Friday, February 28, 2014

Theater Ninjas: [sic]

Written by Melissa James Gibson, directed by Pandora Robertson. Starring Courtney Nicole Auman, Rachel Lee Kolis, Ryan Lucas, Michael Rosen and Gabriel Razi.

At the 78th Street Studios through March 15.

As the self-described "Food truck of Cleveland Theater," Theater Ninjas presentations are always an interesting blend of story and location. [sic] -- yes, the title of the play is an editorial  notation, is Theater Ninjas' latest production has taken up residence on the airy second floor of the 78th Street Studios for a short run, making for a nice change from the dark and foreboding Masonic Hall that has hosted other recent productions.

The notation [sic], editorially "used in brackets after a copied or quoted word that appears odd or erroneous to show that the word is quoted exactly as it stands in the original". The three apartment dwellers that feature at the center of the show each individually appear odd and erroneous -- Theo (Ryan Lucas), a composer who literally lost his wife and is struggling with a project; Babette (Lee Kolis), an an editor for "obscure subject matter"--and habitually short on cash; and Frank (Gabriel Riazi), studying--of all things--auctioneering.

Those three and the tensions between them and the unseen, but often referenced Larry. Unrequited love, the nature of friendship (there was an awesome quote/question about the nature of friendship buried midway through).

Effective staging -- three apartments defined by simple platforms and a single 2x4 serving as a door for each framed most of the action; a back-lit silhouette on scrim filling in for others... and the oft-mentioned but recently dead Jorgansen and her cats adding a dimension of interest, contribute interest and texture to the industrial canvas in the Studios.

Though examining the nature of friendship and romance, [sic] is imminently compelling, and laugh-out-loud funny, avoiding the obscure and existential in favor of accessibility and relatability.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cleveland Classical Guitar Society: Ancient Melodies, Modern Echos

Dowland: In Darkness Let Me Dwell
Britten: Songs from the Chinese, Op. 58 Mvts. I and II
Dowland: If my Complaints Could Passions Move
Britten: Songs from the Chinese, Op. 58 Mvts. III and IV
Dowland: All Ye, Whom Love or Fortune
Shaw: Come Again (again)
Dowland: Come Again
Britten: Songs from the Chinese, Op. 58 Mvts. V and VI
Dowland: Shall I Strive With Words to Move
Britten: Nocturnal After John Dowland, Op. 70
(Esteli Gomez, soprano; Colin Davin, guitar. At the Plymouth Congregational Church, Shaker Heights)

Tonight Rachel and I took the short jaunt from my home up Coventry to the Plymouth Congregational Church in Shaker Heights, home to Cleveland Classical Guitar Society's International Series. Tonight's concert was a bit different than the others we've attended in that the evening's guitarist Colin Davin was accompanied by soprano vocalist Estili Gomez.

The arrangement of the program -- interleaving John Dowland (1563-1626) principally with works by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and compared with Caroline Shaw's (b. 1982) Come Again (again) certainly gave weight to the program title of Ancient Melodies, Modern Echos.

Opening with In Darkness Let Me Dwell, I was struck by ethereal if melancholy vocals and relatively simple music, and the first two movements from Britten's Songs from the Chinese (The Big Chariot and The Old Lute) contrasted withe a bit lighter mood and, especially The Old Lute a hint of playfulness. While I've had mixed feelings about Britten, I thought it was most interesting listening to tonight's program that from the sounds of the music and lyrics alone I don't know that I could tell you that roughly 350 years separated the two composers.

While neither Rachel nor I had strong reactions to the melancholy if not outright depressed If my Complaints Could Passions Move, the accompanying movements from Britten held my interest -- The Autumn Wind was both lighter in spirit and faster in tempo than the preceding movements; and The Herd Boy seeming to take the guitar technique up a notch. All Ye, Whom Love or Fortune may cement the modern listener's impression that John Dowland suffered from depression -- all of his works, at least all of the works on tonight's program were at best melancholy.

