Sunday, January 31, 2010

New York: Day 5: The Music of the Subway

Today was not my most well-planned day... the good news is that there is plenty of things to do on the next trip. My flight back to Cleveland is at a weird time that, combined with the fact that nothing opened before 11 today meant that I didn't really do anything.

A car is picking me up from the hotel headed for La Guardia at 1:30... I had wanted to visit the Whitney Museum of American Art but my rapidly declining cold-weather endurance combined with the fact that at best I would have 90 minutes in the museum before needing to return to the hotel and check out I decided to make that a "next trip" visit.

I started this morning by riding the 1 Train from Times Square/42nd up to the Bronx and back. While riding I closed my eyes and heard a symphony: A punctuated pizzicato rhythm starts in the bases and is echoed by the first, violins then the violas. The cellos repeat the line, which is echoed by the second violins -- circling the rider from left to right. Percussion lets out a thump, followed by a thump while a lone flutist plays three notes of different lengths; a second flute joins the first somewhere between the second and third notes creating a harmonic relationship. This structure repeats while a horn sounds, and sounds again. A sustained note, then ends.

The strings build, from the violins up to create a fervent excitement of accelerating tempo. A sustained note is played by the bases, while the other strings slow to a stop, and return to the pizzicato from earlier. A sharp note comes from the woodwinds, and percussion signals the thump-stop of the train. A din is heard from the mixed voices outside the car, a descending chord his heard to warn of the impending departure and the symphony repeats, building then falling, and either repeating or ending as the rider continues or exits.

That's what I heard in the subway.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

New York: Day 4, Part 2: Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Carnegie Hall

Ravel: Le Trombeau de Couperin (1914)

Dalbavie: Flute Concerto (2006)Bartok: Bluebird's Castle, Op. 11
Pierre Boulez, conductor.

On my way to Carnegie Hall I spotted the creation you see on your to the right from across the Q express tracks at Times Square/42nd St. station (the uncropped version can be found at Flickr for the full context)... perhaps I've been spending too much time looking at Contemporary Art or perhaps it's a testament to the quantity of public art throughout the MTA system but my first take was to try and figure out the artist's intent... first guess was a figure lounging while reading a book, then a reclining figure playing a bowed instrument of some kind with the music in front of him... and when I finally realized it was graffiti I had to take a picture.

Until this evening the Cleveland Orchestra was truly the only orchestra I had heard*. Upon learning that, a talented young violinist I met through told me that I would be disappointed with anyone else I would hear. During the preshow lecture, I noticed the Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage seemed particularly acoustically live and boomy as compared to Severance Hall, which, in retrospect is fairly dead acoustically**. My seat was not in the best location, visually or acoustically, but it was serviceable.

I was not disappointed -- the concert was thoroughly enjoyable, but I felt like something was missing. There is something intangible, indescribable, ne sais qouis that makes listening to the Cleveland Orchestra -- at Severance or Blossom completely different than what I listened to tonight. Near the end of the Bartok piece I realized that when I'm listening to TCO I feel like I'm listening to an integrated whole that envelops me in the music. Tonight, on the other hand, I felt detached and it almost seemed as if every section existed in it's own universe that while contributing to the whole ignored the constituent parts. It's hard for me to come up for a good description for what I felt.

There were a few moments, particularly in the Ravel and Bartok pieces where the reverberant nature of the hall was instantaneously distracting -- I'd hear a note from a flute or a horn and milliseconds later hear that same note from "behind" me.

It was interesting to watch Mr. Boulez conduct; of all of the conductors I've observed I think he was the most understated, rarely moving his hands more than a few inches, never moving on the podium, and every movement was fluid; I didn't notice a single sharp/aggressive gesture..

I think Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin was my favorite from the evening, particularly the first and fourth movements (Prelude and Rigaudon). Dalbavie was in attendance for the performance of his Flute Concerto which was not bad, though I didn't particularly take anything away from it.

I turns out that despite my giving the Metropolitan Opera a pass, I was still destined to hear opera while I was in New York City. While Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle will not ascend my favorite's list, The piece had several interesting moments and the performance benefited from several features that made it immensely more enjoyable:
  • The use of an electronic display for surtitles, and that display was at a reasonable height above the orchestra (perhaps 15' above the stage), allowing both the orchestra and the titles to be in view at the the same time. One of my chief complaints with Opera Cleveland is that they position the title board at the top of the proscenium arch, making it impossible to both watch the action on stage and follow the story at the same time.
  • A printed text and translation for the entire opera in both Hungarian and English. While I primarily used the surtitles, this booklet made it easier to gauge the progress of the work and review any dialog I missed.
  • The singers were not amplified, and mixed well with the orchestra. I could easily "tune out" either group depending on my listening preference at any given moment.

Finally, I thought it was interesting how many times the words "Cleveland Orchestra" appeared in the program: The schedule insert for the 'Great American Orchestras I' series (February 5, 2011); Mr. Dalbavie's biography [page 33]; Mr. Boulez's biography [Page 38i]; Mr. Aimard's biography [Page 38j]; and Ms. DeYoung's biography [Page 38m]


*- I don't consider the two "pops" orchestras I've heard (Long Beach and Cleveland Pops) or student orchestras (the Cleveland Institute of Music) in the same orbit

New York: Day 4, Part 1: Moving Downtown

Today was a very lazy day for me... for some reason my ankles were making their discomfort known and that combined with the brutally cold temperatures (a high of 20 according to the newscast I'm viewing while I type this) generally discouraged me from doing much. But that's not to say I did nothing:

Changing Hotels. The three night stay I booked at the Waldorf was finished and it was time to move to my hotel for the last night of my stay: The Hilton Times Square. Thanks to an extremely accommodating desk staff, for a about 3 hours this morning I was technically checked in to two hotels simultaneously.

I have a total of three bags including my laptop. I decided to do two trips: The first trip I carried my laptop and overnight bag (now the swag bag) onto the 6 train, then the 42nd street shuttle to the Hilton. I took MTA back to the Waldorf but decided to hail a cab for my roll aboard (I didn't feel like throwing it over a turnstile and based on the headways I encountered on the first trip I didn't really want to waste any more of the morning).

