Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society Concert 3: Cavatina (Spain/Bosnia) A Cleveland Debut

Bach: Sonata in C Major for flute and continuo (BVW 1033)
Piazzolla: Adios Nonino
Assad: Three Balkan Pieces
Takrmitsu: Towards The Sea
Thomas: Out of Africa
Sor: Variations on "O Cara Armonia" from Mozart's The Magic Flute
Piazolla: Oblivion (encore)
Eugenia Moliner, flute; Dennis Azabagic, guitar. At Plymouth Church UCC, Shaker Heights.

Winter has most definitely arrived in Northeast Ohio, making the warm and simple feeling evoked by the first piece on the program -- J.S. Bach's Sonata in C -- of listening the the piece while sitting in front of a medieval castle's roaring fireplace. Interestingly, the couple noted that the authorship is somewhat questioned based on departures from Bach's typical stylem including ending on a Menuet movement.

An emotional farewell to father (Adios Nonino) took the second slot on the program with an interesting "squeaky" technique and sound from the guitar. Initially chipper, it concluded on a combination of somber and soaring tones. Ms. Moliner commented that it was an emotionally difficult piece to play based on the recent loss of her father.

Incidentally, the couple's -- yes, they are married -- onstage banter and needling added an extra texture and enjoyment to the concert.

The third "piece" on the program was actually a collection of three Balkan pieces -- the first, Kalajdzijsko Oro (traditional Macedonian) provided a fluttering flute punctuated by a guitar -- almost as if a soaring bird was punctuated by updrafts of wind. The second, also traditional Macedonian, Ajde slusajm slusaj  was soothing and relaxing, and the third, traditional Bulgarian, Ratchenitsa was more upbeat and carried a very different sound than the first two pieces.

Following intermission, Toward the Sea, commissioned by Greenpeace for its Save the Whale Campaign was captivating in its use of both the alto flute and its use of not only music but periods of silence to mimmic the sounds and communication of whales -- the imagery was unmistakable,

Out of Africa, also a thematic piece -- who's five movements covered the span of a single day in Africa, from the Call at Sunrise, Morning Dance to the mid-day Zenith, and the evening and night Evening Dance and Cradle Song was soothing and engaging with a clear arc in the tone from the bright morning to the slowing evenings. Both amusingly (and somewhat diffracting) the piece also covered the arc of consciousness of a very visible Hawken student -- with large yawns in the "morning", falling horizontal with one knee in the air at the zenith, and finally achieving a completely horizontal position through the evening and conclusion of the piece (and published program)

The last piece on the published program, variations on O Cara Armonia from Mozart's The Magic Flute was lively but not particularly evocative of particular emotion or imagery.

The Next Cleveland Classical Guitar Society International Series concert Gaelle (France) on February 28th.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Weilerstein Plays Elgar

Part: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Elgar: Cello Concerto (Alisa Weilerstein, cello)
Unannounced encore for solo cello (Alisa Weilerstein, cello)
Adams: Harmonielehre
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

"Meh." Leaving at intermission, I found myself so completely uninspired that I contemplated skipping text for this entry. The first half of the program was well played but entirely too depressing and funereal in tone only slightly captivating and not at all inspiring.

Combined with word that a beloved orchestra staffer has resigning (no, not Gary Hanson) in addition to another recently announced departure, and a lingering day-long headache, I saw no point in--let alone being in the proper mood for-- sticking around for Adams. The minor traffic jam in the parking garage suggests I was not alone in reaching that conclusion.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Heights Arts: Factory Seconds Trio - "Second to None"

Bardin: Sonatine en Trio (1982)
Leonin: Viderund omnes
Hovhaness: Fantasy No. 1 (1967)
Flothius: Sonatine (1946)
Hidas: Triga (1992)
Bassett: Trio for Brass Instruments (1953)
Needham: Mobiles (2013)
Frackenphol: Brass Trio (1966)
Jack Sutte; trumpet, Jesse McCormick, french horn; Rick Stout, trombone, with poetry readings by Kathleen Cerveny. At the home of Mark and Sue Hollingsworth, Shaker Heights

If The Cleveland Orchestra is the five-star fine dining of Classical music in Cleveland, Heights Arts is the gourmet food truck -- serving up delicacies for smaller audiences in slightly less predictable and more nomadic fashion. Indeed, aside from the fantastic music performed by amazing musicians, I like the experience if seeing inside some of the beautiful and unique homes on the East side -- and today's concert in the beautiful Hollingsworth residence was no exception.

What was unusual were the instruments -- a trio of brass players taking the name "Factory Seconds" in homage to their roles as the second for their instruments in The Cleveland Orchestra. I was a little nervous going in to today's program that brass, let alone a trio of brass, would overwhelm the small spaces and intimate audiences of the typical Heights Arts concert. That fear was misplaced.

I found that I enjoyed the first half of the program slightly more than the second half with Bardin's Sonatine en Trio, the opening piece on the program, setting an excellent mood with the spirited but playful marchesque first movement, the subdued evening walk of a second movement and the lively third movement.

The second an third pieces on the program were offered as a sandwich with a piece of poetry in the middle -- while I enjoyed Viderunt Omnes, said to be the beginning of Western music, I think I spent too much mentally time trying to connect Fantasy No. 1 to that piece and the poetry to enjoy it musically.

Flothius's Sonatine's four movements blended into a single fluid work and right around the time I had decided I was enjoying the quick pace of the first movement (which at the beginning I related to a festive almost circus-like feeling) I realized the piece had ended. Finishing out the first half of the program, Hidas' Triga offered a slightly more burnished fanfare.

The program following intermission, though notable for featuring all living American composers didn't capture my interest in the same way or to the same degree -- I had a hard time formulating a reaction to Bassett's Trio for Brass Instruments. Needham's Mobiles Started out with a subdued, dreamy nighttime walk on a quiet alley, met and crossed a busy thoroughfare, before returning to the shadows.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

BlueWater Chamber Orchestra: A Night Of Fright and Delight

Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Respighi: Trittico Botticelliano for chamber orchestra
Deak: Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra "The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow" (Kenneth Johnston, Charles Morey, violins; Kirsten Docter, viola; Bryan Dumm, cello; Robert Conrad, narrator) Carlton R. Woods, director.
At Plymouth Church, UCC, Shaker Heights

Late Fall has certainly arrived in Northeast Ohio and while I was out of town Thursday and Friday, after spending a lazy day under warm covers Rachel and I headed to Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights to hear BlueWater Chamber Orchestra's Halloween-appropriate program. BlueWater, as a chamber orchestra, is an example of what makes greater Cleveland a great place to live with the wealth of musical talent in a slightly more compact and intimate format than the full-blown orchestra.

While the third work on the program, a concerto based on the short story The Headless Horesman of Sleepy Hollow" was initially what I thought was most intriguing, in execution the first two were the strongest showings.

Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is always enjoyable to hear and tonight's performance was particularly enjoyable thanks to an energetic delivery and the additional color brought by the addition of a harp -- while subtle it added a sparkle that made the afternoon of the faun that much easier to imagine.

Through the second piece on the program brought the audience Respighi's reactions, in musical form, to three works by Botticelli in Florence's Uffizi gallery via Trittico Botticelliano for chamber orchestra. The first, Primavera, was an energetic almost marching delivery that reminded me of a conversation in music with an interesting rhythm and more interesting texture. Second, L'adorazione dei Magi was a little bit more subdued and if I had to ascribe a specific feeling to it, "slightly middle-eastern"; the final movement, La Nascita di Venere was more of a meandering walk on a tepid fall day with a passionate delivery by the orchestra.

