Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Handel's Royal Fireworks

J.S. Bach: Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV1066
Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks
Haydn: Symphony No. 104 ("London") in D major
Ton Koopman, conductor.

I've found that Baroque is a particularly acquired taste -- something that Apollo's Fire (The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra) has been slowly helping in that regard, but I have to confess particularly on the heels of the last couple concerts, that I wasn't overly excited about hearing the Cleveland Orchestra's foray into the sub genre.*

With me tonight I had my lady friend, hearing the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall for the first time since a class trip while she studded at Case, and also for her first time on the box level. We were in Box 1, Seats E and F, and there are only a handful of seats that I would personally rank above these two.

My apprehension about The Cleveland Orchestra's Baroque Festival faded as the effervescent Mr. Ton Koopman took the stage and the podium with surprising enthusiasm and launched into Bach's Suite No.1 -- a suite of eleven movements with a variety of textures and emotions. I quickly lost track of which movement I was listening to. Thus my comments are general: I enjoyed the variety of textures, particularly the dance movements, though at times the harpsichord seemed a touch loud in relationship to the rest of the orchestra.

Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks was, by far, our favorite from the evening, though we were both confused about the sequencing of movements -- the piece concluded at what I had thought was the end of the 3rd movement and what my friend had thought was the end of the 4th movement... so the reactions I had associated with particular movements were likely not actually for those movements after all. I loved the energetic and celebratory feeling of the opening, and the energy of the conclusion, but even the middle -- which had the air of a dignified procession -- was fantastic to listen to.

Following intermission, Haydn's Symphony No. 104 ("London") didn't quite inspire the same feelings of wonder as the Fireworks, but nonetheless was still very well done; of particular note were the opening statements as awell as the theme in and enthusiasm of the fourth movement finale.

*- Though every time I hear the word "baroque", or the output of a harpsichord I think of Perrey and Kingsley's Baroque Hoedown, the theme for Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade. Though it is one of the early synth pieces, I'd love to hear the Cleveland Orchestra try it... it's hard not to smile listening to it

Friday, April 29, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Dee Dee Bridgewater: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgearld

The Cleveland Orchestra with Dee Dee Bridgewater (with Edsel Gomez, piano; Kenneth Davis, bass; Jaz Sawyer, drums; Howie Smith, sax). Sasha Makila, conductor.

I have to admit from the outset that jazz -- like heavy metal -- is one of the few genres of music that I feel virtually no draw to, partially because I've found that it (unlike heavy metal) is particularly well suited to lulling me to sleep without engaging me. (As an aside, I've found on red-eye flights back from visiting my parents in California, if I take a sleeping pill, a glass of red wine, and queue up some jazz on my iPod, I'll be out in 15 minutes and stay soundly asleep, waking up just in time to see the night lights of Chicago pass below my seat in the sky, yielding to the darkness of the Great Lakes, Detroit, and finally Cleveland).

Technically, the concert left nothing to be desired -- Ms. Bridgewater's Quartet's sound seemed to be a natural fit for The Cleveland Orchestra under Mr. Makila's baton. Ms. Bridgewater seemed to be a bit unprepared for the concert -- forgetting Mr. Makala's name, scatting to cover lyrics (and on a few occasions seeming to reference notes). As Ms. Bridgewater started her first song (Cole Porter's Let's Do It) I couldn't help but to imagine a dark, smoke-filled lounge. Though Ms. Bridgewater has a wonderful voice, I felt that that pieces or portions of the pieces that were instrumental had more character, were more lively, and generally more fun to listen to.

You can probably guess by this point that my two favorite pieces from the evening's program were the two without any vocal component whatsoever. As with the last -- and first -- concert that I heard Sasha Makila conduct (at CIM) the entirety of the strings sounded absolutely wonderful. The Act I overture, Gershwin's Strike up the Band had a particularly wonderful color. The Act II overture, Gershwin's Overture to Girl Crazy was compelling, as were the solos from the members of Ms. Bridgewater's quartet during Cotton Tail.

With the exception of the two Gershwin pieces, regretfully, I have no strong desire to hear any of the pieces again.

Outside of the hall it's worth noting that The Severance Restaurant was open for post-concert drinks and deserts--something I wish were an option more often. Despite an excellent sales pitch from an orchestra staffer, after an 8 hour staff meeting at work, a violin lesson, and a jazz concert I couldn't see myself staying awake... I hope this will be offered after future concerts.

The full program, as announced from the stage, and as I scribbled it down in the blank spaces of the program:
Act One: Strike up the Band (Gershwin); Let's Do It (Cole Porter); Lush Life; When You Speak Love (Curt Vile); How High (Quartet only); My Heart Belongs to Daddy; Stairway to the Stars.
Act Two: Overture to Girl Crazy (Gershwin); My Favorite Things; Prelude to a Kiss (Ellington); (illegible); Cotton Tail; Shadow of Your Smile; My Ship
Encore: Come Sunday

I'm taking my lady friend to tomorrow evening's Orchestra concert...


