Tag Archives: Winter

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:

This Wonderful Life at The Cleveland Play House – a Wonderful Way to Spend the Holidays


This Wonderful Life - a reimagining of the holiday classic - is at The Cleveland Play House until Dec. 19. (photo from clevelandplayhouse.com)

When It’s A Wonderful Life premiered in 1946, it was a box office flop.  Completely financed by Director Frank Capra and his Liberty Films studio for $3.8 million, its total run grossed only $3.3 million and resulted in the studio going bankrupt.  However, much like George Bailey in the story, the movie got a second chance when it accidentally entered the public domain due to a clerical error and tv stations all-over aired the film throughout the holidays.  Thus, it’s become a classic — a symbol of the holiday season, forever part of the American consciousness.

With its beloved status, there have been numerous adaptations of the story – from stage to radio, as well as a handful of spoofs.  In This Wonderful Life, currently playing at the Cleveland Play House, we’re given one of the freshest re-imaginings that I’ve seen of the inimitable original.  Conceived by Mark Setlock (a Cleveland native, now living in NY) and written by Steve Murray (a longtime film, theatre and book critic turned playwright), This Wonderful Life is a one-man retelling of It’s A Wonderful Life – part re-enactment, part commentary.

This Wonderful Life is told through the eyes of one actor – James Leaming. Leaming plays both the narrator, as well as all of the characters in the film. The play opens up on a fairly empty stage with a few props and set pieces and a small control panel. After talking to a few audience members before the show, Leaming casually enters the stage and delivers probably the best pre-show, turn-off-your-cell-phones speech I’ve ever heard. The show starts off with Leaming talking to the audience – very deftly putting the audience at ease.


James Leaming portrays the narrator and all of the residents of Bedford Falls in the one-man show This Wonderful Life (photo from clevelandplayhouse.com)

As a one-man show, This Wonderful Life was completely dependent upon its leading man – even moreso than The Kite Runner which was similarly dependent upon the success of its narrator (Jos Viramontes in the role of Amir). The one-man show is the marathon of acting — with one actor having to learn how to not just be a narrator guiding the story, but also how to distinguish a variety of characters from one another through his actions and voice. Leaming delivers on a 30+ character marathon for an hour and half without intermission.

Leaming struck an excellent balance between the script’s irreverence towards and insight into the original film.  Much like a group of loved ones celebrating the holidays together, there were a number of comedic moments  that poked gentle fun at It’s A Wonderful Life and the times it was filmed in – one of the funniest bits was Leaming talking about George and Mary’s first lipless, face-smashing kiss. However, it managed to be funny without being callous — the same sort of jesting we would do if we were watching it in our living rooms.

He also provided a heartfelt insight into the film.  About how it’s become a part of the American psyche, why George Bailey’s challenges resonates so strongly with us. At a particularly life-changing moment in George’s story, Leaming realizes that this holiday classic is not in fact a movie about Christmas and the holidays, but instead about every other day of the year and the hard decisions we have to make that get us from day to day.

In addition to poking gentle fun at It's A Wonderful Life, Leaming captures the moving realizations made by George Bailey and the other characters. (photo from clevelandplayhouse.com)

Leaming portrayed the town of Bedford Falls not just with his voice (though he did spot-on depictions of Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey, Mr. Potter and Clarence), but he also brought a great physicality to it. Often with one-man shows, you don’t have widesweeping action because you’re limited to how far one actor can move in a scene. However, Leaming was all over the place during scenes — magically exiting one side of the stage and while the action still seemed to be going on (thanks to a few well-timed sound cues), then entering from the other side of the stage.  And a soaring dive from the top of a staircase surprised everyone.

Although it was a one-man show, the technical aspects of the show played such an important part in the production that they were almost like another actor. The set itself was fairly straightforward with a small handful of set pieces and props including a desk, easel to prop up a few signs, and rolling staircase. However, the lighting and sound cues created a fully vibrant Bedford Falls, Clarence and the angels, and a complement to Leaming – allowing him to play off of something much like another actor would. Together, Leaming and the Play House artistic staff brought the wonder of the film to the stage.

The Cleveland Play House was filled with audience members after the show marveling at the lobby and halls decked for the holidays.

When we went to see This Wonderful Life, our evening was bookended by two free events offered throughout the show’s run: a preshow discussion of the play and the Cleveland Play House’s ongoing Festival of Trees celebration.

