Monday, October 29, 2018

concert review: New Millennium Chamber Orchestra

This local volunteer group decided to make "mystery" the theme of its fall concert, which I heard on Sunday in Palo Alto. And what classical work is more mysterious than Edward Elgar's Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36, better known as the "Enigma" Variations?

Conductor James Richard Frieman explained what's enigmatic about the variations: that Elgar claimed the theme was actually in counterpoint with an unplayed famous melody, but he'd never say what it was, dismissed any guesses proposed, and nobody has ever come up with a generally accepted answer. Maybe Elgar was putting us on. He also depicted the personalities, as he saw them, of his personal friends in the individual variations, but hid them behind initials or nicknames. These have all been unearthed, though.

The performance came off nicely, though the orchestra had to slow down notably for the thunderous "Troyte". The famous slow variation "Nimrod" was well-paced and stately, not too slow. The turn from the profound "Nimrod" to the light and trilling "Dorabella" is the most clashing anti-climax in classical music. Wise conductors counter this by taking a long pause between them, as if it were the beginning of a new movement. Frieman was very wise. He did the same thing in several other places.

The other half of the program consisted of pops pieces with grotesque topics and spooky music appropriate for Halloween, a different application of the word "mystery" perhaps. These were all old favorites which were mostly on the Readers Digest Festival of Light Classical Music LP box set that was my childhood introduction to this repertoire. But you don't get to hear any of them very often at serious concerts.

The biggest treat of the bunch had to be Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. The composer's rough and unpolished style was a perfect dish for a rough volunteer orchestra to sink its teeth into. The best performance came in Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre, thanks to the fully professional solo violin work of concertmaster Colyn Fischer. Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King just has to be a really easy piece to play. Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette is apparently still mostly remembered as the source of the theme music for Alfred Hitchcock's TV show, so even though there can't have been more than a few people present old enough to have watched it (I wasn't, having been still too young for stuff like that when it left the air), Frieman gave his spoken introduction to the piece with a Hitchcock impression.

NMCO's next concert will be a delectable selection of English landscape music by Vaughan Williams, Delius, Holst (no, not The Planets), and the rarely-played Granville Bantock (about time!). It'll be March 2 and 3 in San Mateo and Palo Alto.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

an acknowledgment

Not as often as some people, but I do get acknowledged in books from time to time, usually books about Tolkien. But this one that's just come out is a bit different:

Michael Crick, Sultan of Swing: The Life of David Butler (Biteback Publishing)

The title suggests the biography of a baseball player, but the swing in question is political swing, the change in party vote in a given area in successive elections. David Butler was (he's still alive, but quite retired) an Oxford academic who essentially invented election statistics; he used to appear on BBC election night programs in the UK with a little pendulum device to measure swing with. He also wrote a lot of books on British elections, which is where I'd heard of him, BBC election night broadcasts being largely out of my ken.

So where does my acknowledgement come in? Well, David Butler's mentor in psephology, the science of elections, was an older Oxford academic named Ronald McCallum, and McCallum was a member of the Inklings, one on whom I'd once written an article. Does the connection begin to take shape now? It gets clearer:

McCallum's book on the 1945 general election was the first time it had ever occurred to anyone to study an election while it was going on; it's commonplace now, but McCallum thought of it first, thereby creating psephology. Butler, only an undergraduate at the time, contributed the statistics, the first time anyone had performed that kind of analysis on an election, and eventually he took over the consequent series of Nuffield College election analysis books.

Butler always thought McCallum invented the word "psephology", but Crick and his researchers found a letter of McCallum's that says otherwise. He says he met with "Lewis and the Choice Spirits" one day and told them he was practicing Electionology. They were shocked at the horrid Latin-Greek hybrid and suggested psephology instead, after the word for the pebbles with which the ancient Greeks voted.