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Masur Conducts Beethoven and Brahms

Mendelssohn: Overture: The Hebrides (or Fingal's Cave), Op. 26
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19 (David Fray, piano)
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 n E minor, Op. 98
Kurt Masur, conductor

Between The Cleveland Orchestra's touring schedule, and my work schedule my classical music consumption has been way down over the past few years. As good as CIM students are, there's no real substitute for The Cleveland Orchestra. Therefore, boarding my flight home from Kansas City early this afternoon, I was really looking forward to this concert.

From the beginning of the concert the music seemed distant -- I don't know if it didn't want to forge an emotional connection with me or vice-versa, but it started out distant and seemed to get even more so.

Of the three pieces on the program Mendelssohn's Overture to The Hebrides was the one I most enjoyed, with a delightful texture...but the distance kept me from really engaging with the work, and particularly the low strings.

I had hoped that would improve with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 but no. The first few strokes Mr. Masur took at the piano were accompanied by a most unmusical thumping (which sounded like the hammer striking something other than the string), but even after that subsided the piano portion of the piece still sounded weird to my ear...and it nearly put me to sleep. Not nearly lulled me, but rather put me.

During intermission it occurred to me that the hall was either exceptionally and uncomfortably warm -- or I'm getting sick/at the end of my stress rope -- and by the end of the first movement of Brahms' Symphony No. 4 I had beads of sweat on my forehead. Like movements preceding it, the first movement seemed distant and too delicately handled. The second and third movements cut down on that distance and were quite enjoyable because for the first time on the evening's program I got a sense of depth. The fourth movement escaped me -- by that point I was so uncomfortable and so sweat-soaked I just wanted the program to end...and was contemplating if I could escape the box without disturbing the couple behind me.

Hopefully next time will be better.


Friday, April 22, 2011

As I Prepare To Leave Kansas City (I find my work in the newspaper)

The sun is setting on my last day in suburban Kansas City, Kansas. The clear blue sky -- something that's been absent from most of this trip -- is hanging on and seemingly afraid to let the night take over.

The project that brought me out here, like the weather, started out rather bleak--Based on scheduling my client hadn't completely finished what they needed to finish when I arrived, which means both that things move a little slower because I wind up doing some troubleshooting ideally would be done before I got there, and there's also a bit of scheduling juggling involved, as in "I really need this done now, that done next, and whaddyamean that part isn't going to arrive until Wednesday? Ok, can we move this hear, that there, and use some spit and electrical tape in the meantime?"

On the other hand, though, by the end of the day yesterday things were looking really good, and the vast majority of work that I had planned on spending 7 full business days on was done by the end of a late day Thursday. I returned to the project site this morning to tie off the few last loose ends and to run my client through what they needed to know before a grand opening event on Tuesday. Then I had the rest of the day to myself.

Yesterday, the Kansas City Star had a photographer and reporter doing a lot of shooting and the gallery is on their website already.

In this shot you can see me and some of the on the fly engineering and troubleshooting that was going on, the two gentlemen I spent most of my week with. My laptop even makes a cameo, sitting on the lectern in the near background.*

In this shot you can see my work -- the touch screen on the left is my programming, though it's not the most exciting mode that they could have put it in, but they did it with out asking me for help, which means that my work was a success.

Anyway... I made my way back to KCMO and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Between my left foot being a bit...irritated, I guess would be the best word...and having just been through the museums I didn't linger as long as I might have planned or hoped. At Nelson-Atkins, I revisited the photography and contemporary galleries and spent a bit of time lingering in the American galleries.

Parting from the museum itself, despite a pretty continuous drizzle I basically walked the perimeter of the museum including finding some interesting pieces in the Kansas City sculpture park that I had missed on the previous occasions.

My primary purpose for visiting the Kemper on the other hand was to see if the robot that caught my eye in the museum store could persuade me to buy him. He, for better or worse, had disappeared, to be replaced with some largely uninspiring pottery... as the Kemper doesn't have the largest display galleries and I had just visited, my visit was kept short. On the other hand, though while walking up to the front I saw... could it be? Yes! It is. Tom Otterness's Crying Giant (edition 2/3) sitting to the left of the museum's main entrance.

I love Mr. Otterness's critters -- which I've seen adorning The Gates at the Cleveland Public Library, greeting visitors at the Hilton Times Square and passing visitors by on New York's Subway -- there's something delightful about their simplicity, they're just plain cute, and the social commentary adds another dimension -- but until the Crying Giant they've all been relatively small critters. The Crying Giant is huge, but no less cute. As a single figure, without a given context, the social commentary is less clear but still possibilities run through my mind.

The drizzle continued throughout but I walked to a place I had walked by on my last visit for lunch -- Winstead's Drive-In. The place looks like it's been in that location and largely untouched since the 40s which was kind of cool. I have to say, I wasn't that impressed by the food. The fries were OK, the burger was about as thick as two quarters stacked on top of each other and generally wasn't anything to write home about. Probably not a place I'll plan on stopping at on my next visit.

