Sunday, September 27, 2009

Learning the Violin, Part I -- A new appreciation

The perfect series of events lined up and I've decided to learn how to play the violin. Considering my musical ability, or complete lack thereof this is a major leap.

I didn't expect this to be easy. I didn't expect this to be quick. It isn't going to be easy, nor is it going to be quick.

I expected the fingering to be a challenge... but I'm not even that far yet. Things that I didn't even consider -- bow hold, tuning, and holding the violin itself are kicking my rear end. The two "holds" largely becuse I'm deathly afraid of starting with a bad habit; the tuning because I really feel like I'm missing something here -- every time I try it seems like something wierd happens. And I'm afraid of causing damage.

Cleveland Orchestra: 09-10 Opening Night


Saturday Evening was a benefit concert for the "Community Music Initiative" and Opening Night for the Orchestra's 2009-10 season featuring Beethoven's 9th.


While I'm a little disappointed I couldn't get a box, the turnout was fantastic and the performance of the Orchestra met all expectations. A great start to the new season.

One thing that continues to baffle me, however, is the Orchestra's use of "name brand" vocalists for relatively tiny roles. In this program, for example, the four featured guests appeared only for the fourth movement and actually sung for only a fraction of that movement. Why? Especially when there's the gigantic and talented Cleveland Orchestra Chorus in the room.

CIM Orchestra - Dvorak's Symphony No. 9

Wednesday evening I found myself at CIM for the "CIM Orchestra" performance of Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From The New World"). Also on the program were Berlioz's Overture to Benvenuto Cellini and Ginastera's Harp Concerto, Op. 25.

Musically, the Orchestra sounded fantastic; the talent in that group is amazing.

The Berlioz piece started strong but just seemed to keep going and going and going until I simply got bored with it and it seemed to loose energy. I liked almost everything in the Harp Concerto... except the harp. Normally I like the "harp sound" but something about this piece... perhaps because the harp was the focus rather than an accent... left me feeling like it would have been better overall if the harp had been omitted. Yes, I realize it's a harp concerto.

The first two movements of Dvorak's 9 were great... a bit slow for my taste but great. The third and fourth movements were literally music for my ears; it would have been worth going out for those two movements alone.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cleveland Play House: Beethoven as I knew Him

I forced myself off the fence to see Friday evening's performance of Beethoven as I Knew Him at the Cleveland Playhouse. The play itself was informative and illuminating if not always entertaining or crystal clear. It is clear, though, in the post-performance Q&A that Harvey Felder knows his Beethoven -- this alone makes the performance worth attending.

I was unexpectedly moved by the ending comments about Beethoven's skull and couldn't help but to hope that the comment like the music "all of his relatinships with women were in his head" won't ring true.

CIM Faculty Recital - Mendelson

I made it out to the Cleveland Institute of Art for the first time this past Wednesday for a faculty recital. Unfortunately due to a medical issue, half of the program was canceled but the program that was played was fantastic.

I'm looking forward to the CIM Orchestra's performance of Dvorak's Symphony 9 "From the New World" on Wednesday at 8:00.

CIA Cinematheque - twofer

Last Sunday I did the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque's The Limits of Control. I just didn't get it... though it did prompt me to buy a Violin on eBay. Long story.

Today I did "Examined Life" which was an interesting philosophical peice. It started strong but somewhere around the midpoint I felt like it lost its message or focus... But the "The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living" (I've always thought that line belonged to Socrates but the film credits it to Plato)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oh yeah, the Indians

On Friday night I did something I've never done before...

I attended a Cleveland Indians game.

I'm not much of a sports fan and the last baseball game I attended, also the first, was painfully dull. My dad, though, has always been interested in the sport and since he was in town...

Thanks to a friend of a friend I scored quite possibly the best seats in the house -- first row, directly behind home plate. I can say, without a doubt, that that increased the enjoyment of the game.

The 2-1 loss in 12 innings was a disappointment but still a very enjoyable evening...


Cleveland Museum of Art Member's Day

So my Dad is visiting from California for a quick weekend visit, and yesterday happened to be CMA's memeber appreciation day.

I was interested in checking out the events -- for that matter, I don't think I've turned down the opportunity to check out a CMA shindig -- and figured it would be a good way, if nothing else, to show off one of Cleveland's great assets to my dad.

I was not disappointed. Aside from an excellent turnout there was a fantastic series of events to show off the "Behind the Scenes" of the museum -- I thoroughly enjoyed the ones I attended, and wished I could have hit more of them.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blossom: Bugs Bunny on Broadway

Saturday Evening I broke down and attended Bugs Bunny On Broadway.

Awesome turnout -- empty pavilion, very full lawn, even fuller parking lots. Because I wasn't sure if I was going to be up for a concert right after returning from California (usually the Pacific->Eastern timezone change knocks me off my feet for a couple days) I didn't buy in advance. Not buying in advance at Blossom means that you don't get the uber useful Lot A parking placard that comes with buying a box seat.

