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Cleveland’s Holiday Arts and Entertainment: My 2013 Top 10

Blogkeeping: Congratulations, entry 6 – Melanie, for winning the Rachael Ray Week in a Day giveaway. Please respond to my email by 5pm ET on Wednesday (12/11).

Holiday Arts and Entertainment: Great Lakes Theater's A Christmas Carol (now through December 22); photo by Roger Mastroianni

Great Lakes Theater’s A Christmas Carol (now through December 22); photo by Roger Mastroianni

It’s time for one of my favorite blog posts of the year — my wrap-up of holiday arts and entertainment coming to Cleveland. From the return of popular classics to new takes on old tales, here are my 10 picks for what to see around Cleveland this December.

Great Lakes Theater’s A Christmas Carol (through December 22)

This December, Great Lakes Theater celebrates a milestone for their annual holiday production — the 25th anniversary of A Christmas Carol! Through December 22, take the family to see their twist on the Charles Dickens classic. It’s Christmas Eve, twenty years after Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. The Cleaveland family sits down to read the story as it comes alive onstage, seen through the imagination of the family’s youngest child.

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A Trio of Cleveland Art Events MIXing It Up

The CMA exhibit ”Half the air…” is one way Cleveland’s art institutions are mixing it up right now (Credit: David A. Brichford)

A bit of blogkeeping: You have until 11:59pm on Thursday, 10/4 to enter my giveaway for two tickets to the CCFA Movie Gala at the Capitol Theatre. Also, check out WhyCLE’s giveaway for a second chance to win. Good luck!

When you think of classical or traditional art, it can be easy to think stuffy and boring. Wrong! Many of Cleveland’s traditional arts institutions are mixing it up with new events designed for younger audiences (or young in spirit).

Here’s a trio of upcoming events, in particular, that I’m looking forward to enlivening my week with:

CMA’s first MIX – this Friday, Oct. 5

MIX at Cleveland Museum of Art

Starting this Friday, Oct. 5, the Cleveland Museum of Art is unveiling a new monthly series for the first Friday of each month.  Like last year’s Buyers’ Remorse party, the MIX First Friday Happy Hours will feature after-work drinks, live music, and a look at a different part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection from 5-9pm.

The first MIX celebrates the re-introduction of CMA’s contemporary art galleries. Toast the end of the work week with a cocktail, music and more (a little bird tweeted me that @ClevelandPoet may be reading some poetry during it).

Plus, meet the artists from the DIY: Photographers & Books exhibit and the museum’s new acquisition Martin Creed’s Half the air in a given space.  

I’ve been excited by Half the air‘s concept since reading about it earlier last month. At the museum now through November 25, Creed’s work is comprised of thousands of purple balloons filling the East Wing’s glass box gallery. You can walk through the space and let your inner kid out as you interact with the balloons in this breathtaking glass bubble.

If you can’t make it this week, save the date for next month’s MIX on November 2 – more details to follow but what I’ve heard so far sounds very cool.

Each MIX event is free or discounted for members and only $12 for non-members. Reservations are recommended at ClevelandArt.org/MIX

After-party at Cleveland Orchestra’s Fridays@7

Cleveland Orchestra’s Fridays@7

The Cleveland Orchestra’s Fridays@7 series is also back with its first performance of the 2012-2013 season this Friday, Oct. 5. I attended my first Fridays@7 concert a couple years ago and it ranks high on my list of favorite events at the Cleveland Orchestra.

Since 2009, the Fridays@7 series has turned the Orchestra’s traditional concert hall experience on its head. Each performance includes a one-hour Cleveland Orchestra concert, followed by world music parties in the lobby of Severance Hall.

It always ends up being an electric evening of music – ideal for first-timers to the Orchestra or frequent guests who want to spice up their concert experience.

This Friday’s concert starts at 7pm – so you could make it a night of art by visiting the Museum at 5, and following it up with the Orchestra after.

The concert will feature a variety of sounds such as a poetic ballet piece by Ravel and some of Mendelssohn’s best-loved orchestral melodies juxtaposed with the Cleveland premiere of a work by Stewart Copeland (drummer and founder of The Police) and a large procession of world percussion.

You can purchase tickets for this Friday’s concert here. A subscription for the full series (December 7, January 18, and May 24) is also available.

Ballet in Cleveland wants to bring this classical art form back to the city – you can help on 10/11

Ballet in Cleveland @ Alex Bistro

While Ballet in Cleveland is an organization fairly new to the Cleveland arts scene, its focus is on returning classical ballet to the city. Founded by Jessica Wallis, a local dancer and teacher of dance, Ballet in Cleveland organizes performances and ballet-centered programming to introduce new audiences to the art.

Their next event is Oct. 11 at Alex Bistro in PlayhouseSquare from 5:30 to 8:30pm. The evening will feature free food, a delicious ballet-themed dessert and a cash bar with bartender Danny Murray creating ballet-inspired cocktails.  A pair of specially designed decorator pointe shoes and other prizes will be raffled off that evening to raise money for Ballet in Cleveland’s mission.

Guests at the event will also get to see the Cleveland premiere of Ballet in Cleveland’s new video “Mah City,” presented by Wallis and featuring choreographer Maria Puglisi and the University of Akron’s Terpsichore Dance Club. Members of  the dance company will be on hand for a meet and greet at the premiere.

You can learn more about Ballet in Cleveland in this recent article on Cool Cleveland and keep up-to-date at facebook.com/BalletInCleveland.

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Just because it’s traditional or classical doesn’t mean art needs to be boring, and this trio of organizations proves it through a range of fun programming designed to inspire. How do you like to “MIX it up”?

