Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The LincolnInCleveland 2009 Annual Report

As we wind up 2009 it's interesting to take a few minutes to look back on the year behind:

Travel: Still haven't left the continent, but crossed off states #25 (Tennessee), 26 (Minnesota), and 27 (Wisconsin) on my list. I was in the air 25,465 miles for nearly 59 hours, bringing my total since 2003 to 151,102 miles, and 392 hours, equivalent to a little over 6 times around the world in 2 1/3 weeks. Since January 1st I spent 53 nights in 26 hotels, all but 5 of those being work related.

Highlights included two extended visits to San Francisco and a spur-of-the moment weekend in Philadelphia -- both cities that I last visited when I was much younger and very pleasantly surprised on my solo visits. Both cities are immensely walkable and there's something liberating about being in a city without a rental car or GPS. "Its amazing what you can find when you aren't looking for it" is my motto to justify not making plans before arriving in a city... and I've yet to be disappointed.

Thanks to a friend of a friend I visited all four of the Walt Disney World Resorts (Disney World, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios) for the first time while on business in Orlando -- have some great memories and Disney World brought back some weird de ja vu compared to the west coast's Disneyland. I also made it to Cedar Point for the first time...that's just pure awesomeness.

Oh, the places I've been... My travel by land and air through 12/29 - click for the big version:

Performing Arts: The beginning of the year saw the end of my challenge to attend at least one performing art event each week, every week, for a year. Not only did I complete this goal, recently my average attendance has been 2-3 per week, with a high in the beginning of December of 5 events in 5 days. And there are still events I was interested in that I managed to miss.

I discovered the musical Spring Awakening and stalked it across the country -- 6 times in 3 states, but the most amazingly memorable performance was when I was on stage in Philadelphia. Words cannot describe. I might still wind up in in Hershey or Cincinnati to try for #7.

The more you listen, the more you learn and I became a common sight at Cleveland Orchestra concerts. I discovered a passion for classical music that I am still exploring, through the Orchestra, CIM, and the [HUGE] number of organizations dedicated to the art in Cleveland.

I found that I prefer classical live and contemporary recorded -- my iTunes music collection passed the 4,400 track mark covering 400 years and virtually every known genre. The 20GB iPod I thought was insanely huge 5 years ago is now completely full... my iPod touch has a sliver of room remaining.

Singleness: I met more women in 2009 than the rest of the decade combined... but still haven't found someone with whom things have clicked. Maybe my standards are too high. I'm not lowering my standards any time soon. (I'm tempted to add that women tend to silently fall of the face of the earth making the not interested/interested but playing games/out of town thing so much harder to figure out, but that may fall into the category of "rash generalization")

I think that sums up the major areas in my life...


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Up In The Air

So I don't normally post on the mainstream film I see; largely because I view mainstream film as a mindless escape -- somewhere where I can go sit in a dark room and turn my brain off for a few hours.

Up In The Air, however, is noteworthy. In several respects I am Ryan Bingham (George Clooney's character)... on some levels that disturbs me; on most levels it probably should distrurb me. The film's poster is that of a man staring out a window at a 747. That window is next to Gate A40 at Detroit Metro Airport's (DTW) McNamara Terminal. I have stared out that window more times -- and for more hours than I care to admit.

The Film's tag line is "The Story of a Man Ready To Make a Connection" -- I'm going to stop short of calling it this blog, but the connection welcomes itself.

While not exactly a road warrior by most definitions -- I've only spent about 50 nights in hotels since January 1st and only fly about 30,000 miles in the average year; but a quote early on in the film "All the things you probably hate about traveling are warm reminders that I am home" resonates. I should probably be ashamed to admit it, but I dig Elite status (Carrying Continental Silver Elite, Delta/Northwest Silver Medallion, and Hilton HHonors Diamond credentials). I speak near-fluent airport codes. I wouldn't mind the hotel bar scene where Ryan meets Alex (Vera Farmiga) playing itself out in real life -- however, the later turn in their relationship was disheartening. Careerwise I find little in common; the travel and relationships... Maybe there is hope for me.



Here's the trailer:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dobama: Gutenberg: The Musical

This is a play I really, really, really wanted to like. I can't say that I hated it, and parts were certainly enjoyable but on balance the script left me mildly annoyed. I know the show has a little bit of a cult following... but I didn't get what makes it cult worthy [then again, the same can probably be said for the number of times I've seen Spring Awakening].

It is, in essence, a musical about the making of an historical fiction musical based on Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. With a Holocaust, love story, and a few random dance breaks thrown in for good measure.

I've been interested in seeing Gutenberg since I saw it on Dobama's schedule but I've been saving it for this weekend because this weekend it is literally the only performing arts show to be seen (at least from the various postcards, season schedules, and emails I get) in Cleveland.

Perhaps I'm not as big of a musical theater fan as I consider myself (though I did get the foreign-language What You Own from Rent and One Night in Bangkok from the little-known Chess, a collaboration between the guys from ABBA and Tim Rice and show that I did lighting design/programming for in Southern California among the pre-show music) but I only got a handful of references to other theater.

Essentially, the gimmicks ran long but were never funny for more than the initial punch. While exuberantly acted and overacted (as apparently required by the script) the pacing and overacting was uneven and the gimmick, as with the hat gimmick to a lesser extent, didn't wear well on me. It was clear that I was seeing a carefully rehearsed play rather than a spur-of-the-moment creation (as contrasted with B-W's production of [Title of Show] back in May)

That being said I had not previously considered "Musical" and "Dobama" in the same thought; while not a full fledged musical by any stretch it was interesting to see Dobama produce a play with music.

Overall: "Eh"


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas & I'm covered in paint

First... wishes for a Merry Christmas for those whom aren't offended by such wishes.

Since it seems like a waste of a blog post to end there...

The paint on the ceiling of my living room/dining room/kitchen (the wonders of an open-floorplan townhouse) has been mildly annoying me for a while now. Roller marks were visible from the previous painters, and I didn't exactly help matters with some "touchup" work I did a few months ago. (Having the laundry on the 3rd floor is awfully convenient but it makes for lots of collateral "fun" if you ever have a leak)

I don't like painting generally and I hate painting ceilings -- the painting itself can be fun, but the prep and cleanup is interminable.

But between the fact that I don't need to be back in the office for 12 days and the fact that my annoyance with the quality of the paint has overwhelmed by hatred for painting I decided to tackle that task. I have to say that it looks much better then when I started...

I have to say for 3 hours of prep, 700 square feet of plastic drop cloth, a few hundred yards of painter's tape, and a gallon of paint (totalling about $60) it turned out refreshingly well.

I'm not sure though if I managed to get more paint on myself or on the ceiling and will probably be picking ceiling paint out of my hair well into the new year.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

CIA: American Casino And It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Just in case last night's Cleveland Orchestra concert wasn't enough to nudge me into the Christmas spirit, today -- the first meaningful snow on this side of town is certainly helping.

As a technology geek, ahem, professional, I'm ashamed to admit that I don't own a digital camera, the below stills came from my home:

Since I don't have to shovel anything yet I'm still in the "oh, isn't it cute" phase of winter. I decided I needed a movie today... something to get me out of the house without involving the outdoors or requiring putting any attention to the way I looked in public... I actually have been in the mood for a few weeks but nothing mainstream sufficiently moved me.

I noticed American Casino was on the schedule for CIA's Cinamatheque this evening and the topic intrigued me, so I made my way that direction for the 5:30 showing.

The film is, essentially, a documentary on the Wall Street/Housing
meltdown and it is informative but it doesn't really reveal any new information. Aside from a reference to Wall Street being a casino early on in the film the title is never really developed, and by taking a scatter shot approach to story telling -- some politicians, some displaced homeowners, some former employees of the various financial concerns, even several different cities -- you're left with a feeling more that you've gotten a very general survey than developing anything approaching an in-depth look; I also found it very hard to develop a connection with any of the individuals. Dobama's The Cleveland Plays, Part II: Dream/Home last season covered pretty much all of the same ground but really drew you into a more personal connection with the individuals.

Near the end of the film, though, it was a little depressing to see Riverside County, California featured, as I grew up in Southern Riverside County. During this segment it was interesting to learn the tertiary impact of foreclosed/vacant homes in the manner of pest control: Pools get turned off to save money, algae grows, mosquitoes multiply and spread disease; meanwhile vegetation grows uncontrolled creating a fine habitat for snakes... and of course the costs to abate both of those issues are borne by the taxpayer.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Christmas Concerts

I was once again impressed. This evening's concert lacked any form of ostentation and was just plain fun. It was at least as enjoyable as last evening's concert and I am currently fighting the temptation to return for at least one of the remaining concerts of this program.

The concert was a wonderful mix of well known and not so well known pieces; the Orchestra and chorus(es?) gave a wonderful new vibrancy to well-worn carols. Mr. Porco certainly knew how to work the house, and the there was a wonderful bit of timely humor courtesy of an unannounced visit from Santa-- bet you didn't know he took TARP funds and was running with only four reindeer as a cost-cutting and green measure!

