Tuesday, June 6, 2023

concert review: Redwood Symphony

Even at my age, I'm still capable of learning practical rules of life the hard way.

That barbecue counter where you're used to having quiet weekday lunches? Don't try to have dinner there on a Saturday.

We finally got to the concert hall in time for this.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Denny Lien

I didn't mention Denny Lien when he died nearly two months ago, but now that a memorial fanzine of his writings has been published, I'd like to pay tribute to two of his signal virtues.

First, his skill as a reference librarian. As a librarian myself, and having a modicum of that skill and training, I can recognize a true master when I see one. Denny had the particular talent of being able to make small and intricate corrections without seeming to be drowning in trivial distractions.

Second, the selfless care he took of his ailing wife, Terry Garey. I didn't know Denny very well, but Terry is an old friend of mine from a long way back, the same vintage and environment as the late Andi Shechter, and I appreciate what Denny could do for her.

The fanzine has a few examples of Denny's learning and wit that generate responses of mine.

First, on page 11 is a newspaper letter to the editor decrying "the technique of proving the obscurity of a subject on the basis of its nonappearance in a totally inappropriate reference work." I found a choice example of that once, years ago. An orchestra member had the job of giving preconcert talks, and was faced with the responsibility of speaking on Carmina Burana, a work he loathed. His technical analysis of it was actually pretty good, but he tripped up in attempting to prove that Carl Orff was a composer of utmost insignificance. "He isn't even listed in the authoritative St. James Press guide to Contemporary Composers." I'd used this reference work and I raised my hand. "The St. James Press guide to Contemporary Composers," I said, "says in its foreword that its coverage is limited to composers still alive at the date of compilation. Orff had already been dead for a decade, so he wasn't eligible any more than Stravinsky or Bartok, who aren't there either."

Also on page 11 is Denny's simple recipe for pizza. (Remove the frozen pizza from the box, heat it up and eat it.) I've seen an even simpler pizza recipe, that's capable of providing better results:
Pizza. Ingredients: 1. Phone. 2. Coupon.

The garbling of Carl Akeley's name as Earl Akaley, corrected by Denny on page 27, reminds me of the worst such garbling I've seen. In a published transcription of tape recordings of the conversation of Philip K. Dick, Phil twice mentions a composer named Schmenkna. There is no such composer. It's pretty obvious that he's referring to Bedřich Smetana.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Guest conductor for last night's concert was Manfred Honeck, music director in Pittsburgh, a healthy-looking grey-haired guy.

He brought with him a brief recent piece that Pittsburgh had commissioned, by Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano, originally from Venezuela and now a conductor working mainly in Europe. amazon (pretentiously eschewing a capital letter) - referring to the warrior women, not the river or the shipping company - is a bustling, active work resembling movie music in the Danny Elfman mode, with sudden quiet passages and a lot of percussion (7 players) clopping around in the background.

The rest of the concert delivered brilliantly colorful, rather than interpretatively compelling, versions of two of my favorite large-scale works.

In Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody, both pianist Beatrice Rana and the orchestra were magnificently crisp, like a single perfect potato chip that somehow takes half an hour to eat.

Schubert's Great C Major Symphony, of which I would not put "crispness" among its many virtues, was blisteringly fast, with a terrifyingly intense coda.

This was not MTT's or EPS's, let alone Blomstedt's, SFS, but it was good enough.


Next week's concert will be less familiar and more challenging: a concert version of the opera Adriana Mater by Kaija Saariaho. Who just died yesterday, I learned to my shock this morning. She was 70. Peace to her memory, and as this concert will be the first to demonstrate, her music will live on.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

new machines

A couple years ago our kitchen range fell apart and we got a new one. This week it was the turn of our dishwasher. Our disposition of chores is that I cook dinner (B. hates cooking) and B. does the dishes, so I rarely touch the dishwasher, but I was heavily involved in the purchase process, for which we replicated what we did for the range.

A library visit for Consumer Reports (whose annual Buying Guide is now the same shape and size as a regular issue) revealed that the top brand is something called Bosch. This was confirmed by the salesfolk at Best Buy, and fortunately we were able to get the least expensive version. You can pay $100 more for a different-shaped handle or for a stainless-steel surface, but we didn't.

Only problem was that the deliverers did not phone the previous day with a time window as the salesfolk had promised. 5 pm I phoned Best Buy customer support who told me to wait till they called the next morning; I said that wasn't good enough, and by employing heavy sarcasm ("Are you calling the salesperson a liar?") got them to check the schedule, which said we were the 6th customer on the day's list, probably early afternoon.

Next morning, still no call, but another call to support got a window of 1-4 pm. Fine. Showed up at 3, did the job, no trouble. Dishwasher works: less noise than the old one, no leaks on the floor, moderately good at drying the contents.

In less epic vein, we replaced the older of our two litter boxes. The cats weren't using it any more, and that must have been because the plastic had absorbed just too much odor over the years. They certainly like the new one.

