Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: From Russia With Love

Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra
Sibelius: Suite from Kuolema
Prokofiev: Classical Symphony (Symphony No. 1), Op. 25
Sasha Makila, conductor.

The Cleveland Orchestra
Borodin: Overture to Prince Igor
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (Viviane Hagner, violin)
Stravinsky: Scherzo a la russe
David Zinman, conductor.

The Cleveland Orchestra and Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (transcribed for Orchestra by Ravel)
David Zinman, conductor.

"What do all great conductors have in common?" one musicians' joke asks. The answer: "They're all dead." While I'm not qualified to apply that label to the decidedly not-dead Mr. Sasha Makila I have thoroughly enjoyed each piece I've had the pleasure of hearing him conduct -- Mr. Makila coaxes a wonderful sound out of the orchestras under his baton. Last week he was gracious enough to answer a few questions via Twitter about this concert (you can find him @sashamakila). Although restricted by Twitter's 140 character limit, I always find it interesting to hear the conductor's thoughts on music. In tonight's concert, for example, he mentioned that while the Prokofiev is "really difficult technically," the Kent/Blossom musicians had not heard the Sibelius before, adding a bit of challenge.

And now we make it to the music: In the Suite from Sibelius's Kuolema (assembled posthumously), the Valise triste was my favorite movement with an elegant feel and happy beginnings, though turning dark towards the ends. The third movement, Canzonetta, felt deeply romantic -- I could almost picture a woman walking down a dark hallway with rose petals for added measure. The fourth and final movement, Valse romantique, mixed with happily chirping birds in the Blossom Pavilion, made me imagine a grand waltz in a garden.

While I enjoyed both of the Kent/Blossom pieces on the program, Prokofiev's Classical Symphony wins by a hair, and covers a range or emotion from a very full-bodied and happy first movement, to a more muted moving second movement -- with an occasional outburst. In the fourth movement-- the note I scribbled in my program was "sharply moving; a chase" -- a moth in the pavilion seemed to be moving with the music: Soaring at the crescendo, then diving as the sound faded.

Following the first intermission, The Cleveland Orchestra, under the baton of David Zinman took over the Blossom Stage with Bordoin's Overture to Prince Igor; the piece had a rather dull opening before seeming to wake a sleeping giant and provoking the full force of the orchestra, if only momentarily.

Christian Tetzlaff had been scheduled to play the solo for Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, but "due to travel complications," Vivianne Hagner stepped in to play the same piece in his stead, and with what I understand was very short notice. Unfortunately, this was the least compelling of tonight's program -- the orchestral sections felt restrained, dull, and like it was missing a je ne sais quois (While reading the program note I had a sense of de ja vu -- this piece was last played at Blossom just about a year ago).

In sharp contrast, Stravinsky's Scherzo a la russe (Scherzo in the Russian Style) was lighthearted lively fun, thought the rather abrupt ending was a bit startling. Reading the program note I learned that Stravinsky spent a time in Hollywood during World War II, though all of the projects that he would have composed music for fell through.

Lastly, Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition was the second reason for choosing tonight's program over tomorrow's Broadway-inspired program [I was really on the fence!], as that piece at Blossom several years ago was one of the indirect inspirations for this blog. Although I've since found that I prefer Vladmir Ashkenzay's orchestration, the Ravel orchestration played tonight is much more common and well known.

The opening Promenade is a theme that recurs several times throughout the piece though slightly transfigured based on the impressions of the preceding work: Though the opening Promenade with a horn declaration giving way to a firm string statement is my favorite single "movement", the use of this throughout the work to give the sense of the viewer working their way from painting to painting around a gallery contributes to my fondness. Between promenades, of course, are musical representations of the paintings of Viktor Hartmann. Every time I hear Pictures at an Exhibition, those representations seem more coherent and it's easier to pick out the underlying painting: Tonight, for example, the lumbering polish Ox cart quietly and slowly approaching, gaining full focus (with the full orchestra) then quietly disappearing over the horizon had new found clarity. Likewise, Lemoges le marche (La grand nouvelle), took on a new dimension of gossip and excitement, hustle and bustle of an open market.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Bulletin of the Museum 1920-1929

Continuing leafing through the series of Bulletins of The Cleveland Museum of Art from where we left off after Our Last Visit's 1915-April 1920 Tour, we find ourselves at:

July 1920. Seventh Year. Number Seven. Ninety-one years ago, Frederic Allen Whittling, the Museum's first Director, writes that "[...]The public is expecting the art museum to become not only home to the Muses, but the interpreter of beauty in all its forms. This widening vista of what an art museum may mean in its community, has already brought about amazing changes in the conception of the proper functions of the museums of art. They are becoming more than places where objects of beauty are preserved. They are becoming places of beauty and inspiration themselves."

I pause here to interject that these words could be called almost prophetic for the renovation in general new Atrium currently under construction at the Museum specifically, but continuing: "For today we are realizing more than ever before that the most beautiful life is that which is lovely in itself and in its personal relations is so much a part of the community that it enhances its surroundings while it gains new beauty therefrom."