Cleveland Play House's New Ground Theatre Festival

Cleveland Play House's New Ground Theatre Festival runs May 3 through May 12

I’ve written a lot over the last season about the changes going on at Cleveland Play House this season – from their move downtown to their increased dedication to audience engagement.

It’s been an exciting ride seeing a theatre that’s almost 100 years old not be content to rest on its laurels and reimagine itself.  Even though they’ve been in their new home for almost a year, the changes aren’t done yet.

To complement their move downtown, CPH decided it was the perfect time to makeover their renowned FusionFest, which had celebrated its 6th year last season. To recognize their new facilities and a greater focus on new theatre pieces, the festival has now received a much more fitting name: the New Ground Theatre Festival.

Starting May 3rd and running through the 12th, Cleveland Play House will present a variety of new work from nationally recognized artists.   From a show that will have Cleveland literally buzzing, to a unique collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra and a handful of new play readings, the most difficult part for me will be deciding on what I want to see.

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play - April 13 through May 13

The centerpiece of this showcase is Cleveland Play House’s Mainstage production of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.  At the dawn of electricity, patients diagnosed with “hysteria” are being given a radical new treatment – arriving troubled but departing delighted with the assistance of the doctor’s “little helper.” Inspired by actual 1880s medical science, In the Next Room tenderly explores how we connect – both emotionally and physically – with our loved ones.

Although the New Ground Festival doesn’t start til May, you can actually see In the Next Room starting today (April 13). Due to advance audience demand, Cleveland Play House extended its run from now through May 13.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favor - May 3, May 4 and May 5

Another festival highlight that I’m particularly excited about is their production of Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favor: A Play for Actors and Orchestra.  I have been a big Stoppard fan since high school and I’ve been kicking myself ever since missing a production of this play when I lived in Philly.

With music by André Previn, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor is the only play ever written that includes an orchestra as central to the action. This witty satire on state-sponsored repression focuses on 2 cellmates, both named Alexander Ivanov. One’s a political protestor, the other a madman who ‘conducts’ an orchestra that only exists in his head.

Because you need an orchestra who’s up to the challenge, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor is not staged very often. Fortunately, Cleveland is lucky enough to have the Cleveland Orchestra.

The CPH production runs for only three performances – May 3, 4 and 5 – and features a cast of 6 actors and 38 Cleveland Orchestra musicians.  In my opinion, this unique collaboration between 2 of Cleveland’s most exciting cultural institutions is reason enough to go.

First Annual Roe Green Award New Play Reading - May 5

In addition to In the Next Room and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, the New Ground Theatre Festival will include a public reading of a new play by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the winner of CPH’s first annual Roe Green Award. Awarded to a nationally recognized playwright, the prize included $7,500; a week-long residency including rehearsals; a Master Class with CPH Playwrights’ Unit, Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University students; and a public reading of a new play.

On May 5, Hudes will workshop her new play as part of this award.

Lauren Weedman's BUST - May 10, May 11 and May 12

Rounding out the line-up are performances by solo artists Lauren Weedman (BUST) and Baba Brinkman (The Rap Guide to Evolution), as well as readings of new plays including one written by CPH’s own Artistic Director Michael Bloom:

  • BUST is Lauren Weedman’s semi-autobiographical play built around her experiences working as a volunteer advocate in a Southern California prison for women. With one foot in Hollywood and the other in jail, the former Daily Show correspondent careens wildly between the two worlds, taking the audience on a hilarious, poignant, and completely unforgettable ride. (May 10-12)
  • A novel species of theatre combining the wit, poetry and charisma of a great rapper with the accuracy and rigor of a scientific expert, Baba Brinkman’s The Rap Guide to Evolution uses hip-hop as a vehicle to communicate the facts of evolution while illuminating the origins and complexities of hip-hop culture with Darwin as the inspiration. (May 11- 12)
  • Written by CPH’s Artistic Director Michael Bloom, The Fagin Effect is a pastiche of Oliver Twist in which “ghosts” of the original characters are used to tell a new story that takes place in London, 1850. As entire neighborhoods are demolished to make way for the first underground railway, the appearance of a young man in the ‘shop’ of one Julius Fogel presents an opportunity for some of London’s dregs to turn their lives around with the assistance of a real estate developer named Whitelaw. (May 12)

Baba Brinkman's The Rap Guide to Evolution - May 11 and May 12

Tickets for the New Ground Theatre Festival are on sale now, and if you can’t make up your mind, you’re in luck because discounts are available when you purchase tickets to more than one show. Call 216-241-6000 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com for more info.

After being impressed by my first FusionFest last year, I’m glad to see that although the name has changed, CPH has put together a lineup that rivals if not surpasses their previous festivals.

(Note: Images courtesy of Cleveland Play House)

All I Want for Cleve-mas, Part 1: Onstage This Holiday Season

 

This year, Santa comes early to Cleveland with plenty of onstage holiday action - from theatre like the Cleveland Playhouse's Game's Afoot to concerts like the Cleveland POPS at PlayhouseSquare. (graphic from playhousesquare.org)

Each year, holiday preparations seem to start earlier and earlier (I was floored when I saw Christmas decorations on some shelves before Halloween). But although I’m not quite ready to bust out the decorations, I think it’s never too early to start planning my gift giving, as well as my own wishlist.

Last November, I shared my “All I Want for Cleve-mas” round-up of holiday shows in Cleveland. It’s time for the 2011 edition — my top 5 gift suggestions for the Cleveland theater-phile in your life.

Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays), 11/25-12/18 (photo from clevelandplayhouse.com)

Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays)

For their holiday show, the Cleveland Play House is bringing a world premiere to the Allen Theatre.

In the Game’s Afoot, acclaimed actor of the 1930s, William Gillette, invites his Sherlock Holmes co-stars to his eccentric Connecticut mansion for a Christmas Eve celebration. When one of the guests is murdered, Gillette employs the persona of the master detective he’s made famous on the stage.