Returning to my car at Nelson-Atkins I wanted to visit the museum gift shop to see if anything pulled my eye, but before I got there I found the installation-in-progress of Roxy Paine's Sumacks and Dendroids -- using a computer programmed to quasi-randomly extrude plastic resin in various patterns with varying amounts of time, motion, etc. I'm fascinated by it because Industrial Automation has always interested me and this strikes me as an interesting application. And when the machine is in action it draws quite a diverse crowd from museum staffers ("Are we supposed to dust it or...?" "Well, actually they recommend Armor-All") to children ("Cool! What is that thing?") to seniors ("How can you call that art! A machine is making it, not a human!" -- where I had to quite forcefully bite my tongue to avoid retorting that a human made both the machine and the program by which the art is being created.

Breaking my gaze on the molten plastic that had stopped pouring out of the machine and was no in the "cooling" cycle, I browsed the museum store before finding a book for my flight home and a gift for my very good friend. At checkout I was asked if I was a member... I said I was visiting from out of town and asked if my Cleveland Museum of Art membership card would work. It did. The gentleman assisting me mentioned that he had tried to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art but "most of it was closed" at the time and we discussed the renovation/expansion and the similarities in architecture.

All in all it was a good visit, but after six nights in a hotel, I am looking forward to my own bed -- but a Cleveland Orchestra concert first. When I tried checking in for my flight I wound up having to call and spent a total of about 90 minutes on the phone. But everyone I talked to was quite helpful, so... fingers crossed.

*- Note: I don't work for the company named, the company I work for is a specialty subcontractor.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hello, my friend (and 281,000 HHonors points will take you)

"Hey, good buddy" the moderately accented attendant proclaims as my feet pass through the gas station's door.

"Hello my friend, how are you this afternoon?" I ask in response.

No. This isn't the a corner gas station in my corner of Cleveland (and I must admit that there are frightfully few gas station/convenience stores of the format I became accustomed to growing up in Southern California in Cleveland), this is the gas station across the parking lot from my hotel in suburban Kansas City -- Olathe to be specific. The same place I was a little over a week ago.

Friends, relatives -- and apparently now random strangers -- know my affinity for Mountain Dew (fountain or bottle please, canned 'dew tastes funky to me) and one of the challenges of staying in hotels is that there's a 50/50 chance the hotel vending machine will stock Pepsi products. There's about a 2% possibility that the same hotel vending machine will accept one of the company credit cards. I don't mind being the guy thumping quarters into the glowing box next to the rattling ice maker, but I've pretty well depleted my change stash that way, and based on being way under my Meals & Entertainment Budget...

So when reasonably convenient, I like to source my caffeine from a place that accepts plastic. In Olathe, I can literally see the fountain of the neighboring gas station from my hotel room window. I was a frequent visitor last time, and the attendant remembered me then. This trip we've exchanged some small talk -- he lived in San Francisco for 14 years before moving to Kansas, and really likes the people here -- and adopted the mutual greeting recounted above.

That, though, is all I've really seen on this trip to Kansas; the project has been a bit bumpy because of a grand opening that's happening next week and a hardware installation that--when I arrived--wasn't near ready for the step that comes before me, let alone me. I think we've overcome those hurdles, and knock on the pressboard hotel desk, tomorrow will be a very quick day on site and I'll be able to do some more exploring in the afternoon.

My flight is scheduled for Saturday Morning (getting me back to Cleveland just in time for a Cleveland Orchestra concert), and while I'm tempted to try moving it up, based on my luck with Continental--and my overwhelming frustration with United--lately, I'm kind of afraid to touch the reservation.

While looking at the hotel reservations what is currently Trip #3 in sequence, I'm slightly disturbed to discover that I have 281,427 Hilton HHonors points sitting in my account-- not including this trip, of course -- with 25,252 of those points earned since January 1st. The pattern of the numbers catches my eyes 25 25 25... but I draw no other special significance from it. But I think it's time I take a vacation. I'm really overdue to use my passport.

I had a dream a few weeks ago in which I inexplicably wound up in a public square in Rome. Yeah. Not sure how I got there, or what I was doing there but I was in Rome. With nothing.

On one hand it didn't strike me as too odd, because my preferred method to travel is to just wind up somewhere and wander around until I trip over something interesting, or my ears or nose pull me in a particular direction.

On the other hand, it's very odd, because although Rome is somewhere on my "places I want to visit some day" list, it's never been high enough to actually get a number*, since I really feel like I should wet my toes with something English speaking first, since my French is pathetic (I don't get much better than "Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas francais, parlez-vous anglais?", though I can understand a fair amount if spoken slowly enough) and I don't even know where to begin with Italian or German.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Orchestra is doing a residency at Lincoln Center, it seems like a good enough (if slightly narcissistic) excuse to return to New York City this summer, if I can convince myself to hunt for and then part with the cash for concert tickets and airfare -- one thing's for sure -- I wouldn't have to worry about spending money on a hotel room.

I have -almost- enough FQTV Miles with Delta to do a round-the-world ticket, literally flying around the world in one direction, stopping along the way, in Business Class, but Delta and I have a very awkward relationship and I'm not in a huge hurry to give them my business. But if Continental/United continues slipping those clouds may part.

