Friday, April 30, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Fridays@7: Royal Trumpets

Neurda: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major (Michael Sachs, trumpet)
Handel: Water Music (Suite in F major, Suite in G major, Suite in D major)
After-concert interlude by Samba Joia and concert with flamenco musicians and dancers.

Anyone who has read this blog -- and a few who haven't -- knows that the past few weeks of Orchestra concerts have not been my favorite, however, as I told someone before the concert: I come to discover new music; whether I love or hate a piece of music I know the Cleveland Orchestra has given the music the best performance it deserves.

Searching my recent memories, the Orchestra's portion of tonight's concert was one of the more enjoyable of recent memory. I had never heard of Jan Krtitel Jiri Neurada prior to tonight's concert, much less hear his music. With beautiful participation from the strings, Michael Sachs's trumpet resonated clearly, crisply, and naturally throughout Severance Hall.

Handel's Water Music--consisting of three suites of ten, four, and five movements respectively--was a bit eh for my tastes. Each section of the orchestra was featured throughout the various movements, including the first appearance of a Recorder on the Severance Hall stage, at least from the collective memories of the occupants of Box 1. I would certainly enjoy listening to this, perhaps, as ambiance music for a party but doing nothing but listening for 45 minutes struggled to hold my attention, and I often found mind wandering to the image of the Cleveland Orchestra playing the piece while floating on a barge down the Cuyahoga River to approximate the piece's debut.

When I found out that the after-concert concert, featuring flamenco music and dance would be in the Hall, I was disappointed but kept an open mind. The interlude (my word, not theirs) by Brazilian drum group Samba Joia in the Grand Foyer briefly buoyed my hopes, with a great energy, a resonating percussive and fun sound, but when the action returned to the Hall, that quickly sunk: After about 20 minutes and struggling to stay awake (literally; had a neighbor not bumped me I may still be napping) the siren's song of my bed--after two days on the road--was too enticing.

I think had the flamenco portion of the event taken place in the Grand Foyer, it could have had a much better energy but by doing it in the hall, with the formality of fixed seating that prevents easy circulation and a formal stage the "informal" event takes on a a "formal" air that doesn't lend itself to casual enjoyment.


Monday, April 26, 2010

It's Going To Be A Long Week

There are some weeks that pass as blissfully as a light summer breeze; there are others that are as stormy as a Class V Tornado. I already have the sense that this isn't going to be a "light summer breeze" week. Oh S---.

I already knew that the couple of weeks defining the end of April and beginning of May would be stormy: My original schedule from April 20th through May 6th had me spending less than three full days in the office, and those three days eroded to one and now seemingly none. Now the thing (good if you ask my body, bad if you ask my HHonors balance) is that not all of those days correspond to hotel stays. For some, at the end of the day, I will take respite in my own bed--though by the end of the following week, I have little doubt it will feel as foreign as any hotel bed. Worse sheets, too.

But I'm getting melodramatic.

While driving to the airport -- technically, from my dry cleaners to the airport -- I hit a pot hole at a stop light. Common occurrence, right? Eh, light changes color, I accelerate and my car starts making a hideous noise. Stop. Everything looks OK. Go. Noise is bad.

I'm close enough to the airport and cutting my flight close enough that I decide the best course of action is to park, then deal with it when I get home. I do that, and call a car-knowing coworker. He, of course, can not hear the noise through my cell phone, but offers to take a look at it Friday night. I leave a door unlocked. I leave a key under the driver's seat. I leave Cleveland not knowing.

Continental Airlines -- an organization I've long been a fan of, an ally in my war on the road -- managed to screw up my reservation in more ways than I thought were imaginable, gave inconsistent answers, and at one point told me "Yeah, we screwed it up, and we'll wave the change fees, but to fix it you'll need to pay $465." Oh goody.

During the intervening time the thought crosses my mind: What if I just leave my car? Make it an unknown someone else's problem. Just forget it. The thought, though wrong, is enticing. One one hand, I'm a little overdue for a new car, having spent most of what I had saved for the car of my dreams on the down payment for my house. On the other, my car -- my one and only car -- with its 168,000 miles has been fantastically reliable, and I have a hard time coming up with a justification to cast it to the side.

Friday evening he calls: My serpentine belt is cracked. Not completely broken, at least not yet. I'd best not drive it, certainly not drive it home. Great.

Of course I don't get back to Cleveland until 4:30 on Saturday and even if there were places that could get to my car that day, I have things that need to be done. The great thing about a having car trouble at an airport is that cars are plentiful. On my return to Cleveland I rent.

Aside from some Kia rolling tin can I got in Minnesota a few months back, the Chevy HHR has become my least favorite car ever: All of the downsides of an SUV with the height of a sedan. I feel like I'm driving a hearse with worse visibility.

And that gets us to last night; in the morning -- the post daylight morning -- I'm going to get my car dealt with. I'm debating if I spend the $60 plus or minus to have it towed to "my" mechanic...who happens to be right across the street from my house... or find a shop closer to the airport.

The one thing I haven't figured out is how to juggle cars: Kind of like the parable of the fox, the chicken, the farmer and the boat, I have a feeling it's going to involve making use of RTA's Park-And-Ride facilities and their rail services.

You may be wondering, then, why I'm writing this at 3:45 in the pre-dawn morning: For that, my first conscious thought of the morning: Freaking UPS.

My job is primarily integration programming, but along the way, as is the case in many small companies, I picked up the title of network and systems administrator: I keep all of the little Dell and Cisco boxes in our data center happy. We have an infrastructure I'm mostly proud of, including a refrigerator-sized UPS (battery backup), a generator, and a lot of redundant power supplies.

It doesn't require a lot of care and feeding, but I like to pop my head in at least once a week just to make sure everything that should be blinking is, and everything that shouldn't be blinking isn't.

