Saturday, January 29, 2011

On The Road Again: Dayton

"There is something-exciting-about leaving everything behind. There is something-deep and pulling-about leaving everything behind. Something about having everything you think you'll ever need sitting in the seat next to you.

And I watch another white dash / another white dash / another white dash fly beside us" -- Butterfly Boucher, Another White Dash.

My day job features a decent amount of travel: More nights spent in hotels than I can count in 2010 and it looks like 2011 will have at least the same amount of travel.

Previous years have been a blend of local and distance, but last year seemed to be mostly local projects -- Columbus and Pittsburgh ad naseum. I enjoy driving, cranking my iPod to an extent. Of course, the mileage reimbursement checks are nice given that as near as I can tell the actual cost of operating my vehicle is far less than the standard ($0.51/mile) reimbursement rate.

I enjoy driving highways for the first timeand long stretches on back roads and country highways, where the new sights keep me alert and intrigued. Driving the same roads over and over, on the other hand bores me*... honestly I prefer flying.

This week, though, I found myself in Dayton for the first time in a couple years and the wonderful sense of humor that some Southern Ohioans had amused me in between the passing of every other white dash: There's Newcomerstown, Mechanicsburg, and Mechanicsville (one wonders how many newcomers and mechanics habitate in their namesakes).

There's a county named Delaware -- for a long time the freeway side sign simply said "Entering Delaware", though on this trip I noticed a "County" has joined it. In Delaware county there's a town named Wilmington. It's quite startling for a road-weary driver to suddenly happen on a sign proclaiming that you're "Entering Delaware" only to be followed by a "Exit XXX -- Wilmington -- 1 Mile".

There's the perpetual road construction between Columbus and Dayton on Interstate 70; it seemed to be at exactly the same state of progress as the last time I drove to Dayton.

There's the hotel I always stay at when I visit that part of Dayton. As homogeneous as each member of that particular chain becomes on the inside; their environments are as distinct as ever. Last night when I checked in I was merely tired -- abandoning my normal "try something local" dining strategy for a quick fix. "There's a McDonald's right over that way, right?" I ask while checking into my hotel room and simultaneous gesturing over my shoulder. The clerk takes a moment to think, "Yes there is."

Fortunately on this trip the weather cooperated and there was only light snow on the trip down and a bit heavier on the drive home. I considered doing the back roads -- coming back from Ada, Ohio, for example, my favorite is to take the 2-lane "Old US 30/Lincoln Highway", where you can drive for an hour or more without seeing another car -- but especially with the cold temperatures I'm hesitant to venture too far from the well traveled routes.

And now I'm home.


*- Though when I moved to California to Cleveland I drove the 2400 miles at a rate of just over 800 miles a day with 10-12 hour days. My butt was sore, and I didn't want to touch a car for a week.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Heights Arts House Concert: Bruch, Cohen, Trautwein, De Falla, Wolf, and Prokofiev

de Falla: Suite Popular Espanola for Violin and Piano
Ysaye: Obsession (first movement from the second sonata for Violin Solo, op. 27, 2)
Bruch: Movements II, V, VI from Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, op. 83 no. 6
Prokofiev: Sonata Op. 94 (trans. for Clarinet by Kent Kennan)
Franklin Cohen, clarinet
Isabel Trautwein, violin and viola
Patti Wolf, piano
at the Rawson/Cowap Residence, Shaker Heights.

The fact that this was my second house concert in three days may be a hint that I love the format. As with Fridays event in my living room, today's concert in Shaker Heights featured two Cleveland Orchestra musicians whom I have a deep respect for, along with the Heights Arts introduction of pianist Patti Wolf, a temporary import from St. Louis who is a long-time friend of Ms. Trautwein.

Aside from the given of great music by fantastic musicians in an intimate environment, both of this weekend's concerts also displayed how refreshingly normal and humble the talented musicians who call Cleveland (Heights) home truly are. The music of this afternoon's concert was punctuated by a a brief demonstration Ms. Trautwein of teaching music through Venezuela's El Sistema which included vocalization from the audience and 5 plastic cups, and Mr. Cohen making several jokes at his own expense.

Both Ms. Trautwein and Mr. Cohen had turns at page turning for Ms. Wolf, making a tie for what was quite possibly the most overqualified person to fulfill that role.

The music, of course, suffered nothing from the relaxed atmosphere.

The program opened with the six movements of de Falla's Suite Popular, which was delightfully unlike anything I can recall hearing at a house concert before: A distinctly Spanish sound and two flamenco dances (Polo and Jota) were particularly lively [and difficult to resist toe tapping to].

Next was the aptly titled Obsession for solo violin which was just entirely wonderful. Before playing, Ms. Trautwein commented that it borrowed from some very well known Bach in the beginning: Indeed, it was so well known (and so well played) that even I, with admittedly little solid knowledge of the classical canon, was able to identify the source as the first movement from Bach's Partita No. 3 In E*. It is, of course, impressive that something that moves so quickly can be played with such clarity.

Following wine and dessert at intermission, Ms. Trautwein traded her violin for viola and the audiences was treated to three wonderful movements from Max Bruch's Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano. I think the second selection, the fifth movement (Rumanian Melody, andante) was my favorite from the evening; and when I allowed my eyes to close the blending of the three instruments was so fine as to be not nearly seamless, but seamless without qualification.

Closing out the program was Prokofiev's Sonata op. 94, originally for piano and flute but transcribed for clarinet by Kent Kennan, and it received a wonderful introduction by Mr. Cohen on Prokofiev's background and run-ins with authority. Prokofiev apparently had the type of personality that enjoyed a terrible review. Mr. Cohen noted that he's received terrible reviews and doesn't particularly enjoy receiving them, though with performances like those this afternoon it's hard to imagine. The second and fourth movements were particularly wonderful to listen to.