Mr. Whittling concludes by noting the importance of "awakening the spirit of modern men, women, and children to a further realization of the part a love of beauty must play in a well balanced life"

To that end a short entry in the journal describes that small portions of the museum's collections are on display in specially designed cases in 20 Cleveland branch libraries, some Cleveland Heights schools, and the hope that this may be broadened to more schools. I wonder if this program is in any way still existent, it sounds like a great way to bring art to the people.

A photo shows a much sparser -- but easily distinguished Armor Court; still one of the museum's top draws. Many credit the interest, then and now, to Cleveland's manufacturing roots.

October 1920. Seventh Year. Number 8. An insert flutters out from between the pages titled "Sunday Entertainments for Young People at the Cleveland Museum of Art," listing a schedule of plays and films in the Auditorium (which has not yet picked up the Gardner) prefix.

Prospective patrons are instructed to "[t]ake the Euclid Car to East Boulevard or the East 105th Car to Payne Avenue and Walk East through Wade Park to the Museum." The University Circle name of the Museum's home came from a street car turnaround located at Euclid and East 107th -- I haven't found when that turnaround disappeared, but it's obvious Cleveland's street car system is still in full swing at this point.

A group of anonymous donors have presented the museum with $250,000 for the establishment of a department of Music and the acquisition of a memorial organ and tablet for the Auditorium. Their names will be revealed when the Organ is installed: The McMyler Memorial Organ was cleaned and revoiced as part of the museum's ongoing renovation.

Prices in the museum's Lunch Room have risen: Lunch is now $0.80, afternoon tea $0.60, and dinner (on lecture nights, with reservation) is $1.50. Shocking, right?

December, 1921. Eighth Year. Number 10. The museum's membership totals 4,684. The Museum's events list includes Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 47 in a lecture series on the appreciation of Chamber Music with Beryl Rubenstein. A composer, pianist, teacher, and --eventually--veteran, Mr. Rubenstein joined the faculty of the naescent Cleveland Institute of Music earlier in that year; the institution having been founded only the year prior. In 1932, he would take over the directorship of that institution and serve -- with a breif interuption for enlistment in World War II -- until his death in 1952.

Lunch: $0.75; Tea: $0.40; Dinner $1.25.

January, 1922. Ninth Year. Number 1. There is a plea for patrons with suitable materials to consider donating them to the Library, as the cost building a collection to include the necessary back journals is an expensive undertaking, and some are both difficult and expensive. For comparison, as of June 30th, 2010, the library held 456,105 volumes and in the first six months of 2011 -- 89 years later -- the library has cataloged over 4,200 new items.

Total attendance from the date the Museum building opened, June 7, 1916, to December 7, 1922 was 1,634,150, or approximately 251,000 per year if my math can be trusted. Today, the museum's annual attendance is 335,262 in the galleries plus 406,124 patrons served through education and public programs*

The trustees announce their hope that by the end of 1922 membership will reach 10,000; history will prove this goal optimistic. The organ is still under construction and the director's note explores: "The visitor to the museum usually takes away as much as his experience has prepared him to absorb. The aim is to increase in every possible way the attractiveness of the message the objects have to give."

January, 1926. Thirteenth Year. Number 1. Prices are no longer published for the Lunch Room, and membership tallies 5,023. There is a plea for members as the approved budget exceeds 1925s by nearly $10,000 and this difference is best made up through member's contributions. While Severance Hall may still be a few years in the future, John L. Severance is elected Vice President of the Museum's board.

A picture shows art displayed in a gallery: The in the intervening years the mounts have changed but it otherwise would not shock a time traveller.

June, 1926. Thirteenth Year. Number 6. After slipping in March, Membership is back up to 5,087 -- still well short of the board's optimistic 1922 goal. "informal" organ recitals are available Sundays at 5:15.

December, 1926. Thirteenth Year. Number 10. Turning attention outdoors, The Bulletin announces that Mrs. Windsor T. White has assumed the entire cost of the Euclid Avenue Terrace of what is now known as the Fine Arts Garden, allowing the Garden Club to focus on other areas of the Museum's "park foreground" and "much" of the grading has been finished. Today, even with signs of construction punctuating the view, the Fine Arts Garden, with the Euclid Avenue Terrace and the Lagoon make for a spectacular front yard for the museum.

October, 1929. Sixteenth Year. Number 8. The last in the cache from the roaring '20s, this issue of The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art was published in the same month as the Stock Market Crash of 1929--the event most identify as triggering the Great Depression. If the Bulletin knows of the impending trouble, though, it keeps the secret well-hidden. In fact this issue is pretty sparse, one take away: Near the close of the decade, membership totals 6,365.


*- Based on the annual report for Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2010; the latest figures I have available.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven and Shostakovich

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (Jon Kumura Parker, piano)
Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
David Afkham, Conductor.

