Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gordon Square, a Cleveland success story

Those of us in the Cuyahoga area lamented the bad news that arrived on the heels of the 2010 Census: Cleveland’s population dropped to under 400,000 for the first time since the beginning of the 20th Century. The reasons for the population decline in Cleveland are complex and best left to another article, but suffice it to say, since hitting its peak at over 900,000 residents in the 1950s, fewer and fewer people have wanted to live in Cleveland. Thanks to the Interstate Highway system and, until recently, cheap gasoline, those who have had the means to leave have left.

Today, however, I’d like to focus on one of Cleveland’s rare success stories: Gordon Square.

Ten years ago, I dated someone who lived in the area of Detroit Road and West 65th street. We hadn’t even thought to call it Gordon Square back then. It was a rather unsavory area, save for a small Italian-American enclave to the north of Detroit Road trying to insulate itself from urban
decline. The only signs of life there were a Vietnamese restaurant and Cleveland Public Theatre. My date and I would leave the windows open on summer nights, and the most common sounds were screeching tires, police sirens and prostitutes yelling at johns.

But there were a few leaders with fortitude and a vision for the neighborhood, including James Levin (owner of the CPT) and Councilman Matt Zone, who were determined to forge a diamond from the rough.

In a previous post, I sang Capitol Theatre’s praises. For those with kids, or the young at heart, they will be showing The Wizard of Oz on May 8.

Rincon Criollo has long been a favored place for Dan & me. It’s the nearest place, aside from our own kitchen, where we can get a true taste of Puerto Rican cuisine. Afterwards, we walked west on Detroit Road and soon found ourselves inside Sweet Moses. Going here was like returning to my childhood, an authentic ice cream shop from an earlier era, before chains like Dairy Queen took over the confectionary landscape. Here were authentic soda-jerks, working a restored soda fountain where one could get a variety of floats and phosphates. Dan & I settled on more traditional sundaes, appropriately served in a traditional glass bowl. (Those of us east siders
past a certain age will remember Connors Ice Cream on Mayfield Road. This was similar, except in place of the player piano there was piped in 1940s Big Band music.)

Bike racks are placed conveniently outside, so you can work off the calories you're about to consume.

After the cold treats, we headed into the warm sunshine and strolled off Detroit Road to sample more of the neighborhood. The area between Detroit Road and the railroad tracks holds a new development called Battery Park, with new townhouses in various stages of completion, and a community center being created from the old Eveready Powerhouse. Ten years ago, I could
never have imagined myself living in this neighborhood. Now it would be tempting if Dan and I didn’t work in the eastern suburbs.

This diversity in restaurants, retail, and housing means that there is something for everyone, a far cry from the monolithic experience of exurbia. Gordon Square is now a walkable neighborhood (a true neighborhood, not a bunch of McMansions crammed into cul-de-sacs), where residents can access a variety of experiences without having to drive all over creation.
(Indeed, one could live quite nicely here without owning a car.) All of this is offered in an area that has a diversity of housing options (from spacious rambling century homes, small craftsman houses, and the new townhomes I mentioned) while the shopping district has a unified and unique style. At the same time, the designers have not gone overboard trying to prettify or Disneyfy the area, it retains the grittiness that is an essential part of Cleveland. The only aspect of the GS redesign that I take issue with is the bus stops, an ultra-modern look that sacrifices
practicality for trendiness – as shelters they are practically worthless.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Detroit Shoreway area (of which Gordon Square is a part) has bucked the trend and seen a population increase over the past decade.

Gordon Square may soon have an East Side counterpart in University Circle. They are not totally similar; UC has long been an arts hub thanks to the Cleveland Orchestra, the Art and Science Museums, and an economic base driven by Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, and the local VA. But for decades, suburbanites have
descended on UC to do the “arts-thing”, high-tailing it back to their safe homes. Over the past decade, UC’s assets have developed dramatically, and new, upscale housing and more affordable apartments are being constructed. The increasing price of transportation (and yes, the price of gas will remain high into the foreseeable future) can only help the revival of cities and their first-ring suburbs.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Religion...

Recently, I received an email from a reader about my religious beliefs, more specifically on how I reconciled them with my sexual orientation. Since this is a freely published blog readable by anyone, I seldom go into very personal matters. It may be the WASP reserve which I inherited from my parents, but I find religious proselytizing of any kind distasteful. Religion, to me, is a deeply personal matter, moreso even than sex. Too often, it has been used to persecute others - I blame no specific faith, but the monotheistic sects have been particularly egregious violators of free-thinking.

But my philosophy is neatly summed up by the philosopher-king:

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
— Marcus Aurelius

Regardless of my readers' religious beliefs, or lack thereof, I wish you a happy day. If you're celebrating Easter today, I hope the celebration is a joyous one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

25 years ago today...

The date of April 20 is pregnant with historical import. The French Revolutionary wars began on April 20, 1792. Hitler was born in Austria on this date in 1889. 110 years later, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and injured 24 others before committing suicide at Columbine High School in Colorado. Last year, the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven workers and beginning an oil spill that would last five months.