Any votes?

* - The top three, in no particular order are London (England), Sydney (Australia), and Auckland (New Zealand), but I'm also interested in Hong Kong, India, Italy, France, Japan, The Czech Republic, and many other random destinations... it's highly unlikely that I'll wind up in any of them for work, which is how I normally wind up in a new city, but I can keep my fingers crossed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Continental and United: How to Lose A Customer's Money (That You Already Have)

I think I am officially abandoning my loyalty to Continental Airlines. Not because of anything they've done but because they're merging with United Airlines and United's complete indifference to customer service.

Let's back up a step.

When I'm traveling for work, as I am today--actually right now depending on what activities you include in the act of travel, I book full-fare tickets. These are not cheap tickets, but they are flexible -- fully refundable, fully changeable. It's not uncommon for a full-fare economy ticket to cost more than a first class ticket on the same flights. One of the other perks since the advent of bag fees is that the fare includes two free checked bags.

In theory, at least.

I'm headed back to Kansas City today. I couldn't find a nonstop flight on Continental today, so when searching for full-fare tickets Continental offered Continental-coded United-operated flights from Cleveland to Chicago (Ohare) and from Chicago to Kansas City. Fine. I booked it. I paid something like $1,400 for the privilege of not one but two barbie jets, but at least I don't have to worry about bag fees, right?


I went to check in with United and the kiosk warned me that "Additional Fees Will Apply". Pardon my Internet French, but WTF? Seriously, W...T...F? I call over the United employee and he immediately launched into the "the customer is always wrong" mode. When I asked for a supervisor, the priceless line "I'm all you get." Screw that. Seriously, screw that. I'm not going to pay more than a grand (be it my money or as in this case my company's money) to be insulted. I'm certainly not going to spend that plus another $60 to check the bags and be insulted.

I just don't roll that way.

So I tell him to refund the ticket. He spends a good ten minuted dawdling around before telling me that since it's a Continental issued ticket (a point I raised at the outset) I have to go talk to Continental to get the ticket refunded. So I roll down to Continental's counter. While the agents I spoke with contradicted Continental's baggage policy* they were both quite helpful and quite apologetic. When I asked what the add-collect (i.e. fare difference) to change the B-class ticket to Y-class they shocked me. $-10.

Yes, ten it's dollars less expensive for the ticket that (according to them) that doesn't have any bag fees.

I tell them to go ahead and reissue the ticket. Before they did that one of the agents offered to talk to the brute at United to make sure that that fix the problem on United's end. It would. They try to reissue the ticket but United's system won't let them. Continental has a non-stop but it's completely full and oversold. Continental can't get me to Kansas City without leaving my original flights as-is, and my having to pay the fees for the outbound.

And that's just not happening.

I had wondered if anything could drive me to the point of uttering the phrase "Cancel and refund the outbound segments" and I found it. The agents exhausting every possibility to fix the problem on their end and the United brute's unwillingness to manually waive the fees [even after being asked by the Continental agent who was assisting me] I saw no other option.

If I capitulated and paid the fees, United sees no downside to providing amazingly poor customer service combined with at-best shady business practices. I don't think the $500 in revenue I'm depriving them of will really be noticed, it's more symbolic than anything else -- but maybe someone somewhere will see that they had a $500 one-way passenger who suddenly disappeared. Maybe they'll ask. Maybe the complaint that I'm going to file with the DOT will get noticed. But at least it's off my chest.

It's not a ticket that I didn't book -- it was a ticket that was booked, issued, and I was prepared to use -- but if United doesn't want my business, I certainly don't feel obligated to give it to them.

So how am I getting to Kansas City?

I literally rolled my bags 100 feet down the concourse and asked Southwest, "Can you get me and my bags to Kansas City today?" "Yes." "Let's book it."

While I've always thought that Continental employees were efficient, friendly, and professional (three traits lacking from the surly United agent, and United employees in general), the two Southwest employees who assisted me in booking the ticket may have set a record for being friendly and helpful. Oh, and the "Business Select" fare? $312.40 with all taxes. Southwest's most expensive fare is nearly $200 less. And includes bags. And includes two free "adult" drinks.

I kept my originally booked Continental-coded Continental-operated flight from Kansas City back to Cleveland because Continental's (friendly, helpful, professional) agents assured me that there would not be any problems on the way back. But if there are, I won't hesitate to have that ticket canceled/refunded as well... and guess who I may switch to. Permanently.

I had hoped that Continental would bring their positive traits to United in the merger. But that's clearly not happening.

Since moving to Cleveland 2005, I've flown 135 flights on Continental and only 12 flights on other airlines. So much for loyalty.

(If any part of this post doesn't make sense, it may help to explain that Continental and United are in the process of merging, with United to be the surviving with each trip it becomes harder and harder to fly on "Continental" without having at least some part of the trip tainted by United.)

