Friday, November 30, 2018

metasongs

I'm not going to make the mistake of ever commenting in Making Light again, but this latest post intrigued me:
“Monster Mash,” “Crocodile Rock,” and “Jailhouse Rock” are all real songs about other, fictional songs that share the same titles as the real songs. Any other examples? And is there a name for this kind of song?
I remember once remarking that one of the many things that makes "The Pennsylvania Polka" an irritating song is that it seems, without stating it explicitly, to be about some other song which is also called "The Pennsylvania Polka."

Of course, this doesn't have to be irritating. It's the coy way the lyrics go about it.

This can be books too, you know. Many years ago, I published in Mythprint a list of fantasy books whose titles were shared by other, fictional books that they were about. The one I can remember offhand is The Throme of the Erril of Sherill by Patricia A. McKillip (which also falls into the category of "things I have to look up every time I write about them in order to spell them properly").

However, when I asked for more examples, what I mostly got was not books about fictional books with the same title, but books which themselves exist within the fictional universe they describe, such as The Lord of the Rings, which presents itself as Tolkien's translation of Frodo's written account of the journey (and retroactively presents The Hobbit as Bilbo's of his). That's another interesting category, but it's not the same thing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

beau spam, merveilleux spam

I've had spam in Spanish and spam in Chinese. (More of the voice messages I get on my mobile phone are Chinese spam than all other things put together.) Now I've just received my first spam e-mail in French. With a little Spanish weirdly mixed in, like so:

Politique de confidentialité . Afin de vous proposer des publicités pertinentes pendant votre navigation en ligne (internet, messagerie et mobile), ce message utilise des cookies. En ouvrant ce courrier, vous acceptez nos Termes et conditions de même que notre politique sur Cookies. Pour plus d'informations, n'hésitez pas à nous contacter Recibes este correo porque [email] está registrado en la base de datos de Car. Este email viene de EMAILING NETWORK SARL. propietaria de la marca ClicPlan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

inheritance

When my mother died several years ago, the one thing I really wanted to inherit from her was the old family hanukkiah, or Hanukkah menorah. Like much of the furnishings my parents bought in the 1950s and early 60s, it was Scandinavian modern in design, with the candleholes embedded in a golden Saarinen-like swoop. It was the symbol of Hanukkah in my childhood, and though it's somewhat battered by years of digging candle wax out, I have it now and use it every year.

When my father died more recently, there was similarly one thing I most wanted to inherit, and after considerable logistics it's been shipped from Britain and it's mine now: his Charles Addams collection. He had the first seven book collections of Addams cartoons, dating from 1942 to 1964: not all of them first printings, but all from the original editions except the first, which is a 1962 reissue. These also I had read carefully in my youth, as a result of which - unlike many latter-day fans - I was as familiar with the Addams Family in their original cartoon form as I was with the 1964-6 TV show, of which I was also a devoted fan.

Looking over the cartoons now, I notice a lot about the Family that had escaped my attention: that Lurch on his first appearance wore a beard; that Uncle Fester almost always appears by himself in the early cartoons, though once in 1953 he took the children fishing - with a case of dynamite; that there are lots of nasty little boys who might or might not be, and in some cases definitely aren't, Pugsley. I learn further from the definitive book on the topic, which I grabbed from the library, The Addams Family: An Evilution by H. Keith Miserocchi, director of the Addams estate and archives, that the mysterious person whose lank-haired head peers from the shadows or down from the gallery in a number of cartoons is Thing; thus the depiction of Thing in the movies as a disembodied hand running around is as wrong as the depiction of Sauron as a disembodied eyeball in some other movies.

But there's so much more to Addams than the Family. The one with the skier, the unique take on Hansel and Gretel, "I'm sorry, sonny, we've run out of candy", "Speak up, George, stop mumbling", "George! Drop the keys!" (what is it about George, anyway?), the unnervingly prescient "Where will it ever end?", and my all-time favorite, "For goodness sake, stop that chattering and let your father think."

My father was not an eccentric man, but he did have a hidden taste for the macabre that also led him to collect the original albums - which I also have - by Tom Lehrer, composer of "The Masochism Tango," a song which I see I am not the only person to imagine Gomez and Morticia dancing to:

Monday, November 26, 2018

diversity in Congress

I keep reading articles noting that the Democratic caucus in the new US House of Representatives is more diverse in race and gender than the Republican caucus. Usually this takes the form of pointing at photos of them. But I haven't seen any statistics. So I decided to compile some.

