Sunday, October 31, 2010

CIM: William Johnston Fourth Doctor of Musical Arts Recital

Gershwin: Preludes (Trans. Aronld)*
Busby: Doppelganger: Suite for Two Violas**
Zare: Prelude and Fuge for Viola and Piano (2009)*
Gershwin: Selections from Porgy and Bess (Trans. Heifetz, Arr. Johnston)*
William Johnston, viola; *- with Shuai Bertalan-Wang, piano; **- with Aaron Tubergen, viola

I first met Bill Johnston and Shuai Bettalan-Wang at the same time as I discovered Classical Revolution Cleveland earlier this year. Earlier this week, Mr. (Dr.?) Johnston, who has since moved to Atlanta, invited me to a pair of recitals he was giving this weekend in fulfillment of the requirements of the DMA program. Due to a scheduling conflict I couldn't make it to the earlier recital, featuring slightly more traditional programming, but was quite happily made it to this afternoon's recital--and I'm beginning to think that I need to attend more recitals.

Taking place in CIM's beautiful Mixon Hall, the program opened with three Gershwin preludes; from the opening bars the preludes were unmistakably Gershwin in sound and were exuded the joy that is so critical to an enjoyable performance. Though musically the first (allegro ben ritmato) was my favorite by a hair, a squirrel that seemed to be dancing with the music of the third movement brought a smile to my face and forced me to stifle a laugh: Starting perfectly still, he moved and foraged in time to the music.

Next, Doppelganger, a suite for two violas was interesting overall; the viola has a great voice and I can't recall having heard a viola duet before. I let my eyes close to enjoy the music free from distraction, and in the third movement (Love Me) I noticed a clock like tempo that seemed to be spatially shifting ever so subtly while the other viola played a slightly livelier tune. Upon opening my eyes, I realized that that tempo wasn't, in actuality, maintained by one violist but instead seamlessly alternated between the two.

For anyone who hasn't soaked in beautiful sounds in the visually stunning Mixon Hall, here's a photo I snuck in during intermission (scofflaw that I am; if I recall correctly, photography isn't permitted in either hall...but I couldn't resist [click for large version]):
CIM's Mixon Hall - 2010-10-31

Following intermission Prelude and Fuge for Viola and Piano... while listening to this fine piece of music I noticed the "b. 1985" under the composer's name: That's right, the composer of this satisfying piece--who was in attendance--is a year younger than I am; Mr. Johnston and Ms. Bertalan-Wang, as with the rest of the recital, gave a wonderful performance to a piece that seemed more mature from its composer's years..

The last item on the program, five selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (Summertime-A Woman is a Sometime Thing; My Man's Gone Now; Bess, You is My Woman Now; It Ain't Necessarily So; Tempo di Blues) arranged by Mr. Johnston himself, was, I dare say, the most satisfying treatment I've heard Gershwin's music receive in the concert format. Mr. Johnston's sang through his viola in a soul-stirring way unmatched by any vocalist I can remember.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Preucil Plays Mozart

Haydn: Symphony No. 22 ("The Philosopher") in E-flat major
R.V. Williams: Five Mystical Songs* (Christopher Maltman, baritone)
Mozart: Violin Concerto No 5. ("Turkish") in A major, K.219 (William Preucil, violin)
R.V. Williams: Toward the Unknown Region*
Andrew Davis, conductor
*- With the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.

Dull and timid; timid and dull: The essence of the reaction I had to Hadyn's Symphony No. 22--more easily known as the Philosopher. Unfortunately, it also sums up the reaction I had to the rest of the just didn't speak to me. Perhaps the music should strike me as timid and dull but with titles overtly evoking the "Mystical", "Turkish", and "Unknown" I hoped that I would be at least moved by something. I wasn't. Stiff and almost mechanical, there didn't seem to be joy in the music; my applause was courteous rather than enthusiastic.

The Philospher's opening adagio was my favorite from the evening--with a clock-like melody and a alternating dialog between winds and strings evoked the image of a question-and-answer debate.

In Five Mystical Songs, based on texts by George Herbert the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus burst forth with amazing power. I found it difficult, however, with the verbal ornamentation to understand that the choir was singing an English song--let alone what was being sung--and again, with the timid feeling it felt as if the orchestra was unduly restrained in deference to the choir. The last of the songs, Antiphon, was the one that I enjoyed listening to most.

While Mr. Preucil gave a technically intimidating performance in Mozart's Turkish violin concerto but the first two movements struck me as...well, I don't need to repeat myself. The percussive, exotic sounding passages in the third movement -- from which the piece draws the name Turkish were the highlight here.

Closing out the program with Toward the Unknown Region, based on the text from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, I desperately wanted to love the piece. It was thankfully only 15 minutes in duration. Here again, the choir delivered impressive, cohesive energy, but in that delivery intelligibility suffered, and the orchestra seemed to be playing under the choir rather than with the choir.


Friday, October 29, 2010

CIM: The Art of Engagement: Connecting with Audiences of All Ages

I had seen the title on CIM's website and was intrigued, but thanks to a violin lesson it didn't seem that I'd be able to attend. Late in the afternoon, my instructor called to reschedule--something I didn't mind since being fresh off a week in Columbus I wasn't feeling particularly well prepared for the lesson.

Arriving at CIM I wasn't entirely sure what to expect; Annie Fullard, a member of the Cavani String Quartet and program director for Art of Engagement promised the small audience assembled in Mixon hall a "Rocking Good Time", and that it was. Throughout the program, donning a backwards baseball cap and a "We (heart) Peter Salaff" T-shirt. To give you an idea of the temperament: A video of the Concerto For Faces kicked things off.

Through CIM's Art of Engagement seminar, students develop an educational program presented to young audiences to both hone the CIM student's public speaking and audience engagement skills as well as provide a beneficial and educational experience for young audiences.

I know I've said it before but as student of California public schools, where it seemed arts were a convenient line to sacrifice when budgets didn't quite work--and a latecomer to classical music--who has occasionally wondered how things would have been different if I had been exposed more deeply at an earlier age* and it's one of the reasons I'm passionate about hearing it now...and encouraging others to hear it.

Likewise, the timing of this presentation couldn't be more opportune on the heals of The Cleveland Orchestra's recent announcement about the founding of the Center for Future Audiences with a $20-million grant from the Maltz Family Foundation (As an aside, albeit a boldfaced one: I can't write a big check, but if any of the organizations I've written about can use me in any way to help with audience development...drop me a line. I'd love to get involved.).

