Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CIM Orchestra: Kimbo Ishii-Eto, guest conductor

CIM Doesn't let their orchestra come out to play nearly as often as they should.

Saint-Saens: Bacchanale from Samson et Delila, Op. 47
Khachaturian: Concerto-Rhapsody for Violoncello and Orchestra*
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherzazde, Op. 35
Kimbo Ishii-Eto, conductor; *-Yuriy Leonovich, cello.
At Cleveland Institute of Music's Kulas Hall.

This is only the third time I've heard Saint-Saens works performed, yet something was immediately familiar when the orchestra struck up Bacchanale which was impressive in its energy and was probably my favorite piece on tonight's program; I just felt good listening to it. The Khachaturian piece didn't move me in the same way: The first two movements seemed overly long winded with the same, rather dull, motif bouncing from section to section to section to section to section. It also felt loose to me but having never heard the work before that may be an unfair judgement. The third (allegro animato) movement was notable for it's bursts of energy.

The last piece on the program, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, was quite enjoyable and shared hints of Middle Eastern flavor with the first piece. Particularly impressive was the cohesiveness of the explosive fourth movement (Festival at Baghdad - The Sea - The Shipwreck (The ship goes to pieces against a rock surmounted by a bronze warrior) -- and you'd nearly need to be deaf to miss the "Shipwreck" portion of that movement.

During Intermission I had to remind myself that the musicians on the stage are college students. Considering the huge number of concerts and recitals offered by The Cleveland Institute of Music throughout the year, The CIM Orchestra doesn't come out very often, but when they do it's certainly well worth listening.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Pink Martini (Celebrity Series)

It nearly goes without saying that I've never heard of, let alone witnessed, a conga line at a Cleveland Orchestra performance; nor have I heard an usher utter the phrase "we have a lot of groupies in the hall". Such was the case at tonight's sold-out performance of the Cleveland Orchestra with Pink Martini. The published program for the generally fun evening follows this post, and for context, I had zero foreknowledge of what Pink Martini is prior to the concert.

Fully conscious of the irony in the following statement, given that my living comes from the audio visual world, I have fundamental problems with the use of electronic sound reinforcement in orchestral performances; not only does it distort the sound but it significantly hampers ones ability to choose what they wish to hear (To steal a line from Academics, for me the Orchestral/live classical experience is an opportunity to learn how to listen, not what to listen)--my dissertation on the subject could be a post on its own.

I start on that point because Ravel's Bolero was irritatingly over-reinforced, and started the concert out on the wrong foot. As much as I wanted to hear the strings, thanks to the amplification all I could hear was the piano and percussive beat. I could see the violinists' and cellists' arms moving, yet I could not hear them.

However that issue was not as severe in the subsequent songs in the first half, and was nearly completely mitigated in the second half. I didn't particularly care for the first half, however And Then You're Gone/But Now I'm Back, both based on Schubert's Fantasy in F-minor for four hands, were enjoyable.

The second half was thoroughly enjoyable; I think my favorite from the concert was Hey Eugene but Splendor in the Grass was a very close runner up and something about the violins was nearly hypnotizing for both.

All-in-all it was a fun evening with a packed house and good music. The concert certainly demonstrated both Pink Martini and the Cleveland Orchestra's versatility moving seamlessly from classically-influenced works with modern flare to Latin, and the indescribable in between. The Conga Line was a sight to behold and I'm sure that pictures will show up on Flickr in the not-too-distant future.

(Anyone know what it would take to get the [an] Orchestra to attempt a full-scale performance in the style of Vitamin String Quartet? I have to imagine it would be an otherworldly experience)


The published program (note: there were numerous, sometimes unannounced variations, and one encore. I do not have an accurate set list)
Ravel: Bolero
Forbes & Lauderdale: Let's Never Stop Falling in Love
Forbes & Lauderdale: Sympathique
Traditional: Uskudar
Unknown: Kikuchiyo to moshimasu
Taylor & Lauderdale: The Flying Squirrel
Catalani: "Ebben? andro lontana" from La Wally
Forbes, Marashain, & Lauderdale: And Then You're Gone
Marashain & Lauderdale: But Now I'm back
Lecuona: Malaguena
James: Concerto for Trumpet
Fisher & Roberts: Amado mio
Lauderdale & Marashian: Splendor in the Grass
Clemente & Audiello: Ninna Nanna
Jiminez: Donde estas, Yolanda
Forbes & Lauderdale: Autrefois
Youmans, Eliscu, & Kahn: Carioca
Forbes: Hey Eugene
Unknown: U plavu zoru
Tozain & Lauderdale: Veronique
Forbes & Forbes: Dosvedanya mio bombino

Thanks and a Twitter

I've told few people about this blog -- in fact, until I found myself quoted by the blog of one of Cleveland's cultural institutions, I hadn't told anyone. That "Oh, my, someone is actually reading this" moment lead me to start paying attention to visitor counts.

Yesterday I broke a record -- and quite substantially so. So thanks for reading! (And feel free to argue with me if you think I'm an idiot or my reactions are off-base: Being challenged helps one to (re)evaluate one's position intelligently)

I also have a Twitter account that I, likewise (until this post), have not told anyone about -- largely because I have no idea what practical use one makes of Twitter (if you have ideas, leave a comment or send an email); I do plan on "feeding" these posts to Twitter:


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Linden String Quartet/CityMusic Cleveland: Champagne & Chamber Music

A benefit concert for the CityMusic Education Program and Youth Orchestra.