"Eh," I thought, "I'll just get there early and all will be well." Turns out that even an hour and 40 minutes prior to start time wasn't early enough to avoid being way the heck out in one of the grass parking lots. Made my way to the box office to pick up my will call ticket and asked about getting the placard (if you don't ask...); turns out they were more than willing to give me one. So I hiked back to my car and moved, or rather attempted to move, my car to Lot A. Blossom isn't really equipped to have cars leave and come at the same time, it turns out. With some help, though, I made it to Lot A... which made a quick exit after the concert possible.

The concert itself was very kid friendly, occasionally eliciting a chuckle from yours truly, but somewhat disappointing -- there were entire segments of the show where the orchestra literally stopped playing, the lights went down, and we watched/listened to the original cartoon. For example, I would have been thrilled to hear the Blossom Festival Orchestra perform the Flinstones theme song (as I was when they did the Simpsons Theme at the beginning of the season); but just watching the videotape left me with a "Why am I sitting here, I could get this for free on Cartoon Network" feeling. What was worse was a handful of pieces were repeated -- once on video, once live. I think there's enough music out there to avoid redundancy in a 2 hour program.

I was uncomfortably chilly in the pavilion -- the rest of the seats in my box were empty as was the box in front of me. During intermission I seriously contemplated just going out to the lawn and asking random people to join me. The body heat would have helped.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

My Job

There's a certain comfort in knowing that no one is actually reading this.

I returned from San Francisco, via Houston, late last night. Both lunch and dinner provided courtesy of Continental Airlines. The food in First Class scares me, yet I feel compelled to eat it for fear of appearing ungrateful. The dessert, however, is sublime.

On the way from San Francisco to Houston I chatted with my seatmate, Ms. 4D. We talked about work; at that point I realized once again the utter futility of trying to explain to anyone exactly what I do for a living. It's not that I don't enjoy it--far from it, I don't know anyone else who has the level of freedom I do, and actually likes (most of the time) going to work. The body of my work just defies accurate one-word summarising. If someone tells you they're a Nuclear Physicist you probably have no idea what precisely they do but you at least have an idea.

If I tell you I'm a Crestron Programmer (or Automation Programmer or AV Consultant or...) I usually get a blank stare; if I tell you that I do high-end automation programming, and happen to throw in that cursed "Home Theater" phrase -- which is a bad idea to begin with since I don't work that end of the industry -- I invariably get questions about things like surround sound. If I tell you I work in high-end video and audio conferencing I either get a blank stare or a response like last night, "I make /videos/ too".

That response isn't really inappropriate or unexpected-- but it demonstrates that short of taking 20 minutes to explain exactly what I do to someone who really doesn't care, no one will ever understand my work.

I don't know if there's a problem with this-- rather, I think there isn't a problem with this, but it would be nice to be able to label my employment etre.

Tonight: Blossom.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

San Francisco: Day 5 (and final)

So my last "real" day in San Francisco was a 100% vacation day.

Started the morning with a walk to Coit Tower, then down (and way, way up) Lombard Street -- that "really curvy zig-zagy street"... from Lombard I made my way to Fisherman's Wharf where I took my time to people, boat, and seagull watch.

Stopped at In-N-Out for "lunch" although at a brunchish hour. Although they don't officially open until 10:30 (for some reason I remembered 10) they were kind enough to take my order at 10:13. After In-N-Out, I hoped on the cable car -- very touristy, but also a very effective form of transportation and made my way to Union Square... where I walked through the old Emporium building.

Last time I was in SF the building was boarded up and looking very derelict... sad considering it's history. It was interesting to walk through those doors and see the (heavily remodeled, I must assume) interior... The dome, most visible from the upper level is simply majestic.

After deciding against making any purchases I walked down Market, though the Yerba Buena gardens to SFMoMA -- the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I was impressed by the collection, but the galleries-to-price tag ratio kind of put me off. Two special exhibitions for the price of one -- "Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natrual Affinities" and "Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004". I've discovered that I have a fondness for Adams' photographs, especially of Yosemite, and I don't particularly care for much of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings. My feelings on Rhchard Avedon are decidedly mixed. Ascherman and Friedlander, I think, are still my favorite photographers.

One of the sad realities, though, of modern art -- modern graphic art -- is that a piece is no longer necessarily unique. I saw at least two pieces at SFMoMA that I am almost certain art concurrently on exhibit at CMA, though perhaps at different sizes. CMA does a better job of explaining both. It was interesting, though, to see a stack of Donald Judd's boxes, virtually identical to those the CMA has presented: In the CMA piece, the boxes are metal-framed with Plexiglas tops and bottoms. The version in SFMoMA's collection appears to be entirely metal, yet the description indicates that Plexiglas is used.

Piet Mondrain's Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1927) has been a recent favorite of mine at CMA for it's simple but definate nature. I enjoyed seeing an almost completely different, larger, Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1935-42) as well as the beginnings of a piece that was unfinished at the time of his death.