Tonight, erm, this morning, I drift out of consciousness to the sound of my phone vibrating. Crap. Who's calling me at 2:45 AM? I crawl out of bed and stare at the blinding glow of a text message. It's the UPS, number 12 so far. I check my email. 148 messages over the past hour. With subjects like "UPS: In bypass in response to an internal hardware fault", "UPS: Refused self-test; UPS is overloaded", and "UPS: A bypass relay fault exists". Crap. Crap. Crap. Yet another text message rolls into my phone. The UPS is also reporting a high temperature condition in the data center, and my first thought is that we've lost something due to lightening.

I pull on the nearest pair of jeans and a slightly worn shirt. The nice thing about driving to the office at 2:45, I tell myself, is that traffic will be light. This is true: During my 20 mile drive, round trip, I see maybe a half dozen cars. The rain-slicked roads make it difficult, nay, impossible to see the lane markings, combined with my general grogginess I'm sure I must look like a drunk driver as I search out the little white dashes.

I make it into the office, disarm the security system, unlock the data center door and meet a UPS crying out in agony. Beeeeep...Beep...Beeeeeeeeeeeep....Beep. "Bypass Rly Flt. Call For Svc". Lovely.

The good news is that the high temperature report is erroneous: My data center is sitting at a comfortable 65 degrees. I power cycle the UPS's electronics module. The beeping stops, but when it comes back up, it's still in bypass--though no longer telling me to call for service. I scroll through the menus, find the "Bypass Mode" option and cross my fingers on one hand while tapping "No" with the other. click, goes the power transfer relay. Online. 17% Load. I sigh. I wait. I sigh.

Convinced that the UPS is really back on line I execute a self test and hold my breath. It passes. I check the server and data racks. All the servers I care about are up, the one I don't only has one power supply and is rebooting.

Convinced that the problem is remedied, yet still confused as to the cause, I close the door, arm the security system and drive back home. Perhaps when I'm awake it will make more sense. Perhaps this week will have a happy ending.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cleveland Play House/Cleveland Orchestra/GroundWorks DanceTheater: A Soldier's Tale (Fusion Fest 2010)

With such a veritable wealth of cultural institutions and raw talent in the Northeast Ohio area, covering nearly (if not) every possible aspect of the arts I'm surprised that collaborations don't happen more frequently. (It may be worth noting that while this performance was a sell out, I spotted several members of the Orchestra and at least one Cleveland Museum of Art staffer in the audience: This cross pollination is always a sign I take as good)

As the three institutions (The Cleveland Orchestra, The Cleveland Play House, and GroundWorks Dance Theater) proved with the performances of Catch and Release (By Esa-Pekka Salonen) A Soldier's Tale (Libretto by Kurt Vonnegut), both with music by Igor Stravinsky such collaborations can be fantastic, drawing on the strengths of the parts to produce an fascinating whole.

The venue, the blackbox-ish/3/4-round Brooks Theater was more intimate than any dance or music show I've attended (excepting house concerts, of course), and among the more intimate I've seen straight drama presented in hightened the connection between dancer, actor, musician, and audience.
The players in the pieces were also interesting: The members of the Cleveland Orchestra performing in this piece are not musicians I've heard perform in small ensemble before; with the exception of one actor, the actors were all new to me; and I've somehow never managed the pleasure of seeing GroundWorks perform.

Catch and Release was a more traditional dance number with video projected from above, and it moved with such dispatch as to make attempts to focus on any one aspect (dance, music, video) for any substantial period of time fruitless: You quickly learn to sit back and enjoy the whole. As one audience member behind me commented, "There sure was a lot of catching and releasing".

I've enjoyed reading Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, still one of the best books I've read; Slaughterhouse Five, I may need to reread now that it's not at academic gunpoint.

A Soldier's Tale was quite well done, involving actors, dance, musicians, and video (this time on the rear wall) and sometimes blurring the line between actor and dancer. The dialogue was witty and well delivered, the music beautifully played, the dance well woven into the story. I didn't realize prior to the ending that the libretto for A Soldier's Tale was based loosely on the true story of Eddie Slovik, a World War II draftee who was executed -- the only soldier since the Civil War -- for desertion.

The only shame was that this production only saw four performances, the last of which was the one occurring this afternoon.

Musicians: Tito Munoz, conductor; Jung-Min Amy Lee, violin; Charles Carleton, bass; Robert Woolfrey, clarinet; Barrick Stees, bassoon; Jack Sutte, trumpet; Sachar Israel, trombone; Marc Damoulakis, percussion. (All members of The Cleveland Orchestra)
Cast: Robert Ellis, general; Justin Tatum, soldier; Zac Hoogendyk, MP, Lindsay Iuen, Red Cross Girl.
Dancers: Amy Miller, Felise Bagley, Kelly Brunk, Damien Highfield, Sarah Perrett (All members of GroundWorks DanceTheater)
at The Brooks Theater, Cleveland Play House.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Chris Botti

The printed program for this evening's performance was virtually useless as far as the music was concerned -- "Musical Selections will be announced from the stage" -- and the names of those selections didn't stick in my mind long enough to make it home.

Although it was great to hear the Minnesota Orchestra last night, it was so nice to be back on my home turf, like slipping back into a comfortable pair of shoes. As tempting as it is to say I had no idea who Chris Botti was going into the concert, that wouldn't be entirely accurate: A week or two ago I heard the term Jazz Trumpeter attached. And I was afraid. That fear was misplaced.

The use of amplification still irritates me -- and a spotlight was cast on that irritation when during the final song Mr. Botti and pianist Billy Childs went unplugged and it was easily the clearest and overall best sounding piece played. I found myself wondering why, if the instrument and player had such clarity without "aid" of amplification why the decision was made not only to reinforce the instrument but to make the primary avenue of listening to it amplified. As if the amplification of the instruments wasn't bad enough the noticeable electronic reverb added to the vocals and solo violin was painfully distracting, and didn't add anything to the performance.

