Friday, January 27, 2012

Saint Paul City Ballet: The Company at the McKnight

After finishing some meetings in Rochester this morning I moved to Minneapolis for tonight -- checking into The Marquette, a Hilton-managed hotel that's not aligned with any of the family's marques (I suspect this may be because there is both a Hilton and a DoubleTree within perhaps a few thousand feet of the hotel) -- the service level is at least equal to if not slightly higher than what I expect from Hilton but not being tied to brand standards it feels much less cookie cutter and is just a little bit more fun.

Anyway, by the time I got to the hotel I didn't feel like I had enough time to get to and really enjoy the Walker Art Center before it closed; perhaps I'll try a quick run in the morning or maybe it will have to wait for my next trip (tentatively the end of March). Instead I made my way over to Saint Paul to check out the Ordway Center and Saint Paul City Ballet's The Company at the McKnight.

Ballet is an art that I certainly don't get enough of -- the fluidity and grace of the human body can be stunning in the right contexts. In the ultimate incarnation ballet has the unique power to dance on the ears and tickle the eyes. And I have to admit I'm a little bit of a sucker for the look of the classical tutu.

Tonight's program ran just about 90 minutes inclusive of a 20-minute intermission and 5-minute pause and I think it hit the sweet spot as for length with the following selections:

Excerpts from Raymonda (Choreography after Marius Petipa, restaged by Ted Sothern; Music by Alexander Glazunov; Costumes by Ann Marie Ethen; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

Not an Etude (Coreography by Ted Sothern; Music composed for SPCB by George Maurer; Costumes by Ted Sothern and Ann Marie Ethen; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

One (Choreography by Joseph Morrissey; Music by Sugeru Umebayashi and Michael Galasso; Costumes by Ann Marie Ethen; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

Bolero (Choregoraphy by Greg Drotar, Music by Maurice Ravel; Costumes by Greg Drotar; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

Considering myself lucky if I see ballet (in any form) once a year I can't really comment on the technical aspects of dance -- the couple next to me was commenting on one of the male dancer's sloppy jumps after Raymonda, but generally I had no issues with the dance; it was fun to watch and none of the pieces were so long as to be boring.

The one complaint I did have throughout is the audio quality: While a live orchestra was probably too much to ask for (and probably not a possibility within the physical constraints of the McKnight theater -- a pretty intimate venue) the audio was horrid. At times it I wasn't sure if it was over compressed or just the victim of a truly frightful house EQ curve, at others compression artifacts (as if someone was playing a low-quality MP3) were clearly audible and I think every piece had some, culmintating with an unacceptable level of background hiss present: The overall result was something not much better than listening to music on an AM radio and generally distracted from the dance.

Excerpts from Raymonda with its overture, le grand pas hongris, le pas classique hongris, variations I-V, and coda was the longest piece of the program and also the piece with the most classical air about it in terms of technique and costuming.

Not an Etude was clearly a social commentary with a three-dancer clique playing against a solo male dancer (two men, two women all costumed virtually identically) the music was fun and while it took me a bit to figure out the commentary, I think it was the first time I've laughed during a dance show of any kind -- and I was not alone among the audience.

Conversely I didn't find One compelling nor did I connect to it musically or philosophically I honestly didn't find either the choreography or music memorable and may or may not have been counting smoke detectors on the catwalk near the end of the piece.

A dance based on Ravel's delightful Bolero closed out the program and although I think the audio was at its worst in this piece it tied with the first piece on the program for my favorites of the evening. With the almost militaristic constant drumbeat throughout I've always thought this was a no brainier for a dance and while Greg Drotar's choreography went a different direction than I've imagined while listening to this piece (most recently at a it was no less appealing.

Leaving the Ordway in the 25-ish degree outside weather I noticed quite display of ice carving across the street and lingered a bit to watch the crowds and carving but not really being prepared for extended time outdoors I shortly headed back to the hotel. Watching the local news in the hotel room, it seems that this is part of St. Paul's Winter Carnival) -- but on a blustery winter night it was nice to see so many people outside "downtown"


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Please stop washing my hotel towels.