This mostly comes from Wikipedia, so it's a seat-of-the-pants thing, not a peer-reviewed sociological analysis. According to the election results when I checked there last week, the outcome was D 234, R 201, which may be one or two off from figures elsewhere, due perhaps to races being called before the final results were in. Figures for diversity are mostly from its lists of members fitting these criteria, and may be even less reliable. Not to mention the possibility of errors on my own checklists. However, the differences are still clear.

The categories I looked for are those which customarily are taken as depicting socio-economic diversity. If you think I should have covered something else, I'll see if I can find a list.

*Women: D 89, R 12.
*self-identified LGB (which is as far down those initials as Congress gets): D 8, R 0.
*African-Americans: D 50, R 1.
*Native Americans (enrolled tribes, in case you ask): D 2, R 2.
*Hispanics (those of Latin American origin or descent only: another 6 whose ancestors came from Europe in the 19th century or earlier are socio-economically indistinguishable from those from other southern European countries who immigrated at the same time - I'm looking for minority diversity, not running an ethnography of Congress): D 33, R 5.
*Asian-Americans (East Asia or South Asia): D 12, R 0.
*Jewish (not usually considered a minority group, but as voters and in Congress they really stand apart from whites as a whole): D 26, R 2.
*Muslims: D 2, R 0.

Adjusting for those who are more than one of the above, I get 163 D (69% of the caucus) and 21 R (10% of the caucus) who are something other than straight white Christian male.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

I didn't realize I cared

Andrew Ducker linked to an article claiming that the movie of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen missed the point of the original. I'm sympathetic to such arguments, having been through numerous similar cases, but it seemed to me that the article itself misunderstands the graphic novel as seriously as it claims the movie does. But I haven't seen the movie, so I intended to keep quiet until Andrew encouraged me to respond. At which point I surprised myself - because I didn't realize I'd internalized this literature so deeply - with a long screed:

Well - I knew something was wrong when the author wrote "Moore does not like these guys." Actually, the virtue of Watchmen lies primarily in the evaluation of the characters being mixed and ambiguous.

Even the Comedian - such a nasty piece of work that we only meet him in flashbacks, so we never have to confront his appallingness directly - discovers, rather to his own surprise, that he has a moral conscience: which vitally turns out (spoiler alert!) to be the reason he's murdered.

Ozymandias is a brilliant depiction of someone moved to do great evil for what he perceives as a greater good; and unlike most such characters in fiction, he isn't a straw-man; his greater good really is a good if not a greater one. Instead of being unlikable, he's a personally likable character who forces the reader to think hard about what actions are justifiable for such goals.

And he gets away with it, succeeds in his goal - until the final panel of the book throws an ambiguity into that. Leaving the reader even more conscious of how mixed and questionable everything is.

And who's responsible for throwing in that ambiguity? Rorschach, whom the article dismisses as "basically a force for evil," acknowledging only that he's competent at what he does. But Rorschach only applies his ruthless methods at truly reprehensible characters. If you're not feeling both satisfied and disgusted by his actions at the same time, you're missing the point.

How much more subtle a depiction of the fascist impulse this is than Frank Miller's. The article describes Miller's 300 as "a nakedly fascistic work." I haven't read 300, but that's how I felt about The Dark Knight - brilliantly written, but loaded and heavy-handed in a way that Watchmen totally isn't.

And so, returning to the ending, if you consider Ozymandias's plan evil, who's going to save the world from its consequences? Rorschach, who sacrifices his life to do it. On that account, he's the hero of the story - but such an ambiguous and nutty one. And is destroying Ozy's plan after it's been carried out an unambiguously good idea? Nobody else is trying to do that. More questions, uncertainties, ambiguities.

Lastly, the article describes Nite Owl as "a clueless pud who’s never not in over his head." This makes me wonder if the writer actually read Watchmen. True enough that Nite Owl feels that his superhero career has been pointless and futile in overall accomplishment - his sexual impotence is a metaphor for this - but he's no pud or doof, he's done a lot of good in individual missions, and while not a match in combat with, say, Ozymandias, he is generally competent and knows what he's doing. He's not the Tick or a pathetic wanna-be, which is what the description makes him sound like.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

women sing

In my recent YouTube listening, as I putter about my business, I've come across several delightful examples of musical theater songs, intended for male characters, being sung by women.

The first two of these are from MisCast, which I gather is an annual Broadway fest in which stars sing numbers they'd never be cast in a production for - although, especially in the first case, as the character has virtually nothing else to do in the show, I'd ask, "Why the hell not? She's really good!"

