state, that has not a single branch within its borders (although you can see the branch in Temperance, MI from Toledo, if that counts) -- heck, its only within the past few months an ATM that actually accepts deposits has appeared nearby (and within the past month, the ability to deposit via smart phone, prior to that I'd use a BofA withdrawal-only ATM on my way home from work and either mail in deposits or visit a branch when I was on the road).

But I digress.

This loyalty has, thus far, extended to my dry cleaner. A dry cleaner a friend recommended in Berea*, of all places, right on Front Street. I've since recommended them to others. But I think the time has come fore me to move on with my dry cleaning relationship.

When I first moved to Cleveland and was living downtown they were actually pretty convenient -- I didn't really get the feeling I was passing by any other qualified dry cleaners on my way to and from, and it was only about 20 minutes of all freeway driving.

Since I moved to Cleveland heights, they are decidedly less convenient for routine trips but I've stuck with them. Partially because they're convenient to the airport (there have been trips where I've landed at Hopkins, picked up my luggage and immediately dropped off 90% of the contents of my suitcase on my way home, only to pick up the results before heading out of town on another trip) and because they've generally treated me and my clothes well. It's a mom-and-pop shop where I got the feeling there was an eye on quality and nary a computer in sight, yet they usually remember my name.

That changed recently though. Perhaps it's because I've been looking for an excuse to take my business somewhere more convenient.

But on my most recent trip, I dropped off a few pairs of pants and a pile of shirts. "All for dry cleaning, please." Though the standard in the dry cleaning world (or at least this cleaner) seems to be dry clean pants and launder shirts, my standard order -- it hasn't changed in at least five years -- is "All for dry cleaning, please".

I've found that my shirts last longer, look better, and feel more comfortable when I wear them when I dry clean (and don't get me started on starch). That plus a care tag indicating "for best results dry clean only" make me happy to pay the additional cost per shirt.

When I dropped my last order off the "new girl" wrote up a single ticket correctly, listing my pants and shirts for dry cleaning. I took it and picket up the order early in the morning on my way to catch my last flight. The price seemed lower than I expected, but I wasn't fully awake and wasn't really thinking about it.

When I got to the airport I realized that not only had the pants been bagged separately from the shirts, each bag had a different tag on it, neither of which was a carbon of the tag that had been filled out when I dropped them off. I had a bad feeling. I reached under the bag and felt those shirts. I won't lie. "Those mother.... washed my shrits" was my initial, dejected cry.

I called the cleaners. The woman I answered knows me -- and was the one who had just taken my cash. There are a lot of things they could have done to achieve what the service industry refers to as "service recovery": From the extreme of replacing the now damaged (in my eyes) shirts to a refund for the service I didn't want, or at the very least an offer of a credit of some kind.

But no. Even though she acknowledged that I never have anything laundered, and I had told her that, as always, I had requested that they all be dry cleaned, and that the slip I had been given indicated that they were all for dry cleaning.

"Oh, we've told the new girl that she always needs to write up separate slips for dry cleaning and laundry, they caught it in the back and had her rewrite them"
"But this was all for dry cleaning, and it was written that way on the slip I was given"
"Well you need to be sure, if you see notations like ____ it means that you want them laundered with a hanger and light starch, which only applies to laundry"
"There weren't those markings on the ticket I was given, in fact those markings aren't on the replacement tickets either"
At this point I hear rustling while she pulls the original
"Oh, you're right, your slip was correct. Well, they got laundered that explains why the total was so low, but it's alright. Those shirts can be laundered.

The call basically went on like this with her alternating between implying it was my fault and that since it's OK to launder the shirts per the care tag I shouldn't care. Guess what: If I didn't care I wouldn't have been paying extra for dry cleaning these same shirts (and their siblings) for as long as I've owned them.

I'm also irritated that there was never even an "I'm sorry, we screwed up." I think I was, and continue to be, more ticked off about the way the problem was -- or rather wasn't -- responded to than I was initially about the problem itself.

So if they really don't give a damn about my business I should take my business to somewhere that's more convenient for me regardless of my travel schedule. I'd prefer locally owned, mom-and-pop type and, slightly more importantly, I'd prefer to use a cleaner with a plant on site.

