Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CIM Orchestra: Sasha Makila Conducts Shostakovich/Corigliano/Brahms

Shostakovitch: Festive Overture, Op. 96
Corigliano: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (John Lee, piano)
Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
Sasha Makila, guest conductor.

A good friend joined me to attend her first concert at the Cleveland Institute of Music this evening. Through sheer chance we wound up a couple rows further back than my "normal" location. While we settled in with some conversation -- and while the orchestra warmed up -- I noticed that the orchestra seemed louder than I remembered and throughout the concert, the acoustics generally seemed more focused and generally favorable. Note to self: New seating location.

I've generally found myself to be a fan of Shostakovitch's works, but closer to the dawn of this blog and my exploration of classical music -- in other words, October 2009, I heard the Festive Overture and said that it left me "generally unfulfilled". Revisiting the overture tonight, that sentiment couldn't be further from the hall -- bursting with energy and with chest-thumping percussion, it was immediately gripping. The strings under Mr. Makila's baton were particularly lovely, and I don't think anyone could claim that it was played too quietly.

A composer whose name I didn't recognize, John Corigliano's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, was again beautifully clear with some great passages in what was generally a tumultuous and unsettled piece. Listening to the work I was trying to hear a story threaded through the work but I'm not sure I ever convinced myself of a single outcome.

Lastly, Brahms Symphony No. 2 -- where the music just sung so beautifully and to such an extent that I found myself lost amongst the notes and between movements. While the first three movements were a touch slow for my already short and seasonal allergy-impaired attention span, the fourth movement (allegro con spirito) returned to the impressive and extremely expressive joyful tone of the Festive Overture.

Overall, I think this may have been the most impressive CIM Orchestra Concert to date, an I'm certainly glad that I heard this version of the Festive Overture -- I think I may have to download it from InstantEncore, which considering my gneneral avoidance of recorded classical is high praise indeed.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PlayhouseSquare 2011-12 KeyBank Broadway Series Launch

Today was the day that PlayhouseSquare announces their next KeyBank Broadway season. Tonight was a party with a recap of those selections for group sales, and I was glad to be invited back. Before we get to the new, let's not forget that there are still a few shows left in this season not the least of which are Next To Normal which I've been eagerly anticipating since seeing it on Broadway (and I made a minor fool of myself by singing along with I'm Alive while the theater filled up this evening) and Jersey Boys, although I think I'm going to pass on it this time, it holds a special place in my musical heart having seen it twice pre-Broadway, and pre-Lincoln in Cleveland while I was living in California at the La Jolla Playhouse (including once with director Des McAnuff and Frankie Valli just a couple rows in front of me). The warmup for tonight's announcement was a buffet and open bar -- the food was pretty good, and the conversation amongst fellow theater-goers was likewise enjoyable. It was great to hear what other people love about Cleveland, and for the life-long Clevelanders what they've seen change -- including when the theaters that are now PlayhouseSquare were movie palaces in the 50s. For the new season, I remembered several of the shows from the trip that I won to last year's Tony Awards courtesy of Playhouse Square... and they were all numbers that I enjoyed to some extent* so I'm really looking forward to this season: Million Dollar Quartet (October 11-23, 2011, Palace Theatre) - Based on the true story of a Sun Records jam session on December 4, 1956, Million Dollar Quartet is a gritty look inside the recording studio when Elvis Presley, Johnny Carson, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins were together for the first and only time. While I was interested from the beginning, the surprise appearance of the Original Chicago cast (who will be reprising their roles and kicking off the national tour in Cleveland) certainly amped up my level of excitement for the show. Of course, it's worth mentioning that the performance by members of the Million Dollar Quartet cast this evening took place in the same building that Alan Freed's WJW-AM radio broadcasts, credited for popularizing Rock and Roll -- both the term and the music -- originated from. La Cage Aux Folles (November 8-20, 2011, Palace Theatre) - Of the shows this season, I'm least sold on La Cage because I'm still a bit foggy on what it's about, though the "we are what we are and what we are is an illusion" line quoted by Ms. Vernaci is intriguing (as are the conservative parents from Ohio coming for dinner; this seems to be a Broadway musical theme). Hair (January 17-29, 2012, Palace Theatre) - A legendary musical, and one of the shows I most regret not seeing during my last trip to New York [nude scene and my discomfort with nudity notwithstanding]. I know it for the songs Age of Aquarius and Let the Sun Shine In, the promo material is dripping with the catchy Hair. A musical about Americans searching for peace and love amongst turbulence, it looks like this should be an interesting and entertaining look at a time past with themes that are ever relevant. Hair generated violent reactions in its era and has two notable connections to Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare: When the first national tour opened in the Hanna Theatre, someone attempted to bomb the theater (breaking several windows and causing no injuries) and several family members of the touring company died in a Cleveland hotel fire. Memphis (February 28-March 11, 2012, Palace Theatre) - 1950s Memphis, the story of a white DJ who wants to change the world with music, a black singer waiting for her big break, forbidden love and expolosive danging. An original score with music by a founding member of Bon Jovi (David Bryan), I couldn't resist toe-tapping in Radio City during the Tony Awards show, and I had a hard time restraining myself this evening. The Addams Family (April 10-22, 2012, Palace Theatre) - The "conservative parents from Ohio come for dinner" theme from La Cage Aux Folles" resurfaces here when Wednesday Addams falls for a "sweet, smart, young man from a respectable family". Billed as a "family portrat that's completely off the wall" this musical has looked beyond the films and the television series to Addams' original cartoons that ran in the New Yorker for inspiration. Come Fly Away (May 8-20, 2012, Palace Theatre) - Music of Frank Sinatra and the choreography and direction of Twyla Tharp... I'm not the biggest Sinatra fan, but the excerpts staged during the Tony Awards were captivatingly energetic, combined with unexpected enjoyment from Michael Fieinstein's Sinatra Project with The Cleveland Orchestra's makes this a definite possibility on my list. Last but most certainly not least, Sondheim on Sondheim (May 30-July 22, 2012, Hanna Theatre) -- co produced by PlayhouseSquare and Great Lakes Theatre Festival to celebrate GLTF's 50th anniversary season and is "revue of a lifetime" and takes you inside the head of the Broadway's "greatest living composer" featuring videotaped interviews with Mr. Sondheim interspersed with live action, I'm quite looking forward to it. I'm reminded of the Invocation and Instructions to the Audience from The Frogs and recapitulated in Side by Side by Sondheim which is how I came to know it...I'd hum it for you but you're better off iTunes or Googling it -- or just watch from about 2:40 in this YouTube video -- though the version I'm most familiar includes a variation on the standard curtain speech that makes me crack a smile every time). I'm a firm beleiver that this should be used before any performance, not just Sondheim. Ok, so now I'm just rambling... Lincoln *- One show very thankfully not in this season was Fela! which ranks among the worst theater I've seen, and is the only time I've disputed a credit card transaction for a purchase I actually made (and I won that dispute). A several friends who saw the performance during the Tony Awards described it as "suck[ing] all of the energy from the room" so I'm obviously not alone there.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: The Lure of Painted Poetry (Member's Reception)

