Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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.

driving by protest

I happened to be heading out along a local major street to do errands when I drove by Homestead High School (alma mater of Jobs and Wozniak) just as the nation-wide gun-violence protest walkout was going on. A huge crowd of students, many carrying signs, were congested on to the sidewalk area in front of the school.

From the opposite side of the road, I stuck my arm out the open window and gave them a thumbs up. I didn't know what else to do. Any words of encouragement I might have shouted would have been too distracting for me in traffic and probably unintelligible to them, who were making a lot of noise themselves anyway. Years ago I would have flashed a peace sign, the all-purpose symbol of agreeability and conciliation in my generation, but I was afraid today's students wouldn't know what it meant or found it ambiguous.

I did hear some brief cheers from the crowd; might have been in response to my signal, I don't know.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

reading Stephen Hawking

The great mathematician/physicist/cosmologist died today, after a long and successful career marred only by his long-standing illness.

My own experience with his work comes mostly from his popularized science book A Brief History of Time, which I picked up and read in mass-market pb before I even knew it was supposed to be one of the great unread bestsellers of our time, a claim resurfacing in his obituary and even in this tribute to the book.

Why should it be unread? It seemed to me a lucid and comprehensible explanation of some extremely abstract concepts, an admirable work of its kind. (I also saw the movie adaptation of the book and, much later, the bio-pic about the author.)

I also read two of the other great supposedly unread bestsellers of that period, The Name of the Rose (a novel I found so captivating I carried it around with me for days, including during breaks at work, and as at the time I was working in the monastery-like precincts of a neo-Gothic 1910s university library, the setting was appropriate) and, of course, The Silmarillion. The one I didn't read was The Satanic Verses.

A tribute, then, to the range and lucidity of the mind of Stephen Hawking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

concert review: Philharmonia Baroque

What do you do when the pre-concert lecturer makes the same obvious joke you were going to make in your review? Answer, just suck it up and attribute it to him.

Philharmonia Baroque concerts tend to be educational in presentation, so I wind up devoting more of my reviews of them to explaining the history of the music than to evaluating the performance, beyond saying "It was good," because it always is.

Monday, March 12, 2018

where are the fact-checkers?

The New Yorker, Mar. 12 issue

Jane Mayer, article on Christopher Steele:
Steele was born in 1964 in Aden, then the capital of Yemen. (p. 51)

Adam Gopnik, review of Andrew Lloyd Webber's memoirs:
You learn how Lloyd Webber composed "Cats" and "Chess" and the rest (p. 74)

English suites and others no. 28

In our last entry, the French composer Gabriel Fauré was writing piano pieces to entertain his ladyfriend's small daughter, which he assembled into a suite, the Dolly Suite, that was later orchestrated by somebody else.

Today we're about a dozen years later. The somewhat younger French composer Claude Debussy is writing piano pieces to entertain his own small daughter, which he assembled into a suite, the Children's Corner Suite, that was later orchestrated by somebody else.

The even better coincidence is that the two little girls had the same mother. She was a singer named Emma Moyse, first married name Bardac. After her affair with Fauré, her son Raoul ("Mi-a-ou" of the Dolly Suite) was a piano pupil of Debussy's. His mother and his teacher threw up their respective spouses and ran off to England together, having their own daughter and getting married, in that order. Where the older girl was nicknamed Dolly, this one was called Chou-Chou.

The pieces her dad wrote for her are: Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum (0.00), Jimbo's Lullaby (2.24), Serenade for the Doll (6.13), The Snow is Dancing (8.51), The Little Shepherd (11.34), and Golliwogg's Cakewalk (13.54).

(Some of those movement titles could use annotation. Gradus ad Parnassum was the title of a famous 18th-century music textbook, and Debussy's piano original is a finger exercise. Jimbo is, it says here, a French pronunciation of Jumbo, which was the pseudo-African name of a circus elephant so famous in its day that the mere name became a word meaning "very large." I bet you didn't know that origin. And if you don't know what a golliwogg was, you're better off. A golliwogg, name taken from a series of now mercifully-forgotten English children's books, was a doll in the shape of a grotesque caricature of a black person and probably the origin of the ethnic slur found in its final syllable. After it was realized how offensive these dolls were, they were nevertheless defended as innocent mementos of their defenders' childhoods, sort of the English equivalent of Zwarte Piet. Try not to think of that as you listen to the Cakewalk, the only extroverted music Debussy ever wrote.)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

book discussion: The Treasure of the Isle of Mist

Recently I was shown an early review of The Hobbit (Horn Book, March 1938). The reviewer described the book as unlike Alice or Wind in the Willows. Praising it for being "firmly rooted in Beowulf and authentic Saxon lore," she found "something in common" with William Morris and with W.W. Tarn's The Treasure of the Isle of Mist.

I was reminded of early reviews of The Lord of the Rings, which similarly cast around wildly looking for something to compare this work to, usually also landing on William Morris among others. Well, I know Morris, but what was The Treasure of the Isle of Mist? I found this 1919 publication on Project Gutenberg, and, liking the Tolkienesque donnish whimsy of the opening, proposed it as a topic for our Mythopoeic Society book-discussion group.

We mostly enjoyed the book, but didn't find it very Tolkienesque on the whole. A. agreed with me about the donnish whimsy, and copied out some favorite passages. C. identified a few other Tolkienesque aspects: the narrative voice and the depiction of the landscape (which he was able to identify as the island of Skye). I noted also that the heroine Fiona's ability to speak with animals that others can't understand has a faint resemblance to the role of the thrush in The Hobbit.

E. was the most critical, saying that The Hobbit is much more original and less formulaic. This book is twee and over-moralistic, like George MacDonald. The Faerie sequence in the latter part of the book has the air of a religious allegory a la Pilgrim's Progress, though M. added that there's nothing Christian or mythopoeic about the actual content. B. thought of Lewis Carroll and E. Nesbit, and others named L. Frank Baum and the archetypal hero's journey from Joseph Campbell. C. found a long discussion of the book online that names more comparable works, in particular The Crock of Gold.

M. observed that the plot, though nominally a quest, is more of a simple fairy tale than a quest as Tolkien would tell it; and we noted other fairy-tale elements. C. commented that the wandering fairy king is a traditional fairy-tale element, and E. and I simultaneously chimed in with Smith of Wootton Major as another example. J. noted that Fiona is, like so many children in fairy tales, motherless. She is said to be 15, a relatively advanced age which surprised some of us. B. summarized the theme as a morality play about maturing out of a childhood connection to Faerie. Her father's role as a mentor who's sympathetic to the idea of Faerie but disclaims any personal knowledge of it, until at the end he's revealed to have gone there himself as a child, reminded me strongly of Prof. Kirke in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Magician's Nephew.

We don't know if Lewis, or Tolkien, ever read this book, though they easily could have. It was reprinted in the 1930s and is mentioned often in the 1938 volume of Horn Book, so it was a popular book in its time. The more whimsical Marvellous Land of Snergs by E.A. Wyke-Smith is the children's book of the time that Tolkien is known to have read and been influenced by.

