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.