Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wine, Beer, & Food Festival - November 2011

In its fourth year, this festival provides a wonderful opportunity to taste various wines, beers, and food. We checked it out Friday night and briefly again on Saturday afternoon. But it does come at a price.
Your $15.00 ticket gives you admission to the seminars and food workshops, a tasting glass (choose wine or beer glass) and the opportunity to purchase “tasting” tickets.  
Our friendly, taste ticket seller recommended starting with $20.00 of tickets per couple. So with the initial investment of $50.00 per couple, and our free and empty glasses in hand, we began our tour.  
Starting in the Riverfront Market, we slowly moved through the vendors situated in the hall and found plenty to eat and just a little to drink. Many miscellaneous vendors were also represented here (bread, jewelry, kitchens, etc.).
Walking into the ballroom, one is greeted by 40,000 square feet of exhibitors. Restaurant representatives were located along the outside walls and the middle was full of wineries and some breweries/distilleries. My preference would have been to have more food interspersed with the wineries/breweries as it would keep the experience a little more varied as one winds through the aisles.
In the entry area off Lyon Street, we found the Michigan Craft Brew Hall. (Incidentally, this hall with its facade is the only remaining portion of the old Civic Auditorium.)  We sat here for a few minutes to enjoy a slider and a beer but the live music was too loud to talk.
The vendors were very informative and not overly aggressive. All pours were very short, which allowed for more tasting but there goes three more tickets...
It’s definitely awkward eating from  a small plate and holding a beverage while moving about the room. There are some seating areas on the outskirts and a few high top tables in the main room, more of which would be most helpful.
Five restaurants offered a three-course meal with wine pairings at set times with prices ranging from $30-$45.00 per person. This was a little daunting on top of the $50.00 already spent but it would have been an entertaining and most likely delicious dining experience. We have been at each of the five restaurants and reluctantly had to pass on them Friday night.
Next year we may just pass on the taste tickets, or purchase fewer, and go straight to a three-course meal with wine pairings.
On our way out (tickets gone, the last on a communion size cup of vodka), we were invited to a wine tasting that was about to start in one of the seminar rooms. It was the “no-charge” that got our attention. So we did an about-face and found four open seats in a session hosted by Michael Schafer, the Wine Counselor.
The four wines served were not paired with dinner but were expertly and experimentally  matched and tasted with three different cheeses. (The pours were larger than in the ballroom.) This ended up being our favorite part of the evening. Schafer was knowledgeable, down-to-earth, humorous, and nowhere near being a wine snob.

It was an altogether enjoyable Friday evening, a little overwhelming but a definite must for next year. There were contests and give-a-ways, all to get you on a mailing list (been there, done that) but hey, somebody wins.

If music plays to an empty room, does it make a sound?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Grand Rapids Symphony - 11/12/11

DeVos Performance Hall was inordinately crowded tonight, including a long line at the ticket counter and many more young people than are usually present at the Saturday evening concerts. We knew it was Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” that was to blame. Always a crowd pleaser, it didn’t disappoint tonight. 
Warming Up For Bartok
The evening began with “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste” by Bartok. Music Director David Lockington gave a brief introduction of the Beethoven and Bartok works, neatly tying them together by movement and symphony set-up. He also amusingly gave us his preference for the pronunciation of “celeste” and why. 
Bela Bartok, 1881-1945
Although some audience members may prefer a music-only evening, we always appreciate Lockington’s comments regarding the music and its background. (We also prefer his now-gone long locks over his current businessman short haircut but that’s just us :)

Before the concert began, Lockington brought out retired principal cellist, Nancy Steltmann, to thank her for her years with the symphony. She was presented with a “time piece” (a large mantel clock) and then was given the opportunity to say a few words. Nancy started out by saying she thought she rambled too much during last night’s presentation, and then proceeded to ramble on. We did wonder why she hadn’t been honored at the Season opener in September if she retired in August. Maybe the clock wasn’t ready. 
The Waiting Time Piece
The evening started late and was further delayed by the clock presentation. After Bartok and the intermission, Beethoven’s Ninth was finally ready to begin at 9:15pm (and finished at 10:25pm). 

With what seemed like many new concert-goers, the increase in talking during the performance also annoyingly increased (even if you are whispering, people, we can hear you). We especially enjoyed (not) the man who conducted the Ninth Symphony along with Lockington.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable concert and the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus was most impressive. Because they do not perform until the 4th movement, we were amused at  closing eyes and nodding heads throughout the chorus. The soloists were spared that and stayed off stage until their time. The solo voices were gorgeous and blended beautifully, leaving us wishing for more.
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827