The conversation, always volatile, suddenly veered to Salman Rushdie, and the book topic discussion was over.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

First-time guest conductor Edward Gardner turned out to be a good match for SFS, which delivered hot and sizzling performances of a variety of mid-20C work that the hegemony would have disapproved of.

Tippett's Ritual Dances do not sound at all like dances, but they're colorfully orchestrated and were clearly very well played. Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, on the other hand, do sound like dances when they're properly played, which they often aren't but were here. Five parts drama and intensity to three parts beauty, mixed in a soup of care and devotion to the details of the music, was a good combination.

Even more interesting was Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which got the same tight, dramatic treatment, with an obvious application of great care in rehearsing the orchestral playing. Carey Bell's wailing clarinet opening had a striking caustic freedom, and the big romantic theme for strings (the one accompanying the daydream sequence in the Fantasia 2000 animation) was played with the slightest touch of portamento on the large melodic leaps. I was astonished, as it's almost impossible to get modern string players to perform this way: I've seen them try.

The pianist, Simon Trpčeski, seemed to lose his grip at one point and mugged at the audience. Then for an encore he began by announcing that it was International Women's Day, and then played an arrangement of "Take Five" of Dave Brubeck Quartet fame, a work with no connection to a woman known to me.

Speaking of women, Lisa Irontongue has been casting a mostly disapproving eye on the place of women composers in upcoming season announcements, and gives SFS a particularly withering glare. I have my renewal form here, and it's not particularly enticing: a lot of solid good stuff, but mostly conventional ones. For instance, in September there'll be two weeks of another MTT Stravinsky festival, and what is it featuring? The three classic 1910-13 ballets. True, they're great pieces, but they're not the end-all of Stravinsky. A month later, the Mariinsky Orchestra is visiting with an all-Stravinsky program of its own including both of his mature orchestral symphonies. Now that's interesting, and I may go. Blomstedt, who's been visiting for two weeks every year since his retirement from music director, has now gone down to one week, with the Pastorale and the Scottish, not too taxing for an old man. And who's conducting Bruckner 5 - admittedly a fairly edgy choice for that composer - in his stead? Jaap van Zweden, a hot name right now due to his recent appointment to the NY Phil.

But back to women composers. There's just one work by a living woman composer. The good news is that it's by Anna Clyne, who's tremendously creative, and the other good news is that it's on my concert series. So is the one week from Krzysztof Urbański, and this is interesting. This year he was here for two weeks, and patriotically included one Polish composer each - Penderecki and Lutoslawski - on his otherwise standard programs. A small discussion broke out in the SFCV review and comment section on who should be his flag-waver when he returned, and I'm pleased that one of my suggestions won out: Grazyna Bacewicz, Poland's leading female composer. She's not living, but by sex alone that makes two.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

the lessons of Tartuffe

While I was on the SCU campus for their student symphony concert on Saturday, I saw a poster for a concurrent student production of Tartuffe. This caught my attention as it'd been over 30 years since I'd seen that play and I was happy to consider it again, but also because Tartuffe had come across my radar that morning in a different context: I'd found that there will be a production of it on in London while I'll be there briefly in a couple months. But it didn't fit my schedule.

So I was all the more moved to show up for the matinee next day. The cast was all competent, though a little over-declamatory and a little under-inspired. The main problem was having students of all the same age play three generations of characters left it a bit unclear who was supposed to be which and how old they were.

In Act 2, after Orgon has been disillusioned about Tartuffe's sham piety, he declares furiously that he'll never trust a religious man again. And his brother-in-law, a character who seems to exist purely to be everyone else's moral conscience, advises him that skepticism can be just as unwise as gullibility.

And yes, I was feeling the force of that lesson. That morning I'd twice gotten recorded-message phone calls that started out by saying they were from some fraud department. Figuring they'd be from the sort of scammers who want you to install malware on your computer, I hung up both times.

Only as I hung up the second time did I suddenly realize it might be legitimate, regarding the online overseas credit card transaction I'd made that morning for such performances I could fit into my schedule in London. I know well enough from past experience that credit issuers hyperventilate at unwarned foreign transactions, even online. At the box office for Tartuffe I asked them to run that card, and sure enough it was blocked.

So if I was going to fix this promptly, and I thought I should, it was going to have to be done by cell phone over the next half hour before the show started. This was accomplished, but I have to say: I'm told there exist people who've actually given up their landlines so that they can do all their phone business by mobile. I can't imagine possibly doing that. Anything longer than quick appointment-setting checkins on a cell phone is totally nightmarish. But you won't learn that from Tartuffe.

English suites and others no. 27

Gabriel Fauré was a pupil of Saint-Saëns. His Dolly Suite is a fine example of the perfectly French lightness and delicacy with which he composed.

Dolly was the nickname of the small daughter of the woman whom Fauré was seeing extracurricularly, shall we say. Fauré originally wrote these as piano pieces to entertain the girl. Later, her mother divorced and remarried to Claude Debussy. Another tale hangs on that, which I'll get to.

The movements are Berceuse (0.00), Mi-a-ou (2.29), Dolly's Garden (4.48), Kitty Waltz (7.57), Tenderness (11.23), and The Spanish Step (15.27). You may think you see cat references in these titles. You do not! "Mi-a-ou" was Dolly's early attempt to say the name of her brother Raoul, and Kitty was the name of their dog.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Oscar the critic

True, I enjoy watching Oscar broadcasts. I prepared a meatloaf before the broadcast began at 5 pm - having finally realized (I'm slow) that I ought to scramble the other ingredients together before adding the ground turkey, to aid in evenly mixing it - and popped it in the oven during the first commercial break, to minimize the amount of time I had to spend not watching the show.


*Isn't encouraging winners to speak out on social issues and offering them a jet ski if they're brief kind of a contradictory message? As well as a piece of tone-deaf conspicuous consumption?

*And it didn't work, the costume designer who wrapped it up in some 30 seconds being such an obvious winner that nobody else need try. My heart was with Roger Deakins, who began by saying he'd better think of something to say or he might wind up with a jet ski. I wouldn't want one either, nor would I have any place to put it. (Temporary possession of a third car - my mother's after her death, until the title cleared and we could sell it - stumped me until I rented a storage locker large enough to drive a car into.)

*And of course Best Costume Design went to the movie that was about costume design.

*Despite Kimmel promising they wouldn't do that, the orchestra did try to nudge over-wordy winners offstage with music, they just didn't try to drown the speakers out with it. I like the idea of multiple winners for one award all getting to speak with each successive one being briefer; I don't like the second guy (it's always men) thanking the same body of co-workers the first guy thanked.

*Best Picture went to what my ever-witty friend Lee calls Mutey and the Beast, a movie that touches on countering as many different forms of prejudice as they could fit in one story. It's also either SF or fantasy, I'm not sure which, the Oscar glory of which is another old prejudice overcome. I haven't seen it yet, but would like to as soon as it hits Redbox.

