Friday, November 26, 2021

a quiet Thanksgiving

Unlike last year, when I had to make our own Thanksgiving dinner at home, the family was able to gather this year, at least niece's immediate family at her house: husband, sons, parents, aunt and uncle (us), 2 cats and 1 small dog. Her brother was feeling unwell (nothing contagious) so he stayed home under the care of his visiting mother-in-law, while his wife and her father attended. A pair of friends also dropped by. Everyone is vaxxed, so we eschewed masking, and even got some hugs in.

Two turkeys, one gently roasted and one smoked; various other sides and desserts including a popular banana cream pie. I made broccoli with cheese sauce, the latter of which didn't stay reheated very well on a serving table, so I may pick different recipes in the future.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

a show and a concert

Wednesday was my first attempt to spend an entire day out since before the pandemic. I went up to the city for a matinee of a touring show of My Fair Lady on the same day as an evening SF Symphony concert, and I had both lunch and dinner out. I was surrounded by a lot of people, but I had my N95 mask, and I was more concerned about how my aging stamina would take it. A lot of caffeine kept me from nodding off, but it didn't mean I didn't get groggy during the shows.

My first thought was to follow an old practice, park in an outlying BART station's commuter lot when the restriction expired at 10 AM, and take that in. But, having overestimated traffic, I got there at 9.30, and rather than wait around I decided to drive in and settle in a parking garage near both venues. This had plenty of spaces, and avoided my having a long walk back to the BART station after the concert. SFS used to have a shuttle bus that dealt with that, but not any more; and the late walk is a bit much for me now.

My Fair Lady was a touring version of the same production I saw in New York 2.5 years ago, and as I was sitting in the lobby before the doors opened, I struck up conversations with two random nearby people who had also both seen it in New York. It was a good production both times, but the venue had problems. A crackling tinny amplification made the performers feel detached from the audience, and this was worse for a musical. The performance also felt hasty and the emotional effects consequently not delved into. The one exception was Liza (Shereen Ahmed) standing there looking increasingly dismayed as Higgins (Laird Mackintosh) and Pickering (Kevin Pariseau) sing "You Did It" - probably the finest bit of acting in the show.

There was enough time afterwards for me to venture downtown to Tadich's for dinner for the first time since before the pandemic (one of the waitstaff remembered me!), where the pan-fried petrale sole with steamed broccoli made for one of the most delicious meals I've ever had. I kept an eye on my watch and noted that while dinner took only 40 minutes, it was 2 hours total to get down there and back again, useful information for planning if I do this again when I'm only up for an evening.

SFS was much more packed than any of the previous concerts this season, but that may be because the offering was Beethoven's Ninth. Daniel Stewart, normally conductor of the youth orchestra (he's also music director in Santa Cruz, where I've seen him before), led an unaffected, even unshaded performance with enough vigor and dedication to make it shine. This was, as Stewart pointed out to the audience, the first choral concert at SFS since the pandemic. The singers (soloists as well as chorus were in the balcony, as is often done) were spaced out. The chorus but not the soloists wore masks coming in, but took them off to sing.

The Ninth was preceded by a 15-minute piece by Anna Clyne and then an intermission which lasted longer than her music did. Though titled Sound and Fury, it largely eschewed brass or percussion (2 horns, 2 trumpets, and a xylophone, that's it) and consequently sounded very light by Clyne's standards. Very restless and scurrying music, not much sonic resonance, but enough weight to not seem ridiculous before the Ninth.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


"I dislike Dune with some intensity" - J.R.R. Tolkien

He was of course referring to the book. I also have read the book - once - about 45 years ago - and have barely cracked it open since. Nor have I seen either of the previous screen adaptations. I admired the book's scope but didn't really enjoy it, and have only general memories of the plot and characters. But this movie struck me as a good adaptation, subject to the condition that my memories of the book gave me a basic understanding of what was going on.

Of course I was mightily impressed with both the Villeneuve films I'd previously seen, Sicario and Arrival, which primed me on this, and those reactions are indeed as responsible as anything about Dune the book for my decision to go see this.