And again, anyone who wants to try my living room: Email L at LincolnInCleveland dot com.

* Confession: Part of the reason I was so quick to make the connection was I'm a fan of Vanessa Mae's Bach Street Prelude, a slightly modern take on the same material -- but it's so much more captivating live.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Welser-Most Conducts Bartok

Hosokawa: Woven Dreams (World Preimere)
Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano)
Takemitsu: Garden Rain (For Brass Ensemble)
Bartok: Music For Strings, Percussion, and Celesta

I try to avoid reading reviews of anything I see or hear before I've seen or heard it, yet, as several of my guests for Cleveland Orchestra Cellist Ms. Tanya Ell's amazing performance in my home last night had also attended the Thursday performance of the same program some discussion naturally occurred. (As an aside, I slept very well today)

As one of those guests observed the two Bartok pieces were actually the oldest on the program.

The common thread, aside from being new that seemed to tie the pieces together, was a sense of quiet.

First though, to get the undesirable out of the way, the third work on the program: Takemitsu's Garden Rain. For as many "new" composers as there are I wish I could understand why Mr. Takemitsu's works are programmed with such frequency. This is now the fifth encounter I've had with this composer's work and the nicest thing I can think to say is that I'm bored by it. Worth noting was impressive control at relatively low volume from the brass ensemble, and the odd relationship of conductor to ensemble: With Mr. Welser-Most at the stage apron and the brass at their usual location upstage, he seemed to be conducting across a desert of empty chairs; it looked as if three-quarters of the orchestra had simply not shown up.*

Opening the program, Woven Dreams, a world premiere by composer Toshio Hosokawa had such a wonderfully quiet and subtle introduction that Mr. Welser-Most had been on the podium for several seconds before I realized that the music had started. Slightly ethereal, it seemed to me as if it would be a strong contender for a science fiction soundtrack. After the work had concluded I read the program note wherein Mr. Hosokawa describes channeling feeling of being birthed from the womb and the fear of the unknown: Listened to from that perspective, the work lacks no clarity, and it's an emotion that stands crystal clear.

Unfortunately at this performance Woven Dreams was accompanied by an incessant cough from somewhere in the audience and the early punctuation of a ringing cell phone (The expression on the face and I give up hands-in-the-air gesture of the Cleveland Orchestra executive in the box to my left spoke for much of the audience)

In Bartok's Piano Concerto the first movement neither grabbed my ear nor seemed very Allegro-esque. By contrast the second movement was lovely, particularly the adagio with which the movement opens -- but I didn't find it terribly compelling.

Closing out the program, Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta made the evening worthwhile. Again beginning with a quiet and tranquil tone (not good for someone a bit tired), the fourth movement (Allegro molto) seemed to be the ideal release for all of the energy pent up by the orchestra over the preceding pieces, like a bulldog that has finally broken free of its chains. Since this is the Cleveland Orchestra and not a bulldog, of course, there was no lack of precision accompanied by the vigorous release.

*- For an orchestra going for a sight gag, programming this as the first work on a concert, particularly on a night with severe weather conditions may generate some conversation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tanya Ell, Bach Cello Suite No. 4 (In my Living Room)

Bach: Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, Bvw 1010
Tanya Ell, cello.
at My Living Room, Cleveland Heights.

In October, Heights Arts celebrated their 10th anniversary on 10/10/10. A silent auction offered a variety of local arts with the proceeds of the auction to benefit Heights Arts. Tanya Ell, a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, a fantastic cellist, and long one of my favorite musicians, offered herself playing one of Bach's Cello Suites in your home.

I couldn't resist the urge to start the bidding, knowing full well that I would not be the ultimate winner. As the auction progressed a mutual acquaintance snuck up behind me and asked "So, how high are you going to bid on Tanya?" "Like all great artists, the true value is higher than I can afford" was my answer at the time. Ultimately I was the second highest bidder; Ms. Ell was generous enough to offer a second performance. I wasn't passing that opportunity up.

That gets us to tonight: I've been interested in entertaining for a while but there's high inertia: When? Why? and most dauntingly: How?

With wine from my trip home over the holidays (and some supplemental bottles), food from Clyde's Bistro and Barroom just down the street (Thanks to Vivian, the general manager, for an excellent spread and advice that went far beyond catering), some chairs and serving wear borrowed from a friend, the conversation was easy and long lasting -- both before and after Ms. Ell's recital.

And what a recital. Tanya always has a beautiful sound. This was the first time I've heard her play solo and her sound was as intoxicating as any wine; as sweet as any desert. The vibrations resonated as soundly through the feet, up the legs and into the soul as they did off the walls and into the ear. Though Wikipedia notes that "Suite No. 4 is one of the most technically demanding of the suites since E-flat is an uncomfortable key to intonate on the cello and requires many extended left hand positions" one would not get this sense from Ms. Ell's effortless playing. The warm sound warmed the body on a blustery winter night, and in short, this was one of those rare performances that left me tingling.

Between movements and well after the music had finished Tanya shared a wealth of information about the music and fielded questions from the small audience displaying a wonderful knowledge not just of the music on the page but the theory behind the music. As an unexpected bonus, she also played a well-known movement from Bach's First Cello Suite, practically on demand and again seemingly without requiring any effort on her part.

And the true value was much higher than the my winning bid. It was, indeed, priceless.

I can honestly say that my living room has never sounded better.

I had feared that the group would scatter rapidly after the music had finished, but good conversation--matched with the balance of the food and wine--continued for quite a while after the music had stopped.

The words to aptly describe the evening are failing me at the moment, so I shall stop trying now.

I'd say my first foray into entertaining was a success, in no small part to Ms. Ell's generosity and the help and support of everyone who played a part in keeping me sane this week.

Anyone who wants to play a small recital in my living room... I'd be glad to have you!

