Wednesday, March 27, 2013

You've Been Voted off the iPod

It is perfectly understandable if, after reading this Blog you've come to the conclusion that I only listen to classical.

You would however be incorrect.

See, while I love listening to Classical live for the atmosphere in the room -- the connection between anywhere from a single performer through a quartet or sextet up to a full hundred-member strong orchestra, when it's not live--in other words, in my car or at my desk--I actually prefer almost everything except classical. (On the other hand, it's been a long time since I've attended, much less enjoyed a non-classical concert, because the sound engineers tend to be rather deaf and think that "more bass" makes it sound better).

As a result my iPod is a carefully curated collection of 5,200 songs, 1114 albums, 781 artists, and 86 distinct genres. (If you're wondering about running time, according to iTunes that's just under 14 days if played end to end).

Song titles range from A-Hole (Bowling for Soup) and Aaj Ki Raat (Performed by Sonu Nigam, Mzhalxmi Iyer and Alisha Chinai from the Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack) to Zombie Me (No More Kings) and Zopf: Giles Farnaby's Dream (Penguin Cafe Orchestra). Numbers range from #1 (Nelly) to '92 Subaru (Fountains of Wayne) and 96,000 from the In the Heights original cast recording.

Each new entry to my iPod is carefully evaluated and earns a star rating from one to five stars. And a series of interlinked Smart Playlists helps to ensure that songs are rotated to avoid musical burnout. When a song is no longer "new", a song I've given the coveted five-star rating to may show up as often as once every two to three weeks, where a song that I've assigned the dreaded one-star rating to may only be heard, on average once every two years.

I am however, a cruel curator: Songs are regularly promoted or demoted on my whim, without leave for appeal or curatorial oversight.

When I received my first iPod, Christmas of 2004, it had a 20GB hard drive. And at the time I thought there's no way I'm ever going to fill this up. On September 16, 2008 I got my current iPod Touch, with 32GB of solid state flash memory. Once again I thought, "Even with apps, there's no way I'm ever going to fill this up". (Despite working in a corner of the software industry, I've never really gotten the App craze)

Despite no longer running the latest version of iOS, not having a camera (do I really need another device with a camera?), no longer having the greatest battery life, and having more than a few battle scars it's been by my side or in my laptop bag nearly every day since. And I haven't quite hit that 32GB ceiling. (The 20GB iPod, on the other hand has been maxed out for at least a couple years).

As a result, I've functioned with the premise that once I acquire a piece of music, it is never deaccessioned. In other words, my music collection has become somewhat of a roach motel -- what goes in never leaves.

Carefully considering a few additions to my collection this evening I noticed that the once unfathomable 32 gigabytes of music is rapidly approaching. This leaves me with two options.

Option 1: Buy a new 64GB iPod Touch so that my collection can grow without worry of being edited down. At $400 I have a hard time justifying the purchase to myself, especially since my current iPod still mostly works -- even if it is only the equivalent of a few Cleveland Orchestra concerts.

Option 2: Remove those songs that have earned the dreaded one-star rating from the collection to free room for new acquisitions. This just feels wrong on some level. Partially it's my inner pack rat but it clearly makes more sense economically and practically. So, Tyrese, I'm sorry you're I Like Them Girls, you are the first to have been voted off the iPod. I'm actually not entirely sure how you snuck in in the first place. I don't think you'll be missed.

If you're curious, and at the risk of embarrassing myself, the lucky new additions tonight are, in no particular order:

Josh Grobman: Brave from All that Echos. Really cool sound, nicely mastered, and a music video that kind of gave me chills for some reason I can't put my finger on (and made me miss doing live event/recording production). I kind of dream of seeing the Cleveland Orchestra team up with a pop artist ala The London Symphony Orchestra's Symphonic Rock

A Great Big World: Rockstar and others from A Great Big World (EP) and the single This Is the New Year. I found the EP after first discovering This Is The New Year, and I'm hooked. In both pieces the vocalists have a sound that I can only describe as honest and real. Aside from the crisp piano and nice mastering, the lyrics are catchy and move a story ("There's a girl in the tree top looking at the stars/Waiting for a touchdown comin' in from Mars/Thinkin' "is there anybody out there?"/There's a boy thinking of her playin' his guitar/Searching for the answer buried in his heart/Singin' "ah, ha ha, is there anybody out there?").

I feel slightly compelled to attempt to produce a promo video/ :60 for The Cleveland Museum of Art built around This Is the New Year -- having been woefully unimpressed by the "Discover Amazing" campaign -- but I'm afraid all I have is the creative vision. (I have a similar, if impractical vision associated with  Miike Snow's Black & Blue)

If they come to Cleveland, I'd probably be interested in hearing them live.

Jim Brickman: Good Morning Beautiful from Believe. Very light and bubbly, part of it's selection may be due to the proximity to Rachel and my second anniversary of dating.