Taking things slightly out of order, I was quite interested to hear Cleveland orchestra Director of Educational and Community Programs Joan Katz discuss things from the perspective of the orchestra, including fleeting statistics on ticket prices and the success of the Fridays@7 and Musically Speaking series, both of which I've been quite impressed by, as well as some of the challenges faced by the orchestra. Though I'm sure it may not have appealed to everyone, this context nearly made the event worth attending on its own.

Between the concerto and Ms. Katz's presentation the members of the Cavani String Quartet (Mari Sato, Kirsten Docter, Merry Peckham, Annie Fullard) along with legendary violinist and CIM's Director of Chamber Music Peter Salaff, and Director of Performance and Outreach, Ms. Chris Haff Paluck introduced themselves and had shared some profound thoughts on what it means to engage an audience -- so free flowing that I couldn't write them down quickly enough to scribble down an accurate quote.

Ms. Peckham--after initially declaring that she couldn't say it more eloquently than her colleagues--particularly resonated with me**: That the experience is that much more extraordinary when playing for people who aren't expecting the magic of music. Mr. Saloff followed that with a touching story about playing for his grandfather and the observation that music is joy, magic, and touches the heart.

It seems an unwritten and nearly universal rule that classical musicians must have a stuffy reverence when performing so it was great to see the members of the Cavani quartet letting their literal hair down: Ms. Fullard came onto the stage flashing a peace sign and, after none of the audience members volunteered a blond joke, quipped that fellow quartet member Mari Sato had one: The rest of her quartet.

After the introductions came four performances by students in the seminar, representing the hard work that they're taking into classrooms around the region.

Bassooner Than Later from Bassoon 4 (Julie Ann Link, Laura McIntyre, Susanna Whitney, bassoons; Kian Andersen, contra-bassoon) a program intended for the Pre Kindergarten-Kindergarten age range, I'm not sure how the members of the quartet were able to muster the level of energy required for their age-appropriate program at 8pm on a Friday night. Though the difference between me and the target group is of drinking age (boy, do I feel old), I learned that the bassoons are the lowest member of the woodwinds family. Beyond that, a series of variations on "Polly put the kettle on" demonstrated the different feelings the same music can evoke.

V.E.R.A. from the Vera String Quartet (Michelle Abraham, Anne-Sophie Lacharite Roberge, violins; Caitlin Lynch, viola; Katie Tertell, cello) took us on a tour of the string family intended for grades 3 and 4. The ascending scale, starting deep in the cello rising through the viola, and carrying through to the edge of the fingerboard on the 2nd violin was a great demonstration of the family's range, as was the demonstration of how simply altering a note can dramatically change the mood of the music.

Also included was a concise introduction of each player's role in the music (Harmony, Rhythm, Viola...yeah, I'm a little foggy about that one, too) and the need for teamwork by way of example of individual precision but intentionally spectacularly bad ensemble playing. Bonus points for the well-timed and on point Miami Heat "great individual players who can't play like a team" dig.

A Night at the Movies from The Kyodai Brass (Conrad Jones, Hayto Tanaka, trumpets; someone not Valerie Sly, horn; Gary Jones, trombone; Douglas Jones, tuba) opened their program intended for grades 6-12 with an arrangement of John Williams's best known pieces: Here again, entertainment meets education... did you know that the horn gets its shape from the original 1600s use as a hunting horn: If you saw something that the hunting party behind you might be interested in you would play over your shoulder.

I'm sure I'm leaving out quite a bit... my program is so covered by the sometimes overlapping scribbles I made in the heat of the moment... all I can say if you weren't there is you missed a rocking good--informative and entertaining--time, and it seems the audiences of tomorrow are in good hands.

*- It's not your fault, mom. But I won't rule out trying to leverage it.
**-I'm trying to make out the hieroglyphs that constitute my handwriting in the program's margins; if I've horribly misconstrued the comment, I'd be glad to correct it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A technology guy plays with lumber... (with photos)

When I got my new phone from work a couple weeks ago, one of the first things I did was test the speaker phone to see if it would be usable. I called my boss from my living room. "How does it sound?" I asked "Like you have me on speakerphone in an under-furnished townhouse" was his answer.

Between having eyes that are bigger on style (I prefer clean lines and minimal ornamentation) than my wallet is on cash, it's true -- to take the apt words of my boss "under-furnished" -- Rather than buying pieces I don't love for the sake of owning furniture* many traditional pieces have been temporarily forgone**

For example, my bowling alley of a living room has been crying for something to delineate "living" from "dining" more clearly than the naked back of a sofa. The one piece that I've seen that earned a "eh, I could probably make that work" reaction shocked me away with a $1,900 price tag. Likewise, I was enamored by one of the set pieces from The Cleveland Play House's Around the World in 80 Days, but realized--if by some long shot I could acquire it--its proportions probably wouldn't work.

I've had occasional delusions of building my own furniture (and I do own a respectable, if far from complete collection of tools) but I also realize my own limitations: Mechanical precision is something I appreciate but is not a strong suit. Any design would have to be relatively simple, both to satisfy my desire for clean lines and to address the precision aspect.

The right combinations of light bulbs flicked on while my mom was visiting... a spontaneous visit to the Home Depot lumber department and about $80 in materials later I have "Phase 1" of my sofa table.

Yes, it's pine -- possibly the cheapest solid wood; similar size oak and poplar boards, for example sell for more per lineal foot than pine does for a full 6' board -- but the pieces my mom and I pulled look pretty darn nice, if I do say so myself... and it's real wood, not particle board, press board, laminate, or plywood.

My original thought was that I wanted something "piano black" (e.g. black high-gloss lacquer) but the natural wood is growing on me. Recognizing my limitations all of the joints are 90 degree butt joins rather than the more traditional mitred edges. It looks a little cleaner, but I can guarantee that I'd flub the measurements and waste perfectly good wood... Not having to worry about angles makes the cutting much easier.

Phase II will add a shelf underneath and will turn the "sofa table" into a combination "sofa table/sideboard" and add interface modules for my house lighting system so that the table lamps (to be acquired) can be automatically dimmed with the rest of the lights in my house.