Overall, ignoring the amplification, the performance was quite pleasant. Particularly enjoyable was violinist and CIM alum Caroline Campbell's playing (on a "$800 box of wood")

While Pink Martini's performance earlier this year in Severance Hall brought what I believe was the hall's first conga line, tonight's performance included a substantial portion of the audience chanting "We've got the funk". Also notable was that my boxmates and parents of an orchestra staffmember were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a song dedicated to the event.


Friday, April 23, 2010

In Minnesota Again, Day 2: The Minnesota Orchestra

So my day ends as it begins, on the secure Executive Floor of a hotel in Minnesota. Not the same hotel mind you, nor the same city, but a hotel in Minnesota. Such can be the life of the occassional road warrior.

The decision was made not only to get me closer to the airport for my flight out late tomorrow morning and because I wanted to see, do, or hear something this evening; so I wound up in Minneapolis's Orchestra Hall for the Minnesota Orchestra Concert:

Stravinsky: Concerto in D Major for String Orchestra
Sosa: Elequentia: Espacio para Flauta y Orquesta
Durufle: Requiem for Voices, Orchestra, and Organ, Op. 9
with the Saint Olaf Choir; Osmo Vanska conductor.

The Minneapolis Orchestra experience struck me as quite casual compared to my typical experiences, the music was good, but the hall's accoustics* -- not to mention the giant acoustical cubes decorating the back wall and ceilings of the hall were a bit distracting. Seated on first tier at the back of the hall (religiously avoiding the floor when possible at any classical venue) the orchestra felt so distant as to have no connection: I could barely make out that the choir members had faces much less read their expressions.

I guess I hadn't realized how important, to me, the kenisis between orchestra and audience is, and without the connection I felt like something was missing.

At the conclusion of Sosa's Eloquentia I told my seatmate that it would have to grow on me, the response, "I don't know if I have the patientce for it to grow on me". While I didn't get any of the themes alluded to in the program notes or pre concert lecture during the roughly 25 minute performance I found myself invisioning the depths of the ocean, an occassional burst from a whale or dolphin.

Durufle's Requiem, featuring the Saint Olaf Choir was impressive with beautiful music and great voices surging to nearly overwhelimg moments of passion.

Tomorrow I head home, and have to figure out what to do about my car: On the drive out I hit a bump and it started making a really bad noise. A friend checked it for me tonight and informed me that I have a serpantine belt issue. Fantastic. Of course, I don't get in until 4:30 on Saturday rather than, oh, 9:00 AM on Monday.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

In Minnesota Again

So I find myself back in Minnesota this evening, I'm actually at the Rochester, MN Doubletree, getting ready to spend tomorrow with one of my company's clients, ahem, who has no relationship to the condiment that they share a name with. I like the city, and enjoy the client. Like the painting the Golden Gate Bridge, I have doubts that this project will ever be "finished" but it certainly has been one of my more challenging and rewarding pursuits thus far.
For those who don't know me, I long ago sold my hotel soul to the Hilton family of hotels in exchange for Hilton HHonors Diamond VIP status. Here I find myself on the executive level, greeted by the above sign in the elevator lobby. I can't help but to snicker at the prospect of being labeled an Executive... but it occurs to me that other labels have stuck recently that I find so much more laughable. Then it occurs to me that labels are easy, as Ryan Bingam says in Walter Kern's novel Up in the Air (which I was reading while, um, up in the air, this afternoon) "I'm like my mother. I stereotype. It's faster." -- perhaps labels are a form of society-approved express lane stereotyping.
Anyway, my thoughts are meandering. The first thing I did upon landing in Minneapolis (after having a long and frustrating conversation with various Continental representatives about fare construction, break points, and how they managed to screw up my itinerary when I gave explicit instructions) was make a beeline to the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: A participant in the Cleveland Museum of Art's membership reciprocity program, it costs me nothing to get in and I was impressed by collection on my last visit.
Some considerable changes have taken place since my last visit and much more gallery space is open -- with much more art on display. I love their collection, perhaps even more so than MoMA in New York City and certainly a greater quantity of contemporary/modern art than is on display at my home museum.
Walking across the street to the Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens I enjoyed my time -- last time I was here, mid-October, it was a little too chilly to spend much time appreciating the art. I make some quick passes -- a giant spoon with a cherry is the centerpiece of the garden, and I recognized it in a profile photo but thought "how was Minneapolis?" might be a touch creepy from a stranger--and the profile wasn't otherwise that compelling.
I walk up stairs to the end of a pedestrian bridge to get a broader view of the garden. A man sits on a bench reading a newspaper. At first glance he could be homeless -- scruffy beard, ill fitting clothes, rugged skin -- I take a few pictures. He asks where I'm from, We start talking.
He asks if I'd like to smoke some weed. This is the third time in the past few months that queston has been asked. Why do random people keep asking me that question? Do I look like I smoke weed? I immediately declined, but for a brief moment thoughts of "what would it be like" drifted through the less rational part of my brain. While I'm processing the public drug offer, he notices the violin lapel pin on my jacket. "Do you play?" "I try", I respond. "We have the world's greatest orchestra" "You shouldn't tell that to a guy from Cleveland" "Well, I guess, the last time the Europeans picked yours... but ours is just as good" -- at this he reaches into his backpack, and pulls out a can of beer, pops it open, takes a drink.
He then tells me that he's not so excited about this weekend's concerts since they're chior concerts -- but he's sure next weekend's Mahler will be fantastic. While his beard is being blown by the light breeze he discusses how great the Minnesota Orchestra's music director is. Is he conducting this weekend? He rummages through the backpack looking for the concert schedule, but doesn't find one... a suspiciously small little baggie falls out and is quickly replaced. I don't ask questions. He mentions that he's recently seen the Cleveland Orchestra play on PBS and was impressed by how well the violins held together, while the Minnesota Orchestra's cellos and basses really hold themselves together. He's also excited about an upcomming Santanna concert with a noted jazz pianist.
I excuse myself to go see the rest of the gardens while it's still daylight, and as I walk away the sheer oddity of the conversation I just had is being processed by my brain: Someone who doesn't look like the "typical" orchestra goer (at least not the typical Cleveland/New York orchestra goer) is passionate about his local orchestra, has a very well honed sense of where the "best" seats in Orchestra Hall are, and a suprising grasp of classical repitore for a non-music major under the age of 50 (rough guess). He's huge fan of the music director, and if he's not conducting this weekend's concerts I "have to" come back to hear him.
One wonders how institutions in Cleveland can get this level of engagement from patrons outside the core audience that has sustained them over the past several decades...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cleveland Play House: One Man Lord Of The Rings (FusionFest 2010)

