Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

Hindemith: Kammermusik No.1 (For Small Orchestra)
Strauss: Oboe Concerto in D major, Frank Rosenwein, oboe
Berelioz:Symphony Fantastique: Episode in the Life of an Artist, Op. 14
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

I have to confess that every once in a while I start to question my dedication to The Cleveland Orchestra -- aside from cost (it is an expensive endeavor) the skeptic in me occasionally wonders about the true "average Joe" impression of the Orchestra beyond Cleveland's borders.

Concerts like tonight assuage those doubts. First: The couple in the front of my box drove in from Ann Arbor to hear the concert -- something they do almost monthly, bypassing several other orchestras along the way -- to hear the Cleveland Orchestra in its Severance Hall home. (Equally impressive, they usually make the 3+ hour drive down and back the same day). More importantly it was simply a great sounding concert.

Hinedmith's Kammermusik No. 1 packed four movements into about 15 minutes of playing time starting frenzied (very fast and wild) first movement, to the second movement which alternated between having a somewhat festive, almost carnival like feeling to something dark and melancholy in the second movement with the darkness continuing into the third movement where it seemed as if the flute was alone on a dark deserted street -- or perhaps in a graveyard, only interrupted occasionally by rustling signified by a chime. The energy (and rest of the Orchestra) returned in the Finale: 1921.

The program note revealed an interesting history -- revolving around World War II -- to Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto, with the solo part performed by The Cleveland Orchestra's own Principal Oboe, Frank Rosenwein. I'm always more satisfied when the solo part is performed by an Orchestra member and tonight was no exception -- it feels as if the soloist enjoys a closer connection to the ensemble. The three movements, spanning just under a half hour of playing time, are played without pause. Throughout that time, Mr. Rosenwein's playing remained clear, even, and passionate. During the moments when he wasn't playing, he was visibly buoyed by the performance of his colleagues. When he was playing, his instrument comfortably laid on a bed laid out by the strings, particularly cellos, and drama ebbed and swelled throughout the piece, without overwhelming the tender moments.

Following intermission, the final piece on the program was Hector Berlioz's five movement Symphonie Fantastique, subtitled Episode in the Life of an Artist. If you ignore the subtitle -- as I initially did -- you may be expecting something a but on the lighter and broader side -- as I was. However you would do well to not ignore the subtitle. The first movement pulls the listener through the protagonist's passion, anguish, and despair in the field of far-off-love. The second movement (A Ball) seems to place the strings on the dance floor with the violins embraced by the cellos and violas in a musical dance. The third movement In the Country two Sheppard's are exchanging pipe calls, which I initially found delightful, however the parts of this movement that encompassed the full orchestra felt overdone. The fourth movement, had a distinct feel of pomp and circumstance.

When the end of the fifth movement came, the gentleman seated next to me -- who required assistance into and out of the box -- sprung to his feet and passionately exalted "Bravo!". The rest of the audience was not far behind. Though the box level was somewhat empty, the Orchestra floor appeared to be fairly full -- including (as pointed out by a gentleman in the next box over) a large contingent of students.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra Franz Welser-Most Conducts Mahler Three

Mahler: Symphony No. 3
The Women of The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco, director
The Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus, Ann Usher, director.
Zoryana Kushpler, mezzo-soprano
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Nothing, for me, quite announces that summer is officially over like the Cleveland Orchestra's triumphant return to Severance Hall. While summers at Blossom are lovely, nothing quite matches the splendor of hearing the Cleveland Orchestra back in Severance Hall. What pleasure Monet, Picasso, and Leger bring to the eyes across the street at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the artists within Severance Hall delight upon the ears.

I always have some hesitation with single-composer, let alone single-piece programs but the excitement was palpable: Hovering near the box office and overhearing a cluster of students "I'm going to save this" "Why?" "I save the ticket stub from every great concert I attend". Meanwhile, while I greeted patrons I recognized from least season with a "Glad to be back?" the answer was, in each case, a resounding yes.

Mahler's Symphony Number Three is an epic work covering a wide range of emotions, techniques, and the better part of two hours of time, sans intermission.

