Monday, February 12, 2018

Brian Ganz Plays Chopin

Image found here
I have seen the pianist Brian Ganz perform several times (including last February), and he is my favorite! Not only is he a talented musician, but he just has so much fun while he plays. He's a happy, smiley guy, which I love! Starting in 2011 (before I even knew who he was), he created a partnership with the Strathmore to play all of Chopin's music. He's still going strong, and now that I've seen him a few times, I'm familiar with words like polonaise and mazurka (i.e. Polish dances, since Chopin was from Poland). Another fun fact I learned: a "canon" in music is when the "voices" (different musical instruments or in this case, separate hands on the piano) play the same music but start at different times. I didn't know that! Makes me think of the song "Row row row your boat." But I digress!

Ganz called this particular program "Hidden Gems and All-Time Favorites." The pieces he played were a mix of famous Chopin compositions and lesser-known ones. Ganz dedicated the performance to his father, who was in the audience that night. His father lives in England and does not get the chance to see most of the performances. Ganz also mentioned his Italian great-grandmother, who would have enjoyed the music, too.

Here's what he played that evening:

Tarantella, Op. 43

Bolero, Op. 19

Polonase in A major, Op. 40, No. 1

2 Bourrées, Op. Posth.

No. 1 in G Major

No. 2 in A Major

Prelude in A Major, Op. 28, No. 7 (Watch Ganz' face as he plays: he just loves this music!)

Canon in F minor (unfinished) (Because this piece is unfinished, it ended abruptly, and Ganz just let the silence hang in the air for a prolonged time to emphasize the lack of closure.)

Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 63, No. 3

Fugue in A minor, Op. Posth.

Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3

Souvenir de Paganini, Op. Posth.

Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11 ("Winter Wind")

THEN we had an intermission. Phew!

Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. Posth.

Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 ("Minute")

Largo in E-flat Major, Op. Posth.

Prelude in C minor, Op. 28, No. 20

Trois Nouvelles Études (This translates as "Three New Studies." Chopin was also a teacher, and he would create these studies for students to practice. These three are interesting because for each one, the right hand and left hand are playing different rhythms.)

Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66

Ganz grouped the following two Polonaises together and called them "Chopin: The Gardener." The first was written when Chopin was a young man in love for the first time, and the second is when Chopin was a grown, mature man.

Polonaise in F minor, Op. 71, No. 3

Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 ("Heroic")

So much beautiful music! Ganz announced that his next Chopin showcase at the Strathmore will be on Saturday, February 2, 2019. So mark your calendars now!

Monday, February 5, 2018

American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center

Last week I bought tickets to see the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) company perform at the Kennedy Center. I actually thought I had purchased tickets to see their "Whipped Cream" performance, but instead I saw variations of multiple, different pieces. I was a little confused at first, but then I settled in. Here's what I saw:

1. Serenade after Plato's Symposium

Image found here

The set was simply a screen on the ceiling that read "symposium" in Greek. All of the dancers except one were male, which is pretty surprising in ballet (well, except for Trockadero); we usually think about ballerinas in tutus. The men were wearing outfits inspired by Greek togas, although the costumes actually looked runway ready for a men's fashion show. The extra fabric for the "toga" effect had the appearance of skirts when the dancers spun, and I'll admit it was a bit disconcerting to see men dance gracefully on their own, as opposed to mirroring a female companion (i.e. what you usually see in ballet). There was a bit of homo-eroticism going on (typical when you have multiple male dancers), with the men holding hands, reaching out for each other, lifting each other up, etc. (They even played patty-cake with each other.) These movements were repeated throughout the piece, with each man mimicking what the last dancer did. So I didn't feel too bad about falling asleep: everything melded together and was more of the same, just over and over again.

When the men weren't dancing with each other, their solo performances made it seem like the dancers were on drugs: they swung their arms around erratically, swatted away invisible flies, flicked non-existent water from their hands, and the like.  Most of the dancers looked really young, and since most of them were not listed in the program, I am under the impression that they were students or part of a junior company.

The one female dancer (Hee Seo) played such a minor role that I'm not sure what her purpose was. Since this piece was inspired by the Greeks, I thought maybe she was a muse for these philosophers. She was also wearing blue as opposed to the neutrals the men had on, so that also gave the impression that she was other-worldly. The men did not seem to interact with her too much, but she didn't have much time on stage, either.

