Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Western Reserve Playhouse: Suburb The Musical

(Lincoln's note: This was attended and written on July 25th, but as I'll be traveling this weekend and to avoid overwhelming my loyal reader(s) with two musicals on the same day...)

(Western Reserve Playhouse, Bath Township -- Remaining performances July 30, 31 August 6, 7 at 8pm)

Arriving at Western Reserve Playhouse, after overcoming the question of where to park (it seems anywhere on the lawn is acceptable) one is immediately struck with the scrappy perseverance of community theatre: In a converted barn where the "pay phone" is a phone next to a box with a "Please Deposit 10 cents for local calls, 50 cents for long distance" sign neat rows of seats face a sparse stage.

I've long known that there is an abundance of talent in Northeast Ohio at all levels, but I'm not sure that I've seen a true "community theatre" musical since moving to Cleveland (What I once thought was a bright line separating "Professional" from "Community" has proven one that is quite blurry and nearly impossible to focus on anything but a production-by-production basis). This did not disappoint, and of the two musicals I attended Sunday, this was my clear favorite.

While it was not without a few bumps, Western Reserve Playhouse's production of Suburb the musical entertains. Poking fun at the McSuburb (my word) where the generic "Suburb"--in proximity to "Bedroom", among others--can take the place of most Anywhere USAs, I have to admit that I'm not 100% clear on the intended take home. The picturesque genericisim reminds me of why I was eager to leave the suburbs; the pushy and manipulative Rhoda the Realtor perhaps a sign of why the real estate market imploded.

Overall, though a slight trek from Cleveland, it was an entertaining performance. As is to be expected from all-volunteer community theater the set and lighting was a bit sparse and some of the scene changes were a bit rocky, but nothing detracted significantly from the experience. Of course, there the talent was varied, there were no disappointments and Ms. Laura Hengle (as Alison) has a stand-out voice--perhaps one of the best I've heard. I was sorely tempted to use the term "operatic" even before reading her bio where one learns that that's precisely where her training lies.

For $14 (Adults)... not a bad show.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Beck Center: The Producers, a Mel Brooks Musical

(Beck Center for the Arts, Lakewood -- The Producers, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks)

Hmmm... I hate to draw comparisons to the film, especially since I don't particularly remember the film, but having seen that film undeniably colored my experience. I think had I not been predisposed and preexposed it would have been a perfectly acceptable musical, certainly most of the audience thoroughly enjoyed it. Well staged, with good talent (Betsy Kahl as Ulla has an impressive belt) my two chief complaints are technical -- from my seat the orchestra sounded a bit washed out, and the stage seemed entirely too dark at times (leading to several moments where my eyes fluttered closed -- highly undesireable, but not as bad as actually falling asleep).

Also notable was that when musical instruments were played on stage -- a violin in one scene (Alex Neidert) and piano in another (I'm not sure who to credit) -- the instruments were actually played, and well played, contrary to the more common (and distracting) device of using it as a mute prop while the sound emanates from somewhere else.

I didn't enjoy this as much as my last Beck Center production -- The Farnsworth Invention -- because it seemed stiff and rehearsed: Gags that relied on being "spontaneous" felt like they were coming from a page or two away: Perhaps it was the acting, perhaps it was having seen the story.

Not helping matters, The Producers (either version) is not a musical I particularly like in the first place: It seems to take far too long to get to the point, and I find most of the songs have an annoyingly long lifespan...bad considering none of them are particularly loveable.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Second

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14 (Gil Shaham, violin)
Falla: Music from The Three-Cornered Hat
Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor.

I carpooled to this evening's concert with a friend and her friend from out of town. While we were not seated together, it was interesting to discuss the performance immediately after. It was also interesting as my friend's second visit to Blossom and her friend's first visit--and first hearing of the Cleveland Orchestra live. It was a dark (well, eventually) and stormy night, but the Orchestra delivered nonetheless.

From our small group, and from the near-unanimous standing ovation that the piece received, Barber's Violin Concerto was the clear winner from tonight's program -- in a streak of wonderful violin concerti at Blossom, I have to change my tune, if you will, and retract my previous pronouncement of dislike for all concertos.