When I came home from the theatre (a nearly deserted multiplex matinee), B. asked how the movie was. "Epic," I said. That seems the best adjective. It told a fairly simple story with grandeur and scope, and while there was plenty of brisk action, the plot was given space: it breathed, it took its time - how unlike P---r J-----n in that respect - but without becoming slack or boring. "Epic" seems the closest description of this mode of storytelling.

In fact I found the movie better than the book in several ways. I disliked the book's ornate political maneuvering, which is whittled down in the movie. I even more disliked the way the book's characters relentlessly tried to psych each other out in thought balloons, which left hardly a trace in the movie. And most of all I remember preferring the first, court-based, half of the book over the second half of woo-woo mysticism out in the desert, and this movie only covers the first half. Nevertheless I was impressed enough with its handling of the story that I'll probably see part 2. (Though my track record on following up on expectations like that is poor.)

I was pleased with Timothée Chalamet as Paul. Physically unprepossessing, which is accurate for the character, he exudes enough inner strength to make his gradual transformation from a boyish scion into a lord duke and a skilled man of action credible, and to enable him to carry the movie despite a largely passive character arc. This was pleasantly surprising, since I detested him in Little Women. But since he played a weak man there, I wonder now if the problem is that he was just miscast.

Rebecca Ferguson as Jessica was less strong. I thought her very good in the last two Mission Impossible films, but here she seemed to have less grasp of her character. Just a little bland, maybe? She is also only 12 years older than her screen son, but that's typical of movies. Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin were good but rather watered-down versions of roles they've been more vivid in during other films (A Most Violent Year and, yes, Sicario). I was more pleased with Charlotte Rampling (a one-scene cameo) and Javier Bardem (two major scenes), especially because neither of them mumbled which was a problem with a few others.

That's all niggling. The sfx, of course, and the vast scenery and even vaster spaceships were all impressive. Unlike a lot of big-scene movies it wasn't dark all the time, and when it was dark (which the indoor scenes mostly were) at least you could still see. How unlike P---r J-----n in that respect too. Dune proved you can still make a large-scale movie with plenty of action yet without the exclamation-point conflict, grotesque violence, and cartoon-pink characterization of superhero comic-book movies (and yes, I've seen some of those, so I know whereof I speak). It was at minimum an adequate movie, at least for those who did not dislike the book with some intensity, and it was not a waste of time or space.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Tolkien Studies supplement: an announcement

On behalf of my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, and myself, I wish to announce a special supplemental issue to vol. 19 of the journal Tolkien Studies. The material for this special issue is now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in softcover and online on Project MUSE in the spring of 2022.

The contents of this issue consists of one document/article, unusually large in both size and importance:
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Chronology of The Lord of the Rings," edited, with introduction, notes, and commentary, by William Cloud Hicklin

Together with this article is a preface by William Fliss, and a special introduction by the editors. - David Bratman, co-editor

Monday, November 22, 2021

late review: Masterworks Chorale

A week ago Sunday, B. and I went to a choral concert. Yes, an actual chance to hear people singing in a group, with their (and our) masks on, despite the pandemic. The reason I didn't mention it earlier is that I was attending it for reviewing purposes, and while the review appeared in print the next Friday, it didn't show up online, here, until today.

There was no printed program, so I had to jot the pieces down in the flyleaf of the book I was carrying (in pencil, and it's my book) because I forgot to bring any paper or notebooks, putting unfamiliar composers' names down phonetically and looking them up later. Much of the music was new to me, and from the director's remarks much of it was new to him too. Here's some other performances of some of the better discoveries of the day:

Alice by Sarah Quartel, an appropriately silly setting of Lewis Carroll:

Only in Sleep by Ēriks Ešenvalds, and if this isn't beautiful I don't know what would be:

Luminous Night of the Soul by the popular choral composer Ola Gjeilo, being typically Ola Gjeilo-ish (that's him at the piano in this performance also). Yeah, it largely consists of shameless series of sequences, but that's a tried and true technique for musical excitement.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

concert review: Bay Area Rainbow Symphony

I finally chose Bay Area Rainbow Symphony over Redwood Symphony, not because of the latter's programming of Philip Glass, whose work I like - those who denounce Glass wholesale invariably use a caricature of a style Glass stopped writing in nearly 50 years ago; catch up a little, why don't you? - but because of Luciano Berio. Berio's Rendering is a favorite of conductor Eric K, and he's always excellent at music he really likes; but I've heard Rendering before, and my only desire to repeat the experience would be educational, and I'm not in the mood to be educated about music I dislike.