With my mom's extra set of hands (which came in quite handy while navigating a 6' long by 18" wide piece of wood up the stairs without damaging anything as well as while nailing the trim to the top and legs) it took 6 pieces of lumber, 6 cuts and maybe 90 minutes to build. And left a sense of tangible satisfaction when I was finished.

(The geeky touches that prove that it actually is my living room: The Cisco VOIP phone, my violin, and in the background the posters enticing you to visit destinations served by long defunct airlines)

* - The idea of spending (wasting) money on something less than ideal for a nicety such as furniture is repugnant to my "don't do anything half way" motivations...especially if I plan to replace it.
**- It really wasn't that long ago that my nightstand (read: the object upon which my alarm clock sits) was upgraded from "cardboard moving boxes" to "scrap board held up by hastily-assembled 2x4 scraps left over from an earlier project"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
Hindemith: Symphony: Mathis der Maler [Matthias the Painter]
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") in E-flat major, Op. 73, Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor.

My mother is visiting this weekend -- not so much to visit me, per se, as to visit Treasures of Heaven at the Cleveland Museum of Art. As she sits across the table from me, I know she would argue the point quite vociferously. It's OK, Mom, I'm glad you're here. While she was here, she joined me at Severance Hall because, in her words, "I wanted to see a place that brings you much joy and happiness" (between you and me, I think I've also driven her past Severance Hall enough times on previous trips that she thought it was about time I took her to the hall). This was both her first time in Severance Hall, and her first time hearing the Cleveland Orchestra perform.

During intermission she leaned over to me and said "I think you need to give the percussionists some love when you blog about this concert"--probing for the "Why?" she made a good point: Both timing and control need to be perfect; a misplaced chime or a timpani roll allowed to reverberate longer than intended has the potential to throw the entire work off center, and more often than not unlike, say, the violas, this responsibility lies in the hands of one musician. It's a good point. It's also worth mentioning, my counter argument of course, is that the entire orchestra operation is a tightly choreographed, and in the Cleveland Orchestra's case well-oiled machine.

As I said somewhere else, perhaps "orchestra work" is better substituted for "teamwork" -- as a sports team is nowhere near as dependent on the split-second synchronizations and synergies of an orchestra such as Cleveland's.

As for the program, I enjoyed all of the pieces, but Brahm's Academic Festival Overture was my favorite from the program, desert before the main course, if you will -- light, easy on the ears, energetic and playful. The overture ends with full orchestra--including a rather large percussion section--belts with the program notes identify as a German student song Let us All Rejoice While We Are Still Young.

Mathis der Maler is the third Hindemith composition I've heard -- the other two being for smaller ensembles (the Clarinet Quintet [also here] and Sonate being the other two)... the story behind the opera, and symphony extracted from the opera, recounted in the program notes is intriguing and combined with the music piques interest in seeing and hearing the opera should the opportunity ever present itself. Beginning the third movement the sound rising from the strings struck me as a swarm of angry bees, and progressing, the movement lost n drama. Titled The Temptation of St. Anthony, this movement was based on one of Matthias's paintings in which the Saint is attached by "a host of monsters and fantastic beasts of all sorts." -- this attack is by no means understated in the music.

Finally, the Beethoven Piano Concerto, my mother's favorite and a close second for myself. Piano concertos don't often agree with me--often feeling that there's a lack of balance between orchestra and pianist. I think the introductory note for Beethoven's Emperor may have finally illuminated the Why: The piano, as we know it, is a relatively modern instrument with the earlier iterations having much more limited range and volume. By the time Beethoven was composing his 5th piano concerto he had been gifted a piano by its manufacturer as a PR move (some things never change, it seems).

Thus, in the piano concerto that we heard this evening there was no need for timidity on the part of either the orchestra or the piano and the two played together, and off of each other beautifully. The second movement had a particularly ethereal texture to it and couldn't help but to carry the listener--this listener, at least--off to a wonderful place.

And the orchestra didn't disappoint while showing off one of my wonderful places to my mother.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CIM Faculty Recital: Samuel Barber Centennial Celebtation

Barber: Canzone, Op. 38a (Katherine DeJongh, flute)
Barber: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 6 (Regina Mushabac, cello)
Barber: Adagio for Strings for violin and piano, Op. 11 (arr. Lanning; William Preucil, violin)
Barber: Four Excursions, Op. 20
Barber: Hermit Songs, Op. 29 (Jung Eun Oh, soprano)
(one unknown encore)
Eric Charnofsky, piano.

With the Cleveland Institute of Music I'm never exactly sure what I'll be getting -- of course, as a leading music school there's no reason to expect anything less than spectacular music -- but, rather, as far as introductions go there can be anything from nothing at all (the majority) to detailed overviews or personal reminiscences (rare but oh-so-enjoyable) and a little bit of everything in between.

Tonight, Mr. Charnofsky provided a fine example of the latter, weaving the program together with concise and relevant introductions delivered so as to be nearly indistinguishable from a radio announcer. Although the program consisted entirely of works by Samuel Barber, this weave combined with the program variety (excluding the piano no instrument appeared on stage more than once during the evening) it felt a little like a variety show with a great host.

Musically I have to say that I wouldn't call any of the pieces a new favorite but they each had their high points-- I'm used to the flute sounding a bit harsh to my ear; in Canzone, Ms. DeJongh had a beautifully rounded sound. In the Sonata, my initial impression was that the cello was dominant to the piano (to the point where the first few notes from the piano were nearly silent by comparison) but at the end of the piece it occurred to me that the two had nearly completely changed roles. Both had a beautiful sound, and the second movement (a combination adagio and scherzo) started lively and almost galloping turned introspective. Ms. Mushabac gave her cello a great voice.

As Mr. Charnofsky noted in his remarks Barber is perhaps best known for his Adagio for Strings and has a bit of a reputation as a funeral piece, having been played to announce the death of Roosevelt, and at the funeral of Einstein and Princess Grace, among others. I'm a 'New York Minute' kind of guy and slow music rarely agrees with me. In this arrangement for piano and violin (with Cleveland Orchestra Concertmaster and CIM Faculty member William Preucil), this deeply introspective and deferential piece was perhaps my favorite from the evening.

