Friday, May 25, 2018

in the line

I was feeling post-prandial groggy as I stood in the grocery check-out line, when the man in front of me plopped down a copy of National Enquirer or some similar mag on the belt. The headline read "HODA FIRED". And the following thoughts went through my head, pretty much verbatim:

Groggy Brain: I don't know what a Hoda is. Isn't that the name of one of those alien species in Star Wars? Those cute furry creatures who live on a forest planet: weren't they called Hodas or Yodas or something like that?

Nerd Brain (recovering from slumber): They were called Ewoks. Yoda was the name of the Jedi Master who taught Luke.

Groggy Brain: Oh. I must have been thinking of something else. I can't bother to remember this stuff; I leave that to you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

dead white guys

I don't have anything to say about Philip Roth. I read one of his novels once, and decided that life was too short to spend any more of it reading people who wrote like that. So I'm in no position to make any further criticisms.

Tom Wolfe, on the other hand, I've read three of his novels. The first one I liked despite it being over the top. The second was further over the top, and the third was too far over the top. So I stopped.

concert review: Telegraph Quartet

My editors sent me up to the City to cover this. I was not really looking forward to it, as I've heard this group play before and they displayed all the emotional effect of the machine they're named after. But this time they were somewhat better.

I spilled some of my thoughts in conversation with Kai Christiansen, the musicologist who wrote the evocative program notes and hosted an after-concert talk with the players, but I managed to get most of them down in writing.

The one word in the review I don't believe is "Valley" as in Noe Valley, the purported locale of the concert. Valleys are supposed to be flat, between the mountains - they certainly are in rugged Montana - but the 1880s wooden church (with the sanctuary on the upper floor, and fortunately an elevator of considerably more recent vintage) where the concert was held is up on a hill, and a fairly steep one, only two blocks from the steepest street in San Francisco.

I'd been hoping to take transit - the bus leaves off less than two blocks away on the less-hilly side - but it was a busy day and with a maximum of 20 minutes wait on Sunday for the BART and again for the bus, I couldn't risk it. So I drove and found exactly the same open parking space half a block away I had the last time I drove here, for the Henry Cowell festival.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

second concert: supplemental

I forgot to say about Philip Glass's Piano Concerto No. 3 that the long ending, with an oft-repeated phrase drifting to the far ends of the piano, reminded me of the passacaglia section in the Piano Quintet of Alfred Schnittke, not a composer I expected to be reminded of by Philip Glass.

In the lobby before the concert I heard two men talking about Scotland, especially the unexpectedly luminous quality of the light there. I considered chiming in to agree, but decided I had nothing in particular to add that would justify the interruption.

Then one of them was describing his trip to the Highlands. "We took a ferry to the Isle of Mull," he said, and I was thinking, OK, I know where that is. "Then we took another ferry to the Isle of Iona," and I thought, Yes, that's how you get there. And then he said, "That's where the Book of Kells comes from," and I had to bite my tongue to keep from correcting him. Then they abruptly switched to talking about Iona Brown: it was a classical concert, after all. But no Mendelssohn references, peculiarly enough.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

two concerts

Peninsula Symphony, last weekend, reviewed. I got the score of the Elgar Cello Concerto out of the library to follow along, because I tend to consider this work, like most of Elgar's more ambitious compositions, a featureless wad.

Without review assignment, I went to hear the New Century Chamber Orchestra last night. This was so that I could hear Philip Glass's new Piano Concerto No. 3, which dedicatee Simone Dinnerstein has been taking around the country on a premiere tour.

This could have been asking for trouble, because a dozen years ago I heard his Piano Concerto No. 2 at Cabrillo, and was not impressed: uninspired noodling with astonishingly bad sonic balance. But No. 3 was much better, as hypnotically entrancing a work as Glass has ever composed. It's a very long work and could have been longer as far as I was concerned, mostly slow and quiet. The Glassian figurations are confined to the string orchestra, which never drowns out the piano even when the strings are busy and the piano is playing slow chords, which it often is. The chordal work was dominant in the piano part, and only the harmonic progressions were a sure giveaway of Glass's hand. At times it sounded like a string work with piano obbligato, at others like pianist and orchestra were playing entirely separate works simultaneously.

Dinnerstein also played Bach's G Minor concerto (more familiar in its violin form, in which it's in A Minor), which she's been taking along with the Glass. The orchestra also played Purcell's Chacony, a Corellian concerto grosso by Geminiani, and Bryce Dessner's Aheym, a raw-sounding little piece that's far more "minimalist" in style than anything Glass has written since around the time that Dessner, who's 42, was in elementary school.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Friday my editor phoned, wondering if I might be able to cover that week's SF Symphony concert. "I went to last night's performance," I said, "and I think I could ginger up a review." My editor said he really wanted to know what I'd made of the new work by Connesson, and we discussed it for a while, and I realized that this conversation was actually writing my review for me. So I completed it in written form and here it is, complete with grumblings against the serialist (well, post-tonalist) hegemony. Won't he ever stop going on about that? Not as long as the attitudes that engendered it still exist.

We took advantage of a week's maintenance shutdown of B's workplace to do something that would be too time-consuming and tiring to do on an ordinary day off, which was to take the 3-hour (each way) drive out to visit niece and family off in the distant rural expanses of the Central Valley. Children well-behaved, but also very energetic. Fun to be with for a bit, but glad we never had any of our own. Greeted at door with announcement from knee-level: "I'm four!" "Four what?" I asked, to see what she'd say. "Four and a half!" she replied. And as her birthday is September 12, that's true.

Spending several days back at the research libraries, this time reading through the long nomination list for the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award, for which I'm on the jury. Some good books out there, also some dubious ones, also some ones needing copy-editing. More on that later, perhaps. Got caught up like a ping-pong ball batted back and forth in a turf war between the check-out clerk and the security officer. More on that later? Perhaps not.

Oh, and my upcoming trip to England, a very tightly-scheduled event, just keeps getting more exciting. First my flight got canceled. Not discontinued; just canceled, that day's flight and no other. They say they decided to inspect the plane that day. Got rebooked onto another flight going somewhere else; will get home about 5 hours later than previously expected. Then the show I was going to see in London got canceled. Just that one performance and no other. No reason given. Can't make any other, so switched to another show; fortunately there was one I'd been considering and the same agency covered it.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

bonus revelation

How much of a fan of Monty Python and the Holy Grail am I?

Well, there was the time I was in a hotel ballroom at Mythcon which was being set up for a stage presentation I'd be participating in later that day. At one point the technicians asked me to speak into the microphone to test it. I walked up and opened my mouth with no idea what I was about to say.

What came out was, "Look: strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government."

So last night I was attending a small social gathering and one of the other attendees was describing a radio station trivia contest she once took part in. Explaining how it worked, she said, "They ask you five questions ..."

And I instantly interjected, "Three questions."

Again, I had no idea I was going to say this.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tolkien Studies 15: an announcement

On behalf of myself and my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, here are the expected contents of volume 15 of the journal Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. All of the works are now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in softcover and on Project MUSE later this year. - David Bratman, co-editor

Tolkien Studies 15 (2018)
  • Nicole duPlessis, "'Changed, Changed Utterly': The Implications of Tolkien's Rejected Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings"

  • Tom Hillman, "These Are Not the Elves You're Looking For: Sir Orfeo, The Hobbit, and the Reimagining of the Elves"

  • Jane Chance, "Tolkien's Classical Beowulf and England's Heroic Age"

  • Chiara Bertoglio, "Dissonant Harmonies: Tolkien's Musical Theodicy"
Notes and Documents
  • Stuart D. Lee, "'Tolkien in Oxford' (BBC, 1968): A Reconstruction"

  • Janet Brennan Croft, "Doors into Elf-mounds: J.R.R. Tolkien's Introductions, Prefaces, and Forewords"

  • Denham, Robert D., compiler, "References to J.R.R. Tolkien in the Collected Works of Northrop Frye"
Book Reviews
  • The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, revised and expanded edition, by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, reviewed by Jason Fisher

  • Beren and Lúthien, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, reviewed by Sherwood Smith

  • There Would Always Be a Fairy Tale: More Essays on Tolkien, by Verlyn Flieger, reviewed by Alyssa House-Thomas

  • The Sweet and the Bitter: Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, by Amy Amendt-Raduege, reviewed by Robert Steed

  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Romanticist and Poet, by Julian Eilmann, reviewed by Jay Rimmer

  • The Inklings and King Arthur: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, & Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain, edited by Sørina Higgins, reviewed by John D. Rateliff
  • David Bratman, Jason Fisher, John Wm. Houghton, John Magoun, Robin Anne Reid, "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2015"

  • David Bratman, "Bibliography (In English) for 2016"

Thursday, May 10, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Two French guest performers, both of whom I'd heard before, appeared in a concert of Franco-Italian travelogue music. Stéphane Denève, his wild mane of hair beginning to recede in front, conducted.

The all-French work on the program was the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Camille Saint-Saëns, with the solo by Gautier Capuçon. He had a firm, mellow tone in this mostly lively and fairly choppy work. The unusual feature is a courtly minuet in the middle, played crisply and softly in the strings. Capuçon's encore was also by Saint-Saëns, "The Swan" accompanied by orchestral strings and harp.

There were two somewhat mixed-provenance works on the program. Escales (Ports of Call) by Jacques Ibert is a 1922 suite depicting Mediterranean countries the French composer visited on his honeymoon: Italy, Spain, and Tunisia. The idiom, in orchestration and slightly seasick harmonies, was very much "school of Debussy," though Debussy never wrote anything as exotic as Ibert's Tunisia.

