Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Lang Lang Plays Bartok

Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Lang Lang, piano)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 ("Romantic") in E-flat major (1888 version, edited by Benjamin Korstvedt)
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Observant readers may notice that I've been awfully quiet lately, for the simple reason that my day job has kept be beyond occupied. In fact, I've spent the past several days in Chicago suburbs--sans time to explore--returning just after 4:30 this afternoon.

Arriving at Severance hall something seemed weird -- just a little off. At first I wrote it off to the long absence from the hall (it has been nearly a month, after all) but the feeling persisted throughout the concert and even when leaving--something just didn't feel settled.

Going into the program I was looking forward to the Bartok over the Bruckner. At Intermission I was hoping I was wrong. And I was wrong.

The three movements of Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2 seemed flat, hollow, and distant. While it appealed to the ear, it was rather like watching a movie -- a 3D movie without the glasses -- rather than the emersive experience that is the reason I love hearing classical live. (Mr. Welser-Most seemed overly rigid and restrained, though he seemed to loosen up for the Bruckner) That said, the second and third movements were satisfactory with a string hymn over anguished timpani before turning a bit brighter. In the third movement things gained a bit more energy and became a bit brighter.

Following intermission the orchestra and Mr. Welser-Most returned to the stage and started the first movement of Bruckner's "Romantic" with a musical sunrise that gives way to a bit of frolicking. The orchestra built drama throughout the movement that reached climax before turning more meditative and insular. The second movement was more somber and meditative with the violin pizzicato seeming particularly like footsteps in some kind of sanctuary. The third movement, moved outdoors and seemed more rustic with a few punctuating surprises. Closing the piece, my immediate reaction to the first few lines of the fourth movement was a ship -- specifically an old wooden sailing ship -- on choppy water at night. That feeling turned to a more of a formal dance, then turned individually passionate before taking on an air of despair.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

United: More 'Blue' than 'Rhapsody'

United Air Lines has used George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue as it's musical cornerstone since at least the Mid-1980s (according to Wikipedia).

While the 2-part commercial American Airlines aired just after 9/11 is perhaps the most moving commercial I've ever seen, and what most captures what I believe the romance of flight was, could be, and should be -- watching them (especially part 2) still makes my eyes water a bit [Part 1 and Part 2, both featuring a unreleased variation of Enya's Storms In Africa... the closest I've found is by Talesin Orchestra]

And while I've always preferred the soaring power Delta* captured with Karl Jenkins Adiemus (For example, this commercial from the mid 90s as well as using it as boarding music), United's use of Rhapsody in Blue (see this commercial among many examples), varying the cuts to suit the mood of the commercial's subject has been noble.

One of the definitions for Rhapsody** is a "An effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling" meanwhile, "Blue" carries with it definitions including "melancholy, sad, or depressed" or, new to me, in describing language "marked by cursing, swearing, and blasphemy".

Over a month ago Continental and United completed their merger with the combination of two reservation systems into one. Since the "new" United uses the same reservation system as Continental did and has many of the same policies--some would go so far as to say it's Continental Airlines doing business as United Airlines--I assumed that there would be a few bumps but as a Continental customer I would be largely unaffected. And at first I was -- my OnePass (now MileagePlus) number didn't even change.

While I loved Continental, I have no such rhapsodic feelings towards United. Having spent four hours on hold with United over the past two weeks on a variety of issues I'm feeling a bit blue. Based on some of those issues and the "Eh, it'll probably get fixed eventually, why are you bugging us" attitude I may be speaking blue.

There are some issues I can understand but all of the issues I'm seeing just don't make any sense for a system that was supposedly tested prior to being turned over to the public -- not to mention one that as near as I can tell from what United is saying is fundamentally the same as the one Continental has been using for a decade now.

There are the small issues ( will periodically decide that my account number and/or PIN is invalid and not let me access my account, or it will let me log in to my account and then tell me that I'm not authorized to view my account)

There are the perplexing issues (for one upcoming flight, I couldn't view a seat map for the aircraft, let alone select seats online... when I called I was told that no seats would be assigned in advance and all seats would be assigned at the gate after I get to Houston. That seems like a recipe for airport chaos when you consider that it's an aircraft with 173 seats. And if I wanted to a fight-to-the-death for my preferred seat at the gate, I would have just flown Southwest. But hey, what do I know about airline management?

Then there are the "I don't know if I can trust you anymore" moments: The miles for my last flight posted to my account successfully several weeks ago. Last week those miles -- indeed any indication I had ever been on that flight -- just disappeared. Poof. They are no longer there. I called when I noticed it and I was told that it was a known issue and they should be back by April 15th. I called last night and the agent "found" the miles but wasn't able to recredit them to my account. It's been referred to the "research department" and may take four to six weeks to be fixed. While I don't need the miles for anything in the next month it's baffling how miles can appear, disappear, and then take over a month to be fixed.

