Thursday, March 30, 2023


The recent "woke" Broadway production of the musical 1776 is going out on national tour, and as it's coming to our city that means I can easily indulge my desire to see it. (I wish, by the way, to help reclaim the word "woke" for its proud original meaning, which is "aware of racial and social injustices," and drown out the silly meaning of "whatever Republicans don't like.")

If I'd known what I'd have to go through, I might have changed my mind when I saw that the vendor was Ticketmaster. First I had to waste several minutes establishing that I already had a Ticketmaster account which wasn't in my password list because I hadn't used it for about eight years, since before establishing the list, and then I had to answer about five automated phone calls giving me numeric security codes I had to enter on-screen. And since they give you only seven minutes to complete the order, that meant it timed out before I was able to finish it, so I had to start again.

That was the easy part.

The hard part came after I finished the order and found that the ticket sheet they sent me by e-mail contained no ticket bar codes. I didn't even notice at first the instruction that said to load the Ticketmaster app on to your phone and download the tickets from there. Irrelevant, anyway, as my phone can't do things like that, and even if it did I'm not eager to load an app I'd only use once in eight years.

I established a chat link - it said they'd get back to you within four hours (!) but it actually took only about 25 minutes - and eventually found out that, no, there's no print at home option for these tickets, but you can have them transferred to will call. After spending an hour on this altogether, I had them do that, but I won't be surprised if I get to will call, show them my documentation, and then they say, "I've just sent your tickets to your phone."

And then ... and then I go out for lunch in a mildly upscale Palo Alto restaurant that I haven't been to in several years, and find a new wrinkle. The host pointed me to a card on the table and said I can order via a QR code on the card. I hastily replied that my phone can't do that. The host fortunately said that in that case they'd send a waiter, and did not direct me to what else it said on the card, which is that if you can't access the QR code, use their website. I didn't bring a laptop computer along with me either! And if they have wifi, it didn't say.

Fortunately I could order via human being, and pay too, instead of using the QR code for that also. But it was a narrow escape.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

concert review: California Symphony

Sometimes I come across, on recordings or just as a written reference to it, to an obscure work that I'd like to, but doubt I ever will, hear performed live. Sometimes the opportunity to hear one of these works live does arrive. Results usually range from good to disappointing.

But last weekend I heard the Symphony in E by Hans Rott. It's not a masterpiece, and I'm not recommending it to anyone beyond mad symphony collectors like myself, but I was thrilled. As a performance, it was everything I could have wished for. It just brought the whole thing to vivid life.

And I reviewed it, so my satisfaction was complete. Lisa Iron Tongue hated it, but the difference is: she had not heard it before; I knew the piece from recordings, I knew its flaws and virtues, I knew what to expect.

Hans Rott was Gustav Mahler's roommate at conservatory. They were friends, and when Mahler saw this rather revolutionary, on-beyond-Bruckner (Bruckner was Rott's teacher) symphony, he said that was the kind of symphony he wanted to write. And he did: it fits as a template over Mahler's First, composed eight years later.

But what about Rott? When he completed this symphony he was only 21, and it was promising enough that a career as a great composer could be expected. But then he became mentally ill and died at 25. And that's why you've never heard of him. If Mahler, who was two years Rott's junior, had died at 25, few would have heard of him today either, as at that time his only compositions to have survived were a fragmentary piano quartet, the first version of Das klagende Lied, and a few songs.

Most composers who died young that you've heard of were prodigies, like Schubert. But most composers developed more slowly, like Mahler. Or Beethoven. How many potentially great composers died young and are forgotten? Among those who left a trace of themselves as symphonists, there's Rott. There's Norbert Burgmüller (26), a friend of Schumann's. There's Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (an unbelievable 19), the greatest Basque composer before Ravel, 1820s. If you count her Military Sinfonietta, there's Vítězslava Kaprálová (25), 1930s. I collect composers like these, and that's what I was doing with Rott. I've heard Arriaga's symphony live, but until now, none of the others.

Monday, March 27, 2023


Do not buy a couch that is the same color as your cat.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

return of the tofu

We may specify that commercially-packed, shelf-stable tofu is an abomination. It tastes terrible and I won't eat it.

If I want tofu, it has to be hand-packaged freshly-made tofu from a local tofu maker, with a shelf life of only a few days. Buy it and make it for dinner no later than the next day, and that's pushing it. Chop up some vegetables and stir-fry them, add the sliced tofu and a packet of mild mapo sauce I bought at the same time, heat them up, and that's dinner. Delicious, and vegetarian too. (Mapo tofu is supposed to have meat, but I just don't put any in. Making it non-vegetarian seems to me to cancel the point of having tofu in the first place.)

I went through three local Japanese markets - the first two closed - buying tofu by the same little old tofu maker from San Jose's Japantown before the maker decided to retire. Fortunately the third market eventually found another local tofu maker which is also good, so I started buying that. But when the pandemic came, the fresh tofu disappeared from the shelves. After a couple times of this, I stopped looking.

