Monday, February 28, 2011

When The Unfamiliar is Familiar

Having survived PlayhouseSquare's Jumpback Ball relatively unscathed (but without meeting anyone significant) Sunday evening I made my way to Hopkins for my flight to Minneapolis.
(The picture to the right is the view from the conference room I'm working in for the first part of the week)

I checked my bags and walked without delay to the TSA agent. "Make sure you visit the Secretary of State by May 14th" he advises after a quick glance at my Driver's License. Oh, shoot, my licence expiring and my 27th birthday are both only about 3 months away. I feel old. You can tell a lot about a person's roots by their word choice for various situations. Note that he said Secretary of State, not DMV (my default as an ex-pat Californian), not BMV (what most Ohioans will give you)...but Secretary of State... If I had to place money on it, I'd bet based on that peculiarity he's originally from Michigan. I was well on the other side of security by the time that clicked, and though curious it wasn't worth going back through to find out.

I got a shoe shine. I'm sure there have to be more convenient locations to get one's shoes shined in Cleveland, but I haven't found them. And my shoes are in desperate need of a shine. Nothing like walking dress shoes through active construction sites on a regular basis to keep a shoe shining, right? Forgoing escalators, elevators, and moving walks, I make my way to my gate enjoying the brief bit of winter exercise that that sprint entails.

Late night flights are always a weird assortment of people, particularly on a Sunday, ranging from people who missed or were bumped from earlier flights (depending on origin and destination, a surprisingly large percentage, actually), people who wanted the cheapest ticket, period, business travelers savoring every last moment at home, and me -- both covering my bets in the case of a hangover [unnecessary as it turned out] and because I thought I might be attending an event at the Cleveland Playhouse earlier in the day [canceled as it turned out].

The flight was uneventful but a bit bumpy. I made a serious dent in The Severances: An American Odyssey... a somewhat longwinded look at the history of the family that among many other activities got the Cleveland Orchestra's Severance Hall home built; full report to follow after I finish it. Landing in Minneapolis. I fight my way through the people clogging the jetway waiting for their plane-side bags to be returned to them and to baggage claim. I'm a little miffed because the placard on the jetway clearly says "Checked bags may be claimed at Carousel 12". I'm waiting at Carousel 12. My bags aren't appearing. Then the announcement is made that checked bags are actually at Carousel 13. Great.

I grab my bags and make a run for the shuttle to the Rental Car center. It's a short ride and I find myself walking up to the Hertz counter and picking up my car. I'm assigned a Mazda 3. I do a walk around inspection, one scratch on the front bumper but otherwise acceptable*. I settle in, get my GPS and iPod going for the 90-minute drive south through a vast expanse of dark nothingness that separates Minneapolis and Rochester. Thank goodness this car has Cruise Control. I'm reminded of this same stretch of road where on my first visit I had a Minnesota State Trooper advise me that "I best not go more than 10 or 15 miles over the speed limit because we're really starting to enforce it". I see only a handful of cars, and no state troopers, but somewhat bleary-eyed and closer to 15 over than 10 I drive South.

I make my way to the hotel and check in just after Midnight. I've stayed here before; a DoubleTree, part of the Hilton Family that I've sold my hotel-dwelling soul to. The elevator is exactly where I remember it. As is the vending machine. As is the soap in the bathroom. I stumble into the bed with as much ease as if it were my own bedroom and sleep well. A heavy sleeper and pernially afraid that I'm going to miss an alarm on the road I wake up this morning to 4 simultaneous alarms (Cell phone, hotel room alarm, iPod, and wake up call).

I deal with some work email, take a long shower and leave the room. Rochester has an impressive network of Subways and Skyways linking core downtown buildings and the campus of a certain well-respected Clinic who shares its name with a condiment. It's not worth asking for a map; I know where I'm going and how to get there. It's a bit surreal in some ways -- I'm only here about once every six months but everything is exactly as I remember it. A jog here, an escalator there, and a grand piano at the end.

I meet my contact in a Subway-level lobby and we proceed to the room. It all feels so familiar. The day progresses relatively uneventfully and it's great to catch up with people that I usually only chat with on the phone or through the occasional email.

Though one of my favorite parts of my job is summed up as "New": New cities, new buildings, new places, new hotels, new restaurants, new discoveries there's something kind of nice -- particularly in the whirlwind of new that I've been in for the past weeks -- to travel to somewhere a bit familiar.

This client is also fun because the scope of this entire project is gigantic -- spanning several hundred rooms in three states -- and I developed a very unique solution to client's requirements that is just amazingly cool, if I do say so myself, and it's also unlike any of my normal projects. I like variety, it keeps me on my toes and from becoming complacent. Especially when that variety leads to solutions that other people claim aren't possible. I like telling people they're wrong.