The concert concluded with Deak's Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra "The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow", narrated by Robert Conrad of WCLV, a piece I was really looking forward to hearing, especially with Mr. Woods's introductions for the soloists (Ichabod was represented by the two violinists on account of his "complex personality", Katrina represented by the viola "in a frisky kind of way", and the cello was "just strange") -- and Mr. Conrad's distinctive voice built for narration -- but the balance seemed a little lacking and I found myself struggling to hear Mr. Conrad's narration over the orchestra at times which distracted me from simply enjoying  the piece. Despite that challenge, the piece was enjoyable with overlapping textures a fun and lively "barn dance" and musicians clearly having fun with the performance.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Bach Brahms, and Mendelssohn

Bach: Cantata No. 199, BVW 199 (Yulia Van Doren, soprano)
Brahms: Song of Destiny [Schichsalslied], Op. 54 (Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Robert Porco, director)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 ("Reformation") in D major, Op. 107
James Gaffigan, Conductor.

[I should note that next Saturday, BlueWater Chamber Orchestra is offering a promising concert at Plymouth Church including Robert Conrad narrating a string interpretation of  Washington Irving’s story “The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow”]

While it was quite disappointing to hear not only Hillary Hahn had withdrawn from this weekends performances but that, in the words of another patron "they really  couldn't find another violinist!?! In Cleveland?" I have to say I enjoyed the replacement.

While someone who knows me well remarked "I wasn't expecting to see you-- there's more singing than you usually care for" and I, honestly, wasn't expecting to like Bach's Cantata No. 199, Ms. Van Doren and the predominantly string chamber orchestra delivered a well-balanced passionate piece that was delightful to listen to.

Likewise, while it seems a waste of the Chorus for only 15 minutes the initially meditative turning explosive Sing of Destiny had me bolt upright with attention. Mr. Gaffigan's expressive conducting, particularly in the third movement with hair flying despite very sharp conducting was the theatrical cherry on the top -- and the delta between the restrained and respectful first and second sections and the fierce and bold third was delicious.

Following intermission Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 was the piece I had most looked forward to on tonight's program -- and while it was as enjoyable to listen to as the other pieces on the program, something felt not quite right, or the piece didn't seem to quite fit with the rest of the program -- I couldn't put my finger on it.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra:Lang Lang Plays Chopin and Strauss

Pintscher: Idyll (for orchestra) (World Premiere performances)
Chopin: Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22 (for piano and orchestra) (Lang Lang, piano)
Strauss: Burleske (for piano and orchestra) (Lang Lang, piano)
Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

Ok, so on one hand I was very excited to return to Severance for a new season, on the other hand that excitement was tempered -- almost quenched -- by the news that Mr. Welser-Most's contract was renewed. I was really hoping for a change, and the news out of Austria had gotten my hopes up.

Anyway, this afternoon's concert opened with a half hour of tedium in the form of Matthias Pintscher's Idyll. While not as jarring and painful as most "new" classical at 25 minutes plus it was entirely too long and uninteresting -- sure there were parts that had a tenuous hold of my attention, early on a section reminded me of playful nymphs; later the atmosphere approaching a murder scene in a classic film, but on the whole I would have preferred to do without.

Lang Lang brought Chopin's Andante spianato & Grand Polonaise brilliante to life beginning with a sound I would liken to a delightfully fluffy and delicious pastry for the ears to wash out the foul taste of the prior composition -- although the orchestra was a bit stiff under Welser-Most's baton, it was certainly preferable to the Pintscher. 

Following intermission was like an entirely new concert and could have been cleaved from the first half for a much more enjoyable program on its own. Chopin's Burleske, once again with the piano part played by Lang Lang was sparkling with a bold orchestra embracing in a familiar dance with the piano, while towards the end of the piece brought arguments from the orchestra that puncutated otherwise flowing music. 

Finally the program closed with Strauss's Till Eulenspeigel's Merry Pranks was enjoyable in a fun and lyrical way but I didn't find it particularly memorable


Monday, September 1, 2014

On Serendipitous Discovery: How United Airlines Customer Hostility brought me into the Vancouver Art Gallery (again)

It's no secret that I loved -- and greatly miss -- the customer focused nature of Continental Airlines and loathe the open hostility that "pre merger" United Airlines (pmUA) employees openly display towards their customers, particularly at Chicago's O''Hare ("ex-Cons", on the other hand are still a pleasure to encounter -- when you can find them).

Such utter incompetence on the part of United Airlines staff in Chicago last year (before the two maintenance-related emergency landings, and three days of a four day trip to Richmond without my luggage among other complete service failures) lead me to miss a connection on my way back home to Cleveland.

Arriving at our connecting gate at precisely the same moment -- coming from a different flight, but also missing the connection due to causes within United's control -- was an artist.

While we were waiting for United to figure out how to get us both to Cleveland we chatted, and I started with my typical "What brings you to Cleveland?" The answer surprised me -- she was an artist heading to Cleveland because her work was on display at both the Cleveland Museum of Art and MoCA Cleveland. It turned out I was chatting with Janet Cardiff, and her work on display at CMA was Forty Part Motet, one of the most unique and stirring installations I've encountered, and certainly one you would have to hear to understand.

This brings me to today -- I'm back in Vancouver for the week, mixing business with pleasure and spent the day wandering around downtown. Without question I love this city on nearly the same level as I love London* -- both cities have a vibe that I don't pick up in the states --  and I hadn't planned in visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery again on this trip.

But fate intervened. My wanderings through downtown I walked past the entrance to the Art Gallery and I decided to head in. Thanks to having my CMA Donor card on me, the visit was free (excluding the hundred bucks I managed to spend in the gift shop). And the next few hours just kind of slipped by.

The lower floors, occupied by the Douglas Coupland everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything (closing today) had  pieces that piqued my interest -- including a Lego suburbia -- on a whole it failed to really move me... But as I moved up the building I found myself immersed in an entire floor of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's work via the exhibition Lost in the Memory Palace.

The below video does a far better job of explaining the exhibition than I ever could -- but it's worth noting that I was particularly captivating that the Experiment in F# Minor -- where the shadows of attendees trigger musical sounds -- in effect "playing the table". I was completely transfixed by the Opera for a Small Room -- a twenty minute looped presentation where (for the first time in as far as my recollection will allow me) I stood in the same place for the entire twenty minute loop without feeling the urge to move on.

The Killing Machine was a somewhat horrifying piece that I found to be one of the more thought provoking of my recent encounters -- revolving more or less on capital punishment -- and amplified by the fact that it takes a conscious act on the part of the viewer (pushing the "big red  button") to start the machine.


[*- However it is seeming extraordinarily unlikely I will have a work-related reason to visit London. If anyone knows anyone that needs Crestron programming done in the UK... hit me up ;)]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: A Midsummer Nights Dream

Stravinsky: Suite from Pulcinella
Haydn: Violin Concerto in C major, H.Villa:1 (Peter Otto, violin)
Mendelssohn: Scherzo and Nocturne from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 61
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 ("Italian") in A major, Op. 60.
Jeffrey Kahane, Conductor)

I actually really wanted to attend last Sunday's concert, however, having dropped Rachel off at the airport to begin her internship at the Library of Congress on Saturday only to return to the airport on Sunday to send myself to Minnesota.... The scheduling didn't quite work out. Actually looking at the remainder of the Blossom season only on e Saturday and none of the Sunday concerts is even a scheduling possibility, leaving the very real prospect that this may be my last visit to Blossom for the 2014 season.

And, based upon the first half if it is to be my last, it will certainly be the best I've attended this season. While Stravinsky is known for his riotous--not to mention cutting edge--The Right of Spring, the suite from Pulcinella was equally pleasing but substantially more nostalgic and circumspect -- music that while good, and knowing its good, is trying to pass without drawing too much attention to itself.