*Warren Beatty, you should have handed the card to Faye Dunaway to read again. Looking puzzled again first would have been a bonus.

*What on earth Frances McDormand was talking about.

*Surprising a bunch of civilians who care so little about the Oscars that they went to do something else that evening was old the first time it was done.

*Biggest surprise to me, Eva Marie Saint calling Hitchcock "Fred." I didn't know that was his nickname; I didn't know he ever used one.

*Least welcome form of diversity: equal time for Best Song nominee presenters who can't sing. (Me to B: "That was epically microtonal.") At least the ones who could sing were so powerful they uplifted otherwise unmemorable songs.

*Best host jokes:
1, "We don't make movies like Call Me By Your Name for money. We make them to upset Mike Pence."
2, "Tonight's nominated documentaries show us that where there is darkness, there is also hope. Except at the White House. Hope quit on Wednesday."
Both political, among the few external political moments of the evening.

*Best presenter joke award goes to Mark Hamill for, "Don't say La La Land. Don't say La La Land."

*Most inspiring presenter, Emma Stone for "These four men and Greta Gerwig."

Sunday, March 4, 2018

two concerts

Both in Santa Clara. Friday evening with B. to the Triton Museum for a small performance by the folk/early music band Brocelïande, whose concerts I keep missing due to conflicts. But this one was makeable, so we made it. The usual pleasant stuff, a couple of Alfonso's Cantigas and the like. Kris was showing off her new elf shoes: the toe is pointed, and curls up.

Saturday evening to the SCU campus for a concert at the Mission by the student orchestra. I was there for Dvorak's Eighth Symphony, a favorite played not as often as I'd like. The performance was frequently sketchy, with the flute giving up in the middle of one prominent and note-filled solo, but in only a couple of places did it lose the thread entirely. Beethoven's Violin Concerto (just the first movement, a limitation not revealed until the concert, but that's long enough) had a solidly adequate soloist in the form of the orchestra's usual concertmaster. And, new to me, Tan Dun's Symphonic Poem of 3 Notes turned out to be a hefty and intriguing piece.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

cat show

"Vote for your favorite cat?" asked the young woman sitting next to the cashier at the entrance to the cat show, handing out spectator award ribbons and ballots. "Sure, I'll vote for a cat," I said. "Better choice than I usually get."

Leaving runner-up thoughts for the Burmilla, a breed I'd never heard of before (cross between Burmese and Chinchilla Persian), the most beautiful Devon Rex I'd ever seen, and Maine Coons in colors previously unseen by me in that breed, I gave it to one of the few Abyssinians on site this year. It's a breed I've always found particularly attractive, and this cat was particularly captivated by the sheaf of peacock feathers I always buy from the vendors at the front of the room when I enter. Eventually destined to be gnawed by Maia at home, they have a first assignment to pass by the eyes of all the cats at the show to see what reactions they'll arouse.

We sat (stood, actually) through one whole round of judging, noting that, though the judges perfunctorily waggle a tinsel stick in front of each cat, the judgment is based almost entirely on physical appearance and closeness to the ideal for the breed. They can do as they like, but I judge cats primarily on behavior: alertness, interactivity, playfulness. My vote in this ring would have gone to no. 10 (of ten) who spent the rest of the judging batting at the ribbon on the front of her cage.

The show is still in the same small building at the front of the county fairgrounds, but they've changed the parking, reopening the huge semi-paved lots on the other side of the main street that were mysteriously closed for many years. The last few years the only nearby parking had been the staff lot at the school down the street, an irregularly-shaped and too-small lot interspersed with buildings and lawns and whatnot, leaving some alarming and dubious choices for where to leave your car as it filled up. This is much better.

The cat show wasn't the only attraction. There were also people coming for a toy show, and something that the fairgrounds announcement board called NAGA. The info page on the fairgrounds website further refused to reveal what that is, and only further research revealed that it's the North American Grappling Association. Grappling? Under current circumstances, I thought it was going to be Nuke America Great Again or something.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

English suites and others no. 26

In search of suites, our musical quest moves to the European continent, or perhaps the African one. Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer, well-known for his Carnival of the Animals, Danse Macabre, and Organ Symphony, who spent a lot of his time in Algeria, then a French possession, ostensibly for his health.

While he didn't delve deeply into the local folk music as Gustav Holst would a few years later for Beni Mora, already heard in this series, Saint-Saëns did write an Algerian Suite inspired by local color of sorts. Curiously, while one movement of this suite is a pops favorite, the rest is unknown. I spent years tracking down a recording of this, and then years more tracking down a good one, but it's possible to hear it now.

And sure enough, while each movement is charming and tuneful, it's the finale which is so mindblowingly catchy that it drove the other three movements into oblivion. Hear them all now: Prelude (0.00), Moorish Rhapsody (4.00), Evening Reverie (10.54), and the French Military March (16.34).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

concert review: Flanders Recorder Quartet

I stopped off at the Trianon on Sunday because I was to review a recorder quartet. A recorder quartet? Not only had I never reviewed one before, I doubt I'd ever heard one at a professional level before. A recorder - you know - is that small vertical flute made of plastic that nine-year-olds play, not very well.

Well, these were grown men, they played very well indeed, and their recorders were made of wood and were of various sizes, up to about six feet high. (There's an even bigger one in one of the photos with the review, but we didn't see that. It probably wouldn't have fit in Trianon.)

A couple points that didn't get into the review. One is that the quartet, perhaps because they don't play in a semicircle like a string quartet, are known at home as "Vier op 'n Rij," which means (the program book doesn't tell you this) "Four in a Row."

The other is that, also unlike a string quartet, they trade parts around a lot. Given the number of instruments they have, nobody could specialize in just one anyway. But, for instance, when I describe one player as having the high-pitched (and consequently small) lead part in the piece Meditation, he's the same guy holding the six-foot-tall bass instrument in the photo just above it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

lecture report: Alex Ross on Leonard Bernstein

Alex Ross of The New Yorker, finest music critic now working, came to Stanford's little Bing Studio to give a musically illustrated centenary talk on Leonard Bernstein, concentrating on Bernstein's political life.

I couldn't possibly summarize all Ross said in an hour, but I was most interested in his views on Bernstein's Mass. His feelings about it are mixed. He says it's a great work, possibly Bernstein's greatest, but he seems ambivalent about its integration of contrasts: classical and popular, formal and relaxed, sacred and secular. He likes some of the odder aspects, like the marching band Kyrie, but feels embarrassed by the slangy Biblical paraphrase in "God Said." (What th'? That's my favorite part!) And to illustrate his points, he played excerpts from the recent Alsop/Baltimore recording, which sounded really fabulous on the Bing Studio sound system.

Ross's view is that, for Bernstein, Mass was not a political work but a personal one, and he speculates that the Celebrant, who passes from hope through mania and despair, is an autobiographical figure. In the end, Ross said, Mass grabs the listener into a big, sloppy, sweaty embrace, much as Lenny was likely to do to you personally. (But I'm not sure I'd agree after hearing Dudamel's cerebral modernist version.)