Tonight's performance with Gil Shaham as the soloist was amazing. Although some of the quieter passages seemed to get lost amongst the thriving cricket population playing their own beautiful song (with the occasional outburst from a frog), the flair and technical mastery of the piece, including the daunting third moment "Presto in moto petpetuo" -- "fast in perpetual motion" -- was matched only by Mr. Shaham's clear pleasure in playing. Even during the passages where the violin was silent there was no doubt that he enjoyed sharing the stage with the Orchestra and that couldn't help but be reflected in the playing which saw a healthy portion of the pavilion spring to their feet in applause, the remainder not far behind.

The adagio opening to Beethoven's Second didn't move me, but when the tempo increased the I felt at ease with the alegro con brio main section and resisted the urge to provide inter-movement applause (amusingly, during the brief pause between the first and second movements, two low rolls of thunder were heard from the heavens). The second movement was most likely my favorite from that piece and the occasionally bumpy lyricism seemed a perfect fit for the serenity of Blossom on a rainy summer day.

Thus we are left with the dance suites from the Three-Cornered Hat. Going in to this evening's performance I would have put my money on this coming out as my favorite: Dance suites have rarely done me wrong. Despite many enjoyable passages, I found myself unable to connect with any of the individual dances or to truly appreciate the whole, as such it was actually my least favorite by a significant margin.

But the violin concerto? Wow.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CIM: Diana Cohen Second Master of Music Recital

Bach: Sonata in C Minor for Violin and Keyboard, BVW 1017*
Mozart: Violin Concerto #4 in D Major, K. 218**
Brahms: Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in B Major, Op. 8***
Diana Cohen, Violin; see the end of this post for a complete listing of performers

In the perfect performance -- when the convergence of talent, music, environment, and performance comes to an almost unattainable focus -- there comes a moment when the soul resonates in sympathy with the harmony of the music and the entire body develops a pulse that is magnified with each passing beat. This feeling of bliss is rare, when lucky perhaps one in every few dozen performances of a work evokes it, yet the sublime nature of the feeling is enough to draw one to concert upon concert: It is the runner's high; the adrenaline junkie's rush; it is music.

Tonight's concert, Ms. Cohen's Second Master of Music recital featured an impressive collection of musicians and the exceedingly rare event where not one, or two, but all three works on the program evoked the feeling of splendor that one may wander endlessly in search of. Though a relatively recent fan of Ms. Cohen's playing, she is perhaps my favorite violinist, and everything I've previously written (see, for example, this) was cemented and if anything magnified with tonight's recital concert.

Of course, the Concerto was notable for the amazing cast of musicians making the small but powerful orchestra, including several Cleveland Orchestra musicians, and Orchestra Assistant Director Tito Munoz on violin.

While I was accompanied by a friend (and after intermission, my friend's friend) I found myself swept into an otherworldly state where I occupied a galaxy, nay, universe of my own. I do not know what more can be written to accurately convey the musical nature of the performance, and thus I will end there.

Placed in CIM's visually stunning Mixon Hall the view through the windows behind the stage nearly equaled the music; at the beginning of the the third movement adagio from Brahms's Trio I noticed a contrail from a passing aircraft spanning the horizon from left to right; as the movement progressed the contrail slowly dissolved away--again from left to right--such that at the conclusion it had nearly completely disappeared from view. (Trio Terzetto, playing the Brahms piece, was an unanticipated delight)

Should you have the opportunity to hear Ms. Cohen and her colleagures play I must strongly encourage you to do so.