Peter Otto's performance in Haydn's violin concerto had a similar restrained air. Once I was able to tune out the harpsichord (what can I say...I am no fan of its twang) I just let my mind go soft and before I knew it the piece was complete.

Following intermission the two selections from a Midsummer Night's Dream -- the Scherzo and Nocturne  passed by quickly covering the span of about five minutes in total. The scherzo was light and airy, while the Nocturne was more somber but clearly shared some of the same musical DNA as the Wedding March, also originally from this piece. 

The program closed out with Mendelssohn's Italian symphony and it's famous opening theme; unfortunately, I didn't really find myself engaged beyond that opening and repetitive theme.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Broadway Standing Ovations

Arr. Every and Barton: Overture: Broadway Divas
Wildhorn and Bricusse: This Is The Moment from Jekyll and Hyde (Crawford)
Bernstein and Sondheim: Maria from West Side Story (Keegan)
Arr. Barker: Love Duet Medley (Bianco, Crawford, Keegan)
Wilson and Hayman: Seventy-Six Trombones from The Music Man (Orchestra)
Schwartz: Defying Gravity from Wicked (Bianco)
Arr. Everly: Leading Men Medley (Crawford, Keegan)
Bernstein, arr. Peress: Overture to West Side Story (Orchestra)
Kinder and Ebb arr. Gibson: Chicago Medley (Orchestra)
Hansard and Irglova arr. Everly: Falling Slowly from Once (Bianco, Crawford)
Webber and Hart: The Music of the Night from the Phantom of the Opera (Keegan)
Schoenberg, Boubill, Natel, Kretzmer arr. Barker: Selections from Les Miserables (Bianco, Crawford, Keegan, Remke, Chorus)
Jack Everly, conductor; The Men of the Blossom Festival Chorus, Robert Porco, director; Christina Bianco; Ben Crawford; Ted Keegan; Ron Remke)

It was like Jekyll and Hyde this evening trying to get from Cleveland Heights to Blossom-- leaving my house I had the windshield wipers going fast and had to dodge a number of closed roads, but approaching blossom the skies cleared and the jacket in was wearing seemed positively foolish.

The first half of tonight's concert was similar -- while it was clear our orchestra wasn't being particularly challenged there were parts of the concert that were eminently enjoyable to listen to (the selection from Chess in the Leading Men Medley; most but not the entirety of Defying Gravity from Wicked) there were other parts that were nearly painful (such as the nasaly-to-New Jersey moments of Ms. Bianco's early parts of the Love Duet Medley), and on balance was largely meh -- the uninspired and overly burnished vocal performances generally outnumbering the captivating and inspiring.

As I posted the above from my phone during intermission, I sincerely hoped that the second half of the program would salvage the evening. Unfortunately -- having made it home safely -- I have to say it did not. While I despise Chicago the musical -- it's a contributing factor to the why I haven't returned to Playhouse Square in a few years -- the medley from Chicago combined with The Music From the Night as highlights, though I have to say my favorite selection was the excerpt from Chess in the Leading Men Medley. 

For those highlights though, you have to subtract selections from Les Miserables which were full of vocal over reach, and the Ms. Bianco's Divas Impressions which beyond the initial and moderately tolerable Julie Andrews bit was pure agony that could not end quickly enough and killed whatever good will I had toward the program. 

If this were at Severance Hall, I'd give it a "Meh" overall, but given the effort to get to Blossom and the price premium (~$40) attached to this concert over over typical Blossom pricing... I can't even rate it as high as a "Meh". 


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: A Taste of Spain

Bizet: Suite from Carmen
Saint-Saens: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 (Karen Gomyo, violin)
De Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat (complete ballet music) (Emily Fons, mezzo-soprano)
Bramwell Tovey, conductor.

Between work obligations (with the related travel) and a desire to just have a lackadaisical summer I'm being note selective in my Blossom attendance this summer... And on my drive down from Cleveland Heights I found myself wondering about this choice -- with light drizzle for the drive and me donning a jacket at Blossom for the first time I can recall.

The first half of the program was quite interesting -- opening with a suite of six selections from Bizet's Carmen, the familiar March of the Toreadors launched things with an impressive tempo, and the harp and flute leading into the strings for the Intermezzo was intoxicatingly relaxing. The Habanera, another well known selection, had a certain air of mystery, and the Dance Boheme had a folksy rustic dance air before picking up tempo.

I had a hard time getting into the second piece on the program, Saint-Saens's third violin concerto. While delicate and relaxing, I didn't find the piece engaging, and the change in mood of the third movement was jarring. My initial impression was that it would be a great piece for a warm summer evening - bout not a tepid one.

Mr. Tovey provided a wonderfully humorous introduction to De Falla's The Three Cornered Hat. I'm finding I particularly enjoy music intended for dance for its fluid movement and (usually) clear musical story and this was no exception with about 35 minutes of more or less continuous music with a range of mostly humorous and enjoyable music. 

About three readers will appreciate that pleasant coincidence that Mr. Tovey is the music director of the Vancouver (Canada) Symphony -- and this week I confirmed that I'll be returning to the beautiful city of Vancouver late summer or early fall for a project. Once dates get pinned down, I shall have to see if he's conducting on his home turf while I'm in town. 


Friday, July 4, 2014

Blossom Festival Band: A Salute to America

(The full program can be found below)

My personal tradition since moving to Cleveland has been to attend Blossom's Independence Day festivities. This year marked my ninth year attending, and Rachel and my's third year and enjoying the Blossom Festival Band under the direction of Loras John Schissel, an able conductor and a Senior Musicologist from the Library of Congress.

(Incidentally, since I pick up a few hits from the DC area around this time each year, Rachel will be interning with the Library in Washington DC in August and September -- if anyone knows someone whit a spare bedroom or couch available for rent rent in the area please drop me a line at lincoln at lincolnincleveland dot com.)

I had an unplanned trip to New York on Tuesday and had planned on returning Wednesday afternoon, but due to the wonders of United's reliability, about 6 hours after I first started trying to get back to Cleveland I just changed the flight to a 6am Thursday morning -- meaning that I was awake starting about 3:30. Not being a morning person to begin with, by the time concert time rolled around I was basically in a perpetual state of yawn. (You know you're too far gone when the cannon fire in the 1812 Overture doesn't stir you...)

The program was the typical fare -- patriotic pieces with a few more Sousa pieces than I'd personally like-- and you'll find my reactions to many of those pieces in my prior posts about the annual patriotic tradition.

Worth particular note, however were Copland's Variations on a Shaker Melody and Anthony O'Toole's arrangement of George F Root's The Battle Cry of Freedom. I learned from Mr. Schissel's introduction of Variations on a Shaker Melody that it's parent piece (the ballet Appalachian Spring - also a favorite of minewas a commission by The Library of Congress for Martha Graham  The Shaker Melody is also known by its first few lyrics ('tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free...) and the variations were interesting in their treatments of this from delicate and understated to bold, forceful declarations.

Meanwhile, Anthony O'Toole's treatment of The Battle Cry of Freedom -- receiving what is believed to be the first public performance with these concerts -- stated "elegiacal" (to borrow Mr. Schissel's description which I fully endorse) but took on a cinematic and triumphant swell about midway through the piece and became more of a declaration of future freedom the respect for past freedoms that seemed to mark the first half.

Mr Schissel's own November 25, 1963 had an intense and somewhat haunting drum beat

There were at least two encore pieces following the official end of the program, however, I was far too tired to stay and enjoy.

