Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Schubert's C-Major Symphony ("The Great")

Von Weber: Overture: The Ruler of the Spirits, Op. 27 
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (Arabella Steinbacher, violin)
Unannounced encore (Bach Sonata No. 3 in C Major (Mvt. III)) (Arabel Steinbacher, solo violin)
Schubert: Symphony in C major ("The Great") D.944
Marek Janowski, conductor.

I have to admit that on the heels of last week's concert (discussing with fellow concertgoers over the past week, the word "disappointing" was lobbed almost as frequently as "terrible") I took my seat in Severance Hall with bated breath. Fortunately, this week's concert found its way closer to the other end of the spectrum.

The Overture to The Ruler of the Spirits was a brief piece that set the concert off to a dramatic, somewhat boisterous beginning before calming and returning with a bit of angst with an exclamation from the timpani regaining any attention that had wandered and keeping it through the end of the piece -- which ran only about five minutes.

Violinist Arabel Steinbacher joined the Orchestra for the first time for Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. While I typically and prefer to observe and focus on the ensemble's playing, in the case of Ms. Steinbacher, this was difficult to do. Dispensing with the typical orchestral exhibition, the soloist is flung to the forefront from the first notes and remains there through most of the three movements. The first two movements were passionately executed with a sense of elegant delicacy combined with strong passion in the first movement before turning to a more mature, lyrical, feeling for the second. In the third movement my initial feeling was of a despondent violin supported by an understanding orchestra, it turned into a humorous monologue carried on by Ms. Steinbacher's violin with support from the ensemble.

Following the enthusiastic standing ovation given to Ms Steinbacher's performance, the violinist returned to the stage for an unannounced encore -- a fellow patron identified it as most likely Bach in E minor, but was unsure of the specific piece -- regardless, the performance was tender and gripping.

The concert ended with -- and no understatement here -- Schubert's Symphony in C major, sans number and titled The Great, unquestionably the star of tonight's program. Though Winter has finally arrived in Cleveland, the warm sounds of the first movement reminded me of my frequent strolls throughout Cleveland during the warmer months -- well paced, and constantly moving with points of  intrigue along the way. The second movement moved more from a leisurely stroll to a more rigid march propelled by oboe before the strings relieve the tension with a lyrical pause from the strings. I started to think that my walk metaphor had failed listening to the third movement (Scherzo: Allegro vivace - Trio) but instead it survives: Like my stop along the way in the Museum's galleries, this movement provided pause for reflection and meditation. Finally, the piece and the concert ended with an expressive exhalation where hints of the sights, sounds, and meditations of the previous three movements come back, but hold nothing back in terms of scale or expressiveness.

Lincoln (Updated 27-Feb to include title of encore piece. Thanks to reader "Curiosity" for the tip.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Preview: Ballet Memphis (via Dance Cleveland) March 10-11

On my recent trip to Minnesota, you might recall, I stopped in for a Saint Paul City Ballet performance and  lamented Cleveland's lack of ballet. I was overlooking, it seems, Dance Cleveland's presentations bringing the acclaimed Ballet Memphis to Cleveland for two performances on Saturday, March 10th (8p) and Sunday, March 11th (3p) in PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theater

While Cleveland hasn't had a company in residence since San Jose Cleveland Ballet dropped Cleveland in a dozen years ago -- preceding my arrival in Cleveland -- Dance Cleveland is promising that "If Northeast Ohio still had a classical ballet company in residence, it might look and feel like Ballet Memphis"

The company, now in its 25th year, is headed by Memphis native Dorthy Gunther Pugh has been said to serve as a cultural ambassador for that city's unique cultural heritage.

During their brief stay in Cleveland, the troupe will be presenting a bit of that heritage with a nod to another famous Tennessean: Roy Orbison's voice and six of his most popular songs provides the musical backdrop for Trey McIntyre's "sometimes  dark, always passionate" In Dreams, described by the New York Times simply as "Exceptional".

Choreographed by Jane Comfort with music by Memphis saxophonist Kirk Whalum, S'epanouir comes to an end "with a hand-clapping  gospel celebration". Though the piece "tells the story of a woman in the depths of an emotional crisis" aided in a transformation by community it is said that the piece  has a more joyful quality than is typical for that choreographer's works.