I’m most excited for this show – not just because I enjoy all things Sherlock Holmes and murder mystery comedies (love Murder by Death!), but also because it’s directed by Aaron Posner. Posner is the founder and former artistic director of one of my favorite Philadelphia theatres — the Arden Theatre. He also was the adapter of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev (both of which have been staged at Cleveland Play House).

Nov. 25-Dec. 24 / Buy tickets here.

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant, 12/1-12/18 (photo from cptonline.org)

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant: Home for the Hollandaise

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant is back after last year’s sold-out run at CPT.  If you’re curious about this show filled with crazy cabaret, improv comedy, death and a mighty tasty five-course meal, you can read my full review here.

It’s definitely a unique, thoroughly entertaining and appetizing twist on the holidays while exploring motherhood, rock n’ roll fame and the art of bussing a table. Plus ChefChef BonBon (from Bonbon Bake Shop) is back to cook up a delicious menu.

Dec. 1-Dec. 18 / Buy tickets here.

A Christmas Carol, 12/1-12/23 (photo from greatlakestheater.org)

A Christmas Carol

A Cleveland holiday tradition returns to Great Lakes Theater when the family classic A Christmas Carol appears on the Ohio Theatre stage for its 23rd year.

Longtime GLT artistic company member Sara Bruner, will stage former Artistic Director Gerald Freedman’s heartwarming adaptation of A Christmas Carol. During this story within a story, the fictitious Cleaveland family gathers in its Victorian-era parlor on Christmas Eve to read Mr. Dickens’ book. GLT actor Aled Davies returns for his fourth season in the role of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

Dec. 1-Dec. 23 / Buy tickets here.

Cleveland Orchestra's Holiday Festival, 12/2-12/23 (photo from clevelandorchestra.com by Roger Mastroianni)

Cleveland Orchestra Holiday Festival

The Cleveland Orchestra and Choruses join forces for nine concerts of traditional Christmas favorites during The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2011 Holiday Festival. The seasonal programs will include “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, and “Sleigh Ride,” “Scenes from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.”

 Academy Award-winning songwriter Randy Newman who wrote music for Toy Story among many other songs (including my favorite – the theme to Monk) will be performing a holiday concert on Dec. 3 with the Orchestra.

The PNC Holiday Musical Rainbow series will also celebrate Chanukah and Kwanzaa with music and stories.

Dec. 2-Dec. 23 / Learn more and buy tickets for all of the events here.

Santaland Diaries, 11/25 -12/17 (graphic from playhousesquare.org)

Santaland Diaries & Cleveland POPS at PlayhouseSquare

PlayhouseSquare’s theatres will also play host to a few other holiday shows.

The Cleveland Public Theatre will present David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries, Nov. 25-Dec. 17. Based on the best-selling author’s own hilarious holiday experiences, it’s the story of a 33-year-old slacker who takes a job as Crumpet, a Macy’s Christmas elf, dealing with thousands of children and their parents as they pay a visit to Santa.

On Nov. 27, the Cleveland POPS and Conductor Carl Topilow will be joined by Fox 8 TV personalities including Todd Meany, Tracy McCool, Wayne Dawson, and Dick Goddard. During their Old-Fashioned Christmas Show, the Cleveland POPS will play favorite Christmas songs and carols and local shelters will be there with adoptable puppies and kittens.

And because I like saving money, I’ll be on www.playhousesquare.org on Nov. 28 for their Cyber Monday specials. Last year, they had a different special for each hour — from no ticketing fees to parking and food vouchers to PlayhouseSquare gift cards. 

Santaland Diaries: Nov. 25-Dec. 17 / Buy tickets here.
Cleveland POPS Concert: Nov. 27 / Buy tickets here.

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While these may be my top 5, Cleveland is fortunate to have a number of professional and community theatres that call it home. So if you haven’t found the perfect gift here, keep an eye on those last 2 links for more options of what’s onstage this holiday season!

For more ideas when shopping local for the holidays, check out:

Summers with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom

Blossom Music Center – a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening in summer

After Saturday’s 5K, this past weekend had another “first” for me.  Fortunately, it was a much more leisurely kind of “first” – my first visit to Blossom Music Festival.

On Sunday evening the Cleveland Orchestra had a “Meet the Musicians” night for media and bloggers followed by a concert of Bruckner’s 9th symphony.  Considering how I’ve enjoyed previous Bruckner concerts at Severance Hall, I was not going to miss an opportunity to see the concert and get a backstage look at the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer home.

When Scott and I arrived at Blossom, we skipped the tram and meandered down the path from the parking lot to the stage.  We got there early and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see the beautiful scenery without a huge crowd surrounding us. 

The “Meet the Musicians” panel discussion featured the Cleveland Orchestra General Manager Gary Ginstling along with Orchestra musicians Franklin Cohen (clarinet), Jung-Min Amy Lee (violin), Stephen Rose (violin), and Paul Yancich (timpani). It was a very casual conversation as each of the musicians discussed their upcoming solo concerto performances this summer, shared stories about their lives as musicians and answered a couple of our questions. 

It was a rare glimpse “behind the music” and I enjoyed seeing a group who is so on point during performances, laughing and at ease.  It reminded me a lot of the Orchestral Manouvres at the Happy Dog (which Amy Lee is also part of). We learned a little bit of everything – from personal stories to music history, insider perspectives on Cleveland’s Orchestra and even a behind-the-scenes look at a new piece being performed in September.