This is when the researchers wrote me, as an Inklings scholar who'd written on McCallum. Was that the Inklings? they asked. I said it very probably was, noting that Tolkien once similarly referred to the Inklings as "the Lewis séance." I also pointed out that the day of the meeting in the letter was a Tuesday, indicating that it was a Bird and Baby pub meeting which were on Tuesdays at the time.

So that got into the book and got me an acknowledgement, as well as tickled to know that the Inklings apparently invented the name for a social science.

here's an answer

A rare Revolutionary War-era newspaper wound up in a New Jersey Goodwill. Nobody knows how it got there.

I have a suggestion.

It was owned by somebody who died, and that person's heirs didn't know it was among the possessions. The heirs hired one of those firms that clean out the deceased's belongings - not a "haul away the junk" firm, but a boutique company that beguiles you with stories of how much your loved one's belongings will sell for in online auctions and promises of how hard they will work to make it so.

Then, after a few desultory attempts at online auctions don't generate any takers - turns out they don't know the market for bricabrac collectables after all - they just haul everything non-trashable to Goodwill.

How do I know this kind of thing happens? Let's just say that I do.

Friday, October 26, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Better cover this one before I forget about it.

Cristian Măcelaru was guest conducting; he's music director at the Cabrillo Festival, and this was half a Cabrillo-like concert with Cabrillo-like composers.

Anna Clyne's Masquerade is a brief, light, chirping piece sounding rather as if Clyne had been commissioned to write the film music for some historic sailing-ships naval movie. Or imagine Gustav Holst trying to write "Uranus" or "Jupiter" a century after he actually did.

Kevin Puts premiered his Silent Night Elegy, an orchestral suite - continuous symphonic portrait, actually - from his opera about the spontaneous cease-fire along the Western Front at Christmas 1914. Melodically it wandered a bit, but dramatically it was impressively incisive, more so than his works originally for orchestra that I've heard. He may have found his true métier.

The other half was the first time I've heard Măcelaru conduct standard repertoire, rather than what they have at Cabrillo. It was lucky to hear the suite from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier now, for while SFS is repeating this concert on Saturday, I'll be reviewing the same piece being played by somebody else. This is a symphonic portrait like the Puts. All the good tunes are crammed into the second half. Overall the music was made big and colorful.

So was Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole, which, like all Lalo's orchestral works, is amenable to a big thumping heavy sound, one with which soloist Ray Chen could barely compete. I exaggerate, but not by as much as I'd like.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

five nights out

Thursday (which I seem to have forgotten to mention earlier): San Francisco Symphony. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Spanish-flavored music by Debussy and Ravel, including Bolero, the piece whose popularity appalled its composer. It was all right. Also, Javier Perianes was relaxed to the point of somnolence playing Bartok's Third Piano Concerto, a work that had nothing to do with any of the rest of this.

Saturday: Kronos Quartet's "Music from Banned Countries" concert. This one was for a review, and since this was an explicitly political event it was for once appropriate to lay out political sympathies, though I kept the focus on the music, and didn't name the responsible person for the ban, who doesn't deserve the attention. No need to spoil such a moving and generally joyous event.

Sunday: Having checked the Daily Journal's publication of my last concert review, I stumbled across a theater review: a local company called the Hillbarn Theatre was putting on Noises Off by Michael Frayn, a farce about a troupe of incompetent actors who are themselves putting on a farce. True enough that this show is funniest the first time you see it, and for me this was at least the fourth, but it was a good, lively production. Best acting from Max Tachis, who didn't emphasize the character Gary's inarticulateness, but was great at silly body language for his tall, lanky form, shooting a leg out sideways prior to moving anywhere. At the start of the first act, the director of the play-within is seated in the audience and starts making comments correcting his cast. He was right next to me, but I knew this was coming and fortunately I guessed it was him and was able to laugh instead of being disconcertedly surprised.

Monday: Pianist Seong-Jin Cho at Herbst. First half all fantasies, a Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue which made Bach sound modern, the Wanderer Fantasy which made Schubert sound compact, and the Polonaise Fantaisie which was the embodiment of everything I find dull about Chopin. Second half, Pictures at an Exhibition which belied the pianist's cerebral style by actually vamping all over the keyboard.