A brief and very recent work by the French composer Guillaume Connesson, also depicting the Italian landscape, bears a long title in Italian translatable as "The river is clear in the valley." It surprised me with its retro quality, being in what seemed a combination of neoromanticism and neoclassicism. Only a few odd harmonies betrayed for certain that it had not been written a century earlier.

Lastly, The Pines of Rome, the most famous of Ottorino Respighi's sets of panels depicting the city. Denève stationed extra brass for the finale around the balconies, resulting in weird echo effects. This was also done for the recent San Jose performance, though I don't recall seeing it earlier. But this was a refined and dignified performance where San Jose's was raucous.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

concert catchup

Over the weekend, my editors sent me to hear Symphony Silicon Valley do Haydn's The Creation, and it was good, much better than the last rather low-rent performance I heard. As usual Karen S. was in the choir, which did very well for itself.

Last Thursday, while I was still posting here about Montana, I went up to a San Francisco Symphony concert under Juraj Valčuha, mostly so that I could hear Prokofiev's rough and angular Third Symphony again. This performance smoothed out and made the work as lyric as possible, but without sacrificing drive. It was pretty satisfactory. Ray Chen played the Brahms Violin Concerto, a performance I thought subdued and retiring but which my fellow reviewer characterized as driving and even reckless. Opening up was Unstuck by Andrew Norman, a young composer I've found interesting before. This piece felt like ten minutes of imaginatively conceived, brightly-colored fragments that seemed deliberately designed not to add up to anything.

And a couple weeks ago, before my trip, I was at Herbst for the Takács Quartet, the farewell performance (though the conservative ensemble made nothing out of this) of their founding second violin, Károly Schranz, who's retiring this month. The expected deep consideration of a lot of non-flashy repertoire, Mozart's K. 387, Mendelssohn's Op. 80, and Dohnányi's Second.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Montana: other travelling notes

Great Falls: Where my flights terminated and where I stayed three of the seven nights of my journey, something of a home base and the only city I spent much time in, Great Falls has lost an industry (or two: hydroelectric power and smelting) and not yet found a role. It's a large city but curiously vacant: there was hardly anyone there and no significant traffic, even on the main drag at commute hours. Yet it was not closed down or boarded up as decaying midwestern or southern cities are. It seemed healthy but there wasn't much there. In particular, I had trouble finding anything not a chain (and not too many of those, either) open for lunch on a Sunday except diners still serving only breakfast food. I had a great omelet, though.

Countryside traffic: Not too much of that, either. On any of the back unpaved roads, if a vehicle, usually a pickup, is coming the other way, raise your hand to greet its driver, because they will to you. You're probably the only other driver they've seen all day.

The California of Montana: The only even moderately heavy traffic I saw was while passing through the outskirts of Missoula, my only encounter with that city. The road (Reserve St.) was lined with malls and chain outlets, more of it in 5 miles than in all of Great Falls. I told a store clerk in an outlying village that it was the only thing I'd seen in Montana that reminded me of urban California, and she thanked me warmly for confirming her own impression.

Montana Leisurely: The reason I was chatting with the store clerk is because by then I'd learned that that's what you do in Montana. Even in Great Falls I found the service style I dubbed "Montana leisurely." It's not unfriendly or uncaring, it just takes a long time. Allow two hours for a meal at a restaurant that would take one hour elsewhere. And, in particular, for checkout clerks, chatting extensively with customers who've already completed their purchase takes a much higher priority than helping the next person in line. If you're the next person, you'd just better get used to it. (And, while nobody was unfriendly, by far the warmest and most friendly were the clerks and servers at every place I stopped in the small towns of the Bitterroot Valley. They really make you feel welcome there.)

Steaks? Since I like to focus on local cuisine wherever I go, you may wonder how many steaks I ate in a week in Montana. Three, actually: one basic sirloin, one small marinated ribeye, and one T-bone so huge and thick that my first act was to saw off the strip side to save it for the next day. A couple hamburgers, lamb chops in a chop house, and a Butte-area special, the (boneless, needless to say) breaded pork chop sandwich. In Salmon, Idaho, I figured that I'm not often in a town named for a food, so when I saw that namesake food on the menu, I ordered it. Two meals in the small Montana town of Dillon rather surprisingly yielded me 1) some of the best jambalaya I've had outside of Louisiana, 2) the best tamales I've had outside of ex-Mexican territory.

Unexpected echo: In some of the smaller towns (smaller than Dillon), the best place to eat was often a saloon, a bar (for drinks) with a table seating area off to one side and a small menu focusing on burgers, steak sandwiches, and the like. This is not a kind of establishment I've seen in California, though some of our restaurants have bars, which is more the other way around, and felt more like eating at an English pub than any other experience I've had over here, albeit with a very heavy Western American accent. For one thing, you might find yourself sitting underneath a majestic antlered deer head mounted on the wall, or if you skittered away from that, next to a player piano on the other side of the room.

On the reservation: Members of the Blackfoot tribe are very proud of being Blackfeet. Even the ones panhandling in front of the tribal museum are very proud of being Blackfeet. I gave them a generous tip in hushed respect.

Culture in Montana: The Great Falls Symphony plays in an auditorium inside a WPA-era building labeled "City Hall" on that side and "Convention Center" on another side, and which is consequently hard to find. The musicians were dressed formally, but in the audience I saw a couple men in sports coats but not a single necktie. This was, already in late April, the last concert of the season, under first-year music director Grant Harville. The theme was music connected with movies. Of the two standard concert works, Gershwin's American in Paris was relaxed and easy but Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé (I was probably the only person there who'd actually seen the original movie) was stiff and awkward. Two chunks from more recent movies, Empire of the Sun (John Williams) and The Mission (Ennio Morricone), both featured chorus, an outstandingly clear and balanced ensemble directed by Paul Ritter, just then retiring.

A newspaper article alerted me to a children's theater production of the first act of Sondheim's Into the Woods and I couldn't resist that, so I adjusted my schedule to stop in Butte in time to see a performance. The tiny theater was even harder to find than the symphony hall, requiring one to pass sequentially through the lobby of a Masonic temple, a large gymnasium, and a door labeled women's restroom (it wasn't) in order to enter. The cast was mostly teenagers, with parts for younger children in a few cases that were obvious (Jack, Little Red) and some that weren't (Rapunzel's Prince). Like Linus's pumpkin patch, the show had sincerity, but what came out of anyone's mouth could not charitably be called singing. The narrator, for instance, was a girl made up like a Midsummer Night's Dream fairy, with a strong stage presence and a good line in eerie contortionate gymnastics, but ... she could not sing.

Bookstores: One advantage of the back of beyond is that there are still big used bookstores there. Second Edition Books in Butte (commercial space, wide open plan) claims to be the best used bookstore in Montana, and it's good but I'd give that prize to Montana Valley Books in Alberton, 30 miles outside Missoula (converted house, packed and cramped but not musty).

Saturday, May 5, 2018

travelling expeditiously through Montana

1. Take a map, a really good map. I took the DeLorme 3 miles to an inch road atlas, and it was vital. Directions to Lewis and Clark sites will send you off down obscure unpaved roads, and while those roads have names, Montana is chary of putting those names on road signs, and the map is the best way to find out where to go.

2. Nevertheless, don't be afraid to drive those unpaved roads. Montana keeps them in good condition. Only the occasional washboarding and the even rarer gully. But while the speed limit was typically 40 mph, 35 was about as fast as I could go without kicking too much gravel up. Once, far up in the mountains about a mile below the Continental Divide, I found a tree had fallen across the road. In my SUV, I was able to drive over the trunk, but I fancy that the sports car I passed going the other way a few miles later was in for an unpleasant surprise.

3. And when you get to your L&C site, even if it's far out in the wilderness, don't be surprised if there are interpretive signs, often well-researched and with very few factual errors. Comparing these with the info in my older guidebooks, it looks like the signage has been blooming in recent years.

(3a. OK, what errors were there? Two different signs said that Lewis left Sgt. Ordway in command of the portage camp at Great Falls when he set off to explore the Marias. No, Ordway and the canoe party hadn't arrived from upstream yet. Sgt. Gass was in charge pending Ordway's arrival. In the town of Salmon, Idaho, which dubs itself Sacagawea's birthplace (she was probably born somewhere in the area, but we don't know for sure), there's a sign claiming that her reunion with her brother, now the chief of their band, took place there as well. No, that happened over on the Montana side, at Camp Fortunate.)

4. And there's some very good museums. Best was the Forest Service's museum in Great Falls, of all things, whose extensive exhibit recounts the entire journey of the expedition, with emphasis on the native tribes they met, each referred to by both its common Anglo and own tribal name (though I'm not always confident in the accuracy of the latter). My favorite exhibit was the one where, if you press buttons for the language names in the right order, a recording of actors and a hypothesized script will reproduce the entire five-person translation process by which Lewis negotiated for horses with the Shoshone. The pathway winds creatively through the building, and when you get to the point where Lewis and Clark parted to take different routes on the return journey through Montana, the pathway briefly splits.

5. Also, the Sacajawea Center in Salmon, which is small but excellent. Gives a full account of her contributions to the expedition, which were useful, extensive, and honorable without having to make up any stories about her guiding the explorers across the continent, and, even more impressively, puts it in the context of modern Shoshone knowledge about their aboriginal customs and beliefs. So it forms a biography: first you see her as a Shoshone girl among her people, then as a captive of the Hidatsa, then heading off with these strange white men for a hoped-for reunion with her people. And what happened afterwards? The exhibit accepts the historically-likely story that she died in 1812, while noting the existence of a tradition that she lived to a great age in Wyoming, which is a fair way of putting it.

5a. This museum was still closed for the season, but unlike others that were closed had a notice on the website saying they'd open it by appointment. As I'd be on the road, I wasn't sure beforehand exactly when I could show up, but I phoned them and we worked something out, and someone was there to turn on the heat and let me in.

