Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Leon Fleisher and Jonathan Biss: Beethoven Piano Concertos No. 2 and 3.

Mendelssohn: Overture: The Hebrides
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Jonathan Biss, piano)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 (Jonathan Biss, piano)
Leon Fleisher, conductor

[For health reasons combined with general disinterest I departed the concert during Intermission; therefore I have no opinion on the performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3]

Occasionally there comes a concert where I am reasonably sure that my feelings towards the concert are not necessarily those of the majority of the audience. Tonight's is one such concert. 

This weekends concerts were programmed with Mitsuko Uchida as soloist. As a result of Ms. Uchida bowing out due to a thumb injury, Leion Fleisher and Jonathan Biss took up the program. While Ms. Uchda seems to have a strong following in Cleveland, I haven't been able to connect with her interpretations nor have I found the performances compelling -- so I had every intention of giving this weekend's concerts a pass until I learned of the substitution. That, somewhat surprisingly, was a sentiment held by many of the patrons I chatted with prior to the start of the concert. 

Opening with Mendelssohn's Overture to The Hebrides which had a beautiful clarity and texture, particularly a repeating motif that started in the violins and migrated through the lower strings through the first half of the piece before an impressive climax. 

I had high hopes for Messrs. Biss and Fleisher's rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2. And while I felt the performance much more compelling than those with Ms. Uchida at the keyboard, I didn't connect with the first two movements at all; and while I enjoyed the third movement and observing Mr. Biss's fingerwork, the end of the piece couldn't come quickly enough. 

I spent the first few minutes of intermission weighing my reaction to the piece and my general feeling of malaise versus "throwing away" roughly half of my ticket purchase. In the end (and with an acquaintance mentioning that I "didn't look as well as usual") I elected I'd be happier not hearing another Beethoven piano concerto and after bidding new years wishes, I departed the hall. 


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Marin Alsop Conducts Barber Schumann, and Copland

Barber: Essay No. 2, Op. 17
Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (David Fray, piano)
Copland: Symphony No. 3
Marin Aslop, conductor.

Although it has been nearly a month since my last Cleveland orchestra concert, I can hardly think of a program I've so thoroughly enjoyed in recent memory, not to mention one of the more adventurous programs by Cleveland Orchestra standards... I can only home for more.

The program opened with Samuel Barber's Essay No. 2 from the early 1940s. A beautiful piece, of starts with the wide open planes before shifting to a very angular and somewhat punchy scene that clearly evokes images of the hustle and bustle of an active city in constant motion, while near  the end  tapping from and timpani bring premonitions of marching to war.

I wasn't quote as captivated by Schumann's Piano Concerto -- partially because the couple in front of me were both texting through most of the piece though the first movement was delightfully light and wispy like freshly baked bread and pianist David Fray matched the orchestra's passion. Upon taking his seat in the and adjacent box following the Schumann, Mr. Fray graciously posed for photos with a few box holders, and upon learning that they were donors to the orchestra encouraged "Keep supporting the orchestra - it is a gem; nothing like it in the world".

The third and final piece on the program was one I've been hoping for for quite a while and looking forward to for several months -- Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3 including a reformulation of the prolific Fanfare for the Common Man. Before beginning the piece Ms. Aslop touched briefly but humorously on a few key aspects of the piece, including snippets played by the orchestra -- I sincerely hope that the orchestra considers incorporating these few minutes of wisdom into future classical concerts.
On to the music -- the first movement was played with and conveyed a sublime passionate energy. The second movement was no less passionate, but was more evocative of a buoyant small-town celebration. The third movement began with a high register -- Ms. Aslop referred to it in her opening remarks as one "only dogs can hear" -- and very reserved compared to the brash end of the second movement. I could be mistaken, but I could swear I also picked up hits of Appalachian Spring wafting around. The third movement seamlessly gave way to the third where the Fanfare emerges in brilliant beauty, and is passed around the orchestra tansformed and fades away while the music remains strong and festive with the strong image of soaring gulls.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society: Carlos Perez

(Spanish and Latin American Music of the Romantic Era)
Jimenez Manjon: Dos Maxurkas
Jimenez Manjon: Arie Vasco
Pujol: Cubana
Pujol: Schottish Madrileno
Damas: Fandango Variado
Barros: Preludo opus 5
Barros: Maxixa
Sagreras: Estilo Criollo
Sagreras: La Ideal (Romanza sin palabras)
Sagreras: La Guella
Nazareth: Mariazinha sentada na pedra (tr. Perez)
Nazareth: Eponina (Valsa) (tr. Perez)
Nazareth: Vem ca branquinha (tr. Perez)
Carlos Perez, guitar
At the Plymouth Church UCC, Shaker Heights

On a blustery winter evening Rachel and I returned to the Plymouth Church, this weekend for the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society's presentation of Carlos Perez playing Spanish and Latin American Music of the Romantic Era. While the weather outside wasn't quite frightful, the music inside was quite delightful*

The first half of the program was given over to composers from Spain -- though Antonio Jimenez Manjon emigrated to South America early in his life -- his Dos Maxurkas was a warm and inviting beginning to the concert with a tranquil Una Flor and the slightly more lively and lyrical Lirica.

Pujol's Cubana had a more casual and "Cuban" flavor -- as may be implied by the title -- the Schottish Madrileno that Rachel and I had imputed as "Scottish" didn't really harken Scottish imagery. While rounding out the first half of the program, Tomas Damas's Fandango variado  featured interesting sounds including a using the body of the guitar for a drum beat.

The second half of the program moved Southwest to Latin America where the mood was generally lighter and the tempo seemingly faster; Augistin Barrios's Preludio opus 5 bringing a faster tempo and thae same composer's Maxixa bringing more festive color into the music. Julio Sagrearass's Estilo Criollo was the opposite with a deep and introspective feeling.

The program concluded with works by Ernesto Nazareth transcribed by guitar by Carlos Perez, where the bubbly Mariazinha sentada na pedra gave way to the more candle-lit-dinner romantic but sad Eponina (Valsa) [I'm not sure what it was about this piece, but I seemed spontaneously on the edge of tears], and finally a rousing Vem ca branquinha to end the warm music and return us to the reality of winter outside of the hall.

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society will be presenting a special event in conjunction with MOCA on Thursday, December 12th.


*(sorry, I really couldn't resist the first opportunity of the season to use that pun)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BlueWater Chamber Orchestra: Honoring Cleveland's Culture

Corigliano: Voyages for Strings
Weber: Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 26 (Amitai Vardi, clarinet)
Beethoven: Romance No 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Op. 50 (Jieming Tang, violin)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 (Italian), Op. 90
Davies: An Orknet Wedding, with Sunrise, J. 264
Carlton R. Woods, conductor.
At the Plymouth Church UCC, Shaker Heights.

I'm finally home in Cleveland for a bit (no travel "on the books" until January, thankfully) and feeling a little lacking in the Music department. Tonight, Rachel and I took the short jaunt to the Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights for a fun program full of variety and quality musicianship from the BlueWater Chamber Orchestra.

This was our second time hearing the orchestra and the different "feelings" between the two venues was a bit striking -- while the Breen Center is more modern and a bit more comfortable, Plymouth Church has the advantage of a less formal feeling, specifically a less harsh division between orchestra and audience.

The program was a delightful "musical sampler" of sorts featuring works that span vast spaces both in time and structure, making it easy to like and hard to get bored.

Opening the program, Voyages for Strings presented a relaxed bit of travel -- no drama of a trip gone awry, but rather the serenity of an airplane in cruise or a train en route where everything is going as it should. Next up, the Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra was restrained at introduction but broke free to a lively midsection with lively and engaging playing by soloist Anitai Vardi.

One beautifully flowing piece lead to another -- featuring a slightly younger but no less talented soloist in Jieming Tang, a currently sophomore. Mr. Tang and the orchestra gently embraced before taking each other on a slow dance.

Mendelssohn's Italian symphony was played with particular clarity, and the longest piece of the evening -- the first and fourth movements were the fastest -- the first being insistent with a hint of bickering, and the fourth with a sense of running after a burst of energy. While the second (more reserved) and the third movements were slower, the momentum of the piece was preserved avoiding the sense of "hitting the emergency brakes" that slower movements can sometimes give when following a faster movement.

The last piece of the evening was certainly the most fun and unique -- following a Scottish wedding with such movements as "Guests arriving out of violent weather", and "Increasingly inebriated dance" -- and also the first I can remember to feature bagpipes (with Mr. Jeff Sandlin filling that need quite well) -- it was toe tapping and cheery music. The only objection was the (intentionally) out of tune playing as the "drinking" progressed -- it was clear some of the musicians appeared to be physically pained by being forced out of tune -- but such is the necessity of the piece.

