Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Cruise down the Seine

One activity during our stay in Paris, which I did not describe in earlier posts, was an early evening cruise down the Seine River.  Instead of the well-known, large "Bateaux Moches" which ply the river, we took a smaller boat line, "Vedettes du Pont Neuf", which departs from the "Ile de la Cite", the island in the middle of the Seine.

The cruise was a very pleasant way to see many of the landmarks of Paris from a different vantage point.

The D'Orsay Museum, which once was a train station.
One of the numerous bridges crossing the Seine.  Notice the letter "N" on the bridge.  It was constructed during the reign of Napoleon.
I don't need to identify this iconic landmark.
All along the riverbank, people gather on the quays to enjoy the summer evening.
Notre Dame Cathedral
The cathedral silhouetted against the evening sky.
By the time we disembarked, night had fallen upon the "City of Lights". 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Another Orchestra Concert

Last night I returned to Blossom Music Center for another concert of the Cleveland Orchestra.  It was sunny when we took our seats in the pavilion, but by the first intermission storm clouds were gathering.  It turned out to be a rainy, thundery evening, and nature provided its own percussion section.  At one point there was a flash of lightning that certainly struck nearby and a deafening clap of thunder that brought the concert to a momentary pause. 

The concert was nearly three hours long.  It began at 7:00 with a couple of pieces performed by the Kent/Blossom Music Festival Chamber Orchestra.  Each summer a five week institute is held for professional music training.  A group of talented students is mentored by members of the Cleveland Orchestra and the music faculty of Kent State University.  Last night the young musicians performed Richard Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" and Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin".   They did an outstanding job, and were better than some professional orchestras that I have heard.

After an intermission, at 8:00 our renowned Cleveland Orchestra took the stage.  They began with Beethoven's "Fidelio Overture", and continued with Franz Liszt's brilliant "Piano Concerto No. 1".  The soloist, a British pianist by the name of Stephen Hough, was excellent.

After a second intermission, the Kent/Blossom Chamber Orchestra returned to sit side by side with the Cleveland Orchestra to perform the "Symphony No. 2" by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  Everything up to this point was superb, but the "Symphony No. 2" was what I was waiting for.  It is one of my very favorite pieces of music, and the combined orchestras did not disappoint!

(image from the web)
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

The symphony is very long (45 minutes), but you don't want it to end.  It grabs you from the very beginning.  The work alternates between passages of peaceful melodies, then rising tension and volume, and then majestic "mini-climaxes" often featuring the brass section.  The final movement builds and builds and builds to an incredibly powerful climax.  Every time that I hear a live performance of this work, I am literally trembling and emotionally drained by the conclusion.  My friend Frank, who went with me, had never heard this symphony before. He was blown away, and said that he had never heard anything like it. 
If you like classical music, and have never heard this Sibelius symphony before, I found on You Tube a complete performance by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  He takes the tempos a bit slower than normal, but it is a tremendous performance.  You can see on Bernstein's face how emotionally involved he is with this magnificent piece of music.
Now, if I may rant for a moment, one of my pet peeves is people who do not know how to conduct themselves at a symphony concert.  While the "Fidelio Overture" was playing, the woman behind me was talking with her husband... not just a whisper, but loud enough for me to hear her conversation.  I turned around and went "shhhhh".  She continued talking, and I went "shhhhh" more insistently.  She said, "Oh, shush yourself."  But she stopped talking.  She was obviously miffed with me, and when the piece was over, she and her group moved to some empty seats further down the row.  Good!!  I just hope she didn't disturb a different group of people.  Rant over...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Random pictures of Paris

I'm sorting through the pictures I took of Paris.  Here are some that I did not post earlier...

Our hotel was in a delightful neighborhood not far from the Eiffel Tower.  The streets were lined with sidewalk cafés, flower shops and food shops.

We ate a couple of times at this café just down the street from our hotel.  Here I ate the best French onion soup I have ever had.

This café was thronged with people watching the World Cup match between France and Switzerland.  (Of course, I kept my mouth shut, and did not let it be known that I was rooting for Switzerland.)