But in looking at the chatter in various places online it seems I may be lucky -- there are reports of seat assignments and indeed entire reservations just disappearing.

United is being far too quiet. Since they aren't acknowledging a systematic problem, despite all of the chatter, the silence is feeding a growing collective anger and random speculation based on rumors. I, for one, would be far more satisfied if they'd do something so simple as to release the root cause and a realistic timeline for a return to normal.

Sigh. Maybe I need to give Delta a second chance. But I'm not quite ready to give up.

* - I've avoided flying Delta since an encounter with an extremely rude supervisor in Cincinnati on August 23rd, 2004. (Hey, if I'm going to hold a grudge, I might as well be accurate about it, right?) -- As a result of Delta's merger with Northwest Airlines a few years ago, I have almost enough Skymiles for a Round-the-World ticket in Business on Delta. I'm conflicted about whether or not I should use them given my disdain for the airline.

** - The musical definition is "a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Susanville, We Have A [Lodging] Problem

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time you'll know that I've sold my hotel-going soul to the Hilton Family*, via Hilton HHonors they take pretty good care of me and it's kind of fun to watch my point balance grow.

So far in seven years of traveling for work I've never had a problem finding a family hotel near where I need to be -- sometimes (rarely) there may be a 20-30 minute drive but those are offset by the hotels that are, in some cases literally across  the street from where I'm trying to go.

Until now. I'll be in Susanville, California for a work trip at the end of July and while looking at the map you can kind of tell that Susanville is a little out in the middle of nowhere its when you get to Hilton's website that you realize how far out in the middle of nowhere it is... There's not a single hotel within the family within 50 miles -- the furthest their search tool will search.

It looks like I'll be staying in Reno -- about a 90 minute drive -- since this is just a one day (for work) trip I don't think that will really be a problem. I've never been to either city before and there's an In-N-Out in Reno but none in Susanville...certainly a contributing factor.

Which brings us to the next dielemma: Which airport shall I fly into? Flying into Reno, in a vaccuum would seem to be the most sensable especially if I intend to stay overnight there, plus it would be nice to add a new city to my personal route map. With the immutable facts of my travel -- the airline I'm flying (United-though-I-will-still-call-it-Continental) and the type of fare I'm purchasing (unrestricted/fully flexible/refundable), Reno (RNO) comes in at about $1000 more, or a little less than twice, what the fare to Sacramento (SMF) is. I can't justify that much of a difference to save a couple hours of driving, especially on a project that's low budget to begin with, but because I can't make anything easy it doesn't end there.

[[View the fulll route map here... be warned it's a large file]]

Chico (CIC) and Redding (RDD) were both in the running for "new city on the route map" status but with longer drive times than and roughly the same fares as Reno. So in all likelihood I'll fly into Sacramento again -- same city but a new terminal has opened since the last time I was there adding at least a little visual interest. An outside possibility, though, is Medford Oreagon (MFR) -- fares are roughly the same as Sacramento, I have a grandmother in the area and I was planning on a little bit of a road trip up that direction to stop in and say hi anyway... but being a 4 1/2 hour drive I think I'd rather do that after my work commitments are taken care of rather than hop stright off a plane and spend five hours in a car,

Whichever way I go it's certainly not the end of the world...


*- The Hlton family is Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton, Conrad, Waldorf-Astoria, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Mitsuko Uchida Plays Mozart

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 ("Jeunehomme") in E-flat major, K271
Mozart: Serenade No. 11 in E-flat major, K375 (for wind octet)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467
Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor.

It seems many Clevelanders are fans of the collaboration between pianist Mitusko Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra. It's becoming clear, however, that I am not in that camp. While my reaction to tonight's concert was less polar than in 2010 (In other words, I didn't contemplate leaving early) but it certainly wasn't a concert that felt substantial, compelling, worthwhile, or worthy of the pomp that the Orchestra attaches to these performances.

And tonight's audience was off -- perhaps under the influence of the full moon -- seeming particularly rigid generally. In a performing arts first I was completely surprised when a young man and his (apparent) mother seated in the box next to me not only proceeded to pull out a video camera to record a portion of the performance but did so noisily and with little regard for the audience members around them. (Once mention was made to ushers at intermission it didn't happen again...but I've never seen it happen before. I understand several other audience members complained)

Anyway, starting with Jeunehomme the playing by all involved seemed effortless, though the first movement didn't hold my attention (though I do think while my mind was wandering I may have come across the solution to problem I've been noodling about at work for a while). The second movement had a slow dark beginning with a "dawn" of sorts bringing a gentle brightness seemingly emerging though concluding with a bit of remorse. The third movement, my favorite single movement from the evening whit a bubbly energy that was both swiftly executed and bright.