I've been growing concerned lately that I may be becoming prematurely jaded -- I've heard a lot of great music making, don't get me wrong, but it's been a while since I've really been mesmerized or enveloped in true musical ecstasy.

I'd be lying if I told anyone that I was looking forward to Beethoven's Piano Concerto -- the Shostakovitch symphony is ultimately what pushed me to choose tonight's program over Sunday's by a mere hair. I had, in effect, viewed it as the entree required before partaking in dessert.

From the first notes under the young Mr. Afkham's talented baton, however, I suspected I was wrong. Shortly after Mr. Parker began tickling the keys of his piano I knew I was wrong. The first movement was wonderfully crisp with no sense of timidity. I loved the theme of the movement, and was mesmerized by the dynamic control of Mr. Parker's first solo, wherein--in the open air of the Blossom pavilion--his notes faded full-force to where you could just hear the felt of the hammer gently nudge the string, scarcely making a noise. I was so captivated by the first movement that I was barely able to resist the urge for inter movement applause. Others were not so restrained. The second movement seemed much more burnished and a bit rounder for lack of a better word. The third, and final movement, rather sneaks up with only a brief pause, and seems to be the most playful of the three, though the first was my favorite.

Following intermission Shostakovitch's Symphony 10 proved a worthy successor to the Beethoven that preceded it. I've found that I rather like that composer's works, but I've never been able to put a finger on it. Reading the program notes for the Symphony I wonder if it is because, from the program notes, "His scherzos, grim and sarcastic, are not like any others" -- I'm frequently sarcastic, occasionally grim: Maybe it resonates.

The first movement was a bit slow for my tastes, but the effect of various solos sprinkled throughout, combined with rain rippling against the Blossom roof, gave me no pause in imagining someone wandering lonely through a dense forest. The second movement was quite crisp and played with impressive speed and embodying what one source describes as a "menacing portrayal of Stalin's military parades". The program note makes great deal of Stalin's musical signature in the third movement though it was not something that really triggered anything while I was listening to the piece; however, the peaceful and lingering nature stands in stark contrast to the aggressive and moving than the second movement allegro.

The concert comes to a close -- supported by the now-constant tap of rain on the Blossom pavilion roof, with timpani rolls supplemented by well placed thunder -- with a fourth movement that starts andante and finishes allegro, with the clear sound of triumph being constantly challenged by hints of the darkness that opened the fist movement.

Mr. Akfkham put on an impressive show, and I would very much enjoy the privilege of hearing him conduct again. Based on the enthusiastic response to both pieces, I don't believe that I am alone.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cleveland Play House: Annual General Meeting and Allen Theater Tour

For the past two days I've been pretty much nonfunctional -- I suspect it's the final vestages what I had a few weeks back rearing its ugly head. The good news is that by this afternoon the headache had receeded to the point where I felt like a mostly functional member of society, and it was none too soon as I've been looking forward to tours of the Cleveland Play House's new theatres and I just barely made it. (And I failed completely to remember to ask Mr. Bloom or Mr. Moore the programming-related questions I intended to ask)

General Meeting, in the Westfield Insurance Studio Theater: Nothing too suprising here, but some highlights

  • The playhouse will be offering an open house on September 12 with tours of the completed spaces*

  • The theaters have been described as a five-year project executed in 18 months.

  • Artistic Director Michael Bloom wants to venture into more adventerous programming , and sees subscription sales as the avenue to that end.

  • To say that the subscription sales mantra was repeated ad nauseum is a borderline understatement.

  • That said, it looks like subscription sales to date have been strong based on seating charts on display.

  • Mr. Bloom promises the best Cleveland Play House season in several years, with some bold choices, but also opportunites for more conservative patrons.

  • There are fewer than 59 calendar days remaining until the first main stage production begins previews.

  • The Power of Three campaign (linking Cleveland State University, PlayhouseSquare, and the Cleveland Play House) has "identified" $23 million towards a goal of $32 million with 9 gifts of $1m or more. The younger advancement campaign has raised $2m towards $12m.

  • Several negative comments were made from the lectern ("2 years ago the Play House was on the brink of extinction" and that over the years the Play House had evolved an "unsustainable economic model") but those comments were rearward-looking, and the forward-looking comments were pretty rosey.

Also introduced, a new Play Dates program. While it is not what I originally thought based on the name and one of my oft-repeated complaints when I was single (that is, a theater going option for singles) -- instead, I think it's equally attractive for a different demographic: At selected mattinees, you bring your children to the theater and they are entertained and educated in a separate space with age-appropriate materials while you take in a play. The cost is only $15 per child per play, and it will be available for one matinee of each show in the season.

Allen Theater Tour: I was excited to get into the Allen for the first time today, but I was a little disappointed that there wasn't earlier access: I thrive on open studs and incomplete framing, and the Allen Theater itself is suprisingly complete. I'm a tad skeptical that it will be completed on time* but it actually looks pretty promising.