Following intermission, and a rendition of Happy Birthday for piano, we find ourselves at Four Excursions, for solo piano. Barber described Excursions as "‘Excursions’ in small classical forms into regional American idioms. Their rhythmic characteristics, as well as their source in folk material and their scoring, reminiscent of local instruments are easily recognized." In introducing the material, Mr. Charnofsky made reference to the fact that although Barber was an American composer, unlike for example Copland for example, he didn't generally make use of American musical idioms. In listening to the introduction and the piece I got the impression that it was written to prove that he could write to that style.

The first of the excursions (Un poco allegro) was a beautiful boogie-woogie influenced composition. During the the second (In slow blues tempo), I closed my eyes and drifted to a smoky, dark, low-key bar with a pianist in the corner playing the blues. The third movement (Allegretto) didn't really evoke any feelings: Either of place, as in the blues bar, or affection. The final excursion (Allegro molto) returned to that evocative feeling... this time to a bright celebration complete with dancing.

Closing out the program, Mr. Charnofsky was joined by vocalist Ms. Oh, for Hermit this collection of songs, based on a series ten of anonymous poems written by Irish monks. This was my least favorite of the evening. The concept behind it was good, there was variety in length and speed (I enjoyed The Heavenly Banquet, Sea Snatch and The Praises of God... the remainder moved quickly enough) and Ms. Oh has a beautiful voice. But on a whole this didn't move me.

The program, however, as a whole, particularly with Mr. Charnofsky's commentary and musicality, was a wonderful bit of variety within the works of one composer.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wade Lagoon in Pictures

Ok, I promise I'm not going to make a habit out of this but what can I say, I'm a sucker for water, fall colors, reflections, and geese and this is a time for all of them.

Sunday, after visiting Treasures of Heaven at the Cleveland Museum of Art and before I started the walk home I figured I'd do a lap around Wade Lagoon (in contrast to the ruggedly natural feeling of Shaker Lakes, Wade Lagoon has a decidedly manicured and hand-crafted feel to it) -- I saw one of the marble benches and decided to sit down. Within moments, I had a few geese visiting with me...and I snapped a few pictures on this beautiful fall day.

All of the photos that made the cut can be found on my Flickr Photostream but my favorites are here as well (and this time you can most certainly click for a larger version...for full 3264x2448 resolution just to email me) ...

Peace, Love, and Happiness
Peace, Love, and Happiness
This was actually the first scene that caught my eye: The Museum's Chalkfest was a few weeks and a few heavy rains ago, but these three symbols endure. Later contemplation: Is this a Catch 22? Can you have one without the other two?

Be at Peace With The Moment
Geese that didn't mind me
Within moments of sitting down on a bench I had three geese come to visit -- they didn't seem to mind me at all. More photos are in the photostream, but I love this one: The reflection of clouds on water; A grounded bird in such proximity to both the sky and the water...and the fact that he was no more than two feet away from me.

Cleveland Museum of Art across Wade Lagoon

I wasn't sure if this would work but I think having the lamp post in the frame gives a much better sense of the scale of both the lagoon and the Museum's 1916 building... plus it hides a crane the museum is using during construction.

Grand Dame of Euclid Avenue
Severance Hall, Home of the Cleveland Orchestra
There's nothing terribly remarkable about this shot of Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra -- but as anyone who's been tortured by one of my driving tours of Cleveland knows, this is, architecturally, my favorite building in Cleveland. I couldn't walk by on such a nice day and not take a picture. Plus the fall colors beautifully frame the hall.

Urban History
Cuyahoga Telephone Company Manhole cover
I love poking my head around corners, above ceilings, looking behind shelves and under rugs for signs of companies, people, and things long past and giving a sense of the true history of a place and the people who have come before. I think this stems from growing up in a city where anything older than 1989 is deemed worthy of historic preservation, but whatever the source...This manhole cover on Euclid Heights Boulevard carries the name of the Cuyahoga Telephone Company.

"The who?" you might ask. I certainly did. Referring to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the Cuyahoga Telephone Company name came into use in 1898 and merged with another firm in 1914 making this manhole cover somewhere between 97 and 113 years old... Think of all the the men, women, cars, winters, and ideas that have passed over it during that time. Company names as well: Ohio Bell, AT&T, Ameritech, SBC, AT&T, to name just a few. And I hope I look that good when I'm pushing 100 years.

Incidentally, Jeptha Wade was one of the founders of the Western Union Telegraph Company. You know how this story started at Wade Lagoon? Yep. Same person. The land upon which the museum and lagoon now sits was donated to the City of Cleveland by Mr. Wade in 1881.


Cleveland Museum of Art: Treasures of Heaven

Last night exemplified one of the problems of living in a city that has such a rich mix of arts an culture... and a spectacular lack of planning on my part. At 8pm was the Cleveland Orchestra/Michael Fenistein concert I wrote about last night. At 6:30 was the member's opening party for the Cleveland Museum of Art's new exhibition Treasures of Heaven. "No problem," I thought, "I'll do the party, see the exhibition, and then walk over to Severance" in time for the concert.

Those math majors in the audience will realize that that left a grand total of 90 minutes assuming that I both teleported myself from the Museum to Severance (It is only about a 4-minute walk, however) and arrived at precisely 8:00 (I'm compulsively early...just ask any of the ushers that know me).

The end result was that I showed up for the party: I ate (I think this was the best catering of any member's party I've attended--the pizza was cold but everything else was fantastic) chatted with other members, and made my way into Gartner Auditorium for the Director's Welcome and Exhibit Introduction. This was many firsts: The first I've heard Mr. Franklin, the museum's new director, speak -- he struck me as humble and quiet-spoken; the first time I've been in Gartner Auditorium: It is an impressive room, simple in its ornamentation and a soring space belied by the exterior; and the first time an exhibition I've attended had such a comprehensive presentation associated with it.

Unfortunately, based on the aforementioned time constraints I had to excuse myself just as the presentation was transitioning from the planning of the exhibition (material that was also covered to a large extent during the Member's Appreciation Day) to the artifacts.

So I resolved to get back to the museum today to actually see the art. And I did. Having done my walk yesterday, I had originally planned on being lazy and driving, but one look outside convinced me to walk. Stopping along the way for an impromptu latte to take off the morning chill, that's exactly what I did.

As a Mother-and-Grandparents Catholic* I wasn't sure how relevant the exhibition would be: I am not intimately familiar with the saints and their relevance and interrelationships. In some ways I think it would have helped to provide some background: After all relics are, according to Wikipedia, "personal item[s] of religious significance, carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial..." it would be nice to know why the artifact was preserved and the person is being venerated.