Mozart: String Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 428
Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor
Linden String Quartet: Sarah McElravy, Catherine Cosbey, violins; Eric Wong, viola; Felix Umansky, cello.
At the Strauss home, Cleveland Heights.

The challenge with house concerts is you're rarely 100% sure that you're at the right location when you first pull up. In today's case, I circled the block once and on my second go around I saw a string quartet (or what could be best presumed to be a string quartet -- or four people randomly walking around with instrument cases -- crossing the street. Ignoring the obvious joke--"To get to the other side", of course--I parked, and rang the doorbell.

Quickly and warmly welcomed into the Strauss's home, I found myself surrounded by the frenzied activity of last minute preparation in the Kitchen--while my role was limited, consisting of unboxing baking shells, I enjoyed participating.

Today's concert was a benefit for CityMusic Cleveland's Youth Orchestra and eduction programs in Elyria and Cleveland's Slavic Village -- and in hearing Eugenia Strauss, Amitai Vardi, and Rebeccah Schweigert Mayhew speak on the topic, it sounds like a fantastic program and it's clear that the people shepherding music into underprivileged communities are both passionate and enthusiastic about their program.

And for the music of Linden String Quartet: Amazing. A house concert is by its definition an intimate setting, but sitting in the front row, inches from the musicians, of a concert so masterfully played was a fantastically immersive experience: Feeling Mr. Umansky's cello playing come up through my feet while Ms. McElravy and Cosbey's notes danced in my left ear while Mr. Wong's soothed the right. Ms. McElvray provided wonderful context for Mendelssohn piece, which I think was my favorite by a hair, including reading a poem that influenced the work.

There was no doubt that the musicians were enjoying playing as much as the audience was enjoying taking it in, punctuated only with subtle cues amongst themselves maintaining a perfect relationship amongst the parts. To emphasise the intimacy of the performance, Ms. McElvray came within inches of hitting me with her bow while receiving enthusiastic applause at the conclusion of the concert.

As one attendee and I discussed during the ensuing reception: It was like the members of a family: Each with a perfect understanding of each other's role along with their own. Attempting to play the violin myself on a regular basis, I particularly enjoyed and was captivated by Sarah McElravy and Catherine Cosbey's passioned playing and quick finger work.

I would be remiss if I didn't note that upon research I had heard Linden String Quartet perform Beethoven's Quartet in E-minor, Op. 52 No. 2 at CIM's String Quartet Seminar Gala Recital Concert back in December.

CityMusic Cleveland's next free concerts include a performance Wednesday, April 14, 7.30 pm at Fairmount Presbyterian Church--Assuming good weather, anyone interested in attending and up for a 40 minute walk--you're welcome to park at my place and join me on the way.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cleveland Pops Orchestra: Cirque de la Symphonie

The program for tonight's performance can be found at the end of this post.
As the weekend approached I found myself trying to choose which of among four concerts I was going to attend tonight; one was ruled out pretty quickly, one was ruled out because I didn't feel like driving to Akron, and one was ruled out because the same group will be performing a house concert (that will be attending) tomorrow.

What was left was this, the first non-New Years Eve Cleveland Pops Orchestra concert that I've made it to. I had high expectations -- and a bit of anticipation for this performance. Unfortunately, where there were some bright spots, taking the concert as a whole, my expectations were not met.

The Cirque visuals accompanying several pieces were well performed but didn't meet the expectations I have for something associated with the Cirque du Soleil empire. While I hate to use the word "amateurish", because the performers clearly aren't, the selection and flow of performances seemed to be more of a sideshow level.

The persistent applause during those performances, without regard to the orchestra's music, made it difficult--if not impossible--to apply any kind of critical listening to the music, essentially relegating the orchestra to the role of "talented, probably expensive, background music". This was particularly true of the fourth movement from Shostakovitch's fifth symphony; taken out of context from the first 3 movements and relegated to the role of second fiddle on stage, it lacks the power and drama that it deserves (and that makes it enjoyable)

So, that's what I didn't care for. On the bright side:

Ms. Alexis Floyd, winner of the 2009 Jean L Petit Memorial Music Scholarship, and the orchestra delivered a fantastic performance of Astonishing from the Broadway musical Little Women. Sisters, pianists, and honorable mention winners in the same competition, Stephanie and Megan Lee, played Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals. The seventh movement (Aquarium) was particularly enjoyable, and almost haunting -- I have to swear that I've heard it before, but I can't place it.

Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music, with Clarinet by Carl Topilow was enjoyable to listen to, as was Waltz from Carousel.

Immediately after intermission a synopsis of the Pops' upcoming season was announced--it sounds like it will be good.


Wendel: Under the Big Top
Bizet: Gypsy Dance from Carmen
King: Barnum and Bailey's Favorite
Rimsky-Korsakov: Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maden
Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals
Tchaikovsky: Dance of the Swans from Swan Lake
Howland & Dickstein: Astonishing from Little Women
Rodgers: Waltz from Carousel
Sondheim: Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music
Shostakovich: Movement IV (Alegro non troppo) from Symphony No. 5 in D-minor, Op. 47.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cleveland Play House: Cloud 9 (CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program)

Another spur of the moment attendance decision lead to one of the funniest plays I've seen in Cleveland. Due to mature content, specifically virtually boundless sexual references and more double entendre than you can shake a stick at, I'm not sure that the show is advisable for those under 16 or over 50. But anyone (based on the amount of distinctly feminine laughter and cackling behind me) in the sweet spot in the middle should have some fun..