(If you want to skip my blabber and see a few photos I didn't blab about, see the Flicker Photo Set here)

Entering through the Euclid Avenue lobby, the scars of the thankfully-demolished box office (it was a in a horrid configuration) are still on the floor. It is unclear where the new box office will be located
Scars on the floor where the wretched Allen box office used to stand

While a Cleveland Play House board member or staffer (I failed to grab his name) described plans that are being discussed to make the Euclid Avenue lobby feel more contemporary without compromising the historic integrity:

A CPH Staffer (Board member?) describes options to update the lobby without destroying historic integrityThe intracate celing detail in the Euclid Avenue lobby is still in tact

Walking into the elipse rotunda, and passing through a combination-locked construction door, Artistic Director Michael Bloom provdes a glimpse of the new lounge-like lobby (the plasticed doorway leads to the new theaters that are being created and the space I was most looking forward to seeing, he also commented that to the best of his knowledge this is the only contemporary theater that preserves the shell of the historic outer theater, as most designers will want to gut the building and start from scratch.

Interior Lobby of new Allen Theater

The doors in the center of the frame lead to the House Left and House Right seating areas.

Drywall is up and doors to the house can be seen on either side

In the house, my first impression is that this will, inded, be infinitely better than any of the Play House's spaces at 8500 Euclid. I had my doubts, but standing in the still-unfinished space everything comes together--it's also a much more intimate house than the former Allen. (Interesting tidbit: The house floor has been raised "several feet" from the original floor level to give the house a more live-theater-like rake than the moviehouse-like rake that had previously existed) Accoustical wall treatments are up, and made from perforated metal: If backlit, the historic details of the walls will be visible; if forelit, the theater will take on a decidedly contemporary appearance:

Perforated metal accoustical treatments update the interior

Meanwhile, accoustic clouds have been mounted below the ceiling, allowing you a decent view of the historic details above. The modifications have been designed to be completely reversable, so in 30 years if there was a desire to, it could be restored to historic accuracy:
The beautiful original ceiling details are preserved above new accoustical clouds

The edge of the new balcony; the new balcony is built completely in front of and independent of the orginal 800-seat balcony, something I hadn't realized before today:

Edge of the new Allen balcony

Of course, the new control booth -- I'd love to see inside after the work is finished

Light shining out of the new control booth

After leaving the Allen theater proper, Associate Artistic Director Laura Kepley enthusiastically (seriously: she was moving fast enough that every one of the pictures I got had some evidence of motion blur) describing the construction for the other two stages behind the temporary construction wall. Alas, we were not taken behind the wall.
Associate Artistic Director Laura Kepley excitedly discusses secondary stages

There are more photos in the Flickr Set at Here, but I think that covers the basics.


*- Hey, dealing with construction is a big part of my day job (and the reason I own my own hard hat, thankyouverymuch) and I can't think of one of those projects where construction was completed on time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Bulletin of the Museum 1915-1929

I'm a sucker for ephemeral institutional history: Those reports, policy manuals, and various other internal documents that are written at one time and never intended to survive the ages: It is the disposable that is never disposed. I find it interesting to thumb through these documents (or Page Dn through PDFs) and see what has and hasn't changed. In the paper world, it's interesting to feel the quality of the paper and look at the typesetting in days before computers and "Desktop Publishing" was a glint on the horizon, and to think of who has browsed those pages in the decades past.

My girlfriend, aware of this trait, noticed that a collection of assorted issues of "The Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art" (which was published from 1914 to 1994, to be replaced by the Member's Magazine, which is still published) was to be discarded and swept them up for me. Arriving home tonight, after dutifully slipping in some needed violin practice, I couldn't help but to sort them chronologically, and thumb through a the pages and think about what else was happening in the world, what names are encountered, and how times have changed.

Before I really realized what I had done, I had made it through all of the issues I have through 1929. Without further ado, some of my observations.

November 1915. Second Year. Number Three. The earliest issue in this cache takes us back to 1915. The Cleveland Orchestra won't exist for another three years--Severance Hall is about 15 years away. World War I is raging overseas, but it will be another 17 months before the United States joins the fray. It had been hoped that the Museum's opening and inaugural exhibition could be announced, but construction delays mean that installation work cannot begin before January of 1916. (The Museum will eventually open June 7th, 1916)

Dudley P. Allen bequests $150,000 to be held in trust for the Museum with the interest income to be paid "For 100 years and for as long thereafter as the institution shall effectively and worthily carry out the purposes of its organization". The trust is held by Cleveland Trust Company, through mergers and acquisitions, now known as KeyBank: The trust still exists, and fewer than four years remain of that original 100 year term. It would be difficult to argue that hte museum is not effectively and worthily carrying out its purposes.

Though the Museum's physical presence hasn't opened, Mrs. Emily S. Gibson is actively stirring interest in educational programs through visits to Cleveland libraries, and reports that the Cleveland Public Schools superintendent is eager to incorporate the museum in educational programs after it opens.