*- Diana Cohen, violin; Renana Gutman, piano
**- Diana Cohen, violin with Isabel Trautwein, Miho Hashizume, Tim Kantor, Emilio Llinas, Iona Missits, Tito Munoz, Sae Shiragami, violins; Courtney Bonifant, Leslie Dragan, Lisa Whitfield, violas; Tanya Ell, Daniel Pereira, cellos; Scott Dixon, bass; Andria Brennan Hoy, Cynthia Watson, oboes.
*** - Trio Terzetto (Diana Cohen, violin; Tanya Ell, cello; Renana Gutman, piano)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: The Pines of Rome (With the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra

Mendelssohn: Overture to The Hebrides ("Finigal's Cave") , Op. 26*
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21*
Rossini: Overture to William Tell**
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (Karen Gomyo, violin) **
Respighi: The Fountains of Rome (Fontane di Roma) **
Respighi: The Pines of Rome (Pini di Roma) ***
at the Blossom Music Center
* - The Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra, James Feddeck, Conductor
** - The Cleveland Orechastra, Andrew Grahms, Conductor
*** - Both orchestras, Andrew Grahms, Conductor

A attended this evening's concert with a friend, and but for a scheduling conflict for my friend, the possibility exists that I would have attended last night's performance (I was on the fence but tipping to Saturday)... I am wonderfully happy to have attended tonight's concert featuring the culmination of the 6-week Kent/Blossom summer music institute along side the Cleveland Orchestra.

Rich in texture from the first note, this concert brought a variety of sounds and emotions into the pavilion and there truly wasn't a piece that I didn't enjoy to some extent; even Beethoven's first symphony, which was certainly not my favorite piece from the program proved pleasing to the ear.

Both overtures on the program, Mendelssohn's from The Hebrides and Rossini's William Tell were as evocative as one would expect from an overture. The timidness with which I was struck by at the beginning of The Hebrides quickly done away with. Though galloping ending of the William Tell Overture is best known as the theme song for The Lone Ranger, there was an excerpt just before that that seemed equally as familiar.

In the middle of the program was Mendelssohn's amazing Violin Concerto featuring Karen Gomyo and the stunning clarity pulled me in and all but insisted that I close my eyes to soak in the beautiful melodies. This combined with last week's performances, it seems my anti-concerto streak may be ending.

Rounding out the program were Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome. My friend named The Fountains of Rome as her favorite piece of the program, and with the context of Blossom it's hard to disagree: In addition to beautiful music from on stage, at nearly the instant the piece began, a heavy rain started: From the comfort of the pavilion the sound of water falling couldn't help but to enhance the feeling if being near -- or in -- a fountain. Likewise, a well-timed thunderclap contributed to music in the way only Blossom can present it.

The final piece on the program, was likewise enjoyable, and I think the bold and playful first movement of The Pines of Rome ("The Pines of the Villa Borghese") was my favorite single movement from tonight's program. For third movement, The Pines of the Janiculum, the program notes interpret "There is a thrill in the air. The full moon reveals the profile of the pines of Ginicolo's Hill. A nightingale sings." -- Now I do not think that they were nightingales, but several birds taking up refuge along with the lawn patrons under the cover of Blossom's pavilion seemed to pick perfect moments to begin and end their song, mixing beautiful natural music with beautiful orchestral movement. The fourth and final movement, The Pines of the Appian Way, ended with a burst of orchestral energy to rival the cannon fire from the Fourth of July concerts.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

GroundWorks DanceTheater @ Cain Park (Alma Theater)

The Program: Valence, Unpublished Dialogues, Saying Yes
The Dancers: Amy Miller, Felise Bagley, Sarah Berrett, Damien Highfield, Tod VanSlambrouck

One of the many* wonderful things about living in Cleveland Heights is the community's support for the arts, possibly the most visible expression of that being Cain Park -- a 2 minute walk literally down the street from my house.

At some point late yesterday it came to my attention that GroundWorks DanceTheater was performing at Cain Park this weekend, and having been impressed by the results of the collaboration between GroundWorks, The Cleveland Play House, and The Cleveland Orchestra for A Soldier's Tale during this year's Fusion Fest I figured it seemed like a good way to spend a Saturday Evening.

So to get the less than great out of the way first: I'm not sure if it was the venue's acoustics or the sound system or simply the source material but the music struck me as over compressed or almost completely devoid of dynamic range, and didn't really contribute to the performance.

Being essentially an outdoor theater with a roof, the 90-degree outside heat translated to a sweltering audience... The dancers didn't seem to be inhibited by the heat and presented a show that only got better as the evening progressed.