Featuring the rondo finale from the rondo finale Beethoven's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 61 dancer-choreographer Steven McMahnon's Being Here With Other People is said to be an expression of gratitude for the "'home-away from home' atmosphere that Steven McMahnon finds in Memphis"

Rounding out the announced program, Curtain of Green by Juila Adam is inspired by Eudora Welty's story of the same time and is an "abstract retelling of lost love, fear, and madness" revolving around a widow who obsessively tends to a tangled garden and whose rage nearly boils over.  

I'm certainly looking forward to the unique expression of ideas that only dance offers.
Ticket prices range from $30-$45 and can be purchased at, via phone at 866-546-1353, or to avoid fees in person  at the PlayhouseSquare Box Office on Euclid Avenue.


CIM: Variations on Virtuosity (@CIM_edu)

Poulenc: Sonata for Violin and Piano (Mvt II and III), FP 119¹²
Grgin: Concerto for Clarinet (Mvt II and III)²³
Kreisler: Recitative and Scherzo-Carpirice, Op. 6ª
Farr: Wakatipu for  solo violinª
Weber: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op 26°^
¹- Brandon Garbot, violin; ²- Samantha Biniker, piano; ³- Nikola Djurica, clarinet; ª- Natalie Lin, violin; °- Elinor Rufeizen, clarinet; ^- Rafael Skorka,  piano.
Hosted by Astri Seidenfeld and Rose Wong, at the Seidenfeld Residence.

With one exception the performers featured tonight will be traveling to Washington tomorrow to participate in an event at the Kennedy Center as representatives of the  Cleveland Institute of Music. That event will be on the Internet live Wednesday at 6:00 PM-- but tonight's intimate event was a fantastic preview.

The concert opened with high school senior (and CIM preparatory student) violinist Brandon Garbot and accompanist Samantha Brinker playing two movements from Francis Poulenc's  Sonata for Violin and Piano. This performance started with the second movement and I was immediately struck and pulled in by Mr. Garbot's rich tone and both Mr. Garbot and Ms. Biniker's passioned playing. Along with a romantic feeling, I was taken by elusive flutters of notes amongst pleasantly sustained notes. The third movement, by comparison had a frantic eel and I was amazed by the speed that both musicians were able to impart without the slightest loss of clarity; the movement has a somewhat dark feeling (as one might suspect from the presto tragico tempo notation) and the sense of sudden loss is especially magnified by the end of the piece.

The program continued with clarinetist Nikola Djurica joining Ms. Biniker for the second and third movements of Ante Grgin's Concerto for Clarinet and to call Ms. Biniker's playing anything less than tremendously beautiful would be a disservice. The second movement's clarinet seemed to be searching but the real glory came from the third (Vivo) movement where the jazzy lead of Mr. Djurica's clarinet was echoed in the piano and it was completely clear both musicians were getting into the spirit of the piece and even the page turner was clearly enjoying himself.

Taking a turn of the more dramatic we find ourselves with Natalie Lin, a violinist from New Zealand, with Fritz Kreisler's Recitative and Scherzo-Caprice which was warm but certainly of a more serious tone -- at least initially -- as the piece progressed, there was a delightful intrusion whose influence I couldn't place initially, almost folksy, but when it reappeared it seemed distinctly Asian (Chineese?) combined with a judicious use of ricochet bowing and flickeringly fast fingering made this piece quite fun to listen to.

Continuing the solo violin, Ms. Lin introduced Gareth Far's Wakatipu. Inspired by a lake of the same name, legend has it the New Zealend Lake Wakatipu's unusual rise and fall is caused by the beating hart of a demon. The ethereal begining of the piece conjured images  of fog over a quiet lake but the inextinguishable beating heart of the deamon quickly surfaces in the piece and there seemed to be a bit of a struggle with the deamon. (And as Rachel commented, some of that struggle occassionally reached ear-piercing highs)

Bringing the official evening to a close, clarinetest Elinor Rufeizen joined with pianist Rafael Skorka for Carl Maria von Weber's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra. Before the first note was played it looked almost as if Ms. Rufeizen was channeling anger; though the beginning wasn't bright it certainly wasn't angry and the piece shortly turned happier with a more pure energy. The energy turned into a a bit of a frenzy with visits of relative tranqulity before settling slow and deep. The piece and the program ended gently happliy.