Prior to every performance, the Play House offers a free pre-show discussion for audience members.  It generally starts 45 minutes before curtain and when we attended Tuesday night, Associate Artistic Director Laura Kepley hosted the conversation.  We talked a lot about the film’s history and random pieces of trivia, as well as why it’s made such a lasting impression on the American psyche. Although we also talked very briefly about the play, the purpose of the pre-show discussion was not to cover what we were about to see but to put the performance into a context that would make for a fuller viewing experience. The Play House generally offers this pre-show discussion for each production, as well as post-show discussions after every third Wednesday evening performance and every third Sunday matinee.

Arrive 45-minutes before the show for a free pre-show discussion. The Cleveland Play House offers this for each production to help audiences understand the context behind the shows.

The Festival of Trees runs from now until December 30.  It’s free and open to the public, featuring more than 70 locally sponsored and professionally decorated holiday trees displayed throughout the Cleveland Play House.  We looked at a few on our way to the pre-show discussion as well as after the show while they were turning off the lights in parts of the building.  It was a beautiful site to see the variety of decorations – from the traditionally decked out Christmas trees, to trees that uniquely featured the Cleveland organizations they were sponsored by.  I loved the dog angel on top of the Cleveland APL’s tree, but the tree for the women pilots association was my absolute favorite.

If you’re planning on visiting the Play House and want to take a long lunch break next Thursday, they will be hosting a Holiday Luncheon starting at 11 am on Dec. 9.  Guests can enjoy a self-guided tour of the Festival’s trees, followed by a holiday program featuring a reading by Associate Artistic Director Kepley. Boxed lunches will be then served among the tree display prior to the Matinee performance of This Wonderful Life.  Tickets are $20 for the Holiday Program and Luncheon or $49 for Holiday Program, Luncheon and Matinee and can be purchased by calling 216.795.7000 ext. 4.


My personal favorite tree at the Play House's free Festival of Trees sponsored by a women's pilots association.

After the Play House announced last year that its five-year run of A Christmas Story was coming to an end, some may have wondered if anything could replace the Cleveland staple. With This Wonderful Life, they’ve re-introduced us to another holiday treasure.  Whether you see it at the Holiday Luncheon or go to one of the other performances prior to Dec. 19, a visit to the Play House is a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays in Cleveland.

This Wonderful Life / The Cleveland Play House 411:

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Bagpipes and drums!


It was beautiful, sunny and warmish outside today so I walked down to Superior Ave. on my lunchbreak to check out Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  It started at 1pm and went to 4pm, so I only got to catch a few glimpses of it. But for the short time I was down there, it was a fun time.  Here are a couple of pictures I took with my phone.  

Vintage Cleveland Police Car parked in a No-Parking Spot


For anyone unfamiliar with Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, it started back in 1867, and this year marked the city’s 143rd parade and the biggest one yet.  It’s the largest parade in Ohio and one of the larger ones in the country. The route runs down Superior Ave. from E. 18th to Public Square, so if you’re downtown for work or to have some fun on St. Patrick’s Day, definitely stop by.  

Of course, if you were working today and didn’t have a chance to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the parade, there’s a whole day – and night – of festivities.  From downtown to the east- and west-sides, activities abound and a guide can be found at www.cleveland.com/st-patricks-day  

Erin Go Bragh!  

Firefighters/American Legion

Maple Sugaring at the Cleveland Metroparks


Maple Trivia: It takes 40 Gallons of Sap to Make 1 Gallon of Syrup


 The Cleveland Metroparks – nicknamed the ‘Emerald Necklace’ of Cleveland – are a system of beautiful nature preserves throughout the region.  In addition to giving Clevelanders access to scenic walking, bicycle and horse trails, golf courses, picnic areas and fishing holes, the parks also host numerous events throughout the year for nature education.    

On the Maple Trail


This past weekend, Scott and I joined a couple of friends at the Cleveland Metroparks’ Rocky River Reservation to check out the last weekend of their History of Maple Sugaring tour. Each year, from the end of February until the beginning of March, the temperatures in the Northeast Ohio region are the perfect condition to produce sap. For just a couple of weeks, the temperatures are above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night which triggers the circulation of the sap throughout the trees’ sapwood. And with the trees’ production of sap comes the production of some of the purest maple syrup.  