But I prefer to remember April 20th by a happier occasion that took place in 1986: Vladimir Horowitz's first concert in his native Russia since he defected from that country in 1925. I clearly recall the sense of anticipation as I awakened in Haverhill, Massachusetts that Sunday morning to watch a live telecast of the concert, on a black & white television. Despite the grain and lack of cable TV quality, I couldn't take my eyes off that event, as the 82 year old man shuffled onstage, patted his piano like a beloved pet, and began spinning sounds that had no right to be heard from a percussion instrument. I even recorded the recital on a small audio cassette recorder, and when the VHS tape was issued, I bought my first VCR.

Click here to read my review of the CD.

Click here to read my review of the DVD.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gallic and Gallant Mozart from Casadesus

Sony has reissued all off Robert Casadesus' stereo recordings of Mozart's Piano Concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra (sometimes billed as the Columbia Symphony) under George Szell, along with the Concertos for Two and Three Pianos that included Casadesus' wife and son. I hope Sony issues the mono recordings in a future set.

Click here to read my full review.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gallant Mozart from Casadesus and Szell

Sony has reissued Robert Casadesus' recordings of two of Mozart's Piano Concertos with The Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell.

Click here to read my review.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bracing Haydn from Szell and the Clevelanders

Sony has reissued George Szell's recordings of Haydn Symphonies (including two mono recordings that haven't been issued on CD before). The bassoon fart in Symphony No. 93 is worth the price.

Click here for my review...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Some people have no shame

Sadly, some people take delight in creating hoaxes - as is the case of the creator of this video. It claims to be a recording of Vladimir Horowitz playing Liszt's polyglot Hexameron. Trouble is, Horowitz never played this work, let alone recorded it. The actual performer here, with the recording slightly altered, is the late Raymond Lewenthal.

One wonders if pianohpiano also creates myths about weapons of mass destruction.

Shouters who drown out the barkers...

Sunday, Dan and I drove around the Cleveland area with Mason. We stopped at Sonic in Parma, then took a leisurely route past the airport, through the Rocky River Metroparks reservation - which lead to a stop at Lakewood’s Dog Park for Mason’s enjoyment. I’ve driven past this dog park before, but never went inside. South Euclid has a small dog park, but Lakewood’s puts ours to shame in terms of size. Not only is it larger, but several trees within the fenced area give the space some variety. Of course, Lakewood is a much larger city than South Euclid, so this is understandable.

Lakewood’s Dog Park was the subject of a lawsuit between that city and Rocky River. The suit was the result of complaints from some residents on nearby High Parkway, who complained that noise and odors from the dog park were negatively impacting their way of life. (As an aside, I noticed several unattended piles of dog droppings at Lakewood’s park that would never be seen in South Euclid.) The suit received a great deal of media coverage and fomented resentment on both sides of the border. There were accusations that the plaintiffs’ were politically connected and exerting undue influence to get the city of Rocky River to take Lakewood to court. A noise study was undertaken and it was determined that the dog barking was not a barrier to the plaintiffs being able to enjoy their backyards. The court concluded the plaintiffs’ complaints were deemed unfounded and the case was decided in Lakewood’s favor – which meant the dog park could stay and that Rocky River would have to eat the court costs.

Sunday, as we were enjoying the dog park, we heard only the occasional bark - this despite the area being filled to full capacity. The real source of noise was traffic, particularly motorcycles whose riders were enjoying the warm weather. Did the plaintiffs ever consider filing a lawsuit against motorcycle riders? Of course not. They went after the easy target, the dog owners.

Had the plaintiffs won their case, the Lakewood Dog Park would have been forced to shut down, meaning that hundreds of dog owners would be unable to use that park, due to the complaints of a few connected and aggressive individuals.

Fortunately, the court decided that those who were shouting the loudest were not automatically entitled to get their way.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Rachmaninoff

Sergei Vassilievich Rachmaninoff (for his last name, I use the spelling the composer himself preferred) was born on this date in 1873. He excelled as a pianist, conductor, and composer – although his mastery of the last of these has only been acknowledged over the last few decades – and he still endures condescension from some. The Groves Dictionary's curt dismissal of the composer ("The enormous popular success some few of Rachmaninoff’s works had in his lifetime is not likely to last..."), has been proven doubly wrong - not only are the popular chestnuts, the Second Symphony, Second Concerto and Prelude in C-sharp minor as popular as ever, but other works such as the Symphonic Dances and The Bells have entered the standard repertoire. Oh well, Groves hasn't had the best track record anyway.