As a post-concert reception was winding down, notes from the living room piano captured the remaining guests ears and lured us back in where we found Ms. Rufeizen and Mr. Skorka simultaneously playing a jazzy piano piece, referring to sheet music courtesy of an iPad (I have to wonder... does that make it Pad Music instead of Sheet Music?)


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Franklin & Diana Cohen & Friends (Musical Surprise Concert, First Unitarian Church of Cleveland)

Beethoven: Piano Trip in B-flat, Op. 11²³ª
Paul Ben-Haim: Song without Words²ª
Mendelssohn: Andante con moto tranqullo movement from Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49¹³ª
Levkovich: Adagio from Trio #1²³ª
Brahms: Clarinet Trio, Op. 114²³ª
¹- Diana Cohen, violin; ²- Franklin Cohen, clarinet; ³- Tanya Ell, cello; ª- Carolyn Warner, piano
In the Sanctuary of The First Unitarian Church of Cleveland.

In what has become an annual tradition (last year and the year before), Cleveland Orchestra member and Clarinetest Franklin Cohen joined with his daughter tallented violinist and Richmond Symphony Concertmaster Diana Cohen as well as other friends to honor the memory of their late wife and mother Lynette Diers Cohen through an afternoon of music.

Along with three of the musicans whom I hold in the greatest esteem (Mr. and Ms. Cohen and Cleveland Orchestra cellist Tanya Ell) and who have in years previous, this year brought the addition of fellow Orchestra member pianist Carolyn Warner.

One of the things I love about concerts like this is in addition to the more intimate nature of chamber music generrally is that the hair gets let down and you get a bit more of a peak at the musicians' personalities and history. This evening Mr. Cohen related a story about the first concert engagement where he, the late Mrs. Cohen, and Diana were scheduled to play Mr. Cohen found himself so preoccupied by making sure young Ms. Cohen had everything she needed that he forgot to bring his clarinets. Needless to say, that concert started a bit late.

This afternoon there was no such delay and the concert was an entirely decadent burst of music on a gray day. First up on the program was Beethoven's Piano Trio for clarinet, cello and piano: The first movement was full of life and set a deliciously sweet tone to the afternoon before diving into a second movement which was set off by a profoundly mournful cello that was embraced -- almost as if the arms were firmly wrapped around -- by the clarinet. In the third movement, the piano lead a happier mood with a celebratory theme that bounced from clarinet to cello and back before turning stormy and a bit more wistful

An addition to the printed program, Mr. Cohen introduced composer Paul Ben-Haim as one of the forefathers of Israeli music and played two of his pieces (Based on the introduction I believe -- but am not positive -- that they were from Song Without Words. Please correct me.) the two, played by Mr. Cohen and Ms. Warner, brought a haunting combination of songs and a lingering/wandering feeling.

Last before intermission, the Andante con moto tranquillo movement from Mendelssohn's Trio in D Minor which certainly brought forth a feeling of beautiful tranquility and had a sweet harmony between the Ms. Cohen's violin and Ms. Ell's cello supported by beautiful work by Ms. Warner at the keyboard.

A free-will offering was made and Diana Cohen announced that the proceeds would go toward a fund in her mother's memory at ChamberFest Cleveland (see here for my recap of the inaugural benefit) and after intermission the program started to wind down beginning with Adagio from Dimitri Levkovitch's Trio #1, which I found as a tremendously expressive piece that propelled me to a delightfully meditative space and I felt that the playing was exceptionally strong in a concert full of strong playing.