Throughout my life I've either been shielded from or deliberately avoided pop culture trends. The Lord of the Rings is one of those trends that save for a slightly overzealous third grade teacher, who as I recall claimed some distant relation to the author, is one that I have had no imersion with.

So it is rather curious why I would go see a show titled One Man Lord of the Rings (Charles Ross being the one man) and I think it came down to the fact that I had a Festival Pass and couldn't think of anything better do do on a Southern California-wintry Sunday afternoon.

Honestly, I didn't get 95% of the references -- but the remainder of the audience clearly did (during a quick audience poll mid-show, I and an usher were the only people to admit to neither seeing the films nor reading the books) based on the fairly predictable laughter. The reference I did get were quite funny.

Mr. Ross drifted seemlessly in and out of character and among characters. I did find it rather amusing when, mid-show and distracted by an audience member's fiddling with shoe Velcro the line "While you may spend hours sitting in front of the television mouth breathing, This is live theater and hearing what you're doing is distracting me. If you aren't enjoying this, feel free to amuse yourself in the lobby. Now where was I?" (I will admit to giving silent applause to this, given the number of patrons who seem to confuse their home theater and the real theater)

It wasn't Bill W. & Dr. Bob, but it was an hour -- or 3600 seconds, as the Cleveland Play House puts it -- of decent entertainment


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466
Mozart: Divertimento for Strings in D major, K136 (led by William Preucil, concertmaster)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K595
Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor.

I feel the need to begin this post with something that should be self-evident: The following is and expression of opinion. Namely, my opinion, and as such there will be diverging viewpoints. It should also be remembered that Mozart is not one of my favorite composers.

That said, taken as a whole I didn't care for this evening's Cleveland Orchesra concert in the slightest; for a few moments during the first piano concerto I contemplated cutting the evening short. While I am glad I didn't, I don't really feel that I would have missed anything.

Technically, neither the Orchestra nor Ms. Uchida left anything to be desired, both playing at the level I expect from The Cleveland Orchestra (and while still slightly somber, the musician's body language was nowhere near as dark as at last weekend). The pieces moved with reasonable dispatch, neither too fast nor too slow, too loud or too quiet. This makes it that that much harder for me to pinpoint why, exactly, I feel so overwhelmingly negative about the evening; I guess it comes down to I just really, really, REALLY didn't care for the music of either of the piano concertos.

On the bright side, the Divertimento for Strings, was both reasonably enjoyable to hear, and quite enjoyable to watch: Being a piece for strings exclusively, the violinists and violists were standing, allowing a bit more visual expression to come from the musicians. William Pruecil lead the assortment of some 25 or so string players and I thought it was an impressive show of the Orchestra members' talent such a large ensemble sounded so cohesive without a dedicated conductor.

Likewise, Mitsuko Uchida, playing dual roles as conductor and solo pianist was impressive, especially considering that she played and conducted both concertos without benefit of a score or baton. Again, during the passages where Ms. Uchida was otherwise occupied by playing the orchestra's ability to play cohesively without constant meddling was impressive (even when Ms. Uchida was providing explicit direction to the orchestra, it usually seemed very slight and rather short in duration).

While I didn't care for either of the piano concertos, No. 27 was strongly preferably to No. 20. The third movement of No. 27 was, perhaps, my favorite with a warm, almost galloping melody that I have to admit to partially humming (and hearing one patron whistling) while making my way to my car. The program notes say that this movement shares a theme with Longing for Spring, a song that Mozart wrote shortly after this concerto and including the lyrics "Come, dear May, and make the trees green again" -- which seems particularly apt timing given this weekend's weather.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Cleveland Play House: Bill W. & Dr. Bob (FusionFest 2010)

The soundbite version of this would likely be something along the lines of "Cleveland Play House presents a profoundly moving drama," that combined with, "Go see an amazing bit of theater" is probably all that needs to be said--and all that can be said without utterly failing to do justice to CPH's production, under Seth Gordon's superb direction and featuring Sean Patrick Reilly, Denise Cormier, Timothy Crowe, Margaret Daly, Charles Kartali and Heather Anderson Boll.

I hadn't originally planned on seeing Bill W. & Dr. Bob -- then I bought the Cleveland Play House's FusionFest "Festival Pass" on an impulse and figured I might as well check it out.

The story, largely set in Akron, leads up to and through the the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill W., a New York stockbroker and Dr. Bob, and Akron surgeon. The start is slow, rather predictably showing the damage done and about to be done in the lives of the two alcoholics, but once the train gets rolling it's not stopping.

During a trip to Akron for a business deal that has fallen apart, Bill W., recently sober and finding himself slipping towards drinking, calls a church looking for an off-the-wagon alcoholic to help resist the urge.

"Why are you calling? Are you an Episcopalian?" "No, Alcoholic."

Perhaps at this point I should say that I have chronically dry eyes--to the extent that every visit to my optometrist results in leaving with cases of eye drops and the admonition to 'use them'.

A few moments later the words "Stan Hywet Hall" were uttered and along with an audible gasp from the audience I felt my composure...for no obvious reason...beginning to slip. Shortly thereafter, I realized that my immersion was so deep, and my suspension of disbelief so complete that my typical stance as the objective outsider with all due respect to the fourth wall was no longer viable.