The next BlueWater Chamber Orchestra concert, "Lake Winds Bring Spring Strings" will be presented at the Plymouth Church on March 1st at 7pm.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Fate and Freedom

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 76
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

This week has been disruptive to say the least -- while I spent the majority of the week in Palm Beach and am preparing to head to Richmond for a full week tomorrow, all amidst the emotional devastation brought upon many close to me by the news of David Franklin's--er..."recklessness" as one friend put it.

Though I arrive home lat last night, I'm heading to Ricnmond tomorrow afternoon and between valuing wwhat time I have at home and the relative disfavor with which I hold Mr. Welser-Most's conducting plus my lack of enthusiasm for Beethoven, had the program been presented Shostakovitch first I likely would have called it during intermission 

I'm glad that wasn't the case, however, as Mr. Welser-Most seemed particulally relaxed and avoided the overly-restrained, stiff, feeling that I get too often. Instead the.Beethoven was wonderful full-bodied and immersive, completely pulling me into the supple piece. While the first movement was vigerous and full of young life, the second had a mich more tender and loving feeling. The thord and fourth movementa meanwhile had a more timid, soft spoken feeling before erupting like a superhero tearing off his disguise.

The Shostakovich, was on the other hand, significantly less captivating primarily for the overwhelming bleakness -- like a Cleveland winter, mostly depressing with little spots of sunshine.  The intense strings brought a profound sense of foreboding and the militaristic feel if the secon movement. The third and fourth movements had a very tentative and cautions feeling to them.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Cleveland Museum of Art: A mess is spilling over

Ok, so I don't know that I have much to add to the "discussion" on the topic but I do need to vent a bit, especially with the 'facts' as they seem to be unfolding.

From the rather abrupt resignation of the museum's former director for "personal" reasons it was clear something was up, and it was disingenuous of the museum board to even half-heartedly attempt to cover it up. In fact, knowing some of the players in the story something didn't really feel "right" starting near the end of March and certainly after the unfortunate demise of one of the key players in this unfolding saga.

I am more than a bit, erm, pissed at the moment. Of the three Directors of the Cleveland Museum of Art that I've known since moving to Cleveland, David Franklin was the first that I respected -- and the first that I sense respected all patrons more or less equally. Of course, that respect has evaporated.

Timothy Rub was, during the tenure that coincided with my living in Cleveland was uninspiring and not particularly charismatic in my experience -- at museum events I definitely got the sense that he wasn't interested in acknowledging, much less talking to a patron unless he or she brought a significant amount of money to the table. He seemed absolutely ambivalent about engagement, particularly engagement in "my" demographic. I was not sad to see him leave for Philadelphia.

Deborah Gribbon, as interim director following Tim Rub's departure likewise didn't really inspire -- but as an interim director, staying the course and not making any radical departures from the norm during their term is expected -- in effect, serving as a trustee for the next director.

David Franklin, however, was very approachable and engaging including helping to champion both research and writing among curatorial staff and a number of innovative projects like Gallery One and Column and Stripe -- an organization working on engagement for 'my' demographic and brought to fruition in no small part through the efforts of the other key player in this drama.

When the resignation was announced, thus, I was disappointed -- we finally had a director that I wanted to see stick around for a while, and while I had my suspicions that something was amiss, I couldn't imagine it was this significant.

So I hope that the next director will share many of the same positive qualities that I perceived of Mr. Franklin while having much better discretion. Though it seems many are eager to blame the underlying relationship issue entirely on the man, it takes two to tango. Enough said.

What has me even more pissed off is how incredibly poorly (and dare I say unethically) The Plain Dealer has handled this story -- failing to disclose the conflict of interest posed by having their publisher on the board in the original story, naming the (deceased) other party to the "scandal", and dragging her family into it without adding any value to the story, and just plain idiotic soundbytes from the museum's board. Add to that, the way some museum staff have been approached for comment strikes me as just a little creepy. It's like reading a mashup of the worst parts of Fox News and MSNBC combined.

Anyway... I hope that the museum's search for a new director yields an engaging, passionate, individual quickly who can see the museum through it's impending centennial and ensure the museum's reputation as a world-class center for art and research is restored and strengthened. I am eager to see the museum put this unfortunate episode (or rather mini-series) behind it.

(Revised October 25th to add clarity)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Jakub Hrusa Conducts: Haydn, Dvorak, and Janacek

Haydn: Symphony No. 60 ("I'll distratto")
Dvorak: The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109
Janacek: Taras Bulba, Rhapsody for Orchestra
Jakob Hrusa, conductor

Coming back from Richmond this afternoon I wasn't so sure I was going to make or to tonight's concert -- my bed was sounding mighty attractive and United Airlines operational reliability (Read: ability to get me where I expect go at roughly the time I expect to be there) has been particularly lousy of late [how an airline can "misplace" an entire airplane at an airport is beyond me, but I digress]

But here I am, or rather was in Severance Hall -- starting this post during intermission so that I can find sleep sooner when I return home. The first piece on the program, Hadyn's six-movement symphony with a title translating to "The Distracted" was an apt start for my return. Over the course of 25 moments, though I was occasionally distracted it generally held and recaptured my attention with a variety of emotional responses -- from noble to "festive with a bit of mystery". The fourth movement presto was impressive for the sheer control of bow speed and the number of precise notes coming forth rapid fire succession. The fifth movement adagio was particularly meditative and when I closed my eyes a note seemed to drift across the stage.

The second piece on the program my favorite by a narrow margin -- also about 25 minutes was Dvorak's The Golden Spinning Wheel. While calling a half-hour of music a "tone poem" seems like a bit of a stretch, those who know me, or who have been reading for any length of time know the Dvorak is among my favorite composers and this piece, including tinges of toe-tapping folk music was no exception.

The last piece on the program, Janacek's Taras Bulba, a "rhapsody for orchestra" was most surprising. While the first and third movements were captivating, the second movement with a repetitive four note stinger gripped me, both for it's crisp delivery across the string sections and sense of familiarity (I swear I've heard it in a television program theme) held me in suspense throughout the piece.

I'm down to Miami next week -- sadly not at the same time as the Cleveland Orchestra's residency -- then back to Richmond and New York. I need some time off the road.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Franck's Symphony in D Minor

Faure: Suite from Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 80
Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, Op. 31 (Richard King, horn; Matthew Polenzani, tenor)
Franck: Symphony in D minor
Marek Janowski, conductor.

After spending most of the past two weeks* on the road (first, not-West Palm Beach, Florida, then Wilmington, North Carolina) I was hoping for am awe-inspiring concert to bring me back home -- and get my mind off the
1-trip-a-week schedule for the next four weeks (Richmond, Palm Beach, Richmond, and New York).

Such a concert, unfortunately the Orchestra did not deliver tonight. While enjoyable it was mostly lacking in spice and came out tasting rather bland; not much different than a rote performance entombed in a CD recording.

For example, the opening Suite was plesant with its pastoral-but-occasionally-spritely sound bit it was rather lifeless. Britten's Serenade did not fare much better. Though Mr. Kings playing -- especially the solo opening a d closing movements played from off stage were delightful to listen to itndodnt really have the air of anything special.

Things turned a bit more engaging through the first two movements of the Franck -- much less rote and more passionately played, but the third movement was the most enjoyable of the evening with a bold and festive signature hat seemed more forceful and more enjoyable to listen to each time it was repeated.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto

Liadov: Eight Russian Folk Songs, Op. 58
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 23 (Krill Gerstein, piano)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 44
Vassily Sinaisky, conductor.

A concert in three courses. Opening tonight, Liadov's Eight Russian Folk Songs was a delightful eight-movements-in-fifteen-minutes taste of everything, surprisingly not plagued by the Cleveland orchestra since 1984. Though was of the movements had names calling for imagery -- "Religious Chant" or "Tale of the gnat" for example, the beginning of was movement had me a little off expectations, but as the movement progressed the realization that the title was apt hit me on each case. Particularly notable in that sense was "Christmas Song ('Kolyada')" -- which was not so much a western Christmas but a eastern European nutcracker. Most enjoyable however, were the restrained but lively Round Dance, reminiscent of a small gathering, and the expansive Village Dance Song more seeming as a communal celebration.

Proceeding with the evening, I noticed the concert was generally trending in the direction of "loud" followed by "louder" -- while I like loud, by the end of the concert my ears were physically exhausted and it seemed like much of the dynamics had been lost. Of course, during one relatively quiet moment during towards the end of the first movement of the piano concerto I could no longer hold back a throaty cough after several stunted sputters...and I became "that guy".

