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Classical Music
Janelle Gelfand on the classical music scene

Janelle's pen has taken her to Japan, China, Carnegie Hall, Europe (twice), East and West Coasts, and Florida. In fact, Janelle was the first Enquirer reporter to report from Europe via e-mail -- in 1995.

Janelle began writing for the Cincinnati Enquirer as a stringer in 1991 while writing a Ph.D. dissertation in musicology at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She joined the Enquirer staff in 1993.

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she graduated from Stanford University, Janelle has lived in Cincinnati for more than 30 years. In her free time, this pianist plays chamber music with her circle of musical friends in Cincinnati.

She covers the Cincinnati Symphony, May Festival and Cincinnati Opera, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, chamber music ensembles, and as many recitals and events at CCM and NKU as possible.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Readers sound off about Music Hall

Wow, what an unbelievable response to the story about Music Hall and the symphony's future in Over-the-Rhine.

Here's more mail, from my inbox at the office:

"A timely piece on Over the Rhine -- well researched and well written. Thanks for the work you put in on it. All of us who are trying to hold on down here are facing the same struggle as the CSO." -- Katie Laur (Cincinnati bluegrass legend)

Rogers O'Neill of Wyoming writes: "Has any thought been given to building a new music hall as part of The Banks project? A bold design, like the Sydney Opera House, would really improve the image of the City."

David Lyman wrote: "You actually put into words what many Cincinnatians must regard as unimaginable; the CSO leaving Music Hall. It's a lovely place in many ways, but it really is too big for almost anything these days. Particularly for the audiences that the CSO is drawing. Anyway, it was nice to see someone addressing a hard issue. And one that is likely to keep you answering your phone most of the day Monday."

Randall Wolfe, director of Cincinnati Boychoir, e-mailed: "That was a much-needed article about the CSO and the problems surrounding the neighborhood around Music Hall, and was very well done, as always. ...The last time I went to a performance at Music Hall, I was accosted for money by someone who had made his way INTO the parking garage - on the top level, at that!

Obviously Paavo feels very strongly about the issues, and I hope he will lead the way for many of us who desperately need to move at least a little further north so that we are more central to our constituency. Otherwise, over the long haul, I believe we will lose the boychoir, and probably many other groups."

Dr. Rick Singel of Hyde Park: "Boy, Janelle, the very thought of the Orchestra leaving Music Hall makes me want to faint and die...The planets would spin off into the universe and the oxygen would be sucked off of the planet...

Your piece was just great, and it did lead to a lot of thinking on my part...
I can certainly see Jarvi's point...Yet, an Orchestra without MH, or MH without the Orchestra would just seem bizarre.....

But, City Council has their plate full with, you know, critical items like new marijuana laws or the gay rights amendment...
When on earth could they find time, Janelle, to deal with this minor stuff??!!

Honest to God, a room full of fools......
While the MH neighborhood turns to dung...

If I couldn't park right next to MH, I'd be upset....
ONCE----------------ONCE----------------I parked at Central Parkway and Elm, at a friend's insistence to, yes, save money. We were yelled at by ghetto punks as we scurried up the street... Very frightening.
Never again.

Music Hall is such a treasure. This is nothing short of a tragedy....Keep writing about it, Janelle. Maybe a city leader will read the paper...."

Dr. Molly McCaffrey writes: Is the danger posed to symphany-goers more about perception or reality? I felt this way primarily because music director Paavo Järvi says he is "alarmed at what he *perceives* is an increased presence of drug dealers" (italics mine).

I am also particularly bothered by Tim Fry's comment that he remembers "the streets and kids milling around." Obviously, he means black kids. And this makes me wonder if the only reason that symphany-goers are afraid of Over-the-Rhine is because they see black people. I would have liked this article to tell us how often people are actually the victims of crime when they go to the symphony. That information seems
crucial. Because if the problem is more about perception than reality, then more police aren't going to solve the problem."