The Meet the Musicians panel featuring (left to right): Orchestra General Manager Gary Ginstling, Stephen Rose (violin), Jung-Min Amy Lee (violin), Franklin Cohen (clarinet), and Paul Yancich (timpani)

From Franklin Cohen, we heard about a fit of giggles at a Carnegie Hall concert he attended as a child that ended with him and his mother having to leave their front row seats. The laughter was caused by an unintentional squeak from the clarinetist that was performing the same piece Cohen will perform in August. When asked if the audience should expect any unexpected sounds from his clarinet, he laughed and promised there would be no squeaks if he can help it.

Amy Lee shared her perspective on how the Cleveland Orchestra differs from other orchestras, describing our orchestra more as a much larger chamber ensemble — an intimate feeling you don’t necessarily find with other orchestras. She added that the wonderful thing about the Orchestra is you get to create something great you can’t necessarily do on your own — one of my favorite sentiments of the evening.

Stephen Rose discussed preparing for a piece like the Bach Violin Concerto he’ll perform in August and how it’s essential to understand the ways the Cleveland Orchestra’s modern instruments and techniques effect a different sound from a piece originally written for baroque period instruments. While it may be a different sound, there’s no need to apologize for it, because each in their own right is a distinctly beautiful style.

And Paul Yancich talked about how growing up with a brother who also plays the timpani (and now is the Atlanta Symphony’s timpanist) led to the commissioning of Dynasty: Double Concerto for Timpani, the piece they will both be playing on September 10th. I personally have a soft spot for the Orchestra’s percussion section, having played the drums growing up. And what I’m most looking forward to with this concert is that the piece is not two competing, clashing timpani sounds (which one might think would happen with the instrument) but a melody of two timpanis complementing and dependent on one another.  

In addition to meeting the musicians, I also got to meet new bloggers and writers, which is always one of my favorite things to do. I was happy to sit and chat with Lincoln in Cleveland (read his two posts on the evening here and here) and Timothy Robson who writes for Cleveland Classical and blogs at Virtual Farm Boy.  Tim shared possibly the most amazing ‘roadtrip to see a concert’ story I’ve ever heard when he told us about taking a trip to Milan to see Lady Gaga.

After the “Meet and Greet,” we took our seats for John Adam’s Violin Concerto. The Cleveland Orchestra invited guest violinist Leila Josefowicz to perform the solo with them. Written in 1993, it’s a contemporary piece filled with wildly melodic sections. Having once noted that “a concerto without a strong melodic statement is hard to imagine,” Adams definitely proves that statement right with the Violin Concerto. 

Leila Josefowicz meets with the group during the Intermission - her reserved demeanor was in sharp contrast to her fittingly hyper performance of John Adam's Violin Concerto

Each of the three movements had its own challenging, distinct sound. quarter note = 78 was a discomforting, eerie piece that often put me on the edge of my seat. I really enjoyed its interesting contrast to the serene setting of Blossom’s rolling gardens. Chaconne (“Body through which the dream flows”) struck me with a sadness that permeated the movement. During this movement in particular, Josefowicz’s solos really stood out as she was captivating with a performance that was fluid, dynamic and really illustrated the sorrowfulness of it. It was perfectly fitting for the subtitle of the movement as Adams’ dream did indeed flow through Josefowicz. I thought the final movement Toccare was again aptly named if it’s based off of the Italian verb to touch – it was an almost frenzied piece that lifted me up after the first two movements.

Throughout the concerto, the very skilled Josefowicz flowed with the music. If it was a frantic section of music, her entire body weaved and moved with her violin and you could see that she embraced it with her entire body as just another part of her. It was an incredible performance and I imagine it was the type that would lead to complete exhaustion afterwards. However, when the group briefly met with her during the intermission, she was cordial, friendly and didn’t seem the bit tired for what she just went through. The athleticism of musicians always amazes me. 

After intermission, it was time for Bruckner. The Cleveland Orchestra seems to have a love affair with Anton Bruckner, the Romantic composer that wasn’t really a Romantic. And that’s fine by me. I love the onslaught of sound that I’ve heard in previous symphonies composed by him. There’s a dense, aching emotion to it that I personally enjoy. There’s also something to his personality as a composer — indecisive (noted by the many revisions he would make) and humble to a fault — that I’ve always found appealing.

While I know there are definite non-fans of Bruckner for the same reasons I like him, I’m glad the Orchestra tends to play a number of his symphonies. In fact, after Sunday’s concert, the Cleveland Orchestra traveled to the Lincoln Center to present Bruckner: (R)EVOLUTION with performances of Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9.

Last weekend’s performance was of Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Bruckner’s last symphony and incomplete with only 3 movements. While he began working on the fourth movement, it was never completed with Bruckner working on sketches for the intended finale up until the day of his death.  This was my first time hearing the 9th and it has quickly become my favorite.  Aware that his own death was approaching, the piece reflects a lot of this fear and brooding.  However, in the last moments of the movement, the calmness presents a resolution at the inevitable outcome and really is his “Farewell to Life” as he once described it. 

Anton Bruckner

“Anton Bruckner arrives in Heaven”. Bruckner is greeted by (from left to right): Liszt, Wagner, Schubert, Schumann, Weber, Mozart, Beethoven, Gluck, Haydn, Handel, Bach. (Silhouette drawing by Otto Böhler)

This summer at Blossom is filled with a very diverse program – including BeethovenMendelssohn, Broadway Classics, The Joffrey Ballet‘s return and events like this weekend’s showing of Pirates of the Caribbean with underscoring performed by the Orchestra.  And don’t forget to check out the solo concertos the musicians from the Meet and Greet will be performing this season:

If you’re looking to escape for a full hours to enjoy an evening of music in the open air, a full calendar and tickets can be found here.

Cleveland Orchestra 411:

Disclosures: All photos were taken by me except for the public domain silhouette. Additionally, a guest and I were invited to the Cleveland Orchestra Meet and Greet and concert to learn more about Blossom’s summer season. As always, the opinions in this post are 100% my own.