Returning to my hotel room after a day I deal with a few emails that have stacked up, then I leave for dinner. The hotel has a restaurant, Pesca, that intrigues me, but there's a bar/restaurant that makes an amazing burger a short walk away. I walk to Newt's and order what has become my usual here -- Marvin's Burger -- "Our cook Marvin’s secret blend of seasonings with cheddar cheese, hardwood smoked hickory bacon, & a tangy chipotle mayo make this burger, in a word, Marvy!" Despite a relatively large catered lunch at the Clinic, It disappears within moments of appearing on the table in front of me. I think the chipolte Mayo is what pushes it over the top. I really want to bring some home. Rumor has it that they make it themselves, and I wonder at times if the clinic across the street is any inspiration.

I walk back to the hotel, despite the 20-degree temperatures, I forgo the skyways and take the sidewalks back; it really doesn't feel that cold and I make good time. But now I'm ready to call it a night again.

*- If I find more than 5 defects on a car, I won't accept it; I think this may have been the first time I took the first car I was assigned in Minneapolis. My thinking is if I can find that much damage on the car with awful parking lot lights, how much damage am I not finding?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Playhouse Square: Jump Back Ball 20 Passport To Party (#JBB20)

After tonight and in conjunction with other arts parties I've attended over the past year, I've come to one inescapable conclusion: Cleveland Arts people know how to throw a party.

It seems like for as long as I've lived in Cleveland, I've heard of Jump Back Ball either after the event or after it had sold out, and in any event the thought of renting a tux for the occasion just didn't appeal to me.

I purchased a tuxedo for my trip to the Tony Awards (that trip was courtesy of PlayhouseSquare) this past year, eliminating that excuse, and following PlayhouseSquare on Twitter helped avoid the hindsight issues by purchasing my ticket at the public on sale.

And tonight was the night. I arrived to the VIP Pre-party and was generally underwhelmed, but that feeling lasted only until the State Theater opened for the main event; it took a bit of time for the momentum to build but like a freight train once it got started it was still rumbling along at a decent clip when I excused myself for the evening. I'm not sure that the VIP portion was worth it, but the main event is certainly worth repeating.

"Never mix your alcohol" -- A wise friend.

If you've read my blog with any regularity you know I'm in the midst of the perfect storm of travel -- I spent most of the past two weeks on the road, and tomorrow (ahem, this) afternoon I head out again, this time to Minneapolis and Ann Arbor -- and having started the evening with a bit of a headache I was in a particularly conservative mood. Wise idea or not, that didn't keep me from taking a share of the the amazing volume of free adult beverages that were flowing through bars located in the lobby and stage of the State Theater Stage. I will probably regret it, but I think I wound up sampling a little bit of everything, from my regular vodka and Coke to wine to something I'm not entirely sure about. I certainly haven't drunk this much in at least four years.

The buffets featured a huge variety of food fitting into the global theme of the party; I don't trust buffets*, instead partaking in the the pretzels offered -- much less exotic, but still, I think it was one of the better pretzels I've had recently.

In the lobby an impressive array of raffles were offered, one particularly caught my eye: Not so much for the airfare or the tickets to Indians Spring Training but for the included In-N-Out Gift Certificate. It took everything I had to not buy a ticket for that. In the theater proper, everything from fortune telling to face painting to casino gambling was taking place. Redcoats were working the cash in/out tables for the "Casino" and I recognized an usher who is always a riot to talk to.

Then the State Theater stage opened for dancing and the vast stage -- being on it alone is somewhat overwhelming -- was quickly filled shoulder to shoulder. Lingering on the stage I met a Partner who was quite enthusiastic about the ball, and quite good about making introductions and touring the venue. His last words of advice: "Ask for everything."

And then back to the lobby for more music and dancing, and finally back home so I can pack for my flight.

Hopefully next year I won't have to be anywhere the next day.

*- It's a personal rule after a few nasty buffet runins... the same reason why as much as I'd like to have dinner before Cleveland Orchestra concerts at Severance Hall I've never eaten at the Severance restaurant, and likely never will barring a change to a non-buffet format..

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra:Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony

Stravinsky: Divertimento: Suite from The Fairy's Kiss
Vaskas: English Horn Concerto (Robert Walters, english* horn)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100
Andrey Boreyko, conductor.

I got back into Cleveland late this morning after spending the first part of the week in Columbus. My first partial day back in the office was anything but relaxing and I was still wound up (ok, particularly wound up for those who know me) as I settled in to my seat in Severance Hall's Box 3 for tonight's concert.

While I've had a bit of a standoffish relationship with the past couple weekends of Cleveland Orchestra concerts, I had no trouble embracing this week's concert. Music intended for ballet rarely does me wrong, and opening the program with Divertimento, a suite from Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss continued that tradition, though on the whole it was played a bit quiet for my tastes. I'm not sure that I have a favorite movement from the piece, but you could certainly feel the dance in the piece and there were moments where the imagined choreography struck me as vividly as the music.