I had watched other tourists try to hail a cab without much luck and was expecting some difficulty for my first time. Such was not the case. Literally, I got to the curb on Lexington, had my arm out for no more than 2 seconds before a cab was in front of me.

Based on what I've seen so far, I actually much prefer this property-- it's much more my style, the location is far more convenient (Both the Hilton and Waldorf are within about a 3 minute walk of a subway station... but Times Square/42nd has more lines and generally goes more of the places I want to go without needing to transfer). In addition there is a huge amount of contemporary art around the property... including a collection of Tom Otterness's very cute sculptures-with-a-story*

The service is also much more "we're being hospitable because we want to be hospitable" than "we're being hospitable, damn it, because you expect us to"

The Empire State Building. Tourist trap, pure an simple. At $20 it's overpriced and they try to get you to buy extras at every turn. Decent view, but I have pretty much the same view from my hotel room window. Add a security detail that's more aggressive than any airport I've transited** It's not something I ever need to do again.

Lunch. My violin teacher suggested -- actually the only suggestion I got -- eating at Veselka in Manhattan's East Village. Fantastic atmosphere, and amazingly crowded at 2pm. The place is a mix of Ukranian and American Diner; based on my aforementioned picky eating tendencies once I fought my way to an empty bar stool I stuck to the diner side of the menu with Mac & Cheese and a side of fries.

The Rest Of The Afternoon. I sat quietly and relaxed. Until the time came to head to Carnegie Hall, the subject of the next post.

More Photos over at Flickr


*- Mr. Otterness' work The Gates can be found at the Cleveland Public Library. A photo of one of the little people is the centerpiece of my living room's south wall. If I could afford one of the sculptures, I would love to have the real thing.
** - The buttons on my jeans set off the metal detector. Seriously. Then the gaurd made pull up my pant legs to double check.

Friday, January 29, 2010

New York: Day 3, Part 2: Next To Normal

So my original plan for this evening was to see a show then do the Empire State Building by night. It's just too cold and I'm just too tired to do that tonight... Anyway...

While browsing the TKTS board Next To Normal was the only show I had heard next to nothing about but the premise sounded interesting. In short, it's about a bipolar mother who sees her dead son, and a generally dysfunctional family.

The show received a nearly unanimous standing ovation (at least on the orchestra level), the first I've seen in any New York show [even Phantom only received a few scattered standees]. While enjoyable-with-a-message, the show seemed a bit uneven as far as energy, pacing, and volume go; given the content of the show I'm willing to write that off as intentional.

The program lacks any synopsis, list of musical numbers, or similar information (in fact, the lone hint that one is given about the structure of the production is There Will Be One 15 Minute Intermission) so while I can say I enjoyed most of the music, without having samples to listen to I can't tell you what specific pieces they were.

The casting was a bit suspicious: I could not believe that Gabe (Kyle Dean Massey) was young enough to be Dan's (J. Robert Spencer) son, although in Act II, I noticed a hint of gray hair which at least made it easier to tell who was who. Likewise, I sensed absolutely no chemistry between Natalie (Jennifer Damiano) and Henry (Adam Chanler-Berat).

Overall, though, well worth the evening.


New York: Day 3, Part 1: Ce n'est pas un blog.

So I looked at getting tickets for The Metropolitan Opera either tonight or tomorrow afternoon's matinee. I decided against it because... well... I have psychological issues that prevent me spending $375 on a single seat for a single event. (Not to mention that while I'd love to try out "Met Titles", I'm not that big of a foreign-language opera fan).

Anyway... the morning started with me trying to visit The High Line, a former elevated railway downtown that's been converted to park space. I've read about it and seen it on TV so I figured I'd check it out in person. It happens to be very easy to find but impossible to find access to, though with the firigid temperatures -- I lost feeling in my ears. I didn't know you had feeling in your ears. -- I wasn't exactly motivated to spend a lot of time outdoors. After buying the most god-awful looking cap-thingy to help keep my ears a little bit warmer, I took a somewhat circuitous route to

The TDF/TKTS booth at South St. Seaport, that involved going back uptown to Grand Central then downtown... largely so I could warm up a bit. Thanks to a wrong turn, I wound up at the World Trade Center site before finding the TKTS booth where I got a ticket for tonight's performance of Next To Normal... read more about that in Part 2. You know the whole ticket-handling-fee racket is getting out of control when your receipt actually lists a "Fee Fee" of $2.50...

That business taken care of I headed for The Museum of Modern Art. While I found relatively little that truly caught my eye at The Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday, there was comparatively little that didn't catch my eye at MoMA, though I will admit that my fascination was directed more at the photos, lithios, and 3D objects than paintings.

Last but not least for Part 1 I wound up at The Guggenheim Museum. I knew that I was in for a museum unlike any other when immediately after (not-)paying I walked into a very passionate/sensual peice of performance art between a man and woman (fully clothed, however). The true suprise was yet to come.

You often hear about art "challenging" you or "engaging" you, but I've never come upon such a literal challenge. It turns out that today was the opening for Tino Seghal's This Progress, an artist and installation I had never heard of. Upon walking up the Gugenheim's famous ramp, I was met by an attractive young woman who invited me to observe a piece of performance art. She asked the meaning of progress, and while we walked up the ramp challenged me to define it and relate it, expand it. (This is precisely the kind of conversation that I'd love to have over dinner and why being single is slowly killing me). She then handed me off to a gentleman and the process repeated, more or less, as it did two or three more times until reaching the top of the ramp. (Seriously, everything outside of the conversations disappeared into a blur, I was simultaneously trying to carry on a conversation while trying to process what I was experiencing.

After arriving at the top of the ramp the last person and I parted ways and I was left to look at the traditional art on display, of which there is not much at the moment--what is on the walls is fantastic to look at, but there simply isn't much gallery space open at the moment. Mr. Seghal's "piece"? "installation"? "exhibit"? Made the visit very well worthwhile.