The first movement stands alone as Part One, starting with a far off call that begins with a broad cinematic feeling before taking an ominous tone. As the movement continues a delectably fine texture emerged from the aural canvass like the fine brushstrokes in a painting. Mr. Pruecil's solo violin before Mr. La Rosas beautifully lonely trumpet took over the landscape.

Part Two encompassed the remaining movements -- two through six -- each having a slightly different feeling. The second movement was more light and moved quickly. The third movement it both playful and nostalgic at places but struck me as endlessly contemplative. One of only two movements to feature the human voice, the fourth movement, set to Midnight Song from Also sprach Zarathustra was a bit slow and almost depressing for my tastes, but the fifth movement -- featuring the Women of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus was a glimmer of joyous sunshine that took over the orchestra. The sixth movement, marked as slow, peaceful, and with feeling, gives the audience time to reflect upon that which they've just heard and the season ahead.

If tonight was any indication it should be a good season.


Heights Arts: Academy of Bluegrass in the Field (a Benefit)

I've been eagerly awaiting the Cleveland Orchestra's return to Severance Hall for a new seson -- for me, that's tomorrow night. Tonight, though, we were treated to several members of the Cleveland Orchestra plying their trade in a different genere as a benefit for Height's Arts Close Encounters series of intimate cocncerts.

Incidentally, both individual and series tickets for the 2012-13 Close Encounters series are on sale now via Height's Arts web  site.

For a concert of bluegrass music, the Dunham Tavern Museum was the ideal Cleveland venue. Although all of the musicians on the program are members of Cleveland Orchestra, Derek Zadinsky was the only musician playing his "normal" instrument. Mark Dumm, Cleveland Orchestra first violn aptly weaved from banjo to fiddle to mandolin. Trina Bourne, best known as the Orchestra's principal harp, showed off her skills with a much smaller instrument -- the fiddle. Jeffrey Zehngut, orchestra 2nd violin donned a mandolin, guitar, and soprano sax. Orchestra bassists Henrey Preureburne spent the night with a guitar, while Derek Zadinsky nimbly navigated the largest instrument before us. If they were at all out of their comfort zone, their playing gave no indication.

The program was not published (though my attempt at capturing the pieces announced from the stage follows this post) but was a fantastic mix of bluegrass music running the gamut from slow and soulful to bubbly and pure fun.

Starting with the rousing Orange Blossom Special, the ensemble seamlessly transitioned through Ole Joe Clarke to Ashokan Farewell, a piece I heard arranged for orchestra at the beginning of the summer when The Cleveland Orchestra shared the Blossom stage with Time For Three. While I loved both versions, tonight's version had a much more tender and intimate feeling. Takin a piece originally written for Double Bass, Cello, and Mandolin and substituting a saxophone for the cello, the light Butterfly's Day Out took on a delightful urban, almost jazzy feel. Taking things in a different direction, The Cannon was an almost lullaby with the sounds of the bass and violin, which Rachel felt was more evocative of the flight of the butterfly.

Taking things in a completely different direction, we had the pleasure of hearing Bach's Gigue in G minor played by a leading violinist -- but instead of violin and bow, we heard it with the sweet sounds of the mandolin. Rounding out the first half of the program, Mr. Zehngut demonstrated his vocal ability with I'm a Man of Constant Sorrows  from Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

After intermission, a lively interpretation of dueling banjos with a banjo and mandolin pitted against a good natured guitar, F.C.'s Jig for violin and cello played by fidle and bass -- and Mr. Zadinsky covered every inch of his much larger bass substituting for a cello.

12th Street Rag gave me visions of a barn dance in the Dunham Tavern Museum's barn and I harbored visions of spinning Rachel around while (attempting) swing dancing in the back of the barn. Luckily for the audience (and Rachel) I did not attempt such a feat.

One of the great things abut a concert like tonight's is that the musicians' individual personalities can really shine through in a relaxed environment, and nothing showed that more than the next piece on the program -- while I didn't catch a title, it was a musical look at the less-glamorous side of orchestral touring following an introduction wherein we learned one member of the orchestra is particularly unlucky at finding the bus in one particular European city.