Frequently the first piece on the program telegraphs the mood for the evening, and the Orchestra had me captivated from the first swell in O Come, All Ye Faithful... a feature I've not previously noticed. Marking the third time I've heard it preformed this week, tonight's Hallelujah Chorus was my favorite of the three. Carol of the Bells was also particularly lively; and this is probably a good moment to point out that there was a fantastic handbell group preforming prior to the concert.

In the second half, I wasn't the biggest fan of the audience participation shtick for The Twelve Days of Christmas -- it was fun, but it disrupted the flow of the piece which started wonderfully.

Overall, it was just a laid-back, fun evening of great music in a great hall. It's also worth noting that I shared Box 4 with a couple, pastor and wife, celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary (though they certainly didn't look it!) by visiting Severance Hall for the first time. They enjoyed the concert and I hope they return to Severance in the future.

I look forward to making this a new holiday tradition.


The Program:
Robert Porco, Conductor; with The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and members of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus.
Traditional, arr. Wilberg: O Come, All Ye Faithful
Bach, arr. Stokowski: Sheep May Safely Graze from Cantata No. 208
Traditional, arr. Dragon: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Traditional, arr. Brdaford: Carol of the Bells
Humperdinck: Dream Pantomime from Hansel and Gretel
Rutter: What Sweeter Music
Rutter: Donkey Carol
Tchaikovsky: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Chocolate, Coffee, and Polinchinelle from The Nutcracker.
Traditional, arr. Rutter: Joy to the World
Handel: Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah
Traditional, arr. Wilberg: Fum, Fum, Fum
Bizet: Farandole from L'Arlesienne
Bernard, arr. Miller: Winter Wonderland
Jessel, arr. Gould: Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
Rutter: The Twelve Days of Christmas
Anderson: Sleigh Ride
With three announced encores: White Christmas, Silent Night, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Eileen Ivers - An Irish Christmas

"Wow." I entered the hall with some pessimism and left with none.

While certainly not the orchestra's traditional fare, this evening's concert was incredibly energizing. The Orchestra played the role of idle audience to Ms. Ivers and band for a larger chunk of the program than I would have liked, but all were thrilling to listen to.

It appeared that everyone -- including the orchestra, and most notably Mr. Feddeck was enjoying themselves; I think I can safely say I've never noticed a conductor's head bobbing so vigorously. I have also never seen so many players pour so much energy into their music; I nearly worked up a sweat just watching. It's hard to pinpoint one specific favorite piece, but opening with A Christmas Festival, while not as wildly energetic as some of the later pieces, certainly made for great listening, as did Parchelbel's Frolics

The crowd was a willing participant in the show, and I was not unaffected by the surplus of energy... tapping my foot through a large part of the show, and during the encore succumbing to the rhythmic clapping. Also of note were the number of first time or rare guests to Severance in attendance.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow evening's concert, but for now... I need to be at work in the morning ;)


The Program
James Feddeck, Conductor with Eileen Ivers, Celtic Fiddle
Anderson: A Christmas Festival
Traditional, arr. O'Carolan & Starobin: Planxty Loftus Jones
Bach, arr. Finno: Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring
Ivers & Keane, arr. Sammut: Medley: Bygone Days
Traditional, arr. Sammut: The Holly Tree
Traditional, arr. Sammut: Medley: Deck the Halls
Bizet: Farandole from L'Arlesienne
Traditional, arr. Sammut: Pachelbel's Frolics
arr. Sammut: Mrs. Fogarty's Fruitcake
Whelan, arr. Hollenbeck: Riverdance
Traditional, arr. Finno & Levine: Medley: Christmas Time Is Here
With One Encore, title and composer unknown.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trinity Cathedral: Handel's Messiah (Abridged, Sing Along Version)

Upon the suggestion of my violin teacher I made my way downtown to Trinity Cathedral for a long lunch today. The program? The church's "something-ith annual" Messiah Sing.

Today's performance was markedly more enjoyable; yet it's still not a piece that I feel any particular fondness for. Aside from the "For Unto Us" and "Hallelujah" courses it simply doesn't move me or hold as much of my attention as I would prefer.

The differences between this incarnation and the version I heard on Saturday were great but I don't endeavor to make a pure apples-to-apples comparison between the two. For one, while the Cleveland Orchestra presented a nearly-complete rendition, this one was significantly abridged. Both have their merits, but I got the point with the abridged version (and otherwise would have been even later back to the office).

The biggest improvement came in the soloists' department. While I couldn't see them to compare body language, there was no doubt as to what language they were singing in (as I initially had at the orchestra's performance), and there wasn't the incessant warbling that grated on my ears.

Generally, the atmosphere was more festive and genial; the music was well-played but had a much "lighter" feeling. Between the acoustics of the cathedral and the fact that you couldn't help but to find yourself surrounded by dozens of singers there was a much more jubilant feeling in the air; true surround sound. Almost as if one were a funeral service and the other was wedding. Based on what I learned about the origins of the piece the point can certainly made that to be historically accurate it should not be jubilant... but the jubilance certainly pushes it in the direction of being enjoyable.

(For the record, I didn't sing. I am sure this simple fact contributed to the enjoyment of many this afternoon.)

I'm still having a hard time getting myself into the "Christmas Spirit" though; hopefully the next two days of holiday concerts at Severance Hall can help break my funk.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Handel's Messiah

Through the second half of the performance I had an internal dialogue with myself, and my thoughts fell into two distinct but related categories.

"The Importance of Body Language" and "They can't all be winners".

The biggest issue I had with the concert itself were the male soloists. I wasn't enamored by their singing but particularly distracting was their body language when not singing. I've seen people in line at the DMV who looked like they were enjoying themselves more: Imagine three people sitting in front of the orchestra who look like they're undergoing some sort of painful medical exam staring at you for two hours. It should be noted that my comments do not apply to Ms. Wilson who was both pleasant to listen to, and looked like she was enjoying listening to the concert when not singing.

The concert was nearly sold out by my estimation, and otherwise unremarkable.

This is the first time I've heard anything other than the Hallelujah chorus from the piece, much less a "Complete" version. While I certainly enjoyed parts of it (the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus was fantastic) the vocal lines just got too repetitive and I didn't get the spark of excitement, that, for example I got from last week's concert. As a oratorio, the music plays second fiddle to the voice... and if you don't love the voice...

I don't know that it's a piece I need to hear in its entirety again. I would be interested in hearing Mozart's take on the material with a larger orchestra... perhaps next year?

The pre-concert lecture was particularly illuminating and humorous, especially the comments on the origin of the standing (perhaps it was a case of gout; perhaps the king was confused and thought it was part of the national anthem) the amount of time the piece was composed in (most likely because he wasn't doing well financially and needed to get something on stage), the fact that this staple of "Christmas music" was actually written for Easter... and the fact that the music for the "unto us a Child is born" number was lifted from an Italian opera Handel had written.

Meanwhile, because the business of the arts intrigues me almost as much as the art itself, I stumbled across this article (Philanthropy Journal, Patron Churn: Love Them or They'll Leave) that I wanted to share. I don't think any of that is news... but the one specific suggestion stood out to me as a great idea that I don't think anyone in Cleveland is doing. I'll let you guess which one.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Playhouse Square: Nutcracker (Royal Winnipeg Ballet)

Ballet is perhaps the only performing art medium that I'm less qualified to comment on than Opera.

I enjoy ballet for artistic reasons (the music and grace of the human body in motion) and I'm-a-guy-so-shoot-me reasons (ballet dancers are, as a whole, a very attractive group physically). There's not much of a professional ballet presence, that I've found at least, in greater Cleveland. Sure there's plenty of contemporary dance but I just don't find it as compelling as ballet.

Tonight's performance marked the fourth time I've seen the Nutcracker; the first was 3 years ago here in Cleveland at Playhouse Square... The past two years were in Southern California. I don't remember much of the original Playhouse Square performance besides a general enjoyment; the California performances were, in a word, awful. (Any time the director's note implies "The original story doesn't make any sense, so I decided to fix that" by completely reordering things RUN.)

Fast forward to tonight.

The performance was the most innovative staging of the four. The first act flew by and held my undivided attention. There was a hideous, prolonged noise at one point where the mouse king was doing his thing, but giving the benefit of the doubt it could have been an intentional sound effect.

The 2nd act was, as it should be, dancing for dancing sake and my interest was fading rapidly by the time the finale rolled around. The end of the Nutcracker has always felt like the story arc was left incomplete...this staging I felt much better about, but still felt like it was missing part of the resolution.

The music produced by the orchestra in the pit was fantastic. For whatever reason it was amplified and I was a little distracted by hearing the violins (through a speaker) coming from my right instead of the left which is what I am accustomed to. I have a feeling I was the only one in the audience who noticed, and aside from the "oh, that's odd" feeling it wasn't remarkable.