Tuesday: Another Slate-sponsored talk at some mysterious theater out in the City's Mission District, this one a spinoff of their podcast series Slow Burn which has been reviewing Watergate and the Clinton impeachment scandals. Talk of, for instance, finding archival sound tapes of people no longer around or available to be interviewed, and they proudly played their rarest find, a recording of the voice of the least-interviewed famous member of the Clinton administration, Socks the cat. That was funny, since the first ever demo of the nascent Web I witnessed, in late 1993 when it was just getting started, consisted of navigating to the White House web site and playing the same audio file of Socks meowing.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Carroll Spinney

I was led to a tribute video from Sesame Street. He's not dead, but he has retired: the physical work of being Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch has at last just become too much for him.

He muses on his life and fortune, and I'd say they've been good. He was honored to create - in the acting sense, meaning the first to portray and thus to set the standard for these characters, as well as embodying them for ages on film that anyone can watch - two iconic characters whom everybody loves. And, in the process, he has measurably increased the amount of joy and happiness in the world.

I'd call that a good life's work.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

concert review: Master Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra

So here's another one I wrote last weekend.

I picked this one because it was the most interesting and unusual repertoire - Creston and Revueltas! I'd never heard any Creston in concert before, ever - that Master Sinfonia was doing all season.

Biggest trick of the review was spelling the trumpet player's name, as the program had both Swensen and Swenson. Googling (with "trumpet", as his name isn't uncommon either way) suggested the former was more likely to be correct. If your name isn't right on your own blog (interesting stuff on trumpet playing, by the way: too bad he didn't keep it up), you'd be in a sad state.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

taking council

City politics haven't changed much since the last couple of council elections. For each of the three seats open, we have one candidate each from what I call the Establishment party and the Insurgent party. They all faced off at a candidates' forum last night. The two incumbents running are both Establishment, which usually wins: the current Council is 6-1.

The principal issue is development. The Establishment seems more interested in building offices than housing, and even the housing they do approve is insufficiently backed by measures to alleviate increased traffic. The Insurgents want to slow things down and concentrate more on mitigating housing costs, though their visions of the ideal don't differ that much from the Establishment's. (Housing complexes on top of ground-floor retail at transit centers and along business corridors are the next thing, and have already been built in some neighboring towns.)

The itching point is the campaign contributions the Establishment gets from realtor groups and other PACs. The Insurgents all abjure such funding, which is part of why they're underfunded and usually lose. They don't accuse the Establishment of being personally corrupt, and one of them specifically denied this, but the Establishment all insist they're independent-minded and not influenced by the PACs. Yet there's too many policies that suggest it wouldn't be much different if they were.

The local paper has endorsed the Establishment slate because they're pro-development. That's at least refreshingly honest; in earlier elections, they hid behind the problem that some of the Insurgents were flaky or otherwise not ready for prime time, and that even those who were reputable were allied with ones who weren't.

But they can't say that this time, because the Insurgents have gotten their act together. All the non-incumbents are members of city commissions or boards, and show that experience; all the candidates were intelligent, coherent, and at least reasonably well-briefed. In fact, the one Insurgent who's run before, whom I voted for last time because he was by far the best of the bunch, was this time the poorest, and I'm considering voting for the non-incumbent Establishmentarian opposing him, who actually takes some Insurgent-like positions. For though I generally prefer to vote for Insurgents if they look competent, if they all win this time - which, remembering past races that Insurgents have won, they possibly might - they'll take over the Council. I'm not entirely sure I want them to do that. I just want their voices to be heard, more strongly than they currently are. Maybe this guy could be the swing vote.

In another seat, I found the Insurgent frustratingly vague - he knew what policies he disliked, but would only say we need better ones without suggesting what they were or where he would find them - but the incumbent was also surprisingly weak in his considerations of issues. So, albeit with misgivings, I think I can vote for the Insurgent here.