6. The other really good museum I visited was the Museum of the Rockies on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman. Nothing about Lewis and Clark, but a thunderously superb exhibit on the topic of dinosaur bones, Montana's leading geological product. Made an excellent update to my memories of long-ago college paleontology class.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Montana landforms

In following Lewis and Clark, I have no interest in re-enactment. Their journey was slow, wearying, and distinctly uncomfortable. I'm only interested in being where they were and seeing what they saw, particularly the forms of the landscape. So it was in Montana.

Despite its name, only the western third of Montana is mountainous. The rest is high plains, but it's not as flat as Kansas is reputed to be, or even than Kansas really is. It's rolling land full of dips and rises and surprising features like the one-time glacial lake spillway called the Big Sag; there's massive and often steep bluffs by the rivers; and throughout are dramatic buttes formed of volcanic rock plugs. The natives used to use these as buffalo jumps, a couple of which are preserved as state parks. And the land throughout is uniformly covered with golden dry grass.

This is the landscape that Charlie Russell specialized in painting, and you can get a good sense of it by studying his work closely. (I visited the Russell museum in Great Falls, which is behind his house.) It's a beautiful austere country, but after driving through several hundred miles of it, I have to say that, if you've seen part of it, you know what the rest looks like. I'm glad I didn't try to cram an eastern Montana loop into my week's journey.

Especially in the Blackfoot reservation in the north, the Rocky Mountains rise so abruptly from the landscape that the sight appears unreal. Even far off you can see them, looking like some kind of giant outdoor fresco wall mural.

If you follow the Missouri River upstream, as Lewis and Clark did, the river hits the mountains just past the town of Cascade. From there until near Helena, the riparian landscape is as dramatic as you could possibly wish for: huge cliffs and jagged rocks looming directly over the roiling water. But upstream from Helena, the land broadens. The mountain ranges are separated by wide gentle valleys with soggy wetlands in the middle, down which meandering streams wander, getting smaller as they branch going upstream (all of which made life difficult for L&C's men, dragging long pirogues slowly upriver), frequently shifting course (which makes life difficult for historians tracking L&C's precise route).

To my surprise, the region south of Helena, including west into the Lemhi Valley of Idaho, is of desert vegetation in many areas, sagebrush and all. No wonder the Shoshones L&C met there were frequently starving. Further north there is no desert, and there's certainly none in the most beauteous valley of all, the glacially-carved Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. The valley here runs directly north from its tip, and in that direction Lewis and Clark traveled, always looking anxiously westward, which was the direction they wanted to go, but up that way were the highest and most jagged mountains of the region. And what's behind those mountains? More mountains! ("What do you burn apart from witches? More witches!") To this day, no road penetrates through that region. Finally, up north near the foot of the valley, L&C hit the spot where the natives had a westward mountaintop trail across today's northern Idaho, a route still so difficult that an auto road was only built in the 1960s.

L&C came through in late summer, and didn't hit an early snowfall until that westward Idaho trail, but throughout the higher elevations in April I found frequent patches of snow. These looked charming and harmless enough at a distance, but, as I found, they're perilous to walk on. In some places, the snow crust is solid enough to bear your weight, but in others your foot will suddenly crash through a foot or more of crunchy snow, landing on the slippery ice underneath. I'm glad I brought my heavy-duty shoes (even though they're so old their soles completely disintegrated under the use), and I certainly wouldn't attempt to drive a vehicle without chains through a heavy patch of this stuff.

In the far north, there'd been heavy snow but it melted. I heard there was flooding and even read a news story of a driver nearly washed away, but all I saw was lots of large ponds where I suspected ponds should not be ("As I came home / so drunk I couldn't see, oh / There I saw a pond / No pond should be there"). I guessed this because usually range fences do not pass through the middle of ponds. Fortunately I didn't hit any impassable wet spots on the unpaved roads, though as I mentioned a fair amount of mud did get on the car, especially the underside.

I'd only been to Montana once before, in childhood many years ago, and even then saw very little of these places. It was a real pleasure finally to track the slow struggle upstream, the anxious trip over the mountains, the return by an easier pass, Lewis's exploration of the Marias River in the northern plains, Clark's encounter with the Yellowstone after Sacagawea showed him the best mountain pass.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

home from Montana

I've been gone for a while ... away from home for a week, followed on my return by three days non-stop of clean-up editing for Tolkien Studies, which should be going to press very soon. Now that I have literally an hour between other pressing engagements, I can take part of it to begin recounting my trip.

Those who've been reading me for a while know that I'm a fan of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-6. At various times, I've been to many of the sites they visited on their transcontinental journey, but not since childhood had I seen the territories in the central and most interesting part of their travels, in Montana and Idaho.

I finally decided to do that, and some months ago set last week as the time. It's early in the season, some areas might still be snowbound and some of the sites still closed, but: no crowds, no summer heat, and no mosquitoes. I gathered my collection of guidebooks to L&C sites, none of them very recent (see, I have been thinking about this for a long time), supplemented them with current tourbooks, and made a list, in geographic order by where I'd be going, of some 100 sites in the area, from large museums down to roadside informational markers.

In the end I got to about 70 of these, the rest omitted mostly for time. Having a week for the trip - which was about as long as I found tolerable for such mile-spanning driving - I confined myself to western Montana and a bit of Idaho (from the mouth of the Maria's on the outward and Lewis's return journeys, and reaching the Yellowstone at Livingston on Clark's return, through the Lemhi and Bitterroot Valleys up to the Lolo Pass), and had enough time to do just about everything I'd planned.

I rented an SUV because I'd be traveling on a lot of dirt and gravel roads through back countryside, and while it wasn't very muddy - I caught a distinct dry spot in the weather, and somehow avoided the flooding in the north counties - got pretty caked, though as I kept seeing other similar vehicles with a lot more dried mud than mine, I didn't worry about that too much.

There was plenty of snow in the highlands, but all the roads I needed were plowed ... save one, and that was the important one. L&C crossed the Continental Divide on the way out by Lemhi Pass, a now obscure crossing between Montana and Idaho. I'd been told the road was closed, and my original thought was to skip it. But on the way out to the vicinity, I decided I couldn't neglect this most important moment. So I drove up the dirt road on the pass as far as I could, to just above the last ranchstead where the snow and ice closed the road. Then I went back down, crossed the Divide on another dirt road a few miles away, came back along the Idaho side, and went up the pass on that road, again until snow and ice blocked it. It was OK: I saw almost everything I wanted to see and got a real sense of the locality. It took all day, but I'd allotted all day to the effort. It was a satisfying day of a satisfactory journey.

As for what I did see and what I thought of it, that'll be another post.

Friday, April 20, 2018

library report

After many days of scouting around university libraries, the Tolkien Studies annual bibliography is completed. It has 227 items on it, some of which I still haven't actually been able to locate copies of or even confirm on WorldCat, but I'm confident they exist (the ones that I'm not are out) and I'll be trying to track them down later. I've got about two-thirds of the items in my personal collection, and about 50 articles in PDFs that I made at the library, ready for next year's "Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" which is based on the previous year's bibliography, and there lies the story.

Once upon a time libraries made photocopies, and I still have a file drawer full of old ones from long-ago installments of the Year's Work. But then that clever invention the flash drive or memory stick or thumb drive or USB drive - pick your cognomen - made it to libraries, and it got easier both to take files from hard drives and to download them from computers. Sometimes.

Because library policies differ, and here's some of the ones I've been dealing with.

Library 1. This is one of the major research libraries in the western world, but you can't take hard-copy files onto a flash drive. It has two rancid old photocopiers by the circulation desk, where the flat screen will let you e-mail files to yourself. For security purposes you have to painfully type in your e-dress before each file, carefully looking for typos because the flat screen, like all flat screens, does not always register that you touched a key.

Then, after you've made the copy, you have to rush over to the public computer terminals and log into your webmail to find out if the copies came through and how they look, because there's no feedback on the photocopiers. Did both pages of the two-page spread make it onto the copy? No way to tell until later, honey.

Library 2. Gives weird error messages when you try to download a chapter from an online book. Go and ask for help. Be assured this can be done. Librarian comes back to the computer with you, gets the same error messages, and then says these files are only downloadable by students and faculty, not guests. (They already know you're a guest: you're wearing the prominent adhesive nametag they order all guests to wear.) You can read them online, but you can't copy them. Mind, they didn't tell you this before.

Fortunately I was able to get this item from another library. Otherwise I was going to come back with a digital camera and photograph the screen.

Library 3. This one has but one scanning device, and it takes flash drives, but it's so mysterious and complicated to use, and its user interface so opaque, that even the people who work at the tech desk (they've got three desks: circulation, reference, and tech) can't figure out how to use it. Go through the usual thing where the self-confident tech says he can make it work and then fumbles through the screen, going into the same options over and over again and they're not coming up with anything useful this time either, while you say "You already tried that" and they ignore you.

Library 4. This is the other major research library of the western world around here, and it is amazing. First, they have scanning machines all over the library, at least two on each floor. No waiting, no trucking books down to the circ desk. The scanner's got a big flatbed without an annoying photocopier cover, the machine knows how to trim the output so you don't get big black margins, and the interface is clear. Stick your flash drive in the USB slot, the screen comes alive and tells you to scan. Put the book on, touch the big green "scan" button on the screen, up comes a miniature preview of the scan so you can see if it worked. You now have a choice of 3 buttons: "scan" for the next page, "discard" if you don't like the last scan, or "next" if you're done and want to save the file, and which point it allows you to name the file or leave it with a default name, and a progress bar confirms it's being saved to your drive.

Then it says it's either waiting for you to scan the first page of a new file or remove your flash drive (no going through an eject procedure).