Based on my preference to walk to the roughly 2.5 miles to the Cleveland Museum of Art rather than drive, the colder temperatures mark a significant decrease from my weekly visits the other three seasons of the year. So it's been a few weeks since I've made it to the museum.

My excuse to visit tonight -- not that anyone should ever need an excuse to visit one of America's great (and permanent-exhibits-free) art museums -- was the Member's Reception for the exhibition The Lure of Painted Poetry: Japanese and Korean Art, a free exhibition opening tomorrow and running through August 28th. Driving to the museum this evening the timing of this exhibition in relation to the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami struck me as either very fortuitous or very ominous.

The exhibition introduction was given by Seunghye Sun, the Associate Curator of Japanese and Korean Art after a introduction by Director David Franklin. You could tell that both were quite excited about the exhibition, but Ms. Sun's comments in particular were invigorating: Having joined the museum's staff within the past year, she commented that her ability to organize the exhibition in such a short time--using objects predominantly, if not exclusively, from the museum's permanent collection--comes from the renown of Cleveland's Asian Art collection as "the best in the United States" and already being quite familiar with the collection by reputation from her previous posts.

Ms. Sun's comments were brief, but insightful. In describing the screens on an island in the exhibition space she remarked that they were like characters on a stage and it was up to the viewer to understand their story. And entering the exhibition hall, that's precisely the feeling that struck me: Characters forever frozen in time, waiting for you to understand their story. That's actually the attitude by with I approach most art but something about the screens at the visual centerpiece of the exhibition makes it particularly worthy of asking and introspection.

Backing up a few steps, as I approached the exhibition hall I wasn't sure what to expect as Asian Art is far from the top of my "favorite types of art" list, but I tried to keep an open mind. And that openness was rewarded. While my previous Asian art experiences* were earthenware heavy, and earthenware just isn't my thing -- though there is some pottery, this exhibition predominantly is screens and scrolls which I find much more visually interesting.

And I was impressed both by the artistry and the variety. Some pieces are explicitly detailed, while others provide only general shapes or movements and leave much to be filled in by the imagination. Some are monochromatic making extensive use of shading to create depth while others are monochromatic and flat; still others use varying amounts of color. One interesting thing that registered early on is that even where the central art was monochromatic the scrolls on which they were placed were often brightly colored.

The exhibition ends, of course, in the gift shop. But before you get to the gift shop the exhibition concludes with a wall full of beautiful but large Japanese characters. The philosophy of one, that people are drawn to those with warm personalities like "Clouds Chasing Dragons" was particularly memorable; as was the beautiful assortment of cast glass pieces to the right of that wall.

One of the claims of the exhibition is to explore the relationship between Chinese poetry and Korean and Japanese art, which is intriguing, but based on how crowded the galleries were and how wantonly some were disregarding what I consider to be basic tenants of museum etiquette** (wow, am I sounding curmudgeonly tonight or what?) I didn't really explore this on this visit; perhaps in a future visit. Ms. Sun, during her opening remarks, also encouraged a visit to the Museum's Ingalls Library for anyone interested in further research. For those who don't know the library -- with its beautiful reading room -- is located on the 2.5 (yes, second-and-a-half) floor of the Breuer building,


* See the bottom of here for my visit to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, or here for my visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts which has a rather extensive Asian collection.
** - They may not be official tenets, but among things that I consider sacred: Do not walk in front of someone who is taking in a piece or its label copy, rather pass behind so as not to disrupt their concentration; the taller should allow the shorter space to view; do not position yourself so close to a piece [for an extended period of time] such that others can not view the art-- particularly if those people were there before you; if you are going to engage a group of people in conversation not related to a piece, do not do so in close proximity to art, lest ye prevent people from actually seeing the art.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cleveland Play House: My Name is Asher Lev [With Happy Hour]

The Cleveland Play House hosts periodic happy hours which I try not to miss because they're a great low-key way to bump into new artsularly inclined people as well as check in with old friends and acquaintances. While the typically held at greater Cleveland bars, tonight's was in the Play House's back yard at MoCA Cleveland.

Arriving at the Happy Hour I knew I wanted to do something after but I wasn't sure what -- CPH had two plays up (My Name is Asher Lev and Present Laughter) and CIM had a orchestra concert, which sounded interesting but some of the details were a bit strange, so it got ruled out pretty early. Present Laughter, was a contender (and something I want to see anyway) but was sold out this evening. Last play standing: Asher Lev.

(Deep exhale). I was really on the fence about Asher, if for no other reason than I accidentally read the review of the show by a critic who is one of few people I can't stand*. He loved it. Our paths and tastes rarely cross.