Key (arr. Schissel): The Star-Spangled Banner
Gomes: Overture: II Guarany
Sousa: Federal
Copland: Variations on a Shaker 
Root (arr. O'Toole): The Battle Cry of Freedom
Gould: Pavanne
Sousa: March: Jack Tar
Rodgers: Symphonic Synthesis: Victory At Sea
Goldwin: On the Mall
Sousa: Semper Fidelis
Sousa: Humoresque on Jerome Kern's "Look for the Silver Lining"
Schissel: November 25, 1963
Traditional: March-Past of the U.S. Armed Forces
Tchaikovsky: Overture: The Year 1812


Monday, June 9, 2014

Flight Experience with Premier Flight Academy

I became "old" this past May 14th -- turning 30 to be precise -- and to celebrate, Rachel gave me the gift of a flight experience with Premier Flight Academy. I've been so busy with actual travel that we weren't able to schedule it until this afternoon [In the past four weeks I've been in Ann Arbor, Boston, New York, Minneapolis (and Rochester) Minnesota, Anaheim and Los Angeles, California.

As it would turn out today was a beautiful day for flying and our host, Jake, a certified flight instructor at Premier Flight Academy (at Burke Lakefront Airport just east of downtown Cleveland) was a great host talking us through the pre-flight walk-around, checklists and takeoff sequence. Once we got into the air it was a beautifully smooth flight as he demonstrated the flight controls and brought Rachel and I into 30- and 45-degree banks (in fact, the only bump on our flight was when we crossed our own wake). I was offered the controls but too chicken to grab hold.

My seat while in-air

The entire flight was beautifully smooth -- I suppose I had expected things to be a bit bumpier, but it was not really any different than riding down the freeway. Jeff answered every question we posed -- satisfying some of my long-standing curiosities.

On the way back in we got some excellent views of downtown, before landing on runway 6L -- one of the smoothest I can remember recently & chatted about getting a private pilot's license. It is oh so tempting....


Monday, June 2, 2014

Ben Folds and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra (#FoldsCYO)

Zak and Sarah (arr. Iain Grandage)
Smoke (arr. Michael Pigneguy)
Jesusland (arr. Michael Pigneguy)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (Ohio Premiere; orchestrated by Joachim Horsley and Ben Folds)
Landed (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Fred Jones Part 2 (arr. Iain Grandage)
Steven's Last Night (arr. Graeme Lyall)
Effington (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Cologne (arr. Jim Gray)
Annie Waits (are. James Ledger)
+Rock This Hall (aka Rock This B**ch) 
The Luckiest (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Not the Same (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Brick (arr. Paul Buck master)
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (arr. Iain Grandage)
Narcolepsy (are. James Ledger)
Plus encores. 
All songs by Ben Folds
Liza Grossman,  conductor; Ben Folds, piano. 

Last time I attended a CYO show the headliner was someone I had never heard of (Jon Anderson) and it was thoroughly enjoyable -- so when I heard this season was featuring a an artist I not only had heard of, but liked, I knew I had to buy tickets. So after a day in the office (my first in the past two weeks and my last for this week, but that's another story) Rachel and I headed to Severance Hall and once again I found myself perched in the front of Box 3. 

The first three pieces on the program were good, but not quite great -- I think the orchestra and Mr. Folds were struggling to find the right balance and the result was a little muddy (Rachel thoughtTh that Mr. Folds voice hadn't quite warmed up). The fourth piece on the program, a concerto for piano and orchestra was well delivered and interesting but its length seemed a little ouof place for a program otherwise overflowing with shorter pieces. 

The program turned a bend and really picked up steam starting with Landed with a shimmering piano introduction and excellent balance. Likewise, both Fred Jones Part 2 (about a newspaperman being forced out at the beginning of the traditional journalism downturn - a "waltz, as all sad songs about someone loosing their job should be:") and Steven's Last Night (a big-band-swing-feeling piece written for a recording engineer who was leaving town -- but had had another going away party a week prior) were beautiful works of collaborative art -- and Mr, Folds's introduction to the pieces was particularly entertaining. 

After intermission the program resumed with what has become my favorite Ben Folds piece -- Effington --- and the glorious opening phrase tonight voiced by three CYO members ("If there's a God, he's laughing at us and our football team" -- which could be Cleveland's anthem right there) and the on-stage improvisation of the piece in Normal, Illinois (Effington was a actually a misrecollection of Effingham) 

Continuing in the thread of on-stage composition, Cologne was also initially improvised on stage -- with Mr. Folds under the weather and with doctor-prescribed codeine (to which he commented that falling off stage head-first with a five foot drop and performing with a concussion was more enjoyable than the codeine-affected performance) and is also a favorite piece of mine. I was initially apprehensive that the live performance wouldn't live up to my "favorite" version (the "Piano Orchestra" version, putting aside the creepy German music video) -- but those fears were quickly assuaged with a rich and full bodied performance. 

In between Annie Waits and The Luckiest was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen or heard on stage -- best titled Rock this Hall or Rock This B--ch -- Mr Folds improvised a piece leveraging all 116 musicians on the stage, bringing in one section at a time and occasionally changing his mind. I'm sure that this will wind up on YouTube within days (if it's not already there).

The rest of the program was equally enjoyable, but I have an early flight tomorrow so I will leave my commentary here. It was, to say the least, an amazingly awesome show and I am blown away by the talent of the musicians, Ms. Grossman, and Mr. Folds. 


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Tro TaPASi - In Twos and Threes

Schubert: Arpeggione (Tanya Ell, cello; Patti Wolf, piano)
Brahms: G major Sonata (Isabel Trautwein, violin; Patti Wolf, piano)
Mendelssohn: Trio in C minor (Isabel Trautwein, violin; Tanya Ell, cello; Patti Wolf, piano)
At the home of Charlie Cowap and Rachel Rawson, Shaker Heights. 

While last night's season closing performance at the Cleveland Orchestra was delivered forcefully by a massive orchestra, today's season ending performance for Heights Arts' Close Encounters house concert series was no less impactful in an intimate setting with three extraordinarily talented musicians (two of whom --- Ms. Trautwein and Ms. Ell -- are also Cleveland Orchestra members)

All thiree pieces on the program were musically stunning and a pure delight to listen to, although they didn't evoke strong imagery in my mind, which makes describing it challenging -- for many of the movements I found myself just closing my eyes and enjoying the feeling of the notes -- particularly the cello through its end pin -- resonate up through my legs while simultaneously hitting my chest and ears. On the flip side, Ms. Trautwein's violin -- particularly in the third piece -- was less than a yard from my face and the precise dancing across the fingerboard provided a captivating visual.

The comment was made that Schubert's Arpeggione was composed not for the cello but for a "smaller instrument with more strings" -- however from the adept playing you would not have suspected (from Wikipedia it appears Arpeggione was the actual name of that instrument -- and it appears that instrument is essntially a "bowed guitar" -- and this piece had a very warm and tender air between Ms. Ell and Ms. Wolf

The second piece, featuring Ms. Trautwein and Ms. Wolf seemed a little bit more somber and delicate than the first. The third and final piece, Mendelssohn's Trio united all three musicians for a tour-de-force, and a wonderful end to what turned out to be one of my favorite Heights Arts programs.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Cleveland Orchestra: Vladimir Jurowski Conducts Prokofiev's Cinderella

Stravinsky: Scherzo Fantastique, Op. 3
Britten: Violin Concerto, Op. 15 (Simone Lamsma, violin)
Prokofiev: Suite from Cinderella, Op. 87
Vladimir Jurowski, conductor.

Where has this season gone? I four d myself pondering as I watch it come to a close not far from where I heard of come to a start-- my favorite perch at the front of Box 3.

Tonights program certainly headed the advice to go out on a high note. Opening with Stravinsky's Scherzo Fantastique -- a 10-minute slightly ephemeral and fanciful appetizer perhaps especially notable for including three harps on the Severance stage.