And this from Bob Southwick of Hyde Park: Kudos to you and to the Enquirer for the excellent articles Sunday about Music Hall and the Symphony, Two points stood out. First, Maestro Jarvi telling it like it is regarding the inaction of local government. He could have mouthed platitudes about the future development plans that seem to just move further into the future. Second, the issue of safety is more than the statistical probability that concertgoers will not be shot. The surrounding area should be an extension of the ambiance of the hall and the music.

As to the question of The Symphony leaving Music Hall, I cannot even
remotely fathom that. They belong together, forever."

Steve Dieters writes: "I found your articles in the Sunday paper about Music Hall, Symphony attendance, and the overall state of the Symphony has hard hitting as about anything that can be written on this subject matter. I was pleased to see that at least one board member-Jack Rouse-has finally spoken out on many of the issues that confront this institution and has literally brought up issues that were the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

The fact that Paavo Jarvi has spoken out so candidly on so many issues was a welcome breathe of fresh air. Let's face it. In the past the music directors job was to emphasize the artistic programming and did not involve himself in the business end of the Symphony. The fact that the hall is filled or more importantly not filled with interested attendees is where art and business meld together....

...Until they develop some "out of the box" thinking and a more nimble management and oversight (board of directors) model they will never pull themselves out of this death spiral that they are descending in with increasing speed.

As far as staying at Music Hall or going elsewhere, I think the jury is still out on that issue. Having attended concerts at the Dayton Philharmonic I have to say their hall makes ours look a little threadbare. What they have to do is to get the people with the disposable incomes who want to come to the Symphony into the building. Unfortunately with a 20%+ shift in the population from Hamilton County in the last 10 years to outlying areas many of those potential customers with the disposable income to spend find it no longer convenient to come downtown for an evening at the Symphony and that I guess is the crux of the problem."

Alan Coleman's view: "Every few months we hear about the misfortunes of the CSO and its attendance problems. If the CSO board really wants a solution, they must start by making sure that children get hands on experience in music in the public schools. That’s where music education starts! Far too many children in CPS are denied the opportunity to experience music in that way. Giving those young people the opportunity to do so might create a different class of people in that area, rather than musical and cultural illiterates."

Trudie Seybold says: "Excellent article! Going downtown is challenging. I know many of our friends refuse to even drive through town. We attend the symphony programs that appeal to us, and usually arrive early to park on the street or in the school parking lot. I just can't believe that our Classical public in Cincinnati don't support this magnificent orchestra. We have gotten tickets for only $12.00 -- what more can they do? -- and the auditorium is half full. May Festival, Pops and Opera people drive downtown and park, and attendance is certainly more promising."

Alvin Seebohm writes: "I have been a Riverbend subscriber for 20 years, but will not go the Music Hall ,because of the safety issue. I have written Symphony management several times and they always say Music Hall area is safe. The Hall is probably safe ,but the trip from the parking areas is a different case. For people in their 60's , it is out of the question to venture in the Music Hall area after dark.

I don't know what the long term answer to the problem is , but maybe a massive amount of police between the hall & parking areas would help. I realize this would be costly,but until I can be assured of my safety, I will not go to Music Hall regardless of what it looks like or what size it is. Thanks for saying what the Symphony management has refused to say."

David Cohen writes: "I'm not sure what this one (Showdown at Music Hall) is really about. ... The article's portrayal of Washington Park and Music Hall as a desolate war zone is way over the top. Last night's concert - (a guest conductor and 2 out of 3 very-non-top-twenty pieces) pulled in a reasonable crowd
- including young people and old people. Most seemed to be walking in
pairs, not in "groups" as your article suggests. In the afternoon,
before the concert, we parked in the Town Center Garage, walked about 8
blocks south to a wine tasting, went out for an early dinner and walked
back. Not exactly the road to Baghdad Airport. No bullet holes. Lots of
people. Nice place.

If the CSO has to move to another hall for a compelling reason - like
capacity, acoustics, maintenance cost, I will grudgingly follow. But
threatening to move to a mall in the sprawl because some middle aged guy
from Montgomery is afraid of the dark? That's nuts. That's not the
future audience that the orchestra is hoping to attract."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Music Hall and Over-the-Rhine

Inevitably, I don't have space to use all the comments from readers in articles such as Sunday's story about Music Hall. So I'm putting some of them here. Want to weigh in? Please put your comments below.