Cleveland Orchestra: East Meets West with Bartok, Hosokawa and Takemitsu

 

This past weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concert was an artfully chosen pairing of pieces by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and Japanese composers Toru Takemitsu and Toshio Hosokawa. (photo of Severance Hall from flickr.com/photos/clevelandorchestra)

Lately I’ve been trying to discover more about the Cleveland blogging community. One of the blogs I’ve enjoyed reading is Cleveland Food and Brews, which focuses on how it’s not just wine that can complement a good meal, but also a nice well-crafted beer.  When there’s a particularly complementary pairing of food and drink, it raises the meal to another level.

Now you’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with the Cleveland Orchestra. Like the similarities and differences of fine food and drink playing off one another, this weekend’s concert at the Cleveland Orchestra expertly paired the styles of three composers for a musically enlightened program. With two pieces by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and a piece each by Japanese composers Toru Takemitsu and Toshio Hosokawa, Conductor Franz Welser-Most and the Orchestra contrasted the influences of Eastern and Western styles against one another. However, as musicologist Peter Laki wrote in the program notes, there has been a long speculation about the similarities and kinship between the Hungarian and Japanese languages – making for an interesting evening.

The evening started with Woven Dreams, a composition by Hosokawa. Hosokawa is actually the first currently living composer I’ve seen performed at Severance, and the performance of Woven Dreams over the weekend was its U.S. premiere (with the world premiere happening over the summer at the Lucerne Festival by the Cleveland Orchestra). This piece actually surprised me as both Scott’s and my favorite of the evening.  Inspired by a dream Hosokawa once had about being a child in his mother’s womb, it had an almost imperceptible  beginning – very quietly building from a long B-flat tone. The waves of gradual, dissonant sound were mysterious – almost subtlely ominous at moments. The other thing I enjoyed was how the percussionists contributed so many sounds that filled in the background of the piece – jumping throughout between a wide assortment of instruments.

The other piece written by a Japanese composer was Garden Rain by Takemitsu. Scott and I had last seen a piece by Takemitsu at the October Fridays@7 concert when the Orchestra performed Dream/Window. That composition was inspired by the Buddhist garden Saiho-ji. Hailing from a country where gardens had been developed as a supreme artform, Takemitsu often focused on them in his work. Garden Rain was a short piece – running just under 10 minutes – for two brass quintets. Interestingly, Takemitsu was often influenced by Western literature and philosophy such as Finnegan’s Wake and Water and Dreams, influences which can be seen in Garden Rain. While I typically don’t think of exclusively brass pieces as serene, there was something very soft to it.  The staging of the musicians was also interesting – with the two quintets seated far upstage and a large void between them and Welser-Most.

Acclaimed French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard performed Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Cleveland Orchestra this weekend. (photo from harrisonparrott.com, credit Felix Broede and DG)

These pieces were alternated with two pieces by Bela Bartok – his Piano Concerto No. 2 and Music for Stringed Instruments, Percussion and Celesta. Bartok was a Hungarian composer in the early-to-mid 1900s, deeply inspired by the folk music of his culture and his Russian contemporary Igor Stravinsky. Both of these inspirations were evident in the two pieces performed at this weekend’s concerts.

Although Scott found he had a problem with the cohesion of the overall Piano Concerto No. 2, I enjoyed its three movements and how the piano solo played into the other instruments. I particularly liked the third movement – which had sections structured like Hungarian folksongs and a finale that ended in a decisive and abrupt moment.

The first time the piece was performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, Bartok himself was the piano soloist. At this weekend’s concert, Piano Concerto No. 2 was performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Aimard is a French pianist, acclaimed as one of today’s most important, skilled in both contemporary and classic music. He first performed with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1996 and has frequently returned to play in Severance as an artist-in-residence and going on tour throughout Europe and the U.S.  As someone who had not seen Aimard perform before, I realized moments into the piece why he is revered. He was clearly skilled but notably gracious and modest even during the audience’s applause – sharing the praise with Welser-Most and the rest of the Orchestra. It’s a welcome trait in a soloist.

The second Bartok piece, Music for Stringed Instruments, Percussion and Celesta, was an interesting four movements that alternated between slow-fast-slow-fast rhythms. My favorite part – similar to Concerto No. 2 – was the last movement. It was lively at moments coupled with a certain precision and crispness to the notes. Because of this, there was an almost animated dance to Welser-Most’s conducting as he led two choirs of musicians seated in opposition of one another. The contrasts of the two sets of musicians, as well as the alternation between the first, second, third and fourth movements’ tempos, struck me as reminiscent of the evening’s pairings – different yet connected to one another. As it worked for the entire concert, these alternating musical personalities worked in Music for Strings.

After this weekend’s performances, the Orchestra is off to Indiana for its Indiana University Residency, then Miami for its residency at the Adrienne Arsht Center. With additional stops in Chicago, Michigan, and Carnegie Hall, the Orchestra returns to its home in Severance Hall on February 11th.  Whether it’s here or there, the Orchestra is bringing artfully chosen concerts like Bartok, Takemitsu and Hosokawa to its all of its audiences.

Cleveland Orchestra 411:

Fridays@7 Kick the Weekend Off Right with the Cleveland Orchestra

Severance Hall transforms for the Fridays@7 series - the perfect way to unwind at the end of the work week

When I was in college and prone to going out to all hours of the night, I’d look forward to Friday like many students because it meant the weekend (and its subsequent parties) had arrived. Of course, how I kicked off the weekend back then was a lot different than how I like to start it now.  From Polka Happy Hour to a movie at The Capitol, there are plenty of better ways to jumpstart the weekend besides my former gallivanting. And now there’s a new addition to my slate of options: the Fridays@7 series at the Cleveland Orchestra

With an early start time, the Fridays@7 series provides a full evening of music and pre- and post-concert celebrations. The doors to Severance Hall open up at 5pm for a pre-party of drinks, food and entertainment.  Then at 7, the Orchestra presents a concert without intermission, and an afterparty of artists selected by percussionist Jamey Haddad rounds out the unique evening. In addition to being an entertaining way to escape the stresses of the work week, the Fridays@7 series provides much more than an evening’s worth of geographically and stylistically diverse music.