It can be, and has been, said that everyone experiences art in their own way... With this piece that could never be truer. A much more comprehensive writeup can be found at The New York Times:

(It's funny to note that I had chosen the "Ce n'est pas un blog" title on my way back to the hotel and before I stumbled across this article in the New York Observer titled "Ceci n'est pas Performance Art"... I guess I wasn't the only one who had that reaction to interacting with the piece.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lincoln In New York: Day 2: Lincoln Does Lincoln Center

My morning didn't exactly get off to the best start when I looked out the hotel room window and saw plenty of snowflakes flying. I then proceeded to search the hotel for the Starbucks that is suposedly somewhere on premise (and that I have three free "breakfast" vouchers for) before giving up.

I then hopped on the 6 train at 51st & Lex -- conveniently adjacent to the hotel with no exact destination in mind. Of all of the various lines I rode today, the 6 train was certainly the most technologically advanced. Unlike BART (and as it turns out the 1, C, N, and S trains-- though none of those were anywhere near as bad as BART), PA announcements were clearly intelligible, though I kept expecting to hear "Pardner" after the "Please stand clear of the closing door" announcements -- sounded very much like a Disney ride.

I'm amazed at how incredibly efficient New York City Transit is... my longest wait for a train was maybe 5 minutes, and my 6/S/1 and 1/S/6 routings to and from Lincoln Center were painless, though it did take some elbowing to fit on. (I will say that both Gand Central and 42nd/Times Square could use some better signage regarding locating the S train).

So anyway I took the 6 train to City Hall, wandered around in the still-falling snow for all of about 5 minutes and found my way to the N train to 5th Av/59th St. From there I walked through Central Park, until I arrived at...

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For as gigantic a collection as they have, I was supprised by how relatively little art really caught my eye. I also found the layout a little confusing -- though this is not unique to The Met. One of the things I love about the "new" Cleveland Museum of Art is that it's fairly easy to make your way through galleries such that you see every gallery once without backtracking (for example, in a clockwise fashion).

The Atrium on the American Wing gave me a glimpse of what can be expected when (if?) the Cleveland Museum's renovation/expansion is complete... it seems like an exciting space.

I had a hotdog on the steps of the Met, and when finished continued walking North until I arrived at

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design
Industrial Design (along with Human Factors) is one of the areas of art/design that I really dig. Unfortunately, most of the Museum is closed for renovation/expansion but the special exhibition [and the fact that they offer privileges for CMA members] made it worth the visit. The museum had a cool twist on the audio tour -- using iPod Touches loaded with video, slide shows, and interviews instead of the standard monotone stuff.

One of the designers featured in the exhibition is Milton Glaset. Mr. Glaset is a man who's work I've admired without ever knowing the man (among others the "I {heart} New York" design was his creation. In his interview he made some points that really resonated (The quote may not be exact, but it should be close enough):
If you like Mozart and I like Mozart, we already have something in common and are less likely to want to hill each other. Art is about keeping us from killing each other.
and, even more so,
A great thing about being in the arts is that the possibility for learning never disappears. You have to admit that you've never learned everything.
Another of the honorees featured in the exhibit was the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis which you may recall I visited just a few months ago.

Central Park
After leaving Cooper-Hewitt I walked to the north end of Central Park, hung a left, got to Central Park Left, and hopped on the C train headed downtown...somehow (don't push me for details) I would up on the 1 train and at

Lincoln Center (the first time).
I wandered around a bit, found some of the Juliard School buildings, and the theatre where the New York City Ballet was performing. Picked up my ticket from Will Call, then hopped back on the 1 train, and the short ride to Columbus Circle.

Lunch and Carnegie Hall
From Columbus Circle I made my way to Carnegie Hall where I purchased tickets for a the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Saturday Evening Performance and then on to Burger Joint, a well hidden, very casual, um, burger joint, in the lobby of Le Parker Meridian. After lunch I needed to be off my feet for a little while, so I came back to the hotel and got ready for

New York City Ballet's performance of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty
At Lincoln Center. Took the 6 train from 51st/Lex to Grand Central, S from Grand Central to 42nd/times square, and 1 from Times Square to 66th/Lincoln Center. It really couldn't have been easier. Driving from my house to any of the theaters in Cleveland is more stressful and probably takes as long if not longer.

I was in the front row of the First Tier, just about 10' off center. I really don't think there were many seats with a better view. The theater was much more intimate than the seating chart made it appear and I was far enough back to see "everything" without being so far back as to not be able to see detail.

I've said it before and will say it again... I'm not qualified to comment on ballet. All I can say is that there was nothing that I thought distracted from an enjoyable experience. The dancing was well executed, the orchestra was a pleasure to listen to, etc., etc.

So then I did the 1 train to the S train to the 6 train and am back here at the hotel for the night. There are more pictures over at Flickr.

Tomorrow I'm tempted to try to get into the Met Opera to see their show, if for no other reason than to see how their surtitling system works... but I'm also tempted to try to see another show on Broadway. Ugh. Decisions, decisions. It will probably come down to if any of the shows TKTS has catch my fancy.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lincoln In New York: Day 1: Phantom of the Opera

So the "work" part of this trip [if you can call two days of BSing, cocktails, and bowling work] was officially over at 3:45 this afternoon. By 5:30 I was in Manhattan and checked in to my room. At the Waldorf=Astoria.

Now the room itself isn't too much more spectacular than any given room at any other hotel; comparably it's certainly smaller than I'm used to but by no means claustrophobic. Although now that I'm typing this and have looked at some of the pictures I took, I'm realizing that the level of craftsmanship and detail is infinitely higher than I'm used to. Despite being in quite possibly the noisiest city in the world, the room is stunningly quiet -- I've not heard one bit of noise from the hallway and only the occasional horn honk outside.

After checking in and hanging my clothes [an ounce of prevention is worth 45 minutes of me trying to iron out a wrinkle in vain] I went for a little walk to get myself oriented. After correcting for three wrong turns and going solely from memory I made my way to the TKTS booth in Times Square.

I still had a really bad taste in my mouth from Playhouse Square's Chicago and I needed to cleanse my palette. A perfect cleansing is exactly what I got. While I still need to see Les Mis, I am now not the only musical theatre fan in America who has not seen Phantom of the Opera. A lot of people seem to get very excited about Phantom and I've never really gotten it.