Of course, much of the music from the Nutcracker has fallen into the category of "holiday staple" divorced from its relationship to the ballet (dum-dum-da-da-dum-dummmmm). Sitting there I had to wonder if Mr. Tchaikovsky had any inclination while he was composing of the enduring and wide-spread popularity the piece would enjoy... for that matter if any of the great dead ones -- be it Shakespeare or Beethoven -- knew the endurance of their work.

Have you done anything enduring?


Learning the Violin, Part IV & Fantastic Service from Carlin Violins

Ok, no extensive monologue here: Ms. Terry Carlin of Carlin Violins (Little Italy, or 216-791-A=440) just plain has customer service down. Add reasonable rates and amazingly prompt customer service and... well, what else is there to say?

My visit to her shop this afternoon, occasioned by my mis-guided attempt to replace my own tailpiece -- a story of its own -- remnded me that I haven't posted in a while about that adventure in quite a while.

I'm still taking lessons -- I'm having more fun with every week, and I'm making awful noises with far less frequency. The best part about learning to play, is thanks in large part to my fantastic teacher my understanding, appreciation, and general enjoyment of the musical world surrounding the violin has incereased exponentially.

The lessons are a highlihgt of my week and practicing is a great distraction from the outside world. The violin I bought for $0.01 (plus $45 in shipping), though, is reaching it's limits, and some of its quirks are becoming more fustrating by the day -- especially in the slipping peg department. It was (is) a good introduction, but now that I know I'm enjoying the journey I really want to acquire a violin made out of real wood.

Right now I'm holding off on most expenses because I'm expecting a hideous property tax bill -- the Auditor seems to have determined that my home's value has increased by $100k despite what the rest of the market has done -- but once that bill gets paid I may just get myself a late Christmas present.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Can anybody find me somebody to love?" or I'm Pretty Sure My Deity is Mocking Me, Pt. 2

No event for me tonight. [Relatives, please stop reading here.]

Ok, so I'm displaying a complete lack of shame here, but I'm flat out of other ideas.

As brief recap... I met the fantastic young woman I mentioned in "I'm Pretty Sure My Deity is Mocking Me" recently; as much as I'd like it to happen my chances of earning a followup meeting with her are somewhat worse than getting hit by a bus and winning the lottery on the same day. Keep in mind that I don't play the lottery.

When it comes to meeting people (women) I have a lot working against me.
  • I was born in Central California, raised in Southern California; I know next to no one in this time zone that's my own age.
  • My coworkers are all guys... and with one exception, married and nearly old enough to be my father.
  • My nightclubbing/barhopping phase lasted about 2 weeks when I was 22. Hitting a bar socially is fun, but alone I just don't get; borrowing from The Hold Steady's You Can't Make Him Like You "They say you don't have a problem / until you start to do it alone..."
  • The places I most enjoy -- museums, theatres, Severance Hall, are also among the places I think it would be weirdest to hit on, or be hit on by some random stranger.

The online dating thing isn't working for me. It seems like every single single woman in this town is a sports fanatic; most guys would dig this; for me its a problem since I can barely tell you the difference between the Browns and Indians... and that's about the extent of my interest in sports (but I won't turn down the atmosphere of a Cavs game in person from time to time).

The thought of offering a "Finders Fee" for an introduction has crossed my mind before...and been quickly dismissed. Then I came across across this post at "27 Dresses in Cleveland" [so I'm not alone!]... and opening line of Queen's song by a similar title caught my ear at Monday Evening's Wicked Rocks Benefit. So I figured I'd put it out there.

Can Anybody Find Me Somebody To Love...

I'd like to follow the date first/friends second/something more if it clicks approach, and I'm not in a hurry to get married... but on the flip side, one date an average of every nine months just isn't healthy. Those goals in mind, I'm not sure what kind of finders fee to offer and at what milestone to trigger it.

So what type of woman am I attracted to? A seemingly impossible combination of intellect and tallent. I'm narrowing it down, but in the words of Supreme Court Justice Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964)*, "I'll know [her] when I see [her]".

Physically is where I'm least picky and most flexible; age somewhere in the 23-32 neighborhood; as a 6'0"/130 walking stick I'm most attracted to slender-to-average women, though tall is cool, and age isn't critical (but not too old, now!).

Intellectually, I'm attracted to creative personalities, particularly it seems professional [string] musicians. I value someone who is independent, driven, and is working on a successful career. A woman who's not afraid to challenge or be challenged, be that intellectually or physically (gosh darn it, I wasn't to have a passionate discussion with someone about a performance! It's so much more fulfilling when you can get someone else's perspective). She's versatile, spanning everything from "stupid movie" to "night at the opera" with "day on the couch", "10 mile walk/jog/run", and/or "nice dinner" mixed in. Outgoing, confident, and not afraid to speak her mind are pluses, as is someone willing to share her interests. I think that gets the general idea across.

Does this woman exist? Does she exist in greater Cleveland [Heights]? Is she still single? Is she sane?

I have a lot to offer, don't play mind games, and have passed background checks.

So... if you are this person, or think you might know her, stalk me, er, find me at one of the events up top, drop me a line, leave a moderated comment, use telepathy... whatever.

* - A case that revolved around what constituted "obscenity" based on a film shown at the Heights Art Theater, now the Centrum, in Coventry Village about a 3/4s of a mile down the street from my house. There's your US Supreme Court factoid of the day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cleveland Chamber Music Society: Daedalus Quartet

Beethoven: String Quartet No. 10 in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 ("The Harp")
Lerdahl: Third String Quartet (2008) (World Premiere)
Dvorak: String Quartet No. 11 in C Major, Op. 61
At the Pilgrim Congregational Church, Shaker Heights.

For personal reasons entirely unrelated to CCMS, the venue, or the performers this concert was unusually awkward for me.

This is the second time this week I've heard Beethoven's Quartet in E-Flat Major (the first time being here)... I have to say that I enjoyed the piece far more when extracted from the Beethoven sandwich that I first heard it in. Perhaps because my ear was already used to the major motifs and flow of the piece I was more easily able to pick out "short-short-short-long rhythmic outline" -- despite having it pointed out the first time I heard the quartet, I didn't notice it in that rendition. In both versions I enjoyed the pizzicato traveling its way around the quartet. For simple pleasures.

It's also intresting to note that both groups went to great lengths to point out that this piece was not titled The Harp by Beethoven and that title didn't have his approval.

In learning to play the violin, the E string is my least favorite to spend more than one or two bows on because it's screechy to my ear. Lerdahl's Third String Quartet had some interesting themes -- and a great introduction by the composer ("An introduction...a coda...and some stuff in the middle") -- but the violins spent too much time on the E-string -- and the so-insanely-high/sharp-that-it-would-never-come-through-on-a-recording-E-string for me to really enjoy it.

Finally Dvorak's String Quartet No. 11 in C Major... I don't know how I feel about the piece. I don't have the instant attraction that I did to From the New World, but I wasn't put off by it either. There were some themes in the 2nd movement that seemed familiar but I couldn't place them; I'm relatively certain I haven't heard the piece previously.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Playhouse Square: Wicked Rocks (a benefit)

You can find the extensive program for the show at the end of this post.

It was with some trepidation that I went to tonight's performance -- it wasn't actually until I left my violin lesson that I decided to give it a go... bought my ticket and snuck into the Hannah Theatre with a little less than 10 minutes to published curtain.

It was a fantastic evening of music for a great cause, The Brian Warbel Memorial Fund/University Hospitals. Quite a few people donated time and talent to pull off a the event and you could tell that the cast and band members were really enjoying themselves. The audio problems present during the State Theatre performance of Wicked were nonexistent; levels were relatively balanced, audio was clear.... and a good time was had by all.

Adding entertainment was the live auction held just before intermission, which was amusing enough on its own. A bidding war that erupted for one item was stopped by management and declared a tie at $4k -- I would have been interested to see how high it could have gotten; I got the sense one of the women was not going to back down until she won, regardless of price.

All of the performances were great; Richard Kline's MCing was entertaining, and his introduction to Homeward Bound was touching.


We Will Rock You (Queen), California Dreamin' (Mammas and the Pappas), Every Day I Write The Book (Elvis Costello), The Four Seasons Medley, Landslide (Fleetwood Mac), Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield), For Once In My Life (Stevie Wonder), Fire (Bruce Springsteen), A Case of You (Joni Mitchell), Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne), Somebody to Love (Queen), Proud Mary (CCR), Homeward Bound (Simon and Garfunkel), Every Little Thing She Does (The Police), Something to Talk About (Bonnie Raitt), Brown Sugar (The Rolling Stones), Come Sail Away (Styx), Dream On (Aerosmith), Let It Be (Paul McCartney/John Lennon)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

CIM: Intensive String Quartet Seminar Gala Concert

Beethoven: Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, N0. 1
Beethoven: Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2
Beethoven: Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3
Beethoven: Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 ("The Harp")
Beethoven: Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 ("Serioso")
Beethoven: Quartet in F Major, Op. 135

I can certainly understand one possible interperation of "Intensive" in Cleveland Institute of Music's Intensive String Quartet Seminar. We have conclusively determined that 4 hours of Beethoven quartet exceeds my limits.