Opening the evening was Valance: A piece that struck me as having a very post-industrial and dark feel, and perhaps in part due to my not reading the program notes until the conclusion of the piece didn't particularly move me, though I was intrigued by the beginning, starting with the dancers in an accelerating circle until individuals were flung by the momentum.

Following a brief pause was Unpublished Dialogues, relating to the life and death of Virginia Woolf. I was particularly intrigued by what seemed best described as a danced play, making more extensive use of props, setting, and even a relatively clear story arc than any dance I can recall seeing (aside from the aforementioned collaboration) with some whimsical moments bridging the somber conclusion (she did, after all, commit suicide) with the dance rendering spoken dialogue or narration unnecessary.

The lone piece following intermission and a world premiere, Saying Yes, was a just plain enjoyable dance with perpetual movement, pleasant music, and as far as I can tell, there being no program notes accompanying this piece, no unifying underlying story to interpret. I'm not entirely clear if the dance was intended to evoke symbolism embodied by the titles of the music: Exposed Zipper, Trans Fatty Acid's Rain, Evil Yellow Penguin, Mara's Lullaby, Evil Yellow Penguin, Mechanically Separated Chicken Parts, and Pickled Trousers; Since I wasn't watching or listening with that in mind I can't comment on that aspect.

GroundWorks has one more performance at Cain Park, 2:00 Sunday, and later this year joins with Opera Cleveland in a collaboration for Bizet's The Pearl Fishers

*- Others include the huge variety of local businesses, the immense walkability--including walkability to University Circle, and the diversity of just about everything: People, architecture, ...

Destinations, Discovery, and Disappointment?: An Update

"Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now, wish right now, wish right now" -- Airplanes (B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams from Paramore)

A little after 9 this morning I found myself leaving my home for my weekly venture through the Eastern suburbs on foot. Unlike the last post with this title (Here) I'm feeling quite centered today. Why? I asked the unaskable question and it was answered. Not the answer I would have preferred, but an acceptable answer nonetheless (even if the answer wasn't acceptable, just having an answer would have been a weight off...I don't do well without explicit closure).

In the "aww, cute" discovery column today early in my walk I found myself at Shaker Lakes' Horseshoe Lake and after stopping for a few moments to just gaze across the bounded water and a small armada of geese moving away from my shore, I resumed my walk. Out of the corner of my eye, in the midst of a muck of algae there was a driftwood log. On the log was a turtle peacefully sunning itself, though I think when my presence was noticed its head turned and I got a distinctly reptilian "What do you want?" look before it went back to peacefully bobbing around on the log. I didn't have my real camera with me, but couldn't keep myself from pulling out my cell camera. Despite the low quality, you can see the glint of the sun on his/her shell.

After I stopped for my near-weekly visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art... a lot of art has been cycled through the contemporary galleries recently and I really like some of the pieces that I don't think have been on display before (recently)... stop by and check it out. Remember, CMA is one of the great things things that's always free in CLE.

And because the question has been asked by a surprisingly large number of my readers, to clarify the friend referenced in recent posts: She is indeed a she and I'm enjoying sharing the experiences with someone, but we are just friends... If you have anyone looking to try kissing a frog, don't let that stop you from sending her my way.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Joffrey Ballet Preview

(See this related post for tonight's Blossom Program)

Joffrey returns to Blossom Saturday and Sunday, September 4th and 5th, 2010; tickets at

Before tonight's Cleveland Orchestra program, I had the privilege of attending a preview of Joffrey Ballet's upcoming performances at with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom, hosted by Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and The Orchestra's communications department.

It was a great glimpse of what is to come when Joffrey returns to Blossom after last year's fantastic and well-received introduction. Mr. Wheater described the partnership as almost "falling in love", "magical", and at a phenomenal venue (but Clevelanders already knew that about Blossom). Particularly striking was Mr. Wheater's comments about the open air venue equating to freedom for the dancers and audience to approach the work from a new perspective.

While all of the pieces sound interesting -- and the snippets shown look great, particularly interesting to me is "PrettyBALLET", a work that Joffrey recently premiered at its Chicago home but will be receiving its live orchestra premiere at Blossom (featuring Martinu's Second Symphony, coincidentally commissioned by Czech refugees living in Cleveland and first performed by the Cleveland Orchestra in 1943).