The cast consists entirely of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts Acting Program Class of 2010 -- with a name nearly as long as a play and an unpronounceable abbreviation that's longer than many words (CWRUCPHMFAAP -- "Crew Ceph Mmm Faarp"?), the name may be the worst part of the show (well, and the fact that there is no semblance of a plot synopsis nor even a director's note in the program).

The actors, Dan Hendrock, Andrew Gorell, Yan Tual, Eva Gil, Kelli Ruttle, Kim Krane, and Michael Herbert, all doubling roles, have impeccable comedic timing and convey a fantastic amount of accurate expression through their body language and facial expressions. Once again, CPH artistic staff, notably scenic designer Jill Davis support the near-farcical action on stage quite well. The only negative acting bit that sticks in my mind -- perhaps so because of the truism "you only get one first impression" -- Ms. Gill's entrance as young Edward was lost under music; I'm not sure if it was a case of the music being too loud or her needing to project more, I had no problems hearing her dialogue during the remainder of the show.

The boundary-pushing, gender-bending show, written by Caryl Churchill justaxposes the conservative and oppressive British Victorian colonial period with the much looser 1970s, as the colonization was drawing to an end. With some characters being played by actors of the opposite gender, the line between man/woman and sex/gender is somewhat blurred and the audience challenged as to how they decide to perceive that character.

Generally well paced, the show is by no means short (1:15/15/1:11) and a large part of the 2nd act seemed to add minimal value -- yet, the random song number and appearance of a swing made it worthwhile.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

(Ding) You are now free to move about the planet

(Giddy laughter)

Based on the 155,000+ miles I've flown (and 170,000 miles I've driven) since around 2002, readers may be surprised to learn that until today I've never had a passport.

Last Monday I finally got my act together and applied. Based on the seeming useless of it, I'm not entirely sure why I also applied for a passport card--my best rationalization is "Hey, what's another $20 when you're already spending $140?"

Guess what was in my mailbox today?

The sad part is I think my passport photo--taken in a back room at the Cleveland Heights post office--is the best picture I've seen of myself in a few years.

So now I feel the overwhelming urge to go somewhere far, far away -- after all, I still have 15 days of vacation that need to be used by December 31st -- but there's a chance that the business trip to Saudi Arabia may still happen, and as always, It's always more fun when someone else is buying the ticket ;)


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cleveland Chamber Music Society: Schubert Piano Trios

Schubert: Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 99, D898
Schubert: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 100, D929
Wu Han, piano; David Finckel, cello; Philip Setzer, violin
at the Fairmount Temple Auditorium, Beachwood.

Schubert is a composer who I feel guilty about not knowing more about, so combined with the relatively dismal concert schedule this week, I made a spur of the moment decision to attend the Cleveland Chamber Music Society's concert this evening. I think his Trout Quintet remains my favorite of his works that I have heard performed.

I am still, in a way, rolling the concert around on my tongue, to figure out if I like the taste. To a large extent yes, but in many ways I want to compare it to eating pizza 3 days in a row* -- The motifs which caught my ear initially started to grate on it by the umpteenth repetition.

Generally well played, there were moments where I felt that the balance was off, specifically, that Ms. Han's piano was unnecessarily overpowering and drowning out Mr. Finckel's cello and/or Mr. Setzer's violin. The E-flat trio featured some beautiful cello playing on the part of Mr. Finckel.

The B-flat trio, and the scherzo movement in particular sounded frightenly familiar: Upon checking my iTunes Library I realized that not only was this one of the few classical pieces in my collection** [In a bit of a paradox, I can rarely stand hearing popular music live, yet there is very little classical I can listen to in recorded form], but the 3rd movement had come up on shuffle while I was listening in the office earlier today. In a somewhat creepy coincidence triangle, the copy I have features pianist Yefim Bronfman...who will be giving a concert as part of CIM's Masters Series tomorrow evening.

Yet despite the relatively sparse concert schedule this week, I find myself conflicted about plans for Saturday evening: Here in Cleveland I really want to give the Linden Quartet a whirl, for reasons I can't pinpoint; though not a Beatles fan, in Akron I'm intrigued by the Akron Symphony Orchestra/Classical Albums Live: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, particularly because of my affection for the London Symphony Orchestra's Symphonic Rock Series, which includes renderings of some of the tracks that appeared on that album. Anyone want to cast votes?

*- Which I happen to be finishing off the last of right now. You really don't want to see me attempt to cook: The EPA gets involved, there's hazardous waste disposal... it's not pretty.
** Entering said collection while I was attempting to court a Schubert-loving a cellist a year or so go. You can see how well that went.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Akron Symphony: Mahler and Zander

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major
Benjaman Zander, conductor; at Cleveland's Severance Hall

I am a fan of Akron Symphony's use of the conductor do deliver the pre-concert lecture; aside from giving insight into the piece, it gives you an idea of the conductor's motivations when the piece is being performed. Mr. Zander expertly and humorously guided the audience through the intimidating structure of the piece, including noting that the first movement alone was longer than the entirety of Beethoven's 5th.

The piece, although long, was enjoyable. My preference was for the more lively (and shorter) 2nd and 3rd movements, and I was struck by the profundity of the work during the utter silence enveloping the extended pause between the conclusion of the fourth movement and the end of Mr. Zander's prolonged relaxation. I was impressed by the displayed endurance--playing for nearly 9o minutes with only three brief pauses, yet the piece didn't earn a spot in my heart.