I walked into Mixon hall not knowing what I was getting myself into; while all of the quartets were well played none of them particularly caught my ear; perhaps my being in a bit of a funk didn't help. In any event, I'm still putting Saturday Evening's Orchestra concert on the pedistal to which I will compare all others for the time being.

Highlights of the program, though, included an introduction at the beginning of the evening providing context, from Beethoven's own words, for the point in his life at which the first three pieces were composed, as well as introductions provided before each piece by a member of the quartet... it was interesting to hear, in the students' words the highlights and motifs from each piece, particularly those given by Mr. Kantor and Mr. Gonzalez

While I understand the idea behind programming this as a single concert and it was enjoyable, I think it would have been better received if it had been programmed as two separate concerts or with a much earlier start time. I struggled with deciding should I stay or should I go up until the members of the last group took the stage -- others were not as patient. That being said, I think this is the only concert I've attended where the audience size significantly increased as the program progressed.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2

Von Weber: Overture to Der Frelschutz
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 37
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2, Op. 27

The majority of the time my ovation at any performance is the matter of conscious thought and deliberation: Do I clap? How long? Perhaps most importantly, Does it deserve a standing ovation?

At the conclusion of tonight's performance, I was on my feet and enthusiastically clapping before my brain registered what I had done. The combination of all three pieces was made for quite possibly the most amazing performance I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. The type of performance that imprints a euphoric energy on the audience that is still with me as I type this.

Between the quick Overture with some beautiful string work and the well-played Piano Concerto No. 3 -- highlighting the fantastic acoustics of Severance where I could hear the felt of the hammers striking the strings from across the hall -- there was nothing not to like about the first half of the program.

Logic tells me that if I liked the first two pieces the I must not like the third piece. I couldn't have been more wrong -- I not only liked, but loved the Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. To attempt to identify any single highlight would be an exercise in futility... Franklin Cohen's clarinet solo in the 3rd movement is definitely up there. The violins, particularly, throughout the piece were not only beautiful to watch, but beautiful in tone.

It is impossible for me to choose a favorite piece, let alone movement from tonight's program. Likewise, I can't choose a piece or movement that I disliked.

Events that transpired during intermission, however, cemented this concert as my all time favorite (to date) Severance Hall experience. Between that and the aforementioned euphoric energy, I feel like I'm defying gravity (as of 10 am Sunday...I have come down :( ).


Playhouse Square: Wicked Young Professionals Night

So... the event overall was fantastic, but there are some nagging issues that really detracted from my positive vibe. The Playhouse Square Partners were amazing hosts and all in all, I hope this type of event with a few refinements will be repeated in the future.

My seat, Orchestra Row R, Seat 209 was fantastic... virtually dead center in the house and just in front of the balcony rail. Unfortunately the woman in seat 208 decided that text messaging during the show was a good thing; eventually she got the clue, but I was moments away from grabbing her phone.

The audio mix for the first half of the show was what I can best describe as distractingly awful*. Mic cues were late, levels were all over the place, during one scene Elphaba's mic was never unmuted and some radio frequency interference was thrown in early on for good measure. The brass emanating from orchestra pit was overpoweringly loud...but I don't think it was miced. Based on how distracted I was by the audio (and how unintelligible some of the dialog was as a result) I can't really comment on the 1st act. It's been a long time since I've heard audio that awful, let alone audio that awful from a professional production.

I'm not sure if the A1 finally showed up for the 2nd act, or if someone got replaced or whatnot, but the 2nd act was significantly tighter... it truly was like I was seeing a completely different show, and was very enjoyable. Audio was good, brass was under control, and generally levels were balanced.

After the performance the Wyndham hosted a party in the presidential suite which was fun... fantastic views of Playhouse Square, food, drinks, merriment. Got roped into a fun photo with some of the cast members and some basic conversation ensued... I hope that photo makes it way to daylight. The photographer did a great job of working the crowd.

*- Yeah, so I'm a reformed theater tech. Lighting is my preference, but I've done (and can do) audio, so perhaps this is why I was particularly sensitive.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CIM: Woodwind Ensemble

Poulenc: Sextuor (1932)
Saint-Saens: Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs, Op. 79 (1887)
Nielsen: Kvintett, Op. 43 (1922)
Bruckner: Motet: Virgo Jesse
Lussier: Bassango
Williams: Cantina from Star Wars
Hindemith: Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2 (1922)
Barber: Summer Music, Op. 31
Mozart: C Minor Serenade, K. 388

I realized about half way through the program that the past few performances I've attended have essentially isolated the constituent parts of an orchestra -- strings, percussion, woodwinds -- and that's actually rather intriguing to me. It is interesting to hear, for example, just an oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and flute without the "distraction" of the other instruments -- I think I can now identify the sound of the bassoon with some level of certainty.

As can be seen from the list above the program covered a huge range of composers and periods; unfortunately none of the pieces in the program particularly captured my fancy -- Williams's Cantina was fun. One of the biggest problems, I think, was the flow between the 3rd, 4th, and 5th pieces -- a shorter break than some of the pauses between movements in other pieces and no clear indication that the end of a piece had been reached--based on the lack of applause, I don't think I was the only one who didn't realize that we had moved to a new piece, and it wasn't until the contrabassoon came out for Cantina that I realized I had heard 3 pieces instead of one.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Musically Speaking, Dvorak's Symphony 9, "From the New World"

A magnificently delightful afternoon is the best way to summarize today's experience at Severance Hall; in four parts: Tour, Prelude, Concert, Q&A.

"Like driving a Rolls Royce [or a] Ferrari" -- Bernard de Billy on conducting the Cleveland Orchestra.

The Musically Speaking series takes from the Chicago Symphony's Beyond The Score concept -- which I've previously read about and was very curious about the real life implementation I couldn't have been more delighted by the outcome. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Concert (3-5pm): From the New World is one of my favorite pieces; and thanks to the Beyond the Score programming I feel like I have a much better understanding of the influences behind the piece -- and why some of the passages have always seemed very familiar. It's easy to think that music gets composed in a vacuum, and program notes -- no matter how well written -- can only do so much to break the vacuum. The combination of short passages from the piece, passages from other pieces as well as contemporary reports, letters, and video eliminated the vacuum.

This is one of few pieces I've heard performed previously (September 23rd by the CIM Orchestra); while comparing a music conservatory's playing to that of The Cleveland Orchestra may not be completely fair it's the only comparison I can make. In three words, the Cleveland Orchestra's performance effervescent and delicate. It had a certain sparkling quality that I didn't hear in the CIM performance, and enough energy to carry things, yet not mindlessly crashing through the piece. The playing was quite simply passioned.

Previously, I had noted that I thought the 1st and 2nd movements were two slow for my tastes. In this performance, the 1st movement was much more my speed; and it turns out (thanks to Beyond the Score) that the blame for the speed of the 2nd movement can be blamed on the original conductor.

The Tour (1-2pm): On selected Sundays tours are offered of Severance Hall; I've done the tour before but each guide has their own version of the story and I've never seen the same tour twice. While I still wish more "back stage" areas were covered instead of purely ceremonial areas, today included a view of the real organ pipes an the George Szell Memorial Library which I hadn't seen previously. The tour segued into...

The Prelude Concert (2-2:40pm): Unfortunately, the tour hadn't finished by the time the prelude concert began and I missed the first piece (Ewazen's Quintet for English Horn and Strings); the second piece (Dvorak's String Quartet No. 10, op. 51) was beautifully played however I'm not sure if I was supposed to realize a connection between that piece and From the New World, aside from the common composer -- the audience was nearly standing room only; certainly the largest group I've ever seen in the Chamber Hall.

The Q&A (5pm-): As the cherry on top, a too-brief Question and Answer session with Messrs Bernard de Billy (conductor), Gary Ginsling (Orchestra general manager), and Robert Walters (English horn) followed the concert. Two of my most common requests for understanding classical music have been to provide more context for the piece and any context for the orchestra. Beyond the Score answers the problem of context for the piece, and the wonderful Q&A session opened the window for context for the orchestra. I was particularly interested to hear Mr. Walters's personal connections to the piece-- the homesickness on a European tour especially. Likewise, Mr. de Billy's comments on conducting the orchestra were illuminating; from the ease with which rehearsals progressed to the comparison drawn between conducting in Cleveland and driving a luxury car.

I hope the Orchestra would offer this type of Q&A were more frequently -- it certainly adds a level of understanding to see how the musicians and conductor approach the music and how past experiences have affected their connection to the pieces.