Likewise catching my ear was Age of Innocence, inspired by the social dancing found in Jane Austen's novels with music by Phillip Glass and Thomas Newman*

Across the program promises to span a variety of musical tastes ranging from Tchaikovsky's Cello Concerto (for Reflections) to the aforementioned Martineau and music of Phillip Glass and Thomas Newman.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also note the setting for the preview: The Blossom pavilion and stage seems like a simple structure to the naked eye, but down a backstage staircase one finds impressive depth in the facility, including dressing rooms, and for tonight's event a chorus room with a soaring ceiling with the sounds of trumpeter warming up nearby wafting in to add to the backstage atmosphere.

It should be another great program, blending great sights with great sounds.

*Best unknown as a film composer--Finding Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, etc. Useless trivia: Son of Alfred Newman, the composer of the 20th Century Fox Fanfare used to introduce virtually all of that studio's releases.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Tchikovsky Violin Concerto

Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
Elgar: Enigma Variations, Op. 36 (Variations on an Original Theme)
Giora Schmidt, violin; Tito Munoz, conductor.

(See this related post for a preview of Joffrey Ballet's return to Blossom, which I was invited to before this evening's concert)

My predisposition to liking Bernstein's work is becoming aparent based on my reactions to his first symphony and last week's performance of his overture to Candide. Tonight's Symphonic Dances was no disappointment , with my ear particularly perking to to Somewhere There's a Place For Us. As a Cleveland-has-more-performing-arts-than-I-can-count aside, the musical that the Dances were excerpted from will be at Playhouse Square in May if you'd like to hear the works in context.

Concerti do not benefit from the same favorable predisposition, in no small part based on my lack of enthusiasm for the soloists and the sensation that the composers often push the orchestra too far into the background. Such was not the case tonight: Mr. Schmidt played Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with a beautiful clarity; the notes resonating from within the violin had no trouble filling Blossom on their own when called for, yet they also blended nicely with the notes from the orchestra when that was called for. From a very lyrical mood to bold and dramatic swells it's very hard to believe that one early critic declared that the concerto "stank to the ear".

At an intermission reception with Messrs. Schmidt and Munoz I was interested to learn that the two have actually known each other since high school.

Following intermission was Elgar's Enigma Variations. At some point during the piece I lost count of which variation we were listening to, but nonetheless, the work was interesting. One cannot help but to wonder about the people embodied in each of the variations. If my count was correct, my favorite would be Variation No. 5 (R.P.A), though the variety of the variations: From climatic to mellow to bold in that order was interesting.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Heights Arts: La Dolce Vino (House Concert Series)

Puccini: I crisantemi, elegy for string quartet
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18
Verdi: String Quartet in E Minor
Traditional: Happy Birthday for String Quartet
Sonja Braaten, Miho Hashizume, Isabel Trautwein, violin and viola; Tanya Ell, cello; Charles Carleton, bass; Owen Molloy, Sommelier
at The Barrie Residence, Cleveland Heights

I've been a fan of the Heights Arts house concert series ever since I accidentally stumbled across a listing for one and figured I'd check it out. The concerts bring great musicians -- typically members of The Cleveland Orchestra -- into the intimacy of a living room, where the immersion into the music adds a tangible flavor.

Tonight's concert featured a number of firsts: The first piece to include an upright bass; the first to feature wines paired with the selections; and the first house concert that a friend who accompanied me attended. We both had a great time, and it was fun to get a fresh perspective on the music and the wine.

The program opened with a dry sparkling wine (Presto Proscecco Brut) and Puccini's rather somber elegy -- apparently written in one evening as a memorial. The wine was good, though a bit dry for my tastes. The music though somber was amazing; the addition of the bass in such an intimate setting added to an already rich sound with vibrations entering through the ears, feet, and even chest.

Next in sequence was the Clean Slate Riesling and Beethoven's 2nd String Quartet from Opus 18 ("the quartet of bows and curtsies"), both were quite tasty, but I will admit that the nickname escapes me. Following an extended intermission, the program officially finished with Verdi's String Quartet in E Minor -- composed during a delay in the production of his Aida caused by his tenor's sudden illness*. In introducing the piece, Ms. Braaten remarked that the piece was a bit of a "study" for the composer, Ms. Trautwein remarked that the composer was trying to torture musicians.

