Thursday, December 31, 2015

the annual year-end post

A distressful year in many respects, but inside our cottage, at least, the two humans and two cats are still warm and cozy, so let's be thankful for that. Our roof has been replaced, I learned how to make turkey meatloaf, and I've just cleaned a lot of stuff out of the refrigerator that shouldn't still have been there.

I think the only things I had published this year were my usual concert reviews and my work in vol. 12 of Tolkien Studies, which just came out a couple weeks ago. Besides being co-editor, I did much of the work on the bibliography, one section for the "Year's Work", and a book review. Over in the music field, I wrote 29 reviews and two brief feature articles (both celebrating local conductors' thirtieth anniversaries) for my two outlets.

Travel has been more exciting. Here's the list of cities I stayed in when away from home:

Paradise Valley, AZ
Oracle, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Nogales, AZ
Phoenix, AZ
Seattle, WA
Rohnert Park, CA (twice)
Fresno, CA (twice)
New Orleans, LA
Thibodeaux, LA
Lafayette, LA
Concord, CA
Ashland, OR (twice)
Kansas City, KS
Johnston, IA
Norfolk, NE
Carter Lake, IA
San Francisco, CA
Colorado Springs, CO
Pittsburgh, PA (twice)
Romulus, MI
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON
Redding, CA (twice)
Austin, TX

That includes three conventions - Potlatch in Seattle, the Popular Culture Association conference in New Orleans, and Mythcon in Colorado - plus two nephews' weddings (in San Francisco, which is nearby but for which we stayed overnight, and Austin), four trips just to attend plays or concerts (twice to Rohnert Park and twice to Ashland, two of those also going to Fresno), one business trip to Michigan (which also included play-going in Ontario, and brief stays at either end with my brother in Pittsburgh, whom I accompanied on the trip), and two actual vacations, one in Arizona (during which I also got to two symphony concerts) and the presidential sight-seeing trip in the Midwest (also with my brother). Three trips were with B. The four California/Oregon trips I drove on; the others all include plane flights.

Besides the ones I stayed overnight in, I also visited the state of Missouri during the Midwest trip (the better part of two days, but stayed across the border in Kansas), and the state of Sonora, Mexico, whose border town of Nogales I popped into by foot for dinner during my Arizona trip. This makes it 1) the only new high-level jurisdiction of this year's travels; 2) the third state of Mexico I've been to, in all three cases just to border towns; 3) the only state or province of all my travels in which I haven't ridden in a vehicle, well, save only the Vatican City; 4) the only time that I've visited both Mexico and Canada in the same calendar year.

Next year Mythcon means I'm going back to Texas again, and I'm going back to Ashland at least once; but Potlatch is local, and no PCA this year. Other trips may be in the works. I hope some writing is also in the works.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

o to be a blogger

1. Here's some good news for next year: a whole lot of interesting-sounding movies. Including: a Neil Gaiman adaptation. A new Coen Brothers comedy (say no more). The Ghostbusters remake (hope it's better than the original, which I recently tried to rewatch and turned off after ten minutes). A new Jane Austen adaptation, of Lady Susan (though the movie title is Love and Friendship, which is something else), starring Kate Beckinsale, who's always much better in period costume. Spielberg does Roald Dahl's The BFG, it is to tremble. Tina Fey in a comedy (?) about a woman war correspondent in Afghanistan. A bio-pic about the Lovings, as in Loving v. Virginia. A bio-pic about LBJ. A Disney animated film called Zootopia. Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins, the worst opera singer of all time. And that's just some of the ones that particularly interest me.

2. Cryptic but interesting article that's either arguing that The Silmarillion undercuts The Lord of the Rings or that it doesn't undercut The Lord of the Rings. I'm not sure which position the author is taking.

3. Survey to determine how fannish you are. I particularly like the trivia questions whose real answers sound even more improbable than the fake answers, like "Complete the organization's name 'The Society for the Prevention of ____________ in Science Fiction Magazines'". Not all the questions have straight-forward correct answers, however.

