Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Chopin and Rachmaninoff

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21 (Louis Lortie, piano)
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
Jaap van Zweden, conductor.

Rachel and I spent the last week in California vacating (and before that I spent a week in California working)... so having survived Thanksgiving with part of the family, both parks in the Disneyland Resort [on what would turn out to be one of the busiest days of the year] the Getty Center, Hollywood, The Griffith Park Observatory and other Southern California landmarks, it was nice to sleep in my own bed last night and head to a Cleveland Orchestra concert this evening -- although I will admit that I'm still a bit out of it.

[Incidentally next week The Cleveland Orchestra is joining the Joffery Ballet for performances of The Nutcracker. While I love ballet and the Cleveland Orchestra, unless I can figure out a way to get tickets without having to deal with, let alone support, the insufferable PlayhouseSquare box office, I will not be attending those performances]

The program opened with Chopin's Piano Concerto and I can't say the performance left anything to be desired, but on the same token nothing really grabbed me or pulled me into the music; more like watching a painting from the distance in a crowded museum than being alone with a painting -- or better -- immersed in the scene. This cloud briefly lifted for a few bars late in the piece where pizzicato strings evoked the feeling of a far off dance.

The first movement of the Rachmaninoff didn't fare much better, however starting with the second movement the tide turned. In that movement, the opening sounds like it is trumpeting the arrival of an evening newscast, imparting a sense of importance and urgency before somewhat abruptly trailing off and transitioning to the tranquility of a candlelit dinner. The newscast and tranquility both return for alternating encores within the movement. Meanwhile, the third movement is largely tender and loving as a lover's embrace followed by an outpouring of intense emotion. The fourth movement was slightly stormy but largely summing up the preceding movements.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Franz Welser-Most Conducts Beethoven and Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy

Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60
Pintscher: Chute d'Etolies (United States Premiere, Michael Sachs and Jack Sutte, trumpet)
Beethoven: Grosse Fuge in B-flat major, Op. 133
Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54
Framz Welser-Most, conductor.

From the first piece on today's program, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 I had great hope for tonight's program -- it was marvelously textured and -- though I may be reading too closely -- could almost trace the progression of youth: From the mischievous  introduction that tiptoed around the hall before surging and being a bit more overtly playful. Next was the feeling of romance, courtship with a few flares of drama, concluding with what might be described as a courtier running his fingers through a lover's hair courtesy of the strings, before concluding in a little bit of loss and despair.

Sadly that is where enjoyment of the concert ended. The next piece on the program, Matthias Pintscher's Chute d'Etoiles -- receiving its United States premiere with this weekend's performances -- was downright painful and is best described as a bad combination of "Subway train with bad brakes" meets "Apocalyptic Horror Film Soundtrack". The trumpet work, featuring two of the Orchestra's members was interesting, mixing sounds that evoke a muted jazz scene, adult "talking" from Peanuts cartoons, and most frequently the tubes from the Blue Man group -- but that was the only highlight from an otherwise insufferable piece.

I had hoped that following intermission the second Beethoven, Grosse Fuge would return the positive vibes from the program's opening, but it and the Poem of Ecstasy both seemed two dimensional and flat, not really earning Mr. Welser-Most's full involvement, much less that of the audience, though the climax and release at the end of Poem of Ecstasy was well executed. My applause following these three pieces was one of the few times I found myself applauding out of a sense of obligation rather than genuine admiration. Based on the rather apathetic applause it seems the majority of the audience was similarly unmoved.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Trout Playing In American

Schubert: Four Art Songs (Im Haine, Der Jungling an der Quelle, Ellens Gesang II, Die Forelle)
Schumann: Piano Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 47
Schumann: Four Art Songs (Widmung, Der Nussbaum, Heiss mich nicht reden, Kennst du das Land)
Schubert: Piano Quintet in A Major, D. 667 ("Trout")
Jung Oh, soprano; Sonja Braaten Molloy, violin; Mark Jackobs, viola; Charles Bernard, cello; Charles Carleton, bass; Christina Dahl, piano.
At the Rawson Cowap Residence, Shaker Heights.