The second piece was a bit less fanciful and quite a bit more dramatic with violinist Simone Lamsma turning in a performance that was beautifully breathtaking at times soaring over a monotonous four note drone of the orchestra and at others engaging in a subdued and intimate romantic dialog with the orchestra behind her. Equally stunning - the entire house sat in awed silence for what seemed like an eternity until maestro Jurowski completely released his tension. I cannot think of a more perfect performance in this hall this season.

Perhaps it was the terrific delivery of the first two pieces, or perhaps it was the length, but I didn't find Prokofiev's sixty minute (and fifty movement) Suite from Cinderella nearly as polished or engaging. There were points in the music where felt it the performance would have been strengthened if it had been accompanied by the visual of dance. 

Blossom, for Rachel and I, starts July 3rd. 


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Strange looks in New York

So I'm spending the weekend in Manhattan after a couple days of training in New Jersey -- and I met a couple friends for dinner and drinks.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Port Authority and NJTransit, the usually easy AirTrain-to-NJTransit connection has been screwed up beyond all recognition and it took close to two and a half hours to get from EWR (aka Newark Airport) to New York Penn Station.

My original plan was to drop my bags at the hotel and then proceed to the designated drinking location -- however being already an hour late and waiting for a downtown C train that didn't seem to exist, I bit the bullet and both me and my luggage made it uptown (well... W. 72nd)

However, in that process my cell phone died -- containing both the name of the place we were meeting (decided just an hour or so before) as well as my firends contact info.

You wouldn't beleive the number of strange looks you get when you're on a subway with a USB cord sticking out of a bag and plugged into a phone. But using my laptop (in said bag) to charge my phone worked well enough for me to get a "I'm on my way" text out and then get me pointed in the right direction.


May and June are turning into those "continuous travel" months where I don't have the time to stop and enjoy the smells.

I'm tired now...


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jane Glover conducts Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn

Bach: Sinfonia no. 2 in E-flat major, Wq183.2 (Imogen Cooper, piano)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
Vanhal: Sinfonia in G minor, Bg1
Haydn: Symphony No. 103 ("Drum Roll")
Jane Glover, conductor.

Tonight's program began with a little bit of baroque in the form of C.P.E. Bach's sinfonia No. 2, a quick little appetizer piece at just over 15 minutes and a sound that I can only really describe as woody and solid.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 came second on the program with pianist Imogen Cooper tickling the keyboard. I have a difficult time describing, much less relating to music that doesn't evoke strong imagery and the first movement falls into that category. The second movement however evoked images of an elegant romance -- an intimate affair culminating in a candle lit bedroom with rose pedals for instance. The third movement took a lighter and more frolicking-down-a-garden-path-on-a-spring-day-with-your-loved-one feeling.

The third piece was by a composer who's name was new to me -- and given the fact that this is the first time the Cleveland Orchestra has performed this particular piece  from the 1760s, I suspect I am not alone. Though swiftly moving, it was a bit on the tingy-sound (I'm tempted to say baroque-ish, but this piece came slightly after the end of the traditional baroque period. Worth special note was a sweet violin solo and violin/duet.

Closing out the program was Haydn's Symphony No. 103 a;so named the "Drum Roll" for a, well, drum roll that appears twice in the first movement. The first movement begins dark, brightens up with a nice energy, and then the dark introduction is restated, much like the passing of day from dark through sunrise, daylight, sunset, and night. The second movement was delicate but necessarily firm. My mind wandered through much of the third and fourth movement snapped back to the music at the beginning of the fourth movement when a horn appears to be soliciting a response from the strings that never comes -- until it is repeated.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Blomstedt: Conducts Dvorak and Tchaikovsky

Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B minor (op. 104) (Mark Kosower, cello)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") in B minor Op. 74
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor.

While exchanging greetings with an usher before tonights concert she observed, regarding the weather,  "with a day like today its hard not to be in a good mood". Indeed, however, with a concert like tonight's its impossible not to be in a good mood.

While, honestly, I've had a hard time getting truly excited about the past few concerts, I was utterly euphoric about Dvorak's Cello Concerto and Mr. Kossower's fine handling off the piece -- so much so that I had to physically restrain myself from applauding at the end of the first movement.

The first movement starts with the orchestra laying a bed that sounds not at all unlike an enchanted forest, while As the piece progresses, Mr. Kosower's cello takes on the feeling of an impassioned --very impassioned -- lover calling at his target, the orchestra's window. The second movement communicates more of a contemplation of a painful decision followed by a painfully lonely walk in no-longer enchanted woods. The third and final movement was a bit more of a folksy air of an approaching march followed by a triumphant ending -- and an immediate standing ovation.

Following intermission I found it hard to focus on Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 ("Pathetique") with the same level of intensity as the cello concerto, and had at best fleeting impressions -- the beginning was far more burnished and less romantic than the Dvorak -- the second movement was like a light spring day; the third was insistent and fairly happy, while the final movement was far more somber. I should also note that I have a tremendous sense of de ja vu -- I could swear that I've heard this piece in the very recent past, however, I do not have it noted.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Amici Quartet - Beethoven's Famous Last Quartets

Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135
[The Amici Quartet: Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for Takako Masame, violin; Miho Hashiume, violin; Lynn Ramsey, viola; Ralph Curry, cello]
At the Barrie Carriage House, Cleveland Heights. 

Cleveland Heights poet laureate Kathleen Cerveny opened this spring afternoon concert with readings of poetry from E.E. Cummings and Ohio poet Mary Oliver before turning the stage over to the "Amaci Quartet Minus One, Plus One" as cellist Ralph Curry introduced the ensemble -- with Cleveland Orchestra associate concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for injured-on-tour quartet member Takako Masame.

The program took a longer form than may normally be expected, starting with Beethoven's seven movement 41-minute String Quartet -- though  despite the longer-than-typical running time and twice as many movements as the typical piece, time seemed to fly, though the piece was generally somber, particularly in the earlier movements and the pained searching opening notes, though as the piece progressed the mood improved to an energetic, almost galloping passage that seemed a bit like trying to catch a wild animal. This was certainly a piece where I found myself just closing my eyes and enjoying the sounds of the impassioned playing of professional musicians.

It was particularly interesting to me as I don't believe I've heard Ms. Ramsey or Mr. Curry play in such an intimate setting before, and I always relish the opportunity to hear fine musicians, and particularly the members of The Cleveland Orchestra, in a more intimate setting.

Following intermission, the shorter but still substantial String Quartet No. 16 concluded the afternoon's performance. In his remarks before the piece, Mr. Curry indicated that despite being a stressful time in Beethoven's life -- including a major illness and serving as guardian for his incorrigible nephew -- this piece had a sunnier disposition generally. On whole, though, the piece struck me as only slightly brighter than the prior quartet, with much of that energy in the second movement (vivace). The third movement (Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo) though had a almost mass-like mourning hymn, and the fourth movement -- featuring a "question" and "answer" in the notations, and with increasing intensity of discourse between the violins and lower strings.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Yuja Wang Plays Rachmaninoff

Prokofiev: Classical Symphony, Op. 25 (Symphony No. 1)
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D-minor, Op. 30 (Yuja Wang, piano)
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scherazade, Op. 35 (Symphonic Suite after The Thousand and One Nights) (William Preucil, solo violin)
Gincario Guerreo, conductor.

Based on how awful I found last week's program and considering the piano features prominently tonight as well, I had seriously considered saving the roughly $150 and skipping this week. I decided otherwise. By the time intermission had rolled around, there was not the slightest doubt as to if my decision.

The opening piece on the program, Prokofiev's Classical Symphony  set the tone for the evening: Swiftly moving without being rushed with a varied texture and interesting development. Mr. Guerrero's facial expressions -- when he rotated enough for them to be visible from Box 3 -- conveyed the excitement and intensity of a television chef brewing fine cuisine. Later in the program, I realized the style was much as I would expect if Julia Child were to conduct an orchestra.

