Saturday, March 09, 2013

newEar Contemporary Chamber Ens. "Strangely Familiar"

My review of the newEAR Contemporary Chamber Ensemble concert of March 1, 2013. Read on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN

Friday, March 08, 2013

2013 Kansas CIty Auto Show: Refinement Rules

We interrupt our music reporting for the annual visit to the Greater Kansas City Auto Show. Even before I loved classical music, I was a car nut. By 6 I could tell you every make and model of car I saw. Usually the year too. It was easier then for sure, but I was still a bit of a prodigy.

This year's theme seems to be "Refinement" since there was little strikingly new. The annual model change, that kept this kid's eyes glued to passing trains, car carriers and car lots in hopes of being to see the latest model, has blurred so much that we saw a lot of this year's cars as previews last March. Noticeable was the lack of concept cars this year and fewer glimpses of 2014 and beyond models.

I do not know why the font on the captions gets all wonky at the end. I tried to fix it, but made it all worse.

Nevertheless, here are some highlights from the show:

Surprise of the show was the snarky new Chevrolet Impala. For some odd reason, I did not snap a picture so these are photos from the net. Sleek, powerful and with optional 4 cylinder engine, economical.
Front view of the new Impala
Slick Impala interior, the center section raises to reveal storage, USB port and power plugs for our mobile device ruled world.
On the other end of the model spectrum is the cute and versatile Chevy Spark. Roomy inside, better value than an IQ or Smart.
The new Buick Encore is a small, luxurious SUV. As many of the original SUVs such as the Santa Fe and the RAV4 have grown, there is room for a SUV like this.
Electrics were all the rage, they even had their own show area. This Tesla Model S is expensive, powerful and quite handsome. Motor Trend's Car of the Year. But some question its abilities and so far availability is limited.
Plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma. Built in Finland, company based in California. Like Tesla, mired in controversy and limited availability. Justin Bieber had a chrome plated one, he and his silly rich kid rappers and screamers wrecked it... twice.
Back to the Future... Tesla Model S and 100 year old Detroit Electric.
Ford C-Max was previewed last show, available now in hybrid and electric models.
Mystery to me... I recognize an oil dipstick. Ford C-Max Hybrid
I think this very same orange Toyota Prius was there last show. No one must have wanted  it... who could blame them?
Remember when a KIA Sportage was a little rat of a car? All grown up and  big for 2013.
Car so ugly only its maker and my friend Sherill who loves funky cars like it. See a lot around for some reason. 
Nissan had been missing from the show for several years, but they were back. Nissans have never lit my fire... ever. Good cars I guess, but just dull.
Greg commented that the $248,000 for the Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster was more than the combined total of the 3 houses he owned.
I see a resemblance to the 53 Hudson in the Veloster's front bridgework.
1953 Hudson Hornet, inspiration for the Veloster's grin?
Lincoln MKS, big luxo sedan. I miss the Town Car. At least they are getting away from the snarly front grille work of the last few years.
Lincoln MKT. To us in Missouri, MKT was a railroad. This big wagon/crossover/whatever is a road locomotive in every sense of the term.
All new MKZ. Grandson of the unlamented Zephyr. Nice.
Greg and I really liked the 2013 Dodge Dart. No one else seems to however, which is a shame.
Fiat's new 500L is a stretched 4 door version. This was pre-production model, even the lady doing the demo was not allowed inside. I did not care for it.

I said the Mini Coupe looks like a car wearing a ball cap. And this guy came along to make it all the more obvious.
The new Bug Convertible.
It pissed me to hell to read about some Hollywood director that blew up four 1949 Cadillacs for some stupid ass movie. Shameful. At least one will survive.

Lord God of the Road, 1931 Cadillac V16. Even the headlights reek of power.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Kansas City Symphony Strauss, Glinka and Tchaikovsky

What timing. A winter storm, quirkily named “Q” by some weather pundits, played a major and unwanted role in this weekend's Kansas City Symphony concert. “Q” wiped out several rehearsals, forced a program change and played havoc with the soloist, the always wonderful Christine Brewer. Brewer crossed the state from her home near St Louis to perform her signature piece, Richard Strauss' “Four Last Songs”. The concert opened with Glinka's “Ruslan and Ludmilla” overture (a substitute for a piece by Christopher Rouse that was dropped) and concluded with the Tchaikovsky Symphony # 2 “Little Russian”. Michael Stern, Music Director was on the podium.

What can one say about the Glinka overture? Every professional orchestra member knows this rollicking showpiece by heart thus it was ready made as a substitute. A fine, brisk and pleasing performance. Possibly the audience appreciated it more than the proposed Rouse, but we'll never know.

As mentioned Christine Brewer basically owns the Strauss Four Last Songs. Her strong, soaring yet subtly shaded and nuanced voice is tailor made for music like this. Written in 1948 by the 84 year old Strauss these unashamedly Romantic and poetic songs take us on a journey from youthful memories to acceptance of our ultimate mortality.

Even under the less than desirable circumstances, Christine was nothing less than musical, communicative and gorgeous. Her emotions ran the gamut from the nostalgic "Frühling", to the world weary “September” and finally the questioning resignation of "Im Abendrot". The orchestra was a willing and sympathetic partner, with beautifully wrought solos from the horns and violin.

Sadly the charming and witty Tchaikovsky Symphony # 2 “Little Russian” of 1872 is not all that common in the concert halls compared to the great final trio of 4, 5 and 6. Inspired by and infused with Ukrainian folk melodies (hence the title “Little Russian”, a term referring to modern day Ukraine used in Tsarist Russia), the rhythmic and charming work maybe structurally weak and short on development, but melodically holds its own compared to the later symphonies.

The symphony was the product of Tchaikovsky's early exploration of Russian nationalism. Only the 3rd movement Scherzo does not directly quote a folk tune directly yet continues the folk-like character of the other three movements. Its premiere was a great public and critical success. However, Tchaikovsky was not satisfied and made extensive cuts and revisions most notably in the opening movement and the finale. It is the revised version, which many critics and scholars feel is equally as flawed as the original, that is almost exclusively heard today.

Stern and the orchestra dismissed all the academic chatter and gave us a poised and remarkably polished performance, delighting with clear, prominent winds and crisp brass and strings. A few intonation slips and scraggly entrances here and there reminding us that the program was under rehearsed In the Alberto Suarez's opening horn solos was spot on and eloquent as were all the exposed horn passages in the work.

Stern has a tendency towards brisk tempi and this does not hurt in this most extroverted work. The weak first movement comes off well through the well chosen tempo and spotlighting the often mournful nature of the themes. The Andante Marziale is well paced, giving a subtle contrast to the first movement tempo. The Scherzo pulsed along nicely and the somewhat overblown finale did not descend into a cartoonish romp as it can under less steady hands. The strange (yet always fun) gong stroke can seem a “whoops... sorry” moment rather than a part of the works climactic drive. This one was well done and tastefully integrated into the structure. An energetic, tuneful and balletic performance of this problematic yet colorful score.

“Q” may have messed up some plans and played havoc with voices and repertoire but the consummate pros of the Kansas City Symphony came through with an interesting and thrilling program.