*-They said only Y-class fares qualify for the free bags, and I was booked in B-class. Continental's baggage policy (here) says "Any customer traveling on full-fare economy class tickets" is exempt from the baggage charges; If you select "Full fare" when booking a ticket on B-class is offered as "Full Fare". So it either is or isn't but they can't have it both ways.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CIM Orchestra @ Severance Hall: Kabalevsky/Prokofiev/Tchaikovsky

Kabalevsky: Overture to Colas Breugnon, The master of Clamecy, Op. 24
Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra in E Minor, Op. 129 (Matthew Allen, cello)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
Carl Topilow, conductor.

A friend joined me for her second visit to Severance Hall and her second time with the CIM Orchestra (no, the two did not share, the same first time) with this evening's Cleveland Institute of Music concert in Severance Hall. Making our way up to the Dress Circle and settling in shortly before the concert's 8pm start time, I wasn't sure what to expect from an evening of Russian music. My high expectations for CIM students were not let down and -- despite a rather noticeable cold air draft -- my friend enjoyed herself.

Opening the program with a composer that neither of us had heard of, Mr. Topilow wasted no time between taking the podium and launching into Dimitri Kabalevsky's speedy overture. It struck me as romantic, richly textured and climatic...oh and did I say fast paced? Though I didn't conjure any images along the ride, I can think of few reasons not to call this my favorite of the evening--by a bow hair. Overtures rarely do my short-by-nature attention span wrong, and this was no exception.

The middle piece, Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante was quite a departure from the overture that preceded it being quite a bit slower and less to-the-point, perhaps demonstrating CIM students' turn-on-a-dime versatility. Though I can't point to a specific measure, the first movement (andante) seemed a painting where the Matthew Allen's cello was the
crystal clear sharply-focused foreground and the orchestra was a diffused background.
In the second movement (allegro giusto), on the other hand, the cello stuck me as an artist struggling against the majority represented by the orchestra, overcoming, and eventually joining. The third movement, by contrast, didn't seem to create a story in my mind.

Closing out the program was Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. In listening to this piece in its entirety it seems unmistakably from the hand of Tchaikovsky. Perhaps because I had ballet on the mind (my friend and I were discussing the Celesta used in the Prokofiev piece, and also used by Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker) or perhaps from the sheer lyrical nature of the music it was very easy to -- and very difficult not to -- imagine dance choreographed to this music*. While I couldn't imagine a storyline or protagonist/antagonist relationship as I tend to do, the movement of imaginary dancers was crystal clear.

The third movement scherzo featured extensive use of pizzicato, a technique I rather enjoy when done properly -- and it was done properly. On the other hand, my friend commented, and I have to agree that the brass during the quite climatic ending of the fourth movement seemed a little too loud compare to the rest of the orchestra. But it was still a wonderful piece.

*- A resident professional ballet company is, to the best of my knowledge, one of the few performing arts forms lacking in Cleveland.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Save The Date/Atrium Preview

Most people who know me know that I love pulling back the curtain -- looking behind the scenes, touring buildings while construction is in progress, attending rehearsals -- anything to see how something comes into being, and in a way how something evolves.

That's why I was delighted when a very good friend invited me to the Cleveland Museum of Art's "Save the Date" event last night, in the Museum's grand new atrium. I wasn't sure what to expect from the space or event, but entering the atrium I've been eagerly peering into through a 12" portal for the past couple years I was a bit awe-struck. The west wing is only a skeleton of steel; the north wing galleries and office space are open studs with the beginning of drywall. Scaffolding is covering a portion of the 1916 equipment is scattered, the floor is unadorned concrete...The atrium's glass ceiling is finished.

In addition to my attraction to construction in progress I've always found some attraction to the trendy-party-in-a-gritty-abandoned-warehouse concept that seems to appear in movies yet I've never found in real life -- but this struck me as a very close substitute in terms of the physical texture. (Attendees were required to sign a construction liability waiver, but hard hats were not required)

From the precarious perch of a scissor lift, museum Director David Franklin announced to the assembled crowd that he was proud to announce the $350 million acquisition of a piece of art entitled "Construction Site". While clearly a joke (with a few laughs from the crowd), even in this state the scale of the atrium an the project it is a part of is clear; it will be an amazing space both for the museum and the City of Cleveland, and if the level of finish seen in the phases completed thus far is maintained, the finished product will be a work of art.

That "finishing" -- the grand reopening of the Cleveland Museum of Art -- is now set for December 31st, 2013. Planning ahead, let alone two and three-quarters years ahead is something rather notoriously not done by the male side of my family...but if they'd let me I'd be thrilled to RSVP now.

After the introduction the party adjourned to the museum's North Lobby and Gallery 101 -- the typical location for events like the member's reception -- with a great assortment of food and drink. The rooms were simply buzzing with excitement, and after working the room for a while my friend and I found a bench and chatted until the crowd thinned.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lincoln in Kansas (City) Day, Um.... [Museums and Such]

So you may have noticed that I didn't post anything for the past two days despite being in Kansas. Simply, nothing remotely bloggable happened -- I met with my clients for 8 or more hours, then retreated to the hotel room to catch up on email &c. I did find a local BBQ Place that's pretty good, and some more localized chains -- all within walking distance of the hotel; for some reason I really like walking. Aside from that it's been pretty quiet.