I wasn't terribly familiar with the music but what I had heard I was kind of lukewarm to. It goes without saying that it was a completely different experience live and somewhere around the dramatic swell in Think of Me during the first scene I realized that this was going to be a great show. While not my favorite musical (Spring Awakening still holds that role, and for sentimental reasons Jersey Boys and The Who's Tommy are tied for second), Phantom was a solid and enjoyable show.

Where with Chicago most songs started tolerable but ended "painfully annoying", Phantom I enjoyed most songs from the beginning and those that I didn't immediately like I wound up liking to some degree as the song progressed. I did feel that the first act was much stronger than the second, but that is the case with most theater... and matching the first act would have been tough to pull off. Something about the music kept me wondering when I was going to hear Sondheim's Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd (in this video clip starting at about 6:20 if you don't know what I'm talking about). The music was very operatic and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the cast pulled it off.

Here's a box office tip for you: Any time a ticket seller tells you that a seat is "a little to the left" or "just off center" translate that to "you couldn't be any more to the left while still having a seat in the theater" -- and that was true of my seat, BB 11, second row, last occupied seat... here's my preshow view (BB 12 and 13 exist but it doesn't appear that 12 or 13 in any of the first several rows was sold)... it was actually a very good seat. Most of the action was either center or in that corner downstage right and there's very little where I felt like I might be missing something.

While I was essentially seated directly in front of a speaker and heard more amplified sound than natural sound after my recent experiences with poorly balanced sound (Chicago and Wicked to be precise) the audio was pleasantly unobtrusive.

I love when the band/orchestra plays out, and I watched the entire playout for Phantom from the edge of the pit. Not only did it sound fantastic it was a unique perspective: Being literally above the musicians allowed for a much better view of their playing and because the conductor's portion of the pit extends further into the house for the first time ever I could see the conductor's facial expressions and body language which adds a dynamic to the interaction between musician and conductor. (To digress: I wonder if the Cleveland Orchestra has ever thought of putting audience members behind the orchestra on the choir risers? I'm not sure you'd get the best sound, but it would be an immerseive experience!)

Ok, so it's time for me to go to bed so I can get up nice and early for tomorrow's adventures :)

For as hard as a time as I've given Playhouse Square recently the Jump Back Ball is coming up and I learned about a deal via 27 Dresses in Cleveland...I'm acutally more tempted than not to go this year but I'm not convinced it's for me.


Friday, January 22, 2010

PlayhouseSquare: Chicago. I want my $70 back. [Rev 1]

The last production I attended that was so completely uninteresting, unentertaining, unsatisfying, and devoid of any possible redeeming quality is a large part of the reason I stopped patronizing Great Lakes Theater Festival.

Through Playhouse Square, Chicago has proven something I had previously thought not possible: There is a musical in this world that I truly hate. Sure I've seen musicals that I didn't fall in love with, and many that I was apathetic to, but until tonight none has provoked the emotion of pure, unadulterated, hatred. (24 hours later, I still am unable to think of any performing arts event I've had such a violent reaction against: even the aforementioned GLTF show was better, if for no other reason than the creative use of plywood)

As I started writing a draft of this post during intermission, at which time I was debating with myself if it should stay for the second act. As the end of intermission approached the only reason to stay I had with was -- and I quote -- "I paid $70 for this stinking pile of dread, I don't want to waste it".

For only the third time in my theatre going life (one of them involved a fever and the overwhelming need to vomit) -- and the first time in nearly 3 years I left during intermission. I think forcing myself to stay could have been classified as cruel and unusual punishment. Perhaps a slight buzz would have helped matters -- I contemplated visiting the bar but decided that there was no way I could consume enough alcohol to enjoy the second act, while still being safe to walk to my car, much less drive home.

I hate to be entirely negative, yet I can not identify one moment, let alone a scene or song, during the first act that was even borderline enjoyable. The acting was at points tolerable but generally devolved into a screeching mess just about the time I was starting to think that things were getting better. The music was brass-heavy but unlike my experience with Wicked I think that was intentional. The one pleasant distraction was watching the lone violinist, however I could only actually hear about a third of the notes she was playing [it did not appear or sound like her instrument benefited from any sound reinforcement]. I was unmoved by the choreography, blocking, and related staging. The acting and costuming was mediocre, at best. I've seen high school productions with more soul and enthusiasm.

Of course, the fact that I'm not a particularly large fan of jazz (ranking one notch above country and two above punk in my hierarchy of genres) does not help matters. In fact, just knowing the song All That Jazz came close to talking me out of seeing the show... but I didn't heed its warning. [For the record, I'm not a particularly large fan of Legally Blonde: The Musical either, but that had enough goofy entertainment value, energy, and soul to make it tolerable]

When this year's schedule was announced I had low expectations, especially compared to the fantastic 08-09 season... yet I have still managed to be disappointed. I might be back to see In The Heights, but it will take some serious contemplation.

I can think of few things I wouldn't have rather spent $70 on, and that includes parking fines and overdue book fees.

As a footnote to this train wreck, the front of house this evening seemed particularly chaotic and I had to practically beg for a program.

(Edited January 23rd to correct some particularly egregious gramatical errors, and to further emphasise my complete lack of anything good to say about this show)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra Negotiations: An Audience Member's Perspective (Part 2)

I think the Orchestra got more [read: the only] local television attention during the period of, ahem, unrest than in the entirety of the 4 years I've lived in Cleveland -- and I got more emails from out-of-town friends and relatives (Hi, Indiana!) on the subject of the Orchestra than ever before as well. I noticed no such mention today, and found no mention on the orchestra's website.

It took a bit of quick Googling but it looks like an amicable resolution was reached... I say this not having the benefit of seeing the contract, and I understand that more than money was on the table -- I'm not sure what besides money was being negotiated, but:

It's a resolution that I'm somewhat shocked it took a not just the threat of, but an actual strike for both sides to agree to it. Instead of cut/restore/2.5% raise, it's freeze/freeze/2 & 3% raise... aside from not realizing any savings in the 1st year and 2.5% more in the 3rd year it seems pretty darn close to where things started.