Attempting to cut the concert short by at least one banjo piece, Mark Dumm announced that he only had one banjo thumb pick and it was on its last legs. Before he could get much further, a new pick had mysteriously appeared from the back of the room -- now who happens to have an extra banjo thumb pick on them. In Cleveland. In September? Anyway, replacement pick in hand, the concert continued with Pinkin and Grinnin (punctuated with jokes -- and a touch of self-deprecation) and Foggy Mount Breakdown from Bonnie and Clyde. And the cherry on top of the concert, the encore was I Don't Love Nobody.

It was such a fantastic concert for a great cause and it is always an extreme pleasure to see Orchestra musicians out in the wild, and in this case playing music that may be a little off of the norm. Plus it highlights low lucky Cleveland is to have such a broad and deep pool of committed world-class talent.

I can't wait for the next one!


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Am I breaking up with, or cheating on, my dry cleaner?


If you haven't figured it out by now I'm either very loyal to inanimate objects, have a high degree of corporate inertia, or both. Perhaps the most shining example is the fact that I still bank with Bank of America -- nearly 9 years after moving to a state, perhaps the only state, that has not a single branch within its borders (although you can see the branch in Temperance, MI from Toledo, if that counts) -- heck, its only within the past few months an ATM that actually accepts deposits has appeared nearby (and within the past month, the ability to deposit via smart phone, prior to that I'd use a BofA withdrawal-only ATM on my way home from work and either mail in deposits or visit a branch when I was on the road).

But I digress.

This loyalty has, thus far, extended to my dry cleaner. A dry cleaner a friend recommended in Berea*, of all places, right on Front Street. I've since recommended them to others. But I think the time has come fore me to move on with my dry cleaning relationship.

When I first moved to Cleveland and was living downtown they were actually pretty convenient -- I didn't really get the feeling I was passing by any other qualified dry cleaners on my way to and from, and it was only about 20 minutes of all freeway driving.

Since I moved to Cleveland heights, they are decidedly less convenient for routine trips but I've stuck with them. Partially because they're convenient to the airport (there have been trips where I've landed at Hopkins, picked up my luggage and immediately dropped off 90% of the contents of my suitcase on my way home, only to pick up the results before heading out of town on another trip) and because they've generally treated me and my clothes well. It's a mom-and-pop shop where I got the feeling there was an eye on quality and nary a computer in sight, yet they usually remember my name.

That changed recently though. Perhaps it's because I've been looking for an excuse to take my business somewhere more convenient.

But on my most recent trip, I dropped off a few pairs of pants and a pile of shirts. "All for dry cleaning, please." Though the standard in the dry cleaning world (or at least this cleaner) seems to be dry clean pants and launder shirts, my standard order -- it hasn't changed in at least five years -- is "All for dry cleaning, please".

I've found that my shirts last longer, look better, and feel more comfortable when I wear them when I dry clean (and don't get me started on starch). That plus a care tag indicating "for best results dry clean only" make me happy to pay the additional cost per shirt.

When I dropped my last order off the "new girl" wrote up a single ticket correctly, listing my pants and shirts for dry cleaning. I took it and picket up the order early in the morning on my way to catch my last flight. The price seemed lower than I expected, but I wasn't fully awake and wasn't really thinking about it.

When I got to the airport I realized that not only had the pants been bagged separately from the shirts, each bag had a different tag on it, neither of which was a carbon of the tag that had been filled out when I dropped them off. I had a bad feeling. I reached under the bag and felt those shirts. I won't lie. "Those mother.... washed my shrits" was my initial, dejected cry.

I called the cleaners. The woman I answered knows me -- and was the one who had just taken my cash. There are a lot of things they could have done to achieve what the service industry refers to as "service recovery": From the extreme of replacing the now damaged (in my eyes) shirts to a refund for the service I didn't want, or at the very least an offer of a credit of some kind.

But no. Even though she acknowledged that I never have anything laundered, and I had told her that, as always, I had requested that they all be dry cleaned, and that the slip I had been given indicated that they were all for dry cleaning.