I thought the piece was interesting, just different than what I was expecting. Some of the men were very impressive, especially Jeffrey Cirio and Joo Won Ahn. This was just the first part of the night, so there was a lot more dance to come!

2. Other Dances (very original name, clearly)

Image found here
This is a pas de deux (although I could only find photos of the female dancer) set to music written by Chopin (Emily Wong played the piano on stage during the piece.). I actually recognized the word "mazurka" from seeing Brian Ganz play Chopin at a concert previously. This was a fun, romantic dance. Each of the dancers (Herman Cornejo and Sarah Lane) seemed to be putting on a performance not for the audience but for each other in a coy, flirtatious way. He tried to impress her with difficult moves and at one point messed up (or pretended to) and cutely played it off. She wandered the stage wistfully, as if daydreaming about her lover. All in all I thought the music was a little too staccato for dance, but I enjoyed the romance of it all (including the costumes).

3. I Feel the Earth Move (This piece had three parts.): Before this one started, the stage hands removed all of the curtains, screens, and other set pieces. You could see the stage with all its bare bones, and many rows of lights were revealed, both on the sides of the stage and above on the ceiling. This made the piece almost feel more like a concert than a ballet performance (including the lights that blind you as they shine right into your face). The rag & bone costumes also gave the piece a more casual feel, and sent a clear message that this was modern dance, not classical ballet. This is a new piece, and premiered just last fall in New York.

3a. First Movement: "Tremor"

Image found here
The music for this one was like the familiar song, "I Feel the Earth Move," but there was no background music, just a woman speaking the lyrics. So that was very weird. Blaine Hoven danced for several minutes on his own, and his muscular legs really show you that dancers are real athletes. Cassandra Trenary joined him on stage later. This part had some of the quintessential movements of modern dance, like rolling on the floor and odd, flailing arm movements. So not exactly my cup of tea.

3b. Second Movement: "A Vision"

Image found here

These women reminded me of synchronized swimmers or the Rockettes, moving in time with one another. Their costumes also gave the impression of aerobics instructors, and the dance itself did look like what a gym instructor might make up for group workout choreography. They were the same weird modern dance moves, but because they were performed as a group, the moves seemed more purposeful and coordinated. And again, most of the dancers looked very young, to the point that I felt like I should have paid less, since I was seeing mostly apprentices.

3c. Third Movement: "The Work Begins"

Image found here
This part felt like a music video to me, with the men and women dancing to a very striking, fast-paced Phillip Glass song called "Changing Opinion." While the dancing was similar to the first two parts, I think I liked this one best because of the music.

4. Thirteen Diversions (Although I could not tell the difference between the 13 parts.)

Image found here
I was especially excited to see this piece because the choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon, my favorite choreographer; he has choreographed pieces like This Bitter Earth (which I LOVE), After the Rain, and Fool's Paradise. These previous pieces all have a romantic, sensual atmosphere, which I think this piece lacked. But I loved the beautiful costumes (designed by Bob Crowley), and I would wear those as actual dresses (well, without the skirt being so sheer). The dancing was quite graceful, especially compared to the other pieces I saw that night, so I was pleased with that.

Image found here
I was very excited to see Misty Copeland perform, though! I was actually surprised to see her in a group piece like this: I just assumed that at her level and fame, she only would play the biggest solo acts, like The Firebird and such. Of course I couldn't help but watch her while she was on stage, and I had to make myself watch the other dancers instead of just looking at her. And while I wasn't surprised that she received a standing ovation or that the conductor came on stage with her, I kind of felt bad for the other dancers. I didn't feel like Copeland danced so much better than the others, but only she received overt recognition like that.

In the end I was happy to have seen Copeland dance a piece by Wheeldon. Ballet bucket list item - CHECK!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

I had a jar of applesauce that I needed to use up, so I specifically looked online for a cookie recipe that called for a lot of it. I found this recipe on "The Cookie Rookie" website that called for a whole cup of applesauce, so that's the one I went with.