For Prokofiev's Symphony, the strings were particularly strong but surprisingly not really captivating and I cannot put my finger on why.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Column and Stripe Tour of the Cleveland Museum of Art Conservation Lab (@clevelandart)

Mr. Knutas with Van Gogh's The Road Menders,
prepared for loan, in the Paintings Lab
This evening Rachel I had the pleasure of attending a tour and talk by Per Knutas, Chief Conservator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, as part of a program hosted by Column and Stripe, the Cleveland Museum of Art's affiliate group for young friends.

I've found conservation fascinating both for the ethical and technical challenges and questions posed -- and Rachel has conservation work experience (including, most impressively to me reconstructing the shell of an ostrich egg from over 100 individual pieces while living in Italy) so there was no doubt we would attend this evening's program. I was particularly interested because while Rachel has volunteered in the labs the only part of the tightly-secured conservation suite I've see is the classroom and I'm always up for a behind-closed-doors tour.

Illustrating the level of documentation
that may be associated with the
conservation of a single work.
Per, a relatively new addition to the Cleveland Museum of Art staff, started the evening in the Conservation classroom with an overview of both the profession in general and Conservation at the Cleveland Museum of art, including the ethical considerations such as that everything a conservator does must be documented and reversible. I found it interesting to hear that different considerations apply between "modern" works, where a greater level intervention and consultation with the artist is permitted, versus historical pieces where a very conservative approach is taken.

The Rembrandt amongst the conservator's tools
(Click for a larger version)
Delving further into the inner sanctum -- and uncharted territory for myself and most of the attendees -- lab doors were opened and the covers were literally lifted off of works in the process of being conserved by the museum's staff of science-driven artisans. Take, for example, a Rembrandt undergoing cleaning and conservation by paintings conservator Dean Yoder. A think layer of varnish was laid over the work to isolate the "original" paint from the conservation work, and further paints that fluoresce under ultraviolet light are used for the necessary in painting to make the work done immediately apparent to future scholars and conservators.

Demonstrating the UV Light,
highlighting in painting
The careful treatment of works does not stop there, but also careful consideration of cultural traditions. For example, Mr. Knutas related that in considering critical preservation work on a document with religious significance where the culture forbids disturbing living things. To respect that culture, no animal glues can be used -- no brushes with animal hair can be used. The suggestions that it would be proper not to wear leather belts or shoes while working on the piece and that the conservators involved not eat meat the day before are being considered. I knew conservation was a hyper-detail oriented craft, but I had never considered how cultural concerns could so dramatically affect the execution of conservation -- and the lengths the Cleveland Museum of Art is willing to go to respect those traditions.

 Further, in that regard, the Asian Paintings Lab, staffed by conservator Sara Ribbans, is one of only four in United States museums. Ms. Ribbans was trained in the Japanese tradition, and carries that on in Cleveland. The lab has a distinctly different feel than the other labs we visited, including low tables and Tatami mats -- the tools used, likewise, are the same those that have been used by Japanese artisans for centuries.

Rachel pondering frames
As the tour concluded and we made our way back to the classroom where the talk began, we once again passed through a long hallway lined, floor to ceiling, with empty frames. No, this isn't the secret frame shop in the museum, instead, it's storage for the frames that belong to pieces undergoing conservation. A sort of waiting room in the art hospital, if you will, where frames patiently wait to be reunited with their loved ones.

In any event it's quite an unexpectedly dramatic scene.

Oh, and another tidbit: There are more than 45,000 objects in the Cleveland Museum of Art's collection. Less than 2% are on view at any one time.

For more information about Column and Stripe, or to join, visit


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor") in E-flat major, Op. 73 (Helene Grimaud, piano)
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G major (Maureen McKay, soprano)
Fabio Luisi, conductor.

Ok, so Summer is over and it's time to return to Severance Hall for another season -- in many ways it's like the first day of a new school year, greeting old friends and helping new fans to find their way around. It's also a time to notice changes -- rumors of veteran House Manager Judith Diehl's impending retirement, and the addition of some rather unsightly security cameras flanking the stage, like pimples on an otherwise flawless face.

I will admit, though, that I wasn't as excited as I could have been heading into the hall this evening; I've gotten slightly accustomed to having a Saturday evening free, and my bank account has certainly appreciated having a few weeks free from ticket purchases. From the first notes, though, the orchestra under maestro Luisi reminded me why I attend Cleveland Orchestra concerts.

The first movement of the Beethoven concerto hooked me with tantalizing finger work on Ms. Grimaud's piano backed by equally tantalizing playing by the orchestra with phenomenal crispness clarity and balance. Though not evocative of a particular visual scene it was memorizing and at times almost operatic. The second movement (which lead virtually seamlessly into the third movement) was heartwarmingly tender -- to the point that a gentleman in an adjacent box bay have been on the verge of tears.

Following intermission the program concluded with Mahler's fourth symphony in four movements. Those four movements seemed to be almost wholly unrelated, making each movement it's own interesting little bundle. Like the Beethoven, this piece didn't evoke strongly imagery, but each movement evoked clear feelings -- from the first movement and its warm winter feeling suggesting sleighs and carols, to the second movement's more cinematic, imaginary and fanciful air. The third movement was serene and tranquil, at a moment sounding as if the entire orchestra -- as an organism was breathing and gasping for air. The fourth movement was the only movement of the evening that left me less that captivated.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

BlueWater Chamber Orchestra: From Cleveland For Cleveland

Rossini: Overture to La Scala Di Seta (Silken Ladder)*
Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D, "London"^
Barber: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14* (Diana Cohen, violin)
*-Carlton R. Woods, conductor. ^-Neil Mueller, conductor
At the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, St. Ignatius High School.

This week has been particularly long and stressful--Rachel and my attempt at dog adoption was not the success that we had hoped for, and I was somewhat relishing the thought of a quiet weekend before driving back to Michigan tomorrow -- for the fourth time in two weeks.

Late in the week were invited to attend this evening's concert -- and as fans of Ms. Cohen and intrigued by both BlueWater and the Breen Center -- both new to us, we couldn't say no.

For the venue, the Breen Center is comfortable and intimate without being cramped -- the auditorium is not huge but there is plenty of room. Acoustically, it seems to be very nice.

As a Chamber Orchestra, BlueWater is likewise a bit more compact than a traditional orchestra but produced a robust beautifully cohesive sound that filled the room and preserved nuances.

Rossini's Overture set the tone for the evening as  restrained, crisp and balanced with an emphasis on strings but very well blended.

While named  "London", neither Rachel nor could say that any particular imagery or sense of place was evoked Haydn's Symphony No. 104. Thus, while the first three movements were enjoyable, without evoking particular imagery it's difficult to me to connect the music, and instead I found it a very relaxing background to my thoughts on the past week. The fourth movement (Finale: Spiritoso) featured a fun set of notes starting in the first violins and expanding to encompass the entire orchestra that just made the movement kind of catchy.

The third piece on the program, Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra  was clearly the highlight of the program. The first two movements were a bit of lyrical beauty and Ms. Cohen and the orchestra were in total sync but I didn't really get the impression that either was particularly challenged until the third movement -- aptly titled presto in moto perpetuo -- a flurry of well-controlled notes at blazing speed.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Beethoven and Schubert

Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (Martin Helmchen, piano)
Schubert: Symphony in C major ("The Great"), D.944
David Afkham, conductor

Where has this summer gone? While next weekend officially marks the end of the Blossom season (with Pixar in Concert), this weekend was the last classical concert -- as well as my last concert -- of the season. (While I am actually very intrigued by the Pixar program Rachel and I are heading up to Michigan to walk the Mackinac Bridge and possibly adopt a dog for Labor Day).

On one hand I'm sad to see the season end as it means cooler weather is soon to be on its way, on the other hand I am eager to return to Severance and will not miss the hour-long drive to and from Blossom (usually behind someone attempting to merge onto Route 8 [speed limit: 65] at 16 miles per hour).

Tonight's concert was particularly social including a pre-concert discussion with an orchestra staffer that was most enlightening, and at Intermission I was visited by an Engineering Professor who I've chatted with a couple times at Severance. What's a bit more remarkable is that he and his wife are such fans of the Cleveland Orchestra that they make the three-hour drive from their home in Ann Arbor several times each season to hear the Orchestra live.

Technically all three pieces on the program were great, musically none of the three pieces really compelled me to listen, instead I found my thoughts wandering -- largely to questions of dog logistics.

The ten-minute Coriolan Overture seemed much tamer and more subdued than the average overture but had a beautiful cello ending. The three movements of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 started with a pastoral gentile walk through autumn before a gentile and very tender hymn-like second movement and ending with what was to be my favorite movement from the evening centered around an energetic and very fun main theme.