I've been in Minnesota since Monday for work (at a certain very highly regarded medical clinic) and so far haven't been able to hit even my normal cultural haunts for this part of the country -- seeing as Monday was my "Travel Day" and as it turns out the Walker Art Center (one of my favorite museums outside of Cleveland), Minneapolis Institute of Arts (impressively huge facility), and the new one I wanted to hit for this trip the Minnesota History Center (saw it on Mysteries at the Museum on the Travel Channel, intrigued) are all closed on Mondays.

Hopefully tomorrow evening I'll be able to check out St. Paul City Ballet -- I enjoy classical dance but don't get nearly enough of it; though as the pessimistic side of my brain is currently winning I haven't yet purchased a ticket.

Anyway... having spent the past three nights in an otherwise wonderful hotel suite -- and some 58 nights in hotels in 2011: Hotel housekeepers, I know you have a tough job and are generally unappreciated, but please stop washing my towels. Please.

For as long as I can remember traveling, Hilton-family hotels have had the "Conservation" programs and signs, essentially the idea is that if you throw your towel(s) on the floor they'll be laundered and replaced, otherwise if you hang your towels up you'll reuse them -- conserving water and, no doubt reducing the number of chemicals used in the process.

And considering the plethora of crud and veritable Pandora's box of  possible diseases that those chemicals have to scrub, kill, and eradicate from guest to guest I can't imagine that they're very nice chemicals.

It's not so much that I want to be "green" -- I should be doing a lot more in that regard anyway -- but I don't wash my towels daily (or -- mom, skip this part: even weekly) at home, I really don't see a need to do this when I'm on the road.

More importantly, I like a soft fluffy towel. I love being able to bury my head in something pillow-like and not have it retain the shape of my head when I pull away. I don't want towels that exfoliate in the process of drying.

Most hotel towels have been laundered and chemicaled to within a millimeter of their lives and are one step away from being sold as 70-grit sandpaper at Home Depot. This is, no doubt, at least partially due to being laundered on a daily basis.

Perhaps I'm alone here, but I become a bit concerned when I can stand a linen upright.

"Why don't you just hang up your towel, then?" the intelligent reader may ask.

I do. I've tried hanging it on the towel rack, over the curtain rod on both ends of the tub. Through the grab bar. Over the wash cloths next to the sink. I've tried folding it nicely and putting it on top of the toilet. I've tried folding it and putting it on the counter. I've tried draping it on the side of the tub. I've tried hanging it on the shower stall door handle (where applicable). I think I've tried just about everything besides hiding it in the refrigerator or under the sofa in the living room. I'm not sure it would do any good.

Yet the result is nearly always the same: I come back to find the towel I've used exactly once missing, and a new, stiff, freshly laundered towel back amongst all of the other unused towels, almost mocking me.

I can think of only one hotel ever where my towel wishes have been respected. And I was so stunned I almost did a jig in the corridor.
From California to New York, Ohio to Florida, sometimes it seems like this is the one immutable truth about travel: My towel will be washed.

Why? And why bother with the "conservation" literature if you aren't going to...conserve?


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Brahms Second Piano Concerto

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83 (Yefim Bronfman, piano)
Shepherd: Wanderlust
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

From the opening notes of Brahms Piano concerto -- introduced by a solo horn -- I was in awe. Throughout the four movements, I can recall few pieces that have kept me so spellbound. Without reservation I can say that this is the most compelling work I've heard Mr. Welser-Most conduct and one of the finest in recent memory. While soloists are not always up to the challenge posed by The Cleveland Orchestra (one need look no further than last week for an example), Pianist Yefim Bronfman with the orchestra was a match made in musical heaven.

The program noted that the running time of the piece was approximately 50 minutes, however as the notes were flowing forth from the Severance Hall stage time seemed to stand still; I was afraid to blink for fear of disturbing the bond between orchestra, conductor, soloist and audience. When I did close my eyes, the noes seemed to be levitating. The first movement was by far my favorite from the piece, the evening, and recent memory. Throughout, Mr. Bronfman's hands seemed to dance over and massage the keys of his instrument, never being so coarse as to strike them. The third movement, with an extensive cello concerto (the piano lid blocked my view, but I believe it was played by Mark Kosower was also a heavenly contribution to the evening. Both the second and fourth movements were no less captivating. All of the players -- the Orchestra, Mr. Bronfman, and Mr. Welser-Most -- were clearly enjoying themselves and it came through in the music.