Instead, I went to BARS, which was playing three pieces I already know and like, in the form of a memorial tribute concert for Oakland's Michael Morgan, all of which sounded good to me. This overcame my doubt about visiting the City on a Saturday evening, always a dubious proposition. I managed the traffic and dinner all right, but it was depressing to know nobody else there when everyone else seemed to know everybody there. The last BARS concert I attended, which was my last symphony concert before the pandemic, I did know some people there.

That one was in the main auditorium of the Conservatory; this one was in a small upstairs theatre in the Herbst building; about one-third stage and two-thirds rising bleachers for seating (with, fortunately, real chairs built in).

To mark the return of the orchestra after 20 months, the concert began with Corigliano's Promenade Overture, the opposite of Haydn's Farewell Symphony. Four percussionists are onstage, and they suddenly begin to beat out a rhythm. The conductor (Dawn Harms) steps onto the podium and stops them with a swish of the baton. An offstage fanfare from brass is succeeded by each section of the orchestra - first piccolo, then flutes, then celli, etc. - marching in while playing (difficult for cellists, but they managed). Then the music turns lyrical, and ends after the last player, the tuba-ist, darts in.

Beethoven's Eighth Symphony, chosen, Harms said, for its cheerful and welcoming opening. I'd describe it more as fierce, but it was a nice jolly performance with only intermittent weakness (this is a volunteer group after all).

Lastly, Florence Price's Third Symphony, which I heard Morgan conduct in Oakland a couple years back, and which he was going to do with SFS this year. The first movement was rough, a lot rougher than the Beethoven, so that some of the grandeur was lost; but both here and in the finale the resemblance to Henry Cowell, which is one of the things I like about Price, was strong. However, the Andante was a gift of simple lyricism and the third movement Juba gently swung charmingly. Despite the unpromising auditorium the sound was better balanced than in Oakland.

Friday, November 19, 2021

things I've learned about SF writers

1. Jane Yolen, after years of widowhood, recently remarried. And her new husband (whom she had actually dated in college), who messes around in boats, helped her write the YA spinoff of Moby Dick she'd been dreaming of for most of her life.

2. George R.R. Martin isn't, as he thought, the grandson of an Italian immigrant. He's the grandson of an Ashkenazi Jew.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

This was a bifurcated concert. Michael Tilson Thomas, still recuperating from major surgery a few months ago, decided that a second full program in two weeks was more taxing than his energy level could handle.

So Ludovic Morlot - former music director in Seattle* - came in as a late substitute for the first half. Probably because there was a limit on how much new material he could learn at short notice, the originally programmed William Grant Still piece was replaced with Ravel's Ma Mere l'Oye Suite. This received a soft and gentle performance, ideal for this delicate flower of a work.

Morlot did keep the premiere of the concerto that SFS principal trombone Timothy Higgins wrote for himself. This had been commissioned by SFS and had already been postponed once due to the pandemic. In Higgins' hands, it turns out, the trombone is a rather quiet instrument, even quieter with the mute on, and it tended to get overshadowed by the exceedingly colorful orchestration. An enjoyable piece, with spiky modernism but consonant, and coherent and substantive, not spinning its gears.

After intermission, MTT led an excellent performance of Copland's Appalachian Spring, the full-orchestra version of the complete work. This was especially notable for the sinew expressed in the slower passages, but it was just great throughout. But that's just what we were expecting.