Ron Schofield of Clarksville, a senior engineer for GE Aircraft Engines, e-mailed: "I'm a guy, so the safety issue probably doesn't bother me as much as most women. ... I know the safety concern is real with friends, one of whom purchased a ticket to last Friday's concert but then decided not to go. She had even arranged to ride with friends.

I struggle every year with whether I should renew my subscription. The reason is cost, of course, since I have a young family. Last year's prices jumped substantially, and I noticed a smiliar reduction in attendees at the concerts. That's unfortunate since the CSO is a world class organization providing consistently outstanding music. ... I feel bad for those who leave at the intermission. We have a tremendous classical music heritage in the Tristate area that shold be enjoyed by its residents!"

Bill Jobert, who lives in Mason, writes: Frankly, I think (safety) is just one of several reasons why people don't go. Here in the burbs people tend to stay very busy, especially people with kids. ... People will usually take the easiest path when it comes to entertainment and relaxing.

"As often as I read about revitalization efforts in different areas of the city, I would like to see people reinvest in the area around Music Hall. So many of the boarded up buildings could have great character once again as coffee houses, art shops, galleries, and more people would find more reasons to go to that area rather than reasons not to go."

Anonymous male, an engineer, writes: "I sometimes find it sad that you will find a police officer present to direct traffic arriving, and someone at the door of Music Hall. But rarely do I see an officer when I'm leaving after a performance.

"I think there are other factors which have hurt attendance. One is the decline of manufacturing jobs, like at GE. When I worked there, it wasn't hard to find someone else who had been to a concert. Also, I think the advertising campaign is anemic. I only hear ads on WGUC, which is like preaching to the choir. The Concerts in the Park series has fallen off, and I think this generated a lot of interest. After many years, we have a first class Symphony, but I don't think the community really knows this."

Anonymous female, a world traveler, writes: I am squeamish about going to the area around Music Hall. Howver, this does not keep me from attending events there. ... I have had my windshield broken and the car ransacked (downtown) across from the Convention Center in the afternoon. ... I will go to events downtown but I am always a little uneasy and get out asap. This is in contract to Indianapolis which has tons of people downtown at night, and where you usually see very few begging and you do feel safe. It's a shame Cincinnati cannot get its act together. We've got a very successful model 100 miles away. Can't we copy their technique?"

Shirley Ekvall of Wyoming suggests: "I would suggest the police be around the parking garage, too. Maybe more officers should be visible. Could an escort be available if some desire?"

Sergio Baranovsky e-mails: "Crime in OTR is a concern. That said, we do not make concert attendance decisions based on local crime statistics. On the other hand, we always allow ourselves sufficient time to park in the CET/WGUC lot. The $5 fee is well worth our peace of mind.

"Perhaps symphony tickets could include parking as an adiditonal incentive. Some upscale downtown restaurants offer complimentary valet parking to make security conscious patrons feel safer."

Music teacher Kirk MacKenzie says, "I don't avoid events at Music Hall. However, I always keep my eyes pealed walking from my car to Music Hall, as I know of at least one severe mugging of a symphony or ballet patron that I read about in the paper several years ago."

Friday, March 24, 2006

BBC Music honor for Järvi

Paavo Järvi's album of Grieg's incidental music to Peer Gynt, recorded with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and Estonian choral groups, has won BBC Music Magazine's award for best orchestral album of 2006. The award was announced in the April issue.

Here's what the jury said: "Järvi brings true theatrical excitement, heartfelt melodic warmth and a grainy, flavoursome feeling for the folk elements. It's all delightful, and ultimately very touching."

You can

Top ten orchestras

You'd never guess how busy the classical music beat is here in Cincy. I've been working on a special assignment for Sunday and covering news like the Azmari Quartet getting invited back to their jobs at Northern Kentucky University...

So, last night I spoke to a great group of Kiwanis in Greenhills/Forest Park, and the question came up: Where does the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra fall among the top 25 big-budget professional orchestras in our country? In the Big Five? Heavenly Seven? Top Ten?