On the other hand, as objects of art, the explanation really isn't required. The exhibition is ordered in such a way as to trace the evolution of relics from relatively simple devices drawing strongly on the shape and form sarcophagi, to objects taking the form of the relic contained within -- a hand and forearm, for example containing a part of the corresponding bone. Form-following-relic evolved into form-exposing-relic, with various ways of exposing the relics contained within for the faithful to observe. Finally the exhibition concludes with a look at the "theatricality" that evolved to tell the story.

Even discounting the religious significance, these works are impressively detailed, both artistically and mechanically: Since these contain objects within, of course there must be a way to access those objects. Likewise, the care taken to preserve the tiny artifacts: several displayed preserved in linens that look beautiful hundreds or thousands of years later with finely lettered labels, it's obvious that the original collectors gave them deep reverence.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that a collection of a half dozen chasses drawn from the collections of several museums appeared nearly identical to each other with respect to basic design, ornamentation, color.

Treasures of Heaven is open through January 17th. Free for members, $14.00 for non-member adults (but really... why aren't you a member?). The museum is closed Mondays.

*- Do not mistake this to mean that I don't believe in a Deity.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Michael Feinstein: The Sinatra Project

(My commentary on the Cleveland Museum of Art's Treasures of Heaven will be appearing tomorrow...while I attended the member's reception, due to rather tight scheduling between that event and this concert I have not yet seen any of the actual art)

One patron this evening asked me "Do people your age even know who Frank Sinatra is?" My off-the-cuff answer was "Yes, but..." most of the music on this evening's program was not music that I know; later in the program Mr. Feinstein made the remark that "If you have to ask which Mickey and Judy you're at the wrong show." By that standard I was unequivocally at the wrong show.

Despite being at the 'wrong show' the evening was enjoyable; the house appeared to be effectively sold out with a quite diverse audience. Mr. Feinstein struck me as more genuine than previous Celebrity Series headliners, and the music was well balanced between Mr. Feinstein's ensemble and the Orchestra*. Going into the concert I had a "What was I thinking? I really don't like Frank Sinatra" moment. Like classical, as it turns out, this is music that is better enjoyed live.

The program noted only that selections would be announced from the stage and the titles of the pieces weren't announced so much as the history behind a particular song, as such, the titles shown below are merely my best guess after heavy Googling from my chicken-scratch notes-- if you have any corrections, go ahead and leave a comment or email me.

Mr. Feinstein is a fine storyteller and in many cases the story associated with a song resonated more deeply than the song itself: Leading into I Remember You he he related it to unrequited love and the "guy who never got the girl" (talk about a feeling I know well!); mentioning a trip where someone asked Mr. Sinatra if he missed someone the response was "I miss all of my wives".

Seizing on the opportunity presented by a perfectly mistimed ringing cellphone to parrot the ring at varying tempos and attacks elegantly--and entertainingly--hit the silence your phones point. As for the planned music...I have no complaints technically and I certainly enjoyed listening to it live more than I have any recording, but generally the music wasn't my speed.

The instrumental rendition of Brazil was by far my favorite with a wonderfully lively energy completely enveloping the hall. New York, New York and Luck Be A Lady fall into the 2 and 3 positions respectively.

The program (just for laughs: songs that I knew were affiliated with Sinatra are in bold)
1. Luck Be A Lady
2. I Thought About You
3. Exactly Like You
4. Time after Time
5. So In Love (from Kiss me Kate)
A1. Nokia Cellphone Ring
6. Fools Rush In
7. What Kind of Fool am I? (from Stop the World I Want To Get Off)
8. Just One of Those Things (from Jubilee)
9. The Real McCoy
10. How About You
11. It's Alright With Me(?)
12. I Remember You
13. Brazil (Instrumental)
14. Love Keeps Passing Me By.
15. Begin the Bigune
16. For Once In My Life
E1. The Lady is A Tramp
E2. New York, New York

Oh...and on a personal note, my mother will be visiting next weekend. I already have a few things planned, but if you know of anything going on, drop me a line!

*Footnote about bored musicians intentionally ommitted. You'll have to ask me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Great Lakes Theater Festival: An Ideal Husband (Oscar Wilde)

At some point--roughly the same time as Great Lakes Theater moved into their new Hanna Theatre home at PlayhouseSquare--I fell off of Great Lakes Theater's mailing list. Postcards are still, believe it or not, the primary vehicle through which events make it to my conscious--also known as my calendar*. And thus the reason GLTF is just now appearing on this blog.

This was my third time in the Hanna: Wicked Rocks being the most recent venture, the one before that, too long to remember. The theater is gorgeous, intimate, and as I learned on a walking tour over the summer, rich in history theatrical history.

On tap for tonight -- and speaking of on tap, the bar in the back of the house is open 90 minutes before and after every performance -- Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Though The Importance of Being Earnest is virtually inseparable from Mr. Wilde's name in my mind this is the first of his works I've seen performed.

I was impressed. Though the first few minutes seemed a little stiff, like an engine coming up to speed the four acts (one intermission) purr along quite enjoyably. The set is elegantly simple and restrained: The predominant feature besides the actors are a series of chairs that are arranged to set each scene.

Though originally premiered in 1895 the themes are no less relevant 115 years later, and quite apropos given the current, particularly vicious mud-slinging campaign season. Revolving around a dishonorable secret, political blackmail and counter-blackmail, the dangers of elevating loved ones to pedestals and unyielding moral judgements it isn't difficult to imaging the same set of events occurring as I type.

Likewise, given my long-standing status as "single", the various quips about men regrading women, women regarding men, and both on their spouses: Again 115 years later as relevant now as then. I found myself chucking more often than not as Mr. Wilde and the GLTF production team accurately captured both themes in a reflective social commentary.

Witty dialogue well timed made this a performance well-worth attending.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

CIM Orchestra: Mozart/Walton/Wagner

Mozart: Overture to Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), K. 620
Walton: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Ai Nihira, violin)
Wagner: Symphonic Excepts from Der Ring des Nibelugen (Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold; Forest Murmurs from Siegfried; Siegfried's Death and Funeral Music from Gotterdammerung; Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkure)
Asher Fisch, conductor.

During his opening remarks CIM President Joel Smirnoff commented on expanding the number of Severance Hall performances this year (I thought there were more of them!) and that it was particularly necessary based on the challenge of fitting so many instruments and so much volume in CIM's normal performance spaces.