I have to admit some confusion about the nationality of horns -- when I saw the piece on the program, the instrument I pictured was actually a french horn; and I believe that this was the first time I've heard a solo english horn -- the instrument looks like an extended and slightly bulbous oboe more than any horn, and had a beautiful sound. The folk music second movement was my favorite and it was extremely difficult to resist the urge to do some toe-tapping, while the closely related Elegy 1 and Elegy 2 that bracketed that movement were much more reflective; perhaps a little too much so for my current mood.

Following intermission the Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 didn't really hook me; the second movement was immediately gripping and held through the end of the piece. Though I loved the sound of the orchestra (and they more than made up for the lack of volume in the earlier pieces) the strings -- including Ms. Jones piano -- were particularly stimulating to my ear. Though the program note speaks of being "free and happy", and the piece ends with an explosive bit of triumph I didn't get the sense of being unconditionally free and happy. Nonetheless, ignoring any subtext -- merely perceived or actually -- it was a great end to the program.


*- Based on the interesting etymology and usage note in the program book, despite the voice of an English teacher screaming in agony in the back of my head, I'm adopting The Cleveland Orchestra's uncapitalized english horn usage.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Life of a Road Warrior: I want my own bed.

"Every night my dream's the same / Same old city with a different name / Men are coming to take me away / I don't know why but I know I can't stay" -- Arcade Fire, Keep the Car Running*

One of the things I most enjoy about my job is the travel. One of the things I sometime least enjoy about my job is the travel.

"Oh, you get paid to travel, that sounds fantastic!" is a common response... and honestly 90% of the time I really do enjoy it, but when you look at itineraries like what I'm in the middle of right now...

Monday, February 14th: Drive to Ann Arbor, stop at Ikea along the way. At least the weather is decent.

Tuesday, February 15-Thursday, February 17th: Working in Ann Arbor, staying upbeat in front of my client and their clients while fighting off a cold. Typically the symptoms follow my visit to Ann Arbor (and no it's not -- at least consciously -- an OSU v. Michigan thing); this time it seems I've brought it with me.

Friday, February 18th: Tie up a few quick loose ends, hit the road back to Cleveland. I get home early afternoon and spend the rest of the workday catching up on emails that require more time than I had to spare over the previous week.

Saturday-Sunday: Home!

This Monday (Yesterday): Work from home, take care of a few appointments, do a happy hour. Then drive to Columbus. Oh. My. God. In 5 years of living in Cleveland I can't ever remember the freeways being this lousy, especially south of the Turnpike...usually even if things are lousy in Cleveland they get tolerable south of I-80. I see four cars wobble then disappear into a ditch at various points along the way. My entire drive was a never-ending close call with some particularly close calls.

After 4 hours on behind the wheel -- which felt like weeks -- I make it to my hotel on the North side of Columbus. "Welcome, Mr. King-Cliby, we've been expecting you. We have your Diamond HHonors number on file..." a greeting that varies only on the pronunciation of my last name. The unexpected surprise "...and you've been upgraded to one of our Parlor Suites." I think this is actually the first time my top-tier HHonors status has actually earned me an upgrade. I get to my room and it is gigantic. I think a school bus could be parked in the bathroom with space to spare.

Today I spent 12 hours with my client walking that fine line between observing our scope of work to the letter and getting things done. This project has, ahem, evolved. And it's still evolving. I like problem solving but it frustrates me to tear up work that I've finished just to do something almost but not quite the same while under the scheduling gun. Hospitals make me uneasy; operating rooms make me queasy.

Tomorrow looks like it will be another 12 hour day.

Thursday I drive back to Cleveland, and spend the afternoon and Friday in the office -- the first time in nearly two weeks. I'm hitting the Cleveland Orchestra Thursday, instead of normal Saturday visit, because Saturday is PlayhouseSquare's Jump Back Ball (oh, crud, do I need to have my tux cleaned again?)

Sunday evening I fly to Minneapolis, then drive 90 minutes South to Rochester
Monday and Tuesday I'm in Rochester, MN
Wednesday I fly back from Rochester, drop off one suitcase and pick up another, and drive back to Ann Arbor.
Thursday and Friday I'm in Ann Arbor.
Friday or maybe Saturday I drive back from Ann Arbor.

And I can't get up the energy to look any further than next Friday on my calendar.

If you're counting, that makes for 1 1/2 days actually in my office in 3 weeks. Alternatively, that's 13 nights in 21 calendar days or 15 business days in hotels.

Though Columbus and Ann Arbor both rank pretty low on my "Cities I'm excited to visit" list, I think I'd feel a little bit better if I had time to actually explore the cities in daylight, but it feels like I'm missing so much on the performing arts front in Cleveland, of course not being able to practice my violin playing... and like I'm perpetually behind on the next project on my list.