While I put myself back together during intermission, the second half of the performance -- largely the efforts of the two to find other alcoholics to help -- shattered my normally unrockable composure (I would typically say, "It is just a play, after all").

During the ensuing ovation I found myself contemplating what these two people, 30 or so miles down the road and 80 years ago had done -- not only for themeselves, and for the millions of people helped by AA, but for opening communication across society about issues that may have previously been swept under the rug in the privacy of one's own living room.

The talkback following the performance was similarly enlightening with several AA members in the audience sharing their experiences.

It took a substantial amount of my drive home, as well as the time writing this entry to shake the profundity of the performance. Needless to say, the eye drops shall not need to be used this evening.

As is to be expected from the Cleveland Play House the scenic design was fantastic, featuring some 2,000 empty bottles, intriguing lighting, and sliding set pieces. (One wonders what wonders CPH's creative staff could work on my living room if given adequate resources)


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CityMusic Cleveland: Vajda conducts Sibelius, Mozart, and Beethoven

(You still have four more chances to hear this program, see the end of Monday's post for locations and times)

Sibelius: Rakastava (The Lover), Op. 14
Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 1 in G, K. 313 (Keidi Ruby Kushious, flute)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93
Gregory Vajda, conductor
at Fairmount Presbyterian Church

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I had some skepticism leading into tonight's concert. While I've had slight exposure to CityMusic, through the rehearsal on Monday and the benefit featuring the Linden Quartet a few weeks past, this was the first concert I've attended. My skepticism quickly passed.

I had a violin lesson of my own immediately prior to the concert, so I wound up driving: Before I even parked, I was caught by the sheer number of cars and a vertiable throng of people walking towards the church. Overall I was impressed by the performance's evenness and balance; Mr. Vajda's conducting was transparent and not overly heavy.

I've not had the pleasure of hearing Siebelius prior to this evening, and for a composer who's works tend to be described as 'bleak', 'desolate', and 'cold', I don't think Rastakava could have been any more contrary: The work was quite enjoyable. While not free from darkness, the overall tone of the piece overall the tone was sunny and quite pleasant to listen to, though one must wonder about the solemn and mornful ending: What events transpired leading to "Farewell! Good Evening!"

Mozart isn't one of my favorite composers, nor is the flute one of my favorite instruments, sounding generally rather rough to my ear. While it didn't earn a spot on my favorites list (and I should note the substantial standing ovation) the piece: The piece, did, however move at a tempo that was neither too fast nor too slow and was perfectly pleasant to listen to.

While a core part of the classical cannon, Beethoven has also not historically been one of my favorite composers. CIM's performance earlier this month of his Eroica symphony (No. 3, Op. 55) started to turn the tide, and has eighth symphony tonight became my favorite Beethoven piece. It is that antithesis of 'stuffy Classical' -- light and playful generally fast and occassionally loud it is just fun to listen to. It does not linger in one place for too long but there is a playful interplay among the strings particularly present in the fourth movement where an opening challenge by the violins is echoed back by the violas before launching into the body of the movemenet where this theme repeats frequently.

Well worth taking the time to listen to.


Monday, April 12, 2010

CityMusic Cleveland April Concerts (Preview)

"Art isn’t easy. / Every word, every line, / Every glance, every movement / You improve and refine, / Then refine each improvement. . .

The art of making art / Is putting it together. . ." -- Putting it Together From Steven Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George

Having been involved with the production of a handful of musicals through high school and college, I know the refinement that happens during the rehearsal process. On the other hand, being a relative newcomer to classical music I've often wondered about the process and evolution that comes before the conductor takes the podium and the orchestra takes the stage. (And to a lesser extent the great mystery of if orchestral musicians sound as good in jeans and a T-shirt as they do in concert dress--that answer would be "most certainly")

I had the privilege of attending this evening's rehearsal for the CityMusic Cleveland Chamber orchestra program, see the performance schedule below, and I was quite impressed.

Not only did the rehearsal sound excellent musically, but the collaborative relationship between musicians within each section and the relationship between musicians and conductor -- as passages were worked, reworked, and something that sounded good at first sounded great. As questions were were asked in both directions -- "Do you want us to..?" "Could you try...?" the pieces took shape and were played with a beautiful clarity.

When I first arrived, slightly after the rehearsal had begun, there was only one person listening and it was almost overwhelming as the notes resonated throughout the hall, firmly striking my chest. It truly is a beautiful feeling that accompanied great music.

The concerts are free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Based on what I heard this evening it will be a concert well worth attending.


Siebelius: Rakastava, Op. 14
Mozart: Flute Concerto in G
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8
April 14th at 7:30pm - Cleveland Heights: Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2757 Fairmount Boulevard
April 15th at 7:30pm - Willoughby Hills: St. Noel Church, 35200 Chardon Road
April 16th at 7:30pm - Cleveland: Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus, 3649 E. 65th Street
April 17th at 8:00pm - Cleveland: St. Ignatius of Antioch Church, 10205 Lorain Avenue
April 18th at 2:00pm - Elyria: St. Mart Church, 320 Middle Avenue

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cleveland Philharmonic: Liva conducts Brahms and Tchaikovsky

Brahms: Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 102
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 in G major, Winter Dreams, Op. 13
Victor Liva, conductor
with Isabel Trautwein, violin; Tanya Ell, cello
at Cuyahoga Community College Metro Campus Auditorium.

I described the musician's body language at last night's Cleveland Orchestra concert as "'gloomy'/'death in the family'". Upon taking the stage as guest artists for this afternoon's Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra concert, Ms. Trautwein announced that their performance of Brahms Concerto would be dedicated to the memory of violinist Leon Lazarev, a 25-year Cleveland Orchestra member who unexpectedly passed Saturday morning. I extend my condolences to his family--both immediate and musical.