4. Sarcasm alert: If Joss Whedon were an anti-feminist conservative. Leaves out Dr. Horrible and Much Ado, because those are anti-feminist.

5. I'm giving away the punchline in my link text: The calculational power of typographical errors.

6. And a serious one: Slave labor peels your shrimp.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

participle dangling over a precipice

While my choice for the most annoying grammatical error is the misplacement of an apostrophe in "its," for my brother the writing teacher the greatest irritant is the dangling participle. I have one for him: the most awesomely dangling participle I've ever seen, one that dangles over a precipice more dramatically than any dramatic scene in the movie in whose review it occurs, The Force Awakens. (Or so I presume. I still haven't seen it.)

The dangle occurs in a paragraph discussing Leia and her place in the Star Wars universe, and it reads as follows:

"Like many straight men of my generation, she will always have a special place in my heart."

Wow; just - wow. And the author of this thing is an English don at the University of London. Yet all he can say when called on it in the comments section is, "Not a very well-made sentence that, no. I concede it." Not very well made? You'd have a challenge finding a worse-made sentence by a university English teacher. I'm sure you could find one, but I wouldn't envy you the task.

You may not want to read the review. Roberts doesn't believe in withholding spoilers, and he begins by lecturing you on why you don't like that, getting the motivations entirely wrong in a condescending way. He also writes as if he's discovered something new in the tired old phenomenon of the action-adventure movie which is nothing but its own trailer with padding added between the exciting bits. He also gets the business about fathers and sons, and the original trilogy's treatment of them, wrong in more ways than I have time or interest in writing about. There you go.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Crunchmas

There was a strange article in the paper yesterday about how excess unsold Christmas trees are being donated to the zoo, because elephants like to munch on them.

Having already had our tree overturned once this year by an overeager cat, all I could think was, "It's a good thing we don't have a pet elephant."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

lights and action, but no camera

Another of our holiday customs that I never did before I was married is to drive around of an evening looking at home Christmas light displays.

I like this as a geographical challenge. There's a website listing homes in the area with particularly spectacular displays. So I plan our drive around a few of those. But we don't dart from highlight to highlight. The most garish are not always the best, and we don't care for the ones that pulse to the beat of the music on a 24/7-Christmas radio station. (I had my car radio tuned to the classical station, which was playing Bach's Christmas Oratorio - the whole thing. Much more agreeable holiday music.) It's the more thoughtful and well-designed displays we come across along the way, especially in clusters, that are most attractive.

Last night, on our way down to a highlighted site near El Camino, we found that a block that had been brightly lit on previous occasions had damped down considerably this year, but that a nearby long cul-de-sac (the street that Teri Hatcher grew up on) was still as rich and colorful as ever.

Ethnography plays a part in searching for good light displays. Middle-class white neighborhoods tend to be the best for this: not too rich, not too poor. There are many Asians in our area, and neighborhoods where they cluster tend not to have many lights, except for those homes still celebrating Diwali. I haven't checked heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, none of which are very close to us, and which tend to be on the poorer side, and/or mostly apartment buildings, also not a good source of light displays.

The best cluster of displays we found this year was in an isolated development we hadn't been in before, located in the fracture zone where the tail ends of Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and Los Altos run confusingly together. Someone had put three penguins in a boat on a curb. Another had a giant inflatable snowman which had partially deflated and fallen over. The weirdest display was at a corner house which had made the website list (which is why we visited this neighborhood in the first place). They'd even run lights up the stop sign at the corner. Amid the riot of displays were at least six Santas of various sizes, the largest of them behind the wheel of an old van parked in the driveway, a reindeer riding shotgun, and lights all over the hood.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


I think I've completed our calendar-shopping for the new year, with the acquisition of a page-a-day calendar. Our requirements for a calendar in this category are:
1a) It features cartoons;
1b) specifically cartoons that we like;
2) It does not have "Bonus Material" on the back of the pages.
The reason for requirement #2 is that we use the old pages as notepaper.

Barnes & Noble is where I went in search of this, as the independent bookstores (even the one with the best selection of wall calendars) tend to be weak on page-a-days, and B&N wasn't too hot either. There were only about 6 offerings that met criterion #1a, and only one of those did not boast on its package of violating #2, so I can only hope that it does fulfill its promises of meeting #2 and #1b also.