I also wonder -- though I try pushing the thought out of my head -- if frequent travel is an obstacle in my pathetic romantic life... not just the "I don't have time for it" but if women see it as a negative, as in "flighty and unsettled".

Ok, so I've complained enough for one night.

*- This song from the album Neon Bible has been on my iPod for at least 4 years now... I only found out about Arcade Fire's Northeast Ohio roots after this year's Grammy Awards.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Diana Cohen & Friends (Musical Suprise Concert, First Unitarlian Church of Cleveland

Haydn: Piano Trio No. 39 in G major, Hob. XV/25*
Schumann: Trio #2 in F major, Op. 80*
Mozart: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581**
*- Trio Terzetto: Diana Cohen, violin; Tanya Ell, cello; Reanna Gutman, piano.
**- Diana Cohen, violin; Franklin Cohen, clarinet; Kirsten Docter, viola[1]; Mark Kosower, cello; Nathan Olson, violin.

Last year I found myself eavesdropping on assembled guests exchanging remembrances of Ms. Lynette Diers Cohen in the narthex before the sanctuary opened for seating; this year upon arrival, I found no one waiting in the narthex but the delicious sounds of musicians warming up wafting out through cracks in the doors. Peering through the portals in the doors and seeing several people seated in pews and with the nod of a church volunteer I seated myself and eased in to the wonderfully calm, meditative state that hearing musicians warm up so often lulls me to.

I found interesting the amount of time spent with the piano and pianist -- should the top of the piano be closed, half- or fully- opened? Can you hear my right hand? Too much left hand? I suppose it only makes sense, however I have to admit to having viewed the piano as much more of a "plug and play" instrument and the small glipmpse of effort involved to come up with a sound as beautifully satisfying was certainly eye opening.

In remembering her mother, Diana Cohen described the program as "happy music" and on that note I agree. As the outside temperature dropped, the warmth and clarity of the music inside only increased; as I'm writing this I'm still not sure that it's possible to choose a favorite from the program.

Haydn's Piano Trio was intoxicatingly happy; from the first notes it was difficult to resist the urge to just close my eyes and smile and that feeling stayed with me throughout. The number of notes compressed into the Rondo a l'Orgarese Presto and the speed with which they were played felt a bit like a runaway train, yet unlike a runaway train these musicians retained complete control throughout.

Schumann's Trio #2 gave Ms. Ell's cello the variety that the Haydn trio withheld; the result was the most soulful and introspective piece on the program. The balance between the three instruments left nothing to be desired and there was a lovely theme developed by Ms. Cohen's violin in the second movement.

It was announced that the musicians had donated their services for the concert, and the money gathered from the free-will offering at intermission would go toward planting a memorial garden at Cain Park. Mr. Cohen eloquently, and aptly, made the metaphor of being "planted" in Cleveland 35 seasons ago and being proud to live in a community where he is not only able to grow -- nurtured by an extremely supportive community and colleagues -- but where he can help others to grow.

During Mozart's clarinet quintet the sight of snowflakes falling caught my eye through the frosted glass windows of the sanctuary; like watching snow fall from the comfort of a living room fire raging in the fireplace, the beautiful warmth and subdued joy of the music couldn't help but to make this listener feel good.

[1] The program identifies Ms. Docter as a violinist, however I can say with virtual certainty that the instrument she was playing was not a violin.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Neilsen's Inextinguishable

Sibelius: Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105
Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35*
Unannounced Encore: Solo Violin*
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 ("The Inextinguishable"), Op. 29
Thomas Dausgaard, conductor; *- Frank Peter Zimmerman, violin.

Arriving at Severance Hall this evening, something felt a little off: Not musically, but in the ambiance of the foyer. As the hall opened and the concert starting time approached that feeling carried into the hall and on to the stage where there was a rather unusual "musical chairs" episode in the cello section just before concert start time. That unsettled feeling unfortunately stayed with me throughout the concert. Programmatically this concert also felt weird: After a desert of Sibelius, it stuck me as odd that his works were programmed back-to-back, the same with violin concertos.

Watching Mr Dausgaard conduct the Sibelius and Neilsen pieces -- which were done from memory -- was interesting, particularly as far as his physical relationship to the orchestra was concerned: Not only did he make full use of his podium but there were moments where he appeared to cross over the top of the musicians' stands to arrive practically in their faces.

The only work I felt fully engaged by was Sibelius's symphony, with pastoral images floating on a serene brook with moments of uncertainty and mystery returning to ease with triumph and including what I envisioned as the sun rising on a spring day (can you tell what I'm looking forward to right now?) from a horn call late in the symphony.

