Monday, February 24, 2014

A review of this weekend's NY Opera Exchange production of The Magic Flute

It was a lifelong dream of mine to play in the orchestra for Mozart's The Magic Flute, and after this weekend I can check that accomplishment off my list. I had a wonderful time playing one of my favorite operas with a talented cast of singers and musicians.

Here's a review of the production from Voce di meche, an opera blog about chamber opera companies  in New York. I only got to see a few hints of the full production from my seat in the pit, but I think they've captured the spirit of the show. It was such an honor to be involved in the production and I look forward to many more!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Super Bowl party recipe roundup

Because a few of you asked me (or my wife) for recipes from photos I posted:

Smoked salmon dip
This dip was a big hit. We went through almost all of what we made. We served it with pita chips but it would also work well with a sliced and toasted baguette.

Chorizo queso
This dip didn't come out quite as well as I'd hoped. The cheese coagulated quickly and turned stringy and watery. It might have worked better if I'd had a smaller cast iron skillet, and if I'd thought to pre-heat the skillet in the broiler or oven. It was still delicious but it was difficult to get it onto a chip.

Braised brisket sandwiches
These turned out to be one of the best sandwiches I've ever made. I used beef stock instead of beer and brisket instead of short ribs. I browned the meat in a Dutch oven, then browned the vegetables and deglazed the oven with the stock and poured it all into my slow cooker. 8 hours later, I strained the vegetables, added the horseradish sauce and reduced the broth, and sliced the meat against the grain. I put everything back (except the vegetables) into the slow cooker and let it warm until halftime. I didn't make the pickled vegetables, so I just served the sandwiches with a slice of cheddar cheese on a toasted baguette.

Orzo pasta salad
I wanted a starchy side dish for the sandwich but I didn't want to make anything with potatoes. I also wanted to make something from my friend Sarah's massive football recipe collection. I will definitely make this pasta salad again when I need something to bring to a cookout or a party.

Fat Witch Brownies and Oreo cheesecake cookies
We always challenge ourselves to make dishes for the Super Bowl that are in some way associated with the teams playing in the game or the city hosting the game. To celebrate the Super Bowl in New York and New Jersey, my wife made these brownies from New York's Chelsea Market and these Oreo cheesecake cookies. Both of them were amazing.

The game was a blowout but it gave all of us at the party a chance to catch up and talk about things other than Manningface. Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks and their fans! Maybe now they'll stop complaining about Super Bowl XL.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

The DJ's view of our wedding

Gary was the DJ for our wedding last Saturday and he did a fantastic job. If you're getting married in the Cleveland area or just need a DJ for a party, Gary is your man.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Petrushka" at the New York Philharmonic: Everyone's a dancer!

Last night's performance of Igor Stravinsky's "Petrushka," a collaboration between the New York Philharmonic and Giants Are Small Productions, was 35 minutes of sheer joy and exuberance. I haven't been that entertained by the Philharmonic and its musicians in weeks (or at least since our previous concert at the beginning of June). The musicians were fully integrated into the ballet, wearing Russian hats and scarves, stomping their feet, drinking tea from a full Russian tea service, miming shots of vodka, dancing and changing seats during the scene changes. At several points the musicians stood up and moved around as they played the music of the Shrovetide Fair. Violist Rebecca Young showed some heretofore unheralded talents, juggling scarves and dancing in the middle of the stage. Maestro Alan Gilbert led the musicians from the podium, but he also played the role of the Magician, who brings to life the puppet characters of Petrushka, Columbine the ballerina, and The Moor. These characters appeared as puppets on screen and on stage, and as live-action characters played by opera singers Anthony Ross Costanzo and Eric Owens, with Sara Mearns as Columbine. In addition, the master puppeteers and scenic designers of Giants Are Small filled the stage with miniature Ferris wheels, snow sled runs, chuck-a-luck wheels, merry-go-rounds, and other rides found at fairs, all filmed and projected live on the screen overhead. I couldn't stop smiling the entire time. It was one of the most entertaining things I've ever seen at Avery Fisher Hall.

The first half of the program, Stravinsky's "The Fairy's Kiss," featured lovely music strongly reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not music of that Russian master had he lived another 20 years, but Stravinsky's musical tribute to his forebear. The ballet that accompanied it did not follow the original story of the program, so it was more difficult to follow the action. But it looked lovely, and Giants Are Small provided more miniatures and camera work to add to the story's illustration. The two works had as a connection a brief post-intermission piano interlude by Louis Durey called "Neige" that showed Mearns' transformation from the ballerina of the first half into Columbine for "Petrushka." I'm not sure it was completely necessary, but the music was a refreshing palate cleanser leading into the magnificence that was "Petrushka."

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Jazz night at the New York Philharmonic

Three years ago, the New York Philharmonic premiered Wynton Marsalis's Swing Symphony on opening night and I wrote about it in my review of that concert. My memory must be going in my old age, because I remembered little about watching that concert on TV other than thinking the piece was good but nothing remarkable. When I saw tonight's concert on my schedule, featuring a variety of jazz and jazz-like pieces by Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Copland along with Marsalis's work, I thought that it would be great to see Mark Nuccio (acting principal clarinet) play the Copland Clarinet Concerto and that the Marsalis piece would be interesting to hear live. But that was it. I wasn't prepared for just how much I'd enjoy actually hearing the work in person.