Its difficult to quantify the 45 minutes of musical excitement that was Yuja Wang's performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto -- played as one continuous piece without pause between movements the piece flew by. I was just beginning to ponder the length of what I perceived as the first movement, when I found myself compelled to stand and join the packed house in offering applause.

The final piece on the program brought the exotic notion of the Thousand and One Nights (also known as the Arabian Nights) and once again Mr. Guerreo and the orchestra wove a compelling tapestry of musical imagery. Of particular note the delightful work of the violin (William Preucil), cello (Mark Kosower), and clarinet (Franklin Cohen) principals -- though each section was well represented.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K456 (Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor)
Mozart: Symphony No. 23 on D major K.181 (William Preucil, leader)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K459 (Mitsuko Uchida, piano and conductor)

If there's one thing the nicer weather has me less than crazy about its the effect spring has on my allergies. And indeed, if my sinuses are any indication, it seems spring hath most certainly sprung. That and my general apathy for Ms. Uchida (its worth nothing that the lack of empty seats in the hall may indicate I may be alone in that apathy) didn't pit me in the best mental frame for tonight's concert.

In the end...or before the end... I didn't even make it to intermission -- finding myself completely unmoved. As Piano Concerto No. 18 droned on I found the rational version of myself promising the impatient version of myself that even if Symphony No. 23 were to be intolerable, with a running time of 10 minutes and no Uchida to speak of I could use Intermission as an escape.

However, Concerto No. 18 continued for what felt like hours (in reality, only about 35 minutes) and felt completely distant and unengaging. Though I've felt apathetic about other pieces, I can't recall having this much flat-out hatred of a Cleveland Orchestra performance. Finding myself unwilling to offer even tepid applause, and with a growing headache [I'm more inclined to blame this on flickering house lights than the music -- and to be fair, house management was looking into that issue and offered reseating--but I had made my decision] I left quickly and quietly before the second piece had started.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society: David Russell

Giuliano: Rossiniana No. 3
Scarlatti: Sonatas K.490, K.491
Granados: Valses Poeticos
J.S. Bach: Partita I, BVW 1002
Albeniz: Capricho Catalan
Albeniz: Granada
Albeniz: Asturias
Two encores, unannounced.
David Russell, guitar
At Plymouth Church UCC, Shaker Heights.

Tonight's concert marks the last in Cleveland Classical Guitar Society's fifth season. Despite less than favorable weather and the possible competition for audience  from a Cleveland Orchestra concert a few miles away -- Grammy-winning guitarist David Russell played a wonderful concert to a nearly sold-out audience. 

Inspired by the arias of Mauro Giuliani's Rossiniana No. 3 opened the concert with crisp sounds and despite some drama the result was soothing and tranquil. Mr. Russell introduced the second piece by noting that the inspiration was a Spanish practice around Easter of processing a statute of the Virgin Mary through the village -- and Domenico Scarlatti's Sonatas had the feeling of a respectful procession with occasional hints of tributes. Closing out the first half of the program, Enrique Granados's Valses Poeticos -- said to be inspired by unknown poetry and consists of 8 waltzes -- while delightful to listen to, I can't say that I really heard waltzes. 

Following intermission, Mr. Russell's transcription of Bach's Partita I, with doubles captivated the audience -- and again was delightfully relaxing to listen to, I didn't find the music to particularly evoke the feeling of dance. 

The final pieces on the program wee composed by Issac Albeniz and brought a brighter feeling and a bit more lively mood than those preceding. Capricho Catalan had a slightly haunting air and made me think about wandering through unknown neighborhoods after dark. Granada, on the other hand, made me think of having drinks with friends in a neighborhood bar -- very even-keeled but with occasional surprises and exclamations, and meandering through the stories of friends. Finally, Asturias was fast and lively with musical exclamation points. 

The concert concluded with two unannounced encores dedicated to his Producers, Sound Engineer, and Editor for his CDs. 

Season tickets for Cleveland Classical Guitar Society's 6th season are available now. 


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Cristoph von Dohnanyi Conducts Schumann

Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor.

Rachel and I made it back from London over the weekend -- I will conclude that series this weekend, time allowing -- and while I was pleasantly  surprised that thee affects of the time change were not particularly felt, my internal clock is *yawwwwwwnnnnnn still a few hours off.
A Cleveland Classical Guitar society concert for Saturday pushed me into Severance Hall this evening for a pleasantly short (by orchestra standards) 90-minute concert of Schumann lead by Cleveland's prodigal conductor, Christoph con Dohnanyi.

As the compile beyond me in my box tonight commented just before intermission, "well, he can certainly make them sound good!" -- and I must say I like the more balanced sound of dividing violins across both sides of the stage versus the more common modern staging (a helpful commenter mentioned tube more usual staging was a product of stereo recordings and broadcasts)
First on the program was Schumann's Symphony No. 4 and while I didn't fond it emotionally evocative, I could certainly feel the music pulsing through my veins and I found a tender violin solo part (played by William Pruecil) a highlight of the piece.

The second and last piece on the program was Schumann's Symphony No. 2 which once again was a delight to listen to (leaving the hall a fellow patron commented that "He (Dohnanyi) and the Orchestra always have such vitality when he comes back to Cleveland") despite not evoking particular imagery -- particular highlights came from the explosive energy at the culmination of the second movement and then after a short breath starting the third movement on a slow, tender mood. 


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lincoln and Rachel in London: Day 5

Rachel and I on an Escalator; Reflection from window at Tate Modern
As our week in London comes to an end I think Rachel and I are starting to loose steam, but we're still enjoying every minute of our time here--save perhaps our feet. It's also worth noting that -- according to Rachel, at least -- I have been randomly breaking out in a variety of accents, including Scottish, Irish, and a few "unidentifiable muddles".

One of the works that attracted my attention: Untitled 1-5 by Dan Flavin
This morning we headed in a new direction and started the day with a visit to Tate Modern. While I'm typically fond of modern and contemporary art (while Rachel prefers the classics -- it's true opposites attract) there were only two or three pieces I found even moderately compelling and none that I was profoundly attracted to -- as I told Rachel on the way out "tis better have visited and not liked, than to have not visited at all"
Nothing to See Here: Through a construction portal at Tate Modern -- and my general feeling after a visit. 

After descending from  the heights of the Tate we walked along the River Thames, passing Shakespeare's Globe, a modern recreation of the historic theater a few hundred meters from the historic site, and continued until stumbling into the "Gourmet Burger Kitchen" on Clink Street.
Tower Bridge (and a small football [soccer] game in the foreground)

The burger was mediocre -- perfectly edible but nothing like the one we sampled from the Volunteer earlier in the week -- but the street was more interesting: As it turns out the street lent it's name to the popular euphemism "in the clink" after a infamous prison on the street until the late 1700s.

Continuing on the cobblestone street of Clink, we arrived at the modern London Bridge (not the one in Arizona), surfacing for a moment to view our ultimate goal: The Tower Bridge. We continued in that direction stopping in the More London complex to take a few pictures, before ultimately arriving at the London's iconic bridge. We walked across the bridge to cross that off our list (I've now walked the length of the Golden Gate, Mackinac, and Tower bridges), passed the Tower of London and made our way out of the neighborhood.
Tower Bridge
(I should note that at one point we along our walks today we found a warning advising of a "Humped Pelican Crossing" -- neither Rachel nor I had the foggiest clue what that was, but no large fishing birds were seen crossing the road. Further research indicates that that may simply be a pedestrian crossing with speed bumps.

Say what?
Leaving that neighborhood, we moved to Covent Garden where Rachel picked up an assortment of tea for herself and coworkers at Tea Palace, crossing the beautiful shopping area and visiting the London Transport Museum, where 15 GBP per person gives you an overview of the history of London Transport. While I didn't get the impression it was as comprehensive as the New York Transit Museum, it was nevertheless worth the visit.