*And the former assistant in Boston who conducted that orchestra when they came for a visit here in 2011, after the resignation of J---s L----e.

just a note

This is just to say, I have this morning jotted down a 550-word outline for what I hope will be my Mythcon Guest of Honor speech. It combines a couple of ideas about Tolkien that I've already had floating around in my head (one of them for quite a few years), but it was reading The Nature of Middle-earth that sparked off this particular writing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

a movie and a concert

The movie was The Most Reluctant Convert, an adaptation of a one-man stage show retelling C.S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy. It's very stagy, consisting mostly of Max McLean, who looks very much like the middle-aged Lewis, at least once he's in makeup, giving the lengthy narration as he wanders around Lewis sites in Oxford (including his house, the Kilns) and often in and out of flashback scenes without interacting with the other characters. McLean at least speaks his part well, and the scenery and flashbacks provide variety and verisimilitude. Naturally there is absolutely nothing about Mrs. Moore, though there's a rather odd emphasis on Lewis's early adolescent crush on his dance teacher.

A few thoughts while watching the movie:
Did Kirkpatrick actually call himself The Great Knock?
If Lewis really didn't care for Virgil, why did he go on to translate much of the Aeneid?
Did Tolkien give Lewis the idea for his Trilemma?
Why would Lewis doubt Tolkien remembered their Addison's Walk conversation? Tolkien recast his argument on that occasion into a long poem; surely Lewis was able to read it?

The concert was pianist Federico Colli at Herbst: young, slightly built, pointy-bearded. He played Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, and Schubert, and he played them all in a very odd manner: grabbing, or in some cases creating, slow introductory passages which he played at an exaggerated crawl and very quietly, while hesitating over, delaying, and even eliding entire notes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

some things I learned from reading The Nature of Middle-earth

Read them here.

It's all about NoME (a great abbreviation, as the book is gnomic in more than one sense).

You should also read Jeff LaSala's thoughtful piece on the subject.

I have one quibble with Jeff. He calls NoME "kind of an unofficial thirteenth installment" for the 12-volume History of Middle-earth, but the 13th volume of HoME already existed before the series was published. It's Unfinished Tales, most of which would have fit very nicely in parts 2-4 of The Peoples of Middle-earth, v. 12 of HoME, if it hadn't already appeared.

But then what about John D. Rateliff's 2-volume The History of The Hobbit? That too surely qualifies. So that makes NoME at least v. 16.

Monday, November 15, 2021

yes, again

I'm not going to waste a reply on this latter-day review of Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring movie to the post's comments section, since I know from experience that the author rarely replies to comments. Instead, I'll write it here.

This is another golden example of a fan of the Jackson movies not getting what's wrong with them as adaptations. Again, I don't mind people liking the movies as movies. What bristles me is when they ship their liking into thinking the movies are adequate specifically as an adaptation of the book.

First N. says "there's very little to object to," but the list of objections he brushes off are entirely of things omitted. Everyone who loves the movies thinks that what people who disapprove of the adaptations want is to have everything in. No: the omissions are tolerable. In fact I'd rather not have Bombadil than have Bombadil done badly, which Jackson, who has no feel for anything in Tolkien other than the tense dangers and horror, and a little of the spectacle, would undoubtably do. It's not what Jackson left out, but what he put in, that spoils his adaptation.

But then N. goes on to note that "the fervent Tolkien fan" (that's a loaded term right there - "fervent." Makes us sound slightly unhinged) must "twitch at the infantilisation of the characters of Merry and Pippin." "Twitch" is putting it mildly. I knew we were in for trouble at the added scene of the lads stealing the fireworks at Bilbo's birthday party. Not that they might not have done such a caper: it's an entirely plausible notion. But if Tolkien had conceived it, it wouldn't be written, as this is, in the form of bad fan fiction. (And I specify bad fan fiction because not all fan fiction is bad.)

What most frosts me is when N. notes that "the timescale of the book is drastically compressed," which it is, but calls that "the last and most trivial ground of complaint." It's not trivial at all. Jackson systematically eviscerates the epic scale of the story, both in time and in space. The scale is an essential part of the greatness of Tolkien's story. It's not that Jackson doesn't take 17 years for Frodo to leave the Shire. It's that, when the hobbits do leave, it's rushed. The Black Riders are nipping at their heels almost the entire way. One result of that is that the actual attack in the book loses its power, because it's been anticipated and flattened. This is a consistent policy of Jackson's. He can't trust to Tolkien's sense of suspense, which is a pity, because it's Tolkien's sense of suspense, a concomitant of his sense of scale, that makes the book so engrossing.