Finally last week I returned to the market and found that the tofu had also returned to the shelves. Thus the tofu has also returned to our cuisine rotation, and we are content.

Friday, March 24, 2023

movie review: The Fabelmans

This was the only Oscar-nominated movie this year that I hadn't already seen but had an interest in seeing. Now that I have, I'm almost sorry I bothered. I didn't find it a very coherent story, nor much of an enjoyable viewing experience, which is one thing that a movie - which is after all a voluntary aesthetic encounter - must be.

Assuming that the story as presented is pretty much an accurate depiction of Spielberg's early life - which everything I've read about it indicates that it is (despite the title: fable-man, get it?) - than the problem seems to have been Spielberg's decision not to tell a focused story of how he decided to become a movie-maker, but to present a collection of Issues of His Childhood. This being real life, the various issues don't necessarily interact meaningfully, and he didn't make them do so in the movie.

There's three major issues: 1) his interest in making movies, 2) his mother's affair and his parents' divorce, 3) the anti-Semitism he encounters in high school. #1 makes him happy, #2 and #3 make him depressed. He takes #2 out on himself by quitting #1. But there's no interior view of what's going on in his mind: is he just too depressed to go on, has he actually lost interest, or is he flagellating himself by denying himself this thing he loves? No way to tell. He deals with #3 by making a school outing documentary which exalts one of the two bullies tormenting him at the expense of the other one, but why he does this is not clear, even when he's specifically asked. The fact that I found it difficult to distinguish the two bullies from each other made this part even harder to follow.

There's very little showing what interests him about movies or how he goes about making them. His direction to the young actor playing the sergeant in his war movie, and his revelation to his father that he's making gunshots by pricking physical holes in the film stock are about the only things. This is annoying because he's shown as developing an almost professional-level skill while still in school. Where'd he get this from? If he'd been shown seeing John Ford movies in his early life, or taking an interest in framing in his filmmaking, that would at least have given the final scene some context and made it a reward to the viewer, instead of having it weirdly stick out in the air.

The most frustrating scene for me was Sam's meeting with Claudia, Logan's girlfriend. I kept wishing for him to have said something like this: "Logan told me to tell you that I was lying when I said I saw him kissing another girl, and he enforced this instruction with his fist. So I want you to tell him that I said I was lying. Whether you actually believe I was lying, that's up to you."

Thursday, March 23, 2023

tree fall

Our latest storm produced not just a number of fallen trees blocking roads, but three cases locally where the fall of the tree killed somebody who happened to be underneath at the time, in two of the cases in a vehicle. I also saw a story about a dead tree in a park which fell over and killed two children right in front of their horrified parents' eyes. That was not during a storm, but some time afterwards.

Nor do you need a storm. I was once walking on a sidewalk underneath a spreading oak tree when suddenly a large branch detached itself and crashed to the ground. This was a couple feet away from me. How badly I'd have been injured if I'd been directly underneath I don't care to think.

I like trees, but they can be dangerous. Look at the Ents in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. (Not the ones in the movie, which are ridiculous.)

In other news, I've gotten the schedule for the Kalamazoo medieval studies congress in May. This is where a lot of Tolkien scholarship goes on, so that's of great interest to me, but I've never gone. The complexities of getting there from here, plus the fact that I'm not a medievalist and have limited knowledge of or interest in the rest of what they do, have put it far too down my priority list.

Last year, however, the sessions were all online, so I bought a membership and attended virtually. This year, however, it appears they're recovering. Some sessions are online, some will be streamed, but too many won't be. I counted up ten sessions I'm really interested in, most of them on Tolkien, Lewis, or Le Guin, but only 3 of them will be available online. Is that enough? Oh, sure, there are other sessions which strike my passing curiosity, but based on last year, passing curiosity is all they'll satisfy for me.

I could actually attend in person, you know. Even at this date I could make the arrangements. But the chaos that the extra time and the absence from my computer would throw into my schedule (after another trip I'm taking two weeks earlier) are daunting; plus even ten sessions - actually only eight, since in two cases they're on at the same time - becomes hard to justify for the added expense.

Will I join online anyway for the three? Yeah, I think I will. Blast.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

concert review: Symphony San Jose

I got sent by my editors down to Symphony San Jose to cover last weekend's programming, and it really was something glorious. Sitting up in the front balcony, which is always the best spot in that house, the sound of Florence Price's First Symphony, which I would probably have gone to hear anyway, outdid itself in a passionate performance.

I really should go to hear this orchestra more often. At one time I had a subscription, which I let drop because while the orchestra was getting better, the programming was spotty. The previous management decided a few years ago to adhere to a theory that every concert should include a popular warhorse, and a lot of those are pieces I like but am just not moved to go out of my way to hear again. Still, this concert's work in that category, the Grieg Piano Concerto, was a lot more exciting and less vapid than it usually is.