Cleveland's Passport Project performs during the Fridays@7 pre-concert party

This past Friday was the opening concert in the 2010-2011 Fridays@7 series. Scott and I headed over to Severance Hall after a long week of work, happy to get our weekend started a little early. As we walked into Severance’s lobby, we were welcomed by the drum beats of Cleveland’s own Passport Project who kicked off the evening with the pre-party. Passport Project is a local world music and dance ensemble  who strives to build community and encourage diversity by designing lectures, interactive performances and concerts.  Besides the beats they provided, an aspect of their concert I enjoyed was encouraging guests to introduce themselves to at least 2 people they didn’t know.  While I sometimes shy away from networking exercises, it was a relaxed enough environment where this flowed very comfortably. It also helped that the bar was open, where guests could purchase libations and light food before the main event.

As 7 o’clock arrived, the crowd moved into the main hall of Severance.  As Conductor Franz Welser-Most took the stage, you could already tell this would be different than some of the other concerts I had been to.  Instead of the traditional suit and tails, Welser-Most and each musician were dressed in semi-formal black. The concert itself featured a dual performance –  Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s Dream/Window and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (often referred to as Eroica/The Heroic). 

Even the Cleveland Orchestra loosens their ties for the Fridays@7 series - not donning the traditional suit and tails.

The two pieces the Orchestra performed definitely had their share of differences in style. Takemitsu’s Dream/Window was a modern interpretation of the Japanese Buddhist garden Saiho-ji as if being viewed in a dream and through a window. The overlapping harmonies and sometimes twisting, incoherent manner of the music had a unique and haunting effect as the piece mirrored the different perspectives of the garden.  Beethoven’s Eroica – composed in the early 1800s – took some of its inspiration from Beethoven’s admiration of Napoleon as a heroic leader.

However, although Eroica is more traditional than the modern 1985 Dream/Window, it wasn’t originally as well-received as it is today.  In addition to the original inspiration of Napoleon, there was also a deeply personal exploration in the basis of the piece as it was written around the time Beethoven publicly acknowledged his deafness. Instead of allowing the knowledge of his deafness to debilitate him, it is said his work on Eroica could have saved his life. The end result was 4 movements of dynamic, tumultuous and sometimes irreverent sound that shed new significance with each listen. Subsequently, the decision to perform Dream/Window and Eroica with their different styles, but similar impact, was a very deft one on the part of the Orchestra.

After the Orchestra, Nation Beat performed to a packed house in Severance Hall's Grand Foyer

In addition to a night of challenging music, the concert was yet another opportunity to observe how the Orchestra’s performances are a level of art completely separate from the pieces themselves. This was the first time I haven’t sat in the lower level of Severance.  While I enjoy being close because it establishes an almost personal connection with the musicians, sitting in the upstairs Dress Circle allowed us to see how the entire ‘machine’ flows together.  As Welser-Most led the musicians, you could see the instant reverberations of his movements spread from the strings back to the timpani and percussion sections. From the great restraint he exhibited in tiny flicks of his hands, to dramatic gestures or gentle, sweeping motions, the musicians played as if they were a perfect extension of Welser-Most. It reminded me of why I could see the Cleveland Orchestra perform almost anything and still be amazed simply by the beauty of them playing.

The evening was perfectly bookended by Nation Beat, a fusion group of Brazilian and southern U.S. styles.  As we made our way from our seats to the Grand Foyer, you could hear the afterparty had already begun.  Although Nation Beat heralds from New York, their music is a mix of Brazilian maracatu drumming, New Orleans second line rhythms, Appalachian-inspired bluegrass music, funk, rock, and country-blues. They provided an energizing performance where all of these styles flowed together seamlessly and guests had a chance to get up and dance.  Connecting the performance back to Cleveland, Nation Beat brought up musicians and singers from the Cleveland Institute of Music to join in on a piece they had practiced earlier that day when Nation Beat visited CIM.

Nation Beat invited students from the Cleveland Institute of Music to perform with them

The Fridays@7 series continues throughout the year with The Heroic Mahler on Dec. 3, A Hero’s Life on Jan. 14, Romantic Rachmaninoff on April 1, and Eighth Blackbird on May 27. This season not only features invigorating performances of musically diverse pieces, but also includes a Cleveland premiere and a conductor’s Cleveland Orchestra debut.

The entire Fridays@7 series is included as a subscription, or you can purchase individual tickets if there are a couple concerts in particular you’re interested in.  Personally, I’m very excited for the May 27 performance, which will feature Welser-Most as conductor and Joshua Smith on flute in Pulitzer Prize-winning Jennifer Higdon’s concerto.  It’s a much more enjoyable way to unwind than my revelries in years past.

 

Fridays@7 411:

Labor Day in Cleveland – 3 Days of Festivals, Food and Fun

With Labor Day comes the unofficial end of summer. Even though the Fall Equinox is weeks away and there seems to be no end in sight to the stifling heat, Clevelanders who want to grasp that last bit of summer have a huge variety of festivals, parties, and other events to choose from this weekend.    