Our wall calendars usually come from our favorite used-book store in Mountain View, which always has a big selection of nature calendars, both scenery and animals. Occasionally I've gone for a scenery one, but usually I get one with animals that we like, which in practice means we rotate from year to year among domestic cats, big cats (e.g. tigers), and penguins.

(I haven't had a Tolkien calendar on my wall since 1974, I think, which was the last year - at least for quite some time - that the US edition had Tolkien's own illustrations on it. The illustrators of the succeeding years I found repulsive, and after a while I just stopped keeping track.)

Again, another requirement for the wall calendar is that the squares not be filled up with chitchat, because B. uses it as her appointment book. For my appointment book, I use one of these, which I've been buying, usually from the same little stationery store in Menlo Park, every year since I was 18. I like its display features: I can see at one glance all my appointments for a month, and the approx. 1-inch squares are not too small to write my needs in. Occasionally I've been wooed by electronic organizers, but I find those unsatisfactory and have always returned to this. I still have all the old ones, which are occasionally useful, such as the time I made a list of all the books that our book discussion group had ever discussed. I usually get the new one in September, when my concerts and trip plans for the upcoming year began to pile up. (And any appointments I have that affect B. get copied on to the wall calendar.)

This calendar also includes an address book. But what I do with that is another story.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Python canon

The reason I was trying to get one elusive Monty Python sketch identified was to complete one of my little pointless projects, an attempt to determine the most popular of the sketches. I'd long ago made a list of six Flying Circus sketches I considered iconic: that is, that they'd passed beyond being famous Python sketches and become general cultural icons, things that people would make reference to even outside specific referential context. These were:
  • 1. The Dead Parrot [season 1, overall episode 8] (which was once even cited by Mrs Thatcher, a person with no detectable sense of humor)
  • 2. The Ministry of Silly Walks [2/14]
  • 3. Spam [2/25] (which has given its name to "junk email")
  • 4. The Spanish Inquisition [2/15] (source of the greatest-ever real-life pun: when Gen. Pinochet, the retired Chilean dictator, visited the UK for medical treatment and his presence in the EU was used by a judge in Spain as a chance to slap him with an order to extradite him to face charges for his regime's crimes against citizens of Spain, it surprised and shocked everybody, thus proving that nobody expects the Spanish extradition)
  • 5. The Lumberjack Song [1/9]
  • 6. Nudge Nudge [1/3]
To which I would also add, as sketches I particularly liked that I knew were also very popular,
  • 7. The Cheese Shop [3/33]
  • 8. The Argument Clinic [3/29]
What I now did was to find online 18 lists of favorite or greatest Python sketches, from 5 to (in one case) 100 items, and make a little spreadsheet. Some of the items were rather obscure, and there's no consistent terminology: for instance, there's one sketch actually introduced in the program by the name "Restaurant sketch," but that's not a very memorable name (and it's not the only one set in a restaurant), so most people know it as the "Dirty Fork." Sketches also run into each other, but the only serious classification problem I found was whether or not to include the "Homicidal Barber" lead-in as part of the "Lumberjack Song" (in the stage show the former was omitted from the latter). Only five of the lists included sketches from the movies, but several others included sketches not on Flying Circus but which were in the stage show, of which "Four Yorkshiremen" was by far the most popular. When I'd put everything together (160 nominees in total) I found that the ones I'd listed were 8 of the most popular 12. The other 4 included two that I liked,
  • 9. The Funniest Joke in the World [1/1]
  • 10. Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit [1/4] (perhaps the only one that's funnier in the compilation film remake, And Now For Something Completely Different, than on Flying Circus)
and two that I don't particularly like,
  • 11. The Upper-Class Twit of the Year [1/12] (like other Python sports sketches, it goes on far too long)
  • 12. Dirty Fork [1/3] (which I find over-the-top: I identify too closely with the discomfiture of the diners)
Some of my own favorites ranked further down: only "Mattress Shop" [1/8] (known to others as "Buying a Bed"), "Crunchy Frog" [1/6] (more accurately, but less commonly, called "Whizzo Chocolates"), and "Mr. Hilter" [1/12] (aka "North Minehead By-election") made the top 25, which also included the mystifyingly-popular "Fish-Slapping Dance" [3/28], the clever-concept but dull-execution "Confuse-A-Cat" [1/5], the simply nasty "Blackmail Show" [2/18], and "Mr. Creosote" [from Meaning of Life], the only movie sketch to make all the movie lists, a physical sketch simply ruined for me by its far-too-graphic visuals. Python did that sort of thing far better earlier: see the brilliant "The Black Knight" [from Holy Grail] or even "Sam Peckinpah's 'Salad Days'" [3/33], where the cheesiness of the sfx are what make them funny rather than sick.