(p.s. lest anyone have any ideas: As I told someone once, I never claim to be unbiased; I merely claim to be aware of my biases)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Confessions of a Nervous Host: Part I

Friday evening will be the first time I've ever hosted an event... The first time I've had more than two people in my home at the same time... The first time I've placed a catering order.

And I am freaking nervous.

Even if it weren't the first time I was hosting an event, I think I'd be a bit nervous, but the impetus for the get together will make for a truly special and fun evening -- but I kind of feel like it would be nice to have had some practice before hand (but what reason would I have used?)

There's another reason for nervousness that need not be discussed publicly, at least not at this point in time.

The guest list has been finalized and the number is lower than what I originally set for myself as a goal, but in hindforesight (yes, I am making up words) I think the number I have is good. While I had originally been fearful that I'd wind up with a room full of either completely identical or radically different people, I think that there should be a good mix for conversation.

My house is I think the cleanest it's been since I moved in, yet I'm still concerned that it's not clean enough.

Tending to hang on to things longer than I should, I've used this event as an excuse to declutter and organize my house. My garage leaves a bit to be desired, but, it is, after all a garage.

I am so thankful for the friends who have helped keep me in check -- everyone from my hair stylist ("If you've invited them into your home and they don't have a good time, well screw them!") to a close friend ("Just relax, have fun, and whatever will be will be") and Vivian, the general manager at Clyde's Bistro and Bar Room who is being quite generous with advice, food suggestions, and things that I certainly wouldn't have thought of on my own. Those three people, have really helped take the edge off.

And you know what? No matter what I'm going to have fun. And it ultimately supports a cause I'm passionate about (no, that cause is not myself.)

I'm really looking forward to it.

More details will come Friday evening.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert

Key: The Star Spangled Banner (arr. Damrosc)*
Johnson: Lift Every Voice and Sing*
Verdi: Overture to La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny)
Mendelssohn: Rise Up, Arise from Saint Paul, op. 36**
Mozart: Allegro from Violin Concerto No. 3, K.216 (Randal Goosby, violin)
Rutter: Alegro vivace from Gloria**
Hoiby: I Have A Dream (words by King, Jr., Brian Keith Johnson, baritone)
Steffe: Battle Hymn of the Republic (Words by Howe)*
Traditional: Elijah Rock (A Capella)**
Traditional: Soon Ah Will Be Done (A Capella)*
Halistork: Epitatph for a Man Who Dreamed - In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Traditional: We Shall Overcome (words by Tindley and others, arr. Brown, Jr.)
Three Unannounced Encores (Two for choir and orchestra, one A Capella)*
Willie Anthony Walters, conductor; *- Central State University Chorus and Celebration Chorus; ** - Central State University Chorus (William Henry Caldwell, director)

(The Musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra donated their services for this evening's concert)

For the past few years I've been interested in attending the Orchestra's MLK concert, but invariably by the time I know tickets are available there are no more tickets to be had. Today the stars aligned. As the end of the published program came, my initial thought was "well, I definitely won't need to do this again." -- three quite enthusiastic encores later, I'm not quite as definite, and kind of feel like finding a gospel church service.

The concert was perfectly adequate, but when presented by an organization who barely has adequate in a dusty corner of its vocabulary it is disappointing, and accompanied by what was by far the rudest audience I've encountered in Severance (patrons coming and going while music was playing, incessant crinking of celophane, and most irritatingly several full-blown, feature-length conversations amongst patrons seated within a few rows of me)

Before discussing the music, something pre-concert bothered me: I've written in the past about my dislike of General Admission seating in large venues; this concert was general admission. With that in mind I arrived well before the 7pm concert start time. Seating began at 5:30 and after finding that my first four preferred areas in the hall weren't actually open for general admission, I wound up in the lower balcony; I selected a seat on an aisle and settled in. At about 6:15 an usher asked if I would mind moving in to to the middle of the row because another patron would like my seat. "I'm sorry, no." she asked again. "I'm sorry. No." -- this was incredibly rude on the part of the usher--implying that though I had arrived early to secure my seating preference, I should give it over to someone who arrived nearly an hour later. But she asked a third time. "I am sorry. NO." Had she asked a fourth time, I think my answer would have been less polite, and possibly in the only other language I speak*: Je suis desolee, non.

If General Admission seating is to be used, ushers should be aware how incredibly disrespectful it is to ask a seated patron to move more than once, let alone the uncomfortable position it puts the patron being asked in.

Ok, that little rant aside... generally, the orchestra sounded dull and when the choir(s) and orchestra were performing together, the sensation was difficult to describe: It wasn't that the orchestra was getting lost under the chorus, or the chorus was getting lost under the orchestra but at times during the first half of the concert it seemed that both were happening simultaneously.

The first several pieces were almost completely unremarkable, save for the fact that all of the musicians (save for the difficulty that would pose for the cellists) stood for The Star Spangled Banner, something I've not seen before, but certainly a show of respect worth repeating. Randall Goosby, the quite talented young violinist playing the solo portion of the Allegro from Mozart's third violin concerto was a highlight of the evening with beautiful technique and a great sound.

I had heard baritone Brian Keith Johnson sing baritone in the Wexford Carol during the Cleveland Orchestra's Christmas concerts and was a fan; tonight I wasn't quite as fond of Mr. Johnson's performance, but I think the selection of works had more to do with it: The I Have a Dream speech is forceful in not just because of its naked words, but in their punctuated delivery. When set to music, at least with this arrangement, it looses the punctuated delivery and a large portion if it's moving force; it didn't help that Mr. Johnson was difficult to hear over the orchestra.

The second half of the program was much stronger; Battle Hymn of the Republic was moving and perhaps the best balance between chorus and orchestra of the evening.

The promise of Elijah Rock was a large part of the reason I stayed through intermission--having enjoyed it when I heard it during the Blossom Festival Season; tonight's A Capella presentation sung by the Central State University Chorus was energetic, clear, and just plain fun, with some humorous displays of talent sprinkled throughout.