All of this is really stalling while I try to figure out how I feel about the play. Intimately set on thrust stage, from beginning to end everything was convincingly three dimensional; Asher's early childhood at three stops, his teenage years, and adulthood are all visited (though there were explicit breaks between the first several vignettes, I the break between "13" and "adult").

Growing up in a Hasidic Jewish family, Asher discovers artistic ability at an early age; the art isn't encouraged by his parents (who view the art as something between a waste of time and sacrilegious), he pursues art in spite of their objections, staging conflict between Asher and his parents, but the Rebbe (for whom his father works) forges a connection to an artist behind his parents back [I'm making an assumption here]. The artist challenges and encourages Asher's development. Asher grows, culminating in an exhibition that is at least initially critically acclaimed but further alienates his parents.

While I have no qualms with the way the story was told, I just couldn't connect or relate to much of the story...I can't say if it's because I've never been particularly religious, or just never had conflicts of that magnitude with my parents ("Just remember", my mother said growing up and says to this day, "do whatever you want, but I will not bail you out of jail.") but it didn't resonate with me.

The character of Jacob Kahn, like all of the secondary male characters played by Tom Alan Robbins, was the person who most interested me individually and with his relationship to Asher Lev (Noel Joseph Allain) with some particularly interesting comments on art ("An artist either reflects his life or comments upon it..."), making decisions based on conviction as opposed to because it's the hip/trendy/easy path.

Though I am a straight, red-blooded American male, I am also a bit prudish and generally uncomfortable with nudity. This production includes a scene with female nudity that felt nearly eternal as I tried to avert my eyes without directly staring down the audience member next to me (based on my front row house left seat, she was literally standing in front of me, though for the majority of the audience I believe her back would be to them). Late in the play, Asher -- at lest I think it was Asher -- makes a comment on the difference between a painting of a naked woman and a nude: A naked woman is a woman who's not wearing any clothes, while a nude is a vision of an unclothed woman filtered through the eyes of an artist. I have to say I've never considered that difference.

In keeping all of the canvases, sketch books, and scraps of paper used to showcase Asher's art blank, the audience is interestingly forced to project their own illusions of what "great art" is into that space. The amazing sounds of a mostly-solo cello weave together the scenes and set the emotional tone in a way that only a stringed instrument can. I'm a little disappointed that that musician and/or composer do not seem to be credited in the program.

So... I'm still not sure how I felt about it. Maybe after I sleep on it I'll have stronger feelings.

*- Though I've never met in person.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Great Lakes Theater Festival: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abriged)

Presented by Great Lakes Theater Festival; directed by Charles Fee, at the Hanna Theater, PlayhouseSquare

It's funny -- like Opera, the entire category of "Shakespeare" doesn't rank terribly high on my list of performing arts loves; I think it's a combination of of hearing "Romeo, romeo..." read in a stilted adolescent monotone a few too many times in middle and high school English classes, and some bad, edging on truly terrible*, interpretations of The Bard's works at the Old Globe in San Diego's Balboa Park, dragged at at a younger age by my good intentioned (and Shakespeare-loving) mother. I still don't get the iambic pentameter, but generally I've been (more) pleased by GLTF's takes on his works.

This is also not my first time with The Complete Works; though. I was going to
say I've seen it once before (with my dad) -- but during a phone call with the afore-mentioned good-intentioned mother, she "reminded" me that we had also seen it before. In all honesty, I don't remember that one. I remember the version I saw with my dad as being more of a reading than a play in an cramped, hot, unadorned black-box store-front theater. I remember it as being somewhere in the neighborhood of "mildly amusing".

That long exposition out of the way you may wonder why I wound up on East 14th Street this afternoon. The short answer is I'm really not sure why.

Reasons or antireasons aside, the hour and 15 minutes preceding intermission was a riotous romp covering 35 plays in an engaging and laugh out loud** funny. Though I spent a fair amount of time doubled over, the sight gags were plentiful and the wordplay was delightful.

Like I mentioned, I don't remember one of the two productions and all, and the other was a setless black box (with three guys in black T-shirts), so I wasn't expecting much from this production. Before the curtain went up, I was half wondering if the curtain would go up, or if all of the action was to be set on the forestage.

After an unintroduced curtain speech (ahem, who are you?) the play begins on amusing note after amusing note -- and that's before we even get to Romeo and Juliet. The curtain does rise and we have a miniature Old Globe-looking structure emblazoned with larger than life headshots of the bard serving kind of like the castle in a fish tank for actors to swim in front of, through, and behind. The lighting is clever without being obnoxious, and the sound is appropriate.

I think I got about 80% of the in-jokes, sight gags, and pop culture references, there were still more that others in the audience picked up on and flew over my head.

The pop culture references, by the way, are very current, not "what would have been pop culture when I saw this for the first (second) time 10 years ago" or "what would have been pop culture when the playwrights were writing 20 years ago" but include Facebook, President Obama, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga]. Was Bieber even alive the first time I saw this? Suddenly I'm feeling very old. See also the "wardrobe malfunction" early in the first act with pictures of the scandal on Facebook. If you're up on Broadway news, pay attention to the Spiderman look-alike who comes crashing from the fly gallery when The Scottish Play's true name is uttered.

Cleveland references and in-jokes are also plentiful, but delivered with such ease and inconspicuously (I may have just made that word up) by the actors that you might miss them if you're too busy, I don't know, hunched over laughing at the last joke.

I don't remember there being an intermission in the version I had seen previously -- I was thinking one act, so it caught me as a bit of a surprise that intermission was called with 35 down and only Hamlet to go.

Honestly, that was the one part of the show that seemed to drag -- and trying to 30 minutes with gags, jokes, and commentary on one play (including audience participation and several takes on the ending) is hard not to drag. If, like me, you aren't a Shakespeare fanatic, a visit to the Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson bar during intermission may be worthwhile.