Schubert's Symphony ("The Great") contrasted the somewhat relaxed "walk" of the first-movement Beethoven with a more austere and contemplative then turning impassioned and determined first movement. The adante con moto second movement was more unsettled and stormy and wandering off course. The third movement with a waltz encapsulated within and would prove to be my favorite from the piece. And by the fourth movement I was simply tired and ready to make a speedy exit from the pavilion to beat the throngs of concert goers to my car.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Joffery Ballet: The Rite of Spring

Gould: Interplay (choreographed by Jerome Robbins)
Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony (choreographed by Stanton Welch)
Khachaturian: Adagio (choreographed by Yuri Possikhov)
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (Choreography after Vaslav Nijinsky, reconstructed by Millicent Hudson)
Joella Jones, piano.
Tito Munoz, conductor.

Once again a beautiful late summer evening greater patrons arriving at Blossom Music Center -- and its hard to believe summer is almost over, and there is only one more "true" cancer weekend left at Blossom. (There is a labor day double header of music from Pixar films that sounds interesting, but at this point it seems Rachel and I will be in St. Ignace, Michigan to participate in the Mackinac Bridge walk). Anyway, returning to this evening, I had found my way toy seat early and was settled in -- head down in reading about the advantages of clipless bike pedals -- when about 10 minutes until 8 the dam bust open and a surge of patrons filled the pavilion.

Opening the evening was Interplay, a four movement piece that the program notes claim has no storyline, however, I got the feeling of innocence and playground fun (the movement titles seem to support this) the third movement was slow and sad almost a loss of innocence before turning a slow jazzy (with a thin hint of "making whoopee" wisping up from the orchestra if I'm not reading too much into it) before turning spritely and happy and fast for the fourth movement.

I can have mixed feelings with John Adams work, and Son of a Chamber Symphony would be no exception of the music were to stand alone. Likewise, the dance without music would have fallen into that same void, but the combination of the two (and possibly the number of classical tutus--have I mentioned I'm a sucker for the look of a classical tutu) was beautiful allowing me to switch from eye to ear at whim as my attention span with either was taxed.

The last piece before intermission was the beautiful nine-minute duet Adagio which was, true to its name, a slow piece filled with romance and dance where both seemed to flow effortlessly.

The sole piece after intermission was Stavinsky's The Rite of Spring -- a piece celebrating its centennial this year. The piece has intrigued me since I first heard it performed at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) a few years ago and when I heard about it's turbulent history (causing a "near riot" in the audience upon its premiere for it's -- at the time -- avant garde music and choreography). I've heard the piece performed several times since, but I've never seen it danced. While musically it was a bit less sharply percussive than I've come to expect, it was a beautiful performance and I will say my heart seemed to beat a bit faster and I had to imagine being in the theatre a hundred years ago -- seeing something "new" and unlike the three pieces proceeding it on the program.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Rossini: Overture to La gizzar larda [The Thieving Magpie]
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons violin concertos Op. 8 No. 1-4 (Ray Chen, violin)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 ("Scottish") in A minor, Op. 56
Jahja Ling, conductor.

It was a positively beautiful evening at Blossom. Before the cancer began it was possible to survey the lawn where picnicking families clearly dominated, and a sea of people managed to marks the majority of the green lawn. As the music started, the sea of pavilion latecomers Behring held back by the ushers was likewise impressively immense.
The appetizer for tonight's concert was Rossini's 10-minute overture to La gazza ladra which mixed a military march and a dance -- the piece was enjoyable and reminded me of something but I couldn't -- and can't -- put my finger on what that was.

The main course, if you will, was Vivaldi's Four Seasons...and it was, if you'll pardon the metaphor delectable. While the electric quartet interpretation by the group Bond is a staple on my iPod, I don't think I've ever heard the complete piece played live.

The program notes include a short poem or, perhaps better stated as a  visualization for each of the three movements for each season. Though translations were in English, the program indicates the original Italian was inserted into the score by Vivaldi himself. The execution by both The Cleveland Orchestra and soloist brought those words to life for example the first line in Spring -- my favorite season from the piece -- "...and joyously the birds now welcome her return..." was brought to fluttering, chirping life by Mr. Chen.

The final piece of the program, Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 was the closest I've ever come to turning around and flat out telling a patron to shut up and let the people around him enjoy the piece (glaring was ineffective). Indeed, those in the area of the 400 boxes may have thought they were tuned into a baseball style  play-by-play broadcast. While he was obviously very taken by the music -- I'd be tempted to make comparisons to certain, *ahem* adult activities if this weren't a family blog -- it did not help the enjoyment of those around him.

While the first and fourth movements were the most substantial, I found the greatest satisfaction in the second and third movements. The second movement had a distinctly 20th century flavor (despite the piece having been composed in 1829) and what I would describe as hints of a Western film score. The third movement, on the other hand had the sense of tiptoeing through a garden very delicately and with an elegant flair.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra and Kent/Blosom Chamber Orchestra: French Connection

Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra
Debussy: Clair de lune [Moonlight] from Suite Bergamasque
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
James Feddeck, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra
Berlioz: Overture to Les Francs-Juges [The Free Judges], Op. 3
Saint-Saens: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 (Cederic Tiberghien, Piano)
Debussy: La Mer [The Sea]
Stephane Deneve, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra and the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra
Ravel: La Valse [The Waltz]
Stephane Deneve, conductor

As the Cleveland Orchestra and the Kent/Blossom Chamber orchestra were concluding the program "side by side" playing Ravel's La Valse, I was desperately trying to find something -- anything -- from tonight's program that was likable. Sure there were brief passages here and there but overall, I have to say I spent most of the concert wishing that I had a "Next Track" button. It was particularly disappointing in contrast to how much I enjoyed last weekend's concert.

[In all honesty, if it wasn't for the fact that I need to drive to Michigan tomorrow--and it's Rachel's last day working retail--I would have attended that program instead of tonight's]

The pacing -- particularly for the Kent/Blossom pieces--seemed slow, the balance between sections seemed off, and there seemed to be a certain lack of cohesiveness that muddied the sound.

Next weekend Rachel and I will be in a different part of Michigan vacating over a long weekend (I need a vacation) but those programs sound promising, I will admit that I'm a bit disappointed to be missing Holst's The Planets.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Porgy and Bess

Williams: Liberty Fanfare
Williams: Music from Lincoln
Navarro: II Concerto for clarinet and orchestra (Franklin Cohen, clarinet)
Hogan: Three Spirituals (Blossom Festival Chorus with Laquita Mitchell, soprano and Eric Greene, baritone)
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess (highlights from the opera) Arr. Bennett (Blossom Festival Chorus, Laquita Mitchell, soprano; Roderick Dixon, tenor; Eric Greene, baritone)
Encore: Ward: America the Beautiful
James Feddeck, conductor.

Arriving early for tonights concert I meandered into the pavilion after enjoying a few moments respite in the cool breeze of shady Kulas Plaza. Finding my seat and settling in, the sounds of a harpist warming up rolled out over the pavilion much like the breeze in the plaza momenta earlier. Joined for a brief time with a xylophone, then a marimbist and bassists it was a great relaxation for a summer evening.

The concert did not disappoint -- without a doubt my favorite thus far in the Blossom season. I'm a fan of John Williams's works -- one of my three gateways to classical music, but so frequently concerts of his works are the same rote selections. Tonight opened with two uncommon Williams works. The first, Liberty Fanfare was amazing with sweeping strings giving the image of tall ships cutting across the ocean, or a the opening of an evening newscast, though with a softer edge than The Mission -- Mr. Williams's theme for the NBC Nightly News.

The second Williams selection was a bit more recent -- three selections of music from the film Lincoln. The first, The People's House was somber and dark with heavy winds; the last, With Malice Toward None, was longing with a beautiful solo cello and restless strings. The middle selection, Getting out The Vote was my favorite from the work with a country fiddle and a light fun air.

Rounding out the first half of the program, and my favorite work from the evening -- and one of the most enjoyable in months -- was II Concerto for clarinet and orchestra with Franklin Cohen playing the solo part. Starting with a fairly unsuspecting repetitive three note "drip" from the orchestra, it swelled into an enchanted lagoon with a Spanish flair (with much of the rear of the orchestra clapping), before turning dramatic as if  approaching a deadly waterfall. After a very long pause (long enough that despite Mr. Feddeck's outstretched arms a fairly enthusiastic applause emerged) the piece continued with a much brighter mood, though with a more "real" feeling, as if we had emerged from the musical fantasy into the real world.

I was not as crazy for the second half as I was the first, but it was still above average. With Three Choruses arranged for unaccompanied chorus by Moses Hogan, the show was as visual as it was audible. While the pieces didn't move me, watching a very animated Mr. Feddick gesticulate across the expanse of empty orchestra chairs and music stands to the unaccompanied chorus was a sight to behold, almost as if he were a preacher physically reaching into each singer's soul to extract the notes.