Leaving the transport museum we had time to return to the hotel and freshen up before heading out to our anniversary dinner (our actual third anniversary is tomorrow, however travel considerations made tonight the more sensible choice. Rachel planned dinner and it was a delicious steak and martini at the bar of Le Point de la Tour (unknown at the time, but the same restaurant that Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were dining at when their motorcade was separated due to the opening of Tower Bridge)

We're now back at the DoubleTree for the evening; tomorrow we shall check out from this hotel and after our last full day in London board Heathrow Express to the Hilton Heathrow Terminal 4 in preparation for a morning return to Cleveland.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lincoln and Rachel In London: Day 4

No photos for this post, I could say because I didn't catch anything particularly remarkable (really nothing that there aren't already thousands of photos of on the web) but, honestly, the main reason is it's nearly 11pm here in London and the internet has slowed to a crawl -- so I don't have the patience to wait for them to upload. I may append photos at

After our late night, we got off to a slightly later start this morning, first heading to the British Museum -- the British equivalent of the Library of Congress, and home to the Magna Carta, original music scores from countless well known Composers, and an impressive 6-story cube of books originally collected by a king. I think Rachel went over the edge a few times, but I nearly lost her to excitement when we visited the Conservation Center's display -- for a bibliophile who also studied conservation and book binding, I think we found her nirvana.

Whilst waiting for our bus to our next destination it occurred to me that I have now spent more tine in the capitol of the United Kingdom than I have in the capitol of my own country [My entire experience with Washington DC consists of driving to the city from Richmond, circling for 45 minutes trying to find somewhere to park, before throwing up my arms in exasperation and driving back to Richmond].

Our next stop -- after a quick pub lunch where Rachel finally got her Fish and Chips -- was the British Musuem, home to an impressive collection. While comparatively little of the collection actually appears to come from within the United Kingdom, it does house quite a collection of world treasures including the Rosetta Stone (and a modern facsimile visitors are invited to touch) as well as a impressive collection from the Greek Parthenon. Of all things, I found the gallery on Money most interesting.

Departing the British Museum, we stopped by Foyles flagship on Charing Cross -- while it is said to be the world's largest bookstore, I didn't get the impression that it was nearly as large, or that it held nearly as many books as Powell's "City of Books" in Portland.

We returned to the hotel for a bit to rest and freshen up for our evening activity -- hearing the London Philharmonic Orchestra play in Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, Rachel's anniversary gift to us. While I was not in the mindset to produce my usual commentary on the piece -- and being wholly unfamiliar with the hall (but not the two headliners -- conductor David Zinman and pianist Emanuel Ax are no strangers to me via the Cleveland Orchestra, and I was pround to see both referenced Cleveland in their program biographies) it would not be well based. The program included Mozart's Symphony No. 38 ("Prague"), Strauss's Burleske (Emanuel Ax, piano), J.S. Bach's Piano Concerto No. 1 In D minor, and Strauss's Tod und Verklarung.

It was a lovely evening of musing (save for someone's personal attack alarm stopping the performance near the beginning of the last piece) but the hall sounded a bit more 'woody' and burnished by comparison to what I am used to at home in Severance Hall.

Most remarkable, however, is the singing elevator -- erm, lift -- in Southbank Centre. In a near chant, while ascending levels, the voices ascend octaves and do the reverse while descending -- and singing the floor numbers along the way. It really made Rachel and I laugh -- fourtunately, you too can experience it: Someone has posted this video on YouTube, and the lift has its own Twitter account.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lincoln and Rachel in London: Day 3

This morning started a bit early -- because for today we were headed outside of London.

First, we stopped at a Barclays Bank branch where, thanks to my Bank of America account and the Global ATM Alliance, I could pick up a few pounds free from surcharges -- the withdrawal posted to my account at exactly the current exchange rate, no more or less. From there we backtracked to Pimlico to catch a ride on the Victoria line of the Tube to London Euston Station. At London Euston we collected tickets for a National Rail (London Midland) train calling at, among other stations Bletchley. With some miraculous timing, there was a train on the platform ready to depart as we came running up.
The half hour on the train passed quickly on a remarkably smooth ride through England's verdant countryside outside of London we arrived at Benchley. Alighting the train and working our way out of the small station we needed no help and maybe a few hundred yards of waking to locate our destination: Blecthley Park.

Bletchley Park was the home to the World War II-era codebrekaers working day and night to decipher the text of the German Enigma machines -- and also of particular note Alan Turing. As a technology professional I found it absolutely engaging, and Rachel was particularly captivated as she's found cryptography, and the Enigma in particular interesting.

A corner of the property also includes the National Museum of Computing; while the entire museum was not open, the galleries featuring a rebuilt Colossus, claimed to be the worlds first computer (though ENIAC was publicly known first, apparently Colossus had been computing in secrecy for a period of time before that.

Both institutions websites, or even better a personal visit, can do a much better job than this summary -- and regardless it is well worth the visit (for less than 40 GBP total fort the both of us, including train tickets).

Retracing our steps, we returned to the hotel just long enough to freshen up -- and drop off our book shop purchases -- before heading out to meet a friend and his wife for a pint at an authentic (non-tourist-ridden) pub across London. We elected to take the bus and -- well, Bus+:London Traffic+Rush Hour makes for a somewhat terrifying experience. But we made it to our destination, the Jerusalem Tavern.

The conversation and ale were both good (and I am not an ale drinker), and nearly three and a half hours later, we called it a night, while being walked by our hosts in the direction of an Underground station making for the comparatively easy ride on the Circle line to Westminster station and a quick half-mile walk back to our hotel.

Curiously we noticed this apology prominently posted in one of the stations: I think it's fantastic, but I can virtually guarantee in 2014 you would never see it on any American mass transit system:

We plan on getting a later start tomorrow.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lincoln and Rachel in London: Day 2

This morning marked what is perhaps a first: I was awake and fully conscious before Rachel, so I seized the moment and the shower (carpe bathem?) to get things rolling while she fully enjoyed the fringe benefits of vacation (not being helped by my "are you ready to get going?" queries)

Initially deciding not to take our jackets, once again we set out down Millbank with the idea of stopping at the Houses of Parliament for a tour: Sadly we were informed that tours are offered Saturdays only, undaunted, we continued on and across the Thames to the London Eye, purchasing the "Day and Night" ticket package we rode around for the first of two revolutions. While it is more than a bit "tourist-trapy" and the revolution speed could be increased a tad, it does offer some great views from the "top of London".
From the London Eye by Day

Feeling a bit chilled following disembarking from the London Eye, we decided we would make a quick stop by our hotel to fetch our coats. On the route we selected (without resorting to maps or our phones) we happened to stumble upon Westminster Abbey and elected -- "since we're already here" -- to do the tour. While photos are not permitted in the Abbey it is an impressive and storied place, with the remains of or monuments to dozens of well known and not-so-well known figures, including the composers Elgar, Britten, and Hayden. Perhaps most interesting, was the tidbit about Oliver Cromwell initially being buried in the Abbey, then upon restoration of the monarchy, being dug up and posthumously hanged.

Innovative queueing at the Post Office
Following the tour we made our way though the giftshop with some trinket purchases and returned to our room to collect our coats and rest our feet for a few moments before once again greeting the beautiful city of London. This time, while our ultimate destination was Buckingham Palace our interim destination was a post office to send off cards to our respective mothers. It is true that the British love their queues, however the Post Office has an innovative system -- and is generally unlike any post office I've ever experienced in the United States. Upon entering a kiosk asks you to select the purpose of your visit and a numbered voucher -- also indicating how many people are in front of you -- is printed and you're free to take a seat at a comfortable couch or browse the retail offerings until your number is automatically called to a window.