I think the full title of Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed may take longer to say than the piece did to play, but it was wonderfully somber tribute.

The three encores -- the first A Capella, the latter two including chorus and orchestra -- saved the evening; though I couldn't actually understand any of what was being sung (and can't even guess what they were) the energy coming from the stage and reflected by the audience was delightful to listen to.

*- for very minimal values of "speak".

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Fridays@7: Heroic Strauss

Wagner: Overture to Tannhauser
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben ("A Hero's Life") (William Preucil, solo violin)
Franz Welser-Most, conductor
Post concert entertainment by Mango Blue

Tonight, it seems, was an evening of small-world connections: Before the concert I bumped into a friend of a friend whom I had met just a week ago (and her boyfriend); after the concert I met several people whom I've crossed paths with before and one whom I had not met before but with whom I share a common professional vocabulary ("Technical Theater", "DMX", "Extron", "Crestron", and the name of one of my clients). Such is the Fridays@7 program: A mix of the old and new, the familiar and unfamiliar converging for a delightful evening.

(Side note: the way-unconfirmed rumor mill has it that the neighbor/renter who's home was hit by last weekend's Over the Parking Lot and Through The Woods incident is a new member of the Cleveland Orchestra staff-- if you read this, stop by and say hi sometime!)

This weekend also forms a portion of the Orchestra's Subscriber Appreciation month; while my status as a subscriber is debatable (though I attend every concert weekend--more than is actually included in a subscription--for financial and scheduling reasons I purchase single tickets, but I am a Celebrity Series subscriber) I donned the "The Cleveland Orchestra Subscriber" blue ribbon next to my standard violin lapel pin -- I will seldom turn down the chance to show support for a Cleveland institution, particularly one so great as the Orchestra.*

For the tradional part of the evening both peices -- 0ne an overture, the other consisting of six movements played without pause -- semeed good choices for an audience that was a clear mix of first timers and seasoned veterens. First-timers often applaud between movements, a practice flooked upon with derision by many veterens and with this presentation the possibility for faux pas was completely avoided.

The Orchestra, though, did not pull any punches: Both pieces were played with the typical quality and enthusiasam, leaving a thoroughly enjoyable product. In the overture to Tannhauser, the opening seemed melencholy, yet the triumpent ending in the brass played over a still melancholy bed of strings seemed to signal a victory of confidence.

Likewise, in Strauss's A Hero's Life, it was not so much music that was pasively listened to but muisic that stuck and resonated within the body. I was particularly oved by the firt, second, and fourth movmenets (The Hero, The Hero's Adversaries, and The Hero's Battlefield, respectively), but William Pruecill's solo violin was stunning in its beauty, as was the play between the solo first and second violins. The remainder of the strings were solid, and received quite a workout. The coment by one menber that ot was the most notes that they've had to play in recent memory was not hard to fathom.

Following the formal concert, Mango Blue provided entertainment with a bit of spanish flair in the foyer that was toe-tappingly fun, and I stayed through the end -- with a growing number of couples dancing in Severance Hall's grand foyer.

Several hundred Groupons were sold for tonight's concert; with an experience like tonight it's not hard to imagine that there will be many repeat customers out of that group.


*- Speaking of which, does anyone know where I can get one of the "TCO" bumper stickers? I've looked for them in the Orchestra gift shop but haven't found them so far.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cleveland Play House: Backwards In High Heels: The Ginger Musical

(At the Cleveland Play House through January 30th)

A good and very dear friend* of mine is a strong, vivacious, "ginger" (her term) redhead who happened to celebrate her birthday on Monday. I offered a pair of tickets to Backwards In High Heels to celebrate the occasion. Tonight we met at The Cleveland Play House -- her first visit for a show in any of the Play House's venues -- and saw The Ginger Musical.

Confessing first that I'm familiar with Ginger Rogers's largely in name and peripherally in reputation I wasn't really sure what to expect for a story.

Story is, unfortunately, this show's weak point: The first act takes things a bit out of sequence and generally the pacing felt a bit on the slow side which allowed my attention to wander a bit much. The first act covers her childhood and career through Broadway, but felt a bit superficial and two dimensional at points -- and it also seemed that the information could have been covered in half the time. The second act, exclusively covering her career in film, by contrast, seemed much more in depth, better paced, and three dimensional.

Aside from the story it was an entirely enjoyable evening -- a true triple-threat cast who managed to act, sing, and dance with impressive energy both simultaneously and with impressive intensity through the show.

This was the fist time I can recall the Bolton Theater's orchestra pit (the existence of which I only discovered within the past year) and it was delightful to have a live orchestra playing for the evening. Particularly notable were some deliciously soulful notes that drifted up from the cello late in Act II.

So... Did this earn a spot in my "best theater" list... not really, was it an enjoyable escape from reality full of song, dance, and music...certainly. And a great way to celebrate my friend's birthday.

The Cast: Anna Aimee White, Ginger; Matthew Labanca, Marcus/Director/Fred Astaire/Others; James Patterson, Jack Culpepper/Hermes Pan/Jimmy Stewart/Others; Heather Lee, Lela; Benjie Randall, Joe/Bill McMath/George Schaffer/Lew Ayres/Others; Christianne Tisdale: Martha May/Louise/Ether Merman/Others.

The Band: Tim Robertson, musical director/keyboards; Thomas A. Fries, percussion, Joe Miller, trumpet; Rich Shanlin, reeds; Tim Powell, bass; Linda Atherton, cello.