Anyway, enough of that. The musicians are presumably back to playing, the Miami Residency is on (I think), I'm back to listening, and hopefully the economy in 3 years will be in such shape that arguing about money isn't in the cards.

I found out that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is playing Carnegie Hall while I'm in New York (and TCO is in Miami). Would it be considered cheating on "My" orchestra if I were attend? ;)


Monday, January 18, 2010

A Blast From The Past

Today one of my clients emailed me asking for a quote on programming for one of their clients.

A little while later, he sent over images from one of the client's existing touchpanels so I could get a feel for what the client was expecting graphics-wise. Opening the files, I had a sense of deja vu... they looked eerily familiar.

Delving back into the corporate archive I found it... different client of ours, but same end user. Based on the date stamp on the project it wasn't long after I started the job that brought me to Cleveland...and was quite possibly my first "out of town" gig -- one state to the East.

Since most projects quietly drift off into the sunset and once completed are never heard from again, coming up on my 5th year in Cleveland later this year (June 18th, woo!) it was kind of a weird blast from the past to look at something so early in my career... and how much I've grown professionally since then.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Strauss, Ades, Brahms

Strauss: Don Juan, Tone Poem for Orchestra, op. 20
Ades: Violin Concerto: Concentric Paths (With Leila Josefowicz, Violin)
Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 73

The concert was down to "standing room only" availability, yet until the second piece on the program I was sticking out like a sore thumb as the only person in Boxes 9 and 11.

Before the concert began the members of the orchestra distributed fliers to members of the audience; I'm still not sure how I feel about the professionalism of the stunt but it did provide an interesting interaction between the audience and the orchestra. "Don't worry, we won't bite" in the words of Mr. Sherwin. For reasons that should not be blogged about, of all 105 members of the orchestra, I found it particularly...amusing? ironic? awkward? that Mr. Cohen was the musician who popped into Box 9.

Strauss's Don Juan had a wonderful texture and it was impossible to miss the implicit bravado and "delirious flight" referenced in the program notes, though I had a bit of a hard time focusing on the music.

Ades's Violin Concerto is a modern composition that while having all of the hallmarks of a modern composition didn't throw out the classical tradition. Ms. Josefowicz played the piece well and had my nearly undivided attention. During intermission one of the ladies in the adjoining box remarked to me that she thought Ms. Josefowicz was "half naked"... While she was attractive, I honestly have no particularly recollection of her clothing because I was engrossed by her fingering. I enjoyed the first movement, aptly titled Rings. The melodic third movement was my favorite of the piece.

It wasn't until I was reading the program that I realized that I was in for Brahms's Symphony No. 2 after hearing his Piano Quartet last night. It was an interesting contrast. While the symphony was no less expressive, it was significantly lighter and generally I derived more enjoyment from it. The piece was entirely captivating, the repetitive three note melody in the first movement first caught my ear, and its building repetition in the fourth movement held it until the fantastic coda ending the piece.

At the beginning of December I wrote that Rachmananioff's second symphony earned its place as my favorite concert. While that concert still holds the #1 position in my mind, this was made for a close second.


Friday, January 15, 2010

CIM: Faculty Recital (Cohen, Rose, Docter, Kraut, Brown)

Turina: Circulo ..., Op. 91
Mozart: Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498
Brahms: Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 60
With Franklin Cohen, clarinet; Stephen Rose, violin; Kirsten Docter, viola; Melissa Kraut, cello; Kathryn Brown, piano.

Often I struggle to find a common thread between pieces that share a program; tonight I didn't have that problem: All of the pieces seemed rather dark and dare I say moody.

I don't find myself enamored with any of the three pieces; they were all well played. I think my favorite part of the evening was the second movement (Melodia) of Turina's Circulo... if for no other reason than it struck me as being the lightest of the evening. The conclusion of the piece saw an event that I had pondered the possiblity of ever happening: It seemed that no one in the audience (including myself) was sure that the piece had ended. It wasn't until Mr. Rose quietly declared "That's All" that the silence turned into a sustained round of applause.

Mr. Cohen was great to watch during the Mozart trio adding some exagerated movement to the stage.

Finally, I'm really not sure how I feel about the Brahms Piano Quartet... I think I need to sleep on it

It occurred to me, this being my 12th post on CIM that I don't think I've ever spelled out that CIM is the Cleveland Institute of Music. CIM offers a fantastic program of concerts, recitals, etc.; virtually all offered free of charge.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Clyde's Bistro and Barroom, Cleveland Heights

It's a sure sign I've been spending too much time in my native California when I can look at my thermostat (to the right) and go "Oh, 39 degrees. It's warm enough for a walk!"

There are two diner cars on Lee, mere footsteps from my home, that were home to one failed diner-style restaurant after another, and have sat vacant more or less the entire time I've owned my home. Late last year, I heard that something new would be attempted... that something new would be Clyde's Bistro and Barroom, 1975 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-321-7100. I'm not exactly sure when they opened, but for the past few weeks I've been wanting to give them a try.

They do not (appear to) have a website, which instantly makes me somewhat suspicious, and them somewhat enigmatic: How does one figure out what their hours are? What's their menu? The first time I tried dropping in they appeared to be closed; then every subsequent time I've driven by the parking lot has been overflowing, which caused me to bail [for the record they do offer a complimentary valet, I just feel valeting my hunkajunk is a little too ostentatious].

Tonight, the mild temperature combined with my hunger and bachelor's refrigerator* I decided to walk over there -- probably about 7 minutes on the high side-- and it really wasn't too bad, though the sidewalks were a bit treacherous.

I was instantly greeted and seated; the atmosphere inside the cars belies the exterior. To be sure, if you were lead in blindfolded you would not think that you were inside two classic 1950s diners. The service was among the most courteous I can remember. While the furnishings are sturdy and the lighting is dim, the atmosphere is light, airy, and genuinely relaxed.

I am quite possibly the pickiest eater you will ever meet, though that has been softening recently. With that in mind nearly everything on the menu sounded fantastic, eventually narrowing the choice to between the 10oz Delmonico Steak and the 7oz Fliet Mignon.

I took the filet with a side, or rather two, of french fries. I'm honestly not sure which was better. The fries were among the best I've consumed, and the filet was phenomenal in every respect.