Only the longest lists found room for other favorites of mine, such as the surely iconic "Election Night Special" [2/19] (whose Silly Party candidate names were actually adopted by the Monster Raving Loony Party) and "Dennis Moore" [3/37] (the Robin Hood parody), or "Gumby Brain Specialist" [3/32] (a particular delight for the way that Palin cracks up when Cleese's doctor looks for his brain in his trousers), "Ron Obvious" [1/10] (the hapless man who tries to jump the English Channel), or "Sir George Head" [1/9] (the Kilimanjaro expedition sketch). And nobody at all named another dozen of my favorites, notably many from the third season, "Njorl's Saga" [3/27], "Erizabeth L." [3/29], "The man who speaks in anagrams" [3/30] (which has rendered me unable to think of The Taming of the Shrew as anything other than The Mating of the Wersh), "The Summarize Proust Competition" [3/31] (nobody named that? nobody?), "Climbing the North Face of the Uxbridge Road" [3/33], or "The British 'Well, Basically' Club" [3/35] (of which I find myself frequently a member). Not very much from the fourth season made any lists, though I do like "Buying an Ant" [4/41], but my other favorite from that season, "Court-martial" [4/42] (the one with "Basingstoke, in Westphalia?") didn't make anybody's list.


Sunday, December 20, 2015


1. Much commemoration of the centenary of the birth of Frank Sinatra. Since he's long gone now, I hope I won't be treading on any corns by saying that I never cared for his music. I can recognize that he was exceedingly skillful and talented at what he was trying to do; it's just that what he was trying to do is of no interest to me. I like the timbre of his voice, but I don't like his singing style, I don't like most of the songs he's associated with, and I especially dislike the kind of instrumental arrangements he favored. And I'm not interested enough to go listen to enough of it to write an analysis of this.

My uninterest is not so much for Sinatra in particular as it is for crooners in general. If I had to take one, I'd pick Dean Martin, who had a more pleasing repertoire. I generally prefer male pop-singing voices to have a bit of an edge to them.

I should add that, while my mother was of an age to have been one of the bobby-soxers who swooned over Sinatra when he was young and (I guess) sexy, she never cared for him either. She told me this more than once.

2. Recently gone, the conductor Kurt Masur. Kurt Masur was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of his forehead: When he was good, he was very, very good, and when he was bad, he was horrid.

3. And departed from us a month ago, the conductor and writer Robert Craft. Craft is controversial for his role as a sort of amanuensis for the elderly Igor Stravinsky in the 1950s and 60s. Apparently he put words in Stravinsky's mouth in his transcribed conversations, and he also wielded the baton on recordings that listed Stravinsky as conductor. That puts him in the category with the eerie young men who similarly manipulated the aged and/or deceased Bertrand Russell, C.S. Lewis, and even Beethoven, not to mention Shostakovich. Craft is also the person who persuaded Stravinsky to go serialist, for which it's hard to forgive him.

But there was more to Craft than that. He always insisted that his role with Stravinsky was fortuitous and that he was at least as interested in a lot of other modern composers. And he proved that, at least to my satisfaction, by his superb conducting of a recording of Ionisation by Edgard Varèse, the most fabulous work ever written for percussion ensemble (and by far my favorite piece by Varèse). This performance was not online when I wrote about Ionisation some years ago, and nothing I could find was satisfactory: but it's there now. If you've never heard this, prepare to have your mind expanded.