Admitting that I was a bit skeptical of that comment through the first two pieces on the program, the excerpts from The Ring Cycle absolutely proved the point.

The Magic Flute is a piece that seems to be orbiting just outside of my reach -- it seems that I've heard of more performances of this piece in the last six months than any other piece -- yet I have not actually heard this piece. Though it's has a slow start, it got moving to a quite pleasing clip by midpoint.

Walton's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra left me unsatisfied -- perhaps it was too introspective during a time when I'm asking myself too many questions -- but the je ne sais quois that I crave didn't hit me. There were certainly passages that were pleasant to listen to sprinkled throughout the work but they were not the majority.

After intermission and rounding out out the program were five excerpts from Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (also known as The Ring Cycle). Every time The Ring Cycle comes up I'm reminded by a comment one Cleveland Orchestra guest conductor made from the podium -- that The Ring Cycle, depending upon the age and weight of the conductor, can take between 24 and 30 hours to perform in its entirety. I don't know if that's true, but nonetheless, the cycle is a substantial body of work. It's also worth noting that four harps were present on stage for this work.

Mr. Fisch's comments before the work reinforced that, highlighted the difficulty of excerpting coherent pieces from the wholes, and made no apologies for the fact that the music that was presented tonight was not precisely as it would have been heard in the operas. That didn't diminish the quality in the slightest. From the energy of Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla to the delightfully textured and restrained Forest Murmurs (Where a flute clearly evoked the feelings of birds on a soft landscape laid by the strings).

Siegfried's Rhine Journey began beautifully in the cellos (what can I say, I'm a sucker for strings -- especially the cello) and grew from those relatively small beginnings into something big. The Death and Funeral March took that big, punctuated it with horns and oh, my. "Explosive" was the first word that came to mind to describe the impressive energy emanating from the Severance stage... but Explosive has the connotation of being uncontrolled. This was anything but uncontrolled.

The concert ended with the well-known Ride of the Valkyries. It was good. There's not really anything to say on that subject.

I should also note that Mr. Fisch conducted the Der Ring des Nibelungen pieces (and perhaps the others as well -- I didn't happen to notice) without benefit of a score. That impressed me.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Heights Arts: TENacity

A decade: A tenth anniversary is something to celebrate at any time, but in the current economy with arts organizations struggling -- and disappearing -- it's that much more rewarding to see one make it to 10.

This evening Heights Arts took 10.10.10 to celebrate just that: Their 10th anniversary. Though Heights Arts's mission covers the entirety of arts in the heights in ways that I'm having trouble fully enumerating: Public art, poetry, music, temporary installations, unique applications, local artists, a small gallery... tonight featured a rich sampling of some of the great things Height Arts contributes to the community.

Tangible Art: A silent auction offered a wealth of items and experiences from the local arts community...from beautiful jewelry and glasswear to framed art to the "experience" items yours truly won: A tour of the highlights of CMA's permanent collection with Chief Curator Griffith Mann and a in-home performance of Bach by Cleveland Orchestra Cellist Tanya Ell (as I've noted in earlier posts on the Heights Arts House Concert Series, I am quite fond of Ms. Ell's talent)

House Concert: After appetizers and light dinner a mixed group of long-time attendees and first timers assembled...
Mozart: Grand Sestetto Concertante (An 1808 arrangement of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for Viola, Violin, and Orchestra, KV 364)
Dvorak: Quintet for 2 violins, viola, cello and piano in A major, Op. 81.
Mari Sato, Isabel Trautwein, violins; Kirsten Docter, You Jin, violas; Tanya Ell and Josue Gonzales, cellos; Carolyin Gadiel Warner, piano.
At the Rawson and Cowap Residence, Shaker Heights.

Tonight's performance was for chamber music what last night's Cleveland Orchestra concert was to orchestral performance. Mozart's Grande Sestetto Concertante was lovely: The first and third movements stuck me as light and a bit playful with each instrument being treated to a bit of time in the limelight, while the slow middle movement was dark and deep in rich color. From my seat, behind Ms. Trautwein and Ms. Docter I could not only see the intricate complexity of the notes on the page, but the musicians fingers dance across the fingerboards of their instruments from an angle not typically seen by mere mortals.

Following a brief poem (see below) was Dvorak's Quintet (Opus 81). At any given moment if you ask for a favorite composer there's a good chance I'll blurt out Dvorak's name--and a 50/50 shot that my brain will slip and I'll mispronounce his name. The two works that I'm most familiar with, Symphony 9 (From the New World) and String Quartet No. 12 (The American), have unambiguously American influences. Opus 81 -- dating from 1887, some 5 years before his stay in America, those influences are conspicuously absent taking instead a far more bohemian flair.

According to body language experts, one of the signs of an engaged listener is a forward body posture. I consciously try to remain upright, but in the case of tonight's concert I was so engaged--and leaning so far forward--as to practically be drooling on the shoulder of the patron seated in the row ahead of mine. Beautiful and energetic, opening with Ms. Ell's lyrical cello theme over beautiful piano -- a first for me in the "house concert" format -- In the third movement I had no trouble at all envisioning a folk dance, and the finale was quite spirited and light making it a perfect fit for the evening.

I almost neglected to note that Owen Lockwood, son of Mari Sato opened the concert by performing von Weber's Country Dance and Dittersdorf's German Dance with Ms. Trautwein. As a relatively newcomer to the instrument myself, this 8-year-old's skill was impressive.

Poetry: Cleveland Heights is one of the few American cities to host an official Poet Laureate -- Gail Bellamy -- who dedicated a wonderful piece to the event.

More Music: Following the concert, cake was served and the beautiful evening air outside was filled with the sounds of Mo' Mojo with a great mix of bayou music. Particularly ear catching was the electric violin -- the versatility of an instrument that minutes before was deep in the lush melodies of European composers now moving the lively beat of zydeco.

Heights Arts first 10 years have sure made an impact...I eagerly look forward to what the next 10 have in store. But first, I'm going to get some sleep.

(The image above is the back of my right hand)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra: Rhapsodic Rachmaninoff

Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (Kirill Gersetin, piano)
Ravel: La Valse.
Semyon Bychkov, Conductor

The orchestra delivered a delicious three course meal of sound this evening, starting with dessert in the form of Brahms's third symphony.