On my way out to my car after the Q&A session I ran into a few of the folks from last weekend's Heights Arts concert -- and the words "I read your blog" caught me so completely off guard I couldn't appropriately complement them on todays performance. Scratch that, I stood staring like a speechless idiot. In the same breath a woman reminded me that she was sitting behind me at the CIM percussion concert... Small world (and thanks for reading!) =)


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

To the 92% of my readers that come from the United States, I hope everyone has, had, or is having a happy Thanksgiving. (To the other 8%... happy Thursday?!?)


Monday, November 23, 2009

CIM Percussion Ensemble

Cowell: Ostinato Pianissimo
Tompkins: Six Duets in a Rudimental Style
Lansky: Three Moves for Marimba
Burritt: Shadow Chasers (1994)
Lansky: Threads

I wasn't sure what was in store for this evening's performance -- actually, it wasn't until about 40 minutes before the appointed time that I decided to attend. I was pleasantly surprised.

Of course, when you say percussion, the first things that come to mind are an snare drum-- or, of course, the percussive noise of the cannon in the 1812 Overture or a marching band... none are particular favorites of mine. Fortunately, this program was completely devoid of cannons and marching bands... and the snare drum was kept in check.

The Marimba is an instrument I was first introduced to at Baldwin-Wallace's Focus Festival a year or two ago; I was an instant fan. It has a hypnotic sound that I can never really find the words to describe -- tonight's performance featured two pieces with the marimba. The first, a solo was enticing, but Buritt's Shadow Chasers was my favorite from the program.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Heights Arts: House Concert Series - To the Extreme and Back

Mozart: Duo in B-flat Major, KV 424
Ligeti: String Quartet No. 1 "Metamorphoses Nocturnes"
Beethoven: String Quintet in C-major, op. 29
Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A, KV 581

With Miho Hashiume and Isabel Trautwein, violin; Yu Jin and Sonja Braaten, viola; Tanya Ell, Cello; and Franklin Cohen, clarinet.

I came into this program more or less on a whim. The concept of playing a concert in a private residence seemed interesting, perhaps a nod to the very origins of chamber music; Heights Arts is an organization relatively new to my consciousness; and generally it just seemed like a good idea.

I was not disappointed.

From the location -- a private penthouse downtown with fantastic views of the city and fantastic hosts -- to the music played beautifully in a impossibly intimate setting I can think of no way I would have preferred to spend the afternoon. The social atmosphere was also quite welcoming -- I was one of less than a handful who raised their hand when asked if this was a first time, and it truly seemed like everyone knew everyone.

The Ligeti piece was an athletic endeavor and one of the more challenging pieces I've seen played live--with a touching story behind it, but Mozart's Clarinet Quintet caught me off guard with a rich texture and beautiful playing by Mr. Cohen, equaled by the string artists.

It was particularly interesting that the majority of the musicians on the program are also members of the Cleveland Orchestra and how different -- not necessarily better nor worse, just different -- the experience is when you take that group of five musicians out of more than 100 and have them playing, literally, in a living room rather than a concert hall. This was particularly true of the clarinet, which I don't believe I've ever heard in such an intimate setting, and had a certain richness that I hadn't previously noticed.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Orange County: Spring Awakeining [Revised/Final]

I originally wrote this sitting on the floor of LAX waiting for my flight home to Cleveland via Houston after seeing Spring Awakening. Again. With my Mom.

This was my 6th time in my 3rd state for this show, making it one of few musicals I've seen more than once. When I first bought my ticket for the show in Cleveland I knew nothing of it, and had a box office sales rep try talking me out of it including the phrase "a very, extremely, explicit show".

I saw the show that first time, fell for the music (including some profane titles, let alone lyrics) and it touched me. I saw it again in Cleveland, then once in Pittsburgh, twice in Philadelphia (including once on stage in SA13 -- the best seat in the house), and now once in California.

There were some cast changes since the last time I saw this tour and it felt a little weird -- the Adult Man, in particular caught me off guard... not that it was bad, but kind of like when you put on a new pair of shoes after wearing your familiar pair and it just doesn't seem quite right.

I'll post more later, but my flight is boarding now.

My one huge complaint about this stop was the show seemed to be lacking the energy I've found previously -- maybe it was the weeknight performance, the fact that it was only the 3rd show at this venue, or it could even be California's energy conservation regulations -- but while energetic, it didn't hit the mark. In fact, one of my Mom's comments (the first time she's seen the show) was that it "didn't quite seem to have the energy that it would take to overcome the darkness".

But she also called it "the most depressing thing she's ever seen" -- something I can't agree with... but then again, I still think the line "we've all got our junk and my junk is you" is one of the most romantic lyrics I've ever heard.

The show drew more laughs at more lines for a longer period of time than I've noticed in any of the other cities I've seen the show in. There were some subtle differences -- like I don't think I've ever noticed the cigarette actually being lit.

I was in BB8, she was in BB9, second row house right (stage left) of center which was almost as intimate as the onstage seats--we nearly got hit by a flying reed during the scene leading to All that is known--I loved it, but it was probably a little too close for a first timer to really get a feel for the show.


Cleveland Orchestra: Fridays@7 - Cello and Space [Revised]

Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30

Before I begin, I have to say that the Orchestra's box office is, by far, my favorite Cleveland box office--competence, professionalism, and speed are constant features. But the truly special thing is the wonderfully personal service -- at least one employee knows my order before I've even opened my mouth, and has even remembered my name. You can't buy customer service like that, especially considering I'm neither a donor nor a subscriber.

It wasn't until I was in my seat fingering through the program that I figured out what the "Cello and Space" title for the concert meant. I hate to say it, but this evening didn't posses the same magic as the last Fridays @ 7. It was still a fine evening of entertainment, but I didn't get the euphoric high-energy vibe I got from the previous event...

The playing in the hall was up to the orchestra's usual standards, and as the gentleman in front of me told his wife between movements, "No one plays Dvorak like the Cleveland Orchestra". Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra is probably best known as the theme for 2001: A Space Odyssey and was my favorite of the two pieces. The bass line at the beginning of that piece happened to hit the harmonic of "something" in one of the adjoining boxes causing an interesting, though unintentional, buzzing and demonstrating the power of the orchestra.

The after-entertainment started out interesting but once other instruments started getting added it just became noise, due almost entirely to a sound reinforcement system that seemed inadequate for the size of the crowd it was serving. After the third song, the week of sleeping in hotel rooms, sofas, and the 3 hours of sleep I got last night in seat 4A of a Boeing 757 caught up with me and the siren's song of my own bed was too loud to ignore.

The orchestra is in the unenviable position of needing to grow a younger audience while not alienating their existing patrons. I think the Fridays@7 concept is a good bridge between the two, I just hope that the excitement and energy of the first one can be recaptured going forward.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This Sunday, COYO or Solon Philharmonic...oh wait.

I'm wrapping up Day 2 in San Francisco... got hit with some other work items that required attention so no leisure time today. I skipped the Opera; with work, a 3-hour run time, and an 8pm start it just didn't seem like something I was in the right mood to enjoy.

But being prospective and looking forward to Cleveland and this already know what I'm doing Friday night, but Saturday and Sunday are free of plans. One of the problems with a city that has so much to offer is sometimes tough decisions must be made.

The other day I realized Sunday the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra is going to be performing a program that includes Copland's Appalachian Suite Sunday at 3pm. I am interested.

Then going through my NEOhioPAL mail, I found an announcement that The Solon Philharmonic, a group I had not heard of, would be performing Copland's A Lincoln Portrait [no direct relation] and Old American Songs Sunday at 3pm. I am interested.

Then looking at my Performing Arts calendar, I realized that I already have a ticket for Heights Arts' To The Extreme and Back, a program that sounds interesting on its own but more so coupled with the fact that it takes place in a private residence, at 4pm Sunday. So I guess that settles that.

(Other events I know are happening Sunday include Tri-C's Eurydice, two CIM Concerts, Wicked at Playhouse Square, and Browns Rules at Cleveland Public Theater... and this is a relatively light weekend)


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

California Tour, Day 1: Veni, vidi, vici

This week I'm doing a "whirlwind" California tour -- I flew into San Francisco yesterday afternoon and will be here until Wednesday when I fly to San Diego; Thursday I see a musical (my favorite musical) in Orange County and then at 12:30 AM Friday morning I fly via Houston to be back in Cleveland for the Orchestra's next Fridays @ 7 concert.

I had no plans for today when I got here... and still had no plans when I left the room this morning. Last visit I hit all of the museums I knew about and was interested in so... I wound up finishing my longest walk/run to date -- 16.75, give or take, continuous miles on foot down the Embarcadero, through Fisherman's Wharf (with a brief pause at In-N-Out Burger for lunch), way, way, down Lombard, and that's where it got interesting, especially since that's the last place I actually looked at a map. At some point I decided I was going to cross the Golden Gate while I was here.

First, I found myself at the Palace of Fine Arts which is a beautiful structure and stunning grounds... I'm unclear, though if the Palace includes just the dome or the dome + the hall that is now home to the Exploratorium; if the latter is true the name is much less confusing. In any event, it's amazing what fantastic condition the place is in given the complete lack of walls.