While I have no objective criticism for the Szymanowski violin concerto (or Mr. Zimmermann's playing of it) or Neilsen's symphony, I couldn't really even muster the feeling of apathy; while each had some interesting moments I was generally uninspired. Between these two The Inextinguishable would win by a hair -- particularly for the unusual placement at the front corners of the stage and the chaotic, war-like feeling they inspire late in the piece. Rereading the program note to alleviate the boredom, a letter describing the inspiration is quoted as
" express what we understand by Life Urge or Live Expression -- that
is, everything that moves, that has the will to life, that cannot be called
either bad or good, high or low, large or small, but simply... 'That which has
the will to life'... just life in motion, though different, very different, but
connected and as if constantly flowing, in one great movement of flow..."

and in that context, though I didn't love the piece musically the execution was crystal clear.

Beyond the music, it's always interesting -- particularly on the box level -- to hear the stories of how patrons came to the orchestra*. The gentleman in front of me "grew up in this box" but moved away from Cleveland, he returned to attend the screening of a film he produced in the late '60s that included members of the Cleveland Orchestra. This was his first time in the hall since the renovation in the early 2000s, and it was interesting to hear his impressions of the hall.

As for the film, Double-Stop, screening at the Cinametheque on Sunday, I had actually heard of it a few weeks ago and am intrigued both by the subject matter -- Cleveland's school busing for racial integration -- and time period, but it is only scheduled to screen once and I have a prior obligation. It was nonetheless interesting to meet the filmmaker, and I do hope that there will be an encore.

*- Previous "How long have you been coming to Severance?" answers have included, among others "Well, we've had this box for 43 years..."

Friday, February 18, 2011

FiveOne Music: Sonic Cinema (Experimental Orchestra, at Cleveland Public Theater)

Thompson: Quintet: Summer 2010 (Video: Tolliver)
Nowakowski: Quuntet No. 1
Zare: Phobos (Video: Wibanks)
Allen: Resonance (Video: Jones)
Bratt: Chronicles of Laughing Yesterday (Video: Kasumi)
At the James Levin Theater, part of Cleveland Public Theatres' Big[BOX] Series
(See the end of this post for a complete lists of he artists involved in the musical side of this project)

I hadn't heard of FiveOne Music until recently when a friend suggested this program as something I might be interested in. FiveOne's interesting, but daunting mission and vision speaks of a lack of boundaries to a new perspective on musical works and to challenge concertgoers through a collaboration of some sixteen musicians and composers .

And challenged would be a good adjective for my initial impression with Quintet: Summer 2010. When approaching any work -- visual or auditory -- the overarching questions I try to answer are "How do I feel?" and "How did the artist want me to feel?". Summer 2010 was presented in two movements with two distinct pieces of video. The first movement, Hawaiian Blue, didn't really connect with me on a visual or an auditory level; Screaming with the Circuits, the second movement, really grabbed me rhythmically but I didn't sense the connection to the accompanying visuals. As the piece ended and I realized that I felt an almost primal connection to the music, and on that note -- rightly or wrongly -- the video mixing politicians and primates made sense. I loved the persistent sound that developed throughout the work.

Quintet No. 1 didn't really captivate me, however, I was struck by some interesting and rather unusual sounds from the piano in the piece. While the music was interesting to listen to, the program note for Roger Zare's Phobos with video by Ross Willbanks speaks of uncertainty, tension, and an adrenaline rush but I didn't sense any of these emotions stirring within me in response to the music or the video.

The counterpoint to that rather apathetic reaction, though could be found with Jeremy Allen's Resonance. Played on solo piano in a blacked out room with synchronization to a video, it was the only piece on the program where the video and music felt as if they were a perfect couple unlike the comparatively awkward first dates of the other pieces. The beautifully lit and wonderfully executed video presents a musician in a warehouse alone with piano; beginning gracefully and devolving into an almost painful to watch sledgehammer-driven destruction of that instrument. The piano and pianist creating the music to accompany the visuals were submerged in darkness, but the notes the emerged were just as clear as the video. During the experience of seeing and hearing this piece, it struck me as the struggle, frustration, and inspiration of the creative process...and in reading the program note after the piece, it seems that was precisely the artists goal. Well done.

The program concluded with Michael Bratt's Chronicles of Laughing Yesterday; though I didn't feel as strong a connection between music and video both were delightful to encounter, with some subtle humor in both.

Non musically, for the first two pieces, the lights on the conductor's music stand were positioned in a way to be nearly blinding and quite distracting from the video, but the light also highlighted Violinist Ms. Furuta's facial expressions and were an interesting study in a musician's exertion and immediate reaction to both the conductor and the music.

The Musicians of FiveOne Music are: Melisse Brunet, conductor; Madeline Lucas, flute; Anthony Slusser, clarinet; Conrad Jones, trumpet; Doug Jones, trombone; Doug Jones, tuba; Adam Whiting, piano; Joeseph Rebman, harp; Jonathan Thompson, electric guitar; Nathan Von Trotha, William Delelles, percussion; Elizabeth Fututa, Deborah Milburn, violin; Timothy Mauthe, viola; Anna Bowman, cello; Jeremy Allen, Michael Bratt, composer.