*- At least for my teenaged self, however my mother has admitted that they were far from the best she had seen. Odd side note, near my grandparent's place, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Ashland, Oregon's "New Stage" is serving as the inspiration for one of Cleveland Play House's new theaters in the PlayhouseSquare complex.
** - Rare for me. Kind of like screaming on roller coasters; I really enjoy riding them but I rarely open my mouth. This apparently goes back to my early days when, surviving my first roller coaster ride without a peep my dad though he had forever traumatized me. Until I asked "Can we do that again?"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Don Giovanni (Fully Staged Opera)

I've said it before (and before and before) that opera isn't really an art form I connect with, I think the chief concern is that it's a bit of sensory overload -- I don't think I'd feel the same way about opera sung in English as opposed to the de regur Italian, but as no one seems to be doing that, at least in Cleveland, I can't say definitively.

That said you may be wondering why I plopped down $225 for something I don't really love...the short version is I bought it much by reflexive accident--not that I got dates mixed up or something like that, just that I've gotten in the habit of buying my next Cleveland Orchestra ticket before the preceding week's concert and I didn't think to check exactly what I was buying a ticket for until I had already mentally committed myself.

My only experience with Don Giovanni was Opera Cleveland's production of the same in late 2009..and it's funny, after I typed all of that to go back and read my thoughts from back then... because that post began eerily similarly.

Generally, The Cleveland Orchestra's production compares well -- the voices were wonderfully clear, the quality of the music was no less than I'd expect from the orchestra during any normal concert despite the condensed size and position in the makeshift pit in front of the stage. Singer and musician blended beautifully. On stage, the production benefited with a collaboration with Verb Ballets.

The production doesn't take itself too seriously (to wit, among others some decidedly not-1700s dance moves and a very interesting choice of weapon) but also avoids falling into the realm of slapstick. Also a notable plus to this performance -- though one shouldn't be surprised -- is that the musicians who appear on stage at a couple points during the performance are real musicians really playing real instruments. Though a small item, the use of fake instruments that weren't being played didn't sit well with me in the Opera Cleveland production.

Unfortunately, though in addition to my standard complaint about the surtitles board* the stage is more distracting and ineffective than anything else: A strong rake, angularly patterned floor, combined with legs and valences that have a bold wave effect lead me to give myself a little bit of a headache during the first few minutes trying to figure out if the rake was real or an optical illusion -- a question I returned to many times throughout the evening, and this added distraction didn't help my quest to follow the action or plot, let alone both. The first act was quite funny and well paced; the pacing of the second act, however, seemed to drag to the point where I was fighting a persistent yawn and becoming a bit fidgety, both most likely to the chagrin of the others in my box.

Catching me a bit off guard there are quite a large number of clothes being left on stage. Both male and female... who knew Mozart could be so racy?

Lastly, the program book must be mentioned. While The Cleveland Orchestra's program books usually contain a wealth of information on the weekend's concert to provide context, history, and background, the assemblage for Don Giovanni was amazingly comprehensive 29 pages covering synopsis, timelines, the librettist, the characters and real-life inspirations and not including singers biographies.

If you haven't tried opera before I'd encourage you to try it once -- and this is a pretty good way to try it. Additional performances on March 24th (Tuesday) and 27th (Sunday).

(Music: Wolfganga Amade Mozart; Libretto: Lorenzo Da Pointe; Conducted: Franz Welser-Most; Staged: Julia Mathes; Set: John S. Bukala; Lighting: Christopher Shick; Don Giovanni: Simon Keenlyside; Leporello: Ruben Drole; Donna Anna: Eva Mei; The Commendatore: Alfred Muff; Don Ottavio, Shawn Mathey; Donna Elvira: Malin Hartelius; Zerlina: Martina Jankova; Masetto: Reinhard Mayr; With the Cleveland Orchestra Opera Chorus and Verb Ballets.)

* To my "Sensory Overload" point: why does it seem to be opera's universal practice to place the surtitles that it is impossible visually track the singers and action while also following the plot? I eventually gave up on trying to follow the plot, which in all fairness could be part of the reason the second act seemed to drag (since I no longer had any clue what was going on).

Restaurant Roundup

I'm hungry...but can't even begin to figure out what I'm actually hungry for. It's been a while since I blogged about food so...

Actually, when I started writing I was going to note the location of each, but then I realized they're all within walking distance of my house in Cleveland Heights so that would get a little redundant...

Clyde's Bistro and Bar Room (on Lee Road, about a 5 minute walk): Still my go-to restaurant for dinner when I can't decide what else to do. I love the food, the service is great (bonus points for being a place where I need no introduction), and they catered my little party with the cellist in my living room and were quite helpful even with non-catering advice in that regard.

Though typically a dinner-only establishment, and kicking them out of the running for my current state of hunger (aside from the fact that I've eaten there twice in the past week) Clyde's recently started offering brunch Sunday mornings and while I'm not a breakfast person I've enjoyed both waffles (with a few friends, a little crispy for my tastes) and pancakes (alone, fantastic).

On my last visit (also known as "Thursday") I got a little creative with the menu, ordering the cheeseburger without onions (I think I'm allergic, and in any event really don't care for them) but with the spicy mayo from another dish. OMG. It was one of the best things I've eaten in recent memory. Next time I might press my luck and try adding bacon. I'm sure that move would do everything to endear me to the waitstaff (one member in particular, I'd love to invite for post-shift food/drinks...but haven't figured out a professional/not completely awkward way to do so)

Fracas (on Euclid Heights at Coventry, about a 10 minute walk): A relatively new addition to Cleveland Heights' dining scene, two visits later, I 'm not sure how I feel about it: On my first visit with a friend for a casual dinner a couple months ago, we were alone in the dining room. The pretzel-stick-with-cheese appetizer was fantastic, my burger was good, but I wasn't that impressed by the value proposition (price vs. quality). Recently returned for a post-date glass of wine with a frist date. The wine was good, but the pretzel sticks were merely OK (a little on the cold side, actually). Not sure about the date yet.