Ms. Trautwein is one of my favorite string players, and I hold Ms. Ell in similar esteem. When I learned of today's concert I was particularly interested: Having heard their playing as members of TCO and across several more intimate chamber music performances I was eager to hear their talents in the concerto form. I was not to be disappointed. Wonderfully supported by the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, the piece starts dominated by a dark cello and progresses into a wonderfully light dance-like sound (the program notes identify this "belonging to the gypsy idiom") as parts work their way around the string section. The third movement (vivace non troppo) was partiticularly cheerful and my favorite from the program.

Tchikovsky's first symphony, Winter Dreams, lacked the distinctive "boominess" that has been present in his other works that I've heard preformed (think, for example, the cannon fire in The Year 1812, Festival Overture)... While it was certainly easy to visualize the winter themes present in the piece, there were several moments where the sound struck me as "squeeky", and perhaps due in part to my grandiose expectations for Tchaikovsky it seemed a bit mellow for my tastes.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Bychkov conducts Ravel, Dutilleux, Schumann (Updated)

Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin
Dutilleux: Metaboles
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61
Semyon Bychkov, conductor.

I had no strong reaction either way to the program as a whole or Mr. Bychkov's conducting. My seatmate[2] for this concert enjoyed it and is looking forward to Mr. Bychkov's return to Severance Hall.

Dutilleux's Metaboles was my least favorite piece on the program, it didn't strike my ear in a favorable way. The piece is notable for being originally commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra's 40th season in 1957, yet not completed until 7 years later in 1964. According to the program notes, it and another piece are the only two of ten originally commissioned for that season to have entered the orchestral repertoire.

The first two movements of Schumann's second left me unmoved; the third movement adagio and the fourth movement allegro were both quite enjoyable.

Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin started life as a collection of piano pieces each dedicated to the memory of a friend who died during World War I and later orchestrated by Ravel (I thought the genesis was interesting considering that the best-known version of Pictures at an Exhibition started as a piece for the piano (Modest Mussorgsky) and was orchestrated by Ravel. I enjoyed all four movements, but the fourth movement (Rigaundon) nearly got my head bobbing. The woodwinds delivered a particularly strong performance in this piece.

For some reason I couldn't put my finger on, my perception of the orchestra members' body language wasn't the typical "serious musician" but "gloomy"/"death in the family" (On Sunday I learned that 25-year orchestra member and 2nd violinist Leon Lazarev had passed earlier in the day Saturday, and I extend my condolances)

Updated April 12, 2010 to remove a reference to a telemarketing call, since that situation has been resolved. Also updated to include the passing of Leon Lazarev.


[2] A 45-year subscriber to the Orchestra's concerts with a wide and deep exposure to other classical music, and someone who I've had the pleasure of sharing several previous concerts with.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cassidy Theatre: Tick, Tick... Boom!

It wasn't until the director's curtain speech that I took my (albeit limited) knowledge of the origins of Jonathan Larson's Tick, Tick... Boom for granted. In an odd position of being conceived as an autobiographical work and originally staged as a solo act before Larson's infinitely better-known RENT, and posthumously reworked by friends into a small-cast show, the music is unmistakably Larsonesque.

Like RENT, the original cast recording for TTB entered my personal collection well before the first time I saw the show, and I was interested to see how the book and music would weave together. (Rather than rehashing the complete history here, the Wikipedia entry if you're interested)

Cassidy Theatre's production, Fridays-Sundays through April 25th, stumbles but generally recovers. I thought the Jon's (Rick McGuigan) opening monologue was overly--and irritatingly--punctuated, and the opening number, 30/90, seemed bass heavy and muddy musicwise and it felt like the cast could have let out a little bit more energy. The combination of those lead to early cringing and a general feeling of dread.

The good news is the cast came up to speed for Green Green Dress and the band wasn't that far behind. By Sunday, the fourth song in this intermissionless-show the initial struggles were cast to the side. One of my favorites from the show, Sunday took on a comic dimension I had not previously known.

Lauren Merrick Blazer has a relatively small part as Karessa, but she delivered an amazingly faithful rendition of Come to Your Senses.

Kudos to Cassady for pulling out a lesser-known modern musical. During a pause early in the program I found myself thinking: If Larson was 30 in 1990 he would be 50 this year. For some reason I have a hard time envisioning the creator of RENT as 50. In the same moment I wonder what else would have come from him.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

CIM Orchestra: Allen/Rozsa/Beethoven

Allen: Meridian (2009), world premiere
Rozsa: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, Op. 37 (Tegen Davidege, viola)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) in E flat Major, Op. 55
Carl Topilow, conductor.
at Cleveland Institute of Music's Kulas Hall

As tonight's concert drew to a close I found myself desperately searching for something to not like. Short of a few notes that were overly "gritty" to my ear during the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, and the woman carrying on a conversation through one of the quietest passages in Beethoven's symphony, there was really nothing left to be desired. The orchestra moved smoothly from bursts of controlled energy to sensitively managed quiet.

Both pieces in the first half of the program started with a dark and stormy overtone, but ended on a much brighter note. Allen's Meridian succeeds in capturing the uncertainty and fear-turned-optimism at closing one chapter and beginning another. Had the composer not been seated in the row in front of me I probably would not have guessed that this was the work of a student.

A composer who is probably best known for film composition, Rozsa's Concerto was absolutely captivating. Ms. Davidage generally played with fantastic clarity, and I think this piece has become my favorite for the viola. Even the adagio had a satisfying, well-tempered bust of energy, though I think the second movement of this piece was my favorite for the evening.

Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was an unexpected, pleasant surprise: It did not feel anywhere near it's 45 minute length and I was so lulled into relaxation that I do not remember a transition between movements. In contrast to its more modern counterparts earlier on the program, this piece starts bright and relatively cheerful and doesn't deviate far from that emotion throughout.