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cinnamon applesauce
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup good quality milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup good quality semi-sweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with a pre-cut Reynolds Cookie Baking Sheet. Set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the room temperature butter with the sugar. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
  4. Pour in the applesauce and continue to beat until fully mixed.
  5. Add in the baking soda, salt, vanilla extract, and 1 cup of the flour. Place the mixer on a lower setting and beat until combined. Add in the remaining cup flour and beat until just mixed. Do not over-mix the dough.
  6. Use a spoon or spatula to mix in the chocolate chips.
  7. Use a small ice cream scoop (~1 inch scoop) to drop the cookies onto the baking sheet, about 1-2 inches apart.
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are just golden brown and cooked through. (Be sure not to over cook!)
  9. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  10. **Blogger tip: to make the cookies picture perfect, add a few extra chocolate chips to the top right after removing from the oven. Pretty!
I ran into a few problems with this recipe from the get-go, but I think I made it work. My butter was frozen, so I ended up microwaving it to warm it up. But I melted half of it, so the batter was probably wetter than it should be. I also did not have the special baking sheet, so I sprayed the cookie sheets with PAM to prevent the dough from sticking to the pans. AND I forgot to preheat the oven (speaking of rookie...), so it took a little longer for me to actually get the dough in the oven.

And as usual, I didn't follow the rest of the recipe to a T. I used plain, natural applesauce from Trader Joe's, as well as regular quality (?) chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and mint chocolate chips (1 cup total, since I don't like too many chips in my cookies). And as you can see from the photo above, I did not use her blogger tip. I don't bake for the photo: I bake for the taste! You can see they are a little dark (I think I baked them just a minute too long), but just the edges were overdone.

In the end the cookies turned out great! They were quite big (I made them bigger than the recipe says; I don't have the fancy ice cream scoop), but they were soft and fluffy. Definitely a recipe worth keeping!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

January Theatre Performances

This month I have seen a few plays, and I thought I would give you a little info on each of them.

Everything Is Illuminated

Image found here
I read this book years ago, and while I don't remember much of it, I do know I enjoyed it. There is a movie based on this book featuring Elijah Wood, but I honestly can't remember if I've seen it (clearly my memory is fading...).

The play version at the DC JCC's "Theater J" was very good, even if I could only vaguely remember the story. The show only has five cast members, and I was very impressed how they portrayed multiple characters. And while the story itself is a sad one (a Jewish man is looking for his roots in the Ukraine, only to find the village from which his ancestors are from no longer exists), the comic relief is hilariously on-point.

I loved the set of this production. Simple backdrops always impress me more than big, over-the-top sets; it's sort of neat to see what they can make out of very little. Here is a picture from the set of this play:
I loved the books and boxes in the background. Image found here.
I really liked this play, and I highly recommend it. Now I want to re-read the book. I've never done that before, but seeing as I don't remember it...It'll be like reading it for the first time!

The Skin of Our Teeth

Image found here
I bought tickets to The Skin of Our Teeth when the Constellation Theatre was having a sale; I actually bought tickets for two shows, but I completely missed the first one! So I made sure to make it to this performance.

I had never heard of this play, and I think I have come to the conclusion that if I've never heard of a play before (i.e. it's not Shakespeare or based on a well-known book or story), I probably won't enjoy it. This story was very random, and it didn't have much of a plot.You follow a family of four during what seems like just two or three separate days, and they don't actually do much. The father supposedly invented the alphabet as well as numbers, the wife is a good mother and the daughter the perfect child (although rebellious at times), and the son is actually Cain from the Bible. They also have a pet dinosaur and woolly mammoth, but those are lost during a terrible cold ice storm in August (yes, in August). In the second act the the father is voted president and gives a speech in Atlantic City, where he falls for a pageant girl before the flood (as in the Noah's ark flood). The family gets split up at some point, but then they come together after "the war;" the mother and daughter were cooped up in the basement while the father went to war, and we find out the enemy was Cain himself. And then some of the cast members went missing so crew members had to play parts like galaxies representing ancient philosophers...There was more but I fell asleep because I was done (even if the play wasn't).