I do believe that at $19 the filet was the most expensive item on Clyde's menu which includes salads, a diverse set of entrees, and some sandwiches that don't break the $10 mark.

* - Complete inventory: Tons of bottled water, Mountain Dew, Coke, three sticks of butter, a lone slice of pizza well past its prime, some milk firmly in the "questionable" category. An empty freezer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

CIM Faculty Recital: Sweet Beauty Hath No Name

Sweet Beauty Hath No Name
Joshua Smith, flute
Laura Perrotta, actor, guest artist
Telemann: Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute, TVW 40:2-13
Featuring sonnets by William Shakespeare

We start with a "I'm ashamed to admit it" moment: I am not a fan of Shakespeare. I think one too many monotone readings of Romeo and Juliet in a high school English class pushed me over the edge, but whatever the cause I may be the only theatre fan who can't stand the bard. (Just like I may be the only musical theatre fan who has never seen Les Mis or Phantom)

That confession out of the way, I thought this evening's program was well done. While I couldn't draw an emotional connection between the sonnet and the accompanying fantasy, Ms. Perrotta delivered the sonnets with a vigor that resonated; Mr. Smith's playing was likewise passioned. The end result was an enjoyable evening that was nearly the perfect balance between the spoken word and the music it accompanied.


The complete program:
Sonnet 65 with Fantasy 1 in A Major
Sonnet 29 with Fantasy 2 in A Minor
Sonnet 98 with Fantasy 3 in B Minor
Sonnet 18 with Fantasy 4 in B-flat Major
Sonnet 102 with Fantasy 5 in C Major
Sonnet 34 with Fantasy 6 in D Minor
Sonnet 128 with Fantasy 7 in D Major
Sonnet 24 with Fantasy 8 in E Minor
Sonnet 43 with Fantasy 9 in E Major
Sonnets 73 and 74 with Fantasy 10 in F-sharp Minor
Sonnet 15 with Fantasy 11 in G Major
Sonnet 115 with Fantasy 12 in G Minor

NYC Trip Update & Props to the NYC MTA

So... I still have no firm plans for my time in NYC, though I have the hotel figured out for three of four nights: I'm using HHonors points for the Waldorf=Astoria (since it was only like 30,000 points more than the Hampton Inn) -- and I haven't decided what I'm doing for night #4. Perhaps that will also be at the Waldorf.

Suggestions for events, places, food, ... are still welcome.

Meanwhile, I have to give props to the NYC MTA. I wound up on their website trying to figure out how to make my way around the city. I found most of the info I wanted, but still had a "Stupid Tourist Question". I emailed the MTA. I got a response back pretty quickly, that not only answered my question, but invited me to contact the author if I had any additional questions or if maps would be helpful.

While it's generally against my nature to refer to maps while exploring a city, given the sheer density of NY I figured that it could be a helpful resource.

In my mailbox today was one of the most amazing collections of transit resources I've ever received: Bus maps, subway maps, commuter rail maps, Art en Route information, postcards, fare information... A veritable wonderland of resources for navigating the city and ways to stop and smell the roses along the way (To give you an idea: The envelope overflowed my mailbox).

I am most appreciative of the gentleman who forwarded the information; I guess it's easy to view an organization of the size and scope of the MTA as faceless... I no longer have that view.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra Negotiations: An Audience Member's Perspective

(Warning: Particulaly Long, Rambling Post Follows)

I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed (though between the press, direct mail, etc. it's kind of hard to miss) negotiations between AFM and the Orchestra have broken down and a month-to-month agreement . While no labor action has taken place as yet, it's kind of the elephant in the room.

I've been meaning to try to dig up financial reports to truly understand what's going on... Out of the blue today a copy of the Orchestra's annual report showed up in my (physical) mailbox. I'm far from qualified, but that doesn't stop political pundit so I'll try my hand at it.

There is the proverbial rock and the hard place: As the couple sitting next to be before last night's Q&A session said while discussing the situation: "When they play like they did today, you want to give them the world" but economic realities are realities.

As I understand it, the Orchestra is seeking a 3 year contact with a 5% reduction year 1, a restoration in year 2, and a 2.5% increase year 3 and AFM has countered with a "flat" 8 month contract. Having not followed the situation too closely, I'm not sure what lead to the termination of the month-to-month agreement the union had been working under.

The Union has expressed concern that reductions would jeopardize the quality of the Orchestra and members might be inclined to move elsewhere. The truth is, it seems, that orchestra playing is a very nomadic profession -- orchestra members hail from nearly all corners of the world and have tenures spanning from a few years to 40+, so it is a viable risk. On the other hand, while things are particularly bad in Cleveland at the moment the economy world-wide isn't a whole lot better leading me to wonder how many organizations of similar stature to the Orchestra would be in a position to poach members from Cleveland.

The Orchestra has proffered that the average musician's salary is a bit over $150,000[1] with a 20-hour "official" work week, 10 weeks vacation, 27 weeks sick leave, and of course Cleveland's comparably low cost of living. To be sure, $150k sounds like a fantastic amount of money for a 20-hour week... Likewise 10 weeks of vacation is nothing to sneeze at. But I'm not sure what that "official" week entails aside from the actual performances; I have to assume that the amount of time each musician spends independently practicing varies based on a variety of factors and I'm not sure if independent practice time--if such is common--is included in the official week or not. Similarly, a fair number of the musicians donate additional time for community engagement activities. (And others derive additional income from either their association with the Orchestra or teaching roles at CIM).

Under the the banner of "shared sacrifice" and the representation that nearly every other work group has made concessions it would seem that the musicians are cast in the role of the spoiled children -- but when a position is accepted with the expectation of a certain salary, it is reasonable to expect that it will not decrease- I would be none too happy if I was expected to take a cut.

Both ticket sales[2] and giving are lagging: Corporate giving is down a shocking 20%... A stunning $15.9 million (if I'm reading the numbers right) was lost from the endowment's value. I'm convinced that the status quo cannot be maintained if the Orchestra is to be maintained. I'm afraid that any adverse labor action, a strike on the part of the musicians or a lockout by orchestra management could have more permanent effects than a temporary reduction: A 2000 strike by the Florida Philharmonic is cited by some as the death knell that ultimately created room in Miami for the Cleveland winter residency.