Who wrote this program? They actually know what users need, and are unique in the computer industry and should be preserved under a glass scanner.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

uh-oh, racism

Like, I hope, all decent-minded people, I was very disturbed by the story of the two black men, waiting in a Philadelphia Starbuck's for a business appointment, who were arrested after refusing to leave when the manager told them to because they hadn't bought anything, this despite the fact that Starbuck's treats itself as a public space where you're not necessarily expected to buy anything. (ETA: According to this interview with the men, they declined the manager's offer to buy drinks and said they were waiting for a meeting, but were never told to leave until the police accosted them.)

The police say they did nothing wrong, and by their standards perhaps they didn't. In which case it's their standards that's the problem. From their perspective, they were called in by management because these men refused to leave when asked. They still refused to leave, so they were arrested. But the reason the men refused to leave is that they'd done nothing wrong and were still waiting for their appointment, and the police's attitude was as the enforcers, the ones who get to say "You will do what we say," and not as the mediators who try to make society run smoothly.

As for the manager, Starbuck's says s/he is no longer at that store. (Making it sound as if they were moved to another store, like a priest caught molesting the third-graders.) I'm not sure how much the policy is the manager's fault. Starbuck's corporate says they have no policy of kicking out non-customers unless they're actively obnoxious, but whenever a flunky does something flagrantly against rules, I want to look into whether some slightly higher authority ordered them to act in this manner.

Now, I've never been asked to leave a Starbuck's, but I also have never asked to use the restroom, which is apparently what brought these men to the manager's attention. I'm very reluctant to use a restroom where I have to ask to have the door opened at any store where I'm not a customer, and if I do I'm prepared to say that I'll buy something if that's the requirement. I can't imagine being told to leave the store instead, still less having the police called on me if I object.

And it's the fact that I can't imagine it, as a white person, while blacks say this sort of thing happens all the time to them, that convinces me that racism is still a thing, even though I don't personally witness it.

However, I have experienced plenty of less blatant, but both obnoxious and more quietly frustrating behavior by store employees, and indeed by humans in general, of a kind that, if I were black, I would be likely to attribute to racism.

I know this because I see them do it. When I read blacks complaining about, not blatant offenses like the Starbuck's case, but subtle cases of micro-racism, I often think, "Gee, that sort of thing also happens to me all the time."

I found an excellent example of this in a conversation among black journalists about being black in public spaces. It's sparked off by the Starbuck's incident, but then it gets down to micro-racism, and includes this:
Bouie: I think, to someone who isn’t faced with it all the time, it just seems innocuous. “Oh, they want to help.” But if I’m clearly looking at—to use a recent example—a piece of photography equipment and someone comes up to ask, “What can I help you find?” I don’t feel like I’m being helped at all!
Harris: Nine times out of 10, they’re really trying to “help” you not steal. ... The funny thing—to bring it back to the visible vs. invisible dichotomy—is that when I really do need assistance, it’s often like I’m not there.
Good god, does that ever happen to me. I can't count how often I'm in a store, frantically looking around lost and desperate for help and can't find anyone to help me, or no one approaches me even if they're around and not busy (I have to go up to them); and, by contrast, the number of times I'm clearly happily minded my own business and a clerk approaches me entirely of their own initiative and says, "May I help you?"

At times this double phenomenon has gotten so frustrating I have even actually said, in response to the query, "Yes, you can help me. You can tell me why it is that when I obviously need help, no one ever offers it, but when I don't need help, I'm always offered it." (There's no answer to this question, so they don't give one.)

This is almost exactly what the black journalists are citing as micro-racist. Aisha Harris does add, as an example, "I am 2 feet away, looking directly at you, maybe while holding an item in my hand that I need a different size of, and the salesperson is so obviously avoiding eye contact!" And that is more extreme than I've experienced, but not very much so.

So to an extent here - at least to an extent - what these blacks are experiencing as micro-racism is just ordinary human behavior regardless of race.

Do I conclude from this, however, that the racism exists only in the blacks' minds? No. I do not. What I conclude is that racism is so endemic that blacks cannot tell if particular white behaviors are racist or not. That's a more subtle, but even more shocking, condemnation of our culture. It may result in a black overestimate of the pervasiveness of racism, but the racism has to be pervasive in the first place or the blacks wouldn't be seeing it whether it was there or not.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

My editor sent me up to SFS last week, to review a concert I'd conspicuously omitted from my own subscription series, because it featured Strauss's Alpine Symphony, a work I had not been eager to hear.

This was pure prejudice. Long-ago traumatic experiences with other long, late-period Strauss tone poems had made me allergic, and I'd never actually really listened to the Alpine Symphony.

But I figured I'd better do so now, especially because SFS is a great orchestra, and reviewing it brings out my most advanced discrimination of performing practice.

I wound up listening to the Alpine five times, three with the score, which is a lot more times than optimal with a work I really don't care for very much. But at least I acknowledge its crafty construction and found it easy enough to grasp.

That done on Sunday, I spent all of Monday at the university library in the woods, sweating away at research, mostly on computer, for the Tolkien Studies bibliography. That was 7.5 hours straight, with only rest-room breaks, not even stopping to eat. I estimate three more days, at various other libraries though not quite so intense a time, before I'm done.

The result of this is going to be the corn feed for next year's Year's Work in Tolkien Studies, and I can see some fun time with some truly wretched criticism this time. My favorite is the gay-themed study which finds, in the scene from The Hobbit where Bilbo and the dwarves climb fir trees to escape from orcs, only to have the orcs light the trees on fire, a metaphor for gay sex. What? Well, the trees are longer than they are wide, and they're on fire. I guess this is how some minds work.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Powell booked

So it's the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, and the BBC has decided to commemorate that fact by broadcasting the entire text on the radio, something that wasn't done at the time Powell made it. There's no tape, either, so they're having an actor read it.

And much concern is being raised. Is it really appropriate to commemorate this way a speech which, even at the time, was considered so toxically racist that it got Powell - previously an important figure in the Conservative Party - summarily sacked from the front bench and permanently exiled to the lunatic fringes of British politics?

The BBC says, they're not honoring it; they'll interrupt it with commentaries and critiques and so on, but a lot of people are still very disturbed by this.

My suggestion for cutting this dilemma is inspired by the story of the Welsh Guard band which had been ordered to play to welcome a visit of the Saudi King. Not feeling desirous of honoring him, but not wishing to disobey orders, they expressed their opinion by bringing him in to the tune of the "Imperial March" from Star Wars. The King had no idea, of course ...

So here's my suggestion. You can broadcast Enoch Powell's racist speech ... so long as the actor you get to read it is the one who played the Emperor Palpatine in the movies. That'd send a Welsh Guard kind of message.

And guess what? They don't make note of the connection, they just give his name, but that's exactly who they got.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

English suites and others no. 30

Jules Massenet is a French composer mostly known for his operas, but he also wrote a lot of suites. This one, the Scènes Pittoresques, has always particularly appealed to me because it sounds so very, very French.

The movements are Marche (0.00), Air de ballet (3.47), Angelus (6.35), and Fête bohème (11.38).

to be there

Went out last night to see the film of the National Theatre Hamlet, the production with Benedict Cumberbatch his own self.

I have to say it was a fairly pretentious and overwrought production, and why was Horatio carrying a backpack around for nearly the whole play? I didn't read them until after I came home, fortunately, but I can't say I disagree with this review from when it was on stage, or this one either.

As the reviewers suggest, it was at its best when they just let Benedict get on with it, speaking the speech, I pray you, trippingly on the tongue.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

the panel report

And here it is, my writeup of the panel discussion of anti-Semitism and Bach's St. John Passion.

When doing a writeup like this, I see my job as conveying the sense of the panel rather than giving my own thoughts on the subject, since that would be a personalized rather than a reportorial view in a very limited word space.

Here, however, I can say what I actually think of all this.

I've never actually heard the St. John Passion performed. I have, however, heard its surviving companion, the St. Matthew Passion. Bearing in mind what the moderator said about music enhancing the meaning of the words it sets, I consider that experience essential.

The panelists compared John with Matthew a lot. John, they said, is by far the more vehemently anti-Semitic Gospel. That's interesting, because one of my reactions to the St. Matthew Passion was to find it just full of libel against the Jews. John would probably be worse.

Nor did I find myself very impressed with the panelists' argument that Bach mitigates against the anti-Semitism by emphasizing the theological view that all are sinners, all are responsible for the death of Christ. That's only mitigating if you are yourself a Christian, ready to throw yourself on God's mercy and seek forgiveness. If you're not, it's pretty hollow.

I've often heard before that Luther expected his reformed version of Christianity to attract the Jews to convert en masse, that when they didn't it really pissed him off, and from then on he was far more anti-Semitic than he'd been before. This story turns out to be true, and speaks to Luther's lack of understanding that whatever Jesus may have been, he was not the Jewish Messiah. Jews not prepared to accept a new covenant that cancels and replaces theirs will find nothing here for them.

I kind of doubt I'd feel comfortable sitting through the St. John Passion, mitigated or no, especially because Bach's religious music is not my aesthetic idol anyway, but I did expect what I got from the St. Matthew, and I was willing to be there. The reason for that is essentially that this music is 300 years old. It's not speaking to current issues; and, having heard from one of the panelists about the squalor and disdain in which Jews of the time lived, I'd be surprised to find a Christian of that time and place who wasn't anti-Semitic.

(Even today, we have people who seriously argue that Blacks are somehow responsible for their socio-economic handicaps, without considering the conditions in which they're forced to live. If that belief can exist with all of today's enlightenment, and the less vehement ghettoization of Blacks, of course it'd be universal back then about Jews.)