Before the final piece on the program Mr. Cohen made the apt observation that while dedicatications were being made, as a musician really every note he played is dedicated to someone and has bits of the essence of those who have taught and shaped him and the same is true of his students. And that was a wonderful sentiment, the program closed on Brahms' Clarinet Trio. The first movement was beautiful but had a more relaxed sound than the adagio tempo notation would have lead me to expect. and the second movement adagio was achingly sweet and tender. The third movement sweet enough that I let myself just get lost in the music and the analytical part of my brain stepped out for the movement. The final allegro had more of a conclusive feeling  and seemed to be a natural end to the tension of the piece and a delightful end to a fantastic concert.


Cleveland Museum of Art: Rembrandt In America Preview Events (@ClevelandArt)

This week the Cleveland Museum of Art opens what may be the most anticipated exhibition in recent memory: Rembrandt in America. With this exhibition the traditional Members Preview Party seems to have been replaced with a series of more focused events.

Members Happy Hour
 Last night Rachel and I found ourselves at the Members' Happy Hour during the Museum's normal Friday evening operating hours and featuring DJ Reena Samaan with a cash bar and a diverse collection of attendees and the energy and buzz in the space was on par with that of the Summer Solstice.

Last night we did a quick survey of the exhibition and engaged in extensive socializing.

Tonight Rachel and I returned to the museum for the Supporting Circles Reception after-hours and the seeming successor in interest to the Members Reception and Preview Party -- an event attracting a distinctly older group and generally lower key gathering.

The event tonight began with welcoming remarks from David Franklin, the museum's gregarious director and the most captivating and compelling introduction to and overview of an exhibition I can recall presented by Jon Seydl, Curator of European Painting and Sculpture 1500-1800.

The exhibition covers the full span of Rembrandt's career spanning a universe of attributions -- randing from unquestionably Rembrandt (including a number of self portraits) to those originally attributed to Rembrandt where the true source -- and amount of Rembrandt's involvement, if any, is now in doubt.

While Rembrandt's work is visually gripping on its own with intriguing light and detail the exhibition presents works of questioned and unquestioned attribution in close proximity allowing the viewer to visually compare them and draw their own conclusions. In another gallery, paintings that are obviously the same subject -- one by the hand of Rembrandt, the other by a student -- lets the viewer truly understand the difference and mastery: One is softly lit but has crisp, almost life-like details while the other the focus is just a bit too soft -- almost if the camera's lens was a hair out of focus -- and the shapes are quite a bit  less photorealistic.

The exhibition also features an interactive exhibit with one the pieces in The Cleveland Museum of Art's collection that falls squarely into the questionable attribution category and attendees are invited to look at the art under the same conditions as the curators and conservators -- direct light, UV, XRay, Raking light and the like.

Though slightly irreverent, I found that great fun can be had asking and answering "What emotion is that facial expression embodying?"

The one question lingering is "why is the M in Rembrandt backwards and red?"

Rembrandt in America, now through May 16th at the Cleveland Museum of Art, members always see exhibitions free - otherwise $14/adults with student and children discounts. In addition to the ticketed special exhibition, a free companion in the form of Rembrandt Prints from the Morgan Library and Museum in the 1916 Building's Gallery 101


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Stravinsky, Mozart, and More

Schoenberg: Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11  (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, solo piano)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K456 (Pirerre-Laurent Almard, piano and  conductor)
Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920 version)
Stravinsky: Symphony of Palms (with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus)
Tito Munoz, conductor.

"How was the concert?" my girlfriend texted me after I returned home this evening. All I could really muster was "Eh. It was what it was :-/" and I'm tempted to leave it at that. Though Pierre Boulez, originally scheduled to conduct this week's concerts was seen in the hall tonight, for the second week he was not to be seen on the podium on advice of his opthamologist.

Nothing in the program was terribly compelling nor did any of the pieces really sustain interest. That's not to say that there weren't points of interest, but like a rural highway with too-few gas stations one point didn't muster enough energy to propel my interest to the next. My mind did a lot of wandering tonight.

Opening the program tonight pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard took the stage with Schoenberg's solo piano Three Piano Pieces. The first and third pieces found their way to the bottom of my list ("Noise" and "Stormy Noise", respectively, being the notes I jotted to myself) but nonetheless, the experience of soloist in the hall alone was unique with the sound of the collective breathing and simple etre (as strange as it sounds) -- of  the hall challenging the sound of the soloist. Perhaps in that context, the second movement with a distinct alternating pattern gave the sense of wandering alone and going against the majority.