The staging of the orchestra was interesting, divorcing the second violins from the first and giving them equal weight on opposite sides of the conductor with the violas and cellos filling the intervening space, giving a remarkably balanced sound to the string section (I will confess I found myself wondering, ignoring the nightmare it would create for a conductor, what it would sound like if the strings were interleaved rather than segregated)

Although the performance received a standing ovation, and on any other weekend I may have stood as well, still riding a bit of a high from the ethereal performance by a different orchestra in the same hall last night, I couldn't convince myself to stand. While concerts were both richly textured, today's didn't engender that unworldly feeling that comes when the orchestra, conductor, and audience are in perfect synchronization: The two performances were in incomparably different strata.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Ashkenazy, Pictures at an Exhibition

My search for a single adjective to properly fit this evening's concert is failing me right now, so I'll quote the Black Eyed Peas while I try to find something suitable: "I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night. That tonight's gonna be a good, good night." (From I Gotta Feeling).

Tonight's Cleveland Orchestra concert was hands down, the best, most energetic, thrilling, captivating, passionate, bold, explosive, concert I have ever attended. (Note that there were no qualifiers before "concert"). Not only finding a replacement for my previous favorite classical concert, Rachmaninoff's 2nd earlier this Severance season, I no longer need to think, if asked, what my favorite concert is.

Making the experience that much more amazing is that I generally don't care to repeat same program twice: Having heard the identical program on Thursday and thoroughly enjoying it, I didn't expect to enjoy tonight's concert to the same extent, much less to a stratospherically greater extent.

Somewhere around "Romeo Decides to Avenge Mercutio" in the Suite from Romeo and Juliet I noticed that my heart had started to race. It slowed down slightly during the change over to the Piano Concerto, but picked right back up with the skillful attack of both Mr. Bavouzet on piano, and the orchestra as a whole. Returning to a somewhat normal level for Intermission, I was whisked away to plateaus of pleasure during Ashkenazy's orchestration of Pictures at and Exhibition, with the final movement, the Great Gate of Kiev, elevating my pulse to heretofore unknown levels and launching my torso from the seat in Box 3 to deliver applause once the final notes had finished resonating in Severance Hall.

I'm still feeding off of an euphoric high unlike any I've ever felt before. If you weren't there, you really missed out on something special.* So much, so that the first time I published this post I forgot to include the program:

Prokofiev: Suite from Romeo and Juliet (Arr. Ashkenzay)
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1, in D-flat major, Op. 10 Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (Orch. Ashkenazy)
Vladimir Ashkenzay, conductor; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano.

Watching Mr. Ashkenzay was also pleasurable: Many conductors I've observed I find myself wondering what he (she) is trying to convey; there have been some conductors that I'm reasonably sure are conducting an imaginary orchestra while the real orchestra somehow makes music managing to ignore the crazy person on the podium. With each gesture Mr. Ashkenzay left no doubt about what he expected from the orchestra, and the orchestra's response was just as sharp as his baton.

* (Earlier this afternoon the Orchestra's website was showing a total of 26 seats available, all on the main floor; by the time I arrived at Severance an even slimmer selection was available, and according to an usher, by the time the house opened standing room was being sold. It's worth noting that Pictures received an unanimous standing ovation)

I'm going to be sore tom..., er, right now.

My raging case of cabin fever couldn't take it any more. The sun was out and I decided to use this first day of spring to begin my season of semi-weekly walks and Cleveland Museum of Art contemplation sessions:

The map above, courtesy of Google Earth gives me claim to nearly 10 miles (9.99 miles to be precise), and I must have fallen further out of shape than I thought: Forget feeling sore the next day, truly my favorite part of the first few walks of the year in that I feel like I've actually done something; I was feeling sore at about the 6 mile mark, while staring at Picasso's Harlequin with Violin (Si Tu Veux).

I'm also seriously pissed that I felt the need to use a belt with my "slim fit" 30x32 jeans. Come on, I know I'm a toothpick but is it asking too much for jeans to stay where I put them without external assistance?

I started out aimed generally at Shaker Lakes but quickly decided I needed a warm beverage because jeans and a long-sleeve shirt weren't quite cutting it in the 45 degree-with-wind morning: Detour to Phoenix Coffee on Coventry for a caramel latte to go, and down Coventry for a lap of the lower lake, then generally down Fairmount to Cedar Hill, through the CWRU South Residential Village, past University Hospitals and to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
I'm generally a very acoustically-oriented person; rarely will you find me without music playing, or the TV on, primarily as a white noise. My weekly visits to the Museum of Art are my respite from the week, my place where my thoughts are generally the loudest thing in the room, and where something different catches my eye every week. Generally, I spend most of my time with the works in a different gallery; Sometimes my reactions are deeply philosophical, others I'm lucky if I get "It's Green!" -- then, days like today it's "Why is there never a frigging bench where you really want to sit? My thighs are killing me."
My visit to the museum completed, I found myself hungry. I had considered "real food" but I am also sucker for sidewalk hot dog vendors. I very nearly choose the later based on sheer convenience, but having a favorable impression of L'Albatros from the wine and cheese following the Cleveland Orchestra's Meetup event on Thursday, I found my feet moving me in that direction.
Quickly seated at the bar I decided to try the Watercress "Caesar" (with Anchovies) and the Hanger Steak with Pommes Frites. Heed the warning of the quotation marks and don't be deceived by the inclusion of the word Caesar: A fan of the traditional Caesar, neither the salad or dressing really gave me what I was looking for. On the upside of that dish, it was laden with items that I didn't recognize--including the Anchovy. Generally a picky eater, I took the opportunity of being in a solitary corner of the bar to try a little bit of everything: No new loves, but nothing invoked my hair-trigger gag reflex either.
The Hanger Steak and accompanying Pommes Frites, on the other hand, was amazingly good in every way. Despite knowing that I had at least another 2 miles or so to make it home, I nearly cleaned the plate. Service was prompt, and I think set a record for time between placing the order and appearance of the salad.
Waked through Little Italy, up Mayfield, hung a right on Lee, hiked up the stairs to my living room and collapsed on my very comfortable couch where I am typing this blog entry now.
Have I mentioned lately how much I love living in Cleveland?