4. Mr. Speaker Paul Ryan has grown a beard, though it comes off more as if he's going for the unshaven look, which is not quite the same thing. Reactions online that I've seen so far range from analyses of how manly he looks with it, to polemics declaring that beards are no longer manly because Paul Ryan has one. But none of them answer the question I had on seeing it. The answer, I have determined, is "1925". That's the last time we had a Speaker of the House with a beard.

Friday, December 18, 2015

events, dear boy: events

1. At the annual reading and eating meeting, I introduced my first reading contribution by saying, "The best comment I've heard on the Syrian refugee situation is, 'If only there were a seasonally appropriate story about Middle Eastern people seeking refuge being turned away by the heartless.' Well, I've found one.* It was written by the Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko in 1967, and it's called 'Mary and Joe, Chicago style.'"

*Need I add that I know perfectly well what the allusion is actually to? Probably.

1a. And I introduced my second by saying, "I've tried reading this aloud several times already and have been unable to get through it without cracking up. Let's see if I can manage it this time." I did.

2. Hanukkah ran right at the height of Christmas warm-up season this year, so only my visiting brother could make it. In addition to the usual run of gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, and latkes, I added something else substantial in the form of a garlic-butter casserole of rice, chicken, and vegetables. Since my brother and I go on road trips, and he likes sports while I don't, I gave him this gonzo baseball road-trip book.

3. While he was here, we visited a couple local museums. The New Museum in Los Gatos, located in the old (not so old, actually) city library building, is currently running a display on old-time local amusement parks, circa 1960s-70s and long gone. Most of the attention was on Frontier Village, which I remember with some fondness, particularly for its fish pond, which was so well-stocked that the fish had to weave around each other while swimming. To fish there, you stuck in the baited hook, counted to two, and pulled out a fish. I did this when I was around nine years old, and later had dinner of the results. One of the two occasions in my life when I've actually gone fishing, if you can call this that.

3a. And, because it's there, the San Francisco 49ers museum at the new stadium. While we were there, watching videos testifying to the quality and spirit of the grrreat 49ers team, that team was getting shellacked in Cleveland. So you have to be a bit starry-eyed to enjoy this museum, and blimey do you ever have to be a football fan to appreciate it. As someone who'd only heard of about half the players eerily preserved in life-sized bronze-statue action poses in the Hall of Fame gallery, I found it a bit over my head. The long line of memorabilia, from the typewriter of the front office's first secretary to the file copy of Joe Montana's contract ("Player represents that he is skilled at the game of football"), was also more than we needed, and, as for the interactive videos, where you could stand on a pad and watch yourself catching a virtual football or dancing with virtual cheerleaders, we didn't try them.

4. Intrigued by the review from sturgeonslawyer, I ventured up to the City on Thursday for the musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, adapted from the old Alec Guinness black-comedy movie Kind Hearts and Coronets (though for legal reasons they had to pretend it wasn't, and change all the names; the plot has also been tinkered with, with the ending sequence considerably less nasty). I found it consistently amusing, and performed with ease and charm, particularly by the Nathan Lane-ish type playing all the Alec Guinness victim characters. The songs were lively and agreeable, with many clever triple rhymes, but without memorable tunes. The victims are an Earl and his family, and almost every single use of the nomenclature of British nobility was completely wrong. Sort of a world's record in that department. This would have bothered me a lot more if the show weren't such a ridiculous farce to begin with. The theatre was broad and low, probably with horrible acoustics, but it didn't matter as the whole thing, orchestra and all, was amplified out the wazoo, with the treble way up high.

I wouldn't give it my highest rating, which would be "Drag B. up to the City to see it," but it was good enough that, when at the curtain call one of the actors thanked the audience for being there on the day of the Star Wars premiere, I called back, "You're much better than Star Wars!"

