Sunday, November 27, 2011

ChamberFest Cleveland: A Gala Concert to Benefit

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44 (Mvt. I) ¹²³ª°
Brahms: Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 (Mvt. I) ²ª*
Beethoven: Clarinet Trio in B flat major,  Op. 11 (Mvt. II, III) ª^*
Brahms: Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op. 120/1 (Mvt. II) ^*
Schubert: Fantasia in F minor for piano Four Hands, D. 940 (Mvt. I, II, III, IV) °*
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44 (Mvt IV) ¹²³ª°
At the Cowap Residence, Shaker Heights
¹- William Pruecil, violin; ²- Diana Cohen, violin; ³- James Larson, viola; ª- Mark Kosower, cello; °- Jonathan Biss, piano; *-Orion Weiss, piano; ^-Franklin Cohen, clarinet

Diana Cohen and her father, Franklin, are two of my favorite musicians both generally and in their respective instruments. Both are clearly passionate about their craft and when Diana told me that they were starting a summer music festival for Cleveland I was instantly intrigued and excited.

If tonight's concert -- a benefit for the young organization known as ChamberFest Cleveland with the Cohens serving as enthusiastic co-Artistic Directors -- is any indication, ChamberFest will be a force to be reckoned with when the concerts start in June 2012.

Before tonight's program a sampling of delicious Hors d'oeuvres and wine provided by Fire Food and Drink and it was interesting to see how many people the event had attracted and how many people I knew from how many different circles -- Cleveland Orchestra management, Cleveland Museum of Art staff, Heights Arts frequenters, patrons of those institutions and the many others that exist for Cleveland. After the concert, the reaction was unanimously positive.

And it's easy to see why: Aside from the two Cohens (the elder of which is Principal Clarinet and a long-time member of the Cleveland Orchestra) the event featured Cleveland Orchestra Members William Pruecil (violin) and Mark Kosower (cello), pianist Jonathan Biss, fresh off of a engagement as soloist with the Orchestra (in fact, the last of his concert series was played earlier this afternoon) -- established world-class musicians, along with Orion Weiss and James Larson, not as well known (at least not to me) but certainly not slackers.

And like the Hors d'oeuvres, tonight's program was a tasteful sampling of music that was as pleasing to the ears as the food was to the tongue. From the passioned, bold and sweet sounds of the first piece on the program, to the dramatic and breathy Piano Trio the program left me craving more, particularly Mr. Kosower's impassioned work in the Piano Trio.

The second movement adagio of the Beethoven Clarinet trio was such a sweet and tender lullaby it was impossible not to be moved, while the third movement had more of a trotting feel to it. Meanwhile, the Clarinet Sonata was searchingly soulful as if the Clarinet (Mr. Cohen) was searching for a long lost love.

Thought musically it wasn't my favorite, I'd be remiss not to mention the sheer technical challenge (and perfection) presented by Schubert's Fantasia in F minor for Piano Four Hands, played by both Mr. Biss and Mr. Weiss on the same piano -- to say that I was impressed by the coordination, and the sound that arose (as if there were one musician with four hands playing rather than two distinct musicians with their individual sounds) -- and by the end of the piece, both pianists had beads of sweat visibly running down their respective foreheads. But the result was splendid. (It should be noted that the piano for tonight's event was a Steinway Concert Grand provided by Steinway Hall Akron replacing the diminutive piano normally in the space)

The younger Ms. Cohen announced that in addition to the partnerships that brought tonight's event to fruition that ChamberFest has forged relationships and partnerships with WCLV (for media support) CIM (for performance space) and others.

I eagerly await the first concert in the ChamberFest, which promises to "present world-class musicians for an intensive summer chamber music festival, exploring unique and immersing thematic programming, and creating original engaging musical experiences for its audiences"


Glass Blowing at J & C Glass Studio

Rachel had mentioned a while ago that she was interested in glass blowing and when we found a Groupon for an "experience" at a local studio it seemed like a great idea.

The Groupon was good for either pumpkin or ornament making day workshops or just for $50 worth of merchandise -- which, of course, wouldn't be nearly as fun -- at J and C Glass Studio. From the Groupon we both thought that the studio was in Little Italy, as it turns out the gallery is in Little Italy but the actual studio is in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood (in the same building as Fourth Wall Productions had a short-lived theatre space)

We decided to book the Ornament Making class and upon arriving at the studio this afternoon there were two things that immediately struck us: First the hospitality of the studio staff and second the intense heat. This was certainly somewhere to be on a cold winter day. The class consisted of two instructors and 8 students, with each student guided through the process of making two ornaments.

First, we heated our blowpipes, and once hot (with my body about a yard from the furnace it felt like my wrist was on fire) we dipped in molten glass to pick up a glob. From this point on, spinning the pipe became important to keep the liquid glass on the blowpipe from drooping.

Rolling in the color of your choice (I did red and green, Rachel did green and blue) you then returned to the furnace to melt the color in. Coming out of the furnace the glass is rolled out into a oblong pellet about the size of a roll of quarters.

The first step requires an amazing amount of human-provided air pressure to form an air bubble in the ornament while rolling the blow stick back and forth across the rails. A trip back to the furnace to soften the glass a bit and some light air pressure with a bit of forming assistance from the J&C staff brings the ornament to its final shape.

The ornament, now a definite object, is cut free from the blow stick and a final blob of glass added and formed over to form a hook and the ornament is done -- the only step remaining is to be annealed which requires an overnight stay in their ovens.

Rachel and I will return soon to pick up our ornaments -- but it was quite the fun (if a bit sweaty) experience.