This program repeats Saturday February 19th at 7:30 PM and and Sunday at 3:00 PM.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Kavakos Plays Siebelius

Mussgorsky: Prelude to Khovanshchina
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47*
Unannounced Encore: Solo Violin*
Debussy: Prientemps (Spring): Symphonic Suite
Debussy: Rondes de printemps (Spring Rounds)
Liszt: Les Preludes: Symphonic Poem No. 3
Jun Markl, conductor; *- Leonidas Kavakos, violin

As I wrote very early in the history of this blog, one of the primary reasons I attend Cleveland Orchestra concerts is for the discovery of new music. Call me a snob, but while I'll listen live classical all day*, I just can't get into listening to recorded classical; it doesn't grab me...even the best recordings are so undeniably flat and lifeless by comparison to the energy that is shared between audience and orchestra, and the immersive qualities of being in the same room. Lucky enough to live in a city that has both the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Institute of Music to feed that craving, I fully realize that that position may be untenable in other cities. But that's one of the Cleveland Pluses.

When the Orchestra goes on tour, indeed, it leaves an unfulfilled craving, a hunger that grows and I'm always hesitant upon their return that they will fail to satisfy exaggerated expectations; just like I'm always afraid when visiting home that an In-N-Out Burger (#2, spread only, extra-large Coke, please) won't be as wonderfully delicious as I remember.

Those fears were quickly and summarily but to rest as conductor Jun Markl made his Cleveland Orchestra debut. (Happy sigh). Opening the program with the prelude to Mussgorsky's Khovanshchina Mr. Mark's gesturing caught my attention but I was not immediately taken to the music; as the short piece reached the midpoint something subconscious took over, my heart rate slowed, my eyes closed, and an intractable smile enveloped my lips.

Sibelius's Violin Concerto, with the stunning work of Leonidas Kavoks likewise didn't initially grab me on a concious level, by the second movement the subconscious reaction was undeniable, something in the music bowing heartstrings just as finely as the instruments and nearly moved me to tears. Mr. Markl heald the absolute silence -- from both orchestra and audience -- following that movement, that when he finally relaxed I realized that I had at some point stopped breathing. The third movement was as stunning on a conscious level as the other two were subconsciously, and the end of the piece was greeted with the most enthusiastic applause -- and quickest standing ovation -- I can recall. Mr. Kavakos recriprocated with an unannounced solo-violin encore that was nearly as stunning as the concerto.

Debussy ruled the second half of the programs with Printemps and Rondes de printemps. For Printemps The orchestra so clearly evoked the fresh start of spring -- new growth, triumph over winter, that I feel compelled to describe the music as verdant. Certainly inspiring hope within the audience for the coming (soon, hopefully) literal thaw and spring growth. This piece, I know, left me longing for my weekend walks to the Museum of Art and Shaker Lakes that retreated to hibernation with the coming of snow.

Rondes de printemps, while perfectly enjoyable to listen to didn't inspire the same feelings. Likewise, Liszt's Les Preludes, when put up against the other pieces on this extraordinarily strong program -- and at the end of a concert charged with subconscious emotion -- I found it hard to really push myself into the piece, yet even still, the last few minutes were positively delightful.

*- Well, as one of the CIM Gala Concerts proved, about 6 hours without food or drink is my comfortable limit.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CIM Faculty Recital: Cohen/Docter/Ell/Kosower/Kwoun/Smirnoff

Reger: Clarinet Quintet in A Major, Op. 146 (1916)
Franklin Cohen, clarinet; Diana Cohen, Eli Matthews, violin; Kirsten Docter, viola; Mark Kosower, cello.
Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115 (1891)
Franklin Cohen, clarinet; Joan Kwuon, Joel Smirnoff, violin; Kirsten Docter, viola; Tanya Ell, cello.

While studying the violin one thing my teacher keeps reminding me of to help with intonation is to check my notes against the open strings, looking for a resonance in which the entire instrument seems to vibrate with an almost frightening energy. Tonight was one of those relatively rare concerts in which the musicians imparted that feeling of resonance not only in their instruments but in the audience.

Though I'm still feeling off my game -- but much better than I was at Friday's faculty recital -- being a great fan of Mr. and Ms. Cohen and Ms. Ell, I couldn't resist the urge to attend, joined by a handful of friends. Despite high expectations, I was not disappointed.

A person close to the music had warned me that the Reger wasn't easy to get on the first listen. Though I've since learned of a change in programming, I had originally expected to hear this piece a second time during the concert on February 20th and wasn't listening as critically as I might have been otherwise. Nonetheless, it was an amazing piece that while I might not have entirely "gotten" I really enjoyed listening to. From the first notes that internal resonance buoyed the soul and left me tingling for most of the piece.