Playhouse Square 2010-11 KeyBank Broadway Series

PlayhouseSquare raises the curtain on exciting new season.

When I was invited to attend the Broadway Season Announcement I wasn't sure quite what to expect -- either in terms of format or shows. I was pleasantly surprised on both fronts (how can you say no to an event that not only gives you the season "from the horse's mouth" but also provides quite delicious hot dogs?)

The presentation opened with a fantastic video of Playhouse Square's past and present, and was followed by VP of Theatricals Gina Vernaci introducing the season ahead of us -- and I have to say that I'm impressed. I actually found myself considering joining the 19,000 subscribers.

Blue Man Group - October 5-17, Palace Theatre - It's the Blue Man Group. If you haven't seen them, see them at least once. If you have seen them, I don't need to say any more.

Billy Elliot the Musical - November 19-December 12, State Theatre - Score by Elton John, young boxer-turned-dancer and the journey to make dreams come true. It sounds interesting, the New York Times called it "inspiring", and according to Ms. Vernaci, Elton John felt a personal connection to the story which may explain why the New York Post called it "his best score yet".

South Pacific - February 1-13, 2011, Palace Theatre - The tony-award winning Lincoln Center Theater revival, with an orchestra of 26 and cast of 34. My initial reaction was to pass, but considering how much out of context play individual songs get from this Richard and Hammerstein musical, it may be hard to pass up the opportunity to see and hear them in context.

Shrek The Musical - March 1-13, 2011, Palace Theatre - Based on the DreamWorks film, and DreamWorks first foray into live theater 19 new songs and humor for all ages.

Les Miserables - April 5-17, 2011, Palace Theatre - This is the show that as a self-proclaimed musical theater fan, I frequently find myself embarrassed to admit I've never seen (the only other show in that category was, until January, Phantom of the Opera). A show with true holding power that has had 31 cast albums and 38,000 live professional performances of the music. You can bet that I'm going to make an effort to see it while I have the chance.

West Side Story - May 3-15, 2011, Palace Theatre - This Sondheim and Bernstein musical is at least as well known as South Pacific, and likewise, I'm not sure how excited I am about seeing it, but once again, the opportunity to see and hear the music live and in context may be hard to resist. Oh, and the closing weekend will mark my 27th birthday.

Next to Normal - June 7-19, 2011, Palace Theatre - I saw this show during my trip to New York in January and while I initially had mixed feelings this is a powerful show with great music that really seeps into your consciousness and makes sense on so many levels when you start to think about it. I'm looking forward to see this show again.

Other shows, not part of the KeyBank season announcement but listed in the brochure:

Legally Blonde The Musical - October 22-24, 2010 - Once is enough for me, but could be good "girls night out" material for those so inclined.
Cirque Dreams Holidaze - December 14-19, 2010
Cats - January 21-23, 2010 - I don't know if I can justify not seeing this famously long-running musical.
Golda's Balcony - January 29, 2011
The Peking Acrobats - February 20, 2011
The Color Purple - March 25-26, 2011


Monday, April 5, 2010

Marketing Culture to the 21st Century (Part 2)

"No man ever forgot the visitations of that power to his heart and brain, which created all things new, which was the dawn in him of music, poetry and art" -- Ralph Waldo Emerson (as quoted in an advertisement in this weekend's Cleveland orchestra program)

Continuing from Part I

Since my fateful appearance at the concert mentioned in Part I, my awareness of classical concerts and recitals -- not just the Cleveland Orchestra but the dozens of organizations performing classical in this town -- has skyrocketed along with my attendance and I love the discovery of hearing a new work; the shared experience of hearing beautiful music live.

However, I still cannot stand listening to recorded classical: To this day, despite a surgical attachment to an iPod with nearly 293 hours of music across 4,637 songs (and spending close to that amount on orchestra tickets this season) I have less than two dozen classical tracks in the mix. Conversely, despite that massive collection of digital music I can not stand listening to contemporary music -- where my tastes are decidedly in the pop/alt/rock sphere -- live.

Likewise, digital images of my one of favorite works of art, Frederich Amerling's The Young Eastern Woman are readily available, even on the Cleveland Museum of Art's own website--but despite the convenience of viewing a duplicate of the image from my own desk, the digital form is a poor substitute.

Standing in front of the painting engenders any number of feelings: An awe for the detail represented, the mesmerizing quality of the model's eyes, a sense of history for a work that has crossed the ocean at least once and isn't far from its 200th birthday. What happened to the model? The studio where it was painted? The owners whose hands it has passed through—who else has occupied this space? "This" painting exists in only one place: Here, University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio. Every person who walks by will see something different and take something different away as light and shadow play across the cracked oil on canvass. Digital images exist anywhere--and everywhere--at any given moment.

So the problem is not that the two are competitors, the problem is finding ways to attract younger audiences who haven't had the exposure. It seems like a difficult marketing challenge: How do you convince someone who hasn't been exposed to the art in the strings and canvass environment to part with both money and time to try it at least once?

The biggest problem is that the beauty of these artistic bodies do not lend themselves to modern marketing: If someone who doesn't think they like Matisse gets a postcard with a 3" print of a painting from the Museum of Art that postcard won't create the kind of transformative experience that a visit to the galleries can, nor will it, on its own, motivate a visit. Hearing the Orchestra on the radio can never reach the level of immersion and emotional connection of hearing it in person. Seeing and hearing opera on PBS is a pitiful substitute for the captivation of live performance.

So how can we, as a society, attract people who don't think of themselves as the audience for everything there is to offer--in Cleveland and the wider world?

(To be continued in Part III)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Dohnanyi and Brahms

Beethoven: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus
Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major, K. 364 (William Preucil, violin; Robert Vernon, viola)
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor.

At yesterday's house concert there was voluminous praise for Thursday's performance of this program -- from Orchestra musicians and audience alike. I was concerned that the performance was over-hyped and wouldn't be able to live up to the expectations that were being set. That concern was misplaced. I, along with a standing-room-only audience (I'm noticing a positive trend in attendance here) was treated to a wonderful performance that lived up to the hype.