J and C also had a sampling of glass products for sale at very reasonable prices -- Rachel picked up a paperweight for $5 and I found a glass flower (to give purpose to a vase I picked up on one of my last visits to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City) for only $10. Still, there were a collection of glass vessels with faces whose expressions were just too cute. I'm particularly enamored by one green one with a beret and bow tie -- but it was not priced, and I'm a little hesitant to email the artist for price (under the heading of "if you have to ask...")


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Fabio Luisi: Mozart and Strauss

R. Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K453 (Jonathan Biss, piano)
R. Strauss: Aus Italien, Op. 16
Fabio Luisi, conductor

I was on my way to hear this program last night when I was involved in a minor traffic accident -- everyone is OK, and this is, after all, what insurance is for. But this is most certainly not the time of year I'd like to pull a grand out of my wallet for the deductible -- it may reduce my performing arts attendance in the near term.

Anyway, thanks to the courtesy of the Cleveland Orchestra staff I was able to make this evening's concert and while I had originally contemplated just missing this weekend's program I'm glad I made it to tonight's concerts.

Before we get to the music, though, one of the interesting things about sitting on the box level is the stories of people who have been life-long orchestra supporters. Before tonight's program a woman in the next box over made eye contact "I'm curious about you," she begins, "I see you at all kinds of concerts....are you connected with the orchestra?" -- that's actually a question I'm getting with increasing frequency -- and after I answer in the negative we exchange idle chatter. At Intermission I learn that she's had her seats for the past fifty years.

Though her husband, once an actuary for the Musician's Union, passed eight years ago, she's kept both seats "so I don't have to come alone" Though her tenure started with George Szell (and she didn't particularly care for Boulez's stint in Cleveland) she's kept up -- in what she thinks are the best seats in the house -- but back problems have her concerned that this season may be the last that she's able to attend, possibly ending that 50-year stretch.

The concert tonight, under the baton of recently-named Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Fabio Luisi, was one of those concerts wherein dedication spanning five decades needs no further explanation.

From the opening notes of Till Eulenspeigel's Merry Pranks the orchestra sounded happy and the playing was at ease. Mr. Luisi, likewise, when the profile of his face could be seen was clearly pleased with the sound he was drawing out of the orchestra. The piece has a innocent melody in the ends with a few minor echos in the strings -- where it's easy to imagine a character strolling along innocently -- with occasional explosions of music where a prank was slipped in.

Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 was a beautiful blend of orchestra and Jonathan Biss's fine work at the keyboard. Perhaps most interesting contextually was the fact that Mozart scored this piece not for himself but for one of his students (also, according to a tale retold in the program notes, Mozart had taught his pet Starling to whistle the last movement of the piece) -- the first movement was so smoothly played that at one point Mr. Biss took up a solo cadenza that was well into it before it occurred to me that the orchestra had stopped playing. The second movement was a bit too relaxing where I almost drifted off, and I had no distinct feelings about the third movement.

Closing out the program was Strauss's delightful "Symphonic Fantasy" Aus Italien [From Italy] the program notes describe it as perhaps four symphonic postcards and I think "postcard" implies too static a scene. From the opening notes of the first movement (In the Country - Adante) I got the sensation of dawn peaking over the horizon, with a pastoral morning and a glorious mid-day sun. The second movement (Amid the Ruins of Rome: Fantastic Scenes of Vanished Splendor; Feelings of Sadness and Grief in the Midst of Sunniest Surroundings - Allegro molto con brio) started with a feeling of sweeping happiness but became unsettled and ended with a feeling of intense drama. The third movement, On the Shores of Sorrento - Adantino, had a slow and leisurely development and didn't really garner my attention until a sweet line in the cellos deliciously grew over fading flutes. The movement also featured the occasional burst of orchestral color appearing seemingly from nowhere. The last movement Neapolitan Folk Life (Allegro molto) began with an explosive introduction and then unmistakable variations on Funiculi, Funicula, a song written six years earlier and which Strauss had, apparently, mistaken for an Italian Folk Song -- while it wasn't at the time it arguably is now -- with a particularly beautiful showing from the strings.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Ton Koopman Conducts Bach

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major BVW 1046
Bach: "Wedding" Cantata, BVW 202 (Treresa Wakim, soprano)
Bach: Sinfonia in B minor, from Cantata BVW 209
Bach: Sinfonia in D minor, from Cantata BVW 42
Bach: Suite No. 3 in D major, BVW 1068
Ton Koopman, conductor.

The crowd at tonight's Cleveland Orchestra concert seemed odd -- and the first concert in recent memory where I didn't see any other audience members I recognized. Following performances last season (earlier this calendar year), baroque conductor Ton Koopman lead tonight's collection of five Bach pieces.

While Mr. Koopman was as effervescent as always, tonight's program wasn't as inspiring or as captivating -- I suspect that this reaction was partially due to programming: I'm realizing that single-composer concert-length programs don't hold my attention.

The program opened with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 after Mr. Koopman's animated entrance (and it wasn't until this movement that the reason the stage looked odd was because Mr. Koopman was conducting from a bare stage, not standing on a podium as seems to be the custom). The first movement -- scored without a tempo indication -- was bright and sweet and well paced. The second movement, stood in sharp contrast with a dulled restrained sadness that seemed especially slow. We returned to a fast lively mood -- almost as if the mourning has ended -- in the third movement allegro. The fourth movement is a series of seven tempo notations, where as played each section was distinct. Perhaps most impressively were the standout performances by the winds during the two Trio sections, and William Preucil's solo violin contributions.