To my mind, it's a far different thing than dealing with the anti-Semitism in, say, The Death of Klinghoffer, which is current and insidious - the more so as there are people who insist it is not anti-Semitic, a position only made tenable by defining anti-Semitism down so that nothing less than the genocidal qualifies. That denial makes me angry in a way that excusing Bach does not.

So in general I would rather avoid Bach's Passions than not. But it doesn't bother me that they exist and are performed, especially if the performers are willing to acknowledge that the texts are problematic. They took an honest look at it here.

Monday, April 9, 2018

the anti-semitic interface

Pesach has technically been over for a couple days now, but the seder-holding family to which I am honorary sundry sensibly decided that yesterday was a better Sunday for gathering than the previous Sunday, so that's when we had it.

We usually gather at 4 pm, and I would be working that afternoon; but it usually takes us a while before we sit down, and the seder is about half ritual before it gets to the serious eating, so with hosts' consent I said I'd be late. I expected to and indeed arrived about 5, and we got started immediately thereafter.

One of the early rituals is to wash away the cares of the day. You hold your hands out over a bowl and your neighbor pours from a pitcher of water over them, and then you say what you would like to wash away and all respond, "So be it." These cares often range from anxiety attacks to "about thirty pounds," but this year I had something unusually specific.

What I'd been at work doing was not my usual task of attending a concert for review, but a panel discussion. The SF Bach Choir, prior to performing the St. John Passion next month, decided to convene a passel of religious scholars to ask the question, "Was Bach anti-Semitic?"

That was what I had just spent two hours listening to them talk about, and by then I was really eager to wash it away, preferably with the aid of a few cups of the Pesach ritual wine.

But now it's the next morning, I have my notes before me, and I'm ready to begin creating the write-up I was sent there to make. (And the answer to the question? It was pretty much, "Yes, but not nearly as anti-Semitic as Martin Luther.")

Saturday, April 7, 2018

concert review: The World of Henry Cowell

Back from Bard Music West's two-day Henry Cowell festival: three concerts (Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening) with pre-concert talks, all in a small church at the upper end of the Noe Valley, a residential district in San Francisco.

Friday I was good and took public transit. Drive to the end of the BART line. Then BART. Then a bus. Then walk: two blocks, steep uphill, in the rain. Reverse afterwards: at night, in the dark, in the rain.

Saturday it wasn't raining, but the transit runs even less frequently, so I drove, fortunately finding actual open parking spaces in this neighborhood, a rarity in the City. Took along a bag lunch in a cooler for dinner so I didn't have to venture out for that.

Unlike the OtherMinds Cowell festival about ten years ago, this one was as much around Cowell as on him, featuring a lot of music by composers associated with him, or music resembling his - either precursors or successors - as much as his own. The highlights were actually here. Pieces like Ruth Crawford's Three Chants for Women's Chorus, to nonsense texts in an arresting early modernist style, sung brilliantly by the women of the Volti chorus, or the under-rated Leo Ornstein's Suicide in an Airplane (dating from 1913 and probably one of the first ever attempts to depict mechanistic sound in classical music), played by the ubiquitous pianist Sarah Cahill, were the most memorable experiences of the bunch. Some early songs by George Crumb sound influenced by Cowell, with string-strumming and knocking sounds on the piano, but according to Crumb he didn't know Cowell's music at the time. Also sounding a lot like Cowell, with its use of vocalization by the instrumentalists, and quite eerily beautiful at times, was a new piece, The Sound of Your Solitude and Mine by Eugene Birman, composed in collaboration with a choreographer in commemoration of Cowell's works with Martha Graham. A piano piece by Carl Ruggles was actually consonant, say wha?

Some early Cowell piano pieces, including the famous Banshee (sound made by leaning over the soundboard and rubbing the strings), were well done, but his larger chamber pieces, the United Quartet and Homage to Iran, which ought to sound fun, were taken with too much dogged seriousness, a tone which was overall the hallmark of this festival. It could have used more wit and less awe. Nevertheless it was a good show, and I'm glad I went.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

didn't know

After processing the shock and sorrow, what struck me about the YouTube shooting was what I hadn't known.

I hadn't known that YouTube was located there. As with the nearby neighborhood, also in San Bruno, where the gas pipeline suddenly blew up one quiet dinnertime a few years ago, it was a particular locale I'd never been, though I pass very near by it all the time.

I did discover Netflix hq, in another nearby town, this way. I just happened to drive by a building with a Netflix sign on it one day, and only later realized it must be the place where they plan all those bewildering additions and subtractions to their streaming list.

What they do at YouTube hq I'm less certain of, since their customers upload most of their videos, but one thing I certainly hadn't known is that it's possible to make a living doing this, but that appears to have been the shooter's occupation, until the decision by YouTube to "demonetize" (lovely word) certain types of videos rendered this particular form of feeding less lucrative, and that was what she was angry about. Angry enough to drive 300 miles, acquire a gun and use it, which is pretty angry, though not, it occurs to me, angry enough to come up with something a little more effective than this turned out to be.

That the shooter was female, and one whose principal interests seem to have been animal rights rants and exercise videos, seems to have bewildered a good number of people not expecting this sort of narrative.

But what bewilders me is mostly how the revenue stream worked. Exactly how did her videos generate money, when they did? They've all been taken down now, to deter the curious I guess since they're not supposed to have been inflammatory, but a few clips survived long enough to illustrate news programs on the shooting. I for one would not pay money to watch a home-made video of a woman with a hostile glare affixed to her face demonstrate squats while wearing a camouflage unitard, or even watch it for very long for free, but to each their own.

Monday, April 2, 2018

quel food

At the big family Easter gathering on Sunday at B's niece's house, the central meat dish was a huge beef Wellington roast.

I was surprised, actually. I'd thought beef Wellington was a dish unknown to just about anyone under the age of 80 unless, perhaps, they had been old fogies in their youth as I had. I remember fondly having had it a couple times in my youth in the 70s but having hardly ever seen it on a menu since, and when I have, usually being unable to get it. (It's only on the dinner menu, and I can only be there for lunch. It's only on Wednesday, and this is Thursday. The restaurant has abruptly gone out of business just before I could get there. Etc.)

But no, it seems to be in the recipe repertoire of our hip exec forties-aged niece. Good.

Then B. came down with the crud I'd been laboring through, came home from work early today, and retired to bed with a request for chicken noodle soup for dinner. The result surprised her by not coming straight from a can. No, I might do that if she asked me to heat up a quick lunch for her, but if we're to have chicken noodle soup for dinner, it'll be Jewish-style chicken noodle soup, with three ingredients: chicken, noodles, and soup.

It's not fancy, really. (Could have put some veggies in, but didn't bother: B. doesn't go for celery and I dislike carrots.) The chicken was the pre-cooked bagged chicken I often use for simple recipes. The noodles were the wide egg noodles from the local grocery with the big kosher section, and so was the dry soup mix. Took about 20 minutes, including heating up the water. And you get a hearty soup without metallic sodium tang, tiny slivers of mystery meat, or soggy superannuated noodles: instead, warm Jewish broth, full bites of chicken, and big chewy al dente noodles. Dinner is served.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hugo statistic

So this year's Hugo finalists have been released, and since in past years I've been keeping track of the percentage of women writers in the fiction categories, I might as well continue. Counting Best Series as a fiction category in addition to the traditional ones, I find that of the 30 works (all single-author), 22 are by women, 7 by men, and 1 by an author identifying as non-binary.

That's 73% women, slightly exceeding even last year's all-time high of 71%.

Concerning the announcement, though, I would just like to opine, as a member of the Jewish persuasion, that the convention had absolutely nothing to apologize for because it held the announcement during Passover. Pesach isn't Yom Kippur, you know: it does not require fasting or introspective prayer in the synagogue, but is rather the opposite: it's a festive holiday whose primary form of worship is a formal celebratory meal at home called the seder. (To which non-Jews are often invited: after that D.C. councilman made that silly remark about the Rothschilds, the response of the Jewish community to was to invite him to seders, where he can learn about the Jewish people.)

I am not myself observant, but I've noted a lot about observant practice, and I have never heard anything suggesting that Jews are in any way forbidden from engaging in secular activities during the eight days of Pesach. If you're going to forbid that, why don't you add in the Counting of the Omer while you're at it,* and pretty soon there won't be any permitted time to do anything at all.

If one wishes to spare observant Jewish sensitivities, one should be far more concerned that it's Shabbat, the Sabbath, about which the restrictions for everyday secular activities can be pretty severe for the observant. Yet the halakhic laws of Shabbat don't prevent plenty of observant Jews from attending science fiction conventions on that day of the week, and we should be all the less worried about Passover.

If it doesn't bother us that the Hugo finalists are now traditionally announced, because it's a slow news day, on Holy Saturday, which is smack up against what I understand to be both of the two holiest days of the Christian calendar, we shouldn't flake out over the Jewish calendar either.

*I may get slammed for this comparison, but the Omer is sort of the Jewish equivalent of Lent, in the sense that it's a long-lasting low-grade dampener on festivity.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

song from the heart

If you'd asked me the rather odd question, "What is the greatest song you know that's about the performance of some other song?", up until recently I'd have said, "It's Eric Bogle's 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,' of course."

But I may have found its match for power and impact.

It's a fairly new song, about the memorial for the victims of the Charleston shooting, it's written by Zoe Mulford, and it's performed here by the incomparable Joan Baez.

The title is "The President Sang Amazing Grace." You might think that an unpromising phrase for a song lyric. You'd be wrong.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

concert review: San Jose Chamber Orchestra

My editors sent me to a concert of new music, the kind to which I bring a notebook because I know I'll be scribbling down more than could fit in the margins of the program book, my usual medium.