While one of my concert habits is to close my eyes and try to pick out the sounds of one musician or instrument, the harmony was so cohesive and well that every time I tried to do this and well balanced that each time I tried to do this I failed. Worth noting is that this is the first time I've heard Mr. Kosower, the still relatively new principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The second piece on the program, Brahms' Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 would have been stunning on nearly any other program -- and indeed was stunning on this program. While it imparted that wondrous feeling I described above, it wasn't quite as strong as the Reger; the first two movements left me with a sense of anger and sorrow, respectively and I'm not sure I was in the most receptive mood for that, however at a few points during these movements delightful passages from Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Kwuon caused my ear to perk up. Beginning with the third movement (with the somewhat verbose notation Andantino; Presto non assia, ma con sentiment), and particularly following a beautiful passage lead by Ms. Ell's beautiful notes the blissful feeling from earlier in the concert was back to full strength.

Worth noting is that this was the first time I've heard CIM President Mr. Smirnoff play aside from a brief and decidedly not classical contribution after a Cleveland Orchestra Fridays@7 concert.

It was, in short, the type of concert that one may attends uncountable "fair" dozens of "good" and even a few "great" concerts in the hope of finding.


Friday, February 4, 2011

CIM Faculty Recital: "Bohemian Nights"

Bartok: Selected Duos from the 42 Duos for for Two Violins (arr. for violin and viola)*
Mozart: Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major, K.423
Martinu: Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola
Dvorak: Terzetto in C Major, Op. 74
Annie Fullard, Mari Sato, violin; Marcia Ferritto, viola
(*- Teasing Song, Sorrow, Pizzicato, Fairy Tale, Mosquito Dance, Hay-Harvesting Song, Cushion Dance)

Based on the way I've been feeling for the past couple days, in all honesty, I shouldn't have gone to tonight's concert -- and the kind of whoa feeling standing during intermission confirmed that. But it's quite difficult attend an event with Annie Fullard playing and not have fun; likewise it's difficult for me to resist the draw of Dvorak.

The program opened with a seven of Bartok's 44 duos for violins, arranged for a violin and viola. Each of the seven moved swiftly and had a very distinct sound but were too short to really become engrossed in. My favorites were Pizzicato, which as its name implies was played entirety pizzicato, and the lively Cushion Dance.

Next up Mozart's Duo, K. 423. I am a fan of stringed instruments, with the violin being my favorite by a hair. However, the smallest member of the eponymous family can, at times, thanks to its high voice, sound a little screechy to my ear regardless of the talent of the musician playing it. Such was the case with the first movement allegro. The two instruments found a wonderful sound in the second movement, held through to the Rondo third movement.

During the pause fallowing the Mozart, I overheard the couple behind me discussing the upcoming piece: "Have you ever heard of him?" "Who?" "Martini, I think" "Who?" "Martini...Broccoli Martini?" "Never heard of him" "Oh." "What a weird name." "Would you even want to drink that?" I think it was the funniest thing I've heard this week (for the record the composer is Bohuslav Matrinu)

For a while it seemed that Ms. Fullard's typical practice of providing wonderfully helpful insight into the music mixed with humor may be omitted from the program. Those fears were put to rest during the transition into the Martinu piece, where Ms. Fullard linked the Mozart, Martinu, and Dvorak pieces and, perhaps more importantly, put to rest a debate that began brewing in my section of the audience about who was "mother" and "daughter" in the mother-daughter duo of Ms. Fullard and Ms. Ferritto.

As that tie was introduced, Martinu's Three Madrigals was inspired when the composer heard then Cleveland Orchestra Concertmaster Joseph Fuchs rehearsing Mozart's K. 423 Duo with wife and violist Lilian Fuchs. Likewise interesting, while Googling for confirmation I stumbled across this Gramophone article from November 1953 wherein the person reviewing Mr. and Ms. Fuchs's recording of both remarked "There is a feast of interest to be found in these sophisticated pieces which unlike the Mozart Duos lie outside the scope of all but the most technically brilliant string players". Though some of the technical sophistication may be beyond me, I cannot help but to agree with the "feast of interest" description. Particularly interesting to me was a passage in the second movement where the viola was strummed rather than bowed or plucked-- the sound struck me as exceedingly harp-like.

Rounding out the program was Dvorak's Trezetto. Regrettably (and see my "I shouldn't have done this..." above) while I greatly enjoyed hearing it -- and it seemed to fly -- I have no meaningful reaction other than noting that one patron near the front of the hall was allowed to snore, loudly, through virtually the entire piece and at time this snoring had the unfortunate effect of overtaking and obliterating the quieter notes.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CIM Orchestra: Debussy/Prokofiev/Beethoven

Debussy: Nocturnes
Prokofiev: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Carl Topilow, conductor; Laura Ha, violin.

A park bench not far from CIM in University Circle is inscribed with the anonymous quotation "I come here to find myself, it's too easy to get lost in the world" -- in many ways, this is true of me and classical music, especially in the midst of a hectic week in the office (Looking at my calendar I now have free time somewhere around March 7th, possibly.)