Matt Hires: Restless Heart from Forever.  Not actually the biggest fan of the lyrics, but I think it will be a nice, fairly fast piece to wake me up when I'm working late, particularly through the driving guitar.

Passion Pit: Carried Away from Gossamer. This is just one of those somewhat addictive songs that show up in a commercial and just kind of get stuck in your head. Like ice cream on a hot summer day, you can't really help but to enjoy -- speaking of hot days, once the weather warms up, I have a feeling this will make it on to my "Run" play list.

Walk Off the Earth: Red Hands from the album R.E.V.O. The sudden tempo change at the beginning caught my attention, the initial gritty male vocal piqued my interest, and the soft female vocal standing in stark contrast roped me in. The chorus are chantable -- even if I'm not sure what to make of the meaning (That gun is loaded, but it's not in my hand/The fire burns, I'm not the one with the match, man/That gun is loaded, but it's not in my hand)

Since this is getting really long the remainders will pass without comment: Rebel Beat by the Goo Goo Dolls from the deluxe version of Magnetic;  It's Time by Imagine Dragons from Night Visions;  Closer by Tegan and Sara from Hearthrob; Hung Up by Hot Cheele Rae from the single of the same name; Just Give Me A Reason by Pink (featuring Nate Ruess) from The Truth About Love.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Salute to the Cleveland Quartet

Bartok: Selections from 44 Duos for Two Violins, Sz. 98, BB 104¹²
Dvorak: Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87³ª°^
Brahms: Sextet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and 2 Cellos in G-Major, Op. 87¹*ª°`
¹-Donald Weilerstein, violin; ²-Peter Salaff, violin; ³-Mari Sato, violin; ª-Kirsten Docter, viola; °-Merry Peckham, cello; ^-Vivian Weilerstein, Piano; *- Isabel Trautwein, violin; `- Tanya Ell, cello.
At the Dunham Tavern Museum Barn, Cleveland.

This afternoon's concert was special -- bringing back together the Peter Salaff and Donald Weilerstein, the original violinists of the renown Cleveland Quartet, along with members of protégé the Cavani Quartet and other students. Even I, generally blissfully unaware of "names", was aware of the duo's significance.

The concert opened with Messers Weilierstein and Salaff providing an appetizer plate of fourteen of Bartok's 44 Duos for Two Violins, each bite-size and relatively fast, and each one had a very different feeling. While the two musicians have been separated for many years, they played as if they have never parted ways. The only downside to having so many short pieces was that you couldn't really fully immerse yourself in a piece before it was over and on to the next piece.

Dvorak's Piano Quartet was next on the program, and the body heat from a sold-out barn combined with the relaxing and faultless music made closing ones eyes to just enjoy the sounds a potentially dangerous endeavor. I'm generally a fan of Dvorak, and though this piece didn't, to me, have the texture to the extremes as say his From the New World, it was still very enjoyable, with Rachel noting that the second movement gave her goosebumps, and generally both of us very much appreciating Ms. Weilerstein's work at the piano.

The third, final, an most substantial piece on the program was Brahms's Sextet, once again impeccably executed. Rachel and I both noted the "front and center" nature of the cellos which, while anchoring the piece and giving it a full body, and not merely lurking as the foundation for the other instruments. Throughout the piece the musicians were clearly enjoying their playing, and I think the relaxed-but-precise feeling, the opposite of the tense/restrained feeling I got from last night's Orchestra concert, though the fourth movement was my favorite by a narrow margin.

As we were walking out Rachel mentioned "I think this was the best one yet" -- and as a matter of fact, I think she may be right.

The next an last concert in this season, Schubertiade with the Omni Quartet is on Saturday, May 11th at 8pm -- for tickets call 216.371.3457 or visit

(Disclosure: I serve on the board of Heights Arts)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Alan Gilbert conducts Mahler's Seventh

Ravel: Mother Goose [Ma Mere l'Oye] (complete ballet music)
Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Alan Gilbert, Conductor (replacing the previously announced Pierre Boulez).

I'm rather tense this week -- I have confirmed week-long trips to Phoenix and Northern California in the next six or so weeks and an almost certain trip to Vancouver (the one in Canada) somewhere between those two, with its own set of questions [I've not yet utilized the passport collecting dust on my desk for the past 4 years]. Thus, while I was intrigued by this week's concert I was never really able to relax enough to really get into the music.

Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic and former Cleveland Orchestra assistant conductor substituted for the originally programmed Pierre Boulez. For the second year in a row, Mr. Boulez withdrew from the program on medical advice -- and despite several months notice in this case, I still walked into a patron berating a hapless usher about the substitution during intermission who was doing her best to diplomatically disengage.

One of the reasons I was intrigued by the concert is a recurring rumor in a few of the circles I keep my ear to is that Mr. Gilbert may be on the short list considered upon the expiration Franz Welser-Most's contract after the 2017-18 season.