On the same lines, Jackson miniaturizes the geographic space of the story. Instead of a whole continent, Jackson's story feels like it's covering only the space of a tabletop role-playing game grid. Example: Saruman monitoring their path over Caradhras and himself sending the snowstorm.

But wait, doesn't N. in his next paragraph praise Jackson's "sense of scale"? Yes, but he's referring to the physical size of the characters, making hobbits and dwarves look smaller than men and elves even though the actors aren't. And yes, the technical side of filmmaking Jackson handles very well (at least in The Lord of the Rings; in The Hobbit he gets tired and sloppy). As technical achievements in filmmaking, this trilogy may be the greatest set of movies ever made. Getting such a huge project completed on time and in budget is itself award-worthy. But that has nothing to do with evaluating its adaptation of the book.

The spectacle too is good, as long as it's on the scale of spectacle. Hiring John Howe and Alan Lee to design the film is the wisest move Jackson made. But while Jackson can do awesome to beat the band, he can't do beautiful. His Rivendell is rather bad and his Lorien is truly dismal. Plus those celebration scenes at the end of Return of the King are teeth-numbingly horrifying.

The net result of the achievement in spectacle is that New Zealand playing Middle-earth is by far the best actor in the movie. I can't agree with N. that the human-acting in this movie is very good. I know Elijah Wood is a good actor; I've seen him in other movies. Here he's namby and inert. Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn is a hopelessly introverted mumbler. The film actor who'd do a good job as Aragorn is Richard Armitage as Thorin in The Hobbit. He's a lousy Thorin, but he'd make a good Aragorn. Cate Blanchett as Galadriel would be good except for that transformation scene. I think Jackson read where Tolkien has her say that she shall be "beautiful and terrible," so he made a scene causing any sensitive viewer to say "That's terrible!"

I've no objection to beefing up Arwen's role, as such, even though keeping her under wraps was a deliberate strategy of Tolkien's: it shows there's more to Aragorn than you suspect. But there are other, less sexist, ways of presenting the material. (I've no objection to Tauriel in The Hobbit as such, either - probably the least objectionable of all Jackson's additions there.) It makes sense, too, on a film's scale of storytelling to fold Glorfindel into another character so that we don't have to waste time being introduced to someone who appears briefly and then basically disappears. (Bakshi folded him into Legolas, which makes even more sense: then you don't have to have the introductions of Legolas and Gimli and Boromir all dumped on you at once.) The objection to that scene is not to who provides the horse: it's that Jackson's Frodo isn't allowed to be the hero of his own story. Arwen rides the horse for him, she curses out the Nazgul for him, while a semi-comatose Frodo is strapped to the back like a sack of potatoes. Jackson can't figure out any less extreme way of showing the effects of the Morgul-blade.

N. praises moving the death of Boromir to the end of Fellowship from the start of The Two Towers. This should make no difference in the book, which Tolkien wrote as one continuous story. It was only divided into three volumes by the imperatives of publishing.

As for the music, it does the job asked of it. Howard Shore is always competent. But inspiration, greatness, worthy of the story it's being asked to accompany? No.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

which of two concerts?

They're on at the same time. They're both good orchestras. Which one should I attend?

1) Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 3
Philip Glass: Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra
Berio: Rendering for Orchestra

2) Corigliano – Promenade Overture
Beethoven – Symphony No. 8
Florence Price – Symphony No. 3

Saturday, November 13, 2021

two more concerts

This week successive concerts on successive nights gave me the chance to hear both of the fabulous McGill brothers, clarinetist Anthony - whom I've heard several times before - in chamber music on Thursday, and flutist Demarre - who's principal of the Seattle Symphony, but whom I had not otherwise heard - in a concerto on Friday.

Thursday was the second installment of the Catalyst Quartet's four-concert survey of music by Black composers, to which I subscribed. With Anthony McGill they played the Clarinet Quintet of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1895), a work in a drier and more incisive style than one might expect for that period, notable mostly for its striking rhythmic profile rather than melodic charm, though it is lyrical and pleasant.