The so-called "Wedding" Cantata held the most interest for me going in -- and it started with a soaring orchestra and haunting note from Ms. Wakim, but overall the piece did not meet expectations. Musically  it was interesting in that Mr. Koopman was playing the harpsichord and that for what seemed like the majority of the piece there were never more than two instruments being played. But Ms. Wakim's voice felt out of place -- and judging by conversations overheard from adjacent boxes that feeling was relatively widely held.

Following intermission we were treated to two works that while nearly 300 years old the Cleveland Orchestra had never presented before this weekend. While the Sinfonia in D minor left no impression whatsoever (see what I was saying about my attention wandering with single-composer programs?) the Sinfonia in B minor struck me as the beautiful solo flute unabashedly flirting with the strings.

The final work on the program, and tied for favorite with the Brandenburg Concerto, was Suite No. 3. A series of six movements, each with a very distinct musical sound and personality was a delight to listen to. The second of those movements, Air, perhaps one of Bach's best known compositions (same conductor, different orchestra on YouTube here) was so lovingly played by our orchestra that it was very difficult to resist the urge to applaud between movements.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Brian Ulrich Buyer's Remorse Event (@ClevelandArt)

When I frist walked through Brian Ulrich's Copia-Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores 2001-11, the exhibition in the East Wing Photography Gallery (through January 16, 2012) it immediately struck me and captured my attention and interest

Divided into three sections, the exhibition visually explores the retail boom and conspicuous consumerism (Retail), the inital recession and rise of Thrifting, into the era of Dark Stores: Cavernous buildings once bustling with goods and people now sitting idle and empty. In that first section, the number of nondescript homogeneous scenes that could be "Anywhere, USA" (A line of cash registers from a Target in Granger, IN, for example, could just as easily be found in any Target in the country) and in the sheer expanse -- the foreground starts around Register #10 and you approach the softly-focused horizon at Register #32 leads you to wonder how we got to the point where a retailer would need 32 registers.

Likewise the completely absent expression on shoppers faces is uniquely disturbing -- and eerily uniform, be it a woman eyeing groceries, a child in a toy store, or a man selecting a fishing rod. Are we really in there?

While Thrift didn't appeal to my senses in the same way as the outer movements, Dark Stores is perhaps where I lingered the longest -- a shot of long-abandoned escalators in the infamous Dixie Square Mall has a strangely unique context for what is quite possibly the most photographed scene in the Dead Mall world; nearby a sign in an abandoned store announces a "Over 100 year" history -- and you can't help but to wonder what did them in? What about the people who worked there? What about the craftsmen whose work is now visible in the form of naked walls?

But that wasn't the reason Rachel and I were at the museum tonight. One of a rapidly growing number of exciting events the museum is hosting on the Wednesday and Friday evenings (when the galleries are open until 9pm), tonight's Buyers Remorse Young Professionals event featured cocktails and a DJ spinning tunes with casual conversation in the Museum Cafe (where one of Rachel's robots watched from the sidelines as part of the 2011 Staff Art Show in the same space) and the photographer Brian Ulrich in the Photography Galleries with his photographs. By the time Rachel and I made it from the Cafe to the galleries, Mr. Ulrich was in the tail end of talking about the project, and gladly fielded a stream of questions from a gallery full of curious attendees and provided humorous yet detailed answers to each question.

While the physical distance between galleries and reception is a bit of a hurdle (at least until the atrium opens in the Fall of 2012) to creating the ultimate event, events like these certainly gives both regular museum attendees and those who may be living in Cleveland blissfully unaware of the treasures we have a unique and hands-on experience with the art...and in this case, the artist.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Music in the Galleries with Gregory Fulkerson, Violin (@ClevelandArt)

Bach: Partita no. 3 in E major, BVW 1006
Bach: Sonata no. 2 in A minor, BVW 1003
Bach: Sonata no. 3 in C major, BVW 1005
Gregory Fulkerson, violin
In Gallery 20, at the Cleveland Museum of Art

I've often thought that it might be nice to bring music into the museum's galleries -- at least one Member's party for a special exhibition included the sounds of a small chamber ensemble wafting through the galleries, and I was intrigued.

But until recently that was it. Earlier this month the museum began a series that will repeat monthly bringing music into the museum's art-filled galleries. The prior outings I've had previous engagements, but I was bound and determined to make it to this session especially after a comment on a different CMA post strongly suggested attendance.

Rachel and I made our way to the museum and then to the galleries about 20 minutes before the 7:30 starting time. On our way to the gallery hosting the concert (Gallery 20 in the 1916 building, just West of the Rotunda) we ran into a guard and upon answering in the affirmative to "Are you here for the concert?" he warned "It's going to be cozy...lots of people got here before you". Closer to the musical epicenter, one of the guards I know suggested that we grab stools on the way in. The gallery was comfortably full -- just enough room to breathe, and certainly an appreciative audience.

We caught the tail end of Associate Director of Music Tom Welsh's introduction before the concert quickly got under way with the mesmerizing Partita No. 3, the first movement of which (Preludio) provided a very lively and thrilling introduction to the evening as the notes resonated throughout the gallery it was impossible not to enjoy the movement. It took me a while to figure it out, but part of the reason the movement felt so familiar is that it is one of the few classically inspired pieces on my iPod--and one I delight in listening to over and over--in the form of violinist Vannessa-Mae's Bach Street Prelude. While the Bach Street Prelude has a decidedly energetic techno flair, Mr. Fulkerson's Preludio exuded no less energy and simply came alive in the galleries.

Rachel's favorite from the evening was the Gavoette en rondeaux, the third movement from the Partita, which had a delightfully lively dance like flare.