Twelve selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess closed out the published program, and again I wasn't crazy about the work as a whole -- and soprano Laquita Mitchell's vibrato seemed overdone -- the seventh selection with Eric Green and the chorus's Oh, I got Plenty o' Nuttin' was among my favorites, and the eighth Bess, You Is My Woman Now where Laquita Mitchell and Eric Green played off of each other and gave a touching romantic feeling. The best balance between Orchestra, Chorus, and soloist came from Rodrick Dixon, in It Ain't Necessarily So, where Mr. Dixon also hit a seemingly impossible -- and impossibly loud note.

The program concluded with an unannounced encore of Ward's God Bless America, which was simply beautiful.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Wagner's Valkyrie (at Blossom Music Center)

Wagner: Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan and Isolde (Christine Brewer, soprano)
Wagner: Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music from Die Walkure (Alan Held, bass-baratone)
Wagner: Orchestral Selections from Brunnhilde's Immolationfrom Gotterdammerung
Franx Welser-Most, conductor.

I spent the day in Akron working -- I think the first Saturday I've actually worked (as opposed to travel-for-worked) in my career, but my client's client had unique scheduling demands. I made it out of the World Headquarters and to Blossom in the nick of time, but I don't think I ever really settled in. I'm not sure if it is a result of not being settled or not, but as a whole the concert felt distant. Under Mr. Welser-Most's baton this evening, I felt as if the orchestra was overly restrained -- the orchestral equivalent of the 6-foot-leash holding back a pitbull. 

 Though the orchestra was restrained, both soloists seemed easily overpowered, for better or worse [what can I say, I like the music, but I'm not a fan of many opera singers] at times. My favorite moments from the program were those that were purely orchestral. The musical space (filled in by chirping birds, and if I'm not mistaken, a hooting owl) and romance tinged by tragedy in the Prelude and Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey / Sigfried's Death and Funeral Music from Gotterdammerung. The sung passages, it was fair to say I was ambivalent about -- soothing and enjoyable but not really memorable or provoking.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Heroic Beethoven (at Blossom)

Beethoven: Grosse Fuge [Grand Fugue] in B-flat, Op. 133
Liszt: Totentanz [Dance of Death] (for piano and orchestra) (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") in E-flat major, Op. 55
Franz Welser-Most, Conductor.

My attendance at tonight's concert was anything but certain: My mother arrived in town Friday morning for a weekend visit, and I wanted to keep the schedule open. She had never been to Blossom and Rachel was able to wrestle the evening off so the three of us headed back out to Blossom Music Center for tonight's concert. (Incidentally, I've been assured that the chime issue I mentioned in my last post will be resolved quickly)

Beethoven pieces bookended the concert and I realized in listening to both pieces that while his music is beautiful musically, listening to it doesn't really evoke imagery, which makes it difficult for me to express my reaction to it. That said, Grosse Fuge immediately struck me as both sweet and deep and throaty, the sense of repetition made it very relaxing, though the hammering of an increasingly violent rain virtually drowned out (figuratively and almost literally) some of the quieter passages.

That rain also served to delay the beginning of the second piece (and the volume of water was forming and impressive waterfall off the pavilion roof), which was the unanimous favorite because we all found it particularly evocative -- "birds" said Rachel; "soundtrack to a horror movie" was my mother's take; "Pirates of the Caribbean" was my four-word take. The piece began with an ominous and intense funeral march--being literally hammered out on the piano, and you could almost see taunting skeletons dancing, before taking a lighter, almost fantasy air as  if passing through the gates to the after world. Darkness and light trade places again during the piece including a brief portion of "light" where the piano took on a but more of a baroque sound.

After intermission, Beethoven's Eroica (Symphony No. 3) finished out the program and, as with the earlier Beethoven was beautifully played, and still nice an throaty but not as sweet, but without imagery it didn't really hold my attention--but I did find it quite relaxing (and a nearby patron was lulled into a very relaxed looking sleep)

Overall a good exposure to my Mother of the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom and a good "first" (for me, actually second) concert of the 2013 season.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra/Blossom Festival Band: A Salute To America

I've lived in Cleveland for about eight years and two weeks. Tonight, Rachel and I headed out to Blossom for my eighth fourth of July with Loras John Schissel* and the Blossom Festival Band. The first half of the program had some staples, but a number of fresh and very enjoyable pieces. An intermission snafu** had me too livid, and Rachel in too much physical pain to really enjoy the second half, though, I didn't get the sense of much fresh blood there to begin with.

As always, first up on the program was the traditional Star Spangled Banner.  Immediately following, Joseph Wilcox Jenkins' American Overture for Band blew fresh air into the pavilion and created the imagery of wide open prairies, neighborly small towns, and even a hint of industry -- one of my favorites from the program. While listening to Sousa's Century of Progress, an addition to the program, I found myself thinking--and jotted down the note "feels like music for a World's Fair exhibit" (thinking of the faded old film strips of the "world of tomorrow" from the '30s and '40s) -- and Mr. Schissel satisfied my curiosity by mentioning that it was written in anticipation of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

Ballad for Band, Morton Gould's contribution as the fourth piece on the program, started significantly more subdued than the other pieces on the program and developed like a starless night before firing off some fireworks and ending with a musical kiss goodnight. Fillmore's Miami, another addition to the program, didn't do much for me but the sounds made me think "cruise ship". Lincoln's Funeral March scored for band by Jari Villanueva based on the original piano score by General J.C. Barnard, though tugged more firmly on the heartstrings and much more vivid imagery: I could see the horses drawing the casket past mourners dressed in black, but in the same token while the music was respectfully mournful, while hinting at optimism. Claudio S. Garfulla's Quick-Step: Skyrockets was a bit less compelling and was largely disrupted by a yakking family in the row behind us.

The eighth piece is listed in the program as Music from Taras Bulba by Franz Waxman and announced as the Ride to Durbano (sp?) and seemed appropriate for a gallop or old-time convertible jalopy ride. Closing out the first half of the program was the light fun of Wilson's A Hunting Scene (complete with animal calls) and the staple, Sousa's Semper Fidelis.

As mentioned, we had no warning of the impending end of intermission, and though my paranoia had Rachel and I heading back to our seats in the pavilion, we were still in transit when the orchestra started tuning and the first piece of the second half. If performed as programmed, Music by George-Lyrics By Ira: A Gershwin Medley--instead of hearing that piece, Rachel, a couple dozen other patrons and I were hearing ushers say that they knew no warning chimes could be heard and it was a ongoing problem but offer no real apology. My blood was still boiling for the second piece -- again, if performed as programmed that would be Leroy Anderson's Serenta.

By the third piece, my irritation had calmed and was replaced by concern for Rachel who was not looking at all comfortable -- and by this point we had reached the rote standards that form part of the Independence Day obligation -- the traditional March-Past of the U.S. Armed Forces, Tchaikovsky's Overture The Year 1812 (incidentally, through Mr. Schissel's commentary I learned that it's only really been an Independence Day staple since the Boston Pops played it in 1976 -- only a bit more than 30 years ago). God Bess America and Stars and Stripes Forever rounded out the musical program before the fireworks started.

*- Senior Musicologist at the Library Of Congress. Incidentally, it's interesting how many unique visitors from the Washington DC area this post in previous years has picked up.

**- Long story, but it involves the customary chimes to warn the impending end of intermission either not being played or not being played at an adequate volume (with a number of unhappy consequences)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cleveland Museum of Art: (My Last) Solstice

Yesterday was an interesting day -- starting in Minneapolis where my original flight was delayed to the point where I literally had a United Airlines employee running with me through the airport to a new gate, where I was then dragged down the jetway for a new flight just before departure and told to take any available seat so that I wouldn't miss my onward connection to Cleveland from Chicago. I'm very thankful for that agent.

In Chicago our flight to Cleveland was delayed because, according to the captain's announcement -- I kid you not, "The airplane was plugged in to electrical power and the outlet broke when they unplugged it".

I made it to Cleveland collected my bag and went speeding towards Solstice at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

While I was not in the best shape when I made it to Solstice I was looking forward to it, hoping that some lessons had been learned from last year. I've attended each of the Solstice Parties since the first one in 2009.

The 2009 party was fantastic; the 2010 party was even better, 2011 was about as good as the previous years. 2012 was lousy. 2013 will be my last. Rather than boring you with a list, I can point you to the post from 2012 and say that it was about the same.

Primary objection holds true -- there was essentially no discernible "art" component to this years festival -- even less so than last year as neither Rachel nor I could find a photobooth much less any of the various art activities that had been staples of pervious years. Performing artists (aside from a few balloon creations) were noticeably missing.