Listening to the ambitious end of the fourth movement (Scherzo Fuga, with the tempo notation Allegro assai mosso), there can be no doubt as to the truth of that statement, and once again demonstrates the skill of the musicians we had the privilege of hearing. I think my favorite bars of the program can be found as a waltz late in the piece.

The evening was rounded out with a rousing string quartet rendition of Happy Birthday to celebrate the gracious host for the evening, Mr. Barrie's, birthday.

I found it interesting that both Ms. Trautwein and Ms. Braaten, while members of the Cleveland Orchestra's First and Second violin sections, respectively, took turns at the viola during the course of this evening's program. I don't recall seeing this hand off in previous concerts, and it seems a further demonstration of talent to seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly go from one musical voice to the other in the same program.

* - In an odd turn of events, the performance of this piece was delayed at tonight's concert by the sudden illness of an audience member.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ohio Cell Phone 911...get you killed?

(Yeah, the title is a bit melodramatic, but I think it's appropriate)

It's no secret that I've lived in Ohio for a little over 5 years. Slightly lesser known is that I spent my first 21 years in California -- the majority of that in Southern California. I also drove the vast majority of my first 100,000 miles in that state.

As a young driver I was repeatedly told and taught, to call 911 for any debris on the road..(The CHP also has a really cool website* where you can see the status of every reported incident in the various regions)

In California, if you call 911 from a cell phone your call is answered by one of seven CHP Communication Centers (typically the closest to you) and--in my experience--that communication center handles the call from beginning to end: Certainly in the case of roadway debris you simply say that you're reporting debris in lanes, the road, and a mile marker or exit and you're done ("A sofa in the #1 lane, Northbound I5, just north of the 78"--if you aren't on a highway/freeway [unlike Ohio, the CHP has exclusive jurisdiction on highways-I miss that] they'll contact the proper authorities and relay the information)

In Ohio, the process is baffling. May God help you if you have a life threatening emergency.

You call 911 from a cell phone in Ohio, eventually someone answers: They ask what city you're in. If you know, great, they'll transfer you. If you don't know you start playing "emergency roulette". Three examples that come to mind:

(a) The Truck: Shortly after I moved to Ohio I was on 271 Northbound and I saw a truck driving erratically and finally spin out into the center divider at a fairly high speed. I called 911. "What city?" "271 Northbound at Mile marker X... Mayfield Village, I think?" "No I think you're in Mayfield Heights. I'll transfer you". ...I get transferred to Mayfield Heights...
"I just saw a truck spin out into the center divider, 271 Northbound at MM X, it hit at fairly high speed." "Oh, that's in Mayfield Village. I'll transfer you." ...I get transferred to Mayfield Village..."A truck spun out into the center divider, 271 Northbound at MM X, fairly high speed."
"Ok, we'll send someone out to take a look at it..."
So, I had to repeat the nature of the situation twice, the location three times, and was transferred twice. I sure hope that the driver's injuries, if any, weren't life threatening.

(b) The Barrel - A couple years later I had to drive to Dayton on Labor Day for a project the following day... along the way, in the middle of the vast nowhere, I wound up playing chicken with an overturned construction barrel (those giant orange things that are ubiquitous in Ohio this time of year) rolling back and forth in traffic lanes.

Traffic was light, but it was still dangerous. Again, I called. "911. What City?" "I don't know. Reporting a traffic hazard, Interstate 71 Southbound, Mile Marker X, just South of the XYZ county line--a construction barrel in lanes" "There are a lot of those. I need to know what city." "It's the middle of nowhere--I'm driving south on Interstate 71, at mile marker X, and I just passed a sign saying XYZ county line." "We have two XYZ county... I really need to know what city you're in." "I'm sorry... I don't know." "Goodbye"

Leaving the absurdity of having two counties with the same name in this state aside and the unnecessarily sarcastic "there are a lot of those" comment, it would seem like providing the interstate number, mile marker, and direction of travel would be enough information to pinpoint the location of the hazard within a few thousand feet -- at most.