You may also, if you look under MisCast, find men singing women's songs, but I didn't find those as memorable, although, to be sure, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Raúl Esparza as Anita and Maria from West Side Story is a remarkable sight.


Carmen Cusack sings "You'll Be Back" from Hamilton. (Yes, the guy she taps on both shoulders with her scepter while coming on stage is Brian D'Arcy James. ETA: Who sang the part in the original off-Broadway production, so that's why he deserves to be knighted for it.)


Katrina Lenk sings "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof.


Linda Eder sings "I, Don Quixote" from Man of La Mancha.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

thanksgiven

We got through Thanksgiving at niece T's house without trauma, not that we were necessarily expecting any. As is gradually becoming the case, especially with more relatives moving out of town, there were more of T's friends (and their families) present than ours. Which, among other things, meant more destinations for leftovers so we didn't have to take any. T's mom did try to press on us some of her pumpkin muffins, but we declined, B. for trying to resist indulgence and me because I don't care for pumpkin.

I brought a heaping quantity of steamed broccoli seasoned with the salt-free spice mix I bought at Pike Place Market earlier this month. It was all taken so it must have been a success. The hostess's Beef Wellington (an alternative to the turkey which we also had) was much tenderer than last year and also very rare.

Reminder to footnote a discussion with my brother, who was also there, about Beef Wellington by checking on whether it was named for the Duke of Wellington. According to Wikipedia, nobody knows. Wikipedia does cite someone who claims that it had nothing to do with the Duke but was invented for a dinner in 1815 in Wellington, New Zealand; but 1) Wellington, New Zealand, was itself named for the Duke; 2) 1815 was the year of Waterloo and thus an excellent occasion to honor the Duke with a dinner; 3) the little wrinkle that the city of Wellington wasn't founded and named until 25 years later.

However, continuing the conversation, I confirmed that, as I thought, the Salisbury steak was not named for the Marquess of Salisbury.

Visit was further enlivened by the three Kittens of Intense Cuteness that T. is currently fostering. They clambered all over us, which our cats won't do. They've been named Bronx, Brooklyn, and ... no, not Staten Island, as I thought, but Soho. In which case the other two should have been Greenwich Village and Battery. Unlikely as they are ever to come near any of these places.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What is that strange noise coming from outside?

Look! Water is falling from the sky!

Quick! Call the Fortean Society!

Maybe soon we will be able to breathe again, and the fires will stop. That'd be nice.
It's the White Rock Tribe.

(Anybody else catch the reference?)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

rehearsal review

I'm not scheduled to attend this week's SFS concert, but I decided to respond to an invitation from the development department to attend an open rehearsal this evening. They sent me three separate and distinct e-mails, each strictly instructing me to print it out and use it for admission. The doorwarden barely looked at the first one before waving me in.

The main audience section was fairly full - enough to surprise some of those onstage with the size of the attendance. I was one of about 15 people who decided to go upstairs, which I did so I could see the entire orchestra, spread out in their street clothes.

Fortunately for my tastes, MTT decided to rehearse Beethoven's Ninth instead of the other piece on the program, which is by Alban Berg. If I understood correctly the assistant conductor, who gave a pre-show talk to the audience explaining where rehearsals had gotten to so far, this was the first time the chorus and soloists in the Ninth met to rehearse with the orchestra. MTT began with a stop-and-start run through the last few minutes of the Ode to Joy, then took the entire finale nonstop, then worked on some other sections.

After a break, he did a full run of the Adagio, a slow and contemplative version, before working extensively on individual passages, which left enough time for one quick run through the scherzo before the contracted quitting time.

The conductor's concerns were various and usually pretty subtle, but I could hear a crescendo in the chorus becoming more dramatic and vehement, and a long note in the Adagio getting just slightly extended. It was a good opportunity to hear part of the Ninth, in backwards order, in an informal setting, played splendidly well.

Monday, November 19, 2018

three concerts

I wrote over a week ago that the smoke from the Camp Fire had cleared a little. Not very much, and it's stayed grittily hazy. A lot of people are wearing masks outside, but in downtown last weekend there were just as many cheerfully dining on the sidewalk tables, and I've been assured that short exposures are not dangerous for most people. So I've been going out, but keeping my exposures short.

Last weekend I reviewed the Fauré Requiem from the Masterworks Chorale, mostly because they'd pitched it to me. I liked it better than the obscure Schubert choral pieces they dredged up with it, but the Kirke Mechem piece had him at his very best. The chorale certainly sang everything finely.

