Remembrance of Things Past

Postcard of the West Side Market in Cleveland,...

This afternoon I went to the West Side Market to order the roasting chickens for Thanksgiving. (No, no turkey for us this year. Neither of us is very fond of it, and chicken tastes better.) I’ve been shopping at the Market regularly (as in several times a month) for over 25 years. What a dispiriting affair it was today. I remember when people used to go there to actually BUY things. Now that Cleveland has been turned into a foodie city, the Market has been turned into a tourist destination. Traffic was backed up to gridlock in the parking lot, which meant circling around ad infinitum. The one Cleveland police officer eventually in sight was shooting the breeze with a vendor inside the market. I eventually gave up and had better luck on a side street south of Lorain Avenue.

I knew that this parking dilemma did not bode well for my shopping experience, so I was not surprised to find the place mobbed with tattooed hipsters with their coffee cups, Beachwood ladies in wildly inappropriate outfits for the West Side Market (Prada, massive jewelry and full make-up are not necessary), suburban people with young children in strollers gawking, stopping dead in their tracks to take photos. As I was leaving, I witnessed the downtown Embassy Suites shuttle van dropping off people. Despite the milling hordes, quite a few of the vendors did not seem to be selling much.

Ohio City, Cleveland
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Until quite recently (i.e., until a year or so ago) the West Side Market had a kind of tacky, rundown charm, where poor people mingled with the middle class eastern European ethnic population of Cleveland’s west side, whose families had been patronizing the market for generations. George and I were relative newcomers, shopping there regularly only since 1983. But over time we have built lasting relationships with various of the vendors, whom I have now patronized and recommended to others for decades.

I know I sound like a grumpy old man, and I should be happy for the Market’s success. West 25th Street and the West Side Market are being promoted like crazy by the city and the other businesses on W.25th Street, and the street is no longer the sketchy and relatively dangerous place it once was. (The Jay Hotel and its unsavory cast of characters is long gone. The hookers and most of the drug dealers have moved on.) But over the last year, it has become such a hassle to park and shop at the Market, that it makes me not want to go there. It’s easier to go to Whole Foods. But the experience is not the same. Tourists are transient, and if the Market loses its historical Cleveland character, including its local shoppers, what will it have left? I hope it doesn’t become Disney-esque, like Legacy Village, Crocker Park or other “lifestyle centers.” It won’t be for real shopping by real people.

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Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony with Christine Brewer and Atlanta Symphony

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I am in awe of Christine Brewer’s voice: so large and full, but mellow and warm, unlike any other dramatic soprano I have heard–certainly not the laser-like focus of a Birgit Nilsson or Deborah Voigt. I have heard her live both in opera (the title role of Britten’s Gloriana in Saint Louis) and in recital at Wigmore Hall in London. Her recent recording of Strauss’s Four Last Songs with the Atlanta Symphony and Donald Runnicles is one of my favorites.

This week Telarc has released a new recording of Henryk Gorecki’s ever-popular Third Symphony, the so called “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” It’s three slow movements with Polish text sung by a solo soprano became a surprise bestseller hit in the 1980s 1992 in a recording by Dawn Upshaw, the London Symphony and David Zinman. Upshaw always seemed like an unlikely candidate for the soprano solo, because it really requires a dramatic soprano who can ride above the large orchestral climax, especially in the first movement. Upshaw’s lyric voice just doesn’t hack it. There have been several other recordings, and until this new recording, my favorite has always been on Naxos, with Antoni Wit conducting the Polish National Radio Symphony, with Zofia Kilanowicz as the soloist. She has the kind of strident Slavic voice that carries over the crest of the orchestra, but with great tenderness in the softer passages.

Christine Brewer blows them all away, with her motherly warmth and tenderness in her lower register but commanding presence in the first movement’s climactic moment when the full orchestra returns to the opening canon which winds down to nothing ten minutes later.. This is an unusual work, with it’s reliance mostly on strings, no brass, a couple of flutes and piano. The texture is thick with strings. Donald Runnicles chooses tempi that are quicker than some other performances, but these tempi give more forward movement to the work as a whole. It is a compelling performance. My only complaint is that the only work on the recording is the Gorecki Symphony, which at 49 minutes is a little thin for a CD that Amazon.com is selling for $17.98. (I downloaded the 3 tracks from eMusic.com, so I got a good deal.) I downloaded the tracks last night and have been listening almost non-stop since then. I strongly recommend this new performance, even if (or rather, especially if) you already own the Upshaw/Zinman recording.