The second piece, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 18, was conducted by Mr. Aimard from the keyboard showed a bit more promise with the first movement which seemed a rather regal waltz occasionally interrupted by the petulant youth of the winds -- carrying through the ensemble -- before returning to calm. The second movement meanwhile was despairingly sweet rising out of the second violins though the movement felt emotionally restrained. and the piece ended on a happy -- almost frolicy -- tone.

Following intermission, Stravinsky ruled the roost starting with the 1920 version of Symphonies of Wind Instruments which the program relates to cubist art -- though I'm not sure I heard the connection it was interesting to hear a piece which was angular and bold but gracefully rounded at the same time. Where explosions from an instrument -- particularly near the end of the ten-minute piece -- appear and then meld back into the whole.

Finally, Symphony of the Psalms where the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus once again delivered a pleasantly vibratto free preformance -- I think I could have listened to the graceful Alleluia at the beginning and end of Psalm 150 all night, but the haunting vocal power brought fourth during the short Psalm 38 really made the listener sit up. Curiously, Stravinsky's version of Psalm 150 omits the "laudate eum in psalterio et cithara" ("praise Him with psaltery and harp") -- and I was reading that note just as a gloriously plucked harp wrenched my attention from the program book.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Schubert and Mahler

Schubert: Hymn to the Holy Spirit, D964 [Hymnus an den heiligen Geist]*
Schubert: Night Song in the Forest, D913 [Nachtgesang im Walde]*
Schubert: Song of the Spirits over the Waters, D714 [Gesang der Geister uben den Wassern]
Mahler: Symphony No. 5^
* with the Men of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus; Robert Porco, conductor.
^ David Robertson, conductor

Pierre Boulez was originally scheduled to conduct this weekend's concerts, while I certainly would have attended this weekend's concerts regardless I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least slightly looking forward to hearing Mr. Boulez conduct again (previous appearances with the orchestra here and here). Earlier this week Mr. Boulez withdrew from the announced Mahler No. 7 leaving David Robertson, Saint Louis Symphony Music Director, to guide the Orchestra through Mahler No. 5 and rather unexpectedly withdrew from the entire program earlier this week "on the advice of his ophthalmologist", leaving Director of Choruses Robert Porco to the three Schuberts.

Based on comments I've heard from those who attended Thursday's performance and a rather grim introduction by Executive Director Gary Hanson I was afraid I'd have to fasten my seat belt and prepare for a bumpy ride. Fortunately, the slippery roads were found only outside the hall and performance was relatively smooth sailing.

Though the Orchestra gives few hints into what really goes on in the preparation for a normal week's program as far as distribution of materials and rehearsals, one can only assume that the cohesiveness and musical satisfaction from tonight's program is a testament to the versatility and adaptability of the Orchestra's musicians, conductors, and support staff.

The three Schubert songs were played without pause for applause and in sum totalled about thirty minutes. For all three the instrumental music was clearly in the back seat to the vocals and I can't say that I really loved any of them. Overall -- and I'm not sure if this was a deliberate decision on Mr. Porco's part or driven by the source material -- but the lack of vocal vibrato made the men of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus that much more enjoyable to listen to -- and infinitely easier to follow the source texts. Both Hymn to the Holy Spirit and Night Song In the Forest seemed to be limited to winds only, while Song of the Spirits over the Waters was the firm territory of the strings. Hymn to the Holy Spirit was notable for its tender vocal beginning; Night Song in the Forest notable for a galloping middle section. Song of the Spirits over the Waters, my favorite of the three began with a beep haunting stroll before becoming big with a number of overlapping musical and human voices.

The performance after intermission though was magical: The five movements of the Mahler were everything I would expect from the Orchestra and kept me on the edge of my seat; it's worth noting that throughout -- but especially in the fifth movement -- the musicians body language exuded a tremendous degree of self-satisfaction. Part of the attraction to the symphony was the sheer variety of colors and emotions drawn out over the course of its five movements. The program notes reference a life in reverse chronology -- beginning with death and (presumably) ending somewhere around adolescence, but from the material that wasn't entirely clear. That didn't diminish the enjoyment of the piece.