After SFMoMA I walked to the Civic Center, paused at UN Plaza, and continued to the Asian Art museum. Lured there largely by the promise of architectural tours of what was formerly the main library building, I was disappointed when I found that not only are they "now" a weekend only thing, the person I asked didn't even think that they were an every weekend thing. Bummer. As for the collection, it is impressive but I wasn't particularly moved by it -- like the African Art I mentioned in my last post, it is largely -- to the edge of being called "almost exclusively" -- earthenware, and sculptural (with a large number of those sculptures being various deities). While they deserve respect and analysis and are certainly of historical value, I have an exceptionally difficult time getting myself excited about that media. Something about the various Jade objects on display, as well as the early Bronze age vessels did catch my eye... There's something about Jade.

Following that, I found myself at City Hall. A beautiful building inside and out, I was primarily interested in revisiting the physical presence of the Museum of the City of San Francisco, which formerly had a relatively modest display in the South Light Court. It seems that that has moved on; all that is left in the space is a small scattering of artifacts relating to City Hall itself. The good news is twofold: First, according to the Wikipedia article, in 2012, the Museum will have a permanent home in the Old US Mint building; Second, I discovered a photographic installation on the lower level of City Hall (10 x 10 x 10) that had some really captivating photographs -- and no admission charge.

Walking back to Union Square, I hopped back on the cable car, and rode to Mason and Jackson where I hopped off to visit the Cable Car Museum... it was, for better or worse, exactly as I remembered it. After contemplating how such a relatively simple concept can be so complex in reality (and how much physical mass is involved) I hopped back out, grabbed the cable car line going the opposite direction until California Street. I hopped the California Street line (I'm fairly sure I've never ridden this line before) Westbound to the end of the line... got off, got right back on and rode all the way to the Embarcadero at the other end of the line. Standing on the running board, wind in my face. It was great. Except for the Italian tourist who kept pressing himself against my back while absent mindedly videotaping. C'est la vie.

Grabbed a burger and fries at Bistro Burger for dinner... eh. It was OK; had I known how much cheese I was going to get I probably would have opted for something other than the Gorgonzola. Based on the number of people I saw trying to order milkshakes, it's probably a good bet that those would not disappoint (sadly, they were out of ice cream... next time I'm in SF...)

Walked back to the hotel, feet killing me -- except for lunch, dinner, and about 5 minutes of the cable car ride, I've been on my feet -- and mostly walking -- since 9:00 this morning.

Tomorrow I fly home. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, but likewise look forward to returning to San Francisco, preferably sooner rather than later.


San Francisco: Day 4

Finshed up work today... tomorrow is all play.

This afternoon I tried doing MoMA (closed Wednesdays) and wound up walking half way across San Francisco to Golden Gate Park, Haight/Asbury, and the de Young musuem.

Where I discovered "Art and Power in the Central African Savannah"; a exhibition that is organized by the Cleveland Musuem of Art -- and that I had seen in Cleveland. While it was interesting to see the same peices organized differently, I have to admit that I am still largely unmoved by African art.

Some of the other pieces in the musuem though were remarkable -- my "art favorites" are definately grounded in the 1920s-40s, and it seems like the de Young has a much larger proportion of it's collection (on display) from this time period.

Earlier in the day I stumbled across the Wells Fargo History Museum practically steps away from the hotel and spent some time exploring; 90% or more of the museum was dedicated to bank robberies -- I guess that's the colorful part, there was some content on early stage operations, which was very interesting (sidenotes: involved with the Butterfield Stage, which was routed through Temecula, and the Western Headquarters of the Pony Express was steps away from where my hotel is located) but I would have been interested to see something on the evolution of the bank branch across the past 150 years or so.

Met a friend and former coworker at Midi for dinner -- nice atmosphere, great service, steak was eh...about what I'd expect for the price. Fries were good, sorbet was likewise good.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

San Francisco: Day 3

Another day at the jobsite was... another day at the jobsite. I could really get used to walking to work, though. Not that I fancy myself a greenie or a tree hugger or anything of the sort--quite the opposite, really--but there's something refreshing about being able to do eveything you need to do without needing car keys, gas, a taxi, or anything of the sort.

After work, I walked up California Street -- literally, up. I think parts of the street hit a 45 degree angle. At some point I decided to cut down Van Ness for no real good reason, crossed Lombard -- but not the scenic touristy part of Lombard -- and kept walking, eventually finding myself in the neighborhood of Fisherman's Wharf.

I found a cable car terminal and despite its overwhelmingly touristish nature and the fact that I've done it before I was sorely tempted to catch a ride. Until I noticed the line. Continued walking up Powell Street, to Lombard (again, not the scenic part -- but about a 45% incline) around Coit Tower and back to the hotel.

The views from Coit at sunset with the fog held out at bay were unbelievably beautiful. I grabbed a couple quick pictures with my cell phone but seeing it in person was like looking into a living painting. Definitely worth the hike up, and definitely not a sight I was expecting.