Based on my recent streak with large ensembles audiences, it was so refreshing to attend a concert that suffered from no technical difficulties, an audience that was politely attentive without so much as a misplaced cough let alone a ringing cell phone, and generally without detraction.

Nuages (clouds) got the evening off to a rather slow start, capturing the blue skies and leisurely drivting clouds that Clevelanders can look forward to in a few hopefully short weeks. Fetes (festivals) struck me as more ominous than festive.

I'm befuddled by Prokofiev's Concerto; not so much the music but my reaction to it: There were parts where at the same instant I found myself oscillating between really enjoying the piece and eagerly waiting for it to end. I had no such qualms with Ms. Ha's performance, however, and her fingers seemed to effortlessly glide across the fingerboard of her instrument.

The hall had noticeably fewer occupants following intermission. Without qualification Beethoven's Symphony No. 5* was my favorite and the strongest of the evening. While the allegro con brio first movement opens with what are quite possibly the most well known notes in classical music--and they received a forceful treatment tonight--but the remaining three movements were breathtaking beginning with a beautiful introduction to the second (andante con moto) movement lead by the cellos and a theme in the high strings that was hypnotic.

*- Though I would be willing to swear that I've heard this symphony performed before in reviewing my notes it would seem that this was the first time I've heard it live.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Playhouse Square: Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific

The Lincoln Center Theater production of Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific; PlayhouseSquare Palace Theatre through February 13th.

The voyage into the South Pacific at PlayhouseSquare is less than smooth sailing technically, but otherwise is an enjoyable diversion with Cleveland's particularly wintry weather. PlayhouseSquare VP of Theatricals Gina Vernaci's program note remarks that "In the first five minutes I felt myself slopping into another world. It was as though the string section of the orchestra possessed a mystical power...."

As the orchestra struck up and played through the overture, from my seat immediately behind and a few hairs to the right of the conductor*, I was powerless against that mystical power. I don't think I've heard anything in the Palace Theater sound as wonderfully hypnotic -- certainly the highlight of the KeyBank Broadway Series thus far. That trance, however, was broken in the first scene and punctuated throughout the remainder of the show.

Before that though, late in the first act Captain Brackett (Gerry Becker) sends a package to a lady at "325 Euclid Avenue, Shaker Heights, Ohio" -- I'm sure many in the audience (and there was an audible reaction) may have thought that this was a insert-current-city-name-here type move, my initial reaction, until I remembered that it is, in fact, scripted that way. (And of course, Euclid Avenue doesn't run through Shaker Heights, 325 Euclid being not far from Public Square and only blocks away from the theater where this production is staged. (If you recall my Walking Tour post from the summer, Rodgers & Hammerstein had an affinity for Cleveland, with the first tour of South Pacific opening in the Hanna theater just around the corner)

In that first scene Henry (Christian Carter) and two children interact. The children were very obviously miced; Mr. Carter either was not miced or his mic was never turned on during his time on stage, and combined with a general lack of projection it was quite difficult--even from the front row--to hear, let alone understand, his dialogue. The following scene, the mics sat on the edge of feedback for far too long. The combined issues of mic cues being late or missed entirely, odd irregularities in sound level, wireless interference, and a particularly glaring incident of feedback -- just in case you hadn't noticed how generally lousy things were until that point -- persisted throughout, though were far fewer in the second act.** Had the issues with audio not been the pesky reminder of the real world, it is entirely likely that once pulled in I would have stayed in through the show.

Somehow, though, even with those challenges the orchestra sounded uniformly glorious throughout with a lovely balance; a welcome sound to ears that have been without orchestral music for an seemingly ungodly period of time. It is refreshing and worth noting that of the 26 musicians in the orchestra, again referring to Ms. Vernaci's program note, 22 of them are Clevelanders.

The songs of South Pacific have become hackneyed staples of orchestra pops programs. On one hand I was hesitant to see South Pacific because I don't truly love any of the pieces that have been excerpted and exploited; on the other hand I was curious to encounter them in their natural surroundings -- that is, in context. It was well worth the adventure. Though Some Enchanted Evening, I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, and There Is Nothing Like A Dame are still songs that I'm in no real hurry to hear again in context they make remarkable sense and were entirely enjoyable to hear from this talented cast.

Songs that I've not encountered out of context (A Cockeyed Optimist, Happy Talk being the most noticeable) and the innumerable music used to bridge scenes were great discoveries.

The cast presented believable, three-dimensional characters and the set was beautiful; neither gave a glimpse of that unfinished edge often lurking at the edge of the stage.

*- To be specific, Row D, Seat 313. Rows A, B, and C do not exist for this production.
**- It should also be noted that I overheard the conductor make reference to a new sound system for tomorrow, so many of these issues may be addressed, however it seems discourteous of PlayhouseSquare to not offer an explanation or apology to the patrons at tonight's performance.