The problem was that covered litter boxes now comes with the kind of bells and whistles we're all familiar with from computer shopping. There's a little swinging door over the entrance. And there's a sieve at the bottom. The idea is that you clean the box by lifting the sieve out; the poop comes with and the loose litter stays behind. Then you just dump the contents from the sieve into the wastebasket. Easy, no?

No. First, we're not putting the cat poop into a wastebasket to sit there smelly all week until trash day; it goes in a bag which is put directly in the outside bin. But I can't dump the sieve into the bag without three hands like the woman in the Charles Addams cartoon.

Second, the process of reassembly is far too complex. You don't just put the sieve back in, because then it would ride on top of the litter. So there's an extra bottom part. You put the sieve in that. You dump the litter from the other bottom into that one, on top of the sieve. Then you lift the now-full bottom and put it inside the now-empty bottom. Is that at all clear? I could not find words to explain it to B.

Way too much trouble. It's easier to use the scoop, the one the ads say you don't have to use any more.

As for the swinging door, the cats knocked it off on the first day. So the bells and whistles are all gone, and we're back to a normal covered litter box.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

private performers

Weirdly fascinating article in the 5 June New Yorker about private party entertainers: if you have enough money, you can hire just about any performer you want for any kind of legitimate party that you're holding. Most of them are financially suffering enough in these days of lowered recording sales that they need the money, and the rest figure "a gig is a gig." Meanwhile, the nouveau riche figure that hiring these stars is a great way to show off.

The article starts with an account of an executive who hired his son's favorite rapper for the boy's bar mitzvah party, or rather from the rapper's point of view. His stage name is Flo Rida, for his home state. (I'm awaiting colleagues named Jaw-Jaw or possibly Tech's Ass.)

Of course, if I were there, when the music started I'd run away and hide, and I expect that's true for just about every example given in the article. This sort of thing has actually been around for a while. Back in the '90s when B. was working for AMD and they were riding high, Jerry Sanders rented the local hockey arena for a big corporate party and put Faith Hill in it. I lasted about two minutes. I don't dislike the music of Faith Hill, but the acoustics were hideous and the volume was worse. At least it wasn't the previous party, where he hired Rod Stewart, whom I don't care for at all.

And I was thinking about this bar mitzvah. If this sort of thing had been going on when I was bar mitzvah, and if my parents had been fabulously rich and terminally tasteless (they were neither: my bar mitzvah was followed by a reception in the adjacent hall, and no party), who would have been my favorite performer whom I'd have wanted to have?

And the answer comes immediately: Allan Sherman. That was the favorite performer of my childhood.

We probably could have gotten him, too. By that time he'd lost his record contract and his Broadway musical had flopped, so he could have used the gig. I actually saw Allan Sherman perform live once, in a hotel lounge in San Francisco, at just about that time, so I can just imagine it ...

In other news, this music-oriented issue of The New Yorker has a snippy review by Alex Ross referring to "the problematic new acoustics of Geffen Hall." What, have they still not gotten it right? I was assured by all the puff pieces at the re-opening that finally, after 60 years, that accursed hall had finally been fixed. I guess not.

And a long account of the Ed Sheeran plagiarism trial has a musicologist for the prosecution claiming that Sheeran is playing an F-sharp minor chord. Nonsense, says Sheeran, it's a D-major in first inversion. Well, that makes sense to me, but I wonder how many readers will follow the argument here?

Monday, May 29, 2023

book report

Today is Memorial Day, so it's appropriate to report that I've read a memoir by a military veteran, though he is still alive. And a memoir of a military veteran is what it turned out mostly to be, to my surprise as none of the immense publicity that this book received on publication indicated that this would be its emphasis.

The book is Spare by Prince Harry. After much frustration wondering what his role in life would be, and feeling that he lacked the brainpower of his father and brother, Harry finds his metier when he joins the Army, and belies any demurral about his brainpower by plunging into discussion of the highly technical requirements of the job he did in combat, which was basically air traffic controller for air raids. (That way he could be hands-on while not risking being captured by enemies who'd love to nab a Prince.) I skipped over a lot of this part.

Much of the rest of the book is fragmented and skips around a lot. Part of the problem is that Harry claims to remember little of his earlier childhood, and almost all the material about his mother is delivered in the context of him remembering her after she was already dead. Again to my surprise, he does not depict himself and his brother as ever having been very close, though later in the book he claims that they once had been. The period when Harry and William and Kate formed a tight trio who were seen doing charitable work all over the place? Hardly a mention in this book. He says he liked Kate, at least initially, but did not feel he had any role in the couple's life, not even as an uncle to their kids. By contrast he seems to have gotten on well with his father for most of this period, despite the latter's renowned coldness.

He calls his brother Willy. No naughty-word implications. His brother calls him Harold. No explanation. He calls his father Pa. His father calls him "darling boy." He calls the Queen "Granny." He hadn't known the story of how Princess Margaret was prevented from marrying a divorced man until it comes up in relation to his own impending marriage.