The woolly mammoth costume was quite creative. Image found here
The play was difficult to follow and didn't make a lot of sense on the surface. But my friend and I came to the conclusion that the family represents all of humanity, and that we all face the same issues throughout the centuries: rebellious children, violence among men, natural disasters, lust, etc. And even with new technology and "progress," we still have to deal with these things. They are and will forever be a part of our lives. So in a way the full message means something and is interesting to think about. I just wish the play had been more entertaining (and shorter) to get to the point.

But I did enjoy the set of this performance, just like the first play. Here's the set for the first act:

This is the family room. Bird sounds played in the background so you felt like you were in a cabin. It was cute and homey! Photo credit: Laura Wolz
I thought this stained glass was beautiful! This entire window/bookshelf hid up into the ceiling like a Murphy bed later on! Photo credit: Laura Wolz
Here's the set for the second act:

This represents the boardwalk in Atlantic City (you can just see the beach chairs in the corner). The sets were quite different! Photo credit: Laura Wolz
Along with the sets, my favorite part of this show was that one of the characters would "break the fourth wall" (i.e. she talked to the audience). Tonya Beckman played Sabine, who was both the maid/nanny to the family (and maybe the husband's first wife?) as well as the pageant queen in the second act (but still Sabine. Yeah...). She talked to the audience about not liking the play, wishing it were over, refusing to say certain lines...It was very funny, but since there already wasn't much a plot to begin with, her outbursts only added to my confusion.

I had contemplated buying tickets to see other shows performed by the Constellation Theatre Company, but after this one, I think I'm going to have to pass.

Jefferson's Garden

Image found here
I had never been to Ford's Theatre before, so I was excited to check it out. The venue itself is really neat! There's a fun gift shop that sells all-things Abe Lincoln (and fluffy eagle stuffed animals), and the theater space itself is simple but pretty (and there's no such thing as a bad seat).

Image found here

Image found here
This play is a condescended version of America's history during the revolution and the few years afterward. We first meet a family emigrating from Europe, and we follow them and their son throughout the story. Although they are Quakers, the son joins the revolution for freedom and liberty. He idolizes Thomas Jefferson, and soon is mentored by the future president. Another character who comes in and out of the story is a slave named Susannah. Our protagonist meets her in a tavern in Virginia, later saves her life when he finds her fighting for the Red Coats, becomes her lover in Philadelphia, and meets her at the end when she has had their child but he's married to someone else. This love story is woven throughout the entire play, but the real focus is moving quickly through history to see colonists turning into soldiers and colonies becoming a nation.

I thought this play was done very well. The actors would occasionally speak directly to the audience, and in the beginning explained that we should be race/gender/age blind when watching the show (since many actors played multiple characters). They also emphasized that this story is historical fiction: some of it really happened, but some of it didn't (for example, the main characters of the love story probably didn't exist in real life). The acting itself was very good, especially that of Felicia Curry, who played Susannah.

Image found here
And as usual, I was impressed by the set. This one was quite minimal. In the first act, the only items used for the set were a lot of boxes (which were used as tables, storage, and even pushed together to create a ship), chairs, and the simple backdrop (that would show images like a picket fence to represent a farm or images of important documents like the Declaration of Independence). I actually was a little confused because I didn't get the connection to Jefferson's garden. But in the second act we move to Monticello, which is easily identifiable by the large windows and doors. We get to see more of Southern belles played by Kimberly Gilbert and Kathryn Tkel (whom I recognized from a Pride & Prejudice spin-off play that I saw in 2016), and their thick accents were very funny and appropriate for Jefferson's home and talk of the future UVA. These windows and doors also represented buildings in France when Jefferson was there. I thought the minimal sets were really great at transforming for the story's needs.

Out of these three plays, I think I would recommend this last one the most. I was engaged the whole time, and I could understand what was happening since I already knew a bit of the history. Plus, it was a great mix of action, romance, comedy, and education. And to top that night off, my friend and I got to enjoy free glasses of wine at the theatre's young professionals night. It's so good to see more young people supporting the arts!

Monday, January 22, 2018

My MLK Weekend

I'm sorry this post is so late! I ended up spending the long weekend on the Eastern Shore with my parents, and I brought one of my sorority sisters along. We had a lot of fun!