During our wanderings through the city we never got to the Arc de Triomphe,  but we did see this smaller but impressive archway in front of the Louvre.
A passageway leading into the plaza by the Louvre
An impressive government building facing the Place de la Concorde
The Grand Palais and the Petit Palais (the Big and Small Palaces) stand across the street from each other.  They were both built as exhibition halls for the World's Fair of 1900.  Today they are both art museums.  We briefly visited the Petit Palais, but by that point "museum fatigue" was starting to set in.

More to come...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Flowers of Giverny

If you are an admirer of the painter Claude Monet, you have probably heard of Giverny, his country home.  And you probably immediately think of the pond of water lilies which inspired so many of his paintings.

The water lily pond is still there, and is a highlight of a visit to Giverny.  But the gardens of Monet's home are very extensive, and contain a wide variety of beautiful flowers.  Here are a few close-ups of blossoms that I took when I visited last month.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"A Taste of Spain" in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

No, this is not a restaurant review, but rather an account of a Cleveland Orchestra concert that I attended last night with a friend.

The concert was held at Blossom Music Center, the orchestra's summer home, located in Cuyahoga Falls, a suburb of Akron, about 30 miles from where I live.  Blossom is a beautiful venue, set in woodlands at the edge of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  It was built in 1968 and renovated in 2002.  The site was chosen not just for it natural beauty, but also for the fact that it is located away from any airline flight paths.  The only sounds to distract the concertgoers are the singing of birds and the occasional summer thunderstorm.  The lawn which slopes down toward the concert pavilion is a favorite place for picnickers to enjoy a summer evening of great music.  I, however, have reached the age where I prefer to pay extra for a seat under the shelter of the pavilion.

I took the photo above last summer.  Yesterday's weather was less perfect.  It was cloudy and had rained much of the day.  The rains held off, however, during the time we were there.  There was a benefit to the threatening weather.  Attendance was relatively low, especially on the lawn.  So we were able to park closer to the pavilion, and when we left there was not the usual snarl of traffic.

Last night's concert was entitled "A Taste of Spain" because two of the three pieces were of a Spanish flavor.  (A perfect concert for a retired Spanish teacher who had just visited Spain earlier this summer!) 

The first piece on the program was a selection of numbers from the "Carmen Suites" by the French composer Georges Bizet.  The orchestral melodies, taken from the famous opera "Carmen", are all very familiar to classical music buffs.  Although written by a Frenchman, the music evokes the rhythms of Spain.  It was masterfully played by our world-class orchestra.

The second piece, the "Violin Concerto No. 3" by another 19th century French composer, Camille Saint-Saens, had nothing to do with Spain.   (Well, there is a remote connection with Spain.  Saint-Saens wrote it for the Spanish violin virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate.) It was a number that I had never heard before.  The concerto was very pleasant, but was not truly memorable.  It didn't "grab" me until the finale, and it's not the kind of composition where the melodies stick in your head afterwards.  The soloist was a talented Canadian violinist by the name of Karen Gomyo. 

After intermission, the final work was the complete ballet music from "The Three Cornered Hat" ("El sombrero de tres picos") by the early 20th century composer Manuel de Falla.  Usually in concert halls you will hear a suite of selections from this ballet score.  The suite is a staple of the concert repertoire, and I have heard it played by the orchestra a couple times in the past.  But this was the first time since 1935 that the Cleveland Orchestra had played the entire ballet music.  So, although there were familiar melodies, it was also a new experience for me.  

I find it interesting that although Spanish music has inspired so many composers from all over the world, there were relatively few classical composers from Spain.  Manuel de Falla is one of the most outstanding, but, even though his music is great, his name is not known to most people.  His 1919 ballet, "The Three Cornered Hat" is based on a 19th century comic novel which is a classic of Spanish literature.  It tells the story of a miller in a Spanish town, his beautiful wife, and the unwanted attentions of the "Corregidor" (the local magistrate).  De Falla's score is filled with Spanish melodies, and ends with a thunderous climax with clicking castanets and crashing cymbals.  The score is a "tour de force" and was superbly played by our orchestra.