That's a tough call, because the landscape seems to be changing all the time. Cleveland, for instance, was considered No. 1 for a time during the tenure of Dohnanyi, but now there's a new maestro, Franz-Welser Most, on the podium. Chicago is searching for someone to replace Barenboim... New York recently hired Lorin Maazel. And out West (my home turf), the San Francisco Symphony and LA Philharmonic are flourishing under, respectively Michael Tilson Thomas and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Plus, LA now has Disney Hall -- which is creating tons of buzz.

Let's see, we've got New York, Philly, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, the Met Orchestra under James Levine, LA and SF. I'd put Cincinnati next in that group. After that, we have Pittsburgh, Baltimore (that just hired Marin Alsop for 2007), St. Louis (what's happening there??), Minnesota, Atlanta (doing great things with Robert Spano, et al), Detroit (seeking a music director) -- who have I left out?

So, where does our orchestra fall? I'd say lately, under Paavo Jarvi, definitely within the Top 10 -- and that is because the artistic quality (playing, programming and sheer excitement level) of concerts is something the likes of which this city hasn't seen since the Schippers era. In fact, it may be better now than any time in our orchestra's 111-year-old history.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cell phones at the Symphony

OK, you know who you are. At least four (4) people left their cell phone ringers on, which for some of us, destroyed the mood several times during Mahler's Resurrection Symphony conducted by Paavo Jarvi Friday night in Music Hall. One time, I believe it was during the "Urlicht," we heard snippets of Beethoven's "Fur Elise."

Marianne Breneman messaged me Saturday morning:

"Any ideas on how to stop the madness???? Last night's Mahler was too
beautiful to be disrupted by people who couldn't be bothered to turn them off even after being reminded."

Monday, March 06, 2006

A busman's holiday

So on Saturday, I decided to go back to the symphony, having been just blown away by the Tetzlaff siblings' performance of Brahms' Double Concerto. I have a few new observations.

First of all, it was another great concert led by Paavo Jarvi. But some of the electricity in the hall was undoubtedly because there was a big crowd. And it was a noticeably young crowd -- an impression perhaps boosted due to it being "college nite." Why can't this happen every week??

Secondly, I sat in the gallery this time. In the past, the gallery has been considered the best, acoustically, in the hall. But since the Artec acoustical shell went in several years ago, I think the sound has suffered upstairs. Part of it may be because those acoustical "clouds" hanging over the stage tend to deflect sound downward, and they are at about gallery level. So the opening of the Weber Overture was muddy where I was sitting, and in the concerto, one had to strain to hear the violinist at times. This was not the case at all where I was sitting in the balcony on Friday.

I certainly hope the orchestra hires a good acoustician as it considers renovation of the hall. Even though there's a rumor that the renovations will be handled "in-house," let's hope they hire some good consultants.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The mail box

Wow, what a week. Thanks for your phone calls and e-mails about last Sunday's jazz story. It's clear that we need to follow up on this very important scene in our community.

Here's one from John Gerard Patten:

"Thank you for the interesting articles on Jazz in the Sunday Enquirer. One of the interviewees, Art Gore, pointed out that the media does not cover Jazz in the same manner as the other Arts. Dr. Broadnax brought Larry Coryell to the Hyatt last Friday night. Mr. Coryell is a legendary Jazz guitarist. It was a fantastic show but was not reviewed by your paper. Joe Lovano who was at the Blue Wisp Club a week earlier also was not reviewed in your paper. Mr. Lovano is a famous saxophone player. See a pattern here?"

Here's one from Alice Russell in Boston, the wife of composer and jazz professor George Russell:

"All very interesting and sad that our greatest art form has not continued to blossom in Cincinnati. However, The legacy cannot be denied or ignored; those folks did what they did, and it's there for all time.

"I don't think anyone from American Idol will be remembered in 50 years...or next year, for that matter."

Support your local jazz clubs! Tonight, the Hyatt features the William Menefield Trio, and Bille Walker is playing at the Cincinnatian. On Sunday at the Blue Wisp, the Jazz Circle will celebrate their album debut. "Joshua" is a tribute to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and others.

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