Our group stopped by the Maple Grove Picnic Area in the Rocky River Reservation to check out the sap-to-syrup process. The first stop on the tour was the Sugarbush Trail during which our tour guide demonstrated the sap-collecting methods from early Native Americans and pioneers to modern sugar farmers. Each stop showed the progression from reeds and bark to wooden buckets, metal containers and finally the plastic tubing that is used today. At the end of the hike, we visited the Sugar House where we got to watch sap that had been collected from the area’s trees boiled into pure maple syrup.  

The highlight of the entire visit, however, was the opportunity to chat with Bill Miller — or as he jokingly referred to himself, ‘S.O.B.’ (Sweet Ol’ Bill). At 79 (though he didn’t look it!), Bill is an expert at the intricate process of boiling the sap into syrup. When the tour ended we hung around to look at the evaporator used to boil the sap. Bill walked up, introduced himself, and we spent the next 40 minutes learning everything we wanted to about maple syrup — from the role of photosynthesis in producing the sap to what causes the different grades of maple syrup. Chatting with Bill wasn’t just educational, but also entertaining — a definite don’t miss.  

One Way to Collect Sap from a Maple Tree


To cap it all off, we ended our visit with a sampling of the syrup that was extracted and made in the park. Volunteers served silver dollar pancakes with a dollop of the local syrup and sold delicious maple candy for a quarter a piece.  

As with a number of the Metroparks’ events, the entire tour was free — providing a great afternoon of engaging and educational storytelling for nothing.  

Unfortunately, this weekend was the final weekend of the Metroparks’ Maple Sugaring for the year. With the first signs of Spring appearing and temperatures (slowly) rising, the maple trees have stopped readily producing sap — which means it’s time for the Sugar House to pack up until next Winter when Maple Season resumes.  


Cleveland Metroparks 411:    

Plan Your Visit to the Metroparks’ Rocky River Reservation
About the Reservation
Reservation Map

Events and Volunteering at the Metroparks
About the Maple Sugaring Demonstration
Upcoming Events Calendar
Getting Involved at the Metroparks   

Twitter: @CleveMetroparks

Get a Clue about Cleveland

Three years ago, my job offered an opportunity to move from Philadelphia to Cleveland. At first, I wasn’t going to go. I had family and friends in the Philly area and loved living there. Then I was invited to visit Cleveland, and my song quickly changed.

My husband Scott and I were immediately hooked. That initial visit showed us there was not only a lot to do in Cleveland, but we could actually afford to do it (we were floored when parking for a night on the town didn’t equal what we spent on dinner). Plus, the city provided us the amenities we had grown to love in Philly, without overwhelming us in the ‘hustle and bustle.’

Of course, we also had a healthy sense of trepidation. We knew that Cleveland winters could be harsh, and we were moving to a place where we would be complete strangers — 8-10 hours away from our family and friends. Subsequently, when we drove our UHaul here on a snowy weekend in March 2007, we went with the notion that we weren’t tied down and could move back to Philly in a year or so.

Three years later, here I am writing a blog – my love letter, if you will – to the city I’ve now planted firm roots in.  Scott and I enjoy working in downtown Cleveland, married at St. Ann’s Church in Cleveland Heights last year, and just purchased our first home in Avon Lake.  We’ve built a network of friends and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. Like it or not, Cleveland, we’re here to stay.

Which brings me to this blog.  From the first moment we decided to move to Cleveland, we often found ourselves defending our choice.  Not everyone, of course, was against the idea.  But we’ve had to stick up for Cleveland’s reputation more than a few times. And those friends and family who have visited us in Cleveland now understand why we vehemently defend it.

Like all loyal Clevelanders, I was pretty confused by the Forbes article rating Cleveland the #1 Most Miserable City.  I’ve lived here for 3 years, and that time hasn’t held a hint of misery. You can’t rate an emotion such as misery by comparing stats like ‘lousy weather’ (which I wouldn’t call that bad compared to the “Snowpocalypse” the east coast had to bear this winter).

So I decided to take to the web with my Cleveland-comrades-in-arms and write about it.  With Clue Into Cleveland I hope to share with you the places, people and events I love about Cleveland.  The places I’d share with you if you visited the city. The things that make me far from miserable. 

I hope you stay awhile and enjoy the trip.