The Membership for the not-yet-opened museum totals 530, the names occupy scarcely more space than one full 8-1/2" by 11" sheet and include such names as Howard M. Hanna (M.A. Hanna company a major specialty chemical company), William R. Hopkins (first, and only, Cleveland City Manager, and a major proponent of the airport that now bears his name--Cleveland Hopkins International Airport), F.E. Drury and Charles S. Brooks, both of whom have strong ties to the Cleveland Play House as well, also appear. Rounding out the list of names that jumped off the page, members of the Blossom Family-- 45 years later, give or take, the Blossom Music Center will be named for one if their members.

April 1920. Seventh Year. Number 4. World War I has ended; the depression is yet to come and "An Appeal For New Members" appears in The Bulletin "For the past two years the Museum has made no active campaign for membership, believing the war needs of the country made such an appeal unpatriotic". The appeal goes on to report that previously two trusts had entirely funded the museum's operations, but due to growth of the museum and increased costs, those funds now fall far short.

The museum thanks Mrs. Henry A. Everett for the use of her Steinway piano "during her absence" and Harry J. Wamelink for "frequently" lending a Mason and Hamlin piano.

Membership now totals 1,983; names are not published. The museum is open 9am to 5pm Monday-Friday except until 10pm on Wednesdays and 1pm-10pm on Sundays. Admission is free Sundays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and all public holidays -- $0.25 otherwise. In the Lunch Room, table d'hote lunch is $0.60, afternoon tea is $0.40, and if you're attending a lecture, make a reservation before 3pm for a $1.00 dinner.

I had originally planned on covering the rest of the 1920s... but this post seems long enough. Perhaps there will be a Part II: Are you interested?


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blossom Festival Orchestra: Disney Live In Concert: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

The Original Feature Film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl with live underscoring by The Blossom Festival Orchestra with the Men of the Blossom Festival Chorus, prepared by Lisa Yozviak
Richard Kaufman, conductor.

It is true that I'm not a fan of the Pirates franchise -- perhaps it's tied to my fear of the Disney ride of the same name that (now inexplicably) permeated my early childhood -- I think it was a fire thing. Anyway, when I found out a friend was playing tonight's show at Blossom, I decided I'd give tonight's concert a spin. Visiting the Severance Hall Box Office yesterday afternoon to buy my ticket, the sounds of a rehearsal wafted out through the lobby I was hooked -- and looking forward to tonight's concert.

I'm a sucker for film music's drama and emotion; John Williams and Thomas Newman rank among my favorite composers.

Arriving at Blossom slightly over an hour before the 9PM concert, I was impressed to see cars out in the grass lots; once inside the gates the number of families spread across Blossom's expansive lawn easily rivaled the crowd that had assembled for the Fourth of July concert. Audience members and ushers alike got into the Arr of the moment with their pirate swag. Settling in to my pavilion seat just before the concert started an unmistakable whiff of the smell of buttered popcorn hit our section, with several--yours truly--left craving popcorn.

As the film and concert started the pre-recorded dialogue and sound effects seemed overly loud and quite boomy in the pavilion, however within a few minutes either this had been corrected or my ears had adjusted and the sound was reasonably balanced and intelligible, though I would have preferred if the orchestra was a bit louder in relationship, but that's more an exercises in hair splitting.

The music in films draws out emotion in romance, drama in action scenes and is just generally that extra seasoning that a lot of people may not consciously notice, but if absent it is conspicuously absent. Having the orchestra provide that seasoning live was a great touch and really highlighted the impact of the music. In the case of Pirates that music is generally soaring and dramatic.

Mr. Kaufman -- who was seen last year at Blossom conducting The Magical Music Of Disney and previously at Severance Hall for a Salute to John Williams in 2009 -- certainly drew that emotion out of the musicians, ranging from the lyrical romantic moments to the swashbuckling . The Men of the Blossom Festival Chorus, interestingly, were pretty much relegated to grunting, with no what-you-or-I-would-consider traditionally sung lyrics.

While the concert was musically satisfying, I was hugely disappointed by the technical quality: The lip sync between video and audio was horrendously off with audio leading video by about a half second*, which wound up giving me a headache. Compounding that frustration, at Intermission when I attempted to locate the House Manager to express my concerns not one of the half dozen ushers I asked had any idea if there even was a house manager, let alone who or where that person would be. As I worked my way back into the center of the pavilion I overheard countless patrons asking ushers "Is there a problem with..." and "Will they fix...", with the ushers generally brushing off the concerns, and as far as I could tell not relaying them to anyone.