This morning with some loose ends tied up I found myself with a day more-or-less free to explore. Everything that I had thrown into Google (Kansas City Art Museum, &c.) pointed to the other Kansas City -- i.e. Missouri, or KCMO -- as being the place to be.

So I ventured over there. #1 on my list (of one item) was the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. While I was researching the Nelson-Atkins, I discovered that they're mounting an exhibition of Monet's Triptych Water Lilies, reuniting the three panels for the first time in decades. One of those three panels is owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition doesn't open to the public until this weekend and I figured that I would miss it. But after I arrived at the museum, I discovered that this was the exhibition's Member's Preview Days.

I approached the information desk, showed my CMA membership card ("Fellow" level; I never leave home without it)... and I asked if I could sneak in. Moments later I had a ticket in hand, and they were even kind enough to validate my parking (since Nelson-Atkins members always park for free, a nice perk if I do say so myself). I wasn't sure what to expect for a single-artwork exhibition: It opens with some background information on Monet and his works. Rounding the corner to see the three panels for the first time it was spine tingling. I'm rather familiar with the Cleveland Museum of Art's portion of the triptych -- the left most panel, it turns out -- but completely unfamiliar with the entire work.

While each panel is substantial on its own, the three together create an amazing panorama. The exhibition includes quite a bit of information about the structure of the works including paint layering, a photo of the work in progress and more. Another highlight on display at the Nelson-Atkins is James Naismith's original, type-written 1891 rules for the game of "Basket Ball" -- yes, the original 13 type-written rules that still, to a large extent define the sport evolved to be Basketball. I'm not much (ok, any) of a sports fan, but seeing a document that has survived for 120 years and is still relevent was amazing.

The museum's collection is comprehensive and of high quality. I was particularly drawn to their photographic holdings, which include the entirety of the former Hallmark Photography Collection and spans the entire history of photography from the early 1800s to the present.

In their contemporary galleries I was amused by the presence of Donald Judd's "Large Stack", continuing the tradition of every museum I've attended with a contemporary collection having one of Mr. Judd's collection of boxes -- I don't think any two are identical, but they are instantly recognizable as Mr. Judd's work. On an opposite wall was Mr. Judd's Untitled (Progression), which I think is the first work by that artist that didn't involve a stack of identical boxes, and I found it much more visually intriguing.

After wandering through the majority of the galleries, I took a break for fresh air and stepped outside the Kansas City Sculpture Park. If the general Beaux Arts design of the museum's 1933 Building, the terraced (in this case with grass rather than marble) step down to a large open space (in this case a large lawn with jumbo badminton shuttlecocks rather than a fountain and Wade Lagoon) wasn't enough to conjure a connection to the Cleveland Museum of Art the presence of one of a casting of Rodin's Thinker on the terrace has to cement it.

While waiting for my lunch (yeah, I know I'm breaking chronological order), I figured I'd read the Wikipedia article for Nelson-Atkins... and clarity instantly came with "The building's classical beaux-arts architecture style was modeled on the Cleveland Museum of Art..." (I really encourage you read the History section of the Wikipedia article). Another wonderful similarity between CMA and the Nelson-Atkins Museum are both offer free admission every day that they're open.

Getting back to chronological order, after wandering through the sculpture garden and decrying the on-site restaurant's menu as too frou-frou (I've never found an art museum with a cafe serving food I'm actually interested in eating) I figured I'd explore Kansas City a bit on food. No maps. No plans. No destination. I wound up in Kansas City's Country Club Plaza which strikes me a as a fairly organic up-scale shopping district limning both sides of Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard. The only food options I initially noticed were all universally high end chain restaurants.

On the way back, by chance I zigged onto a side street and found "Blanc Burgers+Bottles". I talked myself out of an alcoholic beverage but had a pretty good stuffed blue cheese burger and fries (served in a miniature shopping cart). I loved the decor -- clean lines, white, orange, and mirrors ruled the day -- and it ranks among the most contemporary places I've eaten. I wish there were more places like this (that I knew of) in Cleveland, where dark seems to rule the day. Following lunch I waked back through the sculpture garden but detoured to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art -- also free to the public -- with an impromptu tour of the perimeter of the Kansas City Art Institute campus along the way.

The Kemper is pretty small with relatively few (mostly large-scale) works on display, but the quality and visual intrigue is high. I stopped by the gift shop on the way out, and a very cute robot made out of re-purposed household items (including a band-aid box for the torso and forks for the limbs) reminded me of the paper crafts of a friend. I really...really... wanted to take it home with me. It's just that cute. But at $242 I need to think about it a bit. The good news is I'll be back in Kansas in another week so if I can talk myself into it between now and then at least I have that option.