On Friday - this was the day after I saw All the Way on stage, and two days after the Estonians' concert - I was up in the city at Herbst for a string quartet concert by a group called Brooklyn Rider. I didn't have to review this one, which is good because I'd find it hard to describe in detail, but I wasn't much more impressed by it than Lisa Hirsch in her review was. The concert's theme was music as a form of healing - interesting, I thought, as I've been to and heard of quite a few concerts in the last few weeks touting music as an antidote to stress of one kind or another - but there wasn't anything obviously healing about any of the new works they'd commissioned: all from female composers between their mid-30s and mid-40s. The Caroline Shaw piece was at least brilliant in her best mode and I liked it a lot; the Gabriela Lena Frank was pretty good; the Reena Esmail was very heavy on the Hindustani accent; and the Matana Roberts turned out to be the load of random noise it was intended as.

Then they played Beethoven's Op. 132, which really is a healing piece, centered on a long and rapturous adagio/andante depicting his thankfulness for convalescence from illness. But the problem with letting a group that specializes in the newest possible music loose on Beethoven is that they're not likely to have a long-enough perspective. They played Op. 132 in a rough and unsteady style with no sense of the magnitude of this enormous and profound work.

I had better luck being sent up to SFS the following evening to review another resilient-human-spirit concert, consisting of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony in the most uplifting performance imaginable, plus MTT's own setting for narrator and orchestra of excerpts from the diary of Anne Frank.

Unlike some narrated pieces I've reviewed recently, like Chad Cannon's Gateway or Copland's Lincoln Portrait, this piece is as much about the music as the narration, so I felt at ease not rehearsing the well-known story of Anne Frank and concentrating on the music instead. One place I almost got stuck was in describing the narrator. She wore one of those head-fastened microphones that make you look like a telephone operator. How was I to spell this? People mostly write mic instead of mike now, but what's the verb form? Are you miked, miced, or perhaps mic'd? I found advocates for all of these online, but though the AP seems to have gone for miked, I decided not to put my copy editor through any of this, and instead spelled it amplified.

Needless to say, when we got to the moment that MTT rescored Beethoven, I nearly jumped out of my seat. This is the second time in my experience that a conductor has dared to do that. Some people might pass by it unaware, but you do something that obvious (to me) to a work that iconic, and I will bloody well notice it.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

books

I want to hold off on my latest musical excursions, so why not a piece on some of the books I've read over the past couple of months?

Eric Idle, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (Random House)
Five of the six members of Monty Python have now published memoirs of one sort or another - the sixth, Terry Jones, due to his illness now alas never will - and I've read all of them. Terry Gilliam's Gilliamesque, despite its eccentric packaging and title, is the most conventionally written, discussing its author's wild imagination in a clear and sober tone. Michael Palin, though an excellent writer of many other books (see below) has never published a memoir per se, but has put out several volumes of diaries. I find their abbreviated style and discursive topics make them hard to read, but I did manage to get through an edited version called Monty Python at Work, which was just the entries about Python, concentrating on their business meetings. Graham Chapman's A Liar's Autobiography, which I got at a bookstore in Canada in the early 80s and have never seen another copy of since, contains much blunt self-revelation mixed with wild excursions into complete fantasy, and it's not always easy to tell which is which. John Cleese's So, Anyway ... is a self-analysis of what influences and character traits made him the person he became, consisting of detailed and very entertaining discussion of his baroque childhood and promising early professional experiences, drifting to a close with the formation of Python, though he's suggested a sequel may be in the works.
So now, Eric Idle. His is a descriptive account of his entire life, less self-analytical than Cleese or Gilliam or even Chapman, consciously a funnyman attempting to be serious for once. He doesn't want to spend too much space on his oppressively and tediously Dickensian childhood, and things brighten up when he gets to university and can finally learn to be himself. But when Python hits the big time - which Idle dates to their Canadian tour of 1973 - the book suddenly shifts into prolonged recounting of his subsequent life hanging out with his numerous celebrity friends. Mind, they're all creative celebrities, and a lot of valuable creative work gets done, and it is sweet revenge for his childhood, but it's not that much fun to read about.