I know there are a couple cleaners in Cleveland Heights, and I need to investigate whether either of them has the plant on site (one of them I strongly doubt, the other is iffy). Does anyone have suggestions for cleaners in the eastern 'burbs? I loaded a few shirts and a pair of pants in my car thinking about giving someone a try this afternoon... but I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt about cheating on my former cleaners. I just need to suck it up.


*- Those reading from out of town: I live in an inner-ring suburb on Cleveland's East Side. Berea is on the West Side. If it's an inner-ring suburb it just barely qualifies as so, it's probably a 45-50 minute one way drive from my house, and about a 5 minute drive from the airport)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Column and Stripe: Cleveland Public Art and Architecture Walking tour (@clevelandart #columnandstripe)

On Thursday evening a group of about 30 Column and Stripe members assembled in the plaza separating Progressive Field from The Q downtown.

Our host for the evening was Greg Peckham, Managing Director of LAND Studio and Thomas Starinsky, Associate Director of The Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation.

The talk started revealing some unique features of the complex we were standing in, credited as one of the first planned urban sporting complexes in the country. Integrated with the existing neighborhood and with features now taken for granted -- like a sunken playing surface in Progressive Field so that the activity can be seen by passers by outside the park.  Public art in the project is functional (such metal spires near Ontario street conceal ventilation for underground kitchen activities), historical (a planter that incorporates photos, maps, and merchandise from the Central Market that had occupied the site from 1850.

Column and Stripe Members
Outside the Colonial Arcade /
Courtesy Clarissa Westmeyer
Temporarily halted by a passing rainstorm we took shelter under a convenient bridge and learned a little bit more about the mission of both organizations before the skies parted and we pressed on toward the Colonial Arcade -- stopping for a moment to discuss Cleveland's Bike Rack, a new-to-me bicycle parking option for downtown commuters that includes lockers as well as showers and changing facilities for professionals who want to bike to work.

At the Colonial Arcade we had a chance encounter with the Arcade's new developer inviting our ideas for what we'd like to see in the next generation of downtown retail and along with a plug for a Pop-Up Party on September 27th from 5-8pm that sounds very interesting. Although the Colonial had been a stop on a walking tour I took about a year ago, I had never actually been inside the Arcade and was excited about stepping through the doors. It's a bit smaller in scale than The Arcade, but nonetheless an impressive piece of architecture connecting  Euclid Avenue on the North to Prospect on the South.

The Arcade / Courtesy
Clarissa Westmeyer
Continuing with a slight jog on Euclid Avenue there was a brief discussion of the public art elements involved in the Euclid Corridor project (many of them previously discussed in these two posts from the "Take a Hike" walking tours series) before continuing through The Arcade -- an engineering challenge so great for its time that only a bridge builder was willing to take it on, and one of my favorite interior spaces in Cleveland.

Passing through The Arcade we made a slight jog again -- this time on Superior Avenue to visit the Cleveland Public Library's Reading Garden (home to some of my favorite sculptures from Tom Otterness -- whose work I've since stalked in New York and Kansas City among others). The original plan, it turns out, for the Cleveland Public Library's expansion was  for the new building to be attached to the existing facility. For a variety of reasons that generated outrage and the result was two distinct buildings linked by a tunnel running under the reading garden.

Column and Stripers on the roof
at Greenhouse Tavern / Courtesy
Clarissa Westmeyer
With the Cleveland Public  Library closed for the evening we didn't actually enter the garden (or fully experience the LAND-facilitated temporary art installation in the garden) we walked around the perimeter of the garden before concluding the official tour in Mall A, home to Cleveland's Fountain of Eternal Life where the past and future architecture of the Mall Plan buildings was discussed -- from the new (and very contemporary) Medical Mart respecting the vertical rules of the existing classical buildings to the "green roof" of the subterranean Cleveland Convention center.

The evening drew to a fun close with an extended happy hour on the roof of the Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th street with plenty of fun socialization on a beautiful early fall evening.

Also, as a plug, a few of Rachel's wonderful robots (including my CelloBot) are on display as part of the show It's Only A Paper Moon at Proximity Gallery trough October 6.

(Full disclosure: I serve as the chair for Column and Stripe's Philanthropy Committee)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vacation 2012: Part III - From Avalanches and not quite to Tsunamis

(For Part 1 - where I get to California (the first time) Monday and pick up Rachel Tuesday see this post. For Part 2, where Rachel and I see part of California's Volcanic Legacy before crossing the border in to Oregon (the state, not the Ohio city) see this post.).