(As an update, an acquaintance pointed out after the concert that if you were far enough up the hill the natrual delay of sound reaching your ear would minimize or eliminate the effect of the lip sync issue present in the pavillion and lower lawn)

*- By my very rough approximation. Also surprising, since based on my day job knowledge, this isn't a difficult problem to solve, especially compared to the opposite version of this problem. The technical issue is that each step of processing that happens to an audio or video signal adds delay. Assuming video and audio are in sync when they enter "the system", if one chain has more processing involved, and the other chain doesn't have enough artificial delay added, the two will no longer be in sync. And you'll give audience members headaches.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Blogger's Night

Before this evening's concert (see this post), the gracious hosts of the Cleveland Orchestra had offered an invitation to a "Meet the Musicians" panel in a room deep below the Blossom stage, providing a great opportunity to meet other orchestra fans and--more so, of course--to hear from Orchestra musicians, particularly:

Franklin Cohen - a clarinetist who I've become familiar with via a series of house concerts and intimate recitals, joined the Cleveland Orchestra in 1976. On August 28th, Mr. Cohen will be playing Weber's Clarinet Concerto No. 2. The third time he's played this piece with the orchestra, he commented as he's gotten older he's gotten bolder and it's paid off. Mr. Cohen related the humorous story of when he and his mother attempted to hear the piece from the front row of Carnegie Hall when he was 10 -- after a long string introduction, the clarinet is supposed to enter with a high note: In that case, all that came out was a long squeak, and the 10-year-old Mr. Cohen and mother were overcome by laughter and had to leave the hall. For his part, Mr. Cohen promises a squeak-free performance.

(Jung-Min) Amy Lee - a relative newcomer to the Cleveland Orchestra, starting as Associate Concertmaster in 2008, started piano lessons in her native South Korea at the age of five. Her teacher felt that she was musically talented but that she shouldn't be playing the piano. After her mother eliminated cello from the running (fearful, understandably, that she would be stuck carrying the instrument) Ms. Lee found her way to the violin. Presuming--and hoping--that the Joffrey Ballet's labor issues are resolved prior to their scheduled engagement August 20th and 21st, Ms. Lee will be playing Stravinsky's Violin Concerto from the Blossom pit to accompany George Balanchine's choreography for one piece. Although Ms. Lee has never played this concerto, she has always wanted to and feels that it is technically challenging.

When asked the differences between solo, chamber, and orchestra playing, Ms. Lee remarked that playing with The Cleveland Orchestra is like playing with a big group of people who are plying chamber music, and not many orchestras have that quality.

Principal Second Violin Stephen Rose will be playing Bach's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom on August 22nd. Commenting on the piece he remarked to the effect that sound is influenced by the instruments, and as the orchestra doesn't play on baroque period instruments there will be differences--the bows are different, the violins themselves are different, and the method of playing has evolved, but there are no appologies to be made*. A CIM graduate who had previously attended a music festival in Hudson (a common string between Mr. Rose and Ms. Lee) he remembers the first time he heard The Cleveland Orchestra, it was at Blossom and with a violin soloist. No doubt those memories will be rekindled on August 22nd.

Last but not least, Principal Timpani Paul Yancich, who joined The Cleveland Orchestra in 1981 spoke about Dynasty Double Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra which he and his brother commissioned from composer James Oliverio, and which will be played for only the second time by he and his brother, Mark, on September 10th, the last concert of the 2011 Blossom Festival season. Despite any lingering sibling rivalries, Mr. Yanchich comments that the two parts are wholly interdependent and on roughly equal footing. Speaking of feet, Mr. Yanchich comments that as opposed to violin where you have five fingers and access to all of the available notes within the roughly foot of fingerboard, the Timpani is tuned by foot and you really only have two hands to play with making it a more limited instrument... but in the case of this concerto, the composer has access to four hands and four feet to push the envelope a bit.

Lead by Orchestra General Manager Gary Ginstling, following the discussion on individual concertos, the discussion turned Brucknerian -- between the topic of this evening's concert and the Orchestra's impending visit to New York's Lincoln Center -- and his distinctive "wall of sound". Mr. Rose commented that with Bruckner, every musician was but a small part of the sound, and Ms. Lee added that she felt the main job was to blend, and if you are able to here yourself play outside of the whole you are playing too loudly. Mr Cohen, looking out on to the trees of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, embracing Blossom, noted that while it is a wall of sound that wall is composed of many leaves of different colors, and while nothing stands out if you start to take away the leaves the wall fades. Finally, Mr. Yancich observes that for the timpani the pieces are slower moving and you have an opportunity to hone in more on the essence of the sound along with calm rolls on the instrument.

*- I feel like I've done a particularly poor job of summarizing Mr. Rose's comments; if anyone there has a better version, I'd be glad to hear it.

Cleveland Orchestra: Bruckner and Adams

Adams: Violin Concerto (Leila Josefowicz, violin)
Brucker: Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Following the media night event (see this post), Rachel and I settled in for the concert. First up on the program, John Adams's Violin Concerto, with the talented Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz playing the solo part. This past week, after walking Rachel home at night I took a shortcut through a dark and somewhat densely wooded park on my way back to my house. As the music started to surround us, the eeriness of the first movement, quarter note = 78, reminded me very much of the uneasy, hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling of that walk. I noticed that the section violins -- spent the majority of, if not the entire movement, relegated to pizzicato.