The concert could have ended there and it would have been money well spend (and Miamians can look forward to enjoying this piece during the orchestra's upcoming residency in Miami)

Unfortunately coming on the heels of that musical ecstasy was composer Sean Shepherd's Wanderlust, commissioned by the Orchestra in 2009. Though I had high hopes -- wanderlust is an emotion and desire I can relate strongly to -- the piece was more than a little too angular for me. While trying to find a coherent expression of my dislike and reading ahead in the program I found my answer in what a newspaper had attached to one of Shostakovitch's operas: "a confused stream of sounds".

Where the Brahms was advertised as 50 minutes and felt like 10, this was advertised as 10 minutes and felt like 45, and while I couldn't get a read on Mr. Welser-Most's engagement, the musicians clearly were not engaged with this piece; and I don't think one can blame them.

The program concluded with Shostakovitch's Symphony 6 in B minor which was somewhere between the two extremes of the first two pieces: I didn't detest it but I didn't have the "love at first note" reaction to it that I did with the Brahms. The long -- and introspective -- slow movement was difficult to reconcile on the heels of Wanderlust, though the second movement (Allegro) started to pulled me back in with an interesting rhythm and the third movement put a climatic exclamation point on the evening's performance


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cleveland Public Theatre: At-TEN-tion Span

Cleveland Public Theatre is quick to point out that that At-TEN-tion span isn't merely a festival of unfinished short plays but is, instead, a single show of twelve short plays loosely linked together.

This year all twelve works are works created by Cleveland artists and cultivated at CPT, and all are in effect world premieres. Some are funny, some are weird, some are introspective, some are most of the above. Though I was completely sober going into the show there are a few where, to be completely honest, I think a bit of a buzz could have helped make a bit more sense out of a few of them: And if you care to take my advice there, you're in luck: The bar in the lobby is open a bit early.

Throughout the evening performances move on and off stage and around the theater-- sometimes the audience is instructed to take a seat -- literally -- while moving from piece to piece; others you are moved to seating mysteriously prepared while you're otherwise occupied.

At-TEN-tion Span runs at CPT through February 4th.

The works are
Act I
The Refrain, conceived and directed by Jeremy Paul; featuring Ray Caspio, Jenni Messner, Adam Seeholzer
Openings, conceived and directed by Raymond Bobgan; featuring members of the ensemble
Crash Project conceived and directed by Pandora Robertson; featuring Ray Caspio, Lauren Joy Fraley, Caitlin Lewins, Adam Seeholzer
Fail, conceived and directed by Simone Barros; featuring Faye Hargate, Darius Stubbs
How... conceived and directed by Raymond Bobgan; featuring the ensemble
Act II
How 2, conceived and directed by Raymond Bobgan; featruring the ensemble
El Beth-el, conceived and directed by Dairus Stubbs; featuring Dionne D. Atchison, Stevem Schureger, Darius Stubbs
The Three Musketeers conceived and directed by Douglas H. Snyder; featuring Lauren Joy Fraley, Caitlin Lewins, Lauren B. Smith
To Fasten Your Seatbelts... conceived and directed by Renee Schilling; featuring Ray Caspio, Jere,y Paul, Amy Schwabuer, Lauren B. Smith
If I Lie, conceived  and directed by Chris Seibert; featuring Molly Andrews-Hinders, Amy Schwabuer, Adam Seeholzer
Sealed, conceived and directed by Raymond Bobgan, featuring the ensemble.

While the program was generally linked, as far as subject matter it was like channel surfing a hotel's cable TV lineup -- or Cleveland weather: If you didn't like what you were watching (or if it was making you think too hard) just wait a few minutes and something completely different would be along.