Had everything gone as planned, I would have missed this afternoon's wonderful concert -- instead I would have been on a flight back from a week in New York. Though it is one of the more interesting travel stories of my career (involving a one-way flight and a one-way rental car), I'll save that for now, but needless to say -- I made it and was able to attend with  Rachel.

The musicians featured on tonight's program -- the string players all Cleveland Orchestra members -- were all new to the Heights Arts Close Encounters (House Concert) series, and it was interesting to see and hear more top musicians at the in an individual and more intimate setting than the concert hall.

The program was also an interesting mix of art songs (with soprano Jung Oh accompanied by Christina Dahl) and instrumental pieces. The concert stated with Ms Oh singing Schubert -- two love songs, a lullaby, and a cautionary tale about a trout. Rachel leaned over at the conclusion of the set noting that Ms. Oh made German sound less harsh -- and indeed, the entire set sounded sweet and rounded, unlike the harsh angular edges typically associated with German. Ms. Oh also sounded wonderfully warm and her voice amply filled the room.

The Piano Quartet covered a range of musical feelings -- from the galloping/driving feeling of the second movement scherzo to the loving and delicate andante cantabile third movement to a somewhat angry and more agitated vivace third movement.

The program concluded with the technically difficult and beautifully executed Schubert "Trout" piano quintet. I've heard the quintet before -- at a CIM recital -- but in the context of a private residence it takes on a much more intimate feeling between quintet and musicians [Without looking through my notes, I'm fairly certain this is the first time I've heard an upright bass in a house concert even if it wasn't the first time, it was a rare treat and pushed the entire ensemble even closer to the very appreciative audience.


Theater Ninjas: Marble Cities

(Thursdays-Saturdays through November 17th at the Ohio City Masonic Temple)

It's been a little while--ok a long while--since my last Theater Ninjas experience, and it is always a unique experience. This production is themed as completely as a Disney attraction. It starts by leveraging the inherent mystique of the venue, an active Masonic Temple, and caries through an interesting preshow display that seamlessly into the actual action.

Arriving at the venue Rachel and I were handed cards, "I am here because I was invited. I beg admittance to this circle. I have told no one. My motives are my own" which heightens the dramatic tension before the audience is ever seated.

While the story is not one that can be described as simple nor straight forward (and if you've seen previous work by the Ninjas this should not be of any surprise) throughout the play I found  myself questioning the characters' latent and explicit motives and the complex interrelationships among several strangers, themselves invited to this secret meeting but unaware of why they were selected reflecting on what in each characters past has lead them to today, and what will propel them beyond today...if they survive.

Through excellent and organic staging, compelling and three-dimensional acting on the part of the entire ensemble, I was engrossed in something that was for the most part something that was so real I had no problem suspending disbelief. That said, I think every actor stumbled on one line, and for each rough recovery, my suspension of disbelief was momentarily revoked and I was oh-so-briefly returned to the clutches of  the "real" world looking in from the outside, until I returned to a state of total engrossment.

I can't remember the last time my brain has been forced to think so much, let alone so deeply, about the ultimate meaning of the piece, and being left feeling so open ended. Indeed, this is a play that, while seeming to curve that direction in places, does not force one true ending on  the audience. Instead, it gives you a lot to consider before you reach your own conclusion -- or conclusions.

(Directed and Devised by Jeremy Paul; Created and preformed by David Aguila, Ray Caspio, Brittany Gaul, Ryan Lucas, Cassie Neumann, Michael Prosen, Emily Pucell and Colleen Uszak; Asistant Director Ray Caspio; Stage Manaer Katilin Kelly; Lighting Design Benjamin Gantose; Costume Design Kevenn T. Smith; Technical Director Val Kozlenko; Installation Design Joan Hargate; House Manager Cassie Goldback)