The last piece on the first part of the program, composer Caroline Shaw's Come Again (again) was programmed before the work that it was homaged to and had a number of interesting facets particularly the horizontal playing position for the introduction of the work,  and the use of a tonebar to achieve dramatic changes in pitch and -- I could have sworn -- at one point a flute-like sound.

Following a brief intermission, Dowling's Come Again offered a vocal clarity as well as a sense of hopefulness; Britten's compliments came from Movements V and VI (Depression and Dance Song) which included a sustained vocal and a return to the unusual playing position and use of the tone bar seein in the introduction of Come Again (again)

The program concluded with Britten's Nocturnal after Dowland, completely instrumental with the exception of the last movement and enough sonic textures to satisfy all tastes throughout. I was particularly struck by the sound, about midway through the work, that sounded much like the felt heads of the hammers on a piano striking.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Mary Lynch - Strings Attached

Britten: Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings, Op. 2^
Mozart:  Oboe Quartet in F Major, K. 370 *
Bolcom: Serenata Notturna (2005) ^*
(All pieces with Mary Lynch, oboe; Joanna Patterson, viola; Tanya Ell. cello. ^- Jung-Min Amy Lee, violin. *-Alicia Koelz, violin).
At the Dunham Tavern Museum, Cleveland.

This evening's concert was an interesting one -- featuring a new artist (Ms. Mary Lynch) playing an instrument that is somewhat rare in the "house concert" (or "close encounters concert") format -- the oboe. Today also started with three readings from Cleveland Heights's Poet Laureate Kathleen Cerveny, believed to be the only muncipal poet laureate in Ohio.

The musical portion of the program was fascinating representing eras as diverse as the late 1700s, early-mid 1900s and the early part of this millennium. Benjamin Britten's Phasntasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings, from 1932, was a single movement that had hints of a Pink Panther-esque "sneaking" along with liberal pizzicato in the strings and a bit of a militaristic march, particularly in Ms. Ell's cello.

Taking a step back in time, the second piece on the program was Mozart's 1781, Oboe Quartet, described by Rachel, with my concurrence, as "light" and "airy". THe third movement (Rondo-Allegro) was particularly spirited and lively, while the first was spirited.

After intermission, Ms. Lynch gave a short but extremely interesting presentation on the art of reed making -- including passing around some samples of completed reeds and the various steps involved, and graciously answering questions from the audience.

The final piece on the program was also the newest -- from 2005, thought described by the composer as "Mozartian Blues" -- and I think had the year not been attached to the piece I would have assumed it was much older. The third movement in particular (Scherzo di medianotte) struck me as a lively discussion between friends.

As always, this concert provided an excellent and intimate opportunity to hear some of Cleveland's tallented musicians preforming works that the musicians themselves selected. (For the sake of completeness, ChamberFext Cleveland's annual benefit was also this evening; were it not for impending travel and Rachel feeling a bit under the weather we would have also attended that concert.)


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cleveland Orchestra: Nikolaj Znaider - Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Elgar

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216 (Nikolaj Znaider, violin)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 ("Italian") in A major, Op. 90
Elgar: Enigma Variations, Op. 36.
Nikolaj Znaider, conductor.

As I prepare to head out of town again, so does -- it seems -- the Cleveland Orchestra, making this my only Cleveland Orchestra concert in the month of February (I can't really complain though -- I'll be spending the next week in the relative warmth of Southern California) 

Opening the program, Nicolaj Znaider both conducted and preformed the solo part of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3. Though somewhat unique -- and I'm sure a challenging feat -- the performance came off as effortless and featured a tender second movement (adagio) in a sandwich of energy with the fist movement (allegro) having a more refined feeling with the third movement (rondo: allegro) having a more relaxed energy and some folksy influences.

Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 is, or course anchored by an insistent but simple theme and catchy in the first movement, with more of a processional feel in the second movement. 

The final piece on the program were Elgars Enigma Variiations I through XIV -- fourteen variations in the span of a bit more than thirty minutes gave quite the whirlwind tour of sounds and emotions -- from the romantic, to the languid, to the energetic and passionate.