Friday, March 19, 2010

CIM Faculty Recital: Massimo La Rosa, Elizabeth DeMio

Bach: Gavotte en Rondeau from Partia No. 3 for solo violin (arr. Harvey)
Von Weber: Romance fur Posaune and Klavier
Hindemith: Sonate
Bozza: Ballade, Op. 62
Ferro: Notes of Love
Sulek: Sonata (Vox Gabrieli) for Trombone and Piano
One unannounced encore, composer and title unknown.
Massimo La Rosa, trombone; Elizabeth DeMio, piano.

It's time for another "Why I Love Cleveland" (or perhaps "Why I Love University Circle") monologue: Aside from a wealth of cultural institutions, the barrier to entry is so low: Tonight's concert had no admission fee, no parking fee, no convenience fees, no lines, sales pitches, or really any excuse not to go. It's fantastic to be able to sample this quality of art within a 10 minute drive, and essentially on a whim. Cleveland encourages exploration; taking a gamble on the unknown.

I've noted before that brass and solo piano aren't necessarily my favorite instruments, but I've never heard them paired. At about 7:15 on this beautiful pre-Spring evening I decided that I really wanted to do something tonight, and upon consulting the oracle that is my Performing Arts Calendar, I decided to give the combination a whirl.

I was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the playing and the texture of the playing, from the upbeat and familiar sounding arrangement of Bach's piece, originally writ en for violin to the Carl Maria von Weber's soulful Romance and the almost jazzy Balade by Eugene Bozza.

The Hindemith Sonate was interesting after having heard his Clarinet Quintet at Wednesday's faculty recital--technically interesting (and intimidating, according to the trombonist sitting next to me), but it didn't have the variety of energies or appeal to me to the extent of the Clarinet Quintet.

Nicola Ferro's Notes of Love was, perhaps, my favorite piece from the program and was introduced by Mr. La Rosa with the interesting story about how he met, or rather how the composer introduced himself while waiting for a bus after an audition in Italy.

(For anyone on the fence about the Orchestra concert tomorrow night: As of this posting there are a mere 62 seats in total available according to the website, with several sections completely unavailable. Buy Now.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Meetup: Vladimir Ashkenazy/Pictures at an Exhibition

Prokofiev: Suite from Romeo and Juliet
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1, in D-flat major, Op. 10
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (Orch. Ashkenazy)

Tonight's concert was to orchestral music like last night's recital was to chamber music: An evening of fantastic music, well played, in a great atmosphere, leaving me buzzing with a good vibe.

I attended the concert as part of the Cleveland Orchestra Meetup Group, and have tickets for Saturday Evening's concert so I will limit more detailed commentary on the concert until then, but IF YOU CAN STILL GET A TICKET FOR SATURDAY EVENINGS PERFORMANCE I WOULD SUGGEST ATTENDING. Seriously. It's Good. (And, from what I understand, darn close to sold out... Unless I can get something better I'll be in Box 15, Seat F)

Despite seats being off to house right on the floor -- while there are few "bad" seats in Severance and everyone has their own preferences, I disfavor the floor -- the concert sounded fantastic and the first two pieces, under Vladimir Ashkenazy's sharp baton were fantastic (the piano concerto with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet) and Askenazy's orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition was amazingly full bodied and compares very favorably to the more well-known Ravel orchestration, heard at Blossom last year. I'm still humming the Promenade.

The Meetup group was also a wonderfully social event hosted and orchestrated by Orchestra staff member Jennifer S. including friendly conversation before the concert and at intermission followed a meeting at L'Albatros where I had a fantastic glass of Chateau LaMothe and much sampling of cheeses took place under the guidance of a sommelier de fromage. Near the end of the evening members of the meetup were heard comparing the odor and at one point taste of a cheese to that of gym socks or a petting zoo. I can honestly say I had not expected the evening to end so casually, or find myself laughing so hard.

So both the concert and the Meetup group are well worth it -- it was a great way to share the evening with people of similar interests.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CIM: Faculty Recital (Cohen, Cohen, King, Clouser, Trautwein, Patterson, Ell, Dixon)

Pendereki: Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio*
Hindemith: Clarinet Quintet, op. 30**
Beethoven: Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20***
*- Diana Cohen, violin; Joanna Patterson, viola; Paul Kushious, cello; Franklin Cohen, clarinet.
** - Isabel Trautwein, Sae Shirigami, violin; Tanya Ell, cello; Franklin Cohen, clarinet
*** - Diana Cohen, violin; Joanna Patterson, viola; Paul Kushious, cello; Scott Dixon, bass; Richard King, horn; John Clouser, bassoon; Franklin Cohen, clarinet.

Before beginning, I have to apologize to Ms. Trautwein for a firmer than expected handshake... I probably shouldn't touch the musicians.