The Rock Hall celebrates its 15th Anniversary (from rockhall.com)

 

Kicking things off this weekend is the Rock Hall Ball. On Friday, Sept. 3, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a party from 8:30 p.m. – 2 a.m.  Live bands and DJs will perform, including soul singer Eli “Paperboy” Reed, alternative rock band Foxy Shazam and DJ Tommie Sunshine.  Two levels of tickets allow flexibility in cost. Platinum tickets ($55 member/$65 non-member) include access at 8:30 p.m., hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine until 12:30 a.m. and entertainment until 2 a.m. Vinyl Tickets ($15) include access at 10 p.m., cash bar and entertainment.    

Labor Day will also feature weekend-long festivals such as:    

  • Labor Day Oktoberfest – At the Berea Fairgrounds will be the 6th Annual Labor Day Oktoberfest. From attending previous Oktoberfests, I recommend indulging in this weekend of oompah bands, brats and beer.  In addition to the food and the beer, years past have had merchants and other organizations promoting a variety of ethnic backgrounds. New this year – the Cleveland Pops Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s celebrated Fifth Symphony.  I’ll be dusting off my alpine hat and putting on my polka-dancing shoes for this.
  • Cleveland Air Show – As the photo in my last post showed, I love attending air shows, and Cleveland’s annual celebration of flying machines at Burke Lakefront Airport is listed as one of the 101 Best Aviation Attractions. Although it runs Sept. 4 -6,  if you’re downtown this week, you can see – and hear – the jets and planes practicing.  Nearby businesses and museums will also be hosting ‘Watch Parties’ including Reddstone’s When Pigs Fly Block Party on Sunday and the weekend-long William G. Mather Air Show Deck Party at nearby Great Lakes Science Center.
  • Taste of Cleveland – The other major downtown festival this weekend is the 15th annual Taste of Cleveland which will feature national entertainment acts and regional food traditional to Northeast Ohio. In addition to the 30+ restaurants that will be at the event, there will be the American Wine School Tasting Bar and cooking demonstrations such as the “Cooking with Kids” parents/children class, the Ohio Natural Gas Ultimate Backyard Kitchen and the 7th Annual Time Warner Cable Mayors’ Dessert Cup Challenge. One of the entertainment acts Scott and I are most looking forward to: “Weird Al” Yankovic on Friday night. What can I say? We’re UHF fans.

Der Glockenspiel - an actual working clock - is one of the attractions at Oktoberfest (from clevelandoktoberfest.com)

 

If festivals aren’t your thing or you’re looking for a one-off event this weekend, there are other options including:    

  • The Cleveland Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet – On Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 p.m., the Joffrey Ballet returns to the Blossom Music Festival. The Ballet  joins Conductor Tito Muñoz and the Cleveland Orchestra in their presentation of Reflections (choreographed to music by Tchaikovsky), Tarantella (choreographed to Louis Gottschlak), and Pretty BALLET (choregraphed to Bohuslav Martinů). 
  • Cedar Point – Labor Day Weekend is the last weekend to visit the Soak City Waterpark in 2010. It’s also the end of Cedar Point’s regular season. Starting on Sept. 17, the park will open back up for Halloweekends.
  • Aut-O-Rama Drive-In – This weekend, audiences at the North Ridgeville drive-in movie theatre have their choice of a kid-friendly double feature with Toy Story 3 and Nanny McPhee Returns  or cult-classics-to-be Machete and Piranha.
  • The Happy Dog – DJ Kishka’s Polka Happy Hour is back this Friday from 6-9 p.m. (if you can’t make it to this one, he’ll also be at the Happy Dog on the 17th). After DJ Kishka, Adam Tanner and Mark Jackson of North Carolina’s Twilite Broadcasters bring their two-part harmony vocals and acoustic accompaniment to the Happy Dog from 9 p.m. til midnight.
  • Cleveland Polka Association Picnic – The Cleveland Polka Association’s B.Y.O.E. (Bring Your Own Everything) Picnic takes place on Monday, Sept. 6 at  St. Sava’s Picnic Grove (2300 West Ridgewood Drive, Parma). Gate opens at 2 p.m., musical performances run from 3-7 p.m. including Canton, OH’s Polkatones. (More information or large table reservations: 216-661-5227)

The Aut-O-Rama Drive-In presents Machete and Piranha (from autoramadrivein.com)

 

Fortunately, it’s a three-day weekend, which means plenty of opportunities to experience your share of these end-of-summer events.

The Cleveland Orchestra and Bruckner's Eighth Symphony

The Cleveland Orchestra musicians prepare for Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 as one of the cameras zoom in for a shot.

 

In my very first blog post, I referenced the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the most iconic symbols of Cleveland. And it’s no wonder. As 52 Weeks of Cleveland recently put it, it’s a diamond dazzling in the blue-collar-rock-and-roll grit that makes this city great, sticking out ‘not like a sore thumb but as the building that is unmistakably Cleveland.’   

However, on the other side of the musical spectrum, there’s another landmark in Cleveland that’s both a must-see and a must-hear — The Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall.  Last Wednesday, Scott and I had the chance to attend the Orchestra’s performance of Anton Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony for a series of dvd recordings. The night definitely ranks up there as one of my favorite Cleveland experiences.   

Outside of Severance Hall (photo from clevelandorchestra.com)

 

Severance Hall, the winter home of the Cleveland Orchestra, has been described as ‘a temple to music’ and America’s most beautiful concert hall.  The detailing of the hall’s interior reminds me of a Faberge Egg and the acoustics are world-renowned.  From the day Severance Hall opened in 1931 through its renovations and reopening in 2000, it has helped shape The Cleveland Orchestra into one of the most sought-after performing ensembles in the world.  In concerts at Severance Hall, each summer as part of Cleveland’s Blossom Festival, in residencies from Miami to Vienna, and on tour around the world, The Cleveland Orchestra sets the standard for artistic excellence, imaginative programming, and community engagement.   