Having made it into Oregon, our first step was my grandmother's office where we visited (and Rachel met said grandmother for the first time) before being escorted to the secret entrance to Cliby County. On the way we saw multiples of the sign at the right. Rachel and I spent quite some time in the car questioning what a rogue Umpqua would look like. Or as Rachel posted on Facebook "Umpqua. That is all."

Behind the gates at Cliby Country -- beautiful wooded acres with a sprawling collection of outbuildings (My #2 goal for a vacation property behind a Manhattan pied-a-terre) the time flew as we visited before realizing that we should probably get food before everything in Grants Pass closed for the evening. We wound up at the Taprock Northwest Grill with a fantastic view of the Rogue River; returning to base camp, we visited a bit more before hitting our beds hard.

Thursday morning we convened in the morning with no idea what we were going to do -- the menu of possibilities was nearly endless with far too much to do in the one full day we had allotted to Oregon (yeah, bad planning on my part-- it seemed like a good idea on paper), Ziplining was a strong contender, and a trip down the Rogue river was on my list but fell by the wayside for reasons I don't really remember.

We settled on a trip back to one of the most beautiful places I've ever been -- Crater Lake. Rather than repeat the history I'll let you visit the Wikipedia article and just post a handful of the photos we got on the trip.

The ride up was full of interesting signs -- incidentally, when I say "up" we covered about 8000 feet vertically from the highest point of our trip to the lowest:
The post extending beyond the top of the Avalanche Zone sign gives one indication of the annual snowfall.
You really have to wonder what necessitated this rather obvious sign...
 But when we made it to the top of the drive it was all made worthwhile -- click the photos for the larger versions:
Perhaps my favorite photo from the trip:
After we exhausted the viewing opportunities from the main tourist encampment (and I got a little tired of unleashed children) we grabbed a quick lunch and then embarked on a "quick" trip all the way around Crater Lake on the Rim Drive [by "Quick" I mean "33 mile"] stopping at a few of the scenic overlooks to enjoy Crater Like from a different angle.
Once we had circled back to our starting point we descended from the mountain to return to the real world, but not before passing an aptly named picnic ground
Having exhausted most of the day (not to mention our leg muscles) we decided to head back to Cliby Country and enjoy the evening. While waiting for my grandmother to get home from work, I showed Rachel around the grounds before parking ourselves on a park bench to enjoy the sights and sounds.
How many people are lucky enough to have trees like this in their front yard:

Grandmother came home, more visiting, more food (including a great margarita while we waited for our table) more visiting, and another solid night sleep leaves us at the end of this post...


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Blossom Festival Orchestra: Broadway's Greatest Hits

(The complete program is at the end of this post)

The Cleveland Orchestra's 2012 Blossom Festival season draws to a close with this weekend's concerts -- performed not by The Cleveland Orchestra but by the Blossom Festival Orchestra. Where has summer gone?

It's been two weeks since the last Orchestra program -- dedicated to the material of John Williams --and returning to Blossom after that sabbatical felt a little odd. Unlike the disappointing Williams concert with its trite  program and robotic execution, tonight's program was passionately played and the program was a nice blend of selections from a wide swath of Broadway.

I was not, however, enamored by the soloists -- in the pavillion they frequently overpowered the orchestra (more likely the fault of the audio engineer than the soloists themselves). Individually, the soloists fulfilled their roles well but troubling, when both Ms. Vroman and Mrs. Gravitte were singing the same thing at the same time the result was far from satisfying, and in a few occasions actually made me cringe.

That said, it is perhaps obvious that my favorite pieces from the program unequivocally came from the few orchestra-only selections on the program. At the top of that list the Disney Broadway Medley featuring seven and a half minutes of music known to any Disney fan, including Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, M-i-c-k-e-y M-o-u-s-e, and Its a Small World among others. Maestro Russell encouraged the audience to sing along, and at times the low chant that rose from the lawn reminded me of a Latin mass. Incidentally, the later two in that medley hold special significance "Mickey Mouse" being the the first two words I knew how to spell, thanks to my grandmother's use of that song in her kindergarten classes, and It's a Small World being one of an aunt's most hated song [and my penchant for humming it around her about the same time in my early youth where I learned to spell Mouse].

The other two pieces for orchestra only, Seventy Six Trombones from The Music Man and the medley from Jesus Christ Superstar, though slightly less familiar were no less enjoyable.