The first movement, though labeled as a funeral march, had a triumphant opening, quickly turning mellow, followed by a frantic passage that reminded me as a chase before ending on something that vaguely resembled a waltz that was announced by a very dignified timpani roll. The second movement meanwhile progressed from a stormy rage through a state of confusion to a relaxed and delicate lament before ending with chimes and an air of mystery.

Part II, beginning with the third movement scherzo was the most colorful of the movements in a 64-color box set of crayons exuding the feelings of a confident youth with a loving vision leading into a solo string pizzicato and dramatic strings punctuated and paused by an intruding horn not unlike the commercials in a television drama.

Part III consisting of the fourth and fifth movements was my favorite part and the fourth movement (Adagietto) marking my favorite movement of the piece. The first part of the movement is dominated by the harp with the other strings before the harp fades away and the tenderness of the movement (and thoughts of the impending Valentines Day) causing one nearly to forget the harp's contribution to the movement until it reappears near the end of the movement. The Rondo-Finale Allegro fifth movement was bright and optimistic; the final bars of which were met by calls of Bravo and a standing ovation virtually before the final note had finished reverberating around the hall.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beck Center for the Arts: Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening is one of my favorite musicals and the only musical I've stalked across the country, seeing the First National Tour seven times in four states (Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh and Philadelphia [twice], Pennsylvania; Orange County, California; Detroit [twice], Michigan) and I was fortunate enough to score on-stage seats for one of the Philadelphia and both of the Detroit performances.

A compelling story about adolescent angst, love, and fitting in, Spring Awakening featured music by pop musician Duncan Shiek and book and lyrics by Steven Sater. While buying my first ticket to the first performance at PlayhouseSquare (incidentally, I don't think anything nearly as compelling has appeared since, though I have hopes for Memphis) the ticket seller warned me vaguely about the explicit nature of the show: In Pittsburgh I had a rather large woman stomp on my feet as she disgustedly left the theater before the first act was over.

It's true: Spring Awakening is not a show for everyone and along with explicit lyrics features brief nudity and a simulated sex scene. But it's also true that those most likely to be offended by these aspects are the ones that most need to benefit from the message (for a more detailed synopsis the Wikipedia page is pretty accurate). When I saw Spring Awakening on the schedule for this season at Lakewood's Beck Center for the Arts I was both intrigued and apprehensive: Wanting to see the ground-breaking musical again but afraid that my fond memories would be tainted by a watered down version, poor execution, or both.

Rachel and I headed over for tonight's performance and found neither to be the case. The Beck production, a collaboration with Baldwin-Wallace College's Musical Theatre Program, retains the full vigor of the original book. While the staging was considerably, but not completely, different (notable changes include removing the audience risers stage left and right and pushing the Adult Man and Adult Woman to the extreme corners of the stage apron for most of their dialog; notable similarities are the raised square platform upon which the majority of the cation takes place with the band behind) the story telling was no worse for the wear.

Beyond that it's hard for me to comment on  the blocking and choreography generally: there were a few humorous moments in the first national tour that were lost here (namely in between the two Mama Who  Bore Mes as well as within My Junk) but as a new production with a new creative team it is unreasonable to expect a duplicate, let alone a precise copy of the original, and I doubt that those not familiar with the First National Tour are likely to miss anything.

That is to say, this production under well-known Cleveland musical director Victoria Bussert's direction was satisfying. Audio issues plagued the first act rising to the level of distraction with uneven and wildly varying speech levels (at times leaving some talent with loud open mics, and other talent unmiced) and several of the females were almost naisly -- both seemed largely resolved by Act II.