The Serenade was a unique experience and my favorite piece from the program, featuring eight of the Orchestra's winds and highlighting the skill and relationship of the musicians the opening notes sounded so close to the notes of a piano that I had to scan the stage to assure myself that there, indeed, was not a piano being played. Though a bit breathy at points, the general feeling held through the piece. In a letter, quoted in the program note, Mozart noted "It has won great applause too and on St. Theresa's night it was performed in three different places: for as soon as they finished playing it in one place, they were taken off somewhere else and paid to play it.".

Though the first three movements were great, I particularly enjoyed the fourth and fifth movements where a very light (described as "folk like simplicity") caught my ear in the short fourth movement and the transition to a more sophisticated but still pleasing sound.

Closing out the program, with Piano Concerto No. 21, the first movement again had trouble holding my attention (this time, alas, I didn't have any eureka moments), the second movement, was delightful beginning with a regal--either ceremonial or religious--feeling and adding a sense of mystery through the plucked low strings. The thrid movement was less awe inspiring however a dialogue -- or perhaps interrogration -- between the piano and winds caught my ear.

The Orchestra is touring the West Coast next week (and I would be lying if I calimed not to have had the thought of stalking them -- or at least sneaking in for their San Digeo stop), but I hope when they return to Severance at the end of April the presentation is more compelling.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cleveland Chamber Symphony: Music That Dares to Explore

Wilson: Mvt II (Desolate Plains) from The American Traveler Suite
Evans: Pastorale
Xenia Beckstrom: Leth
Jesse Limbacher: Wanderings
Corey Rubin: Broken Pearls
Jung Yoon Wie: Flying in Winter
The Cleveland Chamber Symphony* at The Music Settlement
Steven Smith, conductor

Some people who know me will tell you that I don't like "new" music ("new" in the sense of classical, not all of the other genres of music, but I digress) -- and to an extent it's true, for a large portion of the field it's difficult for me to become as engaged with or to understand some of the vocabulary or composers' intentions. I don't like being surprised by it, but when it's expected -- like with a Cleveland Chamber Symphony program -- it can be a nice diversion from the usual.

Tonight's program featuring six pieces by six young composers -- all students of Ohio institutions -- in the span of about an hour was a nice sampler and look at the talent being cultivated in our area.

Opening the program, Desolate Plains, the second movement from University of Akron student Kevin Alexander Wilson's The American Traveler Suite. Though desolate is in the title the music was anything but conveying the sense of adventure of crossing the plains for the first time [missing the scattered urban areas] without being overly dramatic.

Next by College of Wooster student Frederick Evans, Pastorale was the more disjointed sound that I usually associate with new music but had a flow underlying the somewhat ephemeral and atmospheric sounds and carried the piece forward.

A quartet, the third piece on the program, Leth, came to us from Ohio State student Xenia Beckstrom was introduced as the movement in a piece following convoluted earlier movements and as something light and refreshing. Great to listen to it started bright and happy but turned dark and I got a sense of mourning or loss, yet it certainly wasn't depressing.

Jessie Limbacher, a third year student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, brought us Wanderings, the first movement of a piece that is as yet unfinished and arguably the most abstract of the evening, but also I think featuring the strongest playing.

Corey Rubin, a Cleveland State University student, brings us Broken Pearls a reference both in title -- and according to the composer musically -- to Baroque music who's name is derived from that of a misshapen pearl, a term applied by early detractors referring to misshapen pearls. I have to admit that I didn't really get the baroque impression from this piece, perhaps because that vernacular was not fresh in my mind.

Finishing out the program, Jung Yoon Wie, originally from Seoul, Korea and currently a sophomore at the College of Wooster, brings us Flying in Winter which moved speedily and had a decidedly wintry sound.

And the variety of music tonight was a reminder that the spectrum of new music is as broad as the artists composing and performing it.

(*- Susan Britton, Jiah Chung, Amber Dimoff, Cara Tweed, violins; Lisa Whitfield, James Rhodes, viola; Nick Diodore, Julie King, cello; Diana Richardson, bass; Sean Gabriel, flute; David McGuire, oboe; Lisa Antoniou, clarinet; Mark DeMio, basoon; Bill Hoyt, horn; Al Couch, trumpet; Andy Pongracz, percussion; Nancy Paterson, harp)