From there the pedestrian path to the Golden Gate was decidedly unclear and I wound up crossing over and making my way through the Presidio, a decommissioned military installation (1776-1994), now a mixed use facility; at some point during my walk through the beautiful grounds, I got turned slightly sideways -- this part of San Francisco is not the most pedestrian friendly with no wayfinding and sidewalks that occasionally abruptly disappear, but it was a relatively scenic hike through the woods with a very peaceful cemetery along the way.

Once back in the general direction of the bridge, I stumbled across an overlook that provided some unworldly views of the Bridge and the ocean before continuing on to my goal: The Golden Gate Bridge. I've driven across, and been driven across this bridge before. I've also walked on to the bridge... but never completely across. Narrowly missing death-by-tourist-cyclist on a few occasions I made it north, then back south.

I, thankfully, did not retrace my steps on the way back; instead, after getting off the bridge I immediately wound up on Lincoln Blvd, switch backed my way down to the coast and followed the coast to Fort Mason; through a park, and back to Van Ness. From Van Ness I took North Point and Beach to the Cable Car turn around. I rode the cable car all the way downtown, not so much because that's where I wanted to go but because I wanted to sit for a little while. Once downtown I walked back to the hotel (about 1 mile, for a total of about 17.75 miles) and took my shoes off.

My hotel is across the street from the Transamerica Pyramid. From the North side of the bridge, you can see the Transamerica Pyramid but it seems like it's one heck of a long way away.

I'm seriously considering, time permitting, checking out the San Francisco Opera tomorrow evening... we'll see.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Brahms/Adams/Brahms

Brahms: Tragic Overture
Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2

The pre-concert lectures are an invaluable addition to the concert experience. Tonight's commentary by Assistant Conductor James Feddeck was instrumental, excuse the pun, in helping to understand the program in greater depth.

Whenever possible at Severance Hall prefer to grab a seat in one of the boxes... Not only are they some of the best views and definitely the best sounding of any of the seating areas I've tried but there's a certain collegiality that frequently exists among box members that doesn't seem to develop in the other areas. The fine folks who shared Box 8 with me this evening were some of the most hospitable I've encountered.

Brahms' Tragic Overture passed quietly -- literally, I thought the volume could be upped a touch but had no other strong feelings on the piece.

Adam's Doctor Atomic Symphony, excerpted from his opera by a similar title was quite simply amazing, and I think the piece became my favorite post-1980 "classical" composition. Mr. Feddeck implored the audience at the pre-concert lecture to listen to the piece as a dramatic work and I was simply too into the music to even consider that aspect. The piece features some fantastic string work, a beautiful trumpet solo (coming from a guy who dislikes brass) and is just generally impressive in its breadth.

Finally, Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2... I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of piano concertos generally. One of my boxmates mentioned that this was one of his favorites and after listening to this performance I could understand why he would say that. I have to confess, though, that what most took me about this piece were the rich cello solos in the third movement. Amazingly, the orchestra last performed this piece in Severance 42 years ago!


Cleveland Play House: Inherit The Wind

I am conflicted about this show. However, my utter dislike of matinees in general has been reaffirmed.

For most of the first act I thought that the show was well paced both in the plot and the direction... but then things kind of fell apart and I was struggling to stay awake*.

The 2nd act was entertaining but the story seemed to drag; aside from the two attorneys, none of the characters seamed to be doing anything useful and the actors didn't seem to be doing anything to sell their characters. At one point during the bible/Darwin/bible thing in the courtroom I was waiting for the "Why Can't I Own Canadians" speech which would have added some levity... but it never came.

It wasn't until after the show had ended that I learned that the play was written in 1955 [which was a question I heard asked a dozen times during intermission] and as a critique on McCarthyism... something that as far as I could find was not mentioned in the program and certainly adds some very useful context and gives meaning to the play's existence.

Based largely on the "lack of selling" that I mentioned, I didn't feel a real connection with any of the characters and therefore didn't feel a connection to the story.

Throughout the 2nd act there was a persistent very high pitched screeching emanating from some indeterminate corner of the theater which was extraordinarily distracting.

* I don't think this was the play's fault based on my day Friday ending at 1:30 AM Saturday, the fact that I had just waked +/-6 miles [Shaker Lakes is beautiful this time of year!], and the fact that I need to be at the airport by 7:00 AM Tomorrow.

CMA: After Hours w/ Sheer Frost Orchestra and Eats Tapes)

Friday evening the Cleveland Museum of Art opened a companion exhibition to the Gauguin show featuring ten works by students at the Cleveland Institute of Art-- the opening also featured works by Sheer Frost Orchestra and Eats Tapes.

In three parts:
The Art, CIA Students: Cleveland 2009: I would suggest that anyone attending the Museum first walk through the gallery and just enjoy the art then read the exhibition book and go through again... Most of the pieces are interesting in one way or another, though I think my favorite concept was either Exchange Rate or 10' x 8' x 100. Operator and Spectator is just kind of fun and Standard Shipping Error is a sort of whimsical look at what could have been if, I suppose, Gauguin's work had been trusted to a shipping company en route to it's exhibition.

Sheer Frost Orchestra: The concept is certainly unusual-- 17 electric guitars played lying flat on the ground using bottles of nail polish the connection between performer and instrument. The sound created could only be described as ethereal, and the one or two occasions where something resembling a "normal" electric guitar sound was heard seemed aberrant. I'm not sure which was worse, however: The people carrying on relative loud conversations in the gallery during the performance or the unidentified woman who made not one but two announcements about the same.

Eats Tapes: I love the name of this duo; it took me a few minutes to get warmed up to electronic sound but wow. Interesting sounds and rhythms literally pulsating through the building -- I'm pretty sure the curators will notice some seismic activity in the East wing. Had the lights been turned off in the Key Bank Lobby, the scene outside of the Gauguin galleries would have been largely indistinguishable from a nightclub... some interesting and organic dancing with a fantastically diverse crowd from somewhere around 18 up.


Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm pretty sure my Deity is mocking me

I'm generally happy with my life -- I'm debt-free except for my mortgage, own a house in a neighborhood I like, enjoy my job and the places that that travel brings me. I'm in generally good health, and I live in a region that has hundreds of events to enjoy covering pretty much every known facet of entertainment. If I were more religious I may use the word "blessed".

But the part I'm not so happy about is starting to really drag: I'm missing a true human connection. Someone to share those experiences with, someone to discover new ideas through, someone for whom you suspend rational thought. And it seems like the more I try to do something about it the less success I have. I've decided bars are not the best place to meet the kind of person I'm looking for... and it seems a profound majority of the women in "my age range" in Cleveland actually prefer sports to our fantastic arts scene, which begs the question for competitive types: Who has the better record, the Browns or the Orchestra?

Anyway, a several months back I came oh-so-close to earning a meeting with a woman who sounded amazing, and it turns out works for one of the institutions I highly respect. That incident was the first time I can honestly say that rational thought went out the window--and it felt good. But something came up and we never met. I felt like (feel like) an ass, but don't really regret the experience.

So the Deity-is-mocking-me part comes: A coworker happened to send me the profile for someone he though I had a lot in common with. I agreed--in fact, one of the most promising connections since the aforementioned--and sent her an email. In the interim, one item in particular from her profile sounded very familiar, and long story short(er) it turns out that the two have been, for lack of a more sutably vague term, coworkers.

But a week later no response; not even a "not interested." Which leaves things in that awkward... was it received? Maybe it got lost in a spam folder somewhere? Should I try harder? State. I hate things that linger without closure.


One other pet peeve while I'm ranting: Am I the only one who beleives that being friends is a step between "complete strangers" and "a relationship"?

This message will self-destruct as soon as I come to my senses.


Monday, November 9, 2009

I am a composer and other slightly delusional thoughts

While waiting for the start of the New Music Series concert I wrote about to begin on Saturday, I happened to overhear the two gentlemen in the row behind me conversing. Seemingly composition students, one of them remarked that, while scoring for the guitar, he wanted to learn how to write for the harp.

Something about that comment sparked something in the back of the head and I think, possibly delusionally, for the first time I have a way to explain what I do in less than three pages: I am a composer. I don't write music, and my compositions are executed by processors rather than orchestras but the concept is the same.

I've often wondered how composers can come up with their pieces without ever hearing them [in their entirety] until in the hands of an orchestra, and I realized that I do the same thing nearly every day.

The composer for music must be aware of the capabilities and limitations of each of the instruments they are writing for, how to evoke the particular emotions that they desire from a piece, and even what instruments not to use (just because a vibraphone is available doesn't mean that it needs to be used...). A completed composition is then turned over to the musicians for a first performance, an then may be adjusted, tweaked, or scrapped to meet the expectations of the composer...

Every day I must be aware of the capabilities and limitations of my orchestra -- the processors for which I write programs and the devices connected to them; lights, screens, air conditioners, plasmas, projectors, audio systems, and on. I have my instruments, my bowings, and there's a careful balance to be had; with literally thousands of options and few clear cut decisions with lots of gray sometimes the when not to use something question becomes a delicate decision. I usually can visualize the flow of things before my fingers land on the keyboard.