The third seat has the strongest candidates. The incumbent is the current mayor, and like past mayors running for re-election, makes the most of it. He's solid and confident, a good candidate regardless of his positions. The Insurgent is an aggressive attorney, though nothing like the toxic lawyer who once won a freak election and proceeded to corrode his way through any sense of civility for an entire term. This year's Insurgent is much more flexible in argument, for one thing. He had some sharp words about policies others didn't discuss in depth, and he won my vote with one of these issues, city employees' pensions.

The incumbents were very pleased with how Council has handled pension costs. They've allowed current employees to keep their pension levels, thus avoiding strikes or protests, while shafting new employees: as the cuts were already made before they arrived, they're less likely to complain. Pension costs will keep going up for another decade, but all we have to do is hold our breath that long and they'll start to go down. What the Insurgent said is that he looks at pensions as an employee right and not created for the purpose of being a burden on taxpayers. He wants to fund them through business taxes. A certain large search-engine firm, having already taken over the city next door, is starting to move in on us, and they should pay for the burden they're placing on city services.

I emphatically agree with that, and so I have my votes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

concert review: St. Lawrence Quartet

Music@Menlo chamber music concerts tend to be potpourris of various performers making a variety of ensembles, and recently concerts by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Stanford's resident ensemble, seem to be following this pattern.

Saturday's concert had one basic string quartet, one arrangement of an unaccompanied four-part choral piece for quartet, one for cello and piano, one for string quartet and piano, and one for an oddball string quintet (one violin, two violas, cello, and bass) and piano. The composers were Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and - a bit unusual - Messiaen.

It was an interesting concert, and I had fun writing the review.

Monday, October 15, 2018

something is wrong on the Internet, part CLXVII

So here's an article on the status and title of Meghan and Harry's impending baby.

I know. You don't care. But in a world full of pressing cares, it's the fact that this is of no significance whatsoever that makes it refreshing to talk about.

According to the article, the baby will not automatically be designated a prince or princess. I think that's right. Among the Queen's cousins, the title of prince or princess goes down only two generations from the monarch. Whether the blessing will automatically descend upon them if and when Prince Charles becomes king, I'm not sure but I think so.

However, the article also says that Kate & Wills's children had to be individually given that status: they didn't get it automatically. That may be true for Charlotte and Louis, but the order of George V limiting the use of prince/princess is quoted in the article as not applying to "the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales." That describes Prince George. He gets it automatically, so allow me to point out that on this point Wikipedia is right and the Washington Post is wrong.

However, that's not the wrongest. This is about the title of the children of Meghan and Harry. The article says "It is believed that any children of the duke and duchess of Sussex will be known as Lord or Lady Mountbatten-Windsor." Believed by whom? Only by people who don't know the nomenclature of British nobility.

The eldest son (as the patent of Harry's duchy is the usual males-only) will be known formally as the Earl of Dumbarton, by the customary rules that the son and heir of a senior peer takes his father's highest subsidiary title by courtesy.

Other children will be known as Lord or Lady First-name followed by last name, not with last name immediately following title. See Lord Randolph Churchill in history and Lord Peter Wimsey in fiction. There's no such thing as Lord Last-name in British nomenclature, only Lord Title, and "Mountbatten-Windsor" is nobody's title. (I believe you can be Lady Last-name, but only as wife of a knight, not as part of the peerage.)

It is true that the children's legal surname will be Mountbatten-Windsor, but it's very common for people with double-barrelled last names to employ only one barrel of it in their use-names. Winston Churchill's actual surname was Spencer-Churchill (yes, he was a distant relative of Princess Di), but neither he nor his father (see above) nor any of his descendants have been known that way. The one Mountbatten-Windsor in the Lady First-name position is Prince Edward's daughter, who is styled Lady Louise Windsor. Quite possibly Harry's children will be styled likewise.