I do believe that this concert may have earned its place as my favorite recital at CIM. I have had the pleasure of hearing many of the fine musicians featured at tonight's recital in similar arrangements previously or as members of the Cleveland Orchestra, yet tonight's recital was a near-perfect blending, of music, energy, and talent. While all of the musicians executed beautiful performances, the Cohens deserve particular note. My only disappointment was that the program -- particularly the first two pieces were devoid of any background information, either program note or announcement from the stage.

Penderecki's quartet was haunting--I conjured the image of a desolate grave yard piece I found myself wondering if Ms. Cohen's fingers could edge any closer to the end of her violin's fingerboard without slipping off the end; to say that she made efficient use of the entire length of the 'E' string may be a slight understatement. Likewise, Mr. Cohen played beautifully and in the fourth movement particularly previewed his excellent tone and control that would be heard in the next piece.

I had heard Hindemith's Clarinet Quintet played by the same musicians in a different venue about a month ago, and what I said remains true; the third movement is still my favorite (inexplicably, tonight's program omitted a listing of movements for this piece, contributing to some bursts of enthusiastic inter-movement applause which were well received by the musicians). I felt that the acoustics of CIM's Kulas Kall better fit the piece and it generally sounded richer in tone and more defined to my ear. Ms. Ell's cello had some prominent passages that I had not noticed during the earlier performance; likewise I had not noticed the well-coordinated almost frenzied playing among the strings at points in the piece. I my ear still couldn't find the lone aberrant note that Mr. Cohen had referenced previously.

And thus we have Beethoven's Septet. The piece was slower than my tastes generally allow, yet the playing was once again hypnotic and lulled me into a wonderful state of musical bliss. The staging caught my eye with the strings and winds challenging each other one on one with the bass playing referee dead center. A low motif was present throughout the piece that seemed to be coming from a different instrument each time I tried to search it out.

At the risk of exposing bias, I don't think the piece would have stood--or received the unanimous acclaim of the assembled audience--without the clarity and precision of the elder and Ms. Cohen. While already quite accomplished, I can only expect great things as her career progresses.

(And for a completely different kind of music, Vitamin String Quartet's version of Alanis Morisette's Ironic is awesome)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Apollo's Fire: Mozart Celebration

Mozart: Overture from Idomeneo, K. 366 with concert ending by Jeanette Sorrell
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K 491; Sergei Babayan, piano.
Mozart: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K 385 ("Haffner")
Mozart: Ballet Music from Idomeneo, K. 367

Anyone who's been reading this blog long enough knows that my Apollo's Fire concert experiences this season were polar opposites, to put it kindly. Tonight's concert in Cleveland's Severance Hall falls somewhere between the two. It was nice to hear Apollo's fire in a venue that didn't involve two hours on the painfully hard wood of a church pew. As the orchestra tuned I was struck by what a massive difference there was in sound with the Baroque A=430Hz tuning instead of the modern A=440Hz -- those 10 Hertz have a huge impact on the sound; I don't think I've noticed before because I've never heard Apollo's Fire in a venue where I've heard any other group perform prior to tonight.

The opening Overture from Idomeno was generally pleasant and a good start to the concert, but felt a little boomy, and generally felt that the balance between percussion and the rest of the orchestra was a little off.

The Piano Concerto, on the other hand, left nothing to be desired. I've heard Sergei Babayan play two solo recitals at CIM, and while an excellent pianist his work truly shines when pared with an orchestra. The balance between piano and orchestra was perfect giving the impression of a dialog between the two rather than a shouting match as often seems to be the case. Much ado was made out of the unavailability of the originally announced 1877 Bluthner pianoforte yet I can't imagine the that performance would have been any more enjoyable to listen to.

The second half of the performance included Mozart's Haffner Symphony. You may be asking "Wait, didn't you just hear the Cleveland Orchestra play that last weekend?" -- when I saw the program, that was certainly my first thought, until I realized that the program listed only four movements and has a different Köchel number, with the Symphony coming much later than the Haffner Serenade (K. 385 vs K. 250). My fears of having to compare two performances of the same work thus assuaged, it was an great piece to listen to, with the first movement holding to it's Allegro con spirito tempo notation. The second and third movements seemed to be just a touch lethargic and occasionally stiff, yet the fourth (presto) movement, which Mozart directed be played "as quickly as possible" was a burst of well paced energy.

And thus we have Ballet Music from Idomeneo to end the program with Carlos Fittante and Robin Gilbert-Campos as period dancers. I have to say that the strongest reaction I can muster is "apathetic". The music didn't particularly catch my ear, the dance didn't particularly catch my eye, and I was lulled into a somewhat hypnotic very contemplative state (where reflecting on recent events in life, including two events today, I couldn't help but think of Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts..." [As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII], my Deity certainly has me cast in a comedy at the moment.)


Friday, March 12, 2010

Dobama Theatre: Speech & Debate

To shamelessly steal a line near the end of Speech & Debate, at Dobama Theatre through April 4th, "I encourage you to show up with an open mind. If you go to listen, you will leave talking"

Attempting to summarize Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate without giving away the plot is impossible to do while rendering proper justice to the tremendously witty play featuring the trio of Nick Pankuch's Howie, Nicholas Varricchio's Solomon, and Shelby Bartelstein's Diwata along with Elizabeth Ann Townsend filling the adult roles of Teacher and Reporter.