Due to other commitments, the review was, it turns out, mostly written in haste on Tuesday morning, but it seems to have come out OK.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Iolanthe audience

The Lamplighters, the esteemed local Gilbert and Sullivan company, was devoting one of its occasional audience singalong events to Iolanthe, perhaps as high as the fourth most popular G&S operetta, and the first time they'd gone that far down the fame range on a singalong. But it's my favorite of them all, so I decided to go.

I'd been to a singalong before once, years ago, of The Mikado. At that one, the orchestra was on stage, and the speaking parts were done by company members, in street clothes, scattered among the audience. Some of them weren't even the right vocal types to sing those parts, but it didn't matter, because the audience, which packed the theater, sang everything in full voice.

Except for the orchestra being on stage, that didn't happen here. There was no set, but not only the principals but a few chorus members were in full costume and both spoke and sang all their parts from in front of the orchestra. They needed to, because the auditorium was only about half-full and the audience singing was mostly pretty anemic. That may have been in part because, unlike on the previous occasion, only about 3 or 4 of the audience brought along vocal scores. (I was one who did.) Unless you know your part really well - and if you've never sung it on stage, why would you? - you need a vocal score, because supertitles, which we had here, are insufficient for conveying the complexity of Sullivan's multi-part vocal writing.

The net effect was of a concert performance with an unusually small chorus and the intermittently audible sound of some audience members singing along. Quite differently from that long-ago Mikado, this framing made it feel very transgressive for the audience to sing at all, since in any other stage performance it would be the grossest offense. That may feel fun if you enjoy being transgressive. But I don't.

Everyone is welcome to try singing anything, and I tried a few bits outside of my range in more comfortable octaves, but mostly I stuck with the baritone roles, of which there are three so it gave me plenty to do. Having a score gave me some confidence, and I might have been the loudest and best baritone in the audience, though if so that's a real indictment of the audience's singing quality. Still, at the curtain call one of the baritones on stage caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up. He was playing Strephon, which is the part I know least well of the three, though his voice was loud, deep, and smooth, which made him easy to sing along with.

This being Lamplighters, there were some good staging moments. Phyllis reacting to learning that Strephon is half-fairy was particularly good. Earlier, instead of wandering offstage in bliss after their love song, "None shall part us from each other," the two lingered until driven off by the martial opening of the following March of the Peers. The Lord Chancellor stepped out of character and coached the audience in the fermatas and extra-textual pauses and ritards in the patter songs he was about to sing, which was really appreciated. There was one mistake, too: Private Willis, having no sentry box, went offstage after his song and forgot to return for his next spoken lines, so the conductor hastily drafted himself as a substitute, stepping off the podium and holding his baton on his shoulder as if it were his rifle.

I enjoyed this, but I'd have enjoyed it a lot more as part of a lusty audience chorus.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

the third review

This is the third concert review that I wrote last weekend. A few places where the thought might not be coherently expressed are mine; the inconsistency on whether to capitalize the sections of the Mass is not mine.

Normally I wouldn't jump at the opportunity to review an hour-long work that I'd never previously heard, but I took this for two reasons. One was that I knew from other works by this composer that he is determinedly postminimalist, an idiom I find appealing and comprehensible to the ear. I define postminimalism as music that, though not minimalist as the term is usually used, is informed by and responsive to minimalism having passed before it. Not all classical music written today, despite its chronological place, takes that perspective, but this does. I tried to describe what that means in the review.

The other reason was the topic and construction, which put the work squarely in the tradition of most of the modern choral classics that I admire most. It's "a mass for peace": it mourns and decries war and violence and turns its eyes towards hope, and it does this, like Bernstein's Mass, in the framework of a Catholic mass with additions salted in that are not part of the traditional liturgy.

My only criticism was that the ending tries too hard to mix celebration and hope, which are not the same emotion, into the same package. It doesn't have quite the same emotional control and power as its predecessors, but it's a worthy follower anyway. I'm glad I heard it.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

chaotic neutral

is a term I dimly recall from my brief and long-ago exposure to D&D, which I think roughly describes the neighborhood meeting I attended this evening.

It was regarding a proposal to convert one of the duplexes across the street from our complex into a preschool. The school's current facility, elsewhere in the city, is necessarily small despite a large demand, and one of their client parents, a Silicon Valley millionaire who can afford such largess, owns this duplex and offered it to them, which could be a larger school, 24 instead of 14 kids.

Judging from some comments cropping up on the neighborhood association mailing list, and some signs cropping up on lawns, some of the neighbors are up in arms over this idea, and so it proved. A round of mutual introductions was civil enough, but barely had the preschool owner begun to speak when some guy, who proved to be a jerk of the "Don't interrupt me while I'm interrupting you" school of discourse, interrupted him to lay out a litany of abusive objections, and after him everybody else came piling in, and the preschool owner kept squeaking that he never got 30 seconds free to say anything.

I had a lot of concerns of my own, but I wanted to hear what the owner had to say first. It helped when the millionaire client, who was a much better public speaker, came up and basically took over. One of my big questions, about dropoffs and pickups congesting the potentially dangerous and cloggable intersection here, got answered before I asked it in a way that enabled me to rephrase it in a way that further advanced the discussion.

That's what I had been hoping would happen in the first place, but the neighbors had derailed it. By 30 minutes into the 90-minute meeting, I was wishing on them every neighborhood preschool nightmare imaginable. As the meeting broke up, the one objector who sounded civilized and sensible, who'd written a post on the NA list with the same characteristics, asked me if I wanted to join her mailing list. Recalling the reference to it in her post, I said I'd be happy to join so long as I wasn't taken as unalterably opposed to the preschool, because I think it's possible that my concerns, at least, could be addressed. But she then withdrew her offer, so I guess either you're against it or you're for it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

white voice

So here's an article, with a trailer embedded, regarding a new farcical comedy movie about a black man who becomes a successful telemarketer when he learns to talk on the phone with a white voice.

It didn't look all that funny to me, and the white voice is actually dubbed, but it reminded me of a genuine story of a black man trying to talk with a white voice. The man was a voice actor named Michael-Leon Wooley (Louis the alligator in The Princess and the Frog), and his story of the strange voice-over job in which he was told to sound white, complete with his reproduction of his attempts to do so, may be found in a video linked here; choose the text link rather than the embedded video to get directly there.

It's actually a very funny anecdote, and it's briefer than the movie trailer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

busy weekend

In addition to a San Francisco Symphony concert on my own dime on Thursday (it was part of my series), I reviewed three concerts this weekend, one from each day, a busy but not impossible job. In fact, the writing of each review went easily, and I look forward to getting critical comments for being too flippant.

Two of the three reviews are now up, so here are the links:

Symphony Silicon Valley on Friday. Big and lively, featuring Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto and Respighi's Pines of Rome - which I don't demur from pointing out is, literally, fascist music. I think it's permissible to like the piece anyway. Note also the rather crafty (I think) pun I snuck into the final paragraph.

Peninsula Symphony on Saturday. Volunteer orchestra, but fortunately on very good behavior this time. Plays in an auditorium without any functioning drinking fountains. Has audience members who hum along with Leonard Bernstein while sitting directly behind you. Writing PLEASE DON'T SING ALONG on a blank page of the program book, holding it over your shoulder, and pointing to it vigorously has little effect.

I was most pleased by the well-rendered opportunity to hear a work by Howard Hanson, whose birthplace in Nebraska I got to drive by a couple years ago (one of three composer birthplaces I've visited, the other two being Henry Cowell and Beethoven). Both the pre-concert speaker and the conductor, talking before the piece, were aware of Hanson's local connection here as a one-time instructor at the College of the Pacific, but they both said it was off in Stockton, not knowing that the college didn't move there until after Hanson left; in his day it was right down the road in San Jose. More local than they thought, but they won't find that out until they read my review.

Sunday afternoon B. and I went to a big choral concert featuring a newer work in the tradition of Bernstein's Mass - yes, there is such a thing, and you'll be able to read all about it when my review is published - and then, having deposited B. back at home because she had to get up early for work, ran down to Mountain View for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard's famous worm's-eye view of Hamlet, in a production made entirely by extremely precocious high-school students. R&G and the Player, the principal roles, were all girls, but so what? They knew their parts and how to act and were excellently seasoned for their age; though it dragged a bit at times, there was real talent here. So: Rachel Small (R), Veronique Plamondon (G), Erica Trautman (Player). Watch out for them in future years.

The only flaw in the show was that for the last ten minutes before it started I had to listen to the unutterably Silicon Valley techie conversation of the people seated behind me. One of them was working for a company that's trying to create flying taxis. B: "Why don't you call it Space Taxi?" A: "Because they don't go to space. Next question?" (Yes, he really said it this way.) B: "Have you ever played Space Taxi?" A: "No."

English suites and others no. 29

This is the Petite Suite for orchestra that Georges Bizet fashioned out of selected movements from his Jeux d'enfants (Children's Games) for piano four-hand. He changed the titles of the movements to scrub the juvenile references off, and I've put the originals (in English) in parentheses.

Unlike in the cases of our two previous French children's suites, to my knowledge no actual children were associated with the production of this music.

The movements are: March (Trumpet and Drum) (0.00), Lullaby (The Doll) (2.15), Impromptu (The Top) (5.26), Duet (Little Husband, Little Wife) (6.32), Galop (The Ball) (10.25).

Monday, March 19, 2018

the case of James Levine cont'd

In our last post, I was reading Molto Agitato, Metropolitan Opera press officer Johanna Fiedler's 2001 history of the company, to see what it might say about their pre-#MeToo awareness of former artistic director James Levine's record of sexual abuse. I found four things of note:

1. The Met was well aware of the charges. It wasn't, as some have implied, just one anonymous letter tucked away in one-time general manager Anthony Bliss's office files. Tales being raised were like a car alarm that went off on a regular basis from 1979 on, and rumors about Levine's misbehavior in Cleveland in the '60s were known even when he was first hired in 1971 - and the summary of that matches the recent Boston Globe investigative article about it.