*- Read not anything more into that. (It seems like every time I use the F word I have to clarify this for someone. I'm not taken at the moment.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

CIM Faculty Recital: Jung Eun Oh, soprano; Alicja Basinska, piano

Handel: Care Selve from Atlanta; Endless Pleasure, Engless Love from Semele
Bellini: Vaga luna, che inargenti
Schubert: Romanze aus Rosamunde; Ganymed; An den Mond; Nahe des Geliebten
Wolf: Mignon III; Citronenfalter im April
Hahn: L'Heure exquise; Sopra l'acqua
Debussy: Deux Romances
Argento: from Siz Elezabetethan Songs
Jung Eun Oh, soprano; Alicja Badinska, piano
at Cleveland Institute of Music's Kulas Hall.

I want to say -- and so I will -- that this was my first true vocal recital; I've heard vocalists at other recitals but I think this was the first time where the vocalist was the center of attention. As such, I don't really have any frame of reference to draw comparison. Based on the enthusiastic response of the voice students sitting around me, I'd say it rated pretty well.

Based on the weather and the number of things I still feel like I need to do for my little get together I was tempted to pass on tonight -- but then realizing I can only wash my floors so many times before it becomes excessive, and I needed a break from thinking about this (I really am thinking about it far too much -- a first time entertainer, I'm both really looking forward to it and worried about making some giant faux pas): Having mentioned to a friend earlier today that I really wanted to try more vocal music I thought it would be a touch hypocritical not to trek through the snow.

Anyway for the music: I was stunned by the powerful voice that came from Ms. Oh's lips when she first took the stage. Generally, I really enjoyed the English (Handel's Endless Pleasure, Endless Love; Argento from Six Elizabethan Songs) and was nearly hypnotized by the French (Hann's L'heure exquise; Debussy's Deux Romances). While they sounded beautiful, I was not nearly as captivated by the German (the collection of Schubert works, and Wolf's Mignon III [I did like Wolf's Citronenfalter im April]) or Italian (the majority of Hahn's works; Handel's Care Selve.

But I have to admit that I'm impressed that the evening rolled through four languages and none of them seemed to give Ms. Oh the slightest hesitation.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

With Photos: Real-Life Cops: Over the Parking Lot and Through The Woods...

Over the Parking Lot and Through The Woods the Drunk Driver Goes

One of those less glamorous things, but still a thing that I very much appreciate about living in Cleveland Heights is the Cleveland Heights Police Department. Normally they're pretty much ubiquitous but out of the way; when you call them though...

This department is, from my understanding, one of the most highly educated in Ohio with a shocking percentage holding graduate degrees. To avoid disrupting the neighborhood, they also have a lights-but-no-sirens-unless-necessary policy; tonight, for example, I don't think a single siren was used.

Anyway, tonight I was sitting in my living room starting to type my comments for tonight's Cleveland Orchestra concert when I noticed headlights in the parking lot of the elementary school right next door to my house... These lights would normally catch my attention--since there's little legitimate reason for a car to be in an school parking lot at 10:30 on a Saturday.

Tonight, though, they particularly caught my attention because they seemed to be moving at a very high rate of speed and at a strange angle (what was I saying a few days ago about Situational Awareness?).. sure enough, not long after I had looked up. Crash. I see the lights crossing the line of the fence and small thicket of trees that separates my town home building's parking lot from that of the elementary school. Crash. Bang. The lights haven't slowed down at all. But they disappear from view. I assume that they've hit the driveway and are now out on Euclid Heights Boulevard after taking a rather reckless shortcut.

I dial 911. "Police, Fire, or EMS?". At this point I'm thinking reckless driver. "Police".
"What's going on?" well. You just read the last paragraph.

While describing what I had seen though, I realize that I'm hearing a horn sounding constantly. Not the nice musical kind of horn, either. "I think there's probably going to need to be EMS, too."
"We'll get someone out there."
The call ends.

I run out back to try to find out where the horn is coming from, thinking they might be out in the street. I find smoke coming out of a neighbor's garage. I meet two of my neighbors from across the street who have also come to of them is a nurse and makes her way over the mangled bottom of the garage door and into the garage.

"She's wasted."
"Can we turn the ignition off"

The other neighbor is calling 911 again.
I run out into the street to keep an eye out for the police. They're at the end of the street. I flag them down. (side note -- trying to flag a police officer down at night while wearing a black suit is a somewhat daunting proposition).

This is the part I love about Cleveland Heights: Faster than I could time -- no more than two or three minutes -- there were no less than eleven Cleveland Heights Police Officers on scene. Back in Southern California, the two occasions where I had use for police, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department could be counted on to arrive in about half an hour.

The Cleveland Heights Fire Department wasn't far behind.

The worked quickly, took reports. I tried calling my neighbor; no answer. I have no idea who the renters are or how to get hold of them. I keep trying my neighbor.

I've never seen this many police in the same place at the same time

Meanwhile, the area around my home looks like a real-life version of Cops: two crusiers blocking one end of Euclid Heights Bouleveard, a fire truck blocking the other, in between, another fire truck, an ambulance, and a half dozen police crusiers in between. In the parking lot behind my home there are three more crusiers (as I'm writing this, there are still four back there seemingly providing security until the garage door can be boarded up).

Activity in my parking lot

I'm invited into one of the cars to fill out a report (the one in front of the ambulance below) -- this is my first time in the back of a cruiser and I have to say that it's a little tight on leg room but it really smells fantastic. Truly; I need some of whatever air freshener that officer is using, 'cuz if you can make a police car smell that good I can't imagine what you can do with a normal car.

Even more police

As I'm walking back, the driver passes by on a stretcher. The general consensus is that she's wasted, and the only thing that saved her was apparently the school parking lot has a high enough curb that it slowed her down a little bit.

She still hit the garage door--and the back wall of the garage -- with enough force, apparently, to destroy the bathroom on the other side of that wall.

I have an investigator ring my doorbell a few times between then and now; I give him what information I know. I loan him a copy of the Yellow Pages.

One officer mentions that if it had been you or I driving we'd likely be dead; the amount of alcohol in her system plus the quick response may have saved her.