Sonata no. 2 took things much more slowly and sensually with the first movement (Grave) being particularly sensual and the third movement (Andante) played lovingly. The second movement (Fuga) had hints that reminded me of the Partita, and overall while my ears were soaking in the sounds, my eyes were delighting in the art in ways that I've never noticed while strolling the galleries.

Ending the trilogy was Sonata no. 3 with a slow delicate adagio first movement, leading into a danceish fuga second movement, in which I resisted the urge to kiss Rachel solely and barely because we were in a fulll view of a crowded gallery. I was apathetic about the third movement (largo), my least favorite of the evening, but the program ended with the lively allegro assi fourth movement. Closing my eyes, I picked up some hints again of the preludio though transformed and less closely related than in the earlier piece.

In the end though, it was a delightful evening of wonderful music in a nearly perfect setting.


Monday, November 14, 2011

I [heart] New York: The Rest of the Trip

As it turns out I was  too busy showing Rachel The City (capitalization intentional) that by the time we made it back to our room I was too exhausted to actually write about it.

Her original flight in to La Guardia was cancelled, so while I waited for her I went ahead and hit up MoMA -- the Museum of Modern Art -- since Rachel tends to prefer more classical art. She didn't miss much. Last time I did MoMA there were works I didn't get and works that really captivated me. This time nothing really captivated me (and the galleries seemed particularly overrun with tourists) -- that is until I made it back to the Industrial Design section which is where I lingered for the longest period of time and had the greatest appreciation for: Commercial art that is eye catching and selling a product (PanAm destination posters)... Fonts and typefaces (Finally getting the attention they deserve)...every day products where function follows form.

After leaving MoMA I had just enough time to get back to the room get off my feet for a few minutes and confirm the route to La Guardia. Arriving several hours later than expected when Rachel landed she found her way to the Q33 bus to Jackson Heights where I met her after arriving on a Queens-bound (funny, since we were in Queens) 7 Train.

Taking her back we found a Manhattan bound E Train and rode in comfort back to the 42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal stop and the quick walk back to the hotel. One of many reasons why the Hilton Times Square is my favorite hotel in The City (and perhaps period) is that it, as near as I can tell, sits on top of  the largest subway complex in NYC... and if you can't get where you want to get from Times Square/42nd/PABT directly, a short subway Shuttle (S Train) ride to Grand Central will get you there.

Dropping her bags off on the 43rd floor -- room 4320 -- we descended back into the subway station, caught the Shuttle (despite it now being almost 8pm, still packed) and at Grand Central found a downtown 1 Train to meet a friend of hers (and her boyfriend) for dinner. We found a barbecue joint on 3rd Avenue somewhere in the 30s that had good food -- and even better margaritas. (Not having to worry about driving, I indulged in two). We had ice cream in the friend's apartment and by the time we returned to street level a light rain had started. We found an uptown train and retired to the double-Queen room for the evening.

Getting a lazy start on Friday morning, we worked our way downtown to the Meat Packing district using the Shuttle and a C Train to 14th street -- before we got to our actual destination we discovered Tom Otterness's Life Underground, an art installation as part of the MTA's Arts For Transit program and quite an extensive installation at that. Mr. Otterness's little creatures are always so cute and that was particularly true in this case. Once we left the station a quick (although blustery) walk got us to our actual destination: The New York High Line, a former elevated freight rail road structure adapted, converted, and reused now as a public park. Its quite an impressive project, and I would have liked to linger a bit longer had there not been a biting cold wind pushing us around.

Working our way uptown we found our way to the southeast corner of Central Park (though I'm not sure which combination of trains we took to get there) wandered through the lower section of the park eyeing the people and wildlife (and downing a hot dog) before arriving at Rachel's prime destination: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now I will admit that last time I visited The Met I wasn't overly impressed, but walking the galleries with Rachel it was delightful to see her eyes bug out as she excitedly bounded from artwork to artwork like a kid in a candy store "I've seen that one in books!" "We studied that in my classes!". We grabbed lunch in the Cafeteria lingered around the Europeans for a bit and then hit my highlight of the visit: The Met's renown Musical Instrument Collection displaying an evolution of musical instruments from the odd to the common... and a couple Stradivari violins.

Leaving the Met we walked further up 5th Avenue and toured the Guggenheim which currently has a rather odd installation hanging from the ceiling. We didn't spend long but I did buy a new watch.

Walking towards Lexington Avenue, I misjudged the direction for the nearest Subway so instead of walking two blocks downtown to the nearest 4/5/6 station we walked eight blocks uptown and caught a 4 Train back to Grand Central, shuttled to Times Square and kicked off our shoes for a few minutes before departing to another destination Rachel wanted to check out: The Morgan Library and Museum, founded by Pierpont Morgan. Open late Fridays with live music we stayed and lingered until the guards kicked us out at the 9 PM Closing.

Returning to Times Square we had dinner at Schnippers Quality Kitchen on the corner of 41st and 8th Avenue. I had tripped over this place while I was in NYC for the Tony Awards (and staying at a different hotel) but it's literally right down the street from the hotel's back door. The Mac and Cheese with Bacon hit the spot. Returning to the 43rd floor... high above the city...we both quickly disappeared into slumber.

Waking up Saturday morning we realized our time was limited, and although we had been staying in the middle of Times Square, Rachel had never actually seen Times Square so I walked her through the highlights and we popped into the Hershey Store. Curiosity satisfied, we hopped on a train downtown, emerged from the surface at a random stop and among other sights window shopped Chinatown. From City Hall Park we uptown trained to NYU where Rachel poped into one of the Manhattan branches of an employer to look around, and realizing that we were starting to run short on time, we returned to the hotel for the last time, collected our belongings, and checked out.