Service is a little weird -- verging on overly attentive at the beginning of the meal (glass), but when it's time to ask for the check it seems like everyone disappears. Truly an odd phenomena. Hopefully the energy will build to the namesake fracas level, right now the name is unintentionally ironic.

Bodega (on Coventry, also about a 10 minute walk): Two relatively recent visits; one at the bar for drinks and tapas with a friend to commiserate on our lackluster dating lives. Impressive drink list; the martini list alone is a bit frightening. Great tapas -- I think I might have called them the best fries in Cleveland. Service at the bar was good; there when you needed something, not there until you did.

The next visit was a first date dinner. As much as I liked the tapas, I wasn't impressed by the dinner menu, either substance or pricing. As a matter of fact, for my tastes and the quantity of food, the menu lands on the wrong side of the borderline for being overpriced. Service at a table was distractingly overattentive-- annoying generally, and particularly annoying whne you're trying to learn about your date and you can't sucessfully ask an entire question and have that question answered between "Everything allright?" and "Can I get you anything elses?" visits.

Lopez on Lee (do I really need to tell you where this is? On Lee Road, about a 15 minute walk)... I've been here a few times over the years, actually. Though Mexican food is not at the top of my list (and I'm not entirely sure Lopez can be called Mexican, more Mexican-influenced) I love their margaritas and their cheese (I think) filled croutons on the Caesar salad are phenomenal. Not the kind of place I'm likely to find myself alone, but good for friends. Dinner menu, is diverse but has no strong winners for my both picky and gringo tastes -- but I've also never left hungry.

Lopez was another first date choice, and, ugh. While I haven't been on any real promising dates lately I think this may have been the most disappointing. She may have been the most physically attractive, but despite initial indications that we had things in common when we actually met it couldn't have been more clear that we're at two completely different places in life. Based on that distraction, my impression of the service is a little fuzzy, but I'm going to say it wasn't particularly memorable -- pretty average.

Ok, as I'm typing I'm realizing that there are more local restaurants within my definition of walking distance (about 45 minute walk, or University Circle) that I haven't commented on--- but I could go on for pages... but those are the ones I've tried so far in 2011.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

With Photos: A tech guy plays with lumber and technology

(I had planned on attending CityMusic Cleveland's concert this evening but with an all-day raging headache* and the time I left the office, I couldn't get myself excited enough about hearing another violin concerto to deal with the parking at the venue... I present this post, which was already mostly written, in its stead.)

I'm not sure how many of you remember Part I (A Technology Guy Plays With Lumber) from all the way back in October, if you don't go ahead and take a moment to go back and look at that post, I'll wait for you.

Back so soon? Since that post I've finished out the table by adding a bottom shelf (currently serving as a bookshelf) and both table lights and accent lights with Crestron dimmers so, like every other light in my house, they can be included in "Scenes" that are activated by one button control multiple lights throughout the house. Another benefit is that they can be controlled from anywhere in the world.

(Just between you and me, I think it's kind of amusing that $19 Ikea table lights -- chosen after searching about 10 other places because I liked the clean lines and relatively small size -- are plugged into dimmers that retail for well over $300 a piece)

Here's the finished result:
Sofa Table

And the dimmers (you can also see an edge of the rope light used for the accent lighting)... these are under the top shelf:
Dimmers for the Sofa Table

So that's it for the update... Now for the new stuff... (And the first time anyone has seen the 3rd floor in my home since I moved in)

I've been planning for a while that once my income tax refund showed up I was going to do some basic decoration for my master bedroom. It showed up I did** the two things I've been putting off:

The Headboard... I've been sleeping against drywall for a while and I thought this made my bedrooom look even more unfinished than it actually is. About $80 in pine, some 2x4s and nails I had laying around, add some LED lighting left over from another project, an afternoon of releiving fustrations with a hammer and finishing nails and voilla:
My Headboard With LED Ligthing
The top piece is just 6' pine, uncut. My original thought was to cut it to be flush with the sides of the headboard, but when I threw it up to measure for length, I thought the overhang gave some visual interest and I figured I'd try it that way for a while. Don't ask why there's a random hat hanging from one side.

The three bowls are my spare change. They were on the table that the TV was on before it got wallmounted and I couldn't figure out where to put them for the time being... so there they are. It's funny, the part that actually took the longest to cut and fit -- the 3/4" spacers in the gaps left, center, and right, are -- barely visible in the photo.

Looking at it I'd like to put something like sandblasted decorative glass in the gaps to add some visual interest. But I don't know where I would procure such an object, let alone inexpensively. Plus: I think it's time I buy new sheets and pillows before I buy glass.

For poof that it is indeed my bedroom, you'll notice the two pine nightstands I built quite a while ago (and I think I want to add shelves and/or drawers) with a Crestron TPS-6X touch panel for control of nearly everything in my home -- that will be another post, eventually -- on the left and a Cisco 7961G-GE IP Phone connected to my home phone system.

The HDTV: As a tech guy, specifically and audio/video automation tech guy, the 15 year old CRT in my master bedroom was starting to become a bit embarrassing. Although I had planned on a 32 or 37", based in picture quality and price I would up with a 40" Sharp Aquos LCD...and then decided to mount it on the wall.

Here's the finished result; for the wall under the LCD my plan is to build something along the same lines as the sofa table, though this time most likely with doors or drawers. That, though, will likely be on hold at least until I figure out what I'm doing with my car:
The Finished Product

That black bundle of TechFlex goes off to a wall plate with all of the cable connections on it (if you're interested, see this photo). In an ideal world I would have just moved the wall plates, but redoing my garage was enough drywalling for a year so I decided to take the quicker way out.