On my way into the hall I bumped into some friends and some acquaintances who I haven't seen since the last Severance Hall Season (since Saturday is my "regular" night and my last two concerts have been Thursdays this isn't surprising). Settling into my seat, I wasn't sure what to expect.

I can't put my finger on it, but the entirety of the Brahms appealed to my every sense; watching the orchestra while letting the musical waves soak on my ears. A newly minted favorite thus far this season.

During intermission one of the acquaintances that I bumped into said that the pianist may challenge me. In Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the first several variations the orchestra was beautiful but the pianist left me uninspired; I was reading the program when the piano solo began for Variation 18. My head involuntarily popped up and tilted like a dog hearing a silent whistle. The solo beginning this variation was beautiful, but when joined with the delicate power of the orchestra's strings it was soul-cleansingly beautiful. (If "Variation 18" doesn't ring any bells, try this...but it's nowhere near as beautiful or powerful as it was live)

The concert ended with Ravel's La Valse ("The Waltz")... the beginning was quite muted and one heard only hints of a waltz; the program notes say it better than I can: "At first the scene is dimmed by a kind of swirling mist, through which discerns, vaguely and intermittently the waltzing couples. Little by little the vapors disperse, and the illumination grows brighter, revealing an immensely ballroom filled with dancers..." -- while the dimmed fog didn't really do anything for me, once the fog lifted and the music swelled, the we got another amazing performance to round out the evening.

Some pieces seem to be of interminable duration; other pieces fly by. This concert consisted entirely of the latter -- returning home just after 10pm it as though the concert had started mere moments before.


Shaker Lakes in Pictures

Nearly every week I try to get a good walk in -- usually somewhere around 10-11 miles, but no set distance no set route: Usually the Cleveland Museum of Art is a way point, and almost as frequently Shaker Lakes also earns a visit.

Today I didn't do the CMA visit -- but I did do Shaker Lakes. Between the serene stillness and beautiful fall colors it was amazing. And I figured a good opportunity to try out the camera on my new cellphone from work--A Motorola Droid X. Generally pleased, but I wish I had something with manual focus (what can I say, I like playing with depth of field).
(You should be able to click any of these for a larger version... I think)

The first view, approaching Horseshoe Lake from the East:

Turning my head slightly another view of Horseshoe Lake... the water is so still that the trees from the opposite bank are perfectly reflected.

Rounding the corner on Horseshoe Lake I spied a lone duck...his (or her?) wake the only thing disturbing the surface. I don't think I've ever seen a single duck before -- usually they seem to travel in small groups -- though this one didn't seem to mind having the lake to him or herself...

Moving on Westward, The surface of Lower Shaker Lake wasn't nearly as smooth but was just as calm. In some ways the ripples reminded me of a painter's brushstrokes.

I hadn't seen any signs of activity in this lake until, while walking along one of the pathways I heard a disturbingly loud "plop" from just a few feet away... Looking out into the water four geese seem to be fleeing my presence.
Further West, these sunbathing birds seem completely nonplussed by my presence. The thought crosses my mind: If they're migratory, how long are they stopping over in our fair town? I think for this picture to work the way I want it to not only do I need a camera with manual focus, but I also need the ability to adjust the exposure. Near the center of this picture--in the background--is a bench. If you come at just the right time of day it's in a tiny little pool of light leaking down from the canopy above. Today I was not there at the right time, but today was also the first time I've seen anyone in that bench, which discouraged me from trying too many photos. Looking West as the water leaves Lower Shaker Lake, it passes under a rarely used quaint stone footbridge. One of many things right in front of you that you don't see unless you pause and look.
And my last view, Eastward, of the lake for this walk... It amazes me that within a couple miles of my home in any direction I have this beautiful specimen of nature, world-class hospitals, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Cleveland Museum of Art...and so much more. Lincoln

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

CIM Faculty Recital: Cavani String Quartet Beethoven Cycle 1 of 3

Beethoven: Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5
Beethoven: Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 (Harp)
Beethoven: Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127
The Cavani String Quartet: Annie Fullard, Mari Sato, violins; Kirsten Docter, viola; Merry Peckham, cello.

I had planned on being in Columbus again for work this week but based on some logistics issues (namely, it's hard for me to make sure equipment works when it's not physically there) that trip has been bumped back a little bit. So tonight I made an unplanned trip over to CIM for a faculty recital.

Cavani is just past the half-way point in their 2-year, 6-concert series in through which they will have performed all 16 Beethoven string quartets...quite a respectable undertaking. That said, though, my relationship with Beethoven is one of extremes: I either feel a strong connection with the pieces or I feel no connection at all. Tonight all three were squarely in the latter. Nonetheless, it was a great concert, and I've heard two new quartets (Op. 18, No. 5 and Op. 127) with excellent treatment.

Leading off with the Quartet in A Major (Op. 18, No. 5) my impression was, in two words "manic depressive": The first two movements seemed to swing from being on the "bright and cheerful" side to "dark and depressed", hearing the third movement (Adante cantabile) the phrase "playful romp" came to mind -- for some reason I want to throw a campfire in there as well, but in any event I think that movement was my favorite from the evening.

This is now the third time I've heard the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 popularly known as "The Harp" though that title seemingly never had the composer's blessing. In the first movement I noticed an ascending pizzicato and a rhythmic theme that I don't recall from the earlier performances: Both danced quite nicely on my ears. The second movement struck me as tender, and my thoughts took over: The remainder of this piece gave a musical backdrop against which my thoughts over the past two weeks were collected, divided, sorted and rearranged... something I haven't really made time for based on my travel and project schedules.

Following Intermission, where an unusually large portion of the audience disappeared ("I think that's enough Beethoven for one night," one patron was overheard to say while leaving): On the whole the piece struck me as warmly expressive without being overly sentimental, and again my thoughts came to the forefront, including one post that will be appearing in the next few days.


Monday, October 4, 2010

CPH Happy Hour and Cleveland Chamber Symphony: Music That Dares to Explore

I found myself in University Circle for two events this evening -- starting with another Cleveland Play House Happy Hour and finished with a Cleveland Chamber Symphony Concert.

Part 1. The Happy Hour. At Uptowne in University Circle (on the corner of Mayfield and Euclid), I walked into a standing-room only bar. Some familiar faces from the last Happy Hour, and similarly good--tending toward better--appetizers. Good conversation. Generally a fun event, but in keeping with my policy* of not reporting personal conversations there's not much else to say. One major difference: The sales pitch (from a gentleman who's name I did not catch) was even shorter than Michael Bloom's previous record-holder.