"Oh, we've told the new girl that she always needs to write up separate slips for dry cleaning and laundry, they caught it in the back and had her rewrite them"
"But this was all for dry cleaning, and it was written that way on the slip I was given"
"Well you need to be sure, if you see notations like ____ it means that you want them laundered with a hanger and light starch, which only applies to laundry"
"There weren't those markings on the ticket I was given, in fact those markings aren't on the replacement tickets either"
At this point I hear rustling while she pulls the original
"Oh, you're right, your slip was correct. Well, they got laundered that explains why the total was so low, but it's alright. Those shirts can be laundered.

The call basically went on like this with her alternating between implying it was my fault and that since it's OK to launder the shirts per the care tag I shouldn't care. Guess what: If I didn't care I wouldn't have been paying extra for dry cleaning these same shirts (and their siblings) for as long as I've owned them.

I'm also irritated that there was never even an "I'm sorry, we screwed up." I think I was, and continue to be, more ticked off about the way the problem was -- or rather wasn't -- responded to than I was initially about the problem itself.

So if they really don't give a damn about my business I should take my business to somewhere that's more convenient for me regardless of my travel schedule. I'd prefer locally owned, mom-and-pop type and, slightly more importantly, I'd prefer to use a cleaner with a plant on site.

I know there are a couple cleaners in Cleveland Heights, and I need to investigate whether either of them has the plant on site (one of them I strongly doubt, the other is iffy). Does anyone have suggestions for cleaners in the eastern 'burbs? I loaded a few shirts and a pair of pants in my car thinking about giving someone a try this afternoon... but I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt about cheating on my former cleaners. I just need to suck it up.


*- Those reading from out of town: I live in an inner-ring suburb on Cleveland's East Side. Berea is on the West Side. If it's an inner-ring suburb it just barely qualifies as so, it's probably a 45-50 minute one way drive from my house, and about a 5 minute drive from the airport)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Column and Stripe: Cleveland Public Art and Architecture Walking tour (@clevelandart #columnandstripe)

On Thursday evening a group of about 30 Column and Stripe members assembled in the plaza separating Progressive Field from The Q downtown.

Our host for the evening was Greg Peckham, Managing Director of LAND Studio and Thomas Starinsky, Associate Director of The Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation.

The talk started revealing some unique features of the complex we were standing in, credited as one of the first planned urban sporting complexes in the country. Integrated with the existing neighborhood and with features now taken for granted -- like a sunken playing surface in Progressive Field so that the activity can be seen by passers by outside the park.  Public art in the project is functional (such metal spires near Ontario street conceal ventilation for underground kitchen activities), historical (a planter that incorporates photos, maps, and merchandise from the Central Market that had occupied the site from 1850.

Column and Stripe Members
Outside the Colonial Arcade /
Courtesy Clarissa Westmeyer
Temporarily halted by a passing rainstorm we took shelter under a convenient bridge and learned a little bit more about the mission of both organizations before the skies parted and we pressed on toward the Colonial Arcade -- stopping for a moment to discuss Cleveland's Bike Rack, a new-to-me bicycle parking option for downtown commuters that includes lockers as well as showers and changing facilities for professionals who want to bike to work.

At the Colonial Arcade we had a chance encounter with the Arcade's new developer inviting our ideas for what we'd like to see in the next generation of downtown retail and along with a plug for a Pop-Up Party on September 27th from 5-8pm that sounds very interesting. Although the Colonial had been a stop on a walking tour I took about a year ago, I had never actually been inside the Arcade and was excited about stepping through the doors. It's a bit smaller in scale than The Arcade, but nonetheless an impressive piece of architecture connecting  Euclid Avenue on the North to Prospect on the South.

The Arcade / Courtesy
Clarissa Westmeyer
Continuing with a slight jog on Euclid Avenue there was a brief discussion of the public art elements involved in the Euclid Corridor project (many of them previously discussed in these two posts from the "Take a Hike" walking tours series) before continuing through The Arcade -- an engineering challenge so great for its time that only a bridge builder was willing to take it on, and one of my favorite interior spaces in Cleveland.