So we get to today...

(c) The Random Stuff At Rush Hour -- Just before rush hour today I was driving on I480 to pick up some dry cleaning, Along the way I abruptly went from 60-ish to 0 in one of those "Wow, I didn't realize my brake pedal went this far down...and I hope I stop before something else stops me" moments. A few car lengths ahead I see the cause of the abrupt slowdown: What appears to be a quite large bundle of something (possibly insulation) and some wood is in lanes. Certainly going to cause issues...

So I pull out my cell phone and... "911. What city is your emergency?" "I don't know, I'm on 480 Westbound at MM 25, reporting debris in lanes"
"One moment.... You're in Maple Heights, let me transfer you."
...I get transferred... "911. Police, fire, or medical?" "I'm reporting debris in traffic lanes, 480 Westbound at MM 25" "Please hold....Um, sir, please hold...You're in Cleveland, let me transfer you..."** ... I get transferred again... "Cleveland Police" "Hi, I'm reporting debris in traffic lanes, 480 Westbound at MM 25" "Can you tell me what type of debris you saw?"
(I described what I saw)
"Thank you, we'll report debris in lanes, Interstate 480 west at MM 25 to ODOT. Have a nice evening"

So the Cleveland dispatcher was impeccably professional and did exactly what expected: And exactly what the first dispatcher to answer the phone in California would do. But again, I was transferred twice to get there: In that time someone could have hit it, could have hit another car avoiding it, and less important in the whole scheme of things: Who knows how much time and gas was wasted by the slow down.

Why couldn't the first dispatcher take the details? Why not transfer me directly to ODOT if they're the folks who ultimately need to know?

Why isn't an interstate, direction, and location (mile marker or exit) enough information to accurately get someone routed to the proper location.

So if you have a true emergency, be sure you know what city you're in before you call.

* - In fact, when I was writing this the following incident was noted:
Incident: 0770 Type: Traffic Hazard Location:SB I15 JNO RANCHO BERNARDO RD

4:41PM CHP Unit Enroute

(translation: Southbound Interstate 15 just north of Rancho Bernardo Road, there's a piece of metal the size of a towel rack in either the HOV (Carpool) or slow lane, and a highway patrol officer is enroute)
** - I would have never guessed I was in Cleveland at that point of 480... Well, I wouldn't have guessed Maple Heights either. I've lived here for 5 years and never heard of Maple Heights. Learn something new every day.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Blossom Festival Band: Salute To The USA

If you're having deja vu about the post title it is because I apparently can't read ticket stubs properly: Friday's concert was An American Celebration, tonight's concert was the Salute to the USA. As is typical for this event, the printed program was a rough guide for the evening, additions are noted with underline in the program, which follows this post.

This is my fifth year at Blossom for the Fourth of July weekend, and of course this concert draws a much different demographic than the typical concert weekend. Like the majority of the audience I don't go to this concert to listen critically or necessarily discover new music, but rather I go to share a summer evening with those strangers with whom I share a common bond: Namely citizenship.

The concert has the challenge of including the "patriotic staples" to avoid committing heresy while introducing enough variety that the program doesn't become rote. The first half of the program, by that standard was adventurous, with the overture from La Mutette de Portici receiving a somewhat tepid response (and honestly, it seemed somewhat out of place--especially without any context).

John Phillip Sousa is best known for his marches, and Sousa's Under the Cuban Flag was an interesting glimpse into a lesser-heard side of the composer's work--though at first glance the title seems at odds with an American Independence Day celebration. Loras John Schissel's coments about Sousa's band's prohibition-era trip to Cuba with instruments and their cases serving as vessels to smuggle alcohol arguably showcases part of the American spirit. Anderson's Sleigh Ride was a fun insertion on a warm summer evening.

The program following intermission was much less adventuresome. It was a little disturbing that I involuntarily mouthed along the introduction to the March-Past of the United States Armed Forces...and that I don't think it has varied by so much as a beat in the past five years.