Michelle Obama, Becoming (Crown)
This Obama claims not to be a politician, but this is a political memoir. But unlike most American political memoirs, which feel like they were put together by ghostwriters out of pre-existing bricks, this reads like a genuine personal account. Up until her life was derailed by her husband's run for President, Obama was a driven, professional career woman. She thinks her life made its big turn when she met Barack, but while that enabled the future change, it didn't interrupt her career. Not even the big personal crisis when she realized she didn't like being a corporate attorney, which is the job she'd been aiming at since schooldays, was a real hiccup. She just pulled out her contact list, switched careers, and went on without a pause. Obama is aware that she has far more options than her mother had, but like most people with enormous privilege, seems unaware of how enormous it is. I also don't think an aspiring politician would confess so much personal ambition, still less tell stories like the one from her childhood about convincing some other ten-year-old girl to respect her by beating her up.
Once Barack becomes President, we learn more than I ever had before about what it's actually like to live in the White House, of which the biggest revelation is that the staff will order more of anything they perceive you like to eat without even asking permission, no matter how exotic, and then at the end of the month they give you the bill. For while the staff services are free, the First Family has to pay for their food, though apparently they don't get to make out a shopping list. Obama also discusses all the public program initiatives she undertook as First Lady, so since this was genuinely worthwhile work it's unfortunate that it's not very interesting to read about.

Tom Shippey, Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings (Reaktion)
There is no more entertaining guide to the old North than Tom Shippey. Presents itself as an analysis of the Viking character, very strange to us (see the book's title), but is most enlivening delving into literary and archaeological sources. For instance, Shippey tells us there are five source texts for the tale of the Volsungs (and when he enumerates them, I realize that I have copies of four of them) and then goes into the plot differences between them, and what the authors are trying to accomplish and to reconcile, with the same zest that he once employed on varying Tolkien drafts. Very like, in fact.

Michael Palin, Erebus (Greystone Books)
I picked this up at the library because of the author (see above). He's a good writer of narrative history, less interesting when recounting his own travels to these exotic places. I knew that Erebus was the ship (actually one of the ships) of the Franklin expedition that was lost in the Canadian Arctic in the 1840s, but this is the ship's complete biography from manufacture on, of which the best part is its earlier quite successful explorations of the Antarctic. Frustratingly, Palin ends with the ships' recent rediscovery, but says nothing about any revelations about the crews' last days that may have been learned thereby.

Joanne B. Freeman, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War (Farrar Straus & Giroux)
Another book I happened to see on the library shelf. An outstanding study in my special period as a history student, early to mid 19C American politics. Anyone conversant with that period knows about the time a Southern congressman, infuriated by a Northern senator's anti-slavery speech, stalked onto the Senate floor and beat the guy to a bloody pulp, and then was cheered in the South for his efforts; or the time one senator pulled a gun on the floor on another senator, who responded by whipping open his jacket and crying, "Let the assassin fire!"; or the one time a congressman was actually killed in a duel with another congressman. All these occurred between 1838 and 1856; Freeman's genius was to say, "These may have been outstanding instances, but they can't have been the only ones," and putting together a thoughtfully analytic, not a tediously narrative, account of the quite extensive history of violence in Congress in those years. Her key discovery was a first-rate diary by a congressional clerk, who knew all the secrets but was separated from the conflict, and using that to throw light on the politely restrained descriptions of uproar on the floor in the printed congressional records.

Chris Offutt, My Father the Pornographer (Atria Books)
Offutt's father was Andrew J. Offutt, known to those who've heard of him, including me, not as a pornographer but as a science-fiction writer of considerable talent and imagination but whose career never took off. Turns out that, like some other SF writers, he kept the income flowing by churning out porn. This book barely discusses the writing, and that more the SF. It's mostly a description of what it was like having a childhood in the home of an eccentric and driven writer, regardless of what he was writing. The book itself is written in the pretentiously precious style of a modern realist novelist, which is evidently what the younger Offutt grew up to be. (I haven't read any of his fiction.) The most interesting chapter is of spending his pre-teen years being dragged to SF cons by his parents, who craved the social validation they couldn't get anywhere else. The son, however, bluntly states that he found SF fans to be totally obnoxious and repulsive people. He reports being stunned when, after publishing a note that his father had a grudge against Harlan Ellison, he gets a phone call from Ellison assuring him that the grudge was not mutual. What surprises him is that anyone would care that much about it, but it sounds to me exactly like what Harlan would do.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

departures

Of recent celebrity deaths, William Goldman's is the one I mourn the most. I liked many of the movies he wrote, I was a fan of his novel The Princess Bride from long before it was a movie, and I absorbed his two big non-fiction books on movie-making, Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? I used his first law of moviemaking, "Nobody knows anything," as an anchor in my article on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Nobody knows anything; nobody knows what will succeed or fail; rules on what you have to do to the plot because it's a mooooovie are really no more than "what worked on the last successful blockbuster" and are liable to be overturned at any moment. I appreciated Goldman's work and his insights even in the anxious and highly-wrought context he expressed them in. He was a major figure in a precarious business.