Passing through The Arcade we made a slight jog again -- this time on Superior Avenue to visit the Cleveland Public Library's Reading Garden (home to some of my favorite sculptures from Tom Otterness -- whose work I've since stalked in New York and Kansas City among others). The original plan, it turns out, for the Cleveland Public Library's expansion was  for the new building to be attached to the existing facility. For a variety of reasons that generated outrage and the result was two distinct buildings linked by a tunnel running under the reading garden.

Column and Stripers on the roof
at Greenhouse Tavern / Courtesy
Clarissa Westmeyer
With the Cleveland Public  Library closed for the evening we didn't actually enter the garden (or fully experience the LAND-facilitated temporary art installation in the garden) we walked around the perimeter of the garden before concluding the official tour in Mall A, home to Cleveland's Fountain of Eternal Life where the past and future architecture of the Mall Plan buildings was discussed -- from the new (and very contemporary) Medical Mart respecting the vertical rules of the existing classical buildings to the "green roof" of the subterranean Cleveland Convention center.

The evening drew to a fun close with an extended happy hour on the roof of the Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th street with plenty of fun socialization on a beautiful early fall evening.

Also, as a plug, a few of Rachel's wonderful robots (including my CelloBot) are on display as part of the show It's Only A Paper Moon at Proximity Gallery trough October 6.

(Full disclosure: I serve as the chair for Column and Stripe's Philanthropy Committee)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vacation 2012: Part III - From Avalanches and not quite to Tsunamis

(For Part 1 - where I get to California (the first time) Monday and pick up Rachel Tuesday see this post. For Part 2, where Rachel and I see part of California's Volcanic Legacy before crossing the border in to Oregon (the state, not the Ohio city) see this post.).

Having made it into Oregon, our first step was my grandmother's office where we visited (and Rachel met said grandmother for the first time) before being escorted to the secret entrance to Cliby County. On the way we saw multiples of the sign at the right. Rachel and I spent quite some time in the car questioning what a rogue Umpqua would look like. Or as Rachel posted on Facebook "Umpqua. That is all."

Behind the gates at Cliby Country -- beautiful wooded acres with a sprawling collection of outbuildings (My #2 goal for a vacation property behind a Manhattan pied-a-terre) the time flew as we visited before realizing that we should probably get food before everything in Grants Pass closed for the evening. We wound up at the Taprock Northwest Grill with a fantastic view of the Rogue River; returning to base camp, we visited a bit more before hitting our beds hard.

Thursday morning we convened in the morning with no idea what we were going to do -- the menu of possibilities was nearly endless with far too much to do in the one full day we had allotted to Oregon (yeah, bad planning on my part-- it seemed like a good idea on paper), Ziplining was a strong contender, and a trip down the Rogue river was on my list but fell by the wayside for reasons I don't really remember.

We settled on a trip back to one of the most beautiful places I've ever been -- Crater Lake. Rather than repeat the history I'll let you visit the Wikipedia article and just post a handful of the photos we got on the trip.

The ride up was full of interesting signs -- incidentally, when I say "up" we covered about 8000 feet vertically from the highest point of our trip to the lowest:
The post extending beyond the top of the Avalanche Zone sign gives one indication of the annual snowfall.
You really have to wonder what necessitated this rather obvious sign...
 But when we made it to the top of the drive it was all made worthwhile -- click the photos for the larger versions:
Perhaps my favorite photo from the trip:
After we exhausted the viewing opportunities from the main tourist encampment (and I got a little tired of unleashed children) we grabbed a quick lunch and then embarked on a "quick" trip all the way around Crater Lake on the Rim Drive [by "Quick" I mean "33 mile"] stopping at a few of the scenic overlooks to enjoy Crater Like from a different angle.
Once we had circled back to our starting point we descended from the mountain to return to the real world, but not before passing an aptly named picnic ground
Having exhausted most of the day (not to mention our leg muscles) we decided to head back to Cliby Country and enjoy the evening. While waiting for my grandmother to get home from work, I showed Rachel around the grounds before parking ourselves on a park bench to enjoy the sights and sounds.
How many people are lucky enough to have trees like this in their front yard:

Grandmother came home, more visiting, more food (including a great margarita while we waited for our table) more visiting, and another solid night sleep leaves us at the end of this post...


