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.