Douglas Rain was an actor whose name few recognize, but they know him without realizing it. He was the voice of the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. His creepy calmness was unforgettable, for reasons I've discussed. Some years ago, I saw a DVD of the 1957 Canadian Oedipus Rex film on an academic friend's desk; she was planning on showing it to her class. I pointed out the two unusual facts about that film: that it was the version that inspired Tom Lehrer to write his song of the same title as a "theme song" for the movie, and that the actor who played Creon went on to play HAL in 2001.

Fred Patten was an LA sf fan I would see around at conventions, but whom I didn't know personally. His command of his specialized areas of expertise, anime and furry fandom, was awesome, but they weren't part of my world.

Of Stan Lee I can merely say that I was aware of his existence. As with Gary Gygax, a figure whose death brought out the most startlingly deep mourning among many of my acquaintances, his work didn't mean much to me one way or another. But I'm not interested in denouncing it either. He did what he wanted to do, he pleased many, he acquired fame and, apparently, a degree of happiness. In Lee's own phrase, nuff said.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

All the Way

A few years ago I saw the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of a play they'd commissioned, The Great Society by Robert Schenkkan, telling of the 1965-68 period of Lyndon Johnson's presidency in the format and manner of a Shakespearean historical tragedy. I found it an awesome play, and was sorry I'd missed their production of its predecessor, All the Way, about the first year of Johnson's presidency, 1963-64, the one that went on to a celebrated Broadway production with Bryan Cranston.

So when I saw that a local company, the Palo Alto Players, was doing All the Way, I figured I had to see it, and I just have. Well, they're not OSF, but it was pretty good. Michael Monagle doesn't look anything like LBJ - in fact none of the actors looked like the people they were playing, the Hubert Humphrey more resembling Walter Mondale, and the Ev Dirksen looking like a retired Confederate general, white beard and all - but Monagle was good with the Johnson style and at being the strong center of the cast. Some of the others, though they were all competent actors, looked a little fatigued by the intense pace in the second act. Best all-around were the scenes with the Black leaders (King, Abernathy, Wilkins, Carmichael, et al) which formed the main counterpoint to the white politicians.

Covering a much shorter period than the sequel, it's differently constructed, with less sense of the pressure of multiple events pushing down on Johnson. But it does have the same snap and quick scene changes. Thus, the first scene is set with Johnson in his seat on Air Force One flying back from Dallas. Then he stands up and delivers his first speech to Congress.

The first act is all about the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and manages to say more about the political maneuverings that got it past various hurdles than does Robert Caro's biography of that period of Johnson's life. This is, alas, more an indictment of Caro than a praise of the play.

The second act is on the 1964 presidential election, and has a weirdly sour feel as the play depicts Johnson consistently on the verge of losing to Goldwater (who never appears on stage), which is not at all how the election played out.

It was consistently gripping, and I'm glad I saw it. It's on through this Sunday, so locals can still go.

concert review: Estonians

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra are making a world tour in honor of the centenary of Estonian independence (of course, the country spent half that period with its independence voided, but I don't expect that the Estonians like to dwell on that), and Stanford was one of the few U.S. stops.

I thought about asking to review this, but I'm glad I didn't bother, because it would have been a difficult concert to review adequately. Instead I just went on my own hook, and my own nickel, too. Unlike the times I've gone to concerts by the Venezuelans or the Kazakhs, nobody in the audience brought any national flags to wave.

I'd had the impression it was to be an all-Arvo Pärt concert, which is why I was eager to go, but instead it turned out to be a half-Pärt concert. It began with the orchestra playing Pärt's Cantus, technically very well, but strongly accented and emotionally dry. This was followed by two Pärt choral works with the orchestra, neither as enchanting as I'd hoped, and both mostly notable for the sheer quality of the choir. Salve Regina had attractive choral phrases running over tiny wisps of sound from the orchestra (strings and celesta). Adam's Lament, setting a text in Old Church Slavonic, was heavier and thicker.