Beginning with Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, Speech and Debate catches that audience's attention and then holds it through the 2-hour intermission-less performance that feels much shorter. Essentially you expect that the often-referenced but never seen drama teacher's secrets will be revealed, but along the way each of the teens own secrets are revealed culminating in a three-way blackmail triangle that the wonderfully frumpy Diwata leverages to forward her agenda of a speech and debate club, while touching social taboo, prejudice, teenage angst and any number of other items (Arthur Miller's The Crucible as a musical! Schools that will alter plays to suit conservative taste while ignoring the author's intent and creative control!*).

It's funny, it's musical, it's thought provoking. It's entertaining. I felt as though I was watching through a hallway window outside the classroom: Without immersion it was quite easy to remain emotionally detached from all of the characters, yet it is one of the better, more entertaining dramas I've seen in several years. It's not too bad as a camp musical either.

Directed by Scott Plate; Now through April 4th / $22 adults / $10 students. Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.

* - Personal connection: My senior year of high school we produced The Who's Tommy, a rock opera based on the concept album (Pinball Wizard, etc.) -- for political reassons the character of the Gypsy was cut entirely (along with the song Acid Queen: "I'm a Gypsy, an acid queen, pay me before we start"), leaving a bit of a hole. Yours truly did "lighting design", intelligent lighting programming, conventional lighting programming, and bench repair for that show. It was fun.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Learning The Violin Part ??: Respect to Violinists

So it's been a long time since my last post on the journey of learning to play the violin.

To recap, I've always been a fan of stringed instruments and the violin in particular; about 5 months ago or so I decided that I was going to learn how to play the violin. And to read music. And to keep something approximating tempo. For the first 25 years of my life I've never played anything before (the various piano keyboards I've mashed my hands on don't count). Since I've started learning to play, the near-unanimous response has been "You certainly picked a difficult instrument" -- I'm kind of glad no one said that before I committed myself.

I'm still functionally illiterate when it comes to sheet music -- give me enough time and I'll tell you what a particular note is but it is still far from automatic recognition -- particularly if the note is above or below the staff. I'm working on that. On one hand I'm told that that I'm making good progress -- I can't say how great my teacher, a professional violinist herself, is -- but its frustrating that something seemingly so simple is taking so long for me to pick up.

For those who aren't aware -- the violin, unlike a guitar, for example, is fretless -- you have the entire swath of the fingerboard to find any of the dozens of notes that the instrument is capable of across its four strings with no real roadsigns along the way. To paraphrase Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility: Not having anything but my less-than-perfect ear to place my fingers by I'm becoming frustrated by the "just a little off" and "no two times the same" phenomena. (Part of me is convinced that this would be easier with a "real" [read: not $0.99+shipping on eBay] violin... but I'm not spending $2k+ on myself until I'm convinced that I can achieve some level of accuracy and repeatability). I'm a digital guy by profession -- it's either on or off, right or wrong, and the violin is about as infinitely variable analog as you can get.

But the good news: I've become reasonably coordinated as far as placing and lifting fingers in coordination with bowstrokes; I'm learning new pieces relatively quickly; my tempo isn't wandering as far afield as it was originally, and everything is generally making progress, even if it's not as rapid as I'd like.

As I've said innumerable times before if nothing else I have a much greater appreciation for the craft of the professional musician: Any professional makes their work seem nearly effortless... Not only do the professionals make their individual work look and sound effortless, but the work of the trio, quartet, quintet or orchestra likewise seem as effortless as breathing.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Mozart's Haffner Serenade (Musically Speaking)

This afternoon's Cleveland Orchestra Musically Speaking performance started, as usual, with a tour of Severance Hall. As usual, there was a new interesting fact learned: The historic seat numbers found in the Reinberger Chamber Hall were not only hand sewn but hand sewn by Adella Prentiss Hughes' circle of friends -- which certainly goes a long way towards explaining why they were preserved.

The Prelude Concert, featuring Six Variations on the tune "Helas, j'ai perdu mon amant" in G minor, K360 (Isabel Trautwein, violin; Carolyn Gadiel Warner, piano) and Piano Concerto no. 14 in F-flat major, K449, played as a quintet (Joela Jones, piano; Takko Masame, Miho Hashizume, violin; Lynne Ramsey, viola; Ralph Curry, cello) left nothing to be desired, though my preference was for Six Variations.

My previous experiences with the Musically Speaking format have also been productions of the Chicago Symphony's Beyond The Score multimedia format. Today's production didn't have the multimedia component, but it wasn't until the post-performance Q&A that I realized that not only was this not a Beyond the Score presentation but it was also something that had been commissioned specifically by and for the Cleveland Orchestra, receiving its debut and perhaps only performance this afternoon.

It goes without saying that I was impressed by the first half of the program; it covered Mozart's life up until the time of his Haffner Serenade with fantastic detail and clarity, even ignoring the fact that this all took place over the course of an hour. Particularly surprising was the very young age at which Mozart started composing, playing the piano, and playing the violin--perhaps needless to say, I felt quite underaccomplished by comparison. I also hadn't realized that Mozart was born to a musical family and that his father really drove the early development and touring (I got the sense that the elder Mozart was perhaps the earliest helicopter parent and crazy-child-celebrity parent wrapped into one).

The first half of the program ended with Mozart's commission to compose Halfner Serenade as "party music", and with quite the cliffhanger--I hope to see the as yet-unwritten second half of Mozart's long-ago written life story.

The second half of the program picked up with selections from the Halfner Serenade in D major, K250, (The 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 8th movements) intermixed with arias from Don Giovanni and The Abduction from the Seraglio. Though a significantly smaller than usual selection of musucians, having heard a handful of orchestras since my last Cleveland Orchestra concert absence incontravertably makes the ear grow fonder: Particularly impressive was orchestra violinist Peter Otto's solo playing, which displayed none of the doubt that he confessed to at the post concert Q&A.

