Friday, February 17, 2012

We love good reviews!

"Under [Muñoz's] skilled watch, Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms" left an indelible impression, as the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus struck the ideal blend of sensuousness and ritual. At full throttle, the power of the singers was daunting, while elsewhere, their stately pace and transparent vocalism invited listeners to ponder the text and bask in dissonance.

Here's the review.

Photo credit: Audience member and chorus friend Guytano Parks

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Who's Your Cousin?

I feel so lucky to know the Jazzman and be a part of his extended family. He has two brothers, with whom he has frequent, friendly interaction. His dad came from a family of five or six. One of those brothers had 14 kids, and one had 13. I forget all the numbers, but there are a bunch of cousins. They're all close. His dad's only sister passed on last fall, and most of the cousins were in the church for the funeral. They vacation together, party together, observe holidays together.

They like each other!!!

I have a handful of cousins on my daddy's side, but my daddy died in 1984 and my mother wasn't close to his relatives (nor he hers!). I have three cousins on my mother's side, and we keep track of each other on Facebook and, occasionally, in person. But we're nothing like the wonderful, warm and loving clan that the Jazzman is part of.

Thinking about cousins this week led me to ponder my parents' extended families. I don't recall either my mother or my father ever mentioning their extended families. I have no idea what siblings their parents had, nor whether they ever spent time with these family members.

That's just not right.

It makes me want to fit a subscription to into my budget so I can do some research and fill in the holes. Because of my adoption, I don't truly feel they're my family, but I would like to know of their existence. They did, after all, have a contribution in how I was raised.

All those pieces to the puzzle eventually fit together, whether you like the picture or not.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How It's Done

Pierre BoulezEver since the 2011-2012 Cleveland Orchestra schedule came out, I've been looking forward to singing under the baton of Maestro Pierre Boulez. He is a legendary conductor, and he's been places and known people who are also legendary in the world of classical music.

This week the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus are performing the Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms. I first heard bits of this work when I studied with Nadia Boulanger in the summer in 1971 at Écoles d'Art Américaines in Fontainebleau, France.

The summer I spent in Fontainebleau marked the 50th anniversary of the school. Almost every famous musician who had ever studied or taught there returned for that summer. Each night some musical luminary was invited to dinner with Mlle. Boulanger, and there were always students included on the guest list.

Igor Stravinsky was a close friend and colleague of Mademoiselle (as we called her). She loved his music, and he had chosen her to teach his younger son, Soulima, in 1929. Igor was scheduled to spend at least a few days in residence for this star-studded summer. Alas, his death in April of 1971 changed those plans. But Soulima was there. As I recall, in one of the many concerts we attended that summer, Soulima played the piano and conducted some of his father's work.

The night I was included on the guest list for Mademoiselle's dinner, Soulima and his wife were in attendance. I was a 21-year-old sheltered child from the South, who just happened to be a very good pianist and musician. I had not been trained by teachers who worked to increase my knowledge of the big picture of music. I really had no idea of the greatness with which I was surrounded.

So, knowing Boulez was coming to town brought all of that—the music, the musical stars, the vision-changing experience of learning how little I knew—full circle. So many of the luminaries from that summer are gone now. There are many young musicians who have never heard of Nadia Boulanger. I treasure the memory of that summer. And I would be able to sing, led by someone who knew them all!

But Maestro Boulez is almost 87, and having some vision problems. Last week he was to conduct the men of the Chorus in three Schubert songs, and the orchestra in the Mahler Symphony No. 7. Early in the week, his opthalmologist advised him not to conduct. The Cleveland Orchestra administrative staff quickly rearranged the program, substituting the Mahler #5 for #7, and bringing in the highly respected conductor, David Robertson, from St. Louis. Director of Choruses, Robert Porco—our beloved Bob—conducted the Schubert.

But the plan for this week was unknown. Would Boulez's eye problems be under control enough that he could conduct?

No. It was not to be.

Maestro Tito MuñozAgain, the administrative staff worked wonders, bringing back former Cleveland Orchestra Assistant Conductor Tito Muñoz. Take a minute and read his bio. He's 28 years old! And he's so cute. As a mother and grandmother, I just want to go up and pinch his cheeks and tousle his hair. He has achieved what I dreamed my own son would achieve. Good for him!!