The other half consisted of experimental pieces that required the choir to whisper a lot and grunt a little. Strangely, they were still good at this. One was Carlo by Brett Dean (an Australian composer), which takes a Don Carlo Gesualdo madrigal and runs it through the kind of changes associated with losing a radio station signal. The other, Concerto per voci e strumenti by Lepo Sumera (yes, an Estonian composer) sets nonsense texts that are supposed to sound like Estonian without actually being it. A lot of syllables beginning with K. Odd but interesting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

concert review: Music@Menlo

I was sent off to review Menlo's first winter-series concert on Friday. This one was, as described in the review, tied in with a lecture on Thursday. Usually I go to any associated events with a concert; the pre-concert talks at Symphony Silicon Valley, for instance, are often exceedingly useful for background information on the performance. But despite the importance of this lecture to explaining the literary background which was the purpose of choosing the repertoire for this concert, I didn't go. I was up in the City Thursday evening listening to the SF Symphony play Borodin and Shostakovich.

Maybe I should have skipped out on that for the lecture. But I read the program notes, which were written by the lecturer (who does most of Menlo's program notes and other audience curating), and buttonholed him for a quick interview during intermission, to try to replicate a sense of his presentation. I did present this as best I could in the review. But it was still fuzzy: for instance, he told me that the connection of Beethoven's "Ghost" Trio with sketches for music for an unrealized version of Macbeth has been debunked, but the program notes describe it as real. I could have delved into the Stanford library and researched this, but I didn't have time before the review was due, because I was attending two more concerts that weekend and reviewing them too. (One was the piano recital I described here; the other hasn't come out yet.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

concert review: Henry Kramer, piano

The smoke from the Camp Fire - which is 200 miles away, but brought visibility down to about a mile here on Saturday - has slowly begun to clear, and I ventured down to the Trianon in San Jose on Sunday afternoon for a piano recital sponsored by the Steinway Society, having chosen it for the interesting repertoire.

The young pianist, Henry Kramer, was jacketless and wore a high-collared white shirt with too-long sleeves. At first I was inclined to think of his playing style as heavy, but then I realized that his clean and emphatic articulation was overshadowing the lightness he could bring to filigree passages by Debussy or Liszt, and that it would be more accurate to describe his style as thick and full.

The virtuosity here was demonstrated when he got to "Clair de lune" in Debussy's Suite bergamasque. The sound was remarkably, and consistently, light and hazy despite the clarity of the touch. Though each note was distinct, the feel was entirely impressionistic.

Elsewhere in the suite, and in the far more harmonically murky L'isle joyeuse, Kramer made the most of Debussy's occasional excursions into rhythmic melodism. That's the inevitable, and highly welcome, result of his emphasis on articulation.

Another large portion of the program was given over to Liszt: late Liszt, pieces you rarely hear: transcriptions of two orchestral pieces from his enormous oratorio Christus, a cradle song and the march of the Three Kings. The former was a quiet piece filled with shining light, and the latter jutted formally until succeeded by a more rhapsodic middle section and ending with big shifting chords.

There was also a piece by Scriabin, played straight, as far as I could tell, without the rhythmic irregularity which tends to bring this composer alive for me. That would be alien to Kramer's performing style. The program said the piece was the Sonata No. 2, but I think it was probably something else. (I'm not a Scriabin expert by any means.)

But the music I was really there to hear was Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy, a favorite piece that received about as clearly-shaped and finely-chiseled a performance as it's ever likely to get. Had Kramer put out road signs, he could not have communicated the shape and direction of this music any more clearly. His ability to play loud and dramatic passages forcefully yet without distortion or abandon, then turn the same controlled style to softer and gentler ends in other passages, assisted but did not fully explain his command over this large meandering work's form. The thunderous conclusion wrapped the concert up with a bang.

Friday, November 9, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

The big piece on last night's program was the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1. For some reason, though I like his piano concertos, I've never got on with Shostakovich's string concertos, either violin or cello. The orchestration is vintage S., in sound and style, but the meandering solo part doesn't have the melodic incise I otherwise expect.

Soloist Karen Gomyo, who while playing takes on the severe dour expression of David Oistrakh, for whom the concerto was originally written, gave her part an exceedingly raw and rough tone, sounding every bit like an inescapable evocation of horsehair scraping over catgut, regardless of whatever it is her Stradivarius (yes, that crass sound came from a Strad) actually uses. She switched to a more commonplace smooth dephysicalized style for her encore, a slinky bit of Piazzolla.

But I was there mostly to hear Borodin's Second Symphony, in hopes of exorcising from my mind the last time I heard this out-of-fashion piece in concert, over a decade ago, when its thick and heavy orchestration congealed into a wad of unpalatable mud. And that was from a visiting Russian orchestra! This time was far better and succeeded in pleasing. The secret of the diacritically enhanced Czech guest conductor, Jakub Hrůša, seemed to be the vigor and clarity he gave to the rhythms, phrasing, and accents.