The quartet alone played the String Quartet No. 1 (1956) by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, who yes was named for his predecessor and was, we learned, known to his friends as "Perk" or "Perkie." In complete defiance of the academic expectation of his time, this was a thoroughly consonant work with a little grit, reminding me in style - and not just because it included one of the same folk hymns - quite a lot of the remaining piece on the program, Florence Price's "Five Folksongs in Counterpoint." In this, she takes songs like "Shortnin' Bread" and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and applies some blistering technical development and overlays to them, proving definitively that it's not true that once you've played a folk song in a classical music piece, the only thing you can do is play it again.

Friday at the San Francisco Symphony was an Event - the long-awaited return of Michael Tilson Thomas to the podium. Since we last saw him here, we and he have been through a lot. His retirement season as music director was interrupted by the pandemic and the planned grand finales went unheard; then last season was mostly canceled; and this summer he had brain surgery, taking three months off to recover. Only three? Maybe it should have been longer, because he announced yesterday that, to "conserve energy," he's cutting back to just half of next week's concert.

But there he was last night, considerably frailer and perhaps a bit balder than when last seen, briefly acknowledging the instant standing ovation and then turning to the podium and getting down to work. Whatever may be the state of his physical person, his conducting is unimpaired, possibly better than ever. We heard a set of Mozart's German dances, presented with a weightiness and sense of integration that transformed it into a substantial composition; and Schumann's First Symphony, in a brilliantly dark, intense performance that made it sound as if it had been composed by Beethoven. The tutti passages in this work can sound shrill, but MTT and SFS had them ideally under control. This was a treasurable interpretation.

And Demarre McGill was soloist in a brief concerto for flute and strings by MTT himself, titled Notturno. This begins lyrically and builds up into a lot of fast fingering for the flute, played with disarming smoothness by McGill, barring a couple places near the end where he is apparently directed to spit into the mouthpiece.

Very good evenings out. Will I be back next week, even if MTT is only half there? You bet!

Sunday, November 7, 2021

two concerts

California Symphony
I'd heard several times before with pleasure this orchestra that plays at Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, out in the further East Bay. But this year's schedule included some programs so tempting that, despite the distance from home, I plumped for a three-ticket subscription. (And found on my seat a new subscriber's gift in the form of two chits for intermission drinks at the bar. I had a diet Coke, my usual in those circumstances.)
This concert, for instance: an all-strings performance, featuring two large scale works that are favorites of mine. The first was Vivaldi's Four Seasons, all of it, led (without a conductor) by violin soloist Alexi Kenney in a dry, crisp, steely manner as if it were by Telemann. Often very fast: Winter's Largo movement was taken as Allegro con moto and was consequently over in about one minute. The other weird feature was the continuo. During some of the slow movements the harpsichord player transferred his fingers to an adjacent positive organ and played elaborations which gave a church-music air to the proceedings.
The other large feature, for a much larger ensemble, was Mahler's orchestration of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet, a version of that beloved piece I always like to hear. Led by music director Donato Cabrera, this was a serious and weighty interpretation, better with the tender and ethereal than the driving and intense, reaching impressive sublimity with the close of the Andante.
Also on the program, two short works by African-American composers: George Walker's inescapable Lyric, very much living up to its title; and Jessie Montgomery's busy and rushed Starburst.

New Millennium Chamber Orchestra
The music director was out sick, so the conductor was the assistant, Tabitha Tetreault, normally a utility instrumentalist with this volunteer group. Less eloquent (her word) and more succinct (mine) than her boss, she spoke only briefly before each piece, and otherwise referred inquirers to the impressively specific program notes. On the podium, she has a textbook baton style, with the left hand copying the right when it isn't giving expressive marks or cues.
Center of the program was The Blue Room by Reena Esmail, a violin concerto in a sort of Shostakovich/modal style that NMCO played once before in my hearing, four years ago, with the same soloist, concertmaster Colyn Fischer.
The rest of the concert was taken from the miscellaneous drawer of the standard repertoire: Beethoven's Egmont overture, Brahms's Haydn Variations, Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite 1, and Ravel's Mother Goose. The music was a little stodgy - thus the Brahms was played as if each variation were a separate movement - but it had line and coherence. The Beethoven, as the only single undivided work, was the one which had a chance to build up some dramatic power. But the others are more designed to be charming, and some fine instrumental color managed to convey that.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