But Thank God I live in Cleveland Heights, where a under-five minute response time is the norm rather than the exception.


Cleveland Orchestra: Dohnanyi Conducts Tchaikovsky

Widmann: Con Brio (Concert Overture for Orchestra)
Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major, K. 417 (Richard King, horn)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") in B minor, Op. 74
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor.

[This post was delayed and abbreviated due to a completely unrelated incident that occurred during the writing; that incident will receive its own post]

I try to consider each concert in a relative vacuum, but in this case I would be deceiving myself to claim otherwise: Being the first Cleveland Orchestra concert since the stunningly awful An Evening with Dave Brubeck (which, even considering some pretty bad stuff at the House of Blues, is a strong contender for the worst concert I've attended) I was hoping for something great but would have likely been satisfied with mediocre.

This was far from mediocre. Mr. Dohnanyi expertly guided the orchestra through three well-done pieces.

Opening the program was Widmann's Con Brio: Though I'm far completely knowledgeable about the complete classical cannon, Con Brio immediately brings to mind Beethoven and Allegro Con Brio. Other than the title, though, I didn't hear any similarities to Beethoven, what I did hear were interesting uses of instruments -- particularly in the winds and brass -- and early I heard some echos of the woodwinds in the strings that actually made me chuckle.

I should probably say now -- with my train of thought derailed by the mentioned incident -- that with a sold-out house and standing room only, I found myself in Box 16, seat F -- much further off center than I generally aim for. Being that far off on the sides can affect the sound, the even side, in my past opinion, has made the strings sound brighter than elsewhere in the hall (as a string fan, this is not necessarily a bad thing). Tonight -- probably due to both Mr. Dohnanyi's talent and the somewhat unusual staging of the orchestra with cellos and basses stage right and the second violins stage left -- the sound was exceptionally even.

Returning to the program, Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 2 was fantastically lovely; I do not know that I have ever heard the horn played as beautifully lyrically as was done tonight by Cleveland Orchestra member and soloist Richard King; the first two movements were equally lovely, but the galloping, dance like, energy of the third movement rondo found me having to strongly resist the urge to tap my feet.

Following intermission and closing out the program, Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony ("Pathetique") was interesting, the beginning of the first movement had a distinct funeral dirge sense to it; the following movements I found myself being hypnotized by Mr. Dohnanyi's baton. Unfortunately the more insightful remarks on both the playing and the music itself have been lost in between calling 911 and filling out the police report... suffice it to say that the orchestra redeemed itself quite well.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 In Review

So I'm a few days late here and December was really somewhere between blah and depressing (Having a property tax payment, real mortgage payment, and mortgage-esque loan repayment to my parents perpetually on the horizon tends to get me stressed late in the month, and early in the month I was just feeling kind of isolated. Visiting my parents, I think, was that month's one saving grace. But then, of course, the year was capped off by the news of my paternal grandfather passing.

But the rest of the year, as a sum, really was pretty awesome.

The Situational Awareness and Dating Story: Though I did quite a bit of dating in 2010, I am still single. Aside from practice, I've tried to get a better idea of who I'm looking for, and what that feels like. I have a pretty good idea, intellectually, and physically who I'm interested in but I'm finally honing in on what really hooks me.

Situational awareness is "being aware of what is happening [around] to understand how information, events, and [...] actions will impact your goals and objectives, both now and in the near future". For better or worse, I tend to mantain a fairly high level of situational awareness, and it's rarely lost.

Essentially (since I've tried writing and rewriting this paragraph in a way that both provides more detail and doens't sound demented) I'm most attracted to people who that je ne sais qoui is so strong that I loose all situational awareness and we are the only two people in the world--the type of person with whom a connection is so compelling that I can walk into a parked car while listening to her. Its a feeling I've experenced but a handful of times....Ok, so enough of that...

January, spent my first quality time in New York City, primarily Manhattan, including 3 nights at the famed Waldorf=Astoria (probably not something I'll do again, though) and a night at the Hilton Times Square (one of the best hotels of 2010 for both location and service). I attended New York City Ballet for the first time [I wish Cleveland had a professional ballet company], and heard the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall [I was underwhelmed...but reminded of what a gem we have with both the Cleveland Orchestra and Severance Hall]. I discovered that if I ever leave Cleveland, the only other city I can imagine living in is New York--I love the mass transit, walkability, energy, and immense culture. I'd love to have a pied-a-terre in Manhattan some day, but I don't know that I'd permanently leave Cleveland.

We started the year strong in a musical theatre sense with both the standard Phantom of the Opera and the new Next To Normal, but I didn't really fall in love with any of the other musicals I saw in 2010.

Chasing a musical that I love on several levels, I saw Spring Awakening in Detroit, both the matinee and evening performance from the on stage seats on the same day-- the night before leaving an Akron Symphony concert at about 10pm and arriving at the hotel at 1am, and needing to be at a project in Columbus for 9am the next day. These were the 7th and 8th times I've seen that show in the 4th state, making it the show I've seen the greatest number of times without having any creative involvement.

I went back to Minnesota and had an interesting experience with the Minnesota Orchestra, along with visiting the Walker Art Center for my 2nd time -- It is one of a handful of museums outside of Cleveland that I'd make a point to visit again (the only other that comes to mind is the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in NYC)

I found myself back in New York for a weekend mid-year with just a handful of days notice, courtesy of PlayhouseSquare...and I attended the Tony Awards. And almost tripped Scarlett Johansson twice.

For the Cleveland Museum of Art's Summer Solstice, my aforementioned friend and I participated in and won a photo scavenger hunt, making it one of the most memorable and fun nights to date. I almost went in for a kiss at the end of the night*. I chickened out. I think I'll regret that for a while. Meanwhile, more of the collection has been installed and the remaining pieces of the puzzle are well under way. I continue to be a proud member of this fantastic and free resource.