As good as (better than?) Christmas

I like receiving packages in the mail, especially of stuff I want, so today I hit a triple bonanza:

  • I received (finally!) a big box that I had mailed to myself from Minneapolis at the end of the AGO convention on June 27th. (I’m going to overlook the fact that I sent it Priority Mail on the 27th, and it was apparently received on July 1st at the main post office in Cleveland, but I just got a notice in my mail box yesterday, despite the fact that I’ve checked my mail twice since July 1st. It was obviously just sitting around somewhere at the post office for a week. Nonetheless I’m glad it’s here—I was worried that it was permanently lost.) It was filled with dirty clothes (not important), a pair of Birkenstock sandals (important, but not something I was looking forward to), and a bunch of music that I bought at the convention, including some quite expensive European organ music that is hard to come by in the U.S. (Breitkopf & Härtel editions of Mendelssohn, and an edition of Scheidt keyboard music) plus some choral music.
  • I received the DVD of Paul Festa’s film Apparition of the Eternal Church, with a lovely handwritten note from him. (See previous post about the film)
  • Finally, I received two just-released DVDs of two operas by Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes and Billy Budd. These are the first commercial releases of two films made in the 1960s with Britten’s partner Peter Pears in the starring roles. They both have other members of Britten’s “musical family” in the casts—Heather Harper, John Shirley Quirk, Bryan Drake. I remember that the Peter Grimes film was shone on PBS when I was in high school, but, being in the days before cable TV, the reception on the TV in Scranton, Iowa, was terrible, so I missed most of it. The film of Billy Budd is famous, but I’ve never seen it. I’m glad that Decca and BBC have finally released them. (There are some other titles in the Britten-Pears Collection.)

What a shame I have to go to work tomorrow.  It’s tempting to stay home and watch DVDs.  But I’ll be set for the next few evenings.

Cameron Carpenter, outlaw virtuoso organist

Last week I was at the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.  Too much for one post, so I’ll be adding several posts about events of note over the next few days.  The of the most outrageous recitals (in a mostly good way) was Cameron Carpenter’s program. He shared the recital with his former Juilliard teacher John Weaver.  Mr. Weaver is a player of the older generation, very elegant and musical.  At the conclusion of his set (for which he received a well-deserved standing ovation), he introduced Cameron as a “talent of Mozartean proportion.”  Mr. Weaver went on to say that although Cameron was his student for a year, he didn’t teach Cameron anything, but rather the Juilliard School paid him to listen to Cameron every week for an hour.

Cameron Carptenter is trying to bring the organ to a new audience—he’s out to be the rock star of the organ world.  He has more pure technical ability that anyone I’ve ever heard (with the possible exception of the young Jean Guillou) and he feels free to make music his own.  Fifteen or twenty years ago AGO audiences would have been outraged (in a bad way) by his performance, because it in no way matches any kind of “historically informed” performance practice.  Now people look more for musicianship, musical communication skills, and even showmanship, all of which Cameron Carpenter has by the boatload.  On his program he played music as diverse as one of Jeanne Demessieux’s nearly impossible Etudes, a piece by Leo Sowerby, and Cameron’s own “synthesized” version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which incorporates elements from just about every transcription that has ever been made of the piece.  He concluded with an encore, a transcription of John Philip Sousa’s march “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  It’s one of Cameron’s regular parlor trick/showpieces.  Here it is on youtube.  Note how he plays the piccolo obbligato the first time not with his fingers, but with his feet in the pedals: amazing.

Cameron wore a similar all-white outfit for his Minnesota recital as in the video. Organists (being by nature very catty) always have some sort of comment.  As the audience was filing out of the church sanctuary after the program, I heard a gentleman comment, “That nurse sure can play the organ.”   Later in the week I encountered Cameron on the street in a black tank top and chartreuse green skin-tight jeans. He only had moderate eye makeup on.  Needless to say you will not be seeing Virtual Farm Boy in a similar outfit.  Always stylish basic black for VFB.

As it turns out, I didn’t miss anything

In my previous post, I admitted to leaving the Beacon Place Homeowners Association meeting early (truthfully, before it began). Yesterday I received in the mail a letter saying that there was not a quorum, so there has to be another meeting in late April. I had submitted my proxy AND signed in at the meeting, so my attendance was counted toward the quorum, and you can’t blame me.