Here are recording recommendations for many of his best known, and some not as well known, works. This is a personal list, which reflects my favorite recordings, and offers no pretense that these are the “best” or “definitive” versions. I have long since disavowed myself from the notion that music as oft-recorded and performed as this can ever have a “final” statement. As usual, I limit myself to a maximum of two recommendations per work (except for the Op. 36 Sonata which exists in different versions) and place the value of the performance before that of the sound quality, so many of these are historical recordings:

Op. 1 – Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor:
Byron Janis/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner/RCA
Krystian Zimerman/Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa/DG

Op. 3 – Five Morceaux de Fantasie:
Ruth Laredo/Sony
(This opus also contains the infamous Prelude in C-sharp minor. The composer made several indispensable recordings of this piece which are on RCA.)

Op. 7 – The Rock:
Mikhail Pletnev/Russian National Orchestra/DG
Lorin Maazel/Berlin Philharmonic/DG

Op. 13 – Symphony No. 1 in D minor:
Vladimir Askkenazy/Concertgebow Orchestra/Decca-London
Mikhail Pletnev/Russian National Orchestra/DG

Op. 16 – Six Moments Musicaux:
Lazar Berman/DG
Ruth Laredo/Sony

Op. 17 – Suite No. 2 for two pianos:
Martha Argerich & Nelson Friere/Phillips
Vitya Vronsky & Victor Babin/RCA (not available on CD)

Op. 18 – Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor:
Sergei Rachmaninoff/Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (1924 recording, made on a beautiful Mason & Hamlin piano)
Stephen Hough/Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton/Hyperion

Op. 19 – Sonata for Cello and Piano in F minor:
Edmund Kurtz & William Kapell/RCA;
Yo-Yo Ma & Emanuel Ax/Sony

Op. 22 – Variations on a Theme of Chopin:
Jorge Bolet/Decca-London
Earl Wild/Chesky

Op. 23 – Ten Preludes:
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Decca-London
Earl Wild/Chesky
(There are also distinguished recordings of various preludes by Sviatoslav Richter, Horowitz, and the composer himself.)

Op. 27 – Symphony No. 2:
Ivan Fisher/Budapest Festival Orchestra/Channel Classics
Mikhail Pletnev/Russian National Orchestra/DG
(There are other fine versions, such as Ormandy’s Philadelphia recording with Columbia Sokoloff’s Cleveland Orchestra recording on Brunswick – which was the world premiere recording – but I disqualify those from my list as they are cut.)

Op. 28 – Piano Sonata in D minor:
Ruth Laredo/Sony Alexis Weissenberg/DG

Op. 29 – The Isle of the Dead:
Sergei Rachmaninoff/Philadelphia Orchestra/RCA
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Concertgebow Orchestra/Decca-London

Op. 30 – Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor:
Vladimir Horowitz/RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
Van Cliburn/Symphony of the Air/Kiril Kondrashin

Op. 32 – Thirteen Preludes:
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Decca-London Ruth Laredo/Sony
(Again, distinguished recordings of various Preludes have been made by Richter, Horowitz, and Weissenberg, and the composer.)

Op. 33 – Eight Etudes-Tableaux:
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Decca-London
(Authorized and non-authorized recordings of several of these on several labels by Richter are worth seeking out. Horowitz’s recording of the C major [from 1962] should be part of any piano library.)

Op. 35 – The Bells:
Kiril Kondrashin/Moscow Philharmonic/RCA
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Concertgebow Orchestra/Decca-London

Op. 36 – Piano Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 36:
Original 1913 version: Van Cliburn/RCA
Revised 1931 version: Jean-Yves Thibaudet/Decca-London
Fusion version: Vladimir Horowitz (Sony, 1968) (From an architectural point of view, Horowitz’s fusion of the original and revised versions is the best compromise between the rambling original and eviscerated revised versions.)

Op. 37 - All-Night Vigil (Vespers):
Karl Dent/Robert Shaw Festival Singers/Robert Shaw/Telarc

Op. 39 – Nine Etudes-Tableaux:
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Decca-London
(Kissin recorded several of the Op. 39 for RCA during his early years – fragrant, colorful performances. Horowitz’s recordings of the C minor [from 1945] E-flat minor [1962] and D major [1967] are indispensable.)

Op. 40 – Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor:
Sergei Rachmaninoff/Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy;
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli/Philharmonia Orchestra/Ettore Gracis/EMI

Op. 42 – Variations on a Theme of Corelli:
Andre Watts/Columbia (shamefully, Sony has never issued this on CD, but it is available as part of Phillips’ Great Pianists of the 20th Century series)
Jean-Yves Thibaudet/Decca-London

Op. 43 – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini:
Benno Moiseiwitsch/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Basil Cameron/Naxos
William Kapell/Robin Hood Dell Orchestra/Fritz Reiner/RCA

Op. 44 Symphony No. 3 in A minor:
Sergei Rachmaninoff/Philadelphia Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski/National Philharmonic Orchestra/Newton

Op. 45 – Symphonic Dances:
Kiril Kondrashin/Moscow Philharmonic/RCA;
Vladimir Ashkenazy/Concertgebow Orchestra/Decca-London
(Honorable mention goes to the stellar rendition of the two piano version by Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire on DG. RCA scandalously declined to record the composer himself with Horowitz in this piece.)