not online

Once again I am not doing what I hoped to be spending today doing, attending a Tolkien Society online seminar. You know, I attend Zoom meetings all the time and they work fine, just not the second and now the third Tolkien Society seminar. (Oxonmoot didn't do this, nor did the first seminar last February.) When I try to join in, I get plunged into a welter of sign-ins, log-ins, pop-up windows, and new browser windows I never asked for, and I never get to the seminar. The passcode they provide doesn't work; the webinar ID they provide doesn't work; I've tried all the useless suggestions they gave when I asked for help last time, and I'm not going to insult my intelligence by asking again. Feh, this is disgusting.

I'm boosted

Friday was my appointment to get the Pfizer booster. Originally I had a jab scheduled for two weeks earlier, but I changed it when it was clear I'd still be on jury duty that day. (Ironically, the court let me out early enough that I could just have made it up there on time if I dashed, but I didn't care to make that much effort to face a probable argument with the bureaucracy.)

I expected to be in line amid a sea of 5-11 year-olds, but no. Adults, older ones getting the booster and younger ones finally getting around to their first jab. This clinic was rather small-scale. They'd moved it indoors from the parking lot set-up where I got my initial jabs in the spring, and into a conference room in an adjacent clinic building. This also meant I had to park in a garage I was unfamiliar with, the kind where you can't get oriented and find your car when you come back, yadda yadda.

There was a line, but it was fast and efficient, and in the post-shot waiting area there were giant tv screens all showing, with the sound way down, Shrek. So I got to watch a chunk of that excellent film, from "Ogres are like onions" to "It talks!" "Yeah, it's getting him to shut up that's the trick" (I already know all the dialogue from this movie, I don't need to be able to hear it) before heading on my way, now prepared, I hope, to face a family Thanksgiving and all.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Bill Gresham's first wife

Some of us in the Mythopoeic Society e-mail discussion list have gotten caught up in an unanswered historical trivia question: What was the name of Bill Gresham's first wife?

I need to explain. C.S. Lewis, one of our central interests, married Joy Davidman Gresham in 1956. She was a divorcee from America. Her first husband was William Lindsay Gresham, best known as the author of a sinister carnival novel called Nightmare Alley, which is about to be made into a movie (having already been made into one in 1947 with Tyrone Power). His place in Lewis's life starts with his and Joy's joint conversion to Christianity under the tutelage of Lewis's books, followed by his correspondence with Joy, and then with Lewis himself after Joy died in 1960, mostly over the care of the two sons Joy and Bill had had, who'd been left in Lewis's custody.

However, there's also this wheeze involved. Much to Lewis's distress, the Church of England refused to give him and Joy a church wedding, because Joy was divorced and the Church did not recognize divorces. (I don't grasp how the Church arrived at this position after having been founded by Henry VIII, but I'm sure someone will tell me.) But, Lewis pointed out: Joy's previous husband had already been divorced before he married her. So by the Church's rules, Joy and Bill's marriage was also illegitimate and thus by their reasoning she had never been married at all. Therefore she was an unmarried woman and free to be wedded in the Church to an unmarried man. But the Church didn't buy that argument. (However, a sympathetic Anglican priest conducted a second wedding anyway.)

So who was Bill Gresham's first wife? Biographies of Joy and of CSL that we've consulted don't say much about her. She was "a New York woman." They married in 1935, and divorced in 1942 so that Bill could marry Joy. During that period Bill was a professional folksinger, a Communist, and a fighter in Spain, on the Republican side of course. Nothing we've found so far gives her name. Odd.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021


1990: Both houses of Congress won by Democrats. (In this case they'd already held it.)
1992: Presidency gained by Democrats from Republicans.
1993: But