2. And it wasn't just the recirculation of '60s stories. When the Met fired Levine last week, it referred to events happening during as well as before his Met employment. What these might be has puzzled some commentators, since recently-published stories have only been about the '60s events, but details about Met-era charges are right there in Fiedler's book, including a story that the Met board had paid off one boy's parents.

3. The Met's response whenever something was publicized was to deny it vehemently, including the claim that there was a payoff. It seems to me that they did so because Levine was so artistically valuable to the Met and so clearly beloved, but Fiedler's working theory for the persistent rumors - and Levine's, the one time he was forced to talk about it - was that some poison-pen types just mysteriously had it in for lovable, hard-working, talented Jimmy. Whether anybody at the Met actually believed this is an unanswered question, though I have some thoughts.

4. These denials seem to have worked. Despite the charges' presence right there in print, they've been ignored, even by people investigating the Levine stories who have, or ought to have, read the book. I compared this to the treatment of the health problems of Levine's later years, which had cropped up early enough to also make a cameo appearance in Fiedler's book, and which, like the sexual abuse charges, were brushed aside for years until they grew so massive they could be ignored no longer.

Lisa Hirsch, who has also weighed in on the case again, has been looking into the Fiedler book's reputation as an explanation for its being ignored. She told me she vaguely recalled it having been written off in reviews for having too much unsubstantiated gossip. But what's in the book that could be considered unsubstantiated gossip is the "rumors" about Levine.

But in fact it's worse than that, as Lisa has now found by digging out some of the actual reviews. Here's Allan Kozinn in the NY Times and Joshua Kosman in the SF Chronicle. Kosman's review is a particularly amazing document, accusing Fiedler of sneering bitchiness towards one singer, by misrepresenting what Fiedler writes so thoroughly that, by Kosman's standards, he convicts himself of the mysterious "personal animus" he attributes to Fiedler.

But what do they say about the charges against Levine? Kozinn: "She offers an admiring portrait of Mr. Levine as well, but she acknowledges a few foibles," though he doesn't list this glaring feature among them. Kosman does mention "Levine's absolute secrecy about his personal life, which has helped spawn all sorts of lurid rumors and innuendo over the years," but that's as dismissive of the charges as it sounds, for he also describes Fiedler's portrait as a "fawning kid-gloves treatment." Isn't that remarkable? Fiedler not only gives attention to the charges, she details them extensively. It was only the Met’s success at denying the charges that washed off all this mud that Fiedler threw at her beloved Levine, and kept everyone else's eye off it.

That context makes more curious this article that Lisa also sent me, by Ben Miller, who was the 12-year-old son of a Boston Symphony player when Levine began his tenure there in 2004. His parents warned him about the stories about Levine and told him to avoid the conductor personally, which he did. But Miller wound up not believing the rumors, basically because he valued Levine's musicianship so much. Which pretty much puts him in the same category as Fiedler, so that may answer for her sincerity as well.

Miller also refers to Alex Ross's review of Fiedler, which I found in the 5 Nov 2001 issue of The New Yorker, p. 94-96. Ross, who likes the book as a reading experience much more than Kozinn or Kosman do (as also did I), does address the rumors, "curious stories [that] have followed the conductor from the beginning of his career." But he too falls for the party line: "Fiedler, who ought to know, systematically dismantles them." Oh dear. I noted her statements that Levine was not in Pittsburgh and never takes the NY subway, so couldn't have molested in those places, but otherwise she offers no evidence, just denials. On his own hook, not Fiedler's authority, Ross says the rumors are mysterious legends that attach themselves to some celebrities "for no discernible reason." Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I think nowadays we can think of a reason: that they're true? And then he says Levine's "most effective response has been his performances, which make all the gossip sound bitter and small." Which amounts to 1) attributing the charges to professional jealousy, 2) claiming that a great musician can not be a bad person. What? How can one say that in a world which once contained Richard Wagner?

Miller says that Ross has since apologized for writing this, and I hope he has. But it illustrates my point: the charges can be right there in cold print, and yet not there at all.

Both Kozinn and Kosman cite what they consider a much better opera gossip book, Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera with Cecilia Bartoli by Manuela Hoelterhoff (Knopf, 1998). Kozinn says it has "a sharper scalpel." Kosman says it's "a sheaf of wonderful tales" where Fielder offers "a glowing press release." Ross doesn't mention the competition. I went and read this one too. Ross has better judgment, and Kosman is completely off.

Hoelterhoff's is an entirely different kind of book, so in one way a comparison is unfair. Fiedler was writing a history of an opera company; Hoelterhoff was a journalist following then-young mezzo Bartoli around on tour for a couple of years. It's a more close-up book, with more reported conversations and more detail on trivial day-to-day matters. I also found it cluttered and hard to read where Fiedler's prose is clear.

But on dishing the dirt, as opposed to relating the trivia, Hoelterhoff is nearly inert. On the firing of Kathleen Battle by general manager Joseph Volpe, for instance, Fiedler tells the story, and the backstory, in full (p. 283-88, and that's just a sequel to earlier material on Battle), while Hoelterhoff tells it much more briefly, circumspectly, and more sympathetically to Battle (p. 41). (It has to be circumspect if it's to be sympathetic.) Hoelterhoff asks Volpe about it, but he doesn't tell her anything (p. 53).

As for Levine, he is barely a character in Hoelterhoff's story, despite the fact that he conducts much of the music in it. His avoidance of publicity must have kept him away from her, and Fiedler must somehow have overcome this. Interestingly, Hoelterhoff is critical of Levine professionally where Fiedler emphatically is not. Hoelterhoff thinks he's too weak at leading the company to be artistic director (p. 78). (Fiedler acknowledges this weakness, though only by implication, and doesn't consider it fatal.) He arbitrarily overrides directors' visions, even if musically he's right (p. 95). He degrades his talent by conducting the Three Tenors (p. 162-3). (Fiedler thinks it's charming that he does this.) And she finds Levine's giant anniversary gala, the one that Fiedler trills over so loudly, to be a huge waste of time as well as a logistical nightmare to prepare for (passim).

But the rumors? Just this: "Mortified by unsourced rumors about his personal life, Levine long ago found refuge behind a beaming podium facade that shielded him from any possibly unpleasant scrutiny." (p. 134) That's it. Some sharp scalpel; some wonderful tales.

Unless you want to read about why Cecilia Bartoli keeps coming down with colds and cancelling performances, I don't find this a very worthwhile book for any purpose.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

authors it's legitimate to be afraid of in Oz

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Miriam Allen deFord
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin

Saturday, March 17, 2018

conversations not had

I got on the BART train home from the concert on Thursday to discover after I sat down that, though the car was nearly deserted, it was being fully occupied by a ski-cap wearing mesomorph who was one of those guys who likes talking loudly when nobody is listening.

He started haranguing the only other occupant who was seated closer to him than I, and I had to start thinking of what I would do if he turned to me. Normally I resolutely ignore these types (if they're asking for spare change it's quite different), but what if he started harassing me for a response? I needed something deflecting, and since I was reading a New Yorker piece on Rainer Werner Fassbinder, I decided that I'd put on my attempt at an Inspector Clouseau accent - which my brother says sounds like Inspector Clouseau putting on a Chinese accent, and which produces something which, I hope, is unintelligible as English - and utter my favorite Inspector Clouseau line to say, which (in intelligible English) is, "Professor Fassbender and his daughter have been kidnapped."

Perhaps fortunately, this attempt at surrealism was not put to the test.

Next morning, I went into work to check up on a few computer settings and functions I need to have properly understood before phoning the software vendor for a long talk on Monday. One of them was to try to reproduce an occasional glitch that causes an error message to pop up. I succeeded, and it was while writing down the error message that I realized that it refers, not to a subsystem, but a susbsytem, which I'd pronounce "suss beside 'em." I am so looking forward to telling the vendor that I am but a poor ignorant end-user and have no idea what a suss beside 'em is. (To my amazement, a Google search produced 1240 results, topped by an announcement that "Northrop Grumman is now hiring a Susbsytem Design Engineer 4 in Melbourne, FL," so it must be something.)

Friday, March 16, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

MTT conducted a big and hefty concert.

It began with a newly-composed curtain-raiser by 79-year-old veteran modernist Charles Wuorinen, Sudden Changes. The composer describes this in his notes as "a light-hearted overture." I wouldn't have thought that light-hearted music lay within Wuorinen's vocabulary, and indeed it does not. A consistently bright-colored sonic palette and a construction of herky-jerky motifs does not light-heartedness make. Wuorinen is an unreconstructed chromatic post-tonalist, and his music is of the kind that sounds as if it's abruptly shifting to an unrelated key about once every half-second. I had my fill of stuff like that about 1972. I put my mind on the sort of stasis I employ while waiting for the plane to board and gritted it out.

Matters weren't improved by a conducting assistant's pre-concert interview with the composer. The interviewer claimed to find the piece comical. Wuorinen demurred. The interviewer kept on describing ways that music can be funny; Wuorinen kept on replying, "Maybe, but I don't do that."

MTT, introducing the performance, said that in a world full of compromising music it's a pleasure to have some music that's completely uncompromising. What can he mean, other than that fragmented chromatic post-tonalism is the only uncompromising music? How about some composers who hold uncompromisingly to the principle that coherent tonality speaks more clearly, and still do so in a stringently modernist manner, writing in harmonic and stylistic idioms that, in both cases, simply did not exist as recently as thirty years before their compositions?