But ... he went on ... if it wasn't political to Bernstein, it sure was to Richard Nixon, who as President had to decide whether to attend the premiere at the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971, and in the end didn't go. And Ross played us, on the same fabulous stereo system, recordings from the White House tapes of Nixon and Haldeman discussing this, highlighted by Nixon's obsession over Bernstein kissing men in public, which he'd do at curtain calls to those in his cast. And Ross also quoted from memos by various unsavory figures later infamous from Watergate, worrying over whether Bernstein, friend to Daniel Berrigan after all, might sneak into the text anti-war messages in Latin that Nixon might applaud without knowing what they meant. (Like "Dona nobis pacem"?) They were going to get John McLaughlin (priest turned Nixon speechwriter, and later TV political commentary host) to translate it.

Anyway, fascinating hour's talk. And yes, I got to speak to Ross afterwards and thank him for his recent piece on Florence Price.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

anxiety dream

I was in charge of two kids, about 13 or 14 in age. I wasn't of parental authority, so possibly I was their older-teen sibling, though neither of them were any sibling I've actually had.

We were shopping in a mall. The boy wanted to go to a chocolate shop outside of the mall that he had spied, and I was OK with that because I'd been there previously myself so I knew where it was. Then the girl wanted to buy a bracelet in the shop we were in, but there was no clerk around (maybe it was more an open area with displays in it). For some reason we were anxious to get to the chocolate shop and fetch the boy, so the girl started to leave with the bracelet - intending to come back and pay for it later, but I told her not to do that. She should stay there, and I'd go and fetch the boy. I stepped outside of the mall, and then realized I didn't know how to get to the chocolate shop from there.

At this point I woke up, and lying there with my eyes closed in the dark realized that I shouldn't be doing computer work with my eyes so close to the screen. So I'd best make an appointment for an eye exam and get new glasses.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

a 19th-century painting of Narnia - or as close as we can get

"Narnia is wildness, not wilderness, a humanized vision of nature, drenched in imagination and stories, which is one of the reasons it seems so English. I found more evidence of this while retracing another of Lewis's favorite Oxford walks, the climb over Hinksey Hill, which now lies on the far side of the thundering A34 bypass from the city center. Atop Hinksey in 1922, Lewis felt a brief stab of 'the old joy' while (he wrote in his diary) sitting in 'a patch of wood - all ferns and pines and the very driest sand' on the day before he took his final exams in Greats. Like a lot of the countryside where Lewis once roamed, Hinksey retains only a tiny portion of wood and farmland, hemmed in by new houses, highways, and a golf course that has claimed the summit of the hill. (It seemed that almost every time I tried to follow in Lewis's footsteps, I found myself confronted with a golf course.) William Turner painted a bucolic view of Oxford from the top of Hinksey Hill in the early nineteenth century, and that probably gives a better sense of how it looked to Lewis in the 1920s than does visiting the place today."

- Laura Miller, The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia

Thursday, February 22, 2018

a rough couple of days

A routine visit to the remote university library for a quick research item turned into a disastrous day out for reasons I won't get into, redeemed only by the research errand itself turning out to be unexpectedly easy.

And I'm doing things like running over unseen curbs in parking lots.

Then I misplace my datebook, an only occasional but critical failure, as it's my external memory, which spoils one day; and the instant it turns up - in a place I'm sure I already looked, typical - literally the instant, I find that I've lost my computer glasses. The ones that, though I often absently put them down in the wrong place, I've never been unable to find before. The ones that I need in order to read my computer in some other mode than with my nose pressed up against the screen, so guess where I am now?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

reading Le Guin

One peculiar, and not really justifiable, effect on me of Ursula K. Le Guin's death is that it took this freezing of her life work (except for what may come out posthumously, of course) to nudge me into looking over her list of books to see what I was missing.

Among the few was her last poetry collection, Late in the Day (PM Press, 2016). This just arrived. It begins with the text of a prose talk offering poetry as a way for people to learn to live wakefully with the environment around them: not just animals, but plants and inanimate things. This is not a new thought for Le Guin: her essay collection Cheek by Jowl (2009) concerns awareness of animals, and her earlier collection Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences (1987) includes stories and poems not just about animals but about plants and rocks. (Remember "The Direction of the Road," a story old even then [1974], that remarkable tree's perspective on the world?)

Reading the new poems, I am most struck by the close contemplation of physical objects, especially the one on two kitchen spoons, one new and one old. Feeling these poems seep into me, I find myself dropping into something possibly resembling free verse - I don't know if this works; I've never written in this form before - about a physical object that came into my awareness while I was sitting on the living room couch reading the book.


Someone will be hungry tonight.

For their breakfast has come out
by the way it went in
onto the carpet.

Warm and dun-colored
it nestles as I scoop it
into the paper towels.

Monday, February 19, 2018

concert review: Danish String Quartet

The four blond men with the three blond beards who made a hit at Menlo a few years ago, and whom I subsequently reviewed in Berkeley, are back, with what the presenter proudly advertised as their first San Francisco performance - their previous local concerts were outside the city limits, so you can technically get away with this claim.

They played the Bartok First in a late-late-Romantic style, making it sound garrulous, and the First Razumovsky* in a proto-proto-modernist style, making it sound choppy. Though I admit the Adagio molto hit a level of profundity that would do credit to Op. 132.

The program was filled out with the quartet's own arrangements of a series of Danish, Norwegian, and Faroese folk songs. The arrangements were delicate and tentative, with light vibrato-less melodies over one or two lines of counterpoint or soft chords. Listening to these made me feel as if I were relaxed at the Freight instead of tense at Herbst.

Through all of this, seated behind me were a pair of young boys who, from the noises they were making, were thunderously bored. Why were they there at all? This was not a beginners' program.

*If the Bartok First is the first quartet by Bartok, is the First Razumovsky the first quartet by Razumovsky? No, it's the first of three by Beethoven that were commissioned by and dedicated to Count Razumovsky, and they're just called that for convenience's sake. Classical snobs expect each other to know things like this. The Paganini Rhapsody isn't by Paganini either.

English suites and others no. 25

The final stop on our Celtic tour of the British isles is The Isle of Man. Man is a small island, famous more for its tailless cats than its music. The Bee Gees were born there, but they didn't stay long, and they're of no use to me anyway. The only classical composer I could find from Man was Haydn Wood (1882-1959), who was not Manx by origin, but who spent most of his childhood living there, and remained fond of the place. His catalog includes several Manx-inspired works, of which the best is a tone poem for symphonic band titled Mannin Veen, which means "Dear Isle of Man." The U.S. Marine Band, of all people, do it justice.