A new manager has taken over and is programming next season, and has taken the opposite tack of playing not a single work that the orchestra has ever played before in its 20-year history. That still leaves room for a lot of classics from The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Rodeo to both Mahler's and Shostakovich's First Symphonies, but it also includes Lera Auerbach, Caroline Shaw, and William Grant Still. Despite an all-Puccini concert (in May; the centenary of his death isn't till November), it looks tempting, and I'd be making up for anybody who drops out because they're not getting Beethoven and Dvorak (neither of those two AT ALL are appearing) all year.

At the pre-concert talk, the regular speaker, a violinist in the orchestra, brought on the concert's guest conductor. At the end, the speaker asked the conductor to tell us something interesting and unusual about himself. The conductor fumpfed for a minute, then said, "At university I was a double major in music and government. I've always been interested in government: when I was nine years old I could give the full names of all the Presidents of the United States in order." I half-raised my hand at that, because I could do that too. Then he said to the speaker, "I'm not going to do it now, but give me a number." The speaker said, "19," and the conductor paused for a moment in thought and then said, "Rutherford B. Hayes." Pretty good. Not many orchestra conductors could do that.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Sondheim festival III: Follies, the high school musical

So this theatrical group, composed entirely of students from numerous local high schools, put on a quite excellent production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a few years ago. How would they do with Sondheim's Follies? Not so great, although everybody was competent on the level of knowing their lines and being able to depict a character. But a play that's largely about couples aged 50 whose marriages are falling apart requires more seasoning than high school actors are going to have, and Sondheim's complex songs require more self-confidence than a lot of these people have got either. Mousy renditions of "Broadway Baby" and "In Buddy's Eyes" don't cut it. The one performer who had what it takes played Carlotta, one of the lesser roles, and her big number "I'm Still Here" was the highlight of the show, more enjoyable than most professional versions I've heard. A big hand, then, for Audrey Rechenmacher.

Exceedingly bare-bones production in the small performance space at the Mountain View CPA. No ghosts of the characters' earlier selves, a lot of double-casting in the minor roles. Minimal sets, sketchy costumes. The leading character of Phyllis wore a very fetching green dress, but a couple dance-hall girls had enormous runs or actual holes in their stockings. I don't think they were intentionally seedy.

Since I don't know Follies well, and had never actually seen it performed before, I took this as a get-acquainted prelude to the adult community theater level, and unstaged concert version, that I plan to see next month.

Saturday, March 18, 2023


Yesterday's edition of the neighborhood mailing list (I get a daily digest) was full of reports from pockets of our neighborhood that still haven't gotten their power back. That was Friday, and the windy storm that knocked all those trees down was on Tuesday. Today's paper confirms that there are still several thousand customers without power in the immediate area, and some of them are in our town.

The reason for the delay, of course, is the vast number of incidents overwhelming the crews that need to clean them up (and, the mailing list reports suggest, the exhaustion of workers who need to commute hours to get here, as people in such lines of work can't possibly afford to live here, but that's another matter). It hasn't hit us personally, which is good, because right now I'm buried in collating all the corrections for the proofs of the next issue of Tolkien Studies (that's the long-delayed 2022 issue), including some confusions that the publisher made of the illustrations (mostly musical scores) in one article, rendered more hazardous by their having renumbered them all. We missed one of the glitches ourselves; fortunately the author noticed it. Read your proofs, authors! Deadline is tight, and I don't need inaccessibility to my computer right now.

I had to dodge some fallen trees on a drive home from the City after the previous storm cycle last month, but this one hasn't been much to me personally, except for the twice-canceled Sondheim show. I did have to go out in the height of the rain for a medical appointment some distance away, but having repeatedly to hold my breath while they ran the ultrasound was more discomforting than anything involved in driving there. It currently looks as if our area will be spared the brunt of the next storm coming in a couple of days, though down south the San Bernardino Mountains towns that were socked in with snowfall may be getting more of it; the news article didn't specify that. In the meantime, between storms, it's cracking 70 F for the first time this year. There will be plenty more where that came from. I almost didn't need a jacket last night attending a concert by the Philharmonia Baroque and Apollo's Fire presenting a variety of diaspora Jewish ethnic music. Next week I'm attending a concert of wind chamber music by victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and this seemed like an appropriate prelude. Some of it was pretty haunting.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

no show

Last Thursday, B. and I had tickets to see a production of Sondheim's Into the Woods at a local community college, up on the edge of the hills. In fact, "Foothill," that's the name of the college. What should hit that day but one of the giant storms we've been getting lately. Fortunately I checked my e-mail before we went out, and found a notification that the power was out on campus so the evening's show had been canceled. But not to worry: they were adding a new performance the next Wednesday, and anyone who could make that day was welcome to transfer to that.

We were, so we did.

So on Tuesday, what should we get but another giant storm. And on Wednesday, a notice that power had gone out on campus again, and it was still out, so the replacement performance was also being canceled. Maybe it's being in the hills, and with lots of vulnerable trees around, that did it.

Show's about to close anyway: no more replacement performances, few tickets for the remaining shows (if the power comes back on for them) and we can't make them anyway.

So, scratch Into the Woods from my spring Sondheim festival. One down (Assassins, last month), one canceled, three more to go.