But what made 2013 worse than previous years was the sheer level of noise. The volume in the atrium was so high that you couldn't carry on a conversation with friends 6 inches away -- and if you tried to find solace (or just peruse the art) in the new North galleries -- you would be blown away each time someone had the misfortune of passing by the motion activated doors.

It also seemed this year that the number of obnoxiously drunk people was through the roof. While alcohol has always been fairly free flowing, and there are usually very "happy" people, it seemed like more people were drinking to excess

The result continues to feel not like an event highlighting, or even supporting, the Cleveland Museum of Art, but rather a completely unrelated music event that just so happens to be taking place at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Based on my later arrival, rather than dealing with parking I had valeted my car at Tudor Arms Hotel (a DoubleTree by Hilton property on Carnegie at MLK I've been curious about since it opened about a year ago) and at the end of the night Rachel and I walked back over and enjoyed an "in town" vacation and a leisurely start to a Sunday. That part was at least enjoyable.

Solstice, however, just wasn't enjoyable. At all.


Friday, June 21, 2013

A Week In the Life of SkyWest Ship 707 (Or: I'm not Dead Yet)

Ok, so this has been a particularly blog-free month: Not only because the Cleveland Orchestra is on hiatus until the beginning of July but also because I'm at the tail end of one of my longest stretches of "On the Road" in my career:

The month started with a week in Northern California; I came back to a day in the office before heading to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, I came back from Minnesota for the weekend and to take care of a local client at the beginning of this week before heading back to the state of 10,000 lakes for a different project at Mayo.

One of the things I enjoy doing is tracking my flights via a website called Flight Memory* (the public version of my Flight Memory can be found at In addition to tracking origin and destination, Flight Memory is also handy for tracking specific aircraft -- for example, I've ridden on ExpressJet (Continental/United Express) ship N11121 as well as Continental/United 737-800 ship N12238 and 757-300 ship N74856 three times each -- the latter, coincidentally, flew me home on the same red-eye LAX-CLE flight 3 Christmases in a row.

Another eighteen (yes, 18!) aircraft I've had the pleasure of riding twice.

SkyWest CRJ-700 ship #707 (N707SK) is the latest addition to that list of 18, but in a freak coincidence it happened to fly the CLE-ORD (Cleveland/Hopkins International Airport to Chicago/O'Hare) portion of both of Cleveland to Minneapolis trips (CLE-ORD-MSP) -- both flown as flight UA5169, and I was in first class seat 2A on both of those flights.

So I thought it would be interesting to see where Ship 707 spent the time between flying me to O'Hare the first time on Tuesday, June 11th and the second time on Wednesday, June 19th.

So... After dropping me off in Chicago it went South to San Antoino, TX (SAT), before making it West to United's San Francisco (SFO) hub and bouncing up and down the West Coast. It left the West Coast for Houston Intercontinental (IAH) via Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and then bounced around the Midwest, before deciding it would like the Denver (DEN) better, bouncing around between DEN and IAH for a few days, it headed back West (Go West, Young Airplane, Go West!) and then went East, hitting Washington/Dulles (IAD) via SAT, then leaving the country for the first time, hitting Toronto (YVR), then ORD, back to Cleveland, and the second time it would fly me from Cleveland to Chicago in the week.

For the actual routings...

In that time, there were 51 unique flights, totaling 32,892 nautical miles of flight time-- in 7 days.

Or for the map:
Map of destinations for ship 707 OR for more detail, (including a larger map) here's the routing at Great Circle Mapper: Here
* - The information for FlightMemory is extremely accurate (all flights represented with times to the minute) for my professional carrer since roughly 2005. Before 2005 only one flight per route is represented. So for example, I flew from SAN to FAT countless times as a youth, yet I only have one of those entered.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Theater Ninjas: Telephone

My schedule of late* has contributed to a distinct lack of theatre in my life of late. Tonight Rachel and I traveled across the bridge to the Ohio City Masonic Temple to attend Theatre Ninjas' production of Ariana Reines play Telephone.

The common  thread linking each of the Theater Ninjas  productions that I've attended -- as far back as 2007-- is that they are anything but conventional -- unique venues, unconventional story telling and unusual stagings.

Telephone (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays through June 15th) continues that tradition although it would seem to fall on the "more dense" end of the spectrum.

The three well-defined acts span about 90 minutes with no intermission, but rather than pieces of the same whole they strike as three independent wholes, and Jaime Bouvier's Director's Note alludes to it being a "...forced mishmash of ideas and stories about the telephone as a synecdoche of all communications technology" (bonus points for being the first director's note that warranted use of for synecdoche).

The first act, featuring Ryan Lucas as Bell and Ray Caspio as Watson, offered the dynamic interaction between the two inventors, the evolution of communication, and the relationships between two individuals and the evolution of understanding as communication technology was introduced, and the subtle nuances in those relationships and the difference between "come here, I want you" and "come here, I need you".

The second act, with Holly Holsinger alone on and around the stage as Miss St, a woman trapped in her own thoughts an struggling with uniqueness and interruption.

Rachel and I both struggled with the third act -- featuring all three artists -- for me I think I spent so much time trying to link it with the first two acts that I was distracted from appreciating the act itself and would have been better off enjoying the moment.

Something that I hadn't considered but Rachel pointed out as we were retreating to the East Side was that the nonsequeter nature of much of the script must have made the show that much more challenging for the three actors to learn -- and the fact that I hadn't given pause to consider that demonstrated the talent of the trio.

Telephone also features generous but not excessive use of audio and video technology -- both audio and video -- to both propel the acts and to illustrate the prevalence of communication technology in the modern world.

*- And, to be perfectly honest, the inertia caused by the inconvenience of doing business with Playhouse Square (and The Cleveland Play House now in residency there) has not helped either.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Doug Katz's Katz Club Diner Misses the Mark

When I first moved into my home the infamous Diner Cars on Lee road sat vacant. A few years ago Clyde's Bistro and Barroom [see my post here] -- owned by the eponymous Clyde Mart. It was generally excellent, and Mr. Mart was a fantastic host but closed after a bit more than a year. Immediately succeeding was Favor Bistro -- a concept that Rachel and I tried once (unknowingly -- the sign outside was still of Clyde's) and "never again" (Service was less than stellar, the menu was questionable, and, well I'm a picky eater and to sum it up... alligator was on the menu). Favor deservedly closed after a short run and the space has stood vacant since.

Thus when I learned that restaurateur Doug Katz was taking over the space -- and planning a return to the diner concept I was excited and looking forward to once again having an Americanesque food establishment a short walk down the street from my house. Rachel suggested dining for my birthday about two weeks ago, but they had not yet opened.

Opening date having passed, tonight Rachel and I walked over figuring that we'd try Mr. Katz's new endeavor. The short version: The staff was friendly and competent, the food was reasonably good, but the concept execution was beyond disappointing.

Reservationless, we were met with a 30 minute wait (estimated at 15-20), but with nowhere to really lean, much less sit in the foyer (there was precisely one chair available) to pass the time it felt much longer.

Having been seated, Rachel and I both decided to order sodas -- Diet Coke for her, Coke for me. Under the heading of "Soda Fountain" on the menu, imagine our surprise when a glass bottle of (real sugar) Coke and a can of Diet Coke were brought to our table--decidedly not Fountain, and considering that I'm not a fan of "real sugar" Coke [it tends to give me headaches] had there been any warning I may have tried something else. Imagine our surprise when Rachel's request for a refill on her beverage brought with it an unannounced doubling of the price on the check (really $2.00 per 12oz can? Hotel vending machines don't even stick it to you that badly and they aren't making margin on food). I'm honestly not sure which I'm more surprised by -- that it's labeled as a soda fountain but its not soa from a fountain, or the pricing structure.

Walking back to my place after, Rachel and I discussed the evening and the best conclusion we can come to was a "sit-down restaurant" wrapped in a "diner" theme, with above-market pricing, and adequate food -- but food the didin't deserve the pricing.

Service speed was also severely disappointing -- for a "diner" a 20+ minute wait for food (after the 30+ seating time) is not what either of us expected, and at least one other table was becoming visibly agitated.

I had the "Creamy Mac and Cheese", covered in breading, and served in a mini crock it was good -- but the portion size didn't create value for the menu price. More troubling, Rachel tried the "Diner Cheeseburger and Paprika Onions" -- found under the category of "Sandwiches" with the notation "All sandwiches served with choice of fries or chips and Dr. Katz's pickle".