So for me I didn't really get The Refrain or Sealed -- and after the performance Rachel warned that if I tried thinking too hard my head might explode. How and How 2, both products of CPT Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan bookended Intermission and the way in which the actors are utilized reminded me of atoms in a molecule bouncing off each other exchanging electrons and ideas.

I'm not sure how much I can say about Openings without giving away this delightfully surprising mirror on real-life-theater but be prepared to do quite a bit of looking around -- and perhaps choose a seat near the back for the best view

Fail takes a nervous tick and amplifies it before transferring it as one heretofore unsuccessful writer discovers that the successful writer doesn't have all the control that he thinks where a pregnancy is involved and was one of Rachel's favorites.

While all were well acted, The Three Musketeers was at the top of its game with what I think was a commentary on relationships -- again Rachel warned me that my head may go boom if I thought too hard on it -- and was just generally funny.

My hands down favorite, though, was To Fasten Your Seatbelts: It didn't require critical though but had me laughing out of my seat (I was within about a half inch of winding up on the floor) and is a subject near to my heart: Air travel. While the cast of zany flight attendants make it funny, I think the stress of an interview or an on-the-job test makes this relatable to just about anyone who's set foot in the real world: This alone was worth the trip to the West Side; combined with all of the others it was an evening well spent.

Synopses, summaries, or even the intended meaning of the plays was not included in the program so please feel free to share your take or interpretation in the comments


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Brahms Violin Concerto

Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 (Julian Rachlin, violin)
Saariaho: Orion
Smetana: Three Four Symphonic Poems from Ma Viast [My Country]
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Nearly half way into the month of January it seems a little odd to still be exchanging new years greetings, but as the first concert weekend of 2012 it was delightful to return to Severance and cross paths with patrons, ushers, and other Severanceites that I last saw last year.

Tonight's concert began with Brahms' Violin Concerto with Julian Rachlin joining the Orchestra for the first time: The opening to the piece was heavenly and grounded in the orchestra developing into a passionate embrace between the soloist with hints of both a lover's quarrel and dance. The second movement featured meandering winds luring the listener back into the comfort of the music with a bit of a hypnotic flair. The third and final movement was both lively and agitated; early in the movement the sound made it seem as if a choir was hovering above the orchestra -- but the sound was entirely grounded within the orchestra.

Kaija Saariaho's Orion, a composition premiered by The Cleveland Orchestra barely a decade ago,  was an interesting combination of sounds with the first movement seeming generally celestial with a recurring theme that's weight and impact on the movement increased like a lumbering giant's footsteps through the orchestral woods. While the first movement was a mix of overlapping voices, the second movement featured solo instrumental voices seemingly, by comparison, wandering the universe solo. The third movement borrowed on themes from the first two movements with a repeating descending, almost comical, sound punctuated with an excited flair.

Last on the program were four (the original program promised three) symphonic poems from Smetana's Ma Viast, and my favorite from the evening. In Vysehard, The Mighty Fortress the music began with two harps leading into winds with a regal air eventually enveloping the entire orchestra, with a proud trumpet statement and a restrained ending. The Moldau passed largely without notice but I did notice the combination of pizzicato strings and delightful flutes. The thrid of the poems, Sarka, The Warrior Maid seemed both romantic and cinematic with a celebratory ending (The Wikipedia entry describes the basis of the movement thusly:

"Šárka ties herself to a tree as bait and waits to be saved by the princely knight Ctirad, deceiving him into believing that she is an unwilling captive of the rebelling women. Once released by Ctirad, who has quickly fallen in love with her, Šárka serves him and his comrades with drugged mead and once they have fallen asleep she sounds a hunting horn: an agreed signal to the other women. " -- and with that basis it's clear that what the celebration is for.