Entering the Port Authority Bus Terminal subway station, I made a near fatal error -- already cutting the time close (by my standards) -- In a snap judgement thought that the A, C, or E trains would get where we wanted to go. Until we got on an A train, and I looked at a map. And Paniced. Only the E train ultimately ended up where we wanted to go, we popped off at the next station, and I misread signs... so we missed the first E train, and waited.

It felt like an eternity before the next E train showed up (all the while the station announcements blared "There is a...uptown...local...train approaching the...upper level...platform. Please stand clear of the platform edge, especially when trains are entering or leaving the station." on a seemingly constant basis. Rachel, sensing my fermenting panic had started to ask "Well, how much would a cab cost...?", but finally the "There is a Queens Bound...Express...E...Train approaching the...lower level...platform" announcement finally came. Getting back to Jackson Heights/Rosevelt, we left the station and immediately hopped on a waiting Q33 bus. Found seats, and made what felt like the interminable ride to the Central terminal. I checked in and checked my bags with Continental, then Rachel checked in for her much later flight with American... and with about 30 minutes left until I was set to board and since our gates were behind different security checkpoints, we grabbed a quick lunch in the terminal before bidding each other a temporary adieu.

Both of our flights home were uneventful.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chamber Music Guild: Trio Unnamed

Beethoven: Trio in E Flat Major Op. 70, No. 2
Beethoven: Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Major Op. 12, No. 1
Brahms: Trio in C Major Op. 87
(Susan Britton, violin; Linda Atherton, cello; Elizabeth DeMio, piano; at Lyndhurst Community Presbyterian Church)

I'm still a exhausted from my trip to New York and wound up alternating between napping and lounging most of today between the time I delivered Rachel to work and the time I picked her up (I promise the rest of the story from my vacation is coming soon-ish).

After I picked her up from work we grabbed a quick dinner (with drinks) at the Fairmount before heading East to tonight's Chamber Music Guild concert. I heard the same trio in the same venue last year. In the intervening year, they still haven't found a name but they sound just as good.

The program opened with the sequel to last year's Ghost trio in the form of Beethoven's Opus 70 No. 2 which opened sweetly in the cello and violin for the first movement before turning darker and taking a decidedly agitated feel for the second movement, ending with a very lively fourth movement. Rachel commented that the sound,  particularly of the first movement, sounded like a 18th century French court.

Giving cellist Ms. Atherton a break, Ms. Britton and Ms. DeMio gave a lovely performance of Beethoven's Sonata for Piano and Violin which traversed musical territory from smooth and loving to stormy and agitated.

The third piece on the program, from a different "B" composer, Brahms's Trio in C Major, which was my favorite from the evening and gripped me from its deep and contemplative first movement. The second movement evolved that emotion to something a bit more introspective and searching but not as deep. The third movement dims the light further and remains dark with only occasional hints of light, but the fourth movement emerges from the shadows and had familiar, almost easygoing feel.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Alan Gilbert Conducts

Beethoven: Romance No. 2 in F major, Op. 50 (for violin and orchestra, William Preucil, violin)
Webern: Im Sommerwind [In the Summer  Breeze]
Bruch: Adagio appassionato, (for violin and orchestra, William Preucil, violin)
Schoenberg: Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 5
Alan Gilbert, conductor.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and based on tonight's concert -- the first back in Severance Hall since the orchestra's European tour and residency and my first after returning from a week in New York state -- would tend to support that assertion.

I wasn't sure if I'd be back in time, in fact, for tonight's concert -- and assuming I would be back in time I was waffling, between being dead exhausted from the trip (I hope to have blogs for the remainder of my visit up tomorrow) and being woefully unimpressed by the NY Philharmonic, where Mr. Gilbert is Music Director my bed was looking awfully luring.

Tonight's concert, though, lived, breathed, and had a wonderfull variety of textures. The first half of the program were three pieces each of about 10 minutes in length. Starting with Beethoven's Romance No. 2, a wonderfully romantic embrace between solo violin (played by Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil) and the orchestra. Delightful but not overly sweet this piece moved and may serve as my favorite Beethoven for now.

Next Im Sommerwind (In the Summer Breeze) by Anton Webern was aptly titled and a warm choice as the leaves have turned colors and the days are getting colder. While I lost the feeling to a degree in the ending the beginning and ending were clearly Summery with a breeze of music wafting throughout with occasional gusts of powerful music, closing my eyes, I could swear that I also heard frolicking children amongst the notes.

Finishing out the first half  of the program Bruch's Adagio appassionato, again with Mr. Preucil playing the violin solo part, gave me the sensation of the soloist wandering alone, much more emotional and restrained than Beethoven's Romance but no less enjoyable to listen to.

After intermission, Mr. Gilbert addressed the audience with comments about Schoenberg's Pelleas and Melisande, and had the orchestra to play samples of the various motifs used to tell the stories of the various players in the drama-turned-tone-poem, which was unique and added to the performance, though as a matter of personal preference, I thought the excerpting was a bit excessive. When the performance of the piece began I simply closed my eyes and let vivid imagery fly through my head. Some of it related to what Mr. Gilbert had introduced, and some was completely unrelated, but it was  where I entered the meditative state that I so enjoy about the Cleveland Orchestra and just let the weeks behind me slip away.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

I [heart] New York: Day 1 Part 1 - The New York Philharmonic

This morning I woke up at the ungodly hour of 6 AM (after finally retiring to bed around midnight, not because I was tired but because I wanted to be well-rested for today. Rachel was supposed to arrive just before 4... but thanks to American Airlines, that's changed to just before 6).