It had started to rain heavily while I was in the Kemper so I made the straight line (fortunately...remember no maps... I was navigating solely by gut) back to Nelson-Atkins, finished my way through the galleries... took a few minutes to meditate on a bench... and left. I tried visiting Union Terminal -- home to a model railroad exhibit and the Kansas City Rail Experience, but as apparently all of the attractions in the building close at 4:00 and I arrived at trains for me (on this trip). The building, though, is a magnificent edifice to what the glory of transportation used to be -- soaring and decorated ceilings, wide open spaces. I fly home tomorrow. Though this trip has actually gone much better than I expected, I am once again looking forward to returning to my own bed.


Monday, April 4, 2011

27 States in (almost) 27 Years: Lincoln in Kansas Day 1

Monday, April 4th. State #27(*) in my list of states I've visited is officially checked off my list of states -- just over a month out from my 27th birthday. (Note the lower map includes only flights, not any of my road trips)

So far my time in Kansas has been uneventful... beautiful blue skies with white clouds. I'm in Olathe, south of Kansas City, Kansas. Sadly, Olathe -- at least the corner that my hotel and project are located in, pretty much looks like any other modern suburban city: Shopping centers laid out predictably and chock full of national brands. When I'm on the road I usually like to try local establishments -- or at least regional chains.

I joke (perhaps unfairly, I realize as I grow older) that the 'local stores' in Temecula while I was growing up were Target and McDonald's. -- and it seems to be the case here as well. While looking at non-descript shopping plaza after non-descript shopping plaza, I why I'm drawn to the "big city" -- aside from the energy that radiates from somewhere like Manhattan or San Francisco -- each has an undeniably unique character that has evolved through the people, food, and architectural expression... even cities that don't radiate energy, like Detroit, have their unique pulses. I'm not getting that unique pulse so far.

Kansas City (Missouri or Kansas) has a few things that pique my interest, most notably the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art [curiously, the Nelson-Atkins logo looks virtually identical to the logo used by the Cleveland Museum of Art on their ticket envelopes], unfortunately the museum's hours are such that that will have to wait until Thursday. Interestingly, one of the Cleveland Museum of Art's better-known (and larger!) pieces, Claude Monet's Water Lilies will be joining its companion pieces on exhibit at Nelson-Atkins beginning April 9th -- I won't be seeing it this visit, but I might try to make a stop by the next time I'm in Kansas City in about two weeks.

I have a rant about Continental Airlines' incompetence with changing a full-fare (aka most expensive possible ticket) reservation... and I typed it out. Then I realized no one's really interested in the nitty-gritty so I'll just mail that to Customer Service instead. Sigh. I used to really like Continental.

*- My official criteria for counting a state as visited is either eating a meal or sleeping at least one night in the state. Most of my states have no trouble meeting both of these criteria, but I feel a bit like I cheated with Wisconsin -- spending a couple hours driving through the scenic middle of nowhere on the Western edge of the state (while driving from an origin in Minnesota to a destination in Minnesota)... finding nothing in the way of "real food" with my flight's departure time approaching, I cheated with a hot dog, bag of chips, and soda eaten in a gas station parking lot. Kentucky, on the other hand arguably qualifies since CVG (the "Cincinnati Airport") is actually in Covington, Kentucky and I most certainly ate a meal there... but since I never left the airport...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Heights Arts: Haydn, Janacek, and Brahms (House Concert Series)

Haydn: String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No. 5
Janacek: String Quartet No. 1 ("Kreutzer Sonata")
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18*
The Omni String Quartet (Amy Lee, Alicia Kolez, violins; Joanna Patterson, viola; Tanya Ell, cello)
* - With Roxanna Patterson, viola; Mark Kosower, cello
Tanya Ell, guest artistic director.
At the
Dunham Tavern Museum Barn, Cleveland.

During tonight's concert -- featuring five members of the The Cleveland Orchestra and one orchestra member's parent by special appearance -- once again I was struck by how fortunate Clevelanders are. The barn, yes, the barn -- a slightly rustic space tucked in an often overlooked corner on Euclid Avenue, next to the hulking skeleton of a long-abandoned factory building, and behind the oldest building in Cleveland still on its original foundation -- hosted those musicians and an enthusiastic audience with countless Orchestra members mixed among newcomers and regulars alike. Amongst those orchestra members in the audience was the orchestra's newest violinist, Ms. Katherine Bormann. It's thrilling to see musicians dedicated to their craft and who clearly don't view their orchestra playing as just a job -- and it shows what good hands the musical reputation of the orchestra is in.

In the front row at tonight's concert I found myself mere inches away from these performers, mesmerized at fingers navigating their fingerboards with the grace and speed of a hummingbird. The final piece on the evening's program with two musicians added to the front of the room, Brahms' Sextet, brought violinist Ms. Lee even closer -- "I'm afraid I'm going to hit you" she quietly cautioned the patron next to me. With the enthusiasm with which that piece was played there were moments where I was afraid to exhale, both for fear of breaking the amazing emotion of the music and for fear of disrupting the arc of Ms. Lee's bow. (The de regur theme park admonishment to "please keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times..." ran through my head each time I contemplated shifting in my seat).