The wall the TV is mounted on backs up to the walk-in closet, so all of the support equipment to make the magic happen is mounted behind the clothes rods there:
Support Equipment In The Closet Behind the TV
(Click for the larger version which includes a description of everything in the photo, there's still a little cleanup needed here)

Going back in time, this is what it looked like after I had lag bolted the mount into studs and leveled everything, but before the TV was mounted or the wiring was installed... Note the plethora of blue tape marking studs, the top and bottom of the LCD, the top of the imaginary piece of furniture, ideal center line (not possible to hit due to stud location) and all of those other goodies:
The Mount Is Up

Feel free to check out the complete set of photos for some more progress shots of the mount. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take progress shots while building the headboard, but the two projects had a lot in common with respect to measuring 10 times and plenty of blue tape.


*- I'm pretty sure my body really doesn't like this whole 30-and-blizzard/50-and-sunny extreme. This is the first time I can remember and Advil-resistant headache that literally woke me up at 3:45 AM and hasn't gone away.
** - Before my car issues developed; had my car issues developed sooner my income tax refund probably would have turned into "Lincoln's Car Down Payment" and these would have gone undone for another year.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cleveland Play House: On the Move

The move of The Cleveland Play House* to PlayhouseSquare is unquestionably a monumental move for both organizations and has been the focus of much of The Cleveland Play House's outreach for the past several months.

With that in mind, I wasn't really expecting much in the way of new information and that expectation was met. Kevin Moore, Play House Managing Director, fluidly moved through a PowerPoint encompassing renderings of the new spaces, Cleveland Play House History (Abridged version: America's first regional theatre in 1919, first Play House was actually a house, then a church, then the current facility along with a different church for a period, now the current facility) and the reasons for the move (synergies with other artistic organizations, operating costs, $20m+ in deferred maintenance, connect with west- and south-side audiences) and the minor benefits (More ladies restrooms, complete ADA accessibility, closer to downtown).

Ultimately as Michael Bloom had noted at one of the Cleveland Play House happy hours earlier this year, with the 8500 Euclid location the Cleveland Playhouse was getting pushed into the role of a real estate company that produced plays rather than a theater company that owned real estate. The move downtown liberates them from the overhead of owning real estate and allows them to focus on their core missions.

The not completely unexpected but extremely disappointing news is that single ticket sales will be processed by PlayhouseSquare's box office. If you recall from my A Tale of Three Box Offices post, the #1 reason I don't attend more events at PlayhouseSquare is because their box office is at best slow and dispassionate and at best infuriating (the gall of charging $3.50 in shipping and handling for a will-call ticket bothers me. Combine it with a $7 'preservation' fee, and it shows a disdain for the customer previously only exhibited by the DMV).

The solution, of course, proffered is to subscribe, in which case you'll deal with a Cleveland Play House "Subscription Concierge" -- which is great if subscribing is practical for your circumstances and if you already know the Cleveland Play House quality that you're committing yourself to... but for the first-time ticket buyer or for people like me who just don't subscribe (I don't doubt that I could save money, but with the unpredictability of my work schedule an psychological issues with parting with that much cash at one time, I just prefer to buy single tickets)

That rant ranted, though I did have a good conversation with Ed Gilchrist, the Play House's Director of External Affairs, and he was patient enough to listen to several of the specific issues I have in this vein and discuss possible solutions following the presentation. I guess we'll have to see what happens after the move has happened (and I suppose hoping for a patron-friendly remodel of the State Theater Box Office as as an extended part of the project is asking too much)

The renderings look great, but I'm still having a hard time getting truly excited by the outcome. Based on the number of construction and renovation projects I've been involved in, I suspect once a hard hat tour is opened (and I do own my own hard hat, thank you very much) I'll get more excited. Something about seeing the raw structure evolve; framing before drywall, bare concrete before flooring always gets my excitement level up.

*- At this event Mr. Moore announced a new logo and style guide would be revealed in the next week. I hope that this package doesn't drop any spaces for the sake of being "contemporary". I don't think I could bring myself to type TheClevelandPlayHouse without snickering.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Mahler's Fourth Symphony

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G major
Dvorak: Te Deum, Op. 103
Jessica Rivera, soprano; Nathan Berg, bass-baritone; The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; Franz Welser-Most, Conductor

The energy in the hall tonight struck me as weird; I couldn't quite put my finger on it, maybe it's just being out of my Saturday rhythm.

In a word, I didn't care for Mahler's Fourth. The program note relates items diverse as "Venison, Asparagus, eleven thousand virgins [...] found their special place" in Mahler's Fourth. The seeming randomness of these objects actually matches my thoughts on the first movement: That it was punctuated by too many ideas that never seemed fully developed nor were they related. The third movement meanwhile, took too long to develop a point that never seemed to be made and Ms. Rivera's entrance at the beginning of the third movement seemed odd and distracting given that she didn't sing until the fourth movement. The fourth movement was painfully slow and Ms. Rivera's vocals didn't cut through and were often lost among the orchestra.

All of those complaints out of the way, though, I did enjoy the second movement with a twinkle in the violins, and triumphant clarinets. The movement features a solo violin tuned higher than normal; the program note says "suggest[s] a country fiddler", listening to it played though I couldn't help but ponder its potential as a social commentary on the outcast from the majority. Probably reading too much into it, right? Also in this movement was a passage where the harp took the lead with the violins beautifully and near seamlessly swelling behind to fill the void.

The second piece on the program was Dvorak's Te Deum; I've long been a fan of Dvorak, but this is the first of his compositions I've heard scored for chorus. I haven't always been the biggest fan music featuring The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus so especially after the tedium (excuse the pun, please) of Mahler's Fourth I wasn't sure how I was going to take it. Where the Mahler was lethargic and boring, Dvorak's piece was anything but tedious beginning with a somewhat wild romp, by comparison and easing into the remaining three beautiful movements.