Part 2. The Concert. After excusing myself from the Happy Hour I made it to the Cleveland Chamber Symphony's concert at the Music Settlement. The program cover declares "Music that Dares to Explore"...
Man: Maroon (2005)
Mumford: a garden of flourishing paths (2008)
Stucky: Boston Fancies (1986)
Steven Smith, conductor; Sean Gabriel, flute/alto flute; Andrew Pongracz, precussion; Stuart Raleigh, piano; Susan Britton, violin; Laura Shuster, viola; Heidi Albert, cello.

"New Music" is a quite distinct category. Despite a name that implies primarily a temporal focus, the structure of these pieces is distinct from most music including traditional classical structures. It's music that I struggle with -- though not so much as, say, country or metal -- but music that doesn't, as a whole suck, me in. The three pieces on tonight's concert were all relatively short and moved at a brisk pace.

As part of Cleveland Chamber Symphony's Meet the Composer series, the composers for the first two pieces on the program were in attendance. Fang "Mindy" Man's Maroon was inspired by sounds she associated with the color, and she hesitated to comment on what she was trying to evoke, instead wanting the audience to let the music work on their imaginations as it may. To me, perhaps predisposed based on the piece's program note and my recent return from Las Vegas the beginning of the piece evoked images of the desert -- Arizona to be specific -- but that imagery faded as the end of the piece approached.

Jeffrey Mumford's a garden of flourishing paths consisted of eight individual and very short movements inspired by the West Garden Court of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC -- perhaps not having a visual context of that garden, none of the movements was long enough to appreciate individually and as a whole it didn't move me.

Finally, Stucky's Boston Fancies--seven movements alternating in tempo. The first movement (Ritornello 1.) struck me, of all thing, as a film noir overture, and the remainder of the movements flowed naturally.

Of course, the performances were well-executed, including some unconventional playing... and it's worth remembering that even Beethoven was new at this point. Support new music now and who know what will be being said 100 years from the present.


*-Though I tend to cringe when referred to as a "critic" or "journalist" -- titles I'm wholly unworthy of I do have a set of ethics guidelines that I try to adhere to. One of them is that I get consent before blogging about the contents of any one-on-one conversation.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What Happens in Vegas?

In the interest of saving my dad from a wedding shower happening at his home, Friday I found myself in First Class on a late-night flight destined for Sin City.

My dad's flight from Long Beach -- a suburb of Los Angeles* -- was suposed to have arrived about an hour before mine. Turning my phone on after the wheels hit the ground I knew it was a bad sign when my call went straight to voicemail. Soon enough I found I had not one but two voicemails: #1 "Flight is delayed by about an hour" #2 "Flight is still delayed, but I'm in my seat now".

We get to the gate and I start heading to baggage claim, our alternate meeting point...when I notice that Jet Blue is the pair of gates immediately ahead of me. I check, and sure enough, the next flight at that gate is coming from Long Beach, and due within the next five minutes. I wait.

While I'm waiting, perhaps prompted by a post at a blog I read regularly, I think of how much times have changed: Here I am waiting at the gate for the arrival of a loved one: I am the only one waiting, in fact, I look a little suspicious loitering at the gate. I remember quite vividly in the late 80s waiting at the gate with my mom to see my dad off or anxiously awaiting his return. Times have changed. But in this nod to the past, eventually my dad emerges and we exchange greetings.

We pick up my bag -- by this time the only bag remaining unclaimed from Carousel 8 -- and get in a taxi. We arrive at the hotel--chosen primarily because I could get HHonors Points for the stay and it offered a two-bedroom suite--and check in. After checking in and getting some basic provisions, it's roughly 3AM Eastern and I fall asleep without much effort.

The next morning I awake bright and early with the sun pouring into the hotel room window. One of the most glorious sunrises I can remember: I am reminded how much of a picturesque part of the landscape the mountains are. We start waking the strip, and eventually wound up buying tickets for Cirque du Soleil's Ka. We continue walking, eat lunch, yadda.

Perhaps I'm jaded -- As a child, my parents did league bowling tournements in Vegas, so I've seen the town since before I was of legal-anything-age -- but I don't really see the grand appeal that Las Vegas poses to so many. Despite wandering through an oasis of gaming pleasure every time the mere thought of wagering on a game crossed my mind it was immediately chased out by the voice of my mother repeating advice her father gave her: "Remember, these [casinos] weren't built by the winners."

Sage advice combined with the fact that slot machines that accept hard currency seem to have gone the way of the dodo*** meant that I didn't wager a cent in Vegas.

In the afternoon we stop by the Ka box office to get our seat assignments and force our way through a mob of near riotous Kings fans in MGM Grand. I learn that my dad, despite living a stone's throw from LA was unaware that Los Angeles had a Hockey Team and that that hockey team was known as the Kings.

A while later...we return to the MGM Grand for Ka. This is my third true Cirque show -- the first being O which was mesmerizing in every way, the second being Zumanity, which wasn't really my cup of tea despite high production standards. I think was my favorite of the three.

Now it is true that I would love listen to the production intercom for most of the shows I see, but Ka is one for which I would pay money for this privilege.

The show is so technically mesmerizing that you really have to see it for yourself: Superb audio, pyro (I think this is the first time I've seen a fireworks display that moved beyond sparklers and flash pots indoors) a set that has no fixed floor but instead relies on platforms that move, slide, tilt, rotate. Lighting, sound, choreography... I was mesmerized for nearly the entire performance. (Though to put it in perspective, the theatre is dedicated to Ka, and the show reportedly cost somewhere of $220 million to develop... which certainly opens possibilities that don't exist for a show doing a 4 week run in a conventional theater)

Another good night's sleep, another sunrise, and I head for the airport, board my flight, find exit row seat 21A** and have an uneventful flight home.

It feels weird to return from Vegas having not drunk alcohol, not gambled, not feeling a compulsion, really, to indulge in any of the vices that the city is known for, but it was good to see my Dad and combined with Ka, made the trip worthwhile.

*-Despite its 500,000 population, I'm in the camp that considers The LBC is a LA suburb.
**-21 is my favorite number and has made an irregular number of appearances this weekend.
***-I part with pocket change more easily than paper money