The concert opened with Igor Stravinsky's Ragtime for 11 instruments, which sounded like a Scott Joplin piece as translated by a Russian living in Paris writing avant-garde music at the end of the First World War. I liked the odd twangy sound of the cimbalom, not a typical orchestral instrument but one that fit right in with Stravinsky's unique sound. Next came Dmitri Shostakovich's Tahiti Trot, a piece that we would better know as "Tea For Two." There were some giggles from the audience as the familiar melody passed from one group of instruments to the other, from harp and celeste to winds to brass to strings and finally to the whole orchestra in unison. Assistant Conductor Case Scaglione was right at home running the orchestra through these two vastly different yet similarly jazzy works.

Mark Nuccio took the stage for Aaron Copland's Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, composed in 1950 for Benny Goodman. His playing was sublime, tender and fluid in the first movement and fast and furious in the frenetic second movement. Alan Gilbert did a fine job of managing the orchestra in the first movement though I wished the strings could have been softer in the second movement so that the rapid-fire notes of the clarinet would have come through more clearly.

Wynton Marsalis's Swing Symphony was the featured work on the second half of the program. It took a few extra minutes to get the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra all set up. They occupied the middle of the stage, with saxophones, trombones and trumpets, plus upright bass, piano and drums, with the rest of the orchestra surrounding them. There was a larger than usual battery of percussion at the back of the stage, and throughout the piece the Philharmonic percussion section made full use of it. Marsalis balanced the jazz orchestra's involvement with the rest of the orchestra. There were sections that only involved the jazz musicians taking solos, and in other places they sat while the Philharmonic played. But most of the work had both groups playing together, bouncing melodies off each other and sharing lines. Oboes picked up a fugal subject that the solo clarinetist in the band introduced. Concertmaster Glen Dicterow took a solo turn, as did principal cellist Carter Brey. And each member of the jazz orchestra got a chance to show their talents, including Mr. Marsalis, which had me sitting in my seat thinking "that's Wynton freaking Marsalis playing in the same room as me!!" Yes, I was more than a little excited by this piece. My favorite parts were the Philharmonic percussionists in their white ties and tails, playing bongos, Cuban rhythms on drums, or just clapping rhythmically in places. You don't know what you're missing until you've seen the Philharmonic timpanist put down his mallets and clap along with the other members of the percussion section. I think the Swing Symphony works much better as a live concert piece than as a recording or on video, but I would love to hear the piece again, even recorded, just to hear what I might have missed.

The seven movements of the work (expanded from the five performed on opening night in 2010 to include more recent jazz elements) took the listener through the entire history of jazz, from ragtime and New Orleans to the big band sound of the '40s to bebop and Coltrane and modern jazz. And the conceit worked extremely well. I could imagine that I was in a New Orleans bar, then a jazz club in the Village, then (of all things) a big band concert back home in Johnstown, PA. The audience applauded at the end of each movement, and it didn't seem at all unusual for a concert like that. The spirit of jazz seemed to have taken hold of everyone in the room. I listened to most of the piece with a huge smile on my face, enjoying every minute. Mr. Gilbert appeared to be enjoying himself as well, smiling when he made a cue or started another section with a new jaunty tempo. The members of the jazz orchestra, dressed in suits and long ties as opposed to the Philharmonic in their tuxedoes, had their own ways of communicating with each other. They whispered to each other during the piece and Mr. Marsalis occasionally leaned over to groove along with his drummer. At the end of the piece both Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Marsalis received long, loud ovations from the audience, as did the jazz orchestra. The jazz group favored us with an encore, which started with a solo from Mr. Marsalis followed by each member of the group. When the bass player finished his solo he gestured toward the Philharmonic's bass section. We couldn't tell what was going on at first, but then one of the Philharmonic's bassists did his own pizzicato solo. This led to a few minutes of dueling bass solos between the jazz orchestra's bassist and the Philharmonic's bassist. I haven't seen anything like that since the last time I was in New Orleans, and that's not even close to the same thing.

It was quite possibly the most fun I've had at the New York Philharmonic in years, and I always enjoy the concertgoing experience there. I haven't seen an audience reaction to a piece like that in a long time. It's so exciting to see that. We're going back at the end of the month for two Stravinsky ballets (with the help of the geniuses at Giants Are Small) and we can't wait to see what the Philharmonic has in store then.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Jeanne Cooper passes away

I was saddened this morning to hear of the passing of Jeanne Cooper, star of "The Young And The Restless" on CBS. My mother has watched the show since it started in 1973, and Ms. Cooper had starred as Katherine Chancellor almost since the beginning. I grew up watching the show with my mother, at first during the summer when I was home from school, then sometimes at night when we would record that day's show and watch it on the VCR. About a decade later, my then-wife (who is also a longtime fan) would watch the show on VHS or on our DVR. So I spent at least 20 years off and on watching Ms. Cooper on the show. My mother said she feels like she's lost a member of our family, and I feel the same way.