And he's incredibly insightful and intuitive, as a conductor stepping onto the podium in front of a chorus he's never conducted before. (He told us that in his three years as Assistant Conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra, he never had the pleasure of conducting the chorus.)

The Stravinsky is tough. There are dissonances where each choral voice struggles to find and maintain its pitch. There are unusual meters and unusual syncopations and unusual harmonizations. It's Stravinsky. It's brilliant!

When we first met with Maestro Muñoz for our Conductor's Piano Rehearsal on Monday night, we got to one of the fast-tricky parts in the third movement. Bob Porco had prepared us for this passage by conducting it in 4. We knew exactly where all those off-beats would fall. Muñoz dove into it with a 2-pattern, and we all just about fell off the risers. When you're used to looking for "two" and "four", and suddenly you're looking for "the and of one" or an even smaller subdivision of beats, it's a big stumble waiting to happen.

As I practiced yesterday, I was discouraged, thinking about how last night's first orchestra rehearsal might go. I normally love every moment I'm on that stage, but I wasn't looking forward to this.

The rehearsal progressed. We got to the third movement. We got to the fast-tricky part. All eyes were on Maestro Muñoz. AND HE BEAT IN FOUR!!!!! We nailed it. We observed every rest and hit every entrance perfectly.

That, Dear Friends, is what a good conductor does. He enables the musicians to do their best. He listens and observes and intuits the actions on his part that are necessary to a stellar performance.

If you're in Cleveland on Thursday night, Friday night, or Saturday night, come to Severance Hall and observe a brilliant young conductor that will—hopefully—have another 50 or 60 years of showing the world how good conductors operate.

If you're not in Cleveland, tune your browser to at 8:00 p.m. EST. It will be a feast for your ears.

8:00 PM
Severance Hall
The Cleveland Orchestra
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
Tito Muñoz, conductor

SCHOENBERG - Three Piano Pieces
MOZART - Piano Concerto No. 18
STRAVINSKY - Symphonies
of Wind Instruments
STRAVINSKY - Symphony of Psalms

Interesting reading: A Most Unsuccessful Project: Nadia Boulanger, Igor Stravinsky, and the Symphony in C, 1939–45

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Doing What One Needs to Do

May I make a confession? I hate exercise. I have never enjoyed exercise, ever in my entire life. In Pathfinders (the Adventist equivalent of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), I ran the 100 yard dash and did the high jump and broad jump and got lots of blue ribbons for swimming competitions. And I like to walk. But to tie on a pair of track shoes and actually walk out the door? That doesn't happen easily.

The Jazzman and I joined the JCC about six weeks ago. I've been averaging once a week for hitting the treadmill. Not so good for the amount of money the membership cost. I kept looking at the class schedule, and decided to try a cardio class. I'm 61, after all. I don't have the lung capacity I used to have, which is a bit of a challenge when singing. So I went to Cardio Low a week ago. And I lived through it.

So I went again on Friday, and a friend of mine showed up for the class. And the people in the class are all so friendly and helpful and encouraging to me. And the teacher is friendly and nice. And I was proud of myself for making it through the class.

So I went Monday. And I went Wednesday, even with a headache.

I think I can do this.

You know what one of my motivating factors is? The thought that by the time I hit 62 I might not have wings hanging down from my upper arms.

That's a noble goal, dontcha think?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Inspiration and Coming Back

I've missed posting to this blog, but life has just been roiling with other things — singing, a new piano gig, work, and the vandalism problem (which appears to have abated - knock wood!).

Blog post topics are starting to percolate in my brain, and I attribute that partly to having joined the gym around the corner and making myself regularly attend a cardio class. I hate every minute of it, and have to remind myself that it's supposed to be fun. I know it's good for me—required for my aging body. But I really.really.really don't enjoy it.

All that aside, I'll be back here in a day or two.

In the interim, please read the inspirational writing of my cyber/fiber friend, Lynne Farrow. She writes at

I so respect the work Lynne is doing and am in awe of her energy. I believe you will enjoy her thought-provoking writing as much as I do.

See you soon.