Well -- the food Rachel was actually served was good ("nice bun, good fries") but tiny ("it looks like a single slider" both of us commented nearly simultaneously). More notable, however, was what Rachel wasn't served:  Both "Dr. Katz's Pickle" and the Paprika Onions explicitly specified on the menu were absent without leave or explanation. Also missing were any semblance of other burger staples -- like tomato, onion (paprika or otherwise) or even lettuce: Essentially a thin 3" diameter patty with American cheese, ketchup, and a bun. Period. For $11. Fundamentally the same thing -- with faster service -- can be found at Wendy's for about $4 including the drink.

The service wasn't worth the price or the wait, the food wasn't worth the price or the wait, and the ambience [including an obnoxiously loud table behind us, seemingly related to Mr. Katz] certainly wasn't worth either.

Maybe Rachel and I will try again in a few weeks but given the premium pricing on mediocre execution, it will probably be a while.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Honeck Conducts Tchaikovsky's Fifth

Martinsson: Open Mind
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (Lars Vogt, piano)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Manfred Honeck, Conductor

Last weekend, Severance Hall played host to Case Western Reserve University graduation ceremonies; tonight -- as the last concert in The Cleveland Orchestra's 2012-13 Severance Hall Season -- seemed like the last day of school before Summer Vacation as ushers and frequent patrons exchanged calls of "Enjoy your summer", "Are you doing anything fun?", and "What will you do with all of your free time".

The Orchestra did not disappoint and during one of the ovations of the season, a gentleman in a nearby box could be heard to comment "[Honeck] really pulled everything out of the Orchestra". And he did.

Rolf Martinsson's Open Mind was a delightful 10-minute overture to the concert, starting with a bold and overtly cinematic punch, with explosions of musical energy, a gentle romantic interlude and the mystery of a dark dripping cave.

Beethoven's third piano concerto was a well balanced endeavor between pianist and orchestra, with the long orchestral introduction giving way to the pianists, taking up the music as if old friends conversing and occasionally completing the others sentences. The slow second movement was beautifully solemn and introspective and my favorite from the piece (I'll admit that the third didn't really hold my attention, though I have nothing against it).

The program concluded with Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, another beautiful four movement piece, though the third movement was undoubtedly my favorite with the waltz -- a gossamer-like piece where the orchestra, lead by the strings, just gracefully fluttered in midair before turning into an orchestral battle cry full of weighty energy.

See you at Blossom...


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cleveland Museum of Art: Art Crawl II

Almost exactly two years ago, the Cleveland Museum of Art hosted it's first Art Crawl -- still one of the most interesting events I've attended.

Tonight, Art Crawl Mark II was hosted after hours at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Though the Museum closed at 5:00, the doors reopened at 6:00 for eighty invited guests at the Circles donor levels and above. Divided into intimate groups of about twenty, we had four stops, each lead by a curator or conservator and paired with creative h'dourves and wine.

All four stops were wonderful and really demonstrated both  the passion and personality of CMA's staff. While it's easy to be intimidated by the academic aspects of art but the passion and enthusiasim is contageous.

Stop 1, Reto Thuring, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art with Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet

Until a couple weeks ago I can say I honestly had no idea who Janet Cardiff was -- until I got stuck at O'Hare with her when United decided to let our flight to Cleveland leave despite knowing our (different) arriving flights were only slightly delayed and arriving at the gate while the aircraft was still there. (No I'm not bitter, United).  Hearing the artist describe her work I wasn't sure what to expect, and to be honest based on other AV installations I was a little skeptical. Before tonight I had not experienced the work.

Reto provided some background on the artist and the work standing outside the 1916 building in the Atrium -- while occasionally the parting doors would let gasps of choral voices escape. Introduction complete we entered the 1916 building to a chorus of voices -- and the combination of voices and the imagery of the art displayed in the gallery was a powerful, almost religious experience much as if walking into an active cathedral. If you find the right pace in the room it is as if you are in the middle of a choir.

I highly recommend visiting the work (in a 1916-building level 2 gallery) before it disappears in early June.

Stop 2, Sona Rhie Quintanilla, Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art with the late 1400s Mandala of Vajradakini

Another relatively new curator to the Museum, Ms. Quintanilla provided  great insight into the Mandala of Vajradakini, currently in Gallery One's focus area just off the main entrance to the museum. Extending beond the surface artistic elements of the work I thought the discussion on Tantra, Yoga reincarnation and Enlightenment -- to be very enlightening (pun not intended).

Stop 3, Louise W. Mackie, Curator of Textiles & Islamic Art with Afruz Amighi's His Lantern.

A piece that I've walked by several times since the Islamic galleries opened and thought was interesting, Ms. Mackie's explanation of the piece -- a hanging woven polyethylene piece with projected light creating shadows -- brought an entirely new level of understanding to the piece and the artist. Connecting the symbols in the art to classic counterparts, such as a nearby prayer niche as well as subtle but more modern political statement -- keys echoing those worn in a war brought new understandings to the piece. Ms. Mackie's enthusiasm for the piece and her description of meeting the artist and artist's execution (hand cut with a hot metal knife) was also infectious.

Stop 4, Moyna Stanton, Conservator of Paper with Antonio del Pollaiuolo's Battle of the Nudes

The last stop was certainly not least -- and I'm not only saying that because paper conservation is an area of particular interest for Rachel -- Ms. Stanton's wonderfully in depth look at the history of Battle of the Nudes was a crash course in print making, differences between "states" in prints, the technique Antonio del Pollaiuolo's work, and the history of repairs to the piece and what has been filled in.

Like a good television drama she was really getting rolling and while I was on the edge of my seat (looking forward to hearing more about the work, particularly the photomechnical infill in one corner) the time was up and we had to move on.

The evening concluded with a light reception and quick remarks from museum director David Franklin, a nice way to wind down and chat with other patrons.

I can't wait for the next one -- and I really hope it will be less than two years this time.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Heights Arts: Schubertiade (House Concert/Close Encounters)

Schubert: Sonata in D Major for violin and piano, D.384^*
Schubert: Sonata in G Minor for violin and piano, D.408^%
Schubert: Der Hirt auf Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock)^¹²
Schubert: String Quartet in G Majorª
At the Koelz Residence, Cleveland Heights
^- Rafael Sorka, piano; *- Isabel Trautwein, violin; %- Alicia Koelz, violin; ¹- Jung Oh, soprano; ²-Robert Woolfrey, clarinet¬™- The Omni Quartet (Jung-Min Amy Lee, Alicia Kolez, violins; Joanna Patterson, viola; Tanya Ell, cello)

It would be horribly neglectful to not note that tonight's concert -- the last of the Heights Arts 2012-13 Close Encounters house concert season -- also marks the last for Heights Arts founding Executive Director Peggy Spaeth before she retires July 2nd after 13 years of dedicated service. (And just to reiterate my standard disclosure: I do serve on the Heights Arts board)

Tonight's concert was our first expedition to the beautiful home of Ms. Kolez and her husband. While not Ms. Koelz's first performance with Height Arts, I believe the first time the host of a concert has also performed.

An all-Schubert event featuring six members of The Cleveland Orchestra alongside two other very talented musicians the music and company was even more delightful than expected -- and that bar is high. All four pieces on the program were passionately played and a joy to hear, although I didn't really attach strong imagery to any of the pieces -- the way I most effectively communicate about music.

Thus, I cannot say that I enjoyed any of the pieces any more or less than any other on the program. The first two pieces -- both violin-and-piano  sonatas -- were lovely and left me to just close my eyes and enjoy the beauty of music for a large swath of both pieces. The inner movement of the Sonata in D was lovely, while the first movement reminded me of the emotional release of crying.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen with singer Jung Oh and clarinetist Robert Woolfrey joining Rafael Sorka changed things up with Ms. Oh and Mr. Woolfrey's playing faithfully echoing the sentiments of the lyrics -- from the brighter beginning to the sadness and grief-stricken middle.

After an intermission, gears shifted completely with the String Quartet in G Major, D.877 where despite an extended tuning necessitated from Cleveland's indecisive Is-it-Summer-or-Winter weather (I'm glad it's not just me) the passionate playing made it a memorable piece with finely textured drops into darkness and emergences into brightness. Adding interest to the piece were rapid-fire tremors of notes executed with precision.

Clevelanders are incredibly lucky to have access to this level of musicianship in these incredibly intimate settings

I'm already looking forward to the next season...


Friday, May 10, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Handel's Water Music

Handel: Water Music Suite No. 1 in F minor
Handel: Zadok the Priest, Coronation Anthem No. 1
Handel: Te Deum ("Dettingen") in D major
The Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus, Robert Porto, Director; Jay Carter, countertenor; Steven Soph, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass-baritone.
Ton Koopman, conductor.

So I made it back from Vancouver (no thanks to United Airlines) and I'll have to post an update on that trip later -- You may recall though, that for the first time I begged off last week's Cleveland Orchestra concert on the account of both illness and death in the family [it was not a good week...] -- and I was really looking forward to getting back to the hall tonight.