Franz Welser-Möst just completed his eighth year as the Orchestra’s Music Director – a long-term commitment which extends to the Orchestra’s centennial season in 2018.   Under his leadership, The Cleveland Orchestra has not only developed Community Music Initiatives in Cleveland, but has carried the city’s name across the world with ongoing residencies in Miami, at Vienna’s famed Musikverein hall and Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival.  Next year, they’ll also launch a biennial residency at New York’s Lincoln Center Festival, featuring The Cleveland Orchestra in Vienna State Opera productions.   

In addition to making an impact through live performances in Cleveland and abroad, Welser-Möst has promoted the Orchestra’s legacy through a series of DVD and CD recordings.  Last week’s recording of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was the latest installment in this endeavor.  In total, the Orchestra has recorded four Bruckner symphonies in historic, architecturally significant and acoustically acclaimed concert venues: Symphony No. 5 in Austria’s Abbey of St. Florian, Symphonies No. 7 and 8 in Severance Hall, and Symphony No. 9 in Vienna’s Musikverein. Hailing from the Austrian town of Linz – the same hometown as Bruckner, Welser-Möst developed an early love for the 19th century composer which clearly shows through his astute understanding and beautiful execution of Bruckner’s works.   

Orchestra Music Director Franz Welser-Möst (photo from clevelandorchestrablog.com)

 

Bruckner’s works are not always the favorite of musicians – often misunderstood due to the effect his manic need for revisions had on his compositions.  However, Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra is helping the public rediscover the beauty of these pieces by sharing the discoveries they’ve made themselves while performing. As Welser-Möst explained before the concert, Symphony No. 8 has an interesting backstory that lends itself to a deeper appreciation.  Written between 1884 and 1887, the original composition was initially criticized by Hermann Levi, a court conductor that Bruckner respected. Because of this, Bruckner spent years making substantial cuts and changes which have been considered concessions to others’ expectations and arguably weakened the piece.    

Welser-Möst cited an example of these revisions which can be found in the first movement. Towards the end of the movement, the symphony transitions into a section that represents the ticking down of one’s life.  In the original version, there was a dynamic section that signified a fighting back against the inevitabilty of death.  However, this section ended up being removed in the revised version, with the first movement instead just winding down softly. The original version of Symphony No. 8 remained unperformed until 1954 and was not published until 1972 by Leopold Nowak. It’s the longer – and arguably richer – Nowak version that The Cleveland Orchestra performed for the DVD recording.   

Audience members who arrived early had the opportunity to sit in on a concert preview.  During the preview, Dee Perry of WCPN’s Around Noon interviewed Welser-Möst and William Cosel, the Producer-Director of the DVD recording. This was a very interesting conversation, shedding more light on Bruckner’s personality as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the actual recording.    

Welser-Möst spoke about how Bruckner’s musical genius suffered from his insecurities and second-guessing.  He additionally remarked on Bruckner as a composer with one leg in the traditional, religious-inspired style of his century and the other leg in the more contemporary influences of the next generation.  Both Welser-Möst and Cosel shared a glimpse into how they prepared for the recording. Welser-Möst discussed the evolution of The Orchestra’s performance and how certain musicians admitted that it wasn’t until they performed the symphony in a particular space in Austria that they finally ‘got’ Bruckner’s style.  Cosel spoke to the months of research needed to prepare the recording, in addition to introducing the various camera crew hidden throughout the Hall.   

Norton Memorial Organ at Severance Hall

 

Bookending the interview were two performances by Joela Jones, the principal keyboardist of The Cleveland Orchestra.  Jones performed Prelude in F major and Variations on ‘America’, both by Charles Ives.  Both pieces were performed on Severance Hall’s Norton Memorial Organ. which was built specifically for the Hall by renowned organ builder Ernest M. Skinner in 1930. Welser-Möst noted that Ives was an outcast among his colleagues – much like Bruckner was during his time. This idea of outcast could be seen in his Variations on ‘America’ which took a slightly wry look at the patriotic anthem and twisted it in unexpected ways that both challenged the listener and respected the source material.  It was a nice contrast to the Bruckner piece.   

If Producer-Director Cosel’s past experience is any indication, the recording of Symphony No. 8 will be well worth the purchase. However, nothing compares to sitting in Severance Hall and not just listening to but closely watching the musicians. It always amazes me to see how artfully they interpret a composition.  And the live performance brings a certain level of drama that isn’t always seen in a recording.     

An unexpected highlight of my evening was seeing a minor incident arise when a string on Assistant Concertmaster Yoko Moore’s violin snapped. [Editor’s Note: see correction in comments section below. It was actually Concertmaster Preucil’s string who broke fixed by Moore – makes more sense in retrospect.]  In past performances, Moore has consistently been one of my favorite musicians to watch as she brings a laser focus and intensity to her performance. However, this focus was moreso evident when she had to restring and retune her instrument in the middle of a movement. I’ve never played the violin and Scott has explained to me that this happens frequently with it; regardless, I was still on the edge of my seat as it unfolded.  She impeccably restrung the violin and, in a moment of silent communication that can only come from a strong relationship with a colleague, seamlessly switched instruments with Concertmaster William Preucil who finished the retuning process.  It only took them moments, but the intense thrill of witnessing this play out while the symphony roared around them was remarkable.   

Two days after last week’s recordings, The Cleveland Orchestra set off on their summer tour of Europe. They return on August 30 after nine concerts in six cities. While they’re gone, concerts at Blossom Music Festival continue including Disney in Concert, Canadian Brass Ensemble, and The Joffrey Ballet.  And at the end of September, the Orchestra returns to start the 2010-2011 season. Subscriptions and tickets are available to experience the talents of Welser-Möst and the musicians, and I definitely recommend it.   

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