5. Speaking of which. I am on record as opposing spoilers on the grounds that you can only see a movie for the first time once. After you know what happens, it's a different experience, and the other cannot be relived. But by the same token, if you don't want to see a movie, spoilers are a lifesaver. I read the Wikipedia plot summary of The Force Awakens and now I don't have to see the thing at all! I'm free, I'm free!

6. And then I turned on the radio this morning to the classical station and heard some unfamiliar music that sounded like synthetic imitation Stravinsky, rapidly turning into imitation Prokofiev and then imitation Ravel. Then, finally, a familiar tune, and I realized it was from Star Wars. They're celebrating.

7. Over her protests, and two bitten fingers on me, Maia went to the vet this morning for a checkup and shots. Now she can sing an adaptation of the old "Down Under" song: I met a strange lady / She made me nervous / She took me in and felt my kidneys. Pippin, the timid giant, reacted to Maia's being snatched by huddling in his safe spot, not even coming out to eat his breakfast the whole time we were gone.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tuesday was ...

It was the 150th anniversary of Sibelius's birth.

It was the 35th anniversary of Lennon's death.

It was a day I spent much of in the dentist's chair, having a crown prepared.

It was also a day I discovered that someone has read my criticism of Colbert's mischaracterization of Smeagol as hinting that he is Not A Real Tolkien Fan.

How could anyone who knows me even slightly misread me so badly? I have not the slightest interest in handing out inalienable certificates of trufannishness. (If I were, wouldn't calling Colbert "quite the Tolkien trivia master" qualify as an endorsement?) I am interested in one thing and one thing only when I judge statements in this category: are they true or not? (I'm not discussing here evaluations whose truth value is indeterminate or irrelevant; but ones like these. Either Smeagol was demonically possessed by the Ring and turned into an entirely different persona, or else Gollum was a development and degradation of Smeagol's own baser instincts under the growing influence of the Ring, one or the other. They're too different to be both true.)

If what you say is false, I will criticize it. If what you say on some other topic the next day is true, I will praise it. I don't hand out certificates of True Tolkienist or False Tolkienist that hold no matter what you say. I've criticized John Rateliff, Verlyn Flieger, even Tom Shippey when I thought they got things wrong, and their credentials are all better than mine. They're also great scholars who are almost always right. But they're imperfect, and they got something wrong. So have I, on occasion. So has Colbert, on this occasion.

I made the same point in another context here.

Someone else said that I scorn anyone who likes the Jackson movies. Not so. I've said this many times before, but apparently I have to say it again. It doesn't bother me at all if someone likes the movies, even though I don't. What bothers me is when they confuse or conflate the movies with Tolkien. I'm death on that - especially when a movie-only reading appears in a scholarly paper that's supposed to be just about Tolkien - but it should bother the real Jackson fans even more than it bothers me. For what is it that the Jackson fans always say to defend the movies from complaints that they distort the book? "Movies are different from books." That raises a whole host of questions it's intended to dismiss, but if we take it at face value, then fine: if the movie is different from the book, then don't confuse or conflate them with each other. See? Easy!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

unposted comment

I couldn't get the Atlantic's website to accept my commenter registration, so I couldn't post what I had to say about an article titled "Why God Will Not Die."

Oh, there's lots that could be discussed here, but what attracted my attention was an offhanded incidental remark, asking incredulously, "Does anyone really believe that all men - and women - are created equal?"

That one's a bug of mine, so I wrote:

Of course I do, and you do too, it's just that's it's now so self-evident you don't know what it means. Do you believe in universal adult suffrage? Do you believe that everyone, no matter what their race or sex or religion or wealth or IQ, has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Do you believe that anyone, in all the above categories, should have a fair say and representation and consideration before the law?

If so, then you believe that all men and women are created equal.

That doesn't mean that they're created the same whether in wealth or IQ or anything else. But nobody ever claimed that they were. Jeffersonian equality was still a radical notion in 1776, but it is now so burned into our system that violations of it shock us and it's hard to believe he had to say that, so people cast around for something else he could have meant and come up with something ridiculous.

concert review: Chamber Music Silicon Valley

The recently re-dubbed CMSV, the result of adding to the annual late-June Silicon Valley Music Festival a spread-out year-round season, held its official launch on Friday in Santa Clara University's strange little recital hall. Though the auditorium is small, it wasn't close to being filled. That's a pity, as there's good stuff in here, and I know from seeing Bing sold out that there's an audience. What CMSV needs is more publicity, and I wish I had the magic wand to give it. At least I can link to their next concert and the Festival in June.