That level of intimacy exposes details that simply can't be captured in the traditional concert setting and makes for an absolutely spellbinding evening. Mr. Kosower, still a relative newcomer as the Cleveland Orchestra's principal cello and Ms. Roxana Patterson, mother of Joanna and in Cleveland on a trip from her Seattle home for this concert, were both delightful additions to the program and left no doubt as to musical talent.

For the second piece on the program Ms. Ell introduced Janacek's Kreutzer Sonata (String Quartet No. 1) based on a censored novel by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, proving some exceedingly helpful background information as well as a few measures each of several themes that can be heard in the piece and her interpretation of their relation to events in the novel.

The Sonata, much like Cleveland Weather, changed moods frequently -- from the use of moving notes that impressioned a train ride, to the romance and illicit affair between married student and teacher, the angst and jealousy of the husband upon discovering the affair, the explosion of murder, and the smooth return to sanity. While it was thrilling to hear all of the musicians play, the sound of angst rising from Ms. Patterson's viola and Ms. Kolez's violin was unmistakable, and unlike anything I've heard from those instruments before.

Ms. Ell, my favorite cellist and one of my favorite musicians. She plays with enviable musical expression that's unmistakable to anyone within earshot, but she also plays with physical expression such that this author can be caught with a slack-jawed stare. The Janacek piece was particularly expressive. I suppose it has to be seen to be understood but in watching her facial expressions there is no lack of confidence nor can the observer have any doubt as to her understanding of the mood of the music.

Preceding these two amazing works, I didn't feel as strong a connection to Haydn's String Quartet as I did the other pieces. In considering it, I have to say that I felt almost exactly the same about his Symphony No. 96 on last night's Orchestra program.

But where else can you find 6 world-class musicians playing in a barn?


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Gutierrez Plays Rachmaninoff

Beethoven: Allegretto from Symphony No. 7
Haydn: Symphony No. 96 ("Miracle") in D major
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (Horacio Guitierrez, piano)
Dvorak: Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70
Jiri Belohlavek, conductor

Something felt off -- not just off, but very off -- about tonight's concert. I can't put my finger on it but the je ne sais qois was missing.

The concert started with the Allegretto (second) movement from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in tribute to the survivors and those who lost their lives in the Japanese tsunami and earthquake; the program requested a moment of silence at the conclusion of the movement. The music was stirringly soulful, and time seemed to stand still as a respectful silence enveloped the hall. Time resumed when Mr. Belohlavek stepped off the podium and the silence was broken by the first tentative applause.

Sandwiched between the Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, Haydn's Symphony 96 ("Miracle") felt insubstantial and superficial -- and like an odd programming choice.

Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto returned to the soulful feeling of the Beethoven and it was delightful to watch Mr. Gutierrez's fingers on the keyboard. The program note -- written by a name that I don't recognize -- reference to Rachmaninoff's "composers block" and how, on turning to professional help, "heard the same hypnotic formula repeated day after day..." and this piece had its hypnotic tendencies.

Closing out the program was Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. I have to day that I was a bit let down. I consider Dvorak one of my favorite composers -- and perhaps my favorite in the "true classical" sense -- with Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") being one of my favorite symphonic works -- but this didn't sound like other Dvorak pieces I've heard. While there were some swells in the second and fourth movements where the strings sung, I generally wasn't captivated.


Welcome, South Dakota -- the 52 Google States of America

This blog doesn't generate much in the way of comments, and while I know several people read frequently (Thank You!) but don't follow (Thank You!) so I've turned to -- or perhaps better put become somewhat addicted by -- the Google Analytics reports which give me a snapshot of where readers are coming from (and proof that there are indeed readers and I'm not just insanely talking to myself--which I have been known to do, ask any of my coworkers).

On one hand I was impressed that I had readers from 51 of Google's 52 United States of America (the two extra states, if you're curious, being "Washington DC" and "Undefined") pretty early on in this great experiment. Likewise, I had visitors from 6 continents and several dozen countries pretty early on.

But until this week I've been missing South Dakota.

I've tried to fathom an explanation for why my musings would attract interest from the 49 other states (even the non-continental ones for goodness sakes!), federal territory, and undefined corners of our nation but not a single peep from South Dakota. I've been thinking about asking the question publicly, but I thought the mere act of mentioning the state's name might unnaturally attract attention and skew an already highly unscientific survey.

Well that has changed--at some point over the past week, I can't say precisely when--my first visitor from South Dakota has arrived. Welcome to my humble blog, South Dakota.

Curiously, while I've had 15 unique visitors from Moscow (yes, that Moscow) I've still only had one from South Dakota. But that one is welcome. I no longer have a hole in my map.

Google Analytics is not without faults -- it classifies Puerto Rico as a country -- but still I'm amazed by the number of readers (just under 8,000 unique visitors since the beginning of 2010) from the number of places (69 "countries" -- see the note about Puerto Rico above -- with the most popular being the US (7,100), Canada (200), United Kingdom (115), with Japan and Germany rounding out the top five)

As usual, it's probably time I stop rambling, but thanks for reading my blog, especially if you're one of the regulars. Feel free to tell friends --- or to call me an idiot. I actually like it when people disagree with me, as long as there is a logical basis to that disagreement.