While I was getting my bearings on what might sound interesting I had noticed that the New York Philharmonic was offering an open rehearsal at 9:45 AM for, if I recall correctly, $19. While I've wanted to hear the NY Philharmonic, if for no other reason than to compare it to my Cleveland Orchestra, I didn't really want to dedicate an entire evening to the endeavor, much less an entire evening while Rachel was in town -- the open rehearsal sounded like a splendid way to make this work. Plus at closed rehearsals I've been invited to I've been thrilled by the artistic finesse and fine tuning that occurs between orchestra and conductor.

The concert being rehearsed consisted of two pieces (Strauss: Don Quixote, Op. 35, Cynthia Phelps, viola; Carter Brey, cello; Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ("Pastoral"), Bernard Haitink, conductor), however I elected to leave during the rehearsal break as I was becoming hungry, and a bit restless -- not a good combination for 11:24 in the morning.

To put it simply, though, the Cleveland Orchestra is in no danger of loosing my musical heart. While Don Quixote was initially played through delightfully and without pause, it was no more musically satisfying than listening to something on my iPod. The precise reason why I don't listen to classical music on my iPod. I'm not sure if it's the orchestra or the acoustics of the visually uninspiring Avery Fisher Hall [It isn't far removed in size shape or decoration from an airplane hanger with seats and a stage left over from the dark days of design: The 70s] or even something particular to my seat (LL107) but there was no texture or emotion. I'm used to hearing classical music with nuances and individual character -- that is to say, a work that breathes with the collective breath of the musicians. I didn't get that, and had I paid much more than $19, I would have been remarkably disappointed. While the music was lively, the subject matter is after all Don Quixote, the delivery seemed mechanical. That said, both soloists, were captivating, particularly Ms. Phelps viola.

After the piece was played through in its entirety, specific passages were revisited, and reworked -- this is normally my favorite part, as it gives you a clear idea of what the conductor feels is most important about a piece,  however, as I was unable to hear a word Mr. Haitink was saying from the podium (as, of course, the comments were primarily if not exclusively intended for the benefit of the musicians) this provided no benefit to the audience.

The program notes and format were quite helpful on the other hand. I've long been a fan of the detail and organization of the Cleveland Orchestra's program books (the one addition I would suggest if given the opportunity is adding the approximate running times of movements, ala the Minnesota Orchestra) but the Philharmonic might win by a nose here of for nothing else than the sheer amount of well organized detail.

[Side note: The New York Philharmonic's Music Director, Alan Gilbert, is conducting this week's Cleveland Orchestra concerts -- it will be interesting to hear the Cleveland Orchestra under his baton on Saturday (if I make it back early enough) or Sunday (otherwise).

The NYC Ballet isn't presenting anything at the moment (slightly disappointing as I haven't found a more convenient source of ballet, namely one in Cleveland) and I absolutely cannot build any enthusiasm whatsoever for the Metropolitan Opera... so it seems unlikely that I'll return to Lincoln Center on this trip.

On my way back I went hunting for food and stumbled into a random deli and ordered a random sandwich. It was good.

Now I'm off to do some more exploring before picking up Rachel...


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I [heart] NYC Day 0: The Mountaintop with Samuel L. Jackson

The work part of this trip ended when I returned the rental car for the "business" portion out in the 'burbs, dropped my coworker off at Newark Terminal C, and boarded NJTransit bound for New York Penn Station (not to be confused with Newark Penn Station, the first stop after the airport).

It took a bit longer than I expected but the trip was utterly uneventful and about $12.50. Leaving Penn Station on foot I walked uptown to 41st street and checked in to my favorite hotel in New York City, the Hilton Times Square -- where this time, my room on the 43rd floor has a fantastic panorama of Manhattan including the New York Times and Empire State Buildings. The very city texture which I love of Manhattan.

After dropping my luggage in the room at about 7:30 I continue walking up town -- I love how easy Manhattan is to navigate (uptown = street numbers get bigger / downtown = street numbers get smaller) and find the Theatre Development Fund's TKTS booth. I was in the mood for a musical, but all of the musicals on the board -- and it now being about 7:45 I had either (a) seen before (b) was planning on seeing the touring version at PlayhouseSquare [so why waste a night on Broadway?] or (c) had heard enough about to have no interest in seeing.

So in Lincoln fashion and with less than 15 minutes to published curtain I did what I normally do: Picked one that I haven't even heard of from the board, bought a ticket for a play called The Mountaintop and walked (this time downtown) to the Jacobs Theatre on 45th between Broadway and 8th for The Mountaintop, staring Samuel L. Jackson (as Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Angela Bassett (as Camae) in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968.

If that date doesn't click for you (for some reason when read the setting line in the program the room number was what triggered my recollections): Mr. King was assassinated outside that room on April 4th. . The beginning is a bit mundane: He relieves himself, then begins working on a speech. Calling for room service -- discontinued the previous week -- a housekeeper, Camae (Angela Bassett) delivers the coffee and a relationship between the two of them grows as they share cigarettes and she slips a bit of whisky ("Irish Cough Surup") into his coffee. But then it takes a surreal turn and it turns out Camae is an angel -- sent to bring Mr. King to heaven.

We see an even more human side of Martin Luther King--he's not prepared to be a martyr. There's too much left undone and he has to see it through to completion. It's difficult for me to summarize and like Next To Normal the total profundity is just starting to hit me -- and work on my emotions -- now, two plus hours after I left the theater. It seems like something worth seeing and both Ms. Bassett and Mr. Jackson turn in compelling performances where, combined with a realistic grungy 1960s hotel room set, you leave the decade for a good ninety minutes.