The fourth and final movement From Boehmia's Forests and Fields was evidently a late addition as it isn't included in the original program begins with a sun rising over a dawn bed of strings, is bright and evocative of grandeur or of a bright new day with an interesting frantic/calm/frantic segment near the end of the piece.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cleveland Museum of Art: Music in the Galleries (@ClevelandArt, @CIM_Edu)

Bach: Selections from Suite No. 2 (Prelude, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue)*
Lebegue: Puer Nobis Nascituri^
Pachelbel: Der Tag Isto so Freudenreich^
Bach: Partita No. 3 for Solo Violin in E major, BVW 1006%
Paganini: Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1 No. 23%
Stravinsky: Elegie for Solo Viola&
Reich: New York Counterpoint for Clarinet and Tape+
at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Contemporary Art Gallery 225, East Wing

*-Annalisa Boerner, viola; ^-Paula Maust, organ; %-Boson Mo, violin; &-Ji Young Nam, viola; +-Elinor Rufeizen, clarinet

The holiday season is over and I'm back at the office -- while everyone recovers from their festivities, the beginning of January is always a bit quiet on the performing arts front. The Cleveland Museum of Art, however, is pressing along uninterrupted with the series of monthly concerts in the galleries featuring performances of Cleveland Institute of Music students.

While previous performances have been in the 1916 Building's galleries, tonight's concert moved to one of the Contemporary galleries and continued a trend of increasing attendance. The next concert, by the way is Wednesday, February 1st at 6:00 -- perhaps a fine prelude to the CIM@Severance concert on at 8pm just down the street.

Tonight's concert began with Violist Annalisa Boerner introducing her selection of four movements from Bach's Suite No. 2 -- originally composed for solo cello but "stolen" for solo viola. As Ms. Boerner began playing her suite of dances, the gallery was filled with a delightfully warm sound on a cold winter night. While I can't say I would have called the pieces dances without prompting, the emotions ranged from deep and almost sad in one movement to a passioned embrace in another and a more lively higher mood in another.

Following, organist Paula Maust returned to the instrument she played at the last concert in the galleries introducing her selections -- under the heading of "Christmas Miniatures" -- reminding the audience that this is the 11th day of Christmas. Both were delightful but had distinctly different sounds, Nicolas-Antonie Lebegue's Puer Nobis Nascitur was more evocative of the sounds of a flute than the lumbering weight of an organ. Johann Pachelbel's Der Tag ist so freudenreich, on the other hand, was unmistakably Organ-esue (Organic?) and sounded as if it would be right at home as a processional for a religious service.

Next, Bach's Partita No. 3 for solo violin played by Mr. Boson  Mo. In introducing the piece he was sure to point out that unlike the earlier Bach piece, this composition had not been stolen from another instrument and instead was originally composed for solo violin. The Gavotte en Rondeau was the most familiar piece from the program and rather happy -- fitting in nicely with the bright colors of the contemporary galleries. The Bouree was rather short by comparison but faster in tempo, and it was during this movement when the "moth to the candle" effect was most noticed as guards and patrons seemed to be gravitating toward and lingering in the music.

Mr. Mo continued with a distinctly different piece in Caprices for Solo Violin by Niccolo Paganini, without whom, Mr. Mo observed, violinists may not have had to practice as much and while this struck me as less musical than the pieces before it, it also seemed more expressive and an excellent fit for some of the more abstract visuals that surrounded  the musicians tonight.

Stravinsky's Elegy for solo viola, played by Ms. Ji Young Nam by contrast seemed out of place in its profoundly mournful mood surrounded by abstract bursts of color and energy.

Closing out the program, and the icing on a luscious cake, was Elinor Rufeizen's repeat performance off Steve Reich's New York Counterpoint for Clarinet and Tape, which was featured on the program for her recital at CIM a few weeks ago and one of the more unusual compositions I've heard. As I wrote then, "was layer upon layer of music created a polyphonic chaos that grew and subsided, ebbed and flowed: A note would build, reverberate, then decay while another note existed in the same space. Then other notes would appear and take over the stage. You could hear the sounds of the subway ... then the hustle and bustle of a crowd on the sidewalk ... then a traffic jam. All of the ambient noise you encounter in New York captured by a solo and recorded clarinet" -- while I think the gallery acoustics were a bit harsh on the sound letting ones eyes take in the art while the ears take in the music the two seemed to be perfectly matched: Explosions of layered color and notes; the twisted metal of a mangled exit stair with the distortion of a decaying note.

But neither art nor music is decaying in Cleveland.