I can rehearse by loading the program in a processor in the office... but it's not until the program gets loaded in the actual system -- with all of the peripherals in place and ready for their roles that I see my composition life for the first time. Most of the time it "sounds" beautifully on the first try -- lights move in unison, the volume control works, the screen drops, the projector turns on, and the thing you expect shows up on screen... other times, it requires a little tweaking before it "sounds" the way I want it to.

"It" can range from a simple conference room to the system a Eastern state's Senate uses to vote, a conference center in Indiana to the night clubs and bars at a casino in northern Michigan... A single movement to an entire symphony, if you will.

Ok I think I've taken the metaphor to it's extreme, and I do sound a little delusional...but hey, it's what makes me cute ;)


Sunday, November 8, 2009

CMA: Viva & Gala: Garth Knox Viola d'amore

Hume (arr. Knox): Pavane (1605) for viola d'amore
Ariosti: Prima Lezione (1720) for viola d'amore and cello
Knox: Malor me bat (2004) for viola d'amore and cello
Sciarrino: Notturni brillanti for viola
Knox: Viola Spaces for viola and cello
Marais: Les Folies d'Espagne (1685) for viola d'amore and cello
Traditional (arr. Knox): Celtic Melodies for viola d'amore and cello

A complete spur of the moment decision lead me from Mixon Hall at CIM to Plymouth Unitarian church in Shaker Heights for this evening's "Viva and Gala Around Town" performance featuring Garth Knox and his viola d'amore. I was interested for one because unlike a "normal" violin, viola, or cello which each have four strings, the viola d'amore has 14, 7 of which are played and the remaining 7 are "sympathetic" and are not directly played but instead resonate.

The music was interesting and Mr. Knox's commentary and explanation was both on point and informative. I believe Prima Lezione was may favorite piece; the three-turned-four movements of Viola Spaces certainly featured some unusual playing methods and some equally unusual sounds, and I'm torn between calling "Nine Fingers" or "One Finger" my favorite movement from that work.

CIM: New Music Series, Takemitsu & Druckman

Toru Takemitsu: Quatrain II (1977)
Toru Takemitsu: Air (1995)
Jacob Druckman: Dance With Shadows (1989)
Toru Takemitsu: Rainspell (1992)
Jacob Druckman: Come Round (1992)

In short: I didn't particulary enjoy the concert; there was nothing wrong per se, I just couldn't get into any of the pieces-- not for want of excellent playing, simply material that didn't capture my imagination no matter how well it was played.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: A Salute to John Williams

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder... apparently the same applies to the ear. It's been three weeks since my last visit to Severance and the richness of tonight's performance exceeded my expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by the massive turnout including what appeared to be a large number of first-timers.

To get the not so great (to call it bad would be a massive overstatement) out of the way first, if I hear the Main Title from Star Wars one more time this year I think I'm going to go crazy(er)... I truly don't understand why it's as popular as it is; and despite some beautiful string passages it really is "honky" for my taste.

I had previously noted that I hoped to hear some of Mr. Williams' lesser known works and was generally pleased with the diversity of the program, including several pieces that I've never before heard. The music from Far and Away was by far my favorite and it was new to me. A note in the score noted that the composer had fun wiht the piece and that he hoped orchestras and audiences would have similar feelings--that hope was satisfied.

After an initial standing ovation, Richard Kaufman, conductor remarked that the orchestra had "fourteen more pieces" -- I don't think the audience would have minded. The encore, March from the film 1941 was not new to me -- it's been in my iTunes collection for at least 9 years -- but the vibrancy and sheer energy of live performance could not be beat.

Events I'm planning on attending in the next two weeks.
Sunday, November 8th, 4 PM - Cleveland Institute of Music: New Music Series (Mixon Hall)
Friday, November 13th, 9 PM - Cleveland Museum of Art After Hours
Saturday, November 14th , 8 PM - The Cleveland Orchestra, Doctor Atomic Symphony (Find me in Box 8, Seat F)
Thursday, November 19th, 7:30 PM - Orange County (CA) Performing Arts Center: Spring Awakening (Find me in the Orchestra, seat BB7; my 6th time in 3 states with this show)
Friday, November 20th 7:00 PM - The Cleveland Orchestra: Fridays@7 (find me in Box 5, Seat E)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CIM Chamber Orchestra: Beethoven, Bloch, Copland and Violin Part IV

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 36
Bloch: Concerto Grosso No. 1
Copland: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra

I started this evening with violin lesson number four... I feel like a massive amount of progress has been made, but there's plenty of ground left to cover. I then made my way to CIM for a magnificent concert.

Seeing Copland on the billing is what got me through the door--depending on my mood if you ask who my favorite composer is Copland would be as likely an answer as Gershwin, Newman [either of them] or Williams. I think, though, this is the first time I've heard Copland played live. I don't have a favorite piece from this concert simply because I thoroughly enjoyed and was engaged by all of them.

I think Symphony No. 2 became my favorite Beethoven piece, had a magnificent energy... and I may be committing sacrilege by saying this but in the 2nd or 3rd movement I could have sworn I heard hints of the the Looney Tunes theme. The lack of an adagio certainly doesn't hurt.

Likewise, while I've only heard one Bloch piece before this evening (and that piece didn't particularly enthrall me) Concerto Grosso No. 1 held me spellbound through all four movements. The counterpoint that popped up throughout the piece was intriguing, and the Fugue was particularly interesting especially with the violas kicking off the movement.

Copland's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra was great, but didn't captivate me to the same level as Symphony No. 2 or Concerto Grosso No. 1 --- the prolonged clarinet solo in the middle of the piece just felt too long.

The gentleman next to me made a comment about half of the orchestra playing out of key--it's possible that that's the case, but I certainly didn't hear it.

Have I mentioned this week how much I love Cleveland, and everything this city has to offer... Or how amazed I am at the talent of the students at CIM (and that CIM offers this programming to the public at no charge)?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

CIM Faculty Recital: Bach, Stravinsky, Bloch & Penderecki

(Carol Lynn Ruzicka, Violin; Cara Chowning, Piano)

Well played, challenging and technically interesting but not tremendously captivating music.

My last run-in with Bach about a month ago was rather unfortunate; this time around was more favorable. I generally enjoyed the Sonata in G Major for Violin and Keyboard and the performance generally but didn't feel a particularly strong attraction to the work as a whole or any one movement.

I've been interested in hearing Stravinsky's music for a little while, largely because of a comment buried near the end of a Wall Street Journal article on dwindling jazz audiences a few months ago (online here) that particularly resonated with me:

No, I don’t know how to get young people to start listening to jazz again. But I do know this: Any symphony orchestra that thinks it can appeal to under-30 listeners by suggesting that they should like Schubert and Stravinsky has already lost the battle. If you’re marketing Schubert and Stravinsky to those listeners, you have no choice but to start from scratch and make the case for the beauty of their music to otherwise intelligent people who simply don’t take it for granted. By the same token, jazz musicians who want to keep their own equally beautiful music alive and well have got to start thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners—not next month, not next week, but right now.

I think, but could not swear, that today is the first time I've heard Stravinsky live -- what I found more interesting that the music was the program note on his collaboration with Dushkin and I hadn't realized that he spent a fair amount of his life in the US. Pastorale was too pastoral for my tastes; Ballad from The Fairy's Kiss had some interesting moments, but favorite piece from the afternoon was Stravinsky's Tango.

At the risk of committing heresy, I had no meaningful reaction at all to Bloch's Nuit Exotique.

Krzystzof Penderecki's Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano had its interesting moments -- and interesting sounds. It certainly appeared to be quite a demanding piece at nearly 40 minutes in length, I was exhausted just watching Ms. Ruzicka. While I had no conscious reactions to the piece, other than marveling at the left hand work, I did find my left eye beginning to water as the final movement wound up.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Apollo's Fire: Mediterranean Nights

My reaction to the last Apollo's Fire concert I attended was accurately be summed up in one word: "Blugh". I am happy to report that this evening's concert was anything but blugh; all-in-all it was a quite enjoyable, quite pleasant sounding evening.

The first half of the program was not played in program order making it difficult to relate which was my favorite piece -- It was the second piece played, but I didn't catch the name. In any event, it started with a familiar rhythm on the harpsichord -- though I can't place it (Movie? Theme park? Hold music?), featured some fantastic violin playing and was generally captivating.

There wasn't a piece in the first half that I particularly didn't like, and intermission came before I started longing for it--another sign I'm enjoying a program.

I didn't feel that the second half was quite as strong as the first. I enjoyed Murcia's Difencias Sobre La Gayta ("Bagpipes"), and certainly visualized the instrument named in the title. Likewise, I was intrigued by the concept of Romance Biego (The 10 Commandments) from Briceno, but didn't feel especially attracted to the music or the overall sound.