Like Edward German's Welsh Rhapsody, this is a single movement, rather than a suite, based on a series of contrasting folk tunes. But it's organized differently. Wood presents all four of his themes in the first half of the work, and then elaborates further on them in the second half. With the timing of their first appearances, they are The Good Old Way (Methodist air) (0.01), The Manx Fiddler (reel) (2.23), Sweet Water in the Common (3.25), and The Harvest of the Sea (Manx fishermen's evening hymn) (4.50).

After this, I have a few favorite haunts in continental Europe ...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

two recitals

B. accompanied me to Stanford twice this weekend for a pair of student vocal recitals, each by a collection of students of one voice teacher or another.

The better and more popular of these - it packed the small rehearsal hall it was held in on Saturday evening, to the surprise of the performers, though they shouldn't have been - was by students of the estimable Wendy Hillhouse doing an elaborate and extensive all-Sondheim program, 24 numbers from 11 shows written over a 25-year period. There were a few cases of miscasting, and a regrettably large amount of flubbing lines, but all the singers were good.

Judging purely by results here, Sondheim's best show is Follies, as the two solo numbers from that were highlights: the saturnine Ian Anstee (also the Wolf in Into the Woods and George in Sunday in the Park, and he should have done Sweeney) in Buddy's frantically neurotic blues number, and the turbo-powered Taylor Wright (who regrettably did nothing else) in "Broadway Baby." Zoë Sonnenberg forgot bits of her fast-nervous patter as Amy in "Getting Married Today" from Company, but she was hilarious doing it. The evening finished up with the first act finale from Into the Woods, as of course it would.

A regular Friday noon concert was less attended. This featured four sopranos and a tenor doing a couple songs apiece, a mixture from opera, concert song, and musical theater. B's professional ear and eye produced a few lessons for my consideration on the drive home:
1. If you're a soprano, don't sing a piece in the mezzo range. You won't be able to put any power behind it, and you'll be inaudible.
2. Even if your piece is an opera aria, don't act the whole thing out in a song recital.
3. A minidress that looks like your abbreviated nightie is inadvisable for this venue.

Some of the singing was good, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's setting of Desdemona's sorrowful "willow, willow" was an impressive compositional discovery. But the tenor, who badly needed a tune-up, and also some remedial lessons on the phonemes of English (not his native tongue) and stage presence, attempted King George's song "You'll Be Back" from Hamilton, with results as grisly as you might imagine.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

addendum to San Francisco Symphony

1) I noticed that several sections were being led by their second-chair players. The principals were off this week. That didn't prevent first-class playing. This orchestra has quality in depth.

2) The article on Beethoven in the program book was very short. In fact, this season all the program notes have been getting short. They already, a few years ago, introduced one-paragraph precis versions of the notes for those who didn't care to read the full essays; now they're not even giving you the option. All you can do is choose between short and shorter.

3) My travel habits to the City are changing drastically. The extra service charge that BART has slapped onto dedicated BART tickets is probably what convinced me to buy a Clipper card, which is what BART is trying to persuade its customers to do instead. The Clipper is the local multi-transit system electronic fare card, equivalent to London's Oyster card. I'd never bought one before, both because I don't take transit often, and because the instructions for using the Clipper were so bewildering. However, before buying it I phoned them up and got some helpful answers.

It turns out that the fuss involved in buying BART tickets for each journey (which I always purchased with cash, and never for large quantities, partly because the paper tickets are fragile) was one of the reasons I often drove to concerts in the City instead. Since buying the Clipper I've been to three concerts, and found myself taking BART to each one. Further, not having to buy a separate fare on Muni, the City's bus-and-streetcar system, has encouraged me to take that. I take BART to where I want to have dinner, and then take Muni, which can get me closer to Davies or Herbst than BART can.

The catch is leaving, since it's less convenient to take Muni back to BART. I can walk the several blocks to the nearest BART station, but it's a slog. Here's where the Symphony can be of help, because they've contracted with a private jitney bus system to provide post-concert shuttle service from the front of the hall to BART.

Well, in theory. Last week I waited 20 minutes until the concertgoers had entirely dispersed, but the bus never showed up. I'd put it out of my mind in the interim, but this week, on arriving, I went and talked with the Symphony's house manager about the problem. To his credit, though he has no control over the buses, he acknowledged that, since the Symphony contracts with them, it's his responsibility to ensure they run properly. He surprised me by saying this is not the only time the bus didn't show up. He thanked me for providing the specifics of a failure case, and invited me to drop by his office when I come back next week to hear what he'll have learned from talking with the bus company.

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Blomstedt week 2, and this venerable conductor (he's now 90) who gets in his retirement to specialize in the red-meat repertoire chose an utterly meaty program of Mozart's big G-minor symphony, K. 550, and Beethoven's Eroica.

No, it's not boring or overdone. These works are supreme accomplishments of the two greatest composers ever to work in orchestral music, and since music is a performing art that only lives if it's played, they need no excuses. Nor need a performance be revelatory so long as it's incisive, which these were particularly in the finales, traditionally Blomstedt's weak point, so good on him and the orchestra there.

An article in the program book bemoans the fact that Beethoven's music sounds familiar and expected to us. It was intended as shocking, and heard by its contemporaries as such. I don't worry too much about that. Beethoven well played is abrupt and dramatic enough when he intends to be as to convey the point.

And I haven't forgotten my own first encounter. When I first placed an LP of his Fifth Symphony on the turntable at the age of 12, my knowledge of his music was nil. I'd never heard any. All I knew of his symphonies was that there were nine of them and that number five went "da-da-da-dum." It was curiosity as to what else it did that led me to try it out.

It took some courage to do so. I'd been listening to light classics, but the term "symphony" intimidated me. I was almost afraid to listen to one. Would I be able to make any sense of it at all?

Actually it was love as soon as the needle hit the disk. I was awed and transfixed at the massive structure Beethoven built out of his four-note phrase, a form of musical construction I'd had no hint existed, and I was an instant convert: the heavy classics were for me. As the LP of the Fifth came from a box set, within weeks I was familiar with all nine and ready to move on to Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, and all the rest.

Returning to last night's program, I'd note also that Blomstedt took both slow movements unusually fast, at least in the context of the relatively moderate tempo speeds he used for the fast movements.

This concert was not in my series, so I wound up sitting, though in pretty much the same relative position as my regular seat, on the other side of the hall. To my surprise the music sounded different there: more compressed, condensed, and seeming to emanate from a single point down below, as a result of which it sounded almost monophonic. Maybe that explains why some listeners dislike the side balconies so.

Friday, February 16, 2018

English suites and others no. 24

Say, remember our Celtic musical tour? Across the sea now to Ireland. Our tourist guide to Irish folk tunes is Leroy Anderson - an American of Swedish descent, not Irish at all - who was the staff composer for the Boston Pops for many years. Many of the brief pieces he wrote them became embedded in American popular culture, such as "Sleigh Ride," which with lyrics added became a Christmas carol. Anderson also had a knack for music about mechanical objects, such as one called "The Syncopated Clock" or his concerto for typewriter and orchestra. (Jerry Lewis had a routine in which he would mime to this piece and lose track of his place, but I'll spare you a link to that.)