The book becomes grimmer as it goes along. Part of this is due to Harry's realization that he's suffering from PTSD stemming from his mother's death. But it also comes from various promising romantic relationships foundering over media persecution. Even Meghan barely survived it (literally: she attempted suicide at one harrowing point), and their relationship prospered mostly through Harry's determination that she really was the one for him. Total lack of support from palace officials is the continuing theme here. The strangest event is a meeting (I'm recalling this from memory of my reading) with several family members including the Queen and some palace officials. Harry describes the nightmares he and Meghan had to go through. Others say, you should have asked for help. Harry says, I did. I sent tons of desperate e-mails. The Queen looks at the officials and says, well? The officials blandly reply they never got them. And that seems to be the end of it.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Tina Turner

I've never had much to do with Tina Turner, but I read this article that said she'd want you to mourn her by watching this recent documentary film about her, Tina.

So I did. I figured I might learn something. And one of the things I learned is that I'm not sure she'd want people to watch it, since she spends much of her interview time declaring how she doesn't want to revisit the past, particularly the years she spent with her abusive first husband, Ike. But what is the documentary's topic but a review of her life, Ike very much included?

I was aware that she'd once been partnered with Ike, but I'd barely heard of her if at all in those days, so I think of her, when I do so at all, as a solo artist. But the documentary shows her early solo career being besieged by interviewers who wanted to hear all about the breakup, or who even seemed unaware that they'd broken up at all. Even years later, they'd ask her about Ike's latest doings, about which she had no comment whatever. Then she wrote a memoir, which got turned into a film (oh, so that's why Angela Bassett is in this documentary) in an attempt to exorcise it all, but it only got people more interested. No wonder she sounds so annoyed.

As for her music, it turns out the only thing of hers I recognize is "What's Love Got To Do With It?" (chorus only). I don't care for most of the stuff she did with Ike; her other solo songs aren't particularly attractive but are a step above. The most remarkable thing in the documentary, however, was a cover of "Help!" by the Beatles. If I hadn't recognized the lyrics I wouldn't have guessed the song; the musical line has nothing in common with the original. Normally I'd find that very irritating. But Tina's heartfelt, even tear-stained delivery of the pleading lyrics is enormously effective, making a mockery out of the original's rather emotionless presentation.

I can see why people loved her work, and I'm going away better-informed and moderately enlightened.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

R.W. Reynolds

He was one of Tolkien's teachers at school. He drove Tolkien to Oxford for his first term at university (this was 1911, when car trips were still exotic). He advised Tolkien on getting a collection of poetry published (it didn't happen). Some years later, Tolkien sent him what became The Lays of Beleriand to read and comment on, and, to provide context, wrote "A Sketch of the Mythology" which was the seed out of which came all subsequent versions of the Silmarillion.

Here's his unexpectedly surprising biography.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

bound from Florida

The books I ordered interlibrary loan for the Tolkien Studies bibliography are slowly trickling in from far and wide. I have no idea what library it'll be coming from until I get the actual book and look for an ownership stamp.

The latest one, though an academic book, came from a public library system ... in Florida. All persons capable of being pregnant or misgendered are wisely advised to avoid Florida right now, but should the rest of us boycott it? And in absentia? If I'd turned around and returned the book because I was refusing to accept books from Florida, what good would that do? How about if I rush to FedEx, scan the article I need from it, and then return the book right away?

But there's another wrinkle. The public library it's from is ... the Broward County Library. That's the one that's currently under attack for offering library cards with "I Read Banned Books" on them.

Apparently neither the Republican legislator attacking this, nor the authors of the article about it, know that Broward County didn't come up with "I Read Banned Books" by themselves. It's a slogan officially promoted by the American Library Association, which has been putting it on bling of their own for years.

So Broward County is not doing anything unusual or out of line for public libraries. And encouraging this system and checking out its books turns out to be admirable.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

concert review: California Symphony

And so I got sent out to review yet another new piano concerto. This is the fourth in fairly short order. Did I just compare this piece with Pachelbel's Canon? I did.

Of more interest to me was William Walton's First Symphony, another case from this orchestra of a symphony I never thought I'd hear live in this lifetime. It's fast and complex and ferocious, so this was one piece I wasn't going to tackle without a score. Fortunately I was able to check one out of the local college library and, while full size, it didn't get in the way.

What intrigued me is that the plain, straightforward interpretation at the concert made it a lot easier to follow the score at the concert than it had been with recordings at home. Usually it's the opposite. I didn't take any notes during this performance, but I did stay in my seat after it ended and drafted by hand a full text of the review of that section, which made writing the actual review much easier.

Usually when I drive to Walnut Creek for a concert I stop in Castro Valley for takeout and drive over Crow Canyon and up 680. But this time I came through Oakland and got something to eat there instead. This turned out to be a mistake, as 24 was completely jammed due to a major accident on the connector with 680. Fortunately I had planned to be very, very early, mostly so that I'd have a chance to talk with the Symphony staff about next year's subscription about which I had some questions. In the end I had time for that too.