Image found here

We didn't leave the DC area until just before lunch time, so it was already afternoon by the time we arrived at my parents' place. We hung out for a little while, but quickly became bored. But we soon found entertainment in baking with my mom. We made peanut butter cookies (yum!) and pineapple bars (just like lemon bars except less sour). Afterward, we looked up movie times and decided to head to Dover to see The Post. Jen and I had both heard good things about the movie, and who doesn't love Tom Hanks? In the end I thought the movie was similar to Spotlight except not as exciting, and I think it was a bit hyped-up. Yes, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep have never been in a movie together; this doesn't mean the movie is going to be the best thing since sliced bread. I even fell asleep during the film, so that should tell you something.


For our first full day on the Eastern Shore, we made our way over to St. Michaels, a very cute town that is quite popular in the summer but dead this time of year. We stopped by the shops that were open (the people working in the stores were thankful just to have visitors), but we didn't buy much (I think I got a postcard and a Christmas CD). The majority of our time was spent doing tastings at the St. Michaels Winery and Lyon Distilling Company. I had tried the wine before, but the spirits were new to us. There was such a variety of rums and other liquors (including some by Gray Wolf Craft Distilling); they were all quite yummy! Of course afterward we needed to get some food in our stomachs, so we went to Crepes by the Bay and enjoyed some breakfast crepes.
I always think of this scene from Talladega Nights when I eat Crepes. Image found here.

After lunch we shopped around a bit more and then headed back to my parents' place. When we got home my dad was back from his weekend trip, so we hung out with him in his man cave and watched some football. Then we helped make zoodles for a family dinner around the table. We ended the evening watching a movie (of course I can't even remember which one...) and relaxing by the fire. Such a fun day!

Colorful boba for bubble tea! Photo credit: Jen Fownes
Both of my parents had to work that day, so Jen and I spent a slow morning at home and made our own bubble tea (cooking the tapioca balls (boba) takes some time, but they were delicious!). After we packed up the car, we headed to the Queenstown Outlets. Jen really needed some boots and other clothes, so I tagged along but only bought a few things. We were very successful at the LOFT outlet (and we both had coupons and the LOFT credit card); she got a beautiful military-inspired jacket and a dress, while I got a Dartmouth green sweater and a lovely loung-y velvet shawl thing (i.e. fancy cover-up for pajamas). We also shopped at Old Navy, where I bought a shirt for a friend and some athletic clothes for me. And Jen did find her boots at Famous Footwear, along with a pair of sneakers and some flip-flops (I bought sandals, too. Might as well buy them when they're cheap!). We only visited four or five stores, but we spent several hours there (we missed our lunch reservation at Luna Blu in Annapolis!). But the bubble tea held us over, and we ended the evening with an early dinner at Sala Thai in Bethesda before Jen went back home.

I love long weekends like that! Why can't we have more of them?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Recipe: Blackberry Muffins

I thought I had blogged about this recipe before, but I realized I was thinking of the muffins I made with buttermilk (when I accidentally bought buttermilk before a snowstorm and spent my time cooped up baking). I loved the blackberry muffins at Collis in college, and I honestly think this recipe gives those a run for their money. I don't remember where I found the recipe (I copied it onto a note card), but I certainly recommend it!

  •  1 ¾ cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  •          ½ tsp. salt
  •          ¾ cup sugar
  •          1 stick of butter (melted)
  •          ½ cup heavy cream
  •          2 large eggs
  •          1 tbl. vanilla extract
  •          2 cups blackberries or blueberries (fresh or frozen)
    *Makes 12 muffins

1. Preheat the over to 400° F. 
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Mix the sugar, melted butter, cream, eggs, and vanilla extract in a medium-sized bowl until smooth.
4. Add the liquid mixture and the berries to the flour mixture and stire until just evenly mixed (about 30 strokes; do not overmix). 
5. Fill muffin tin evenly. Bake for 20 minutes.

I accidentally used whipping cream instead of heavy cream, but Google said they're about the same, so I don't think it was a problem. I used an electric mixer to mix the second batch of ingredients, and then folded in the blackberries with a baking spatula. I'm not sure if I used 30 strokes, but either way, it seemed to work out. I would also note that in my oven, 20 minutes was a little too long, so perhaps try 15-18 minutes instead at first. I'm looking forward to enjoying these yummy muffins all week!

Now to find more recipes to use up the rest of this whipping cream...