Returning to 2011 and leaving the theatre I bought my Unlimited Ride Metro Card. At $29 for 7 days of unlimited MTA rides, I'm still convinced that it is one of the best bargains in New York and made it Carnegie Hall's neighborhood of 57th and 7th for a quick and light dinner at Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridian. The psychological break and total incongruity that one passes while crossing from the hotel lobby (a high-end New York hotel that isn't cutting edge design trend-wise, but isn't by any stretch dull) to Burger Joint (a place that serves Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, Grilled Cheese, Fries, and nothing else in an environment whose decor (and the ancient TV hanging on the wall) is most reminiscent of 1964, including paneled walls.

Subway back to the hotel... and I am ready to sleep.

More tomorrow.


To Be Prototypical

I'm in New York this week, the first half of the week in suburban New York/New Jersey (literally: the state line runs through my vendor's parking lot) and the second half of the week in Manhattan for vacation.

I spent the weekend sick and was generally hating life (and seriously considering canceling or curtailing the trip) through Sunday evening, but thanks to some excellent nursing on the part of Rachel I made it vertical and to the airport: As I sat in seat 21F, the exit row right over the wing, that wonderfully guttural roar of the engines as we took off into the sunset I was generally feeling OK.

Arriving in Newark, for the first time I elected to eschew both the recommended car service and the recommended hotel -- previously I've not been particularly impressed by either and I was able just as cost effectively to rent a car and book at a hotel where I can earn Hilton HHonors points -- recently anointed with Hertz Gold status it was a breeze to just find my name on the board and walk to my car (If I don't earn it for free next year, I'm convinced the time savings alone may make that worth the annual fee.

One of the reasons I decided to go it my own for the hotel was that the recommended hotel is always a bit of an unknown quantity. With "My" hotels, there is the prototype. There are the brand standards. I know what to expect and I am not easily confused (If you haven't read it from one of the times I've posted it before, Larry Mundy's The Hotel Guest With Half a Brain is entirely true).

While I sometimes bemoan the homogeneous prototype it provides a certain level of comfort away from home. But within the prototype you can also judge how much a particular hotelier actually cares. Within the Hampton Inn brand I am convinced that one of the brand standards is that the bathroom amenities will include a minimum of four of the following: Face soap, hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, body wash, sewing kit, shower cap. Now the two soaps and shampoo are guaranteed. Conditioner is a safe bet. But some locations--usually those which are not freeway-side overnight pit stops--go a bit further. Body wash is a usual #5, the mouthwash is somewhat rare but becoming more common either as #5 or a #6.  Both the sewing kit and shower cap are virtually unheard of.

But this location has the full array. So vast, it seems, the assortment at this Hampton Inn barely fits on the cute little brand-standard tray upon which they are presented. Looking further at the amenities, you can tell how frugal the hotel's management is: I select those amenities I need on my first night and place them in the shower. A thrifty hotelier (or Housekeeping Manager) may mandate that once removed they are not replaced for the duration of the stay--which is wonderful when you run out of your 3 tablespoons of shampoo on the 3rd day. Others (like this hotel) replace them daily.

[As an aside I'm still trying to figure out exactly where I can hang my towel that means "Yes, I read the 'Be green' card and I really don't need you to launder my towel every day. I actually prefer towels that are a bit fluffy and haven't been laundered to within a fiber of their lives. Please leave this one where you found it" The hooks on the wall don't do it. The handle/towel rack on the shower door doesn't do it. There aren't many other places in the bathroom to hang something. I'm considering a multi-lingual "Please don't launder me" sign.]

The other nice -- if somewhat freaky thing -- about being prototypical is that I can find my way through just about any Hampton Inn room -- indeed just about any Hampton Inn -- with about as much effort as it takes for me to get from my front door to my bed in my own house. Except when there are subtle differences.

There are three or four clear prototypes in the Hampton Inn family from the original -- narrow roomed, originally-built-for no frills "Roadside" hotels, the first evolution where the rooms got a bit bigger but function didn't really change, the first "Focused Service" evolution with fitness rooms, business centers, and the like where the rooms have gotten slightly larger, and the the current prototype (my favorite) where the room size hasn't really changed but the geometry has: Instead of beds being against the common wall staring at a wall, the beds are rotated 90 degrees with the headboard against the bathroom wall looking to the TV (and window) on the window wall.

This prototype seems to be #3 -- placing the property at roughly 4-10 years old if I had to guess -- and based on the date of manufacture for the phones (2006) it's in the right ballpark.  The typical furniture arrangement for Prototype #3 on the wall in line with the door is trashcan, short chest of drawers, refrigerator/microwave, TV, Chair (or Wardrobe), Desk (that's built into the wall and not a separate piece of furniture)

I realized how much I've become used to the prototype when for the fifth time I found myself walking to the prototypical trash can location to throw something away then becoming confused. Why? In this room, the trash can is in the corner by the desk. Arguably more logical, right? But it's not where it is in every other Prototype #3. It is, to say, like swapping hot and cold on a faucet: You don't realize how used you are to hot on left and cold on right until someone decides to mess with it. And it doesn't seem like a major change either.