And that's the straight dope as far as I know it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

to your scattered minorities go

I've seen recent demands that Sunnyvale, a city of 140 thousand people, begin electing its city council by districts. (Currently the 7 members are elected for separate seats but all at large.) This is because, although the city - in the heart of Silicon Valley, the highest concentration of Asian population in the continental US - has an Asian population of 40.9%, there have rarely been any Asians on the council: maybe 2 or 3 in its history. There's none now, though there's one running for one of the three seats up next month.

The idea is that districts will enable concentrations of ethnicities to have a stronger voice than they do city-wide. But it seems to me that this will really only work if those ethnicities are geographically concentrated. But the Asians here are not.

Using the Census's American Fact Finder for the 2010 census for the city and its constituent zip codes, I divided the city into three zones of very roughly equal population:
1) north of Central Expressway, 94085 & 94089 (40,492: 28.9%)
2) between Central and El Camino, 94086 (45,697: 32.6%)
3) south of El Camino, 94087 (54,293: 38.8%)

The Asian percentages of the population are:
1) 36.6%; 2) 42.0%; 3) 43.1%
That's just not a very high differential. The only way district elections would facilitate the election of Asians is if there happens to be a district with a strong Asian candidate but without strong non-Asian candidates.

Where it could make a difference is with Hispanics, but not that much as the Hispanic population is only 18.9%. But the differential is strong:
1) 29.9%; 2) 21.3%; 3) 9.0%

(Black population in the city is only 2.0%, and there isn't a strong differential. There is one Black candidate in this year's Council elections.)

I think it would be far more effective to recruit more strong Asian candidates to run for Council than it would be to create districts.

traffic zones

The DMV says that it's better to get an appointment than wait in line. When I needed to go in two months ago, I did both. I went in at 6:15 am on August 13 and waited in line 45 minutes until they opened, and then another 35 minutes to wait inside and finish the transaction. Total time investment, about 2 hours including the time needed to drive to the office that opens at 7 am. It was that little because I was willing to rise that early.

If I'd waited for the date of my appointment, I'd be going in today. Today. (I cancelled the appointment after I got my license in the mail, but it's still in my personal calendar.)

Yesterday, the city held a walking tour of one long block of a nearby arterial street, to tutor curious residents in plans and proposals to increase traffic safety. The block extends from the major intersection whose pedestrian crossings are frequently flooded with students from the high school at one corner, to a lesser signaled intersection where recently a lone pedestrian crossing the artery was plowed over by a driver from the side street who was turning right and apparently not looking.

The traffic consultant leading the tour spoke much of improving visibility at intersections and providing tools for pedestrian safety, and the irregular median breaks which contribute to the bad accident rate on the street. It's not like the street I lived on in college, where regularly at night drivers would plow up the wrong way on a one-way street, leading to dramatic crashes, but it's serious enough, and it's nice to know what's being mooted. Someone on the tour had heard a rumor that both the local shopping centers, which I know are at least 60 years old because they were around when I first moved here, are going to be torn up and replaced by the retail-housing mix that is gaining popularity, but we'll see.

Meanwhile the once-thriving, now derelict, regional mall a couple miles away is now formally being torn up, but they're still arguing over what will replace it, and as it's across the city limits my city and its voters have no say in any of this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Yiddish music in Israel

What a curious topic, I thought on my last visit to the Stanford music department, as I saw the poster for a talk on this subject. I think I'll go. So tonight I did. It was given by Laya Silber, a visiting Israeli professor of choral music. Here's what I already knew, which might clarify what made the topic curious:

For Eastern European Jews, Hebrew was purely a liturgical language. Their mama loshen, mother tongue for daily use, was Yiddish, a highly inflected German dialect full of Hebrew loan words and other influences, and using its alphabet. But that was just the Ashkenazic culture: other Jewish cultures had their own hybrid tongues or ways of speaking.