Generally well cast, Kyra Kennedy's Wendla struck me as a little too mature (and less innocent) than one would expect from a character oblivious to the birds and the bees. James Penca, on the other hand, played Moritz with a more biting sarcasm than I'm used to, particularly in his musical numbers. While I'm still a bit undecided, I think the net was positive. I certainly noticed some nuances  in the dialogue, specifically among the boys, that I hadn't noticed before.
Adult Male (Scott Plate) all of the adult roles in the show -- as parents to youth as necessary and as school headmaster -- makes subtle changes for each of his roles, though the show would be well served if he hit the desk a bit less emphatically as it is a bit jarring.
All-in-all  it was an excellent performance and it seemed to be well received by a diverse audience, and I even observed several of the, shall we say, older audience members thoroughly enjoying some of the cruder references.
I've been needing a fill of Musical Theater and this was just the ticket. Through March 4th at the Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Ave, Lakewood.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Heights Arts House Concert: El Gar!

Beethoven: String Trio in c-minor, Op. 9, No. 3¹²³
Poulenc: Sonate for Violin and Piano "A la memorie de Frederico Garcia Lorca"ª°
Elgar: Piano Qunitet op. 84¹²³ª°
¹-Tanya Ell, cello; ²-Mari Sato, violin; ³-Kristen Docter, viola; ª-Isabel Trautwein, violin; °-Vivian Weilerstein, piano.
At the Rawson Cowap Residence, Shaker Heights

On the heels of two orchestral concerts in the past week, and feeling a little lacking in the Chamber Music department, it was delightful to return to the Cowap+Rawson residence for three varied pieces intimate of chamber music, featuring Cleveland Orchestra violinist Isabel Trautwein, orchestra cellist Tanya Ell, Cavani Quartet members Kristen Docter and Mari Sato, along with visiting pianist Vivian Weilerstein [If you recognize the last name, yes, they are related]

Opening the program was Beethoven's Opus 9 Number 3 string trio with an introduction by Ms. Ell in which she commented on Beethoven's lack of success in the field of opera -- despite fantastic results in every other category -- and mentioned that themes in the piece sounded to her like operatic characters evolving throughout the piece and thought it didn't always strike me clearly there were certainly parts where I heard what she was referring to. Regardless, it was a delightfully relaxing beginning to the concert.

Next up, Francis Poulenc's Sonate for Violin and Piano dedicated to Frederico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet killed at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. In introducing the piece, Ms. Trautwein quoted Lorca (via Poulenic) with "The guitar makes dreams weep" and mentioned Poulenc revised the finale after the violinist who had premiered the piece was killed in an airplane accident.

The piece started with a an explosive bang from both piano and violin and continued with a tumultuous sense of violence passionately played and invoking the spirit of war through instruments that are typically so serene. The same was largely true of the final movement until it tapered to a lonely series of notes at the conclusion of the piece. The intermezzo that was bookended by those movements, however was tender, sad, and introspective with the hint of grief and the pointlessness of war.

Concluding the program and unting all five of the performers we had the pleasure of hearing tonight, Edward Elgar's Opus 84 Piano Quintet, introduced by Mari Sato. Throughout the three movements of the piece the slightly muted color gave me a somewhat surreal nostalgic sense that reminded me of the feeling I had watching the film Big Fish -- not a direct musical quotation, but just the general feeling. The first movement started with an insistent statement that turned mysterious then impassioned. The sound from the ensemble seemed to fill every available available molecule of air in the Cowap's dining room.

The second moment kept the nostalgic and muted color feeling but turned a bit more tender and was passionately expressive, where the final movement was festive and gave me a bit of a feeling of riding on a carousel in that surreal soundscape.

All in all it was a delightful concert and a bit of a unique program given that two of the three pieces were composed within the past 70 years.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Brahms Piano Concerto

Saariaho: Lanterna Magica (United States Premiere)
Mozart: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K543
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minior, Op. 15 (Yefin Bronfman, piano)
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

A couple weeks ago -- the last Cleveland Orchestra concert I attended, and bookending the Orchestra's annual Miami residency -- I was awed by the program generally but unmoved, to the point of virtually detesting the "new" piece on the program. While the opposite wasn't quite true with tonight's program the boat was certainly listing in that direction.