Those that remember my sheer hatred of Chicago at PlayhouseSquare (the only musical I've ever walked out of at intermission, and one of only two where I've contemplated doing such) are probably not surprised that I had absolutely no attraction to Introduction and All that Jazz from Chicago. On the other hand, the medley from Mamma Mia! was sheer delight, though the sight of a full orchestra playing ABBA was a bit surreal. I'd certainly be up for a concert full of orchestral renderings of that music.

Mr. Labreque probably enjoyed the best individual balance with the orchestra of the night in Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera, the last piece on the published program, and the encore, You Can't Stop The Beat from Hairspray was the only time all three sounded really good while singing together.

A somewhat somber note was touched when Mr. Russell dedicated Defying Gravity (from Wicked) to the memory of Neil Armstrong, and then in a serendipitous bit of irony, lead into Circle of Life from the Lion King  both of which were high on my list of "likes" from this show.

In a few weeks The Cleveland Orchestra returns to severance -- and someone please remind me to stop by the box office: I still need to buy by tickets.


The full program from tonight's show
Seventy Six Trombones from The Music Man
Be our Guest from Beauty and the Beast #$^
This is the Moment from Jekyll and Hyde ^
Till There Was You from The Music Man #
Defying Gravity from Wicked $
Circle of Life from The Lion King #$^
Disney Broadway Medley (arr. Bruce Healy)
Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid #$^
Shall we Dance from The King and I #$
Medley from Hello Dolly! #$^
Introduction/All That Jazz from Chicago #$
Bring Him Home from Les Miserables ^
I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables $
Medley from Mamma Mia! #$^
Medley from Jesus Christ Superstar
Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera #
Memory from Cats $
The Phantom of the Opera from The Phantom of the Opera #^
Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera ^
You Can't Stop the Beat from Hairspray#$^
John Morris Russell, conductor.
(# - Lisa Vroman, vocalist; $ - Debbie Gravitte, vocalist; ^ - Doug Lrecquie, vocalist)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Vacation 2012: From Yreka to Eureka or 1,374 miles (Part II)

(Part I, the Boring Part can be found over here)

Wide Open Road Wednesday
Wednesday morning Rachel and I got a slow start around Reno -- including a drive by the post office so she could get one of her student loan payments posted in time, and of course the somewhat famous "Reno: The Biggest Little City in the World" sign
Reno, it really does seem like a small city

Leaving Reno -- with another stop at In-N-Out -- we had a quick jaunt on Interstate 80 before hitting US Highway 395. For the first several miles US 395 looks like any other limited access highway. Shortly after crossing the California boarder we encounter one of California's Agricultural Inspection Stations.

"Do you have anything agricultural to declare?" I asked Rachel, "Well there are the bales of hay I bought at the airport..." she answered, "How about anything biological?" I asked Rachel as we got closer to the station. "Paco?!? Do I have to leave Paco behind?" her mock answer. Free from threats to California's economy, we're waved through and resume freeway speeds. As we departed, Rachel noted the particularly large incinerator located next to the checkpoint. Yes, they do take that seriously.

For some reason I'm always taken by the image of the lone barn or farmhouse.
As US 395 continues the environment takes on a far more rural character as it narrows to a two-lane undivided road (fortunately the speed limit stays at a comfortable 65) as it parallels the West side of the California-Nevada boarder for a little over twenty miles before diverging westward and northbound.

US 395 gives way to California Highway 36, taking us through Susanville -- passing the River Inn with a "Wi-Fi Heated Pool" (who knew Internet access was so hot?) before leaving civilization again for the wide open road:
Our Right Turn from CA 36 on to CA 44/Feather Lake Highway.
From this point on we would go fifteen or twenty minutes at a time without seeing another car, much less human. Skirting the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas (and the Plumas and Lassen National Forests) and only the occasional bird. There were, however, plenty of large trees.

Finding a hint of civilization in a "<- Gas" sign serving as a companion to the first stop sign in over fifty miles, we turned Right from California Highway 44 on to California Highway 89, with signs along the route proclaiming the California's "Volcanic Legacy".