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Blossom Festival Orchestra: Broadway's Greatest Hits

(The complete program is at the end of this post)

The Cleveland Orchestra's 2012 Blossom Festival season draws to a close with this weekend's concerts -- performed not by The Cleveland Orchestra but by the Blossom Festival Orchestra. Where has summer gone?

It's been two weeks since the last Orchestra program -- dedicated to the material of John Williams --and returning to Blossom after that sabbatical felt a little odd. Unlike the disappointing Williams concert with its trite  program and robotic execution, tonight's program was passionately played and the program was a nice blend of selections from a wide swath of Broadway.

I was not, however, enamored by the soloists -- in the pavillion they frequently overpowered the orchestra (more likely the fault of the audio engineer than the soloists themselves). Individually, the soloists fulfilled their roles well but troubling, when both Ms. Vroman and Mrs. Gravitte were singing the same thing at the same time the result was far from satisfying, and in a few occasions actually made me cringe.

That said, it is perhaps obvious that my favorite pieces from the program unequivocally came from the few orchestra-only selections on the program. At the top of that list the Disney Broadway Medley featuring seven and a half minutes of music known to any Disney fan, including Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, M-i-c-k-e-y M-o-u-s-e, and Its a Small World among others. Maestro Russell encouraged the audience to sing along, and at times the low chant that rose from the lawn reminded me of a Latin mass. Incidentally, the later two in that medley hold special significance "Mickey Mouse" being the the first two words I knew how to spell, thanks to my grandmother's use of that song in her kindergarten classes, and It's a Small World being one of an aunt's most hated song [and my penchant for humming it around her about the same time in my early youth where I learned to spell Mouse].

The other two pieces for orchestra only, Seventy Six Trombones from The Music Man and the medley from Jesus Christ Superstar, though slightly less familiar were no less enjoyable.

Those that remember my sheer hatred of Chicago at PlayhouseSquare (the only musical I've ever walked out of at intermission, and one of only two where I've contemplated doing such) are probably not surprised that I had absolutely no attraction to Introduction and All that Jazz from Chicago. On the other hand, the medley from Mamma Mia! was sheer delight, though the sight of a full orchestra playing ABBA was a bit surreal. I'd certainly be up for a concert full of orchestral renderings of that music.

Mr. Labreque probably enjoyed the best individual balance with the orchestra of the night in Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera, the last piece on the published program, and the encore, You Can't Stop The Beat from Hairspray was the only time all three sounded really good while singing together.

A somewhat somber note was touched when Mr. Russell dedicated Defying Gravity (from Wicked) to the memory of Neil Armstrong, and then in a serendipitous bit of irony, lead into Circle of Life from the Lion King  both of which were high on my list of "likes" from this show.

In a few weeks The Cleveland Orchestra returns to severance -- and someone please remind me to stop by the box office: I still need to buy by tickets.


The full program from tonight's show
Seventy Six Trombones from The Music Man
Be our Guest from Beauty and the Beast #$^
This is the Moment from Jekyll and Hyde ^
Till There Was You from The Music Man #
Defying Gravity from Wicked $
Circle of Life from The Lion King #$^
Disney Broadway Medley (arr. Bruce Healy)
Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid #$^
Shall we Dance from The King and I #$
Medley from Hello Dolly! #$^
Introduction/All That Jazz from Chicago #$
Bring Him Home from Les Miserables ^
I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables $
Medley from Mamma Mia! #$^
Medley from Jesus Christ Superstar
Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera #
Memory from Cats $
The Phantom of the Opera from The Phantom of the Opera #^
Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera ^
You Can't Stop the Beat from Hairspray#$^
John Morris Russell, conductor.
(# - Lisa Vroman, vocalist; $ - Debbie Gravitte, vocalist; ^ - Doug Lrecquie, vocalist)