Yes, that's a motorcycle labeled "Ambulance"
Following, we walked up Buckingham Gate Street until we reached the palace. We elected not to go inside the palace, but instead walked nearly the entire perimeter of the fence -- quite an imposing set of spikes and fences once you're past the main facade, eventually winding up at the impressive edifice of  Wellington Gate.
Outside Buckingham Palace; Wellington Gate in the distance

Having concluded our business in that part of London, we marked off another one of the "tourist must do's" by catching a London red Double Decker bus to Victoria Station where we first munched at the McDonald's [I just couldn't resist trying the British incarnation of the American chain -- and they had fried apple pies. Yum.] and then stocked up on beverages at the same Sainsbury's we had stopped at yesterday.

Catching the Victoria line tube to Pimlico station, we avoided much of the ambling we did last night, however, emerging from the station Rachel -- again, a passionate bibliophile -- spotted a building emblazoned "Random House" and we investigated. She was disappointed to find the building didn't appear to be open to the public. (Likewise, she is a large fan of Burberry coats, but cannot be talked into wandering into their headquarters, around the corner from our hotel).

We dropped our food purchases off in the hotel room and debated the virtues of attending debates in the House of Lords or the House of Commons but elected instead to rest our screaming feet (I can still feel them pulsing as I type this) while watching the "BBC Parliament Channel" -- it was not exactly gripping, but it was interesting to see some of the similarities and differences between the systems I know in the states(such as those in Virginia, a favorite client).
London Eye and Big Ben at Night

Realizing that the London Eye closes at 22.30, at about 21.00 (7pm) Rachel and I headed back to the site to make use of our "Night" ticket and along the way listened to Big Ben proclaiming the hour of through its beautiful -- yet quieter than expected -- bells. Arriving at the site and moving through the efficient queue we once again took in the sights of aerial London though this time with the sparkling  night lights.
From the London Eye by Night

Finally, we walked along the edge of the Thames until arriving at Pizza Express, adjacent to the hotel, and ordering a margarita pizza and garlic bread for takewaway -- and retiring to the hotel for the evening.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lincoln (and Rachel) In London: The First 24 Hours

Rachel and I are celebrating our third anniversary at the end of this week (and getting a leg up on my 30th birthday, two months from this Friday past). To celebrate, we're taking what is arguably one of my first "Real" vacations -- No family commitments, no work excuses* -- purely pleasure in motivation. It's also the first time I've left the continent of North America.

London has been at or near the top of my "Intentional Destinations" list for as long as I've had such a list -- often swapping spaces with Sidney for top billing -- and we finally bit the bullet and booked our week in London.

Cleveland to Chicago
We departed Cleveland late Friday evening for a quick connection in Chicago for a nonstop flight to London's Heathrow airport -- departing Chicago at 10pm local time (11pm Eastern) and arriving in London just after 11am Saturday morning. Thanks to my Gold elite status with United Airlines, Rachel and I secured Exit Row seats (with ample legroom) -- the next best thing to one of the "Lay Flat" seats in BusinessFirst or United Global First -- curiously, my reservation indicated we were booked in the latter cabin, but neither of us were prepared to shell out the extra $3600 for an upgrade.

Arriving at Heathrow, we proceeded through Customs and Immigration with surprising speed -- aside from a long queue, the actual process took less than a minute. After collecting our luggage and selecting the "Nothing the Declare" exit we were officially on British soil. A quick an efficient Heathrow Express ride to Paddington Station and then a "traditional" black taxi delivered us to our hotel at about 12:30 Saturday. With Check In not until 3pm, we stored our luggage and set out on foot for an exploration of our neighborhood.

Tate Britain: 500 Years of British Art 
And it seems that I have selected the right neighborhood -- our hotel is the DoubleTree by Hilton London Westminster at 30 John Islip Street, near Tate Britain (not to be confused with Tate Modern), the Vauxhall Bridge, and not many steps from the Thames. Setting out after dropping our luggage, we literally stumbled across Tate Britain and took a tour through several hundred years of British Art -- including large holdings of the works of John Singer Sargent [a favorite of Rachel] and JMW Turner [I'm fond of his The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art (1942.647)]
Traditional London Phone Box

Upon departing the Tate, we sat for a few minutes and decided to hunt for food. Wandering down Millbank we stumbled into a bright pub, where after some confusion on our part about the process of things (the correct answer: you order at the bar; food is delivered to the table) we had an adequate lunch.

Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament and The London Eye, 
Following lunch we decided that we should acquire Oyster Cards (the payment method for mass transit in greater London) and made our way across Vauxhall bridge where I initially waited in the wrong line before being politely directed to the ticket vending machines in the adjacent Underground station. Again the process was fairly quick and painless. Now safe to make our way back to the hotel, we retrieved our room key -- and I shocked Rachel by asking the clerk "where are the lifts?" (not thinking about the word I had chosen.)

The room is nicely appointed -- not large by any stretch of the imagination (particularly the bathroom) but comfortably laid out and more than sufficient for a stay where we do not plan on spending much time in the room. Flopping on the bead we both crashed, and were essentially dead to the world until about 9.30 this morning.

Getting started, we headed out behind the hotel and discovered how truly wonderful our location is: About a half-mile, more or less down the street, we stumbled upon the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben before dipping into the Westminster Underground station headed toward Baker Street. Surfacing at Baker Street we visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the London Beatles Store, and then sat at the Volunteer Pub for what will go down in history as one of the most delicious cheeseburgers either Rachel or I have ever consumed, with tasty chips -- er, pardon me, fries.

The National Art Library, The V&A. Rachel Lusting. 
Moving on we walked from Baker Street through Hyde Park, admiring the swans and paddle boats with the ultimate destination being the Victoria And Albert Museum,  known colloquially as "The V&A". Like, it seems, many other British museums (and, of course, The Cleveland Museum of Art) admission to The V&A is without charge -- though a donation is suggested. Aside from admiring the expansive collection of art, Rachel, an admitted bibliophile currently employed by two academic libraries, was found lusting after the collection of the National Art Library through locked doors.

After exhausting ourselves with the collection we left The V&A and walked back toward Hyde Park, hugging the periphery this time rather than cutting through the middle, and discovering Royal Albert Hall and passing Kensington Palace (with an abortive attempt to purchase ice cream) we laid on the lawn of Hyde Park for a bit before hopping back on the Underground to attempt to stop by a Tesco to stock the hotel mini fridge.

The Tesco our mobile phones pointed us at having been shut (one major difference from The States: opening hours for many businesses on Sundays are severely curtailed. Wandering away the general direction of our hotel, though, we found a wonderful desert shop and Rachel and I enjoyed ice cream and sherbet before discovering a Sainsbury's (open till 23:00) where we found not only Coke but Dr. Pepper (Rachel's vice) and Mountain Dew (my vice). And we began the trek back to our hotel -- as it turns out my instinct was about 20 degrees off, but again, mobile phone GPS to the rescue.
Residential Street, London

Along the way, though, it was a delightfully beautiful and quiet combination of neighborhood streets to stroll and enjoy the dusk hours. And walk past Burberry's headquarters (Rachel loves but does not own their jackets).  And we find ourselves back at the hotel with sore feet but feeling very accomplished for the day.

If you're a Friend of Rachel on Facebook, you can find the full-resolution versions of the pictures here -- and quite a few more -- in our London album.


*- Arguably, this is my favorite way to vacation as it takes the stress of actually choosing a destination out of the equation and someone else pays for the airline ticket, leaving incremental food and lodging as the only expenses. I've seen New York, San Francisco, Vancouver (Canada), Portland, Minneapolis, and more via the "Workcation" method. I would gladly acquire clients in other countries (and have been hoping to serve someone in Europe for quite a while)