While I wasn't thrilled by the soloists, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus delivered what was perhaps the most focused and clearly intelligible performance I can recall*. From the beautiful understated passage beginning midway through the second movement ("Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis suberni, quos pretioso sanguine redemisti"/"Therefore we pray you to aid your servants, whom by your blood you redeemed.") to the entirety of the third movement (Aeterna fac cum Sanctis) and culminating with the amazingly powerful, but still crystal clear "Alleljua!"
Oh, and I accidentally bought a ticket for Don Giovanni next weekend. We'll see how that goes.

*- Singing without vibrato does wonders for clarity.

Time for a New Car: (Sigh) My Dilemmas

So I've had my current car -- a 1998 Mercury Tracer -- since before I had my driver's license.

It had 64 miles on it when we got it; it is my first car. It now has 179,880 miles on it. It has treated me relatively well, the only major repairs being an alternator and serpentine belt, plus the occasional battery and set of tires. Until this week.

Let's Start At The End.
While I was in Columbus, my Oil light came on, but only at low speeds -- the faster I drove it flickered, then was completely off at freeway speeds. My level was a bit low and I was past-due for an oil change so I stopped in and had it topped off. That didn't fix the problem.

I dropped my car off at my friendly neighborhood mechanic (bonuses: he's also a friend of a coworker, and he's literally across the street from my house), he thought it was most likely the pressure sensor, so I gave him the go ahead to replace that. That didn't fix the problem, but car is saft to drive since further testing indicates it's probably an electrical issue. My car is pushing 13 years old. I'm well overdue for new shocks and struts, and who knows how long it is until something else major needs work.

Back to a Different Beginning.
For years I had been saving to buy the car of my dreams: The BMW Z4. Not so much because I wanted a sports car or a convertible, but because I really liked the styling. In 2007 I had reached my goal at about the same time as I got a letter from my then-landlord telling me how much they intended to raise my rent. In the span of about 18 days I went from not being in the housing market to being a homeowner. Yes, in short, I impulse bought a house.

Both of my parents lent me money to help with my down payment. I finished paying my Mom back last year, and started paying my dad back in January. I hate debt, and right now my mortgage and the loan from my dad are the only debts in my name. I had planned on new car shopping after I had finished paying back my dad, but it seems that my car will need serious attention much sooner than the 2 years or so that will take.

Where this leaves me: It seems that I need to start car shopping sooner rather than later. Since this will be the first car I've actually purchased I'm intimidated not only by the prospect of negotiations but by not having a clue what I'm looking for. So I guess the first step is to create a shortlist. I definately want someting sedanish, but beyond that I'm pretty open.

Traveling as much as I do, I've had my share of rental cars. Several have been unmemorable, others have ended up on...

The No/Hell No list. You (probably) couldn't pay me to own one of these.**
  • Anything Kia: Not impressed by the build quality and just felt cheap driving one
  • Toyota Yaris: I felt claustrophobic driving it, an thought the car felt cheap
  • Chevy HHV: The HHV felt like I was driving a hearse but with worse visibility
  • Chevy Aveo: The Aveo is a visually unsatisfying toaster, and never left the rental car lot because I couldn't fit one, let alone both of my suitcases in the so-called trunk. My luggage is not that large.***

Cars That I have To Say No To, But Feel A Bit Guilty:

  • Mercedes: I've never driven one, but I don't think there's another brand that I so uniformly dislike the body styling. To my eyes almost all of them look like something a grandparent should be driving. As a local dealer is a Cleveland Orchestra sponsor, I feel a bit guilty for rejecting them so out-of-hand and for fundimentally superficial reasons, but at that price point...
  • Lexus: I likewise feel guilty about rejecting Lexus out-of-hand based on their role as a PlayhouseSquare sponsor, and if someone was giving one away I wouldn't say no, but I've never understood the brand promise, brand hallmarks or diferentiators are. In short why it's worth the premium.

Rental Cars I might say Yes To

  • Mazda 3 I had this one on my last trip to Rochester; good get up an go. Responsive handling. Generally fun to drive.
  • Subaru Outback: I got one of these in Michigan a few years ago and really had fun with it both on the freeways and backroads, but it might be a bit large. Good handling, a bit sporty.
  • Chevy Cruize: This one proved itself on the back roads of North and South Carolina and again on one of my trips to Virginia. I don't remember it being quite as getupandgoey as the Mazda, or as sporty as the the Outback, but still a decent car.
Other Cars I'm Interested In
  • Honda Accord: The Cleveland Heights Honda dealership is literally within walking distance of my home. My mechanic said he could have bought anything and that's what he drives. Low TCO, high ROI. I've never been behind the wheel on one though. My mom has been a happy owner of several accords over the past 30 years or so.
  • Honda Civic: Ditto everything for the accord except the part about my mom and mechanic owning one.
  • Toyota Prius: The dealer is also within walking distance, and the technology intrigues me... let alone the promise of higher mileage. But the technology (or rather the cost to repair that technology when it breaks) scares me a little. My mechanic warned that "everything is special" on the car and specifically pointed to oil (requiring full synthetic, whatever that means) and special tires as being more expensive than on most other cars.

The Unrealstic Options
  • BMW: As much as I like the look of the American-made Z4, and enjoy driving my relatives' 3- and 5- series when I visit, between the requirement for premium fuel, up front cost, and total cost of ownership make them "not the best choice" at this point in my life.
  • Audi TT: I like the look, but I've never seriously considered this one and suspect it has all of the same pitfalls of the BMW.

Anyone have their favorite cars to add to the list? Any comments? I guess I should say that I'm considering both new and recently used (e.g. ~2009 or newer); planning on buying rather than leasing.