The highlight of this program was its conclusion, a trio for flute, cello, and piano by Weber, one of his few chamber works, with a really bang-up scherzo and finale, especially in this performance by Ray Furuta, Jonah Kim, and Christina Dahl (respectively). The rest of the concert sort of unpacked this ensemble. Kim played a Beethoven cello sonata with a lovely textured tone, but not as entertainingly as in the Weber. Furuta was joined by his one-time flute teacher, Carol Wincenc, for a two-flutes and piano suite by the contemporary Japanese composer Yuko Uebayashi, a tremendously impressive little piece, enough to crown its author as the best composer I know to begin with a U. It alternates quiet Debussyean impressionist harmonies, long a Japanese specialty, with a lively, bouncy style strikingly reminiscent of mid-20C Japanese composers like Hashimoto or early Akutagawa. (I love throwing these names around!) Wincenc also played a couple characteristic pieces by Casella.

All these were with piano accompaniment played by Dahl. The composers often kept her in a self-effacing role, but her rhythmically energetic playing did much to keep the music going. She got one solo spotlight, William Bolcom's entrancing Graceful Ghost Rag.

Nice little concert with some pleasant surprises.

Friday, December 4, 2015

concert review: Berkeley Symphony

I ventured the wearisome commute-hour journey (part car, part BART1) up to Berkeley because this concert was too tempting to miss. It's the first time I've heard this orchestra in many years, and my first ever encounter with the now six-year tenure of its current music director, Joana Carneiro.

What made it tempting was the presence of a work by Sofia Gubaidulina, the difficult but always profound and fascinating dean of Russian composers. Titled Fachwerk (she's been living in Germany for some years now, and the language has entered her soul), it's a concerto for bayan, the Russian national button accordion. In a vastly over-detailed half-hour pre-concert lecture on the history of the accordion - there were two other guests on stage,2 but they hardly got a word in edgewise - the soloist, Geir Draugsvoll, failed to explain what made a Russian button accordion different from other button accordions, and despite the moderator asking him several times, and the conductor likewise at the start of the concert, he didn't say much about the work either.

What he did explain is that the button accordion is good at playing chords with a single button. Consequently the music turned out to be rich and thickly harmonized, though often dissonant. At times the bayan sounded like the Phantom of the Opera gone mad, and it ended the work by giving out the dying croaks of a doomed airship. Most of the concerto, however, consisted of soft stealthy alternating phrases between the accordion and the orchestra (strings, supplemented by a little percussion).

Carneiro, clad in a long heavy skirt far too restricting for the amount of movement she was trying to do in it, is an intense and dynamic conductor. Frequently looking as if she was about to either stab the orchestra with her baton or clobber them over the heads with it, she led nevertheless relatively calm performances. The old standard that filled out the program, the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, pleased in this rendition by being well-shaped and graceful rather than raw or exciting.

1. Unlike the train that goes to San Francisco, BART still runs at the time evening concerts let out, so I can make use of it for those outings. So, incidentally, did a contrabassist for the orchestra, who was sitting opposite me with his instrument for a while on the way back.
2. One of whom was Laurel Fay, the pre-eminent American authority on modern Russian music, and one might have liked to have heard more from her.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

factual mistakes about The Lord of the Rings fostered by Jackson's movies

These are specific errors, not general falsities of spirit, and they have in common that people don't realize they're major changes from the book. When the movies omit Bombadil or the Scouring, or have Faramir threaten to seize the Ring or Frodo abandon Sam, viewers realize those are changes. But they fail to recognize that the following are not true of Tolkien's story:

1. That Sauron, at the time of the War, is a disembodied giant eyeball.

2. That Aragorn is reluctant to become king.

And the latest additions,

3a. That Smeagol is a different character from Gollum,

3b, and is basically good.