I slipped out of the hall before the last piece, Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin, a work described by its own composer as "hellish" and by me once in a review as sounding like a hideous traffic jam on the freeway. It still can be fascinating to listen to, but I've heard it three times in concert in the last few years, and that's enough.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

election results sites

The Guardian has an easy-to-use page showing Congressional and gubernatorial results.

This should amuse anyone who knows their way around California: county-by-county results for state races including the propositions. The gubernatorial results are a typical liberal-vs-conservative pattern for the state these days; some of the others are just weird.

Monday, November 5, 2018

continued in Seattle

Close readers of my previous entry will have perceived that I'm in Seattle. "Why are you here?" asked most of the friends and acquaintances I saw at the regular social event on Saturday (not accusingly, as this somehow sounds, but as in "What's the occasion?") I replied, "Because there is no Potlatch." This semi-regular literary sf convention kept me (and B.) semi-regularly visiting Seattle for years, but its demise removed the specific impetus. Realizing that I hadn't been back since the last one a few years ago is what inspired me to plan this visit with no other occasion but itself.

It did, however, require a lot of planning, particularly in arranging for and juggling the schedules of visiting those closer friends who, for one reason or other, are not active in the social community I saw on Saturday. That mostly worked out, and I've been over the territory from Kent to Lynnwood, from Queen Anne to Woodinville.

Woodinville. It's out in the far reaches, mountainwards, and I'd hardly ever been there before. Woodinville, I muttered. Someday it hopes to be a real ville.

On the way there I drove through Bothell, another place whose name begs to be used in a sentence. "Oh, Bothell!" said Winnie-the-Pooh. Q. Who arranges for the rain in Bothell? A. The chief Bothell-washer.

At about this point in my musings, the friend I was in company with started bopping me over the head.

So, in agreeable company I've eaten Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Mediterranean, and German apple pastry. Out on my own I got to Pike Place Market, where I headed straight for the chowder vendor, and then the Turkish Delight vendor, and then the shop that sells the fine vegetable seasoning, and then was inveigled by another vendor into buying dried cherries, which are tastier than it sounds.

I've visited a few bookstores, including the one with the cats (Hardy, Eleanor, and Buster were out being visible when I was there). A few blocks away, on a walk to check out for lunch a famed boutique restaurant that I decided was not for me, I walked by a small half-basement bar that described itself as "a cat cafe", and sure enough ...

Sunday, November 4, 2018

a play and two concerts in Seattle

I found all of these from listings in the arts section of the Seattle Weekly. (The Times was of no help whatever for cultural activities.)

The play was Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, one of the two non-Shakespeares being done this season by Seattle Shakespeare, in a small theater buried in a large, officious building in Seattle Center. Sumptuous costumes, impressive sets, pretty good acting. Sergius, the pompous twit character, was played by a dead ringer for the young Peter Bowles, who got plenty of laughs by striking pompous poses.

One concert, Sunday afternoon in a tiny but acoustically impressive room up in an office/retail tower in downtown Bellevue, of all the strange places, was a string quartet event put on by a group called the Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle. It was not well-attended - my friend J. and I were probably the only paying attendees who did not speak Russian, or at least much Russian - but it was well worthwhile. An imported Russian group called the Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet played ... a Rimsky-Korsakov string quartet, his Op. 12 in F. I'd never heard this piece before, or even of it, but like his other chamber music that I have heard, it's worth the unearthing. It's packed with fugatos and canons, and has a startlingly Mendelssohnian scherzo. They also played the Shostakovich Third Quartet, one of his best, with solemn dignity but not without intensity. Cellist Anton Andreev, with Foundation director Natalya Ageyeva as pianist, also played, with more passion than intonation, a couple short emotional pieces by Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky.

The other was a lecture/recital at the UW Music School last Thursday evening, by pianist Leslie Amper on the topic of WPA music, i.e. music commissioned by the U.S. government arts program in the 1930s. The lecture material was thin; short pieces by the likes of William Grant Still, Ruth Crawford, Ernest Bloch, David Diamond, Henry Cowell, and Roger Sessions mostly demonstrated the variety of styles available. But a full-length Piano Sonata by Aaron Copland, another work new to me, was eerie and hypnotizing, especially in its quiet Andante sostenuto finale.

Also, while I'm here, one from home: my latest Symphony Silicon Valley review, featuring pieces by Debussy and Strauss that I was not bursting with eagerness to hear, but which came out very well.