I found a clip on YouTube (audio only) of the final dance played by the Cleveland Orchestra if you would like to hear a sample of De Falla's work...

Final Dance from the "Three Cornered Hat"

It was a wonderful concert, and for next weekend I have tickets for another great evening of music at Blossom!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

More pictures of Barcelona

As I am still sorting through the hundreds of photos that I took during my trip.  Here are some random pictures of Barcelona that I did not post previously.

 The Cathedral of Barcelona
Surrounding the cathedral is the Gothic Quarter.  This maze of narrow streets is the oldest part of the city.  Many of the buildings date to medieval times, and there are even traces of the city's Roman past.

Park Guell is famous for its whimsical buildings and landscaping by the famous architect Antonio Gaudi.  But beyond that it is a very attractive public park.

Antonio Gaudi was only one of a whole generation of architects who transformed the face of Barcelona in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Another prominent architect of the era was Josep Puig i Cadafalch.  One of his buildings, Casa Amatller, was built in 1898 as the residence of a wealthy chocolatier.  The stepped roof is somewhat reminiscent of Dutch architecture (an allusion to Dutch chocolate, perhaps?), but the decoration of the façade is more extravagant than a house you are likely to see in Amsterdam.
The house is now an office building, but you can step through the entrance and see what I assume was the carriage entrance.
Bullfighting was banned in Barcelona, and the entire region of Cataluña, some years ago.  The city's old bullring is now a shopping mall.
A view of the Mediterranean and Barcelona's waterfront from the cable car which takes you high above the city.

Monday, July 14, 2014

More pictures of Valencia

As I was sorting through my pictures I was struck once again by the beauty of Valencia, Spain.  Here are some more pictures which I did not post previously...

The Cathedral of Valencia
The rose window of the Cathedral
One place that we visited, that I did not mention when we were there, is Valencia's central market, one of the largest in Europe.

One of the numerous stalls in the market selling Spanish hams.  I failed in my earlier posts to mention the wonderful ham in Spain.  It is deep red and flavorful... so unlike the pale stuff we buy in the supermarkets here in the U.S.   The very best, "bellota" ham, is expensive.  It comes from free range pigs whose diet consists of acorns from the oak forests of southern Spain.  Delicious!!

And of course, there are the oranges for which Valencia is famous.  "Naranja muy dulces"... "very sweet oranges".
Valencia's extravagant city hall
A street scene in the Old City
Looking through the portal of one of the surviving medieval gates of Valencia.
Valencia is located on Spain's Mediterranean coast, so, in addition to all the history, architecture and culture, there are beautiful, broad beaches.
Valencia is most definitely a city that I would like to visit again!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Organizing the Photos

Upon returning from a lengthy trip such as the one I just took, one of the major tasks is to organize all of my photos and videos.  I filled two 8GB memory chips.  I have downloaded one of the chips, and I have over 1200 photos just from Spain.  I probably have an equal number on the other chip from Paris and England.

I admit to being a dinosaur. For years I resisted making the move from a film camera to a digital camera.  For me there was nothing like seeing slides projected on a big screen. (And I still feel that way.)  However, I cannot deny the benefits of a digital camera.  I don't have to carry rolls of film with me, and I can take loads of pictures without worrying about using up my film.  And I am able to take interior pictures in churches and museums and night shots that I would not have been able to get with my film camera (unless I lugged a tripod with me too). 

Of course, a lot of my pictures will be discarded.  But after organizing just the pictures of Madrid and Segovia, I have 225 photos that I am saving.  Since getting my digital camera I have been preparing DVDs of my trip complete with background music.  I suspect that from this trip I will have three DVDs... one of Spain, one of Paris, and one of England.

Here is a random sampling of some photos that I like that I didn't post previously...

The Cathedral of Madrid at dusk
The Retiro Park in Madrid
An example of the extravagant architecture of Madrid from the early 20th century
Madrid's old city hall
The Roman aqueduct of Segovia
The Gothic cloister of the Cathedral of Segovia
Street scene in Segovia with the tower and dome of the cathedral in the background
On the ramparts of the Alcázar, Segovia's fairy-tale castle