For the second movement (Chaconne: "Body through which the dream flows") I'll borrow Rachel's description of "sorrowful dirge" however, as sorrowful as it may have been, it was not without moments where the strings truly sung and the orchestra sounded almost like a muted choir singing to the heavens behind Ms. Josefowicz's violin. Closing out the piece, Toccare, the third movement, was my favorite from the evening -- very excited, and energetically played, one had the feeling of a joyful pronouncement toward the end, leaving the sorrow and unsettledness of the earlier movements behind.

Following an intermission reception, we returned to the pavilion for Bruckner's 9th...while I don't hate Bruckner, he's certainly not my favorite composer with his works being a bit heavy and seeming to hit the Orchestra's programs with disproportionate frequency lately. True to the movement's indication, the first movement Feierlich, misterioso was solemnly mysterious with the occasional triumphant horn statement; the scherzo was animated and seemed to let the firm grip on civilization loose a little. Finally the third movement adagio was wistful with soaring strings.

Though I'm not Bruckner's fondest fan -- and his music has been described as a "wall of sound", that wall is not impenetrable; as the piece was played the chipper chatter of the birds that inhabit the Blossom pavilion could also be heard--and they seemed to fit in beautifully with the 9th Symphony, and I couldn't help but feel the blend was more harmonious between Birds and Bruckner than it would be with the music of some other composers.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blossom Festival Band: Stars and Stripes and Sousa Forever

(The full program can be found at the end of this post)

This weekend marked the beginning of the Cleveland Orchestra's Blossom Festival season -- this year, with three unique concerts. Though the contents of both the Saturday and Sunday concerts intrigued me, for the sixth year (of six years living in Cleveland) I marked my 4th of July with Loras John Schissel and the Blossom Festival Band... on the 4th of July itself.

This year my girlfriend joined me: We had two of the best box seats in the house, while her mother, father, and brother opted to enjoy the concert from the lawn. Another first, we picnicked on the lawn before the concert -- enjoying a wonderful early summer evening. Although featuring Mr. Schissel's trademark of abandoning the printed program in favor of frequent additions and rearrangements, the concert otherwise seemed fresh--there, were, of course, the patriotic staples, but everything in between seemed new, certainly not rote.

The wildlife was as lively as the program, with birds happily chirping away throughout (though, as my date an I both noted for Fucik's Florentine March, not necessarily on tempo); in the program opener, Thomas Knox's American Pageant there's a passage that instrumentally sings God Shed His Grace on Thee" as those notes were played, a bird dove from the pavilion rafters and gracefully zipped about the pavilion-- I couldn't help but to think of Tinkerbell.

Everything seemed a bit more lively than years past; the crowd certainly seemed a bit louder and more enthusiastic, although, it seemed like the number of people standing for their branch's music in the March-Past of the United States has thinned from year to year. It was difficult to choose a favorite from the program... Meditation: The Light Eternal had a beautiful sound and a touching story; Galop from Moskva Cheryomushki was fast and full of energy; Tone Poem: America was beautifully graceful at points -- and included chains at others.

Unannounced, the piece just before Field Artillery was quite amusing with musicians leaving the stage -- and occasionally hurling objects at Mr. Schissel -- while the piece was in progress... One musician even made good show at attempting to carry on a cell phone call, while shushing the conductor.

Following the concert my girlfriend and I rejoined her family where -- for the first time, actually -- we stayed to watch an incredible fireworks show, with the percussive explosions reverberating out of the pavilion for added impact.

Happy (belated) Independence Day

The Program (In order played; not as printed)
Knox: American Pageant
Sousa: Pathfinder of Panama
Sousa: Mosaic: Songs of Grace and Songs of Glory
Sousa: Power and Glory
Fucik: Florentine March: La Rosa di Toscana
Shostakovitch: Gallop from Moskva Cheryomushki
Sousa: Dauntless Battalion
Sousa: Tone Poem: America
Sousa: Field Artilerary
Sousa: Washington Post
Sousa: New York Hippodrome
Swearingen: Meditation: The Light Eternal (The Legend of the four Chaplains)
Traditional: March-Past of the United States Armed Forces
Tchaikovsky: Overture: The Year 1812
Berlin: God Bless America
Sousa: Stars and Stripes Forever

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Paramount Pictures is in my Side Yard (And I Don't Think I Like It)

"Our eyes'll adjust, thank god for the Moon / maybe it's not the Moon at all, I hear that Spike Lee's shooting down the street / Bah humbug ... Bah Humbug" -- Light My Candle from the musical Rent (Mimi and Roger)

It's funny. Growing up in Southern California, home to Hollywood and all that jazz, some people assume that, well, Southern California = Hollywood, and therefore being from SoCal, I must be used to film making. That is not the case*.

No, instead, I'm subjected to the invasive hell of film making in my home in Cleveland Heights. For those who haven't heard, two movies are being shot in Cleveland this summer -- The Avengers (based on the comic book series, we "won" this production after the state of Michigan pulled tax incentives), and Fun Size (I'm still not entirely sure what this one is, but it's Halloween related, and something along the lines of sibling-looses-younger sibling).