Tonight's "new" piece and opening the program was Kaija Saariaho's Lanterna Magica, which also was my favorite from the evening. Though the title is a reference to Ingrmar Berman's autobiography and in turn to the Magic Lantern that introduced the first moving images, from the opening notes evoked the feeling of wandering through a mysterious wood carrying a handheld lantern with a bit of mystery. As the piece progressed the feelings evoked the feelings of excitement and wonderment that I can't help to imagine accompanied the first appearances of the lantern. The surges of energy as imaginary rotation of the mirror increased in speed and individual images and sounds merged into a single moving whole; likewise, as the music slows and Mr. Pruecil's violin was left standing delicately alone as the imaginary mirror slowed. That seemed like it would have been a natural ending however the piece continued a bit longer.

Next on the program, Mozart's Symphony No. 39 didn't really make a connection on an emotional level; that is listening to the piece I felt no close connection to the music. That could be because my focus and tentative connection with the first movement was interrupted by a rather musical cellphone ring tone from behind and to my left. The second movement, though struck me with a series of statements that seemed to be tentative only to be restated with full confidence, like a public speaker nervously rehearsing for a speech. The transition from the third to fourth movement was nearly seamless with fun bursts of orchestral color and energy.

The low-level buzz was that pianist Yefim Bronfman was nervous before tonight's concert; with the wonderful memory of the last concert still fresh I couldn't fathom what there would be to be nervous about. Unfortunately as intermission ended I was not as moved by Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1. The close coupling between orchestra and pianist that I felt then seemed to be missing tonight. Early in the first movement there was a interesting visual while Mr. Bronfman was playing and Mr. Welser-Most was conducting a virtually (if not totally) silent orchestra.

The program notes for mentioned that Brahms was a student of Robert Schumann and composed the piece shortly after a suicide attempt (followed by institutionalization in an asylum) by his teacher; with that in mind the piano at times seemed to be the outsider at odds with the orchestra, or rather society at large. But regardless, I didn't find the result captivating or compelling. Based on the immediate and virtually unanimous standing ovation, however, it seems I may have been the outsider tonight.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cleveland Institute of Music: CIM @ Severance Hall (@cim_edu)

Berlioz: Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, Op. 23
Gluck: Two Arias (Unis des la plus tendre enfance and Ah! mon ami, j'implore ta pite) from Iphigenie en Tauride (Vinson Cole, Tenor)
Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orphee et Euridice
Berlioz: Two Arias (Merci, doux crepuscule and Invocation de la Nature) from La damnation de Faust (Vinson Cole, Tenor)
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44
Jeffrey Kahane, guest conductor.

Tonight was quite musical in University Circle with Case students performing in the galleries of the Clevleland Museum of Art and the fifth of six CIM Orchestra concerts at Severance Hall. Based on scheduling I wasn't able to make it to the Case performance, but Rachel and I did make it to Severance.

Leaving Severance Hall tonight all I could really say to myself is "everyone is bound to have an off night every once in a while" to be sure the evening got off to a bumpy start even before the music started: I don't think I've seen such disorder and confusion in the Severance Hall garage and Mr. Smirnoff, CIM"s president made reference to "Cleveland Circle" (not University Circle) and invited the audience to visit (the website of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy, and Petroleum) instead of during his opening remarks. But usually once the music begins pre-concert bumps are a distant memory.

Tonight the music was just generally missing that je ne sais qouis and dare I say languid in execution. The first half of the program was opera-heavy, starting promisingly with a 0-60 burst of notes with the overture from Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini but after that initial burst the remainder of the piece felt overly restrained.

Following were the first set of arias sung by tenor Vinson Cole and while Mr. Cole has a solid voice all four arias were musically underwhelming and nearly put both Rachel and I to sleep; I can't say that any of the four (two Gluck and two Berlioz) were particularly memorable, but nor were they unenjoyable. Merci douz crepuscule from La damnation de Faust was the strongest of the four by my estimation.

Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits was the most enjoyable of the evening giving me the musical feeling of as subdued walk through nature in springtime.

Rachmaninoff's third symphony capped off the evening and stood alone after intermission as the only piece not excerpted from an opera and it was generally enjoyable but again didn't really have the verve that I expect from CIM students.