The orchestra can not exist but for the musicians, and the musicians enjoy a stability and quality of life thanks to the orchestra.

Taking the $152,000 figure provided by the orchestra and multiplying it by the 108 musicians currently listed as members of the orchestra yields a shocking $16,416,000 payroll obligation--it's easy to believe that this is the Orchestra's single biggest expense. A 5% reduction represents a savings of just over $820,000... anyone happen to have an extra 3/4s of a million burning a hole in their pocket?

As you can probably tell, I'm not sure which side I fall on. I think I'm somewhere in the middle, and I hope that a speedy compromise can be made.

What are your thoughts? Did I miss anything? Let me know...

[1] Does anyone know if this is pure salary or the fully loaded cost of a musician including overhead, insurance, support services, etc.?
[2] Though I'd like to think I'm doing my part with over $2500 in single-ticket purchases from the orchestra (not including parking) since I started keeping track July 1, 2009.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Musically Speaking: Tchaikovsky's Fourth

Prelude Concert:
Ysaye: Sonata for two violins, Op. Posthumous (Peter Otto and Eli Matthews, violin)
Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence in D minor, Op. 70 (Chulin Park, Sae Shiragami, violin; Patrick Connolly, Joanna Patterson, viola; Paul Kushious, David Alan Harrell, cello)

Beyond the Score: A multimedia exploration of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36)

Borrowing someone else's words, it was a wonderfully complete experience.
I started this afternoon with not one but two tours of Severance Hall; it's amazing how each tour guide puts their own spin on the tour and shows off little corners that aren't even mentioned by other guides (The Taplin Room was today's such discovery) and makes it well worth repeating, though I'm not sure it needs to be done on the same day.*

Following the second tour I made my way down to the Rineberger Chamber Hall for the prelude concert. Both pieces were preceded by enlightening commentary from the musicians, which certainly added to the value, understanding, and humor of the pieces. I was taken by Ysaye's Sonata, and Souvenir de Florence was an interesting...ummm...prelude to the main attraction and had some interesting themes developed.

Most of the feelings I expressed after the first Musically Speaking concert held true for this concert. As I had previously noted it's easy to believe that music is composted in a vacuum, and once again this concert broke that seal. As I learned, Tchaikovsky's private life wasn't in the best shape and his marriage was strictly one of convenience. The detail behind inspirations for various passages and themes is certainly enlightening, and the excerpting helps immensely. When I heard the piece Friday, for example, I had not noticed the three waltzes; the intention to evoke the sound of "tears"; or the subtle nod to the music of The Nutcracker. The theme of booming brass, though, can't help but to make one's mind wander to the 1812 Overture which came two years after this piece.

When I heard the performance on Friday, I was in the front row of Box 12 which is essentially in the right corner of the box level. Today I was in the back row of Box 2, which is just about as close to dead center as you can get as a member of the public. On Friday, I noted that the Orchestra sounded brighter from that position and that feeling holds true today. Same piece, same conductor, still sounded great but not quite as bright. But everyone has their own "favorite" seat at Severance and there are 2,000 to choose from. (Next Saturday, partially out of necessity, unless something else opens up I'll be trying Box 22 out)

The concert was followed by a Q&A with Gary Ginstling, Japp van Zweden, Rrakn Rosenwein, and Gerard McBurney which was a great way to cap off the afternoon. It was quite interesting to hear their takes on a variety of subjects, including my question: How does the performance evolve across the span of the four performances. Mr. van Zweden commented on the relationship that is formed between the conductor and the orchestra who start as complete strangers, spend three days of rehearsal together and the relationship continues to be forged through the performances. Mr. Rosenwein added that Mr. van Zweden was very into the moment and the same notes may have received different gestures each night.

One idea that had been floated with seeing the concert twice was that it would be an interesting opportunity to evaluate Mr. van Zweden's debut with the orchestra. I have to confess that I'm really not sure what one looks for in evaluating a conductor. His actions generally seemed to be sharper, more assertive, than I'm used to while his left hand was gracefully pulling, or perhaps better, coaxing each note out. I don't think I've noticed so much movement.

Ok, this post is getting long enough... I really could go on, but it would be best if you experience Musically Speaking/Beyond the Score for yourself. The next opportunity -- the last of this season -- will be March 7th.

* I'd still gladly pay for a top to bottom, back stage, under stage, BOH/FOH tour.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Fridays@7: January 8th

Jaap van Zweden, Conductor
Wagenaar: Overture: Cyrano de Bergerac, Op. 23
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36
Post-Concert music by Polygraph Lounge

This weekend is a little unusual in that the Orchestra is performing more or less the same program with three different formats: The traditional concert format, the Fridays@7 format, Musically Speaking. Being a fan of both "alternate" formats, I attended tonight for Fridays@7 and will be back Sunday Afternoon for Musically Speaking/Beyond the Score.

People speak of "brightness" when it refers to music and I've honestly never really understood the usage; I probably couldn't express it in words, listening to the orchestra play tonight the first thought that popped into my head was "wow, they sound brighter than I remember" -- especially the strings. I liked it. I was seated a little more to the right than usual -- Box 12 -- so I'm not sure if the playing was different or if it was an acoustical phenomena.

This weekends concerts are believed to be the Orchestra's first performances of Wagenaar's Overture from Cyrano de Bergerac. Based on the age of the composition that surprises me, but it was a wonderful beginning to the evening by a work and composer that I was unaware of.

I'll have a more in-depth understanding of (and post on) Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 after Sunday's performances, but the Pizzicato 3rd movement scherzo was fascinating and probably the longest example of pizzicato I've heard to date.

One of the beauties of the Fridays @ 7 format is the combination of a known quantity [The Cleveland Orchestra and great classical music] with the completely unknown.

In tonight's case the "completely unknown" was Polygraph Lounge. To attempt to describe Polygraph Lounge would be an exercise in futility; an interesting mix of new music, parody, and reinterpertatons of classical pieces strung together. I most enjoyed the pieces where the were joined by six members of the Orchestra and by a female soloist with a fantastic voice (who's name I missed); and the fishsticks gag made me more than a touch uncomfortable.