So here Anderson applies his quite impressive Harvard-trained skills at orchestration and arrangement to a set of what passed in 1940s American ears as typical Irish melodies: a mixture of ballads of the kind that used to be sung by John McCormack with some equally hoary dance tunes, all played by the Boston Pops under its venerable conductor, Arthur Fiedler.

For this Irish Suite, we've got The Irish Washerwoman (0.00), The Minstrel Boy (2.56), The Rakes of Mallow (7.24), The Wearing of the Green (10.42), The Last Rose of Summer (14.07), and The Girl I Left Behind Me (18.05). Applause separates each movement - this is a Pops concert, after all - so you can tell where you are even if you don't know the tunes, though I expect you will.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

on this bus

Deb N. read The 57 Bus, "a true story of two teenagers and the crime that changed their lives," by Dashka Slater. I was curious and decided to pick it up from the library. It's 305 brief pages and reads fast.

The incident occurred in 2013 in Oakland. Two students from different high schools are on a city bus. Sasha, white, a senior, identifies as agender (preferring the pronoun "they"), likes to wear both neckties and skirts, is dozing in the back of the bus. Richard, black, a junior, has been in trouble but is identified by himself and others as mostly a good kid, is fooling around with some friends, flicks a lighter and touches it to Sasha's skirt.

It's flammable, and ignites. Sasha is seriously burned, but eventually recovers. Richard is arrested the next day and charged as an adult.

You'd think the book would mostly cover the aftermath, and it does, but the author is just as concerned with portraying both characters and the contexts of the lives they led before the incident. It's very interesting, but my own takeaway focuses on two other things:

1. Why did Richard do it? The first assumption of many observers is that it's some sort of homophobic hate crime and the police interview tends to confirm that; but Richard insists he intended no serious harm and just thought it would be funny for someone to wake up and find their clothes smoldering, which is what he thought would happen.

We can discuss whether playing with fire is an appropriate occupation for 16-year-olds, a conversation this book evades, but the point is that it'd be a different conversation than one about homophobia or "hate crimes."

2. The story offers a continuing lesson that agendered pronouns present a different and more complex socio-linguistic challenge than pronouns for binary transsexuality do. Sasha had made an announcement at school: "It's important to respect people's preferred pronouns and if you're not sure what those are, you should ask."

Fine, but there's no time to ask a stranger about preferred pronouns when you're trying to put out their clothes that are on fire. In the description of this scene, which is evidently transcribed from the bus's security camera video, everyone refers to Sasha as "he," which - the author has eventually gotten around to telling us - is what Sasha was born as and evidently still looks like. (And which is a given if Richard is to be charged with homophobia over the skirt.) Even Sasha's parents, who know the preferred pronoun, keep getting it wrong, and not just under stress. These are very deep waters we're getting into, much deeper than we've experienced with previous linguistic adjustments.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Going to the wrong airport.

Fortunately, I've never done that. Ensuring I have the right airport is something I check while booking. I narrowly missed it once, though. The valet who fetched the taxi when I was leaving my hotel from a conference in Chicago said to me, "Going to the airport?" to which I just nodded, but then he made an unwarranted assumption and said to the driver "O'Hare." I had to correct this and told the driver, "No, I'm going to Midway." Fortunately, if I hadn't heard the valet, I know Chicago well enough that I'd soon have realized if we were heading the wrong way.

When planning our trip to Rome some years back, my first attempt at an airline booking was British Airways, to change in London. But I read the fine print and noticed that while our arriving flight landed at Heathrow, the departure was from Gatwick. No, I don't think so. But a bus between those two might have been less bad than what we got from Air France, which was a walk across the De Gaulle airport terminal. What was terrible about that? The cigarette smoke.

What I have to watch out for is near-duplicate street names.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

musical notes

1. I reviewed a concert from last weekend, the Redwood Symphony. The music director in forwarding this to his mailing list called it very nice, but opined that "much more enthusiasm in the tone is warranted."

Yes, it could have been much more enthusiastic. It wasn't. There's a reason. It was a good concert, but I wasn't enthused. The Stravinsky was very well played, and I did say the players "were at their finest," but when I called Kirke Mechem's 1960s symphony "a worthy slice of chromatic tonal modernism," the implication that it's interchangeable with a lot of other slices was deliberate. I've heard a lot of works like that from that period that neither attracted nor repelled me. If I wrote with enthusiasm, what words would I have left for something which genuinely enthused me?

What interested me more was Mechem's statement that he no longer wrote symphonies, or much other concert music, after 1970, because he couldn't get his conservative modernism played. He elaborates on this in his memoir, Believe Your Ears, which I read through before the concert. To an extent it's an indictment of the serialist hegemony, the one whose proponents continue to insist it never existed. Mechem considers himself a victim of it. To the argument that lots of tonal composers continued to write all that time, including himself, Mechem says: look at the textbooks and the listeners' guides to modern music of the time. Those composers were ridiculed, belittled, dismissed, or totally ignored. And I certainly noticed that at the time, in the 1960s and 1970s. That's why I call them the Hidden City.

2. Enough of that. Obituaries have been appearing for Vic Damone, a lesser figure among the great wave of Italian-American male crooners so prominent in American popular music in the mid 20C. I confess I only know his name for the occasion that he, along with Dean Martin, a better-known crooner of the same ethnicity, shared a TV session with Allan Sherman - who was neither Italian nor a crooner - to sing some of Sherman's briefer and punchier song parodies, some of which made it on to his own albums and some of which didn't. The first one is a rather cranky generational clash, but the rest are just silly. The three of them had a fun-filled and unedited time of it. Watch Damone at 4:45 stumble over a spoonerism on his way to one of the most telegraphed puns in musical history.

Friday, February 9, 2018

two concerts

1. Zephyros Winds, Stanford. The members of this woodwind quintet hail from a variety of countries, but none are from Hungary, which is where most of their music came from. They played a variety of pieces by György Ligeti. If you remember his music from the movie 2001, you won't be surprised that some of this was so piercing that audience members actually plugged their ears with their hands, something I'd never seen at a classical concert before.

On the other end of the modern spectrum came a quintet by an obscurer Hungarian composer named Endre Szervánszky, who turned out when I looked him up to be one of the Righteous Gentiles. He also wrote a charming rustic scherzo.

2. San Francisco Symphony, Davies. First week of the annual two-week visit by music director emeritus Herbert Blomstedt. Blomstedt usually brings along a hefty pack of the serious Austro-German repertoire, plus some Nordic music usually by Sibelius or Nielsen. This year's Nordic entry wasn't by Sibelius but it might as well have been. It was the Second Symphony by Wilhelm Stenhammar. Stenhammar actually withdrew his First Symphony in embarrassment when he heard some Sibelius and realized how much like Sibelius his own work sounded. If he'd heard this performance of his Second he'd have withdrawn that too. I have recordings of this work with passages that do not sound like Sibelius; such passages were absent from this performance. It sounded like slightly watered Sibelius all the way through, except for a few passages in the finale that sounded more like Bruckner (another Blomstedt specialty).