Of course, being prototypical has its disadvantages. Every. Single. Hampton. Inn. has the same bleh stock art collection hanging on the walls. The homogeneity is surprising. The lack of local color. There have been times where I've had to look at the phone to remind myself where I am. But it's a bit like comfort food. I know what it will taste like. I know what I'll find in the bathroom. I know what I'll find on the bed.
And ultimately I realized that's why I went out of my way to stay here (at roughly the same cost) vs. the suggested hotel. I've stayed there before. And it's OK. Nothing spectacular -- bland and homogeneous in the Comfort Inn style. But it's not a prototype I recognize. I've always felt a bit off center because I never completely find my travel center at that hotel. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to expect (and I certainly don't get the Hilton HHonors VIP level of service and problem resolution tools.

But each hotel does occassionally add it's touches -- here it's an evening snack evey night in the lobby, a location near Grand Rapids has (had?) a nightly manager's happy hour, the Ann Arbor-North Location (one of the original prototype-narrow room locations) comes by your room with a snack cart for HHonors members each night. And it's those touches that remind you that the hotel is ultimately of people, by people, and for people in a way totally uique to lodging.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Bu

I wasn't feeling well on Friday (And I'm still not feeling all that well this morning) but when I met Rachel last night she surprised me with tickets for that evening's Viva and Gala performance of Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Bu.

I had read the description, which sounded interesting and had I been feeling better I probably would have suggested it myself. Unfortunately the program got off to an inauspicious start more than 15 minutes past the announced starting time, and never really recovered.

Well... I can't say "never" because the longer the music went on, the worse I felt. We snuck out after the fourth piece, and it is entirely possible that we missed some dramatic turn. This, though, was the first time I left the museum feeling markedly worse than when I got there -- usually the museum is one of my medative spot, somewhere to recenter myself.

The program notes contained no set list and advised that the program would be announced from the stage -- but this seemed to be a bit hit-or-miss and when they were announced I couldn't understand them well enough to make note.

There were strong moments -- by the third piece I had closed my eyes and got the sensation of a lively dance around a campfire, eventually morphing into something that would sound more at home in a '60s club -- perhaps most clearly embodying the promise of a blend of traditional instruments and modern sounds and techniques.

-- but overall the audio mix was unnaturally bass heavy, distorting the sound, and by the fourth piece causing every one of the steady beats to hurt more than the last.

Also interestingly -- I'm not sure if it was the performance, the audience, or just my state of mind -- it was one of the flattest and most two-dimensional. From my seat at the back of the Gartner Auditorium's balcony it seemed more as if I were watching a film than a live performance; there seemed to be no audience<->performer dynamic.

(With Bassekou Kouyate, lead ngoni & ngoni ba; Amy Sacko, lead & backing vocals; Fousseyni Kouyate, ngoin; Moussa Bah, ngoni bass; Alou Coulibaly calebasse; Moussa Sissoko, percussion; Moustafa Kouyate, ngoni)


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

CIM Chamber Orchestra: Mozart, Ante, and Strauss (@cim_edu)

(This marks the 400th Lincoln In Cleveland post. Thanks for reading!)
Mozart: Symphony No. 39, K.543 in E-flat Major
Grgin: Theme and Variations No. 2 (Nikola Djurica, clarinet)
Strauss: Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, TrV 228c, Op. 60 (Der Burger als Edelmann) Suite
Carl Topilow, conductor.

Tonight's concert at CIM was preceded by a collaborative event between CIM and the Cleveland Museum of Art bringing live music to CMA's galleries -- unfortunately, by the time I made it home from work I had just enough time to get to CIM for this concert's 7:30 start time. My understanding is that music returns to the Museum on November 16th and I hope to sneak over there to check that out.

Tonight's concert seems to be the first this year for the CIM Chamber Orchestra and my first this year in the visually stunning Mixon Hall, where the clear glass wall behind the stage gives glimpses of the beautiful fall scene outside matched the music inside.

The program opened with Mozart's Symphony No. 39 and it took most of the first movement for me to settle in -- and the orchestra seemed to also take at least a portion of that movement to really hit its stride. The second movement can be described simply as strolling, and was very relaxing -- I found myself slightly craving a light snowfall beyond the glass. The fourth movement, though, was my favorite from the piece with a playful opening, a persistent flutter of notes and particularly strong winds.

In the middle of the program and my unreserved favorite from the program was Ante Grgin's Theme and Variations No. 2 with the Nikola Djurica playing the clarinet solo magnificently and both he and the orchestra had a great energy. ("Virtuoso" was an adjective thrown out by many of the audience members around me immediately after the piece and I have no grounds upon which to disagree).  The piece had two distinct moods: In the first part, it is a dance--a slow loving embrace between Clarinet and Orchestra both in spirit and execution. Inexplicably, outside the all two leaves fluttered from somewhere above the hall and oh-so-carefully drifted to the ground, perfectly capturing the mood of the piece. In the second part, the connection between soloist and orchestra remained just as strong, but the sound took on a more energetic and swingy feeling.

The standing ovation was  immediate, unsurprising, and quite enthusiastic.

In a true case of "the show must go on" it's worth noting one of the cellists spent much of the second half of the piece apparently trying desperately to stifle a sneeze--while obvious in physical discomfort she managed to keep the music flowing.

The program ended with from Strauss's Le  Bourgeois Gentilhomme suite which didn't match the strength of the Theme and Variations. The overall balance for the first three movements seemed a little wonky, though the third movement was enjoyably lively. The fourth movement (The Entrance and Dance of the Tailors) evoked the imagery of dancing tailors and had a beautiful solo violin part, and the fifth and sixth movements were acceptable, but the seventh movement (Entrance of Cleonte, after Lully) would prove to be my favorite from the piece: Beginning with a restrained air, it gives way to lively winds before ending with a decidedly regal mood, while the ninth movement had a triumphant feeling with a beautiful passage featuring harp (uncredited) and principal cello (Thomas Carpenter) playing alone)