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.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

CIM Faculty Recital: Sergei Babayan

This afternoon I made my way back to CIM for the piano faculty recital of Sergei Babayan. As I waited for the recital to begin I was struck by something: Everyone around me was speaking a language other than English. Being slightly undercafinated and sleep deprived it took me much longer than I would have liked to realize that Russian was the language du jour. What fascinating diversity does Cleveland have in all walks -- "Arts and Culture" to plain old regular culture?

The first part of the program consisted of 20 pieces attributed to Alexander Scriabin, whose name I recognize but whose works I am completely unfamiliar with. The first 19 blended together so fluidly that I had given up on trying to figure out where on the program we were but none particularly caught my ear. At some point during the last piece ("Poem: 'Vers la flamme'", Op. 72) my eyes involuntarily closed and I had the most vivid images flowing through my head.

The 2nd half was dedicated to the works of Sergei Rachmaninoff and none of the pieces elicited the reaction that I had to Vers la flamme but I was captivated by the transcription from the Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19 'Andante'.

On the pop-music front, I came across Owl City's Fireflies this evening, and it's just kind of a fun song with an interesting synth-orchestra sound:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Brahms's German Requiem & Widmann's Chor (for orchestra)

It's an interesting coincidence that my iPod chose London Music Works' version of Requiem for a Tower Dream (aka Lux Aeterna) for the drive back from Severance tonight. [What are the chances of the Orchestra ever doing that piece? But for the chance to see, hear, and feel it live...]

Ok, to get the bad out of the way first: While I found Widemann's Chor (For Orchestra) technically interesting and once again highlighted the fantastic acoustics of Severance Hall -- I also found myself longing for the end if the piece. I perpetually felt like it was building to something that never came; the high points of the piece reminded me of a city traffic jam.

Following that, I was initially concerned about Brahms's German Requiem but those concerns were quickly put to rest. It took me a few minutes to warm up to the first movement, and seeing both violin sections sitting idle for such an extended period was just kind of odd; the second and third movements were my clear favorites, followed closely by the 5th movement.

It's a feeling words can't give justice to, but there were several moments where the combined graceful power of the choir and orchestra not only captured my imagination but a fantastic feeling that resonated in my chest. I know that sounds completely crazy, I guess you'd have to feel it yourself.

As an easily overlooked jewel, the Orchestra offers a pre-concert lecture for many (most?) concerts during the season; I know I've had a propensity to forget about them. A few weeks ago, I caught the last part of the lecture for Shostakovitch's 5th and I felt like it added yet another dimension to my understanding and enjoyment of the piece. This evening I made a point of leaving early and intended to catch the entire lecture; for reasons that need not be discussed here I still managed to miss the first part of the lecture, but again the portion I caught was interesting and informative.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Minneapolis... and Ballroom Dance

You know you haven't had any caffeine when... you try using a Hudson News receipt to board a flight. That's right, I am not a morning person, and me in public without caffiene at 7:00 in the morning is either not pretty or hysterically funny depending on your point of view.

In any event, I got to Minneapolis not long after 8:00 (local) this morning and don't actually meet the client until 9:00 tomorrow. I've changed planes in Minneapolis a few times, and actually left the airport once but didn't have any spare time. Today I saw the city.

Started at the Mall of America. 10:00ish on a Tuesday morning is not when it's in its element. My inital reaction was "Eh, it's a mall. It's not even really that big. Ok."

Then I made my way over to the Northwest Airlines History Centre, which is run by retiree volunteers -- it's pretty small, but for an aviation/technology geek they had some cool stuff; I just wish I could have gotten my hands on some of the documents in the cases to page through them and see how much different things are. Also saw my first two teletype machines in living life. I thought it was cool.

From there I found my way to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts which was almost overwhelming in scale and had no clear path that would take you to each gallery; at the Cleveland Museum of Art I get lost in my thoughts... here I just kind of got lost. I'm still not a huge fan of African or Asian art, but the MIA has a respective collection of Asian art, and their iAffrica experiemntal gallery is the first African art exhibit where I've actually felt some connection and understanding of the art and its background.

As I progressed through the galleries, I hit some "period rooms" which were interesting for their context; and, predictably, the pieces I most enjoyed were in the modern/contemporary/impressionist galleries. Here, like at SFMoMA, it was interesting to see companion works to works in the CMA collection -- and it was fun to play the "Oh, that looks like ______.... oh, it IS ______!" game -- especially with the Leger piece.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that it was an enjoyable experience. I was also interested to learn the Marcel Bruer, who I knew as a "Brutalist" architect (in fact, the architect for a few buildings in Cleveland, including an earlier expansion at CMA) had done some furniture design as well.