Why am I so intolerant?

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I made a good faith effort to attend my Homeowners Association Annual Meeting this evening. I signed in so that I would count as part of the quorum. But after an hour, and before the actual meeting began, I couldn’t take it any longer, and I left. As a “prelude” to the meeting, a representative from the city traffic department was present to hear comments about the possible re-opening of E.84th street, which has been closed for severalyears. I really couldn’t care less if it is opened, and I wish it would, because it would mean there would be an opening onto Chester Avenue westbound, which there is not now.

But I am clearly in the minority, and the group was subjected to the rants of several of my neighbors who obviously are very passionate about the issue. It was also quite clear that if I had stated my opinion I would have been shouted down, and God only knows what other future reprisals would have occurred. So I kept my mouth shut. There was no one running the meeting (the person ostensibly running the meeting was also running his mouth to the extent that others in the audience were unable to make comments or ask questions). The current City Councilwoman was present as well, and she was subjected to the abuse from the group.

This “pre-meeting” was supposed to begin at 7:00 but didn’t start until almost 7:30 (when the city traffic commissioner finally showed up). The actual Association meeting was supposed to begin at 7:30. At 8:15, the session was winding down, and I decided than an hour and a quarter of my time was enough for this fiasco. There was no promise that the actual homeowners association meeting was going to be any more productive, so I retreated to Starbucks and the safety of my iPod and Moleskine journal. I guess I just have less tolerance than I once did for these sorts of shenanigans. Let them just stay as far out of my life as possible.

Our USMC

Yesterday afternoon I was traveling back to Cleveland from a conference at UNC-Chapel Hill. While waiting in the lounge at the Raleigh airport, I witnessed several good-looking young men, in civilian clothes, but obviously military, from the haircuts, US Marine Corps t-shirts, camo backpacks, and bravado. Three were traveling together and a fourth was by himself. I’m guessing from listening to their conversation that they had just graduated from basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. They cannot have been more than 18 or maybe 19 years old.

What struck me, though, was that even through all their tough talk, just how fragile they all looked. These were not Bruce Willis action hero guys, these were tall skinny teens listening to their iPods; one was simultaneously talking on his cellphone while texting somebody else. That one had managed to put into his backpack a tube of toothpaste that had leaked all over his laptop and Sony PSP. The fourth boy, not in the other trio, seemed particularly shy and vulnerable, as he sat and watched the antics of the other group.

As I was watching this Abercrombie and Fitch ad come to life, I got to thinking that these boys are the next wave of fresh meat to be shipped off to be shot at in Iraq. My next set of thoughts were how they will be affected by the experience: will they be killed? wounded? suffer from lifelong post-traumatic stress disorder. And all for what? To satisfy the testosterone-heavy ego of someone who avoided real service.

I was sad. What a waste of lives and resources.

Income Tax done!

It is with my annual sense of relief that this afternoon I finished my income tax returns for 2006. I spent Monday through Wednesday evenings this past week getting everything prepared, but then went I fired up the Turbotax software this afternoon, things went very quickly, as they always too. A nice ($3000+) refund from the feds, too.

Rita Dove at Case Western Reserve University

Rita Dove, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, gave the second annual Anisfield-Wolf Lecture at Severance Hall today a mid-day. The lecture was sponsored by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University. Ms. Dove read selections from her own works with commentary about her life and our times. It was a compelling presentation.

Apparently not compelling enough, however, for the man in the audience who was audibly snoring during part of the lecture. (Severance Hall has excellent acoustics.) I was embarrassed for him and for the audience. There is no way that Rita Dove could have missed it; and since I was sitting quite close to the stage, I could see her body language tense up when she heard it. She clearly lost her concentration for a moment.

There were also a myriad cell phones that rang during the lecture. Now, I understand that everyone occasionally forgets to turn off and gets a nasty ringing surprise in a quiet public place; however, there is simply no excuse for the person sitting behind me to have taken the call from her seat in the middle of the presentation. I turned around and glared at her. If she is reading this, yes, I mean you.

It is also unfortunate that two-thirds of the audience (i.e., most of the SAGES students in attendance) got up and left immediately at the end of the formal presentation and did not stay for the Q&A. It was in her answers to the questions that Rita Dove was most revealing about her working methods, inspirations, and her background as a poet.