Such, at least in the works presented, were Prokofiev and Copland, composers of the concert's other two works, both longtime favorites of mine. (The composers and the specific works, both.)

Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto was vehemently livened up by the presence of young Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov as soloist. Hunched over the keyboard, looking rather like Simon Helberg taking on the role of Schroeder, Abduraimov unleashed demonic, even Argerichian, reserves of speed and energy, specializing in sudden roaring attacks on the music. The orchestra kept up.

Copland's Third Symphony, on the other hand, MTT took rather slowly - especially in the scherzo - except at the end of the finale which lightened up. The result was to make most of the piece grand and stately, a true reminder of the days when this epic work was considered the Great American Symphony, a rather quaint aspiration today. There were some strange passages which sounded unlike any performances of this work I'd previously heard. Was something wrong, or was I misremembering?

As MTT pleafully reminded us before the piece, they're recording this live for a future CD, and our role was to be silent, especially in the quiet opening of the third movement. It sounded OK in the first two, but what should happen in the third movement but a lot of coughs, odd banging noises, and the muffled sound of somebody talking out in the lobby. Well, if they insist on doing this live, they've got two more chances to get it right.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

the case of James Levine

It's less surprising news than it could have been, because he was already suspended for this in December, but on Monday the Metropolitan Opera of New York formally dismissed its emeritus artistic director, James Levine, on charges of sexual abuse of younger musicians. Leading conductor at the Met for decades, also the former music director of the Boston Symphony and many other things, including the man on the podium for Disney's Fantasia 2000, Levine is the biggest name in classical music to have been caught by the #MeToo movement, bigger even than Charles Dutoit, of whom I already wrote.

Many commentators are puzzled, not by the dismissal but because it took so long for the charges to make an impression on these institutions. Stories about Levine have circulated for years and were generally known (though not by me, since I don't normally follow gossip about musicians). Lisa Hirsch writes that the general managers at the Met must have known: "Anthony Bliss knew about the rumors, because of an anonymous letter, and he has to have passed the information along to his immediate successors." Lisa is also intrigued that the Met alludes to events that happened during Levine's time at the Met, "because the published reports are mostly from the late 60s and early 70s, before he joined the Met." She's referring, at least in part, to a horrifying investigative article in the Boston Globe that appeared earlier this month, and which reads like a bad lurid novel. Anne Midgette of the Washington Post also notes the expansion of dates as news: "His allegedly abusive conduct during his Met tenure has yet to be revealed in print."

Well, both these questions - what did the Met know, and what did Levine supposedly do while he was there - can be answered by taking a look at a book cited in the full New York Times report of the firing, Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera by Johanna Fiedler (Doubleday, 2001), an institutional history by the Met's former press officer. I went to the library and grabbed it. This remarkable tome preserves - as if it were sealed under glass - the pre-#MeToo view of Levine's misbehavior.

Yes, it's there. The Met knew about it, and it continued to gain steam after he joined. There's even an index sub-entry under Levine, James: "persistent rumors surrounding." Sub-alphabetized under "P" for "persistent."

Despite being by an official of the Met, the book is not whitewashed or at least not completely so, although the lawyers did have their way with it. There are stories of prima donnas living down to the worst implications of that title, culminating in the famous firing of Kathleen Battle - by general manager Joseph Volpe, as Levine (then artistic director, and supposedly in charge of musical personnel) didn't want to do it. (In his own memoirs, which I glanced at on an adjoining library shelf, Volpe repeatedly describes Levine as utterly averse to confrontational scenes.) There's a genteel power struggle between Levine and Volpe. There's even a backstage rape-murder of a Met orchestral violinist by a stagehand, described in a context of resentment of the musicians by the stagehands, who think the musicians have a soft life.

And there's the Persistent Rumors Surrounding James Levine. They were there even when he was hired, and this is like a two-sentence summary of that revelatory Boston Globe article: "The friends who surrounded him were perceived more as disciples than as friends, and the Levanites began to take on the aura of a cult, with Jimmy as the charismatic leader. There was malicious gossip, rumors of orgies and homosexuality and chamber music played in the nude." (p. 94)

So why wasn't anything done about it? Fiedler goes on: "Thirty years later, the rumors persist, even in the absence of any evidence." Ah, that's it. No evidence. And, indeed, the Globe article explains how Levine's victims were reluctant to accuse him, for fear of the impact on their own careers and that nobody would believe them. Yet they keep coming up. For instance, when Levine was appointed music director of the Munich Philharmonic in 1997, there was a contretemps over his salary, and then "the rumors about Levine's private life crept into the press." (p. 328)

And also at the Met. "Starting in the spring of 1979, these stories came to the surface at more or less regular intervals. Each time, the Met press office would tirelessly point out the cyclical nature of the gossip and the complete lack of substance." (p. 233) All that happened was that, in 1987, when "the 'rumors,' as they became known in the company, cropped up again, this time with a virulence that the Times found impossible to ignore," the resulting news story led to Levine pulling back on his artistic authority in favor of the general manager. (This was before Volpe took on the job.)

Fiedler notes that journalistic searches of police reports at that time turned up nothing. Doesn't that sort of answer the question of why the long-supine Met was today so quick to respond once there was a formal police report?

The same page lists "vulgar stories" (Fiedler's words) that were circulating about Levine's Met years, so here's what you've been looking for. Fiedler dismisses most of these as implausible. Levine couldn't have been soliciting a child in Pittsburgh, because at the time stated he was in Boston on a tour. He couldn't have solicited one on the NYC subway, because he never took the subway. (Yep, that's the reason this was "dismissed as preposterous.")

Even if you leave those aside, though, there's one more concrete Met years accusation. "Levine, it was said, had had a relationship with a boy whose parents had gone to the Met board, threatening to expose the situation. Supposedly the board had then authorized a major payoff to the family. But Anthony Bliss, during whose tenure this reportedly took place, consistently and adamantly denied it, as did other board members." Believe that or not, that's the story, but it does give kind of a context to what Bliss might or might not have done with an anonymous letter. He clearly had a lot more in that file than one anonymous letter.

What explanation can they possibly give for this much smoke, no fire? Levine, previously silent publicly on the subject, was pushed into talking with John Rockwell of the Times for the 1987 article, and said, "I don't have the faintest idea where these rumors came from or what purpose they served. Ron Wilford [his manager] says it's because people can't believe the real story, that I'm too good to be true." (p. 234) Fiedler sort of agrees: "Perhaps the stories arose because Levine - then, as now - exudes friendliness and warmth, yet has an intense desire for personal privacy." (p. 94) So ... some anonymous poison-pen types are jealous because he's too lovable? Is that it?

But mostly, Fiedler makes unintentionally clear, it's because Levine was so valuable to the Met and so clearly beloved. Her history concentrates on recent decades during which Levine was pre-eminent, so he's a major figure in it. Despite power-plays by Volpe, which never rose to personal antagonism, he's the artistic genius of the Met. The book begins with a rapturous account of Levine's 25th anniversary gala concert in 1996, when he conducted opera highlights for eight hours. He knows all the repertoire and conducts it tirelessly and excellently. He's warm and friendly and gives lots of presents. Singers love him. Orchestras love him; they beg for him to conduct them or become their music director; that's how he got the job in Munich.

You know, we've seen the effects of this even before #MeToo. For many years, starting soon after Fiedler's book was published in 2001, the big story about Levine was his health. He had kidney problems, back problems, Parkinson's disease, all requiring surgery, all requiring time off for recuperation. It all ruined his tenure with the Boston Symphony, which began in 2004, the more because - as with the "rumors" - he was reluctant to talk about it and insisted that nothing was wrong. But he was so beloved and respected that the institutions put up with what should have been unacceptable absenteeism. Only in 2011 did his absences, combined with his insistence on continuing to schedule himself for concerts he then wasn't up for, become so debilitating to the orchestra that he resigned. But he didn't resign from the Met, he just took a leave of absence and only retired several years later. The feeling at the time was, what a shame he hung on too long.

Most aggravating was the Parkinson's, which for years Levine flatly denied he had, finally admitting at the time of his retirement that he'd had it for over 20 years, going back into his heyday. Like his sexual molestations, the evidence for this is hidden in plain sight in Fiedler's book. There's a surprising mention that "When James developed a tremor in his arm in the late 1990s," his ever-loyal brother Tom, "with utter discretion, helped cut his brother's food." (p. 268) He what? Surely having an arm tremor so bad you can't cut your food would be debilitating for a conductor, whose artistry lies in his arm movements, but he attributes it to "a pinched nerve" (p. 271) and nothing more is said of it. Levine is loved; he denies anything is wrong; it's brushed under the table.

One more thing got denied and brushed under the table, too. Levine is gay. (His molestation victims were mostly male.) He denied that for years, too. Some people thought he admitted it during his 1987 interview with Rockwell. He said: "I live my life openly; I don't make pretenses of this or that. What there is is completely apparent." (p. 234) What could he mean?

But in Fiedler's book, Levine is not gay. Proof: he's been living for decades with an oboist named Suzanne Thomson. As proof that he's not gay, that must have been quite a pretense. I haven't been able to find out anything about her in recent material about Levine. Was she his beard? Did she simply disappear? I have no idea.

In the end, there's one clue to why James Levine is the way he is. He says, "I was brought up to take responsibility for myself, to obey the natural laws of my personality and gifts." (p. 325) This is put in the context of explaining why he never cut his ridiculous hair, but a man who believes in "the natural laws of my personality" is just as likely to make others bear the burdens of his unpredictable illnesses, or to molest who he likes when he likes and deny it all the way because of the supremacy of his gifts.

Nope. It took a long time, but in the end, it doesn't work that way.

Update and supplement.