After leaving MIA I drifted to the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and it turns out that they offer reciprocity to CMA members. The collection -- or at least the portion of the collection on display in the galleries is far from huge, but it is impressive and pretty right on for my tastes.

I spent a brief time exploring the Sculpture Garden but the weather (there is actually snow on the ground here) and my clothing did not lend themselves to long periods of contemplation. It's definitely a worth-doing-in-the-Summer thing.

And finally I drove to Rochester, MN and checked into the hotel. End of day 1; I don't think that there will be anything blog-worthy for the rest of this trip so the next you will hear from me will be after Saturday evening's Orchestra performance.

But, before I go: I finally cashed in a gift certificate for ballroom dance lessons that I've been sitting on. I had the first lesson last night and it went remarkibly well. I only stepped on the instructor's foot once, and generally speaking (as long as I can keep my left and right foot straight) it was a successful endeavor, especially considering that I have never attempted anything resembling dance before.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

CIM: University Circle Wind Ensemble, CWRU Symphonic Winds, and the CWRU/University Circle Symphony Orchestra

Before I begin let me say that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a particular fan of Brass. Horns, especially always sound "wrong" to my ear; that will, of course, color my impressions of the various pieces I describe this afternoon.

This afternoon's concert was very much a spur of the moment decision -- and it was an enjoyable mix of works. I don't think I've ever noticed as many wind players turning various shades of red as I did tonight -- it was certainly a show played with exuberance and passion.

For the University Circle Wind Ensemble:
I really wanted to enjoy Bonanno's Fanfare for Brass and Percussion but it sounded off... I want to say too sharp but I'm not sure that was it. Shostakovitch's Festive Overture likewise left me feeling unfulfilled; though it was an interesting counterpoint to his 5th Symphony from down the street a week ago. A Weekend in New York captured the musical essence of New York as I remember it, but I stopped short of falling in love with the piece.

For the CWRU Symphonic Winds:
I enjoyed Halverson's Entry March of the Boyars; Saucedo's Rendezvous with the Other Side definitely captured the otherworldly eeriness. As We Forgive from Ryan Nowlin was interesting but I didn't really find it compelling; Temptation was probably my favorite movement for this one. Holst's First Suite in E flat started off on the wrong note for me (see above Brass comment) but redeemed itself.

For the CWRU/University Circle Symphony Orchestra:
Definitely, for me, the highlight of the program. Larson's Overture for the End of a Century was compelling and had no trouble holding my attention, but and overall I enjoyed Deep Summer Music was a little too deep for me at places. White Peacock from Griffes was a piece that I would never listen to at home, but really highlights how live performance can capture nuances that get lost in a recording.

The final two pieces on the program were definitely my favorites from the afternoon-- I can't pinpoint the exact reason why Riegger's Dance Rhythms appeals to me as it does, but I love the rhythm and the building tension. Parts of Gould's American Salute felt very familiar... but I can't figure out where I "remember" it from.

The talent being cultivated in Cleveland is absolutely amazing...
(Edited to correct some embarrassing typos)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dobama: Ten More Minutes from Cleveland

My initial perception was that "Ten More Minutes from Cleveland" was another of "The Cleveland Plays". I'm honestly not sure if it is -- I don't think it is.

In any event, I was lured out based on three criteria: The fact that Dobama's new home is literally just down the street from me, I had nothing better to do, and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss one of the Cleveland Plays, having seen the first two (actually, the only two Dobama plays I've seen).

I was not disappointed. It was presented a thoroughly funny romp through Cleveland and in some places struck too close to home. Being a non-native Cherise's plight particularly resonated -- and the incredulous "You moved to Cleveland from [Arizona in her case, California in mine]!?!?!" line is an all-too common one. I'm honesltly suprised at the number of Clevelanders who think that there's nothing good about this city.

It just kind of worked; I can't pinpoint one particular actor, scene, technique but it all of fit togehter.

Dobama's new home is both convenient and comfortable; I have a feeling that I will be attending most of the season's productions.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Learning the violin, Part I.V - A new teacher.

My original "teacher" bailed on me and I'm at the point in learning where I'm absolutely terrified of breaking something and/or learning bad habits.

I've discovered that in Cleveland it's actually far easier to find a violin teacher than the nearest drive-through food joint (There are 12 teachers -- that I know of -- and 5 drive-throughs joints in a 3 mile radius). I also found out that the daughter of a friend of my grandmother is not only a professional violinist that lives in Cleveland Heights but she also teaches and really likes teaching adult beginners. Score!