This time instead of utilizing the foyer the post-concert music remained in the hall. While this changed the feel for the evening, based on the style of music it was probably the best choice.

Particularly interesting to me was the use of a Theramin. I'm pretty sure I've never heard one live before, and in fact am only aware of the instrument as a result of my unhealthy relationship with my TiVo (I swear it knows what I like to watch on TV better than I do) -- an episode of "CIA Secrets" on Investigation: Discovery sometime in the past few months discussed the invention, the inventor, and the principles behind espionage. According to that program at least, Léon Theremin took advantage of his time in the US Patent Office).


Sunday, January 3, 2010

NYC: Suggestions, anyone?

I'm going to be in the greater NYC area for work at some point in the last couple weeks of January.

Given my passion for cities, andd having 17 business days of vacation that need to get used by December 31 I'm sorely tempted to make a vacation out of it.[1][2]

Here's the thing: I've been in New York City (Manhattan, to be specific) all of twice: The first time was when a business partner took us bowling, yes, bowling -- the second was a free afternoon/evening in October 2008 where I literally wandered around with no plans: Train into Grand Central from NJ, walked West 42nd from 2nd to 11th Ave, plus Times Square, dinner at Burger Joint [a well hidden, literal hole in the wall] in Le Parker Meridian and a show, Boeing Boeing. I stumbled upon Carnegie Hall, again literally -- I caught my foot on the sidewalk just out front -- but I didn't have an opportunity to get inside. My reaction was like "Wow... this is Carnegie Hall... I thought it took practice to get here." ;)

I loved my time there.

But since this trip will be in the middle of January rather than late October, I have a feeling that the climate won't really accommodate my typical "walk around aimlessly and stop when something catches my eye" approach to exploring cities.

So, for those who have been: Should I vacate in NYC in January? How many days? Any must see/eat/do attractions that are off the beaten path? As much as I love the cultural gems of Cleveland, I know NYC is regarded as the epicenter: What two or three or four are the musts?

Lastly, having just written a check[3] for $2k in property taxes I am trying to control costs: Any suggestions for doing the city economically are appreciated. [Though I'll try to cash in HHonors Points for the hotel]

Comment or email away...

[1] I learned this year that 12 consecutive days away from the office just isn't healthy for me. I'm not doing this again this year.
[2] I learned over at the Cleveland Orchestra Blog that Mr. Welser-Most will be conducting the Vienna Philharmonics New Years' 2011 concerts. On a whim I did enter the drawing for the privilege of purchasing a ticket -- I have no expectation of having my name pulled, but if it is I may finally have sufficient motivation to (a) get my passport, and (b) visit Vienna -- so until that's definitely ruled out I'm saving a at least a few days.
[3] Actually "typed the number in my bank's online billpayment thingy" and clicked "Pay Now"...but that doesn't sound as impressive.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cleveland Pops Orchestra: New Year's Eve (Broadway Rocks)

Of the four years I've lived in Cleveland I've done the CPO's New Year's Eve concert thrice. (2007, 2009, 2010). I don't really remember 2007 and was unmoved (to put it kindly) by 2009... but if this concert is a harbinger of things to come 2010 should be a good year.

My box and the adjoining box was shared with a family of 10 who was doing the concert for the first time... and wow, could that family have a good time. To give you an idea: The two older women were doing it disco style during I Will Survive which was just plain hysterical (it took effort to control my laughter, a rarety) -- two of the guys replaced the O-H-I-O sequences in Sloopy Hang On with Z-O-N-A (apparently they're PAC 10 fans)... And how can I forget the hand gestures at key points in the Greese medley? During You Can't Stop The Beat the ladies were swing dancing in the back of the box like they had their original hips.

That pretty well set the tone for the evening -- just plain fun for all ages and completely relaxed atmosphere... the meistro's chatter was kept to a reasonable level and the orchestra was fantastic. The soloists, likewise, were pleasant to listen to and interacted well with the orchestra (this was my chief complaint with regard to last year when it seemed like the "guests" dominated the program to the detriment of the orchestra)
The program was thoroughly enjoyable -- I would have love a few more pieces, but the selections were well played. I think the Grease Medley was my favorite, but Oh What A Night was enjoyable if for no other reason than the memories* -- and seeing the work performed by a full orchestra*. Also Sprach Zarathustra was fun, but seemed to lack the same depth that the piece took on when played earlier in 2009 by the Cleveland Orchestra.
Happy 2010!
(The image above was one of the first taken with a digital camera that mysteriously appeared on my doorstep two days ago ;) ... I'm still getting used to it)
The Program
Carl Topilow, Conductor; Capatha Jenkins and J. Mark McVey vocalists
R. Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra
Gaudio: Oh, What A Night (from Jersey Boys)
Krieger & Enyen: And I Am Tellin' You (from Dreamgirls)
J. Strauss: Fuerfest Polka
Schreiner: Immer Kleiner
Beethoven: Turkish March
Strouse, arr. Muller: Bye, Bye Birdie (medley)
Schonberg: Bring Him Home (from Les Miserables)
Peren & Fekaris: I Will Survive
Ebb & Kander: All That Jazz (from Chicago)
Ashman: Suddenly Seymour (from Little Shop of Horrors)
Wildborn & Bricusse: This Is The Moment (from Jekyll & Hyde)
Jacobs & Case, arr. Custer: Greese (Medley)
Farrell & Russell, arr. Cerulli: Hang On Sloopy
Anderson: Syncopated Clock
John & Rice: Circle of Life (from Lion King)
Shaiman & Wittman: You Can't Stop The Beat (from Hairspray)
* - Ok, so the memories and orchestra thing kind of go hand in hand: I had seen Jersey Boys twice (perhaps three times, but I only positively remember two) during its debut at the La Jolla Playhouse prior to making the leap to Broadway & the national tour. At one performance, Des McAnuff (the director for all three versions) and Frankie Valli were several rows in front of me. The show is played with a very small orchestra -- 13 musicians -- and it was interesting to see/hear the piece with a full orchestra.