Over the summer I made my way to my maternal grandparents in St. Ignace, Michigan which combined with Mackinac Island is an amazingly picturesque corner of the world and a nice way to get away from that hustle and bustle--but yet again, had to drive to Columbus for a project. I did a lot of driving to Columbus (and greater Pittsburgh) for work this year; I'm not particularly fond of either city, but I also keep forgetting to visit the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh [I swear it's on my list].

The only truly "new city" from this year was Jacksonville, Florida wherein I saw the "far" end of Interstate 10 -- the other end of which is near and no so dear in California, and touched the water of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Compared to the wonderful energy and compactness of New York City, Jacksonville disappointed me with so/so culture and urban sprawl second only to Southern California.

September saw Cleveland Public Theatre's Pandemonium benefit party where, in one of the more disappointing events of the year the woman I had invited for a first "date" canceled with what would be the most creative excuse I've ever been given, had it not unfortunately, been true.

In October, I visited Las Vegas where I served as an excuse for my dad to avoid a baby shower, having previously seen Cirque du Soliel's O [wonderful] and Zumanity [**] on my own, my dad and I attended Ka, which ranks as one of the most technically captivating bits of live entertainment I've seen, and a great use of technology.

Later in October, I attended Heights Arts's 10th anniversary concert and everything Heights Arts does, thoroughly enjoyable, though 2 glasses of pinot grigio might have been a glass too many and I finished the night with a silent auction bidding war that I hadn't planned on getting involved with. But it is for a good cause.

Of course, throughout the year in Cleveland there were almost countless performances at...

...Cleveland Play House (Bill W. and Dr. Bob being the most moving drama of the year, The 39 Steps being one of the funniest),

...The Cleveland Orchestra (wherein I haven't missed a performance of a program at Severance Hall since the beginning of the 09-10 season, and only missed two weekends of the Blossom season.) If I was going to choose one concert from 2010 -- it is tough. I've enjoyed most of them, though Ashkenezy's Pictures at an Exhibition and Mahler's Symphony No. 1 (combined with Franklin Cohen playing Neilsen's Clarinet Concerto) both spring to mind.

...The Cleveland Institute of Music continues to amaze with a seemingly endless (except at the holidays and summer) menu of free concerts by amazingly talented students and faculty. Quite possibly one of the most delightful recitals I've heard, was violinist Diana Cohen's Second Master of Music recital.

...If I were to list every other organization that made a mark on my 2010, I'd invariably leave a few out...and this post is already long enough.

Oh, and I've continued studying the violin. It's a long and steep hill, but I'm making progress. I'm getting pretty good at reading music, my tone is improving, but I still have a way to go with rythm.

Suffice it to say, it turns out 2010 wasn't that bad. Let's see if 2011 can beat it!

*- Excluding relatives, there have been exactly 0 thus far. Hey, I'm socially conservative.
*- Not really for me. Hey, I'm socially conservative.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Heights Arts: New Years Day Brunch

For the past 10 years Tommy's on Coventry has hosted a New Years Day brunch to with all proceeds and tips benefiting Heights Arts. For the past two or three years I've been peripherally aware of the brunch but in the past that awareness didn't come until January 2nd or so.

This year I the Heights Arts newsletter in mid December and promptly marked my calendar. Despite being generally neither a morning nor breakfast person* and last night being, obviously, a late night I was awake bright and early this morning.

Not sure what to expect and with temperatures in the mid-50s and a a light rain I decided to take advantage of the wonderful day and I took the 10-minute walk to Tommy's shortly after the 10am start time... [two of the things I love about Cleveland Heights are Heights Arts and the walkability] when I arrived, I found a line that already stretched out the door and down the sidewalk with conversation buzzing up and down the line, spirits in no way diminished by the occasional droplets of water plopping down on the not-so-huddled masses.

Working that line, it was easy to spot Peggy Spaeth, Heights Arts' bubbly and tireless executive director -- this morning donning an apron and handing out numbers to those waiting. It seems groups of one weren't terribly common and the suggestion was made that I might join another Heights Arts supporter slightly further up the line who was dining also for one. Under the heading of "no harm in meeting new people", it was a suggestion I took up at once.

From that point we were seated relatively quickly -- the groups in front of us needing larger tables -- and our $10 per person admission was taken. The menu is simple: All you can eat pancakes, bacon, eggs, and sausage with coffee, orange juice or several other beverages [Tommy's trademark milkshakes were not, however, on the menu]. Service, by an entirely volunteer waitstaff, was exceedingly prompt, and the food -- my order consisting of pancakes and bacon -- was delightful.

Conversation with the random stranger I was paired with added an additional layer of interest and enjoyment to the meal; I've recently realized I enjoy learning about people and what brings them to where they are -- physically and metaphorically -- at that particular moment. In my case, the lady across the table was a recently retired school librarian and mother of two who relocated to Cleveland Heights in the mid 80s because of the great environment it offered her children, an environment she says has stayed pretty consistent over the past 25 years.

After our meal was over I caught Ms. Spaeth still working the ever-growing line of local arts supporters -- now stretching not only the length of Tommy's facade, but the entire length of Mac's Backs bookstore next next door. Mac's was also open and donating proceeds to Heights Arts, and while standing in front of that storefront my eye caught the cover of The Severances: An American Odyssey. Living in close proximity to the former Severance family estate (now Severance Town Center) and a frequent benefactor of the families philanthropy (The Cleveland Orchestra's Severance Hall home, and the Severance Purchase Fund at the Cleveland Museum of Art being the two most visible legs of that giving) I was curious, and purchased a copy

I realized walking home from that meal -- and after stopping by Phoenix Coffee for a latte to warm the hands -- that that would be a cool way to do a meal: Just get a random collection of single (not necessarily in the relationship sense -- in the sense of "not with anyone else at that particular meal") and seat them at tables of two for lunch or the like. Of course some conversations would be better than others, but it would be an interesting experiment, and better than passing a meal in silence.