My Garmin, however, kept us entertained with an increasingly amusing series of "Nearest Exit" advisories:

(Click for Larger) "So Goat" "Government" "Military"
As California 89 approached Interstate 5 we got stick in a backup caused by road construction just outside of McCloud, and we also got our first sights of Mount Shasta and it's sister -- who I still remember an airline pilot referring to years ago as "Diet Shasta", but more properly known as Shastalina

Leaving back-road highways and joining Interstate 5 for the trek North into Oregon, the final bit of amusement in California came when we exited at Weed for gas. The last time I was in Weed was Christmas day, 2004, when I was on my way back home to Southern California from a road trip that took me to the Canadian border, and the name of the city (combined with a "<--- College | Weed --->" sign brought about the by the good fortune of having the College of the Siskiyous located nearby) has always amused me.

With a full tank of gas, and full cups of caffeine, we continued the trek north Interstate 5, both figuratively and literally -- gaining several thousand feet of elevation along the way, before crossing the Oregon border. Which is where I think we'll leave this installment.

Despite California's reputation for traffic, roads were pretty empty up here.
And just across the Oregon boarder.

Until the next installment where we visit Crater Lake and perhaps encounter some redwoods.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Cleveland Museum of Art: Contemporary and Photography Galleries Open House @ClevelandArt #ColumnAndStripe

Members of Column & Stripe, The New Friends of the Cleveland Museum of Art were invited to join members of the Contemporary Art Society and the Friends of Photography for an open house and reception for the recently reopened Contemporary and Photography galleries and their curators. Since these two are my favorite of the museum's galleries there's no way I'd turn down the invitation.

Before heading up to the galleries we assembled in the Recital Hall on the lower level of the Breuer building for an enlightening introduction.

The Contemporary Art Society introduced new Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art Reto Thuring who illustrated the new arrangement of the contemporary galleries as grounded more in themes and inviting dialogues between pieces rather than the previous, more chronological arrangement. As an aside, the new arrangement of the temporary walls in the galleries leads to a much more open feeling.

Not to be outdone Barbara Tannenbaum introduced the current photography installation DIY: Photographers (through December 20), highlighting digital Print on Demand photo books from a wide swath of photographers, some internationally known professionals and some local high school students. Unlike other areas of the museum where touching art is verboten, this exhibition invites you to pick up and thumb through the 157 photo books that were selected -- from the smallest [I found] being Things Darby Chewed not much larger than a credit card, to the largest, Astronomical a twelve volume set where each page represents one million kilometers in the universe (Yes, there are a lot of black pages).

And perhaps the most exciting news: This coming Tuesday the "Art Detour" from the North Entrance through the museum's basement to the galleries will end as the spectacular Atrium opens to the public for the first time-- I can't wait to see and hear people mingling in Cleveland's new great room.

(Full disclosure: I serve as the chair for Column and Stripe's Philanthropy Committee)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Vacation 2012: From Yreka to Eureka or 1,374 miles (Part I)

At the beginning of August, I had a quick project in the Northwestern corner of California. A quick project, and a capstone to several weeks of running around the country for work I decided to tack on a few days of much-needed vacation.

While I was out that way I wanted to travel a bit North and visit my grandmother who, by virtue of being a off the beaten path, I've seen rarely. And Rachel joined me for the trip; her first time in Nevada, California, or Oregon.

And in the space of a little bit less than a week we covered a significant chunk of the Western United States. How significant? The state of Ohio has a border length of 970 miles, give or take. When I returned the rental car to Hertz we had added 1,374 miles to the odometer, the equivalent of driving about one and a half times around the perimeter of Ohio.

En Route: Solo Monday
The trip started oddly -- always one to maximize my Elite Qualifying Miles and even more so to see a new airport, I threw a stop at Washington Dulles in the mix (Cleveland-Washington-Houston-Sacramento) because it added a whopping $2 to the fare (yes, two dollars) and got me an extra 1.5 EQS and 750 EQM.

IAD is, I believe the words I used, "Godforsaken hell hole". I have no inclination to return, lest I get hit by another bird flying through the terminal or have another part of the mens' room ceiling fall on me ... It makes Cleveland Hopkins look like a glistening ultra-modern travel mecca.

Fortunately, I was only on the ground for about 20 minutes before I continued on my way to a three-hour connection in Houston before finally arriving in Sacramento shortly after 7PM. Though the project in Susanville, I had decided to overnight in Reno -- almost three hours from Sacramento. Clearly I wasn't thinking (clearly) when I hatched this plan. But I set out on I80 towards Reno.