* - My current savings balance is roughly equal to 6 months gross / 8 months net income, but I'm not really excited about draining that.
** - Though if you have something in mind, feel free to email me. l (yes, just the letter l) at
*** - I had a debate with the Hertz guy about this. He claimed that the Aveo met my reservation's "Ford Focus or Equivilant". I mantained that at Ford Focus has a usable trunk and the Aveo has a door in the back, not a trunk. I won.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Illusory Threat of 3D and The Detroit Situation

Ok, a two-for-one post tonight on two topics that have been bothering me but aren't coherent (and I will warn you, as ideas that were noodled around in some 900 miles of driving they are far from coherent) enough for their own posts... Let me know your thoughts.

The Illusory Threat of 3D
I've heard grumbling that 3D poses a serious threat to live theatre. Having recently seen my first 3D feature film* -- Gnomeo and Juliet (otherwise decent, if for no other reason than the number of Shakespeare jokes) -- I can't imagine that any of the grumblers have actually stepped foot into the magic of live theater.

A film in "3D" is still two dimensional -- there is no life, there is no freedom of reception. All that makes live theater compelling is missing. The exchange of energy between actor and audience, that buzz in the air, is dead. I'd much rather spend $110 for that four-dimensional energy than $11 for what is a poor substitute for the third dimension.

Freedom of reception -- the phrase just occurred to me as the receiver's counterpoint to the artist's freedom of expression -- was perhaps what was most conspicuously absent; in live theater one is free to receive the scene as they wish: While naturally in most cases the playwright and director's desire is that you pay attention to the actor speaking you can analyze the reactions of other actors on the stage, the placement of props or whatever else may catch your attention. Such is not the case with film: Everything you see -- or don't see -- is controlled by the director, cinematographer, and editor: You don't have the freedom to see anything beyond what those individuals intend for you to see.

The energy that is in the air, the magical je ne sais quois that accompanies live theater -- is also, of course, absent in the presence of film -- but if you haven't experienced it, it is futile to try to describe it.

The Detroit Situation
Outside of the wonderful bubble of classical music that is Cleveland, you may not be aware that the members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra have been on strike since October. Unlike the brief work stoppage in Cleveland last year--where I thought both sides presented equally compelling and coherent arguments, I have no connection whatsoever to the DSO or its musicians. I've been watching the Detroit situation with some interest, but from afar -- both physically and emotionally. The more I learn either from seeking out information or from having information pushed my way, the less sympathetic (and competent, and coherent) the DSO's management strikes me as.

Even as a disinterested outsider, The way management's early offers combined shocking pay reductions with drastic work rule modifications can only be described as insulting**. While the musicians present well-written and [generally] fact supported arguments and position pieces on their website, in addition to sponsoring their own concert series, DSO's website is light on real information and management's petulant communiques typically drip (to my eyes, at least) of a parent who thinks that "Because I said so" is a valid response to any question -- and are seemingly treating the musicians as ignorant children throwing a temper tantrum rather than the professionals that they -- by DSO's own admission*** -- are.

* - I've done the IMAX 3D thing a few times many years ago.
**- Which in and of itself is saying a lot given my typical lack of sympathy to organized labor. I honestly think my feelings wold be different if it was just work rule changes or just a reduction in pay but the way the two have been worked together strikes me as punitive.
*** -- Well, it takes a few leaps to get there, it would defy logic for the DSO to label itself a professional orchestra (and "Michigan's premier performing arts institution") without also labeling its musicians as professionals.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Apollo's Fire: Mysteries, Sacred & Profane

Biber: Rosenkranz Sonate no. 1 in D Minor (The Annunciation)
Rosenmuller: Sonata 7 a 4 in D Minor
Bruhns: De Profundis
Biber: Fidicinium sacro-profanum Sonata XI in C Minor
Tunder: O Jesu dulcissme
Biber: Balletti lamentabili a 4 in E Minor
Kapsperger: Toccata in E Minor, from Libro terzo d'intavolatura di chitarrone
Piccinini: Corrente in E Minor
Schmelzer: Lamento sopra la morte Ferdinandi III
Bach: Wie bist du denn, o Gott
Veronika Skuplik, violin; Jeffrey Staruss, baritone; Julie Andrijeski, violin/viola; Karina Fox, viola; Rene Schiffer, cello; Andreas Arend, theobo; Peter Bennett, organ.

After spending the better part of three weeks on the road I'm back in Cleveland for at least a few days, and I'm glad to work some music into an otherwise dreary night, thanks to a friend who reminded me of this concert while I was out of town.

Flipping through the program before the concert, I was reminded of the advantages to having not only a vibrant but diverse classical music scene in Cleveland: I only recognized the name of the last composer on the program; the remaining seven were new to me and I do wonder how much play they'd get from less specialized ensembles.

The organ was, unfortunately, a significant presence in this evenings music, providing a persistent, droning, baseline that -- at least from my seat -- was a dark cloud overshadowing the remaining instruments, and turning physically tiring -- like the unending noise of an airplane's engine and this distration was particularly true of The Annunciation.

Rosenmuller's Sonata was a nice contrast and the particularly lively ending of the piece gave for an albeit temporary parting of the organ's clouds and I think, overall was my favorite piece.

In the first half of the program there was some confusion when the musicians didn't release the tension and relax at the conclusion of Biber's Fidicinium and before beginning Tunder's O Jseu dulcissime -- Had the the first not been instrumental and the second vocal, I'm not sure I would have been able to identify this as the break.

In the second half of the program, I must have allowed my attention to wander a bit too far, because I was unable to identify the transitions between the first four pieces following intermission -- but a beautiful theorbo (long-necked member of the lute family) solo somewhere along the way seized my attention, and the echos of that solo when the strings returned held it until the beginning of Bach's Wie bist du denn, o Gott -- but I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure which of the four compositions to credit that solo to.

I'm not the biggest fan of the vocal sphere of classical music, but Bach's Wie bist du denn, o Gott was quite palatable, enjoyable to listen to and easy to follow in translation.