Not that I'm complaining, exactly. It got respectful applause, but not as hot as did the other work on the program, Beethoven's last and greatest piano concerto, the Emperor. It was a toasty warm performance, with the piano keys under the feathery touch of Garrick Ohlsson. So fine was he that his encore, the Adagio cantabile from Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata, was enthrallingly perfect.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

news from the north

1) Five Canadian authors discuss their favorite Ursula K. Le Guin books. Jo Walton selects The Dispossessed. That doesn't surprise me in the least. Robert J. Sawyer selects The Lathe of Heaven. That doesn't surprise me either. Guy Gavriel Kay selects The Language of the Night. That does surprise me. (Me? Always Coming Home, without a doubt.)

2. The feud between British Columbia and Alberta. B.C. is holding up the pipeline to Vancouver out of concern for Alberta's oil spilling. Alberta's response is to stop importing B.C. electric power and B.C. wines. The premier is telling her people to drink Alberta craft beer instead. Presumably in the dark. What's weird is that they're both left-wing governments, but I guess that in Alberta, "left-wing" has to be interpreted in the context of Alberta.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

critics, performers, and moral responsibility

An article on the moral responsibility of restaurant critics regarding writing about chefs accused of assault caught my interest. Should they take that into account when choosing which restaurants to review and what standards they evaluate them on?

As a reader of restaurant reviews, I'd say no. I want to read a review of the food, not of the chef. I think the real problem here is the desire not to steer business, through praise or awards, to reprehensible people, and I can understand that; though I should also point out that, unless they're currently imprisoned, even reprehensible people deserve the right to earn a living.*

But what really interested me was one provocative chef putting some of the culpability for the culture on the restaurant critics themselves. Anthony Bourdain says: "Chances are, in this very small pond, where 'access' is often so important, the overwhelming likelihood is that they have known and heard and observed things and kept silent. They, as much as anyone, are responsible for creating and sustaining a Hollywood-style star system that has been almost entirely male."

And I thought, does that apply to me as a music critic? I'd object. That type of "access" critic is not me. I go to the concerts, but I'm not part of the culture. I don't hang around backstage; I know very few professional musicians personally; I rarely have even the opportunity to share gossip about performers. Most of what I know about their lives comes from public sources, and not much of that, as I don't read heavily in that field. I believe my integrity as a critic depends on keeping a polite distance. Bourdain says that "many other factors other than the merits of the food and service have influenced supposedly impartial restaurant reviews for so long," but mutatis mutandis that's not true of classical music reviewing as I know it or practice it.

One other factor more specifically pertinent to performing arts is involved. I once wrote a piece on classical record collectors dividing them into three specialties, and I think the same division applies to attending performances. The three types focus on repertoire, on performers, and on sound quality. I'm emphatically a repertoire person. When I'm asked to attend a concert, my question is what's being played, not who's playing it. I compare a performance to my previous experiences hearing the same work, not the same performer. In fact, if I wish to form a mental image of my own evaluation of a performer in general, unless I hear them very regularly I have to go into my files and see what I wrote about previous concerts by the same person. I don't carry around such images of performers in my head, not the way I do for every single composer in the repertoire, literally hundreds of them.

*In the process of Googling the performers at one irregular concert in search of photo links, I found that one of them was a registered sex offender. I didn't mention that in the review; it seemed irrelevant to the performance, and it would have been tough fitting it into a 650 word review anyway.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

mass purchase

Occasionally one will see at stores an offer to purchase for a discount price a large quantity of some item, ideally non-perishable, that one would use up at a slow rate. It might, indeed, be a lifetime supply.

I've never succumbed to this, but I have had long-lasting supplies of a couple of stationery items.

While in high school, I worked part-time in the library of the local NASA installation. My work involved making a lot of photocopies, and as recycling was in a primitive state I saved up the discards and, with permission, took them home. At the end of the stint I had a huge stack of blank versos, which lasted as scratch paper through my entire 7-year college and grad school career. I typed the first drafts of all my term papers on them, for instance. By the time it ran out, I was beginning to transition to doing work on computers.

When my friend Seth Goldberg died, I inherited his supply of large-sized padded mailer envelopes that he used for FAPA, the fannish apa of which he was Official Editor. I put out the next mailing using this and other supplies, before passing the job on to other hands, but FAPA had 65 members and came out quarterly, so Seth had a very large box of these envelopes.

I didn't often have a need for envelopes this large, but occasionally I could use one, or fold it over in half after inserting a smaller item, and seal it with package tape. As they aged and the stickum faded, I began using package tape whenever I used one of these envelopes.

So a historic moment has passed, for after slightly over 20 years I've just used up the last one. It's gone off to the UK as have a number of its predecessors.

Monday, February 5, 2018

English suites and others no. 23

Our Celtic tour takes us next to the big country in the north, Scotland. William Alwyn was an English composer, usually of serious mien, who popped across the border long enough to collect a light and quick Suite of Scottish Dances: folk dances, that is.

They are The Indian Queen (0.00), A Trip to Italy (1.07), Colonel Thornton's Strathspey (1.57), Reel: The Perthshire Hunt (4.09), Reel: Loch Earn (5.06), Carleton House (6.08), and Miss Ann Carnegie's Hornpipe (6.55).

Unusually for a light suite of this kind, the slow movement - in this case, the strathspey, and the only one lasting much over one minute - is by far the most compelling. If you want a link to it just by itself, it's here.

atavistic blogger

One reads that nobody actually blogs any more. Huh.

1. Water conservation is a big issue in California, and much of the focus has been on big agribusiness and its cultivation of water-intensive crops. All the urban domestic water use in the state is a drop next to that bucket. Naturally, in the farming regions in the Central Valley they feel strongly about being expected to carry the weight on that, and along the freeway there are many hostile signs posted on the edges of orchards or ranches. One common one, pre-printed, is a banner reading "Is Growing Food Wasting Water?" I'd say that depends. It depends on whether you're wasting water doing it. Here's an article about that, featuring a fruits-and-nuts baron whose realm I passed right through on the trip to LA.

Most interestingly, the fruits-and-nuts baron's wife:
1) Is responsible for coming up with the brand name "Cuties" for the realm's Mandarin oranges;
2) Was, in a former life, Anthony Russo's girlfriend, the one who owned a small ad agency and let Russo and Ellsberg use its photocopier to copy the Pentagon Papers.

2. About a month ago I remarked, concerning a review of an article on pioneering American women composers, "My candidate for the first great American woman composer is Florence Price, but nobody writes about her."

Behold Alex Ross. My wish is his command.

(Fort Smith Symphony in May, eh? Hmmm.)