The founders of the state of Israel sought a common Jewish culture and also to free it from the ghetto image, remaking the Jewish figure into the athletic, outdoorsy sabra, so they reconstructed Hebrew as a secular, everyday language. In the process Yiddish was deprecated in Israel.

So much I knew. What about music? Prof. Silber explained further: Such Yiddish songs as were deemed suitable were not just translated into Hebrew, but the lyrics were entirely reworked. The tempos were made more upbeat, the melodies changed from minor to major, ornaments added to the line and syncopation to the rhythm, characteristics of Arabic and Yemeni music which had been adopted into the Israeli musical style.

But later, starting in the 1960s and 70s, Israeli composers such as Ami Maayani (classical) and Dov Seltzer (mostly pop songs and theater), who didn't even speak Yiddish, began composing songs and vocal works in that language. Why? Because they'd been introduced to Yiddish poetry which they found interesting, and because they realized that Yiddish was an important aspect of Jewish history. But they continued to write the music in Israeli and modernist styles, eschewing for instance the augmented seconds so characteristic of Yiddish folk music and American Yiddish art music.

So that was the talk, heavily musically illustrated. Illuminating stuff.

Meanwhile, in other musical news, I have a review of the opening Symphony Silicon Valley concert for you. I consider this a pretty basic review: I enjoyed the concert a great deal but it didn't generate much to say about it. So it goes sometimes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

you too may be on Google+

So I read this WaPost article about the Google+ debacle because I wanted to find out what was going on, having seen - as is so often the case for me and news events - secondary material about the fallout without having seen any primary exposition outlining the facts.

And it also said, "For a time, Google made it so convenient to create a Google+ profile that you basically couldn’t make a new Gmail account without also signing up for the company’s social platform. Only those who were paying close attention could really avoid it. To this day, you might have a Google+ profile of your own and not even realize it."

I kind of doubted I had one. Google+ was launched in 2011, and I've had a Gmail address - which I use as a secondary address for when there's problems with my primary address - since at least 2010, which is the date of the oldest entry in my inbox, and my recollection is that I got it while Gmail was still in beta, which it came out of in 2009, according to the Wikipedia article about it. So how could I sign up for a service that didn't exist yet when I was signing up for the other service?

However, there was a link to another article explaining how to find if you have Google+ and how to delete it if you do. And to my surprise, I did. I don't know how this happened. So I followed the deletion instructions - which I would never have done if this hadn't been a trusted source, because I would have feared deleting my Gmail as well - and it's gone. I'd never have realized its presence without this, which is why I'm passing all this on.

But this does suggest why Google+ never succeeded as a social media platform. Nobody's going to use a service they don't realize they have. How stupid do you have to be to sign up your users for a new service and then not tell them you've done so? As stupid as Google, apparently.

Saturday, October 6, 2018


So now we have two aggrieved sexual abusers on the Supreme Court. Somehow one seemed sufficient representation.

Justice Kagan - how can she bring herself to shake hands with these guys? - is worried about what will happen to a Court without a swing justice.

A couple profs say not to worry: Roberts will step into the breach.

And, you know, he might. He already did once, in the Obamacare case in 2012, when Kennedy declined to take the job. Roberts stared into the abyss that we'd fall into if Obamacare were overturned, and he blinked. He refused to join Thomas, Alito, and Scalia in marching over the edge, and adhered to the liberals instead. There may be just enough of a patriotic conservative left in Roberts to refuse to go full Trumpian.

But it won't be enough. People forget that Kennedy hasn't always been the swing justice. In fact, there used to be many swing justices. The role was only pared down to one after the Bork nomination polarized the Court, and that one swing was O'Connor. In the Clinton years, the perceived balance was four liberals - Stevens (who'd been perceived as something of a conservative when first chosen in 1975), Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer - and four conservatives - Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy. Then when O'Connor was replaced by Alito, Kennedy moved into the swing spot, but a more right-wing swing spot than her. Roberts will be more right-wing still, and while he may still save Obamacare, he's unlikely to save Roe, especially from incremental drip.