*- When weighing the options between "more sleep" and "breakfast" sleep wins virtually every time.

Cleveland Pops Orchestra: New Year's Eve (Wicked Divas)[Updated]

"So raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways...Just come on and come on and raise your glass" -- Pink, Raise Your Glass.

Cleveland Pops Orchestra 2011 Baloon Drop

[The program can be found at the end of this post]
Update: Aparently I forgot the program the frst time around. It now really is at the end of the post.

Ok. So there wasn't any Pink on tonight's program -- and I'm going to say that that's probably a good thing [though I would love to hear it] -- but that anthem seems like as good a way as any to ring in 2011.

I was seriously on the fence about attending the tonight's concert...neither my last Cleveland Pops concert nor my last orchestra concert at Severance Hall were anything to write home about (and I've had mixed feelings about past Pops New Years eve concerts) -- and I was a little worried about the whole two Sopranos thing. Combined with the fact that I'm in my end-of-the-year financial meltdown mode (writing my check for property taxes always depresses me). Especially with how ill I was feeling yesterday, spending a quiet night at home was a serious contender. This afternoon I decided moping was a bad way to start a new year and picked up a ticket.

I think this, The Cleveland Pops Orchestra's 15th annual New Years Eve concert is my favorite of the four I've attended. The program was tight; there was a good variety of music, and Mr. Topilow kept himself under control quite well. While the Pops usually draws a slightly more diverse crowd than Cleveland Orchestra concerts, tonight's audience seemed particularly eclectic, ranging from late teens to possibly great-grandparents (one of whom, during the "light rock" post-concert in the lower lobby could be seen rocking out to Earth Wind and Fire's Let's Groove (Make Love Tonight).

Featuring Erin Mackey and Stephanie J. Block, both known for having appeared in the various productions of Wicked (though never the same production at the same time) there was a mix of relatively straight classical, Broadway show tunes and a little bit in between.

The bad was quickly dispensed with: Opening with the overused introduction to Also Sprach Zarathustra which sounded fine save for what I can best describe as rounded edges or in other words lacking the sharp delineations that I normally associate with that piece. A near seamless and slightly confusing transition into Chicago's And All That Jazz came next. The first of several links to musicals I saw in 2010, Chicago at PlayhouseSquare has the distinction of being the only musical I've walked out on -- and this rendition didn't do anything to encourage me to give the show a second try.

I Could Have Danced All Night (from My Fair Lady) and Don't Rain on my Parade (from Funny Girl) were both delightful, and followed by the stunning performance of Zigeunerweisen (Gipsy Airs) featuring high school junior and grand prize winner of the Petit Memorial Musical Scholarship Competition, violinist James Thompson: A stunning performance including some whimsical touches.

That great performance was, rather unfortunately, followed by a rendition of Strauss's Feuerfest Polka with horn accompaniment by the audience. If I return next year, I shall need to remember to drink more. Far more. before this piece.

With the incessant honking of horns fresh in my mind, Think of Me from Phantom Of the Opera -- another musical I saw in 2010 (Broadway and PlayhouseSquare) -- was beautiful cleansing of the palette. Like the other songs on the program, the balance between the unamplified orchestra and amplified singers was quite good, my one and only technical complaint was the use of electronic reverb on the singers: Probably not noticeable to most audience members and only really noticeable when lyrics trailed off, I'm not convinced it was necessary for the hall.
Ring Them Bells featured some interesting interplay between Ms. Block and the orchestra.

Closing out the first half, What's Up At The Symphony, a great medley of classical that has been used in Looney Tunes cartoons, and I hate to say it but I thin my favorite from the concert: a very high spirited and high energy Conga -- complete with the name sake lines forming in Severance Hall's aisles.

The second half was as enjoyable as the first, with the less significantly less tiresome staples of Anderson's Syncopated Clock with an unfortunate audience member with good rhythm filling in for a member of the percussion section, and Ohio's official rock song Hang On Sloopy (O-H-I-O) -- the latter was rather fun. Erin Mackey made for a more than suitable replacement for Celine Dion in My Heart Will Go On (from Titanic).

Closing out the published program, were three selections from Wicked (yet another 2010 musical) -- Popular, Defying Gravity, and For Good. All three were fantastic, and of the various versions I've heard on, and particularly with the somewhat overused Popular, off the theatrical stage arguably the best to date. For Good and Defying Gravity were wonderfully spellbinding and uplifting.

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2011! Though I haven't made any resolutions...I wouldn't mind not ending the year single. If you know anyone...feel free to put her in touch.


The Program
Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Introduction)
Kander and Ebb: Introduction and All That Jazz (from Chicago)*/**
Lerner and Loewe: I Could Have Danced All Night (from My Fair Lady)*
Styne: Don't Rain on My Parade (from Funny Girl)**
Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen (Gipsy Airs)***
Strauss: Feuerfest Polka
Webber: Think of Me (from Phantom of the Opera)*
Kander and Ebb: Ring Them Bells (from Liza with a "Z")**
Various arr. Barber: What's Up at the Symphony (Bugs Bunny's Greatest Hits)
Garcia arr. Reineke: Conga
Strauss: Radetsky March
Roberts and Jabara: No More Tears (from Enough is Enough) */**
Horner and Jennings: My Heart Will Go On (from Titanic)*
Anderson: Syncopated Clock
Kander and Ebb: Cabaret (from Cabaret)**
Russell and Farrell arr. Cerulli: Hang on Sloopy
Schwartz: Selections From Wicked (Popular*, Defying Gravity**, For Good*/**)
Carl Topilow, Conductor; *-Erin Mackey, soprano; **-Stephanie J. Block, soprano; ***-James Thompson, violin.