I found the arias interspersed among the movements to be on the level if inter-movement applause and in addition to not being a particular fan of the arias felt that it somewhat distupted the flow of the serenade. I would have liked to hear the complete work or at least not had the movements punctuated, but I think the first and third movements were my favorites. The unannounced encore, an aria Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, K. 620) was beautifully played and sung.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cleveland Museum of Art: Thaw Collection Member's Preview Party

I have a confession to make: Despite my outwardly European appearance, I am a member (by a mere fractions but a member nonetheless) of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa (Ojibwa) Indians* I was particularly curious about what this exhibition would bring. I had also kind of forgotten about this event (witness the fact that it never made it to my "Events I know I'm Attending" list to the right) until I was trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do tonight.

I thought that the preview party for the Gauguin exhibition lacked direction, largely because there was no "welcome" (and honestly, I wasn't that thrilled by the exhibition -- it seemed nearly every other work referenced his Lady In The Waves, I work that wasn't relevant to me) and this oversight has been corrected. Interim director Ms. Gribbon provided a succinct welcome and concise overview of the source of the works which gave a clear focus to both the party and exhibition.

The museum's catering staff should be commended for choosing Native American influenced foods to set the mood, though it would have been nice to have something, eh, less natural on hand**

I was generally impressed by the geographic and stylistic variety of the works and the simple beauty in many of the pieces, some clearly ornamental and some where form followed function. While difficult to choose a single "favorite" piece, perhaps coincidentally, the piece that most caught my eye is near the exit to the exhibition is a vibrantly colored and intricately detailed saddlebag... by an Ojibwa artist.

The exhibition is free (general admission to the Cleveland Museum of Art's galleries is always free) and runs through May 30th -- see more information here. What more of an excuse do you need to visit?

* - Though my membership card has expired, so I'm not 100% sure I'm still an Indian. But I'm also not entirely sure why one needs a membership card for an ethnicity.
** - Yes, one of my faults is that places like Whole Foods scare the bejesus out of me. So shoot me. I also like an unhealthy amount of salt and butter.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Playhouse Square: Xanadu

An unbelievable night of fun. Or to shamelessly steal a line there's going to be a party all over the world... or maybe just Cleveland's Playhouse Square

So I've seen Xanadu once before -- at California's La Jolla Playhouse while visiting my parents for Christmas 2008 and I hadn't originally planned on seeing it again... until the opportunity to purchase on-stage seating came along. What can I say, I'm a sucker for the on stage thing; it sucks you into the energy (If you thought Spring Awakening's Totally F---ed was an energetic dance number, imagine it with the band 4 feet away and an actor jumping up and down waving his or her middle finger inches from your face)

So tonight I ventured to Playhouse Square with some vague memories of the show (and my mother's "You gotta get the glow stick! Don't forget the glow stick!" resonating in my head...I swear she seems obsessed) and I was impressed. It was reasonably well sung, well acted, and above all well-skated; I'm not sure how the actors manage to do all three simultaneously without catastrophe. While I didn't fall for any of the music in particular, I did find myself leaving the theater humming Evil Woman along with the air-guitar ba-da-bum-bum. Now if only cupid would pay me a visit.

The show was a comic delight and I found myself marveling at the number of California jokes -- including several dozen that I missed the first time through, and a few that seemed to miss their mark on this Ohio audience. Well-paced, the 90-minute intermissionless production seemed to fly by. And Yes, I got the glow stick.

The casting was excellent, and I was going to comment on the striking similarity between Sonny (Max Von Essen) in the touring company and the La Jolla Playhouse company -- until I realized that it's the same person.

I would reccommend seeing the show for the first time from the house, but if you can make it on stage, you're in for a unique experience. (And I'm actually tempted to return and watch it from the house). It's far from a serious night of theater--just like the 80s were far from a serious decade--but it is a reasonably entertaining 90 minutes.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Case/University Circle Symphony Orchestra: Verdi, Chopin, Prokofiev, Mussgorsky

Verdi: Overture from Nabucco (Megan Clay Constantine, conductor)
Chopin: Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11 (John Smetona, piano)
Prokofiev: Concerto No. 1, Op. 10 (Yeun-Joung Park, piano)
Mussgorsky: A Night on Bald Mountain (Orch. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; Amber Dahlen, conductor)

Generally an evening of confident, high-energy music. I think the overture marks the first time I've heard Verdi performed live and it was an impressively dynamic piece, oscillating between slow and sensual and fast and bold.

Chopin's first concerto was a bit of an oddity compared to the rest of the program and while well played by both the orchestra and pianist John Smetona, I felt that the balance between orchestra and piano tilted a bit too far to the piano and generally the tempo of the piece was a bit too slow to overcome my general disfavor of piano concertos.

Prokofiev's concerto, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise and I the balance between orchestra and pianist Yeun-Joung Park made for a more even presentation, and had a wonderful, confident and bold energy. A clear theme was echoed throughout the piece's first and third movements.

I could have sworn that the program was originally advertised as including Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a personal favorite, though the present listing on CIM's website omits any reference to Mussorgsky, let alone Pictures. Night on Bald Mountain was a more than suitable piece to close out the program, and like Pictures, Night on Bald Mountain paints an elaborate landscape through music, and again was confidently played. I think Mussorgsky is working his way up my list of composers.