Friday, October 5, 2018

concert review: Berkeley Symphony

Finding my Thursday evening unexpectedly free, I accepted an invitation to attend the Berkeley Symphony at Zellerbach Hall. Ming Luke, who leads the orchestra's educational programs, conducted this first concert of a season bereft of a music director.

I couldn't leave home until 4:15, and the drive to the station was heavily congested with traffic, but BART was on its best behavior, and I arrived at 6:25 for a 7 pm show, which, as long as I wasn't expecting to eat anything, was just early enough to be relaxing.

My experiments at finding a sonically decent place to sit in this hollowed-out cannonball of an auditorium have not yet succeeded, and that may be the reason that Anna Clyne's Night Ferry, which is the work I was there to hear, came across as roiling chaos rather than the powerful roar it was at the Cabrillo Festival when I first fell for Clyne's music.

It was followed, without a break, by Ravel's La Valse, whose opening quiet section seemed to fit pretty well with Clyne's dying-off ending.

Jennifer Higdon's Violin Concerto is the work that won her a Pulitzer, but I have little affinity for violin concertos as a genre and this one did little for me. There were some intriguing and lovely sounds from the orchestra now and then, but soloist Benjamin Beilman's determinedly ceaseless sawing and squeaking away did not appeal.

Lastly, or rather firstly, came Shostakovich's Festive Overture. I do not understand why orchestras so frequently play this work. It's a piece of tossed-off hackwork with no redeeming value. The program notes actually quoted a Soviet conductor as saying that the usual third-rate hacks who got such festival commissions "wrote terrible shit." Well, now we get to have terrible shit by Shostakovich instead. If you want a fairly brief orchestral work by this composer, why not the Five Fragments, Op. 42? Them's weird stuff. Or the orchestration of Tea for Two that he wrote in an hour on a bet. Anything.

Friday, again fighting traffic, I got over to Stanford for a noon concert by the Puck Quartet. This group from New York is described on the leaflet as "drawing inspiration from [the] mischievous" Shakespeare fairy, playing with "a capricious spirit ... and sense of humor." If only they had done that in the Ravel Quartet, it would have been quite a show. Instead, they played it in a subdued Romantic manner. Nice, but nothing to write home about. Britten's gnarly Three Divertimenti (which we were told was his first work for quartet, but it wasn't) came off more puckishly.

Monday, October 1, 2018

the good citizen

The good citizen goes to the candidates forum for the school board election, because even though he has no children and never did, he always votes and believes that public schools are important. And I've found there's nothing like an in-person forum to find out what the candidates for obscure local offices are really like, behind their bland web sites and the uncommunicative newspaper writeups.

There in fact are two school boards, one for the younger children's schools and one for high school. Each board has three seats open and, with only one incumbent running between them, it's a pretty open race, four candidates for one board and six for the other.

Two of the six, including the sole incumbent, stand out above the others for skill with words and clarity of vision. Nothing riveting, just a few good points. It's hard to choose among three for the third spot, but I think I can cross off one. She's not terrible, but she reads most of her answers from cue cards. Mostly she finds ones that vaguely fit the question asked, but sometimes ... not. She's also the only candidate who refuses to take a position for, as all the others do, or even against, our school construction bond measure. She says it's for the voters to decide. Sure it is, but what do you think?

For the other panel, three of the four are experienced volunteers and advisory board members who just want to move up to fill the vacancies. They're in the usual mode of aspiring local politicians, more interested in discussing process than goals. Saying that you want to improve communication means little - doesn't everyone in a context like this? - unless you say what direction you want that communication to move.

The fourth candidate is different. With no prep background in the schools, but boasting accountancy and business experience, he's a kindergarten dad who just decided to run for school board. He could have been a flake, but I like his observations, naive though they are, even when - as with reform of state school-funding policy - they're far beyond the powers of a school board.

The city council one is in two weeks.