I can't say that I "loved" any of the pieces, yet the playing and conducting left nothing not to be loved. The staging of the orchestra for tonight's concert was a tad unusual and a bit disorienting. Visually, the orchestra was lopsided for the first two pieces on the program with the second violins looking rather lonely on the right side of the stage. That visual imbalance, however, had no impact on the sound: The playing was beautifully balanced, and Mozart's Sinfonia seemed nearly perfectly balanced between violin and viola as well as between other sections in the orchestra.

I was slightly underwhelmed by the first movement of Brahms's Symphony No. 1 but the piece quickly picked up, with a particularly strong performance by the winds and a flowing cohesiveness that was mesmerizing. I particularly enjoyed the bursts of playful pizzicato and beautifully flowing string work.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Heights Arts: Bach By Request (House Concert Series)

at the Barrie residence, Herrick Mews, Cleveland Heights.

Giuliani: Gran Duetto Concertante for Flute and Guitar, Op. 85
Weber: Quintet in B-flat Major for Clarinet and String Quartet, Op. 34
Bach: Lute Suite No. 3 in A Minor (Originally G Minor)
Boccherini: Quintet No. 4 in D-major, for Guitar and String Quartet, G. 488
Jason Vieaux, guitar; Franklin Cohen, clarinet; Marisela Sager, flute; Sae Shiragami and Isabel Trautwein, violin; Joanna Patterson, viola; Tanya Ell, cello.

In introducing the program Ms . Trautwein likened all four pieces to dessert and I can not think of a more apt description myself. The playing was impeccable and passes without need for cirtical commentary; all four went down quite easily and offered enough variety that each could be considered "the best" for its own reasons.

Of course, given the intimacy of the house concert format it's difficult not to get caught up in the excitement that comes with having world-renown musicians (with the exception of Mr. Vieaux, all members of the Cleveland Orchestra) playing mere feet from your ears. Tonight's concert the last of three in this season's series was particularly fun with everyone letting his or her hair down.

Having never heard classical guitar before, Mr. Vieaux's playing was amazing to hear as was his brief background for the pieces he played. I was particularly intrigued by the background of Bach's Lute Suite and the Lautenwerk, a nearly extinct essentially keyboard-based lute (If I'm recalling correctly).

Mr. Cohen is always a pleasure to listen to and has quickly become as one of my favorite musicians thanks to a certain je ne sais quois quality to his playing. While he's best known for his clarinet work, tonight the gathered audicence was introduced to his tambourine playing and dancing (along with Ms. Sager) during the final movement of Boccherini's Quintet. It was interesting to hear his explanation on the evolution of the clarinet from its simplified original form to the modern type; it was likewise stunning to hear that the piece was completed only a day before its premiere--talk about cutting a deadline close!

Playful banter abounded (Ms. Patterson was a tad bit tardy making her way to the makeshift stage for one piece, then the first by a mile for the next where she joyfully announced this; Ms. Trautwein commented that Severance Hall's "Break Bell" is an A=440 bell-- and lamented the effect of seasonal climate changes on stringed instruments' ability to stay in tune. (I feel her pain. Boy do I feel her pain.) Mr. Cohen added that normally they shoulder the blame for being out of tune and that the phenomenon keeps therapists in business.) Ms. Ell perhaps said the least of any of the musicians, yet her body language was just as communicative during the pieces.

It was a fun way to end a busy week: I'm looking forward to what next "season" will have to offer, and if the chatter during intermission was any indication tomorrow evening's Orchestra concert will be just as enjoyable.


Marketing Culture to the 21st Century (Part I)

Some commonly accepted beliefs about audiences in this millennium need to be challenged.

As an article my Northern Michigan grandparents sent me from the Detroit Free Press (March 28, 4J) notes "Arts attendance is shrinking, audiences are aging, arts education has become an endangered species in schools and live music and museums face fierce competition in the age of the Internet and Digital Distribution" -- I don't think that's news to anyone, nor would many try to argue the first part of that.

But the notion -- and the acceptance -- that "the Internet" and "Digital Distribution" are truly competitive to brick and mortar (or more appropriately "strings and canvas") arts institutions needs a second look. Institutions that attempt to compete with the vastness of everything "Digital" are doomed to failure. The positioning is inapt and the perception given is that digital is viable competition. Instead the two can -- and should -- be positioned as complimentary.

Electronic media -- music, television, the Internet -- provides quick, tightly controlled information and entertainment where every viewer gets essentially the same experience, kind of like McDonald's: I can order a large #1 (No onion or tomato, please) in any of the 26 states I've visited and it will taste the same. Exactly the same. It will be served by people who look the same. Exactly the same. It will be eaten in a restaurant that looks shockingly similar regardless if you’re in Ann Arbor, Michigan or Yucaipa, California There are times when that's exactly what I need, want, or am craving: Others the homogeneity becomes dull and boring.

In those cases, one ventures into the world of local eatery: Perhaps a swanky Italian joint or a BBQ place where one quickly decides asking too many questions about the food preparation. There can be some wonderful--or terrifying surprises along the way, but each new discovery, each nuance contributes to a more satisfying life. In the same way, physical Culture provides a tremendously different and unique-for-every-patron-in-every-performance experience from their electronic counterparts.

I have a confession to make: For a long time I thought I hated classical music. Various "pops" experiences unlocked the door, but trying to listen to CDs or MP3s of recorded classical music turned me off just as quickly. A couple years ago I promised myself I would try "everything" in Cleveland once, and one weekend I happened into Severance Hall for Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah) and the light began to dimly glow: I enjoyed the second movement enough to search it out on iTunes and was disappointed. The best recording I could find was no match for the dynamic range, texture, or sheer pool of energy and emotion in the hall.

(To be continued in Part II)