I had previously noted that Apollo's Fire seemed to take themselves too seriously -- this was certainly not the case with this evening's performance contributing to a much more pleasant atmosphere. During the final Fandango and ensuing encore there was quite the amusing interplay between musicians, especially a musical duel between Ms. Sorrell on harpsichord and Mr. Herreid on baroque guitar at one point.

After this concert I'm inclined to give Apollo's Fire another opportunity.

Opera Cleveland: Don Giovanni

One of the funniest things I've seen all year; great music, too.

I don't really get opera sung in Italian -- opera in English is no problem, but I tend to suffer from a case of Sensory Overload with Italian opera. There are so many facets happening simultaneously -- the singing, the music, the surtitles, the scenery and blocking, etc. It's an art form that I'm not really sure how one is supposed to appreciate.

Usually my mind dwells on one of those aspects just long enough that I forget to keep an eye on the super titles and by the time I start paying attention again I am destined to remain lost as to what, exactly, is going on. This was true with last night's performance of Don Giovanni -- but there were enough one-liners that didn't require extensive context that I remained amused. How could you not like Leporello?

I can't say what my specific thoughts were on Mozart going in to this performance, but I have to say that they changed coming out--not so much for the quality or style of music, but I he no longer seems as stiff -- between the self-referential comment about hearing The Marriage of Figaro too often and lines "I will comfort her tears / (Along with 1800 of her peers)" -- makes the 1700s seem so much less oppressive.

I do wish that Opera Cleveland would fly in the board that the surtitles are projected in another 10 feet or so... the distance between the singers and the surtitles is such that it's nearly impossible to keep both in your field of view at the same time, which I think would help in terms of following the story.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Violin, Part III

My instructor is a genius. Having never learned how to read music, much less play an instrument I was intimidated by the sheer number of new things that need to be learned to truly play -- fingering, bow hold, reading music, etc.

It wasn't until walking back from my 3rd lesson that I realized that based on the way she has structured the lessons -- while I still have a quite a path in front of me, thus far each component has been broken down into an piece that's easy enough to cover independently of everything else... slowly, ever so slowly, the various parts are coming together--I can see how they relate to the whole.

Side Lesson - Buying a violin on eBay for $0.01 is probably not the best idea. I'm already plotting for an upgrade...A violin, to me, is acoustically and visually beautiful and a beacon of fine craftsmanship. My present instrument is lacking, though not sorely, in all three of the above. It is rather amusing to see the initial reaction each time a new professional lays eyes on it... ;)

Franz Welser-Möst: He Speaks

My TiVo grabbed an episode of Applause on WVIZ as a "suggestion" (#1 reason I could never give up TiVo)... lo and behold, an interesting discussion revolving around The Cleveland Orchestra.

As interesting: The person doing most of the taking. Until about 12 minutes ago I had never heard the Orchestra's Music Director speak a word. The nature of orchestral performances is such that wrote it off as one the great mysteries of life... and, I'll admit, I had my preconceptions.

They were promptly shattered -- I was quite impressed by his interview, insight and commentary, especially as it related to the Orchestra's audiences. The segment led off with a bit from one of the orchestra's high school performances where Mr. Welser-Möst appeared to be discussing his conducting and the rehearsal process -- two other items I've written off as great mysteries of life. I wish I coud have heard the entire discusion -- does he offer this lecture elsewhere?

I know this blog is typically retrospective instead of prospective, but three "cool things" on my radar that you may want to grab tickets for sooner rather than later:

Friday, November 7th: Cleveland Orchestra, "The Music Of John Williams". My gateway drug to true classical; I just hope they pull out some of Mr. Williams' lesser known pieces along with the usual ET/Star Wars stuff.

Friday, November 13th: Clevelnd Museum of Art "After Hours" 9:00p-1:00a with Sheer Frost Orcheatra and Eats Tapes; more info: It just sounds cool, and the Summer Solstice Party was one of the coolest events I've hit in Cleveland.

Friday, November 20th: Cleveland Orchestra/Severance Hall: Fridays@7 "Cello and Space". The last one was an awesome sellout--in contention for coolest Cleveland event--I expect this concert to be similar. Tickets

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reflection and an Army on the Move

This weekend, while feeling a little under the weather, I found a stack of ticket stubs... and I realized I still have stubs for most events since the beginning of June. For fun I added up the face value -- not all had values printed -- and was astonished to discover that I've spent just a little less than $2,100 (exclusive of parking, incidentals, and--in one case--airfare and hotel) on my performing arts "habit" during that time.

Then I ask myself the "Value/Worth" question: I feel that I've gotten value from something--and it was worth the financial investment if I can answer two questions negatively: Is there something I would have rather spent that money on? and Did I feel like my time was wasted?

By and large, the answer to both was absolutely not. Sure I enjoy some things more than others, but with very few exceptions I've never felt as if there was a better use for my time or money. And the awesome thing about Cleveland is there are just as many events at $10-or-less as there are at the $125-or-more price point.

Shifting gears, The Cleveland Orchestra is doing their European Tour and Vienna Residency through November 3rd... no suprise there. What is suprising is the size of the undertaking. According to the Cleveland Orchestra Blog, the tour includes 102 musicians, 18 guests, 8 staff, 4 stagehands, 1 tour agent, 1 doctor, an assistant conductor and the music director -- for a total convoy of 134.

I've never taken the time to count the number of musicians on the orchestra roster but if you had asked, there's no way I would have guessed more than 100. I'm sure the logistics involved in managing that number of people, not to mention instruments, in Cleveland is a challenge enough -- I can't imagine what it's like to pull it all together on the road.

Cleveland Chamber Symphony: October 25th

This afternoon I found myself at the Cleveland Chamber Symphony concert at the Music Settlement -- a first for both.

I went in with no expectations -- other than a generally vague understanding of how "Chamber Music" is different than other music. It turns out that that had little to do with the performance I was about to enjoy.

I was pleasantly surprised in most regards and the turnout was impressive; while not a large venue every seat and then some was occupied. The "Meet the Composer" format was interesting -- both to hear the composers' comments on their works and to hear questions from audience members.

Of the three pieces on the program, the 3rd and final movement of the 3rd piece (music director Steven Smith's String Quartet) was the one I found most enjoyable both in tempo and sound. Most interesting, to me, were the almost percussive sounds made among the four stringed instruments, but I'll get back to that.

Jing Jing Luo's Lagrimas Y Voces was a little too jarring and disjointed for my tastes but certainly exhibited some unusual methods of playing the instruments included in the piece, certainly pushing boundaries.

The first piece on the program, Frank Wiley's For Alexander Calder held my interest; the first two movements I could certainly visualize Alexander Calder's works... the 3rd movement I'm not so sure about. Wiley's comments after his piece certainly added value and understanding.

All in all it was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon and hear some music that's a little bit more adventurous and isn't a staple of "traditional" programming.

CPT: Why Torture is Wrong And The People Who Love Them

Saturday evening I ventured West for Cleveland Public Theater's staging of Christopher Durang's Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.

It wasn't as funny as I hoped--or perhaps I should say that the audience wasn't as uproarious as I hoped, but it is one of the funnier things I have seen recently. It seemed quite obviously a parody of the present situation, but it felt like it had its wings clipped before it made its way over the top. Had this happened, I may have been rolling on the floor. The actors didn't really feel like they were selling their characters (notable exception "Voice")--Save for the last scene in the fine dining establishment known as "Hooters".

Aside from the entertainment value it does force some introspection on where we as a country are with regard to national security, trigger happiness, et. al.

While a tangential line that had nothing to do with the plot, early on the mother makes a comment about some her friends committing suicide ("willing their hearts to stop beating") after three evenings in a row of Tom Stoppard plays. I may have been the only person laughing at that line, but having suffered through two Stoppard plays a month and a 3-hour flight apart, I can only imagine doing the same thing myself if I were to do two, much less three in as many nights.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Violin Part II

I may have already said this but it bears repeating: One indication that someone is truly skilled in anything -- be it sports, art, music, acting, technology -- is when they make that activity appear to be completely effortless. Once again I find myself in awe of the talented musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra and other organizations in the area.

Tonight the weather was nice enough that I walked from my place to my instructor's home -- about 20 minutes -- and I have to admit that I felt a little goofy with a violin case hanging on my back as I made my way thorough Coventry and Overlook.

The lesson was surprisingly productive, and we attempted to actually play something resembling "music" for the first time. I have a long, long, way to go. The good news is that I understand up bow, down bow, and can generally find my way to a string. Making the combination of bow and string sound even remotely as beautiful as I know is possible is still a long way off. It is, actually, quite possible to make that beautiful instrument sound remarkably awful without much effort. Thank the Deity of your choice for my teacher's patience.

Posture and leading with my wrist are probably going to be the next two things that do me in. The positioning of the left hand will take some work (and apparently stretches a muscle that hasn't received much attention lately) but wasn't as bad as I had prepared myself for.