Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hugo statistic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

song from the heart

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

concert review: San Jose Chamber Orchestra

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

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

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Iolanthe audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

the third review

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 22, 2018

chaotic neutral

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

white voice

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

busy weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English suites and others no. 29

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

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

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

the case of James Levine cont'd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

authors it's legitimate to be afraid of in Oz

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

conversations not had

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

MTT conducted a big and hefty concert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

the case of James Levine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update and supplement.

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).