3. Mustn't leave out my latest review, of a concert I went to simply because I like all the pieces in it.

4. The only impact of the Super Bowl on this household was the denudation from the grocery store shelves of the shrimp, and the broccoli.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

concert review: Los Angeles Philharmonic

B. and I drove (to avoid the hassle of a flight) the 6 hours to L.A. for a relaxed two-night stay to see the Philharmonic's Leonard Bernstein centenary concert production of his theater piece Mass. Yes, we like the work that much.

This is the third time I've heard the L.A. Phil in Disney Hall (I've also heard them elsewhere), the third time I've heard Gustavo Dudamel conduct (never previously here), and my third performance of the Mass: the other two - also both with B. - were by Marin Alsop at the Cabrillo Festival and by Michael Morgan in Oakland.

When the Mass premiered in 1971, very much a child of its time, it was widely derided as trashy kitsch, which shook the composer's self-confidence, you may be sure. But it's since come to be acclaimed as a masterpiece of eclectic postmodern art, and Dudamel is a notable addition to its champions, for unlike Alsop and Morgan he's too young to have worked with Bernstein personally as they both did.

Most Mass performances emphasize the jazz, rock, pop, and musical theater influences and interjections in the work, exploiting their contrast with the classical base. Dudamel didn't do that. Conceptually, he treated Mass as an integrated classical work of motivic-based structure, rather as if it were a successor to Wagnerian opera. In sonic style it was modernist; the heart of this performance was the relatively harsh and querulous instrumental Meditation sections. It was less fun to listen to than other performances, but it brought out Bernstein's profundity as a composer, a proposition badly needing a champion.

It's almost superfluous, but necessary, to praise the musicians. The Phil is a great orchestra. The LA Master Chorale is a superb chorus, and B. was particularly admiring of their handling of the difficult opening of their role. The Street Chorus were more musical theater people than opera singers, but handled the operatic presentation of their parts fairly well. The boy soprano, Soren Ryssdal, was stunningly good.

And the Celebrant, the central role, was Ryan McKinney, who is an opera singer, and what is more a bass-baritone in a part designed for a tenor or light baritone. But he had all the high notes he needed; his voice merely got stronger as it went down, whereas most Celebrants get weaker. He gave a dark, introspective performance, and his reading of the Fraction scene was a dramatic exploration of character.

As has happened with this work before, the weak point was the staging. Despite Dudamel's timeless musical conception, the street chorus was dressed in a period-bound but inconsistent mixture of hippie and disco. They writhed around a lot, distractingly but pointlessly. And B. was particularly critical of the way the liturgical objects and vestments were designed and used: too inaccurate to reflect Catholic usage and too incoherent to be a pointed critique of it.

Well, we're glad we went. We also squeezed in visits to Vroman's (better than any bookstores we have up here, and yes, they had a nice little Le Guin memorial display up) and the Norton Simon Museum (where B. gave me a docent tour of the medieval religious art), pre-concert dinner at my favorite Olvera Street restaurant, a wild post-concert tour of the downtown L.A. freeway maze when the exit to the Disney parking garage put me out where I wasn't expecting and I had to figure out on the fly how to reorient our path in the right direction, and brunch the next day with she who is our friend and my distinguished academic colleague.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

English suites and others no. 22

Our next Celtic stop is Cornwall. Malcolm Arnold was not Cornish, but he lived at St Merryn on the north coast of that county for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and threw himself into the musical life of the community, organizing Cornish music concerts and writing Cornish-inspired works.

Among them was a set of Four Cornish Dances along the lines of the English Dances we've previously heard. Like them, these are based on original material, but they sound like folk tunes, each evoking some aspect of Cornish life.

Of the four, only No. 1 (0.00) actually sounds much like a dance, and that an irregular one, the first beat of each repetition stomping on the last beat of the previous one. Perhaps it's for fishermen wobbly after getting off the boats. No. 2 (1.36) is slow and spooky, perhaps evoking a trip down a Cornish tin mine. No. 3 (4.45) is an entirely serious Methodist chapel hymn. No. 4 (7.21) seems to mix the moods of all the other three into one.

two concerts reviewed

The Menlo Festival asked me to attend their latest winter series concert, a pairing of Brahms and Dvorak. So I slipped it into my Daily Journal schedule and reviewed it.

And then SFCV sent me off to hear some Schubert songs with the piano accompaniment arranged for string quartet. That was rather different.

Also on the program was Britten's Second Quartet, a work for which I needed to do a little study, so I checked the score from the library. And therein I found something unannotated which I couldn't explain: all over the chaconne movement were brackets covering phrases of two or three notes. They looked like the mark put on a note for a mandatory downbow stroke, but those are only on single notes, and as such these wouldn't make musical sense. (Also, I later noticed some on pizzicato notes, so no: not bowing.) They could be ties, indicating notes should be played together as a flowing phrase, but ties are rounded: these were square. So they must mean something else.

B. didn't know. The retired professional cellist who gives the pre-concert talks didn't know. So I asked the quartet at the post-concert Q&A. Three of them didn't know either, which is really disconcerting considering they'd just given a professional performance of the piece. They hadn't found out what the composer was telling them?

But the first violinist knew. They're rhythmic instructions specific to a chaconne. A chaconne is in 3/2, a slow triple time, with the emphasis normally on the second beat. These brackets appear on pairs of beats to indicate when the emphasis should be on the other beat. OK, that makes sense, and I see crescendo markings and accents that confirm this.

contentious remarks

1. I saw a number of posts asking if readers were going to watch the State of the Union. I don't know why: I don't recall ever being asked about watching them before, why should I now? I find my desire not to see that man is strong enough that I even turn off parody versions of him.

2. I've been seeing a lot about how the tale of a woman's date with Aziz Ansari (of whom I'd never previously heard, btw) has become a generational divide, particularly among women. Younger ones are appalled by his behavior, older ones say it was just a bad date, what's the deal? One reply even said what he was guilty of was not reading her mind, even though her objections to his advances weren't just implied through body language.

I thought that I'd be with the older cohort on this, until I read the actual account. Then I was appalled. Not so much that he specifically ignored her objections, but just at the boorishness and heavy-handedness of his advances. People who think that he wasn't smothering her agency must have no idea what a genuinely consensual romantic or sexual encounter is like.

3. A while ago I wrote a mocking advice list of How Not to Respond to Angry People, which received some approbation. I've recently seen an account of a perfect example of this in real life, one employing a technique I hadn't mentioned.

It's in this story about an audience member who hijacked a panel at ConFusion, an sf con. The problem wasn't anything done by the moderator, who wrote the post: she seems, at least in this her own account, to have behaved judiciously. It's something else she mentions: one of the other panelists "backed me up and pointed out that it was not Q&A period and not his turn to talk," so "This man got up and stormed out in a huff." And "as he departed," that same panelist "cheerfully sa[id], 'Bye!' to him."

It's the cheerful "Bye!" that did it. The best word I can think of for that is smug. It's fortunate that the departing man didn't turn around, come back, and punch the panelist in the snoot, because it wouldn't have been out of character if he had. If someone wants to stalk off, don't sneer at them as they go. De-escalate, don't reinforce and compound bad behavior.