I knew Fun Size was shooting in the Coventry Road Business District (aka Coventry Village) because my girlfriend works in one of the retail establishments and was visited by the filmmakers to give warning. What I didn't know was the Fun Size would be shooting at Boulevard Elementary School, my next door neighbor.

That "warning" came when I was woken at about 5:30 AM Thursday by the sound of a fleet of semis rolling into the parking lot next door, then sitting there idling for well over an hour. I am not a morning person. You do not get on my good side by waking me up before 7, much less before 6. (Here's my Twitter status update from when I had attained sufficient consciousness to successfully log on). After a day at the office -- wherein I was generally grumpy -- I came home and I thought it would be alright.

Then they fired up the generators, started trucks idling, and added a pinch of amazingly loud air conditioning running not long after I got home. Right next to my living room and master bedroom windows. (Literally if I opened my living room window and stuck a broom stick out, I could hit one of them). Ok. I can tolerate this for a few hours.

After my violin lesson, I met up with my GF and we hung out for a little while (but not as long as we otherwise might have because I was exhausted after having been woken up at five-freaking-thirty AM.) I go to drive her home and I find a mini-traffic jam, with a Cleveland Heights Police cruiser preventing traffic from entering my neighborhood. Fantastic. Before leaving, I roll down my window and ask the officer what the best way to get back is after I drop her off. "Just tell me when you get back". OK.

After dropping her off, I drive back. The officer gestures to try to get me to take the detour. I wait, roll down my window. "Excuse me, sir!" he comes over and I tell him where I live. He seems irritated, but tells me to wait while he clears out cars, then tells me to hurry. Not having ready access to the public streets around my own home is not doing anything to endear the filmmakers to me. But I make it home.

The generators, engines, and air conditioners are still going at full tilt. I'm tired, grumpy, and irritated. I'd probably be tired, grumpy, and irritated in any event, but the lack of notification from anyone that, hey, by the way we're going to be closing streets, making a ton of noise, and shining lights into your windows on these dates would have at least left me less p---ed off.

For those who don't know there's a common law right to quiet enjoyment: Essentially, as a property owner or tenant, I have the right to occupy my house free from the interference excessive noise, vibration, light, odor, etc. from surrounding properties... and Paramount's operations are most certainly interfering with my right to quiet enjoyment. Cleveland Heights also classifies disturbing noise as Disorderly Conduct**

After making it up to my 3rd floor master bedroom, I found that the noise was even more obnoxious than in my 2nd floor living room. I don't even get undressed. I go out side, corner the first person I see with a walkie talkie and ask for the location manager. He comes over, and we have a discussion. It is now 10:30 PM. I want to go to sleep.

I find out that shooting will be going on for another "5 or 6 hours" after which point they should shut the trailers down, until shooting resumes tomorrow night. Lovely. I have to say that the gentleman I've been speaking with is understanding, pleasant, apologetic, and generally nice -- which forestalled my initial instinct to just call CHPD (or walk over to one of the dozens of officers in the area) and ask that someone be cited for the noise violation. I had mentally prepared myself for an extensive argument, and that turned out not to be necessary.

I go up stairs and take a few Excedrin PM. It still takes me forever to fall asleep, and I don't sleep well. I wake up the next morning a bit groggy (Excedrin PM always does that to me) and make it into the office. After I get home from work, I meet with the contact to sign some paperwork so a check request can be generated. I'm not really thrilled by the offer, but I think all things considered it's a nice gesture from them (and less stress than trying to get an injunction, temporary restraining order or anything of of that sort).

Again last night they fired up the noise makers. I met my GF and a few of her friends for dinner, but made the decision to walk instead of drive to avoid that stress again. I make my way up to bed. The noise is at least as bad as last night. I take two more Excedrin PM. This morning I'm again a bit groggy, and wind up spending most of the day in bed enjoying the quiet. They aren't filming this weekend, they move to Coventry for Tuesday and Wednesday, and will be back at the school Friday. I just hope that they have a little more courtesy moving the trailers than doing it before 7AM


(Top picture is a view of the trailer village that popped up, from my one of my master bedroom windows; bottom picture is a shot of one of the trucks as seen from my side yard)
*- Although my now-deceased step-grandmother's home in Long Beach was used from time-to-time for location shooting (An episode of CBS's Criminal Minds was shot there) and just around the corner from the Ferris Bueller's Day Off house -- I was not involved in any of these.

**- Also included in the definition of Disorderly Conduct "The following acts, among others, are declared to be loud, disturbing and unreasonable noises in violation of this chapter, but such enumerations shall not be deemed to be exclusive, namely [...] (6) Heavy equipment. The use of heavy [...] equipment in close proximity to residential dwellings during the hours of 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m." (Chapter 509.03(b), Codified Ordinances of the City of Cleveland Heights)