Conductor Ton Koopman has an effervescent stage presence, but unfortunately that didn't carry through to the music; both of the substantial pieces on the program (Handel's Water Music and Te Deum) largely felt hollow and passionless -- there was no technical fault with the execution, but the artists involved seemed to be enjoying plying roughly as much as observing an actual execution. Of course, neither piece was completely without redemption, and particularly in Te Deum, the Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus came through with passages that would have felt right at home in any church.

The shortest piece on tonight's program at about five minutes - Zadok the Priest - was also the piece I most enjoyed as it was very focused, and had a consistent feeling and wasn't quite as devoid of passion as the others

[For the sake of disclosure, I should say that I was much further house (side) right than usual -- in the past I've noted differences in sound in the off-axis seats, though I don't think that played into my perception of tonight's program]

In two weeks my dad is visiting for a delayed birthday weekend, so I'll attend my last concert of the 12-13 season on Thursday evening... and the Blossom season is just around the corner.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

What a down-and-up week / I'm In Canada!

So this last week has been somewhere between "less than great" and "completely s****y", but this week is promising.

Starting last Wednesday -- or maybe Tuesday evening if you want to be picky -- I came down with one of the nastier bugs I've had in the past decade (I think it ranks #2)...while I was in a hotel in Columbus. Being sick is miserable. Being sick on the road is worse. Being sick on the road and having to drive yourself three hours home doesn't help things either. I have a feeling the effects of whatever I had were magnified by my stress lately (snowed under with work + lots of looming travel + not sleeping well + grandfather's health + ...) until I reached a breaking point.

I think I'm still suffering with some of the tailing ends of that bug -- but at least I can stand up and generally function in public without feeling light headed. But while lying in bed on Friday -- semicoherent and Rachel nursing me -- I got a call from my mom. Not a good sign. My grandfather -- the same grandfather I visited last week to celebrate his 86th birthday and because he wasn't doing very well -- passed after a 7 year battle with cancer. I can't say it was surprising (The Wikipedia article calls out median survival as 3-4 years or 5-7 years "with advanced treatments" and it was really tough to see him last week) but it was still not the news I was hoping for.

Anyway, on Saturday thought feeling a smidge better, in the interest of my health and the health of those around me I unfortunately had to wave off both  a CIM student recital that had sounded very interesting and the Cleveland Orchestra's Saturday evening performance -- not an easy decision but in hindsight not regretted at all.

This morning I woke up and -- with Rachel serving as escort -- made it to the airport shortly after 7 am. I've flown "enough" (~255 times based on my data*) but this was my first time using my passport, or leaving the country so for some reason I found myself exceptionally nervous.

The reward, though, was an International Premier Access boarding pass for a "premium" cabin (for some reason the same seat on a domestic flight is called "First Class" yet on an international flight it becomes "Business Class") -- thus granting access to the hallowed halls of the United Club (formerly Red Carpet Club or President's Club) at no charge. I've been curious about the clubs, but always too cheap to pony up on my own and too guilt-ridden to expense it to the company.

But clearing security in Cleveland I didn't feel like I had enough time to make it to the club, enjoy, and get back to the gate in time for my flight. The flight from Cleveland to Denver was uneventful, and on arriving in Denver -- since I had to walk past the club to get to my connecting gate, I figured "What the heck".

Oh, what a glorious space -- free food, plenty of comfortable seating, and almost frighteningly quiet. Plus free WiFi. I almost talked myself into the $475/year fee before I had to leave to board the flight to Canada.

If you really want to -- click for larger.

Arriving in Canada was a weird experience -- off the plane and on to beautiful glass-enclosed jetways (which are prohibited by a particularly irrational fire safety law in the US) and into a never ending segregated corridor, before dropping in the immigration lobby. I will say, that while the walk seemed interminable it was pleasant -- including some almost natural-history-museum-seeming settings (This video captures the experience fairy well -- including the sound effects in the hall)

As we snaked back and forth, back and forth through a line that would make Disneyland proud I was nervous -- my first experience with Customs & Immigration, with a "Business and Pleasure" answer, and a coworker who answered the "Business" question incorrectly and wound up denied entry and on Canada's Terrorist Watch List.

I approached the window "Business or Pleasure" he asked while scanning the declaration form that we had been given on the aircraft -- "Both" I answered.

"Can you elaborate on the nature of your business?". Ah crap. But I did, and he stamped my card and said to have a nice day. After an interminable wait for my luggage, I walked to the "green" exit (as I wasn't above any of my duty free allowances) handed the office the same form, who took it without even looking and I walked past... and into free Canadian air.

It was a little anti-climatic. From there I picked up my rental car from Hertz (somehow a Toyota Crayola turned into a Jeep SUV, but I won't complain) and used the GPS feature on my phone to find my way to my fist ("Pleasure") hotel for this trip...

"In 600 meters, turn right..."

WTF? How far is that? Ok I know Canadians (and the rest of the civilized world) use metric -- and I got used to matching speed limit signs to the speedometer, even if it's  a foreign language. But I can't believe my own phone would betray me and suddenly start spouting off distances that I don't fluently comprehend. By the time I had done the mental conversion to a distance my brain could cope with it was time to turn.

In any event I made it to the hotel, and as I conclude this post I'm about ready to crawl under the covers and spend my first night outside of the United States. My first night after 10,576 consecutive nights in the US. I suppose it's about time -- and just in the nick of time to do it before my 29th birthday. And in honor of my wanderlust grandfather.
My grandfather inspecting my travel map last week.
"One traveler to another" he said.

*- It's "extremely accurate" (date, time, flight number, and specific aircraft and seat) for flights since 2005ish, "very accurate" (at least date and flight number) for flights since 2000ish, and "a general representation" for all flights before -- not all of my early flights are logged

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sometimes the little thins make a huge difference

I've had a rough week -- beyond being stressed by the volume of work that needs to be accomplished in a frighteningly short amount of time, and more importantly, my Grandfather in Northern Michigan is not doing so well.

For as long as I can remember he's been physically and intellectually strong, and with an engineer's mind we share a lot in common, including a love of travel (he prefers to drive; I prefer to fly), even after a multiple myeloma diagnosis a few years ago he was still in relatively good condition. But over the past few months his condition has deteriorated alarmingly.

My mother flew out from Portland to visit him this weekend and I took Friday to make the 7-hour/450-mile drive up to see both my mom and my grandfather; it was tough to see him so incapacitated. And even tougher to leave -- but it was necessary as I need to be in Columbus (where I am now) for a project Monday morning.

While my grandfather would have no problems with it, putting in another 470 miles and 7 hours to get from Michigan to Columbus in two days is a little more than my ideal tolerance for driving, and combined with an emotionally draining few days...well... There were more than a few times I thought about just pulling off the road and taking a nap.

But I made it to the hotel -- the Hampton Inn Columbus/Dublin -- and checked in. I've stayed at this property before -- most recently about two months ago -- but I didn't recognize the gentleman behind the counter. As he checked me in he mentioned "Stephanie said to say Hi."

That lifted my spirits a little -- as a mid-grade road warrior I tend to feel like I fall into obscurity on the road. Despite the scripted, almost robotic, greetings that are doled out as part of the "standard" Hilton HHonors Gold greeting, I don't get the sense of human-to-human connection.

I remember Stephanie well from my last visit -- actually her genuine hospitality is probably 90% of the reason I came back to this property rather than "shopping around" a bit. I also remember asking the "crazy question" about the keycards.

(Aside) You see: Hampton Inn has, for as long as I've been a "road warrior", issued a unique keycard for each state ("Welcome To ________"). The first Hampton I visit in each state, I keep one of the key cards -- working towards my unwritten goal of "Collecting all 50". I was somewhat alarmed on my last visit to note that instead of the "Welcome to Ohio" keycard, there was a new card advertising USA Today. Not because I needed an Ohio card, but rather because I was looking forward to adding Arizona to my collection with my first trip to that state. Aside from graciously answering my question and offering to find an Ohio card if I needed one, I had largely forgotten the specific question.

But as I trundled up to my room, I noticed a piece of paper in with my key card. On it, the hand-written note:

"Hey! Welcome back! So apparently the keys you had last time were a promo. I believe we are all going back to the state keys. See you tomorrow! Stephanie"

It sounds a little goofy, but I have to say it instantly buoyed my spirits -- rather than being a faceless reservation number or a nameless person wandering the halls of a global corporation I felt like I was truly someone's guest, not to mention that I was tremendously impressed that despite the number of travelers seen on any given day she remembered both me and my question from my last visit -- almost exactly two months ago.

It was a simple -- but extremely nice -- end to a very long weekend.