Anyway, back to the music: I generally like music from ballets due to the inherent motion of dance -- after all, some of my favorite pieces that I've yet to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play (e.g. Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid) came from ballets. Tonight's performance of the complete ballet music to Ravel's Mother Goose, though, seemed nearly as tense as I was for the first five movements. Things opened up for the sixth movement (Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas) which had a delightful and impossible to miss Asian flair, and the final movement (The Enchanted Garden) with beautiful solo violin work and a climatic ending.

I had hoped that the more relaxed air would carry forward to the Mahler, however that did not seem to be the case. The first movement was seemingly eternal, lonely, dark and depressing. The second movement lightened the mood a bit with a fluttering sense and uncharacteristic clanking metal, as if a hubcap falling off a well-worn car, it did not evoke a feeling of "Night Music".

The death grip of tension loosened a bit in the third movement which played out exactly as per the tempo notation found in the program -- "Shadowy, Vaguely, Flowing buy not fast". Likewise, the fourth movement had an enchanting air and, as Night Music II, had more of a sense of being night music than it's predecessor. Contributing to the enchanting air -- and a sound I couldn't pinpoint at first -- were a guitar and ukulele hidden amongst the violins.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Column and Stripe/NYC - The Armory Show [Cleveland Museum of Art]

As many regular readers (or those who pay attention to the "Disclosures" bar off to the right [your other right]) know, I'm involved in Column and Stripe: The New Friends of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Unfortunately travel demands of my real job haven't been conducive to attending all of the great events that our Programming Committee organizes.

Exterior of Pier 92 from Across 12 Ave.
Thanks to a last minute change in schedules for one of my big projects, and a United Fare Sale that made Cleveland to New York a $161 round drip flight (and cashing in some of my Hilton HHonors points for a few nights in one of my favorite hotels -- the Hilton Times Square) I was able to join a group of Column and Stripers 400 miles from home at New York City's Armory Show.

C&S Attendees; Mark Cole center background.
Mark Cole, Cleveland Museum of Art's Associate Curator of American Painting and Sculpture (until 1960) was in New York as well and graciously guided us through Pier 92's Modern Art.

Mr. Cole not only introduced us to some of the dealers who he knows, but also pointed out artists with Cleveland connections and artists who he thinks are significant and would like to see added to the museum's collection to complete the story (he remained mum as to specific works).

After our overview fly-by the group splintered and attacked the show in greater detail. The show which brings together leading art dealers from around the globe and concentrates them on two of the piers of Manhattan's West Side is a little overwhelming. ("Modern" is on pier 92, "Contemporary" is on pier 94)

One aisle of dealers at Pier 94
Although the show is made up of dealers (after all, unlike a museum, the goal here is to sell art), it is curated -- the dealers have to present a proposal months in advance, and from what I understand the cost of exhibiting can push into the high five-figures, so the quality of art is very high across the board. So are the prices -- many, though not all, of the exhibitors have prices listed on the label accompanying each piece, with prices I noticed ranging from about $2,500 to upwards of $370,000 and spanning from the technically simple to the obscenely complex.

It was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy art outside of Cleveland with similarly interested young Clevelanders, and hopefully this will be the first of many trips -- and that Rachel's work schedule will allow her to join in the next trip.

[By the way, any of the pictures should be clickable for a larger version if you so desire]


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Dohnanyi Conducts Mahler:s First

Henze: Adagio, Fugue, and Dance of the Maenads from the opera The Bassarids
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 ("Titan")
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor

There are some conductors that you can tell an orchestra distrusts and only puts on the mildist pretense of following, there are other conductors that the orchestra follows -- if sometimes only grudgingly. The last group of Conductors are those who seem to be one with the orchestra with whom they are working. Mr. von Dohnanyi is clearly in the later category.

Just as clearly The Cleveland Orchestra and von Dohnanyi have a special relationship.

Although the suite from the opera The Bassarids was interesting in parts, it didn't really hold my attention or captivate strong imagery. The staging for both pieces on tonight's program was rather unusual --1st and 2nd violins flanking the conductor, cellos and violas in the outfield, basses house left, harps and keys house  right -- and the difference in the layering of the sounds was interesting (and I will say I could get used to it).

The main course on tonight's program was Mahler's Symphony No. 1, and each of the four movements had a distinct personality -- and Mr. von Dohnanyi provided that personality entirely from memory. The first movement began softly and with bugle calls in the far distance -- my sense was as if approaching a distant gathering and as the movement progressed the listener comes close to the gathering.

In the second movement, we hear two dances, the somewhat fast and loose -- adolescent, if you will -- waltz with hints of the first movement sounds, which gives way to the more dignified and loving slower second dance. The third movement continues the serious tone with a beautifully vivid dirgeish-solo bass over slight tympani. The finale begins with a cymbal crash and after crossing stormy water, triumpahnt horns return order the piece.