While Ohions know and love Interstate 80 as the Ohio Turnpike, I80 from Sacramento to Reno as it traverses the Sierra Nevadas is a far more rugged beast with steep mountain climbs, winding roads, and an existence as four narrow lanes for much of its existence. Including the infamous Donner Pass, where the Donner Party survived a brutal winter by resorting to cannibalism. In the summer I'm sure it would be a beautiful daytime drive, but at night -- and with road construction around every other corner, it was a little stressful.

I made it to Reno a little after 10pm Pacific (1am Eastern), checked into the hotel and promptly fell asleep.

Rachel Joins Me: Two for Tuesday
Here, we can see the stalked prey through the bushes.
When I woke up Tuesday morning, I hit the road for the 90 minute drive from Reno to Susanville up the US Highway 395. An easy drive on a 2-lane road with a 65 MPH speed limit, the only downside is being stuck behind the occasional semi or prison transport van. I hate passing into lanes for oncoming traffic, especially at those speeds.

I met with my client -- a client that I particularly enjoy working with -- got the project taken care of and after day's worth of work, I drove back down 395 and arrived at the Reno airport shortly after Rachel's flight... and promptly dragged her to her first In-N-Out Burger.

Though I had (jokingly) said that if she didn't like it, I might just have to bring her back to the airport, that warning turned out to be unnecessary as she declared it "Delicious".

Doing some other quick preparation for Wednesday's long drive north before retiring back to the Reno hotel for a good night's sleep.

Wide Open Road: Wednesday
Wednesday morning we started the trek North, and that will start our next post on the subject later this week.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Salute to John Williams

[The complete program for this concert follows this post]

There are some concerts that I'm predisposed to like -- and this concert, featuring the music of John Williams, scores high as far as predispositions goes. Thus, it's particularly surprising when I left tonight's concert barely mustering a "meh". It's not that it was bad, it just wasn't Cleveland Orchestra good; more Long Beach Pops acceptable.

While I don't think it would have changed my impression of the concert, it's worth noting that the evening got off to a rocky start when another patron tried claiming my seat while I was settling in (The tickets were for the same box and seat; I stood my ground, er, chair, the usher just kind of shrugged, and the other patron moved on to another empty seat but it still dented the evening)

I long ago came to the conclusion that it is unreasonable to expect a "John Williams Concert" without music from Star Trek, but tonight's program was heavily loaded with cliched works, and left out all of my favorites (save for the encore) and Mr. Williams lesser known pieces.

Just because the selections were cliched doesn't necessarily mean I wouldn't enjoy it, but the performance  tonight -- perhaps just from my seat location as I was further house right than I prefer -- seemed really two-dimensional and lacked the musical depth-of-field that makes attending live orchestral concerts special; as  performed I might as well have been listening to them on  my iPod. After a while, most of the pieces pretty much sounded the same.

Nothing really stood out as superior but a few pieces deserve mention:
Sayuri's Theme from Memoirs of a Geisha was more subdued and restrained than I typically associate with Williams's works. The Olympic Fanfare and Theme from the 1984 Olympics embodied the Olympic Spirit.

Yoda's Theme from Star Wars was more delicate and combined with the vivid sounds of children playing on the (packed) lawn and a few quiet chirps from birds made what was probably the most serene piece on the evening's program.

Adventures on Earth from E.T. had a beautiful violin section and quite possibly could have been the piece so many years ago that subliminally made the violin my favorite instrument

March from 1941 served as the encore, and the only of my favorite John Williams pieces  that was heard at Blossom this evening and did not disappoint (for those building programs: Other favorite Williams pieces that don't get done: America: The Dream Goes On; The Main Theme from The Patriot; Main Title from The Towering Inferno, and I could go on...)


The Program (as published and performed), all by John Williams: Superman March from Superman; Main Title and Theme from Jurassic Park; Sayuri's theme from Memoirs of  a  Geisha; [1984]Olympic Fanfare and Theme; Suite from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Suite from Star Wars (The Imperial March, Yoda's Theme, Main Title); March from Raiders of the Lost Ark; Harry's Wonderful World  from Harry Potter; Selections from Hook (The Face of Pan, Flight to Neverland); Selections from Jaws (The Shark ThemeOut to Sea, and The Shark Cage Fugue); Adventures  on Earth from E.T.; March from 1941. Richard Kaufman, conductor.