Wednesday evening I went over for my first lesson. I got a much better vibe from her and am excited to continue down the path; I have a much better idea of what I need to work on and how I need to do it -- plus notes to reference. The bow hold is still causing me consternation. It looks like it should be so much easier than it is, but my pinkie keeps slipping off the top and my thumb keeps wanting to lock itself straight. But at least now I'm much more confident of what it should look like so I can correct myself when I'm practicing.

Cleveland Orchestra: Fridays@7

In one word: "Mindblowing"

I was very much on the fence about doing the whole Fridays@7 thing based on the abbreviated program-- I go to Severance to "discover" new-to-me classical, and the pieces that were omitted from tonight's program really sounded interesting; but I also wanted to give the new format a spin.

The program certainly attracted a different mix than I'm used to seeing in the hall -- though I will say that I don't think I've done a Friday night concert before -- and for the first time I didn't feel like the youngest person on the Box level; typically I feel like I could pass as a grandchild of 75%+ of the boxholders.

On stage in the hall the Beethoven pieces met my expectations; honestly nothing remarkable comes to mind, though the I'm still perplexed by why the pianist was wearing a rain poncho... is there a leak in the roof at Severance?

Post-concert festivities in the lobby were amazing there was energy that I don't think I've ever felt before pulsing through the building. The place was packed -- it was a challenge just to move between floors, let alone navigate the floor of the lobby. But it was well worth it.

My reservations about missing music are preserved, but I am nearly certain I shall do the next Fridays@7 concert provided I'm in Cleveland when it happens... I would recommend it to anyone from 10-110.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cleveland Orchestra: Shostakovich 5, etc.

... after the CMA Member's Reception I walked back over to Severance Hall for Shostakovitch's 5th Symphony.


Especially contrasting to the previous evening's utter disappointment with Apollo's Fire I was thrilled by the program. The first two pieces (Haydn's Symphony No. 85 (“La Reine”) and Wagner's Prelude & Love-Death – Tristan and Isolde were good; the Shostakovitch piece was breathtaking. The encore was a touch depressing, though intentionally so -- I am not aware of the composer or title of the piece.

My absolute delight with Shostakovitch's 5th Symphony reinforces a key reason for why I attend Cleveland Orchestra concerts: I had never heard of Shostakovitch prior to this program; it was a fantastic new discovery.

Box 7, Seat C affords a decent position both acoustically and visually.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

CMA: Gauguin Member's Reception

Saturday evening I combined sound and vision by beginning the evening with the Cleveland Museum of Art Member's Reception for the new Gauguin exhibition.

Unlike the recent Friedlander exhibition, while I found the art visually appealing I only really connected with two or three pieces. The "do it yourself" area at the end of the exhibition looks like quite a bit of fun, and the live music in the galleries was a fantastic touch -- if a bit loud at times.

The event itself was a bit of a disappointment. While I can understand why opening remarks would be omitted given the museum's current leadership situation I was still a bit disappointed by the complete lack of anything commentary. At least during the time I was there, perhaps due to how spread out everything was, the atmosphere was dull and far more reminiscent of a funeral than a celebration. In fairness, I was there only for the first 45 minute or so, after which I headed over to Severance Hall...

Apollo's Fire: Blugh.

Ok, so I'll admit that Baroque isn't your typical classical and I know that instrument tuning for baroque music isn't necessarily A=440 But...

Two of the recurring thoughts I had during the performance were "Hmm, if my violin sounds out of tune I can say I'm playing Baroque" and "Oh, my God, how freaking long is this going to go on?".

Perhaps it's because my mind was in other places (I had been stood up on a 'date' for the performance), and perhaps it's because church pews aren't really the most conducive environment for relaxing concert enjoyment, and definitely in part due to the relatively lousy acoustics of the venue but to say that I didn't enjoy the concert is a massive understatement. Which is odd, as I generally like both Vavalidi and Bach.

Sure there were high notes, but there wasn't even one entire movement that I felt salvaged the evening. Somehow, they managed to make a program that was nearly exactly two hours feel like a six hour ordeal.

I had similar feelings the last time I tried Apollo's fire -- about 3 years ago -- but thought that as my musical taste and appreciation for classical has developed the 2nd time around would be more fruitful. Sadly, that was not the case. I have one ticket for an upcoming concert (see aforementioned stood up date) and I have a very strong suspicion that that will be the last time I do Apollo's Fire.

Contributing, I think, is the overwhelming impression Apollo's Fire in general, and the artistic director in particular, gives of taking themselves far too seriously. Or maybe I lack the proper reverence and appreciation for the genius I have the good fortune to share a room with. In either event it certainly doesn't contribute to the experience, and in my case is a major detraction to borderline comical. I don't even think the Cleveland Orchestra takes themselves as seriously... and that is an organization that I would respect if they did so.