America The Beautiful was possibly my favorite piece from the program and the sounds of birds chirping and children playing on the Blossom lawn added a certain ambiance only possible in a venue like Blossom; the same sounds of children playing sadly juxtaposed with Schissel's own somber composition Memorials, dedicated to those who have given their lives for our country.

It was interesting to contrast the Blossom Festival Band rendition of The 1812 Overture tonight to Friday's Cleveland Orchestra presentation of the same: I'm not sure I prefer one over the other, but tonight's--presented without the choral parts--seemed more familiar. I successfully suppressed my urge to jump at the sound of cannon fire, but it was amusing to watch the people in front of me, without exception, jump up and to the right in their seats. I'm still saying that it's overplayed, however.

Smith: The Star Spangled Banner
Auber: Overture to La Mutette de Portici
Sousa: Washington Post
Grainger: Molly on the Shore
Traditional: Yankee Doodle (arr. Schissel)
Sousa: Under the Cuban Flag from Cubaland Suite
Anderson: Sleigh Ride
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 14
Goldwin: On the Mall
Sousa: Simper Fidelis
Jager: Esprit de Corps (after the Marines' Hymn)
Schissel: Memorials
Traditional: America The Beautiful (arr. Dragon)
Traditional: March-Past of the United States Armed Forces
Tchaikovsky: Festival Overture: The Year 1812
Berlin: God Bless America
Sousa: Stars and Stripes Forever.

May your Deity bless America.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: An American Spectacular

Bernstein: Overture from Candide
Copland: Suite from Appalachian Spring
Grofe: On the Trail from Grand Canyon Suite
Three Spirituals Sung A Cappella: Traditional (arr. Ringwald): Deep River; Traditional (arr. Hairston): Elijah Rock; Dawson: Soon Ah Will Be Done
Bates/Ward (arr. Dragon): America the Beautiful
Tchaikovsky: Overture: The Year 1812
Robert Porco, conductor.

Copland has long been one of my favorite composers, and perhaps my introduction to orchestral music first coming from Fanfare for The Common Man and the Hoe-Down allegro (from Rodeo) during a PBS 4th of July telecast a dozen or so years ago. Bernstein is a more recent discovery, with my introduction to the Cleveland Orchestra (and the wonderfully wide dynamic of live orchestral performance) coming from a performance of his Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah) in Severance Hall a few seasons ago.

Thus, when I saw both names listed for this evening's concert there was no doubt that I would be in attendance. I know I've heard the Overture to Candide before, but the tonight's performance was a spellbinding introduction to the program.

Copland's Appalachian Spring, one of relatively few classical pieces to have found a home on my iPod was likewise enjoyable; there were moments where my attention was so captivated that I literally forgot to blink. Of course, I would have preferred to hear (even see) the entire ballet but the suite selection didn't miss too many of my favorite passages. One of the features of the iTunes version is a track of Copland rehearsing Appalachian Spring with an unidentified orchestra* where he makes the comments that the piece should be "light and playful", "Americanaish", and that "is not Tchaikovsky" -- I think the orchestra hit those marks tonight.

Grofe's On the Trail didn't really move me: I had no trouble hearing the pack of burros ambling down the canyon, but compared to the previous pieces I wasn't nearly as spellbound.

Following the intermission were three pieces sung a capella: Generally vocal performance doesn't move me**, but all three were enjoyable: If pressed, I'd probably call Elijah Rock my favorite.

Rounding out the program were Battle Hymn of the Republic, America the Beautiful, and, of course, Tchaikovsky's Festival Overture from The Year 1812. As overplayed as I tend to think it is (especially given the at best tenuous connection to American history), I can't recall having heard the 1812 Overture with choir before which made the piece interesting to hear again. As always, despite being "on guard" for it, the first cannon fire caused me to lurch noticeably in my seat.

Another milestone of 5 years in Cleveland, Sunday I'll be spending my 5th 4th of July at Blossom--wherever you might be, have a safe and fun celebration!

*-I've said it before -- I'm a sucker for insight to the creative process, and will never turn down the opportunity to attend a rehersal
**-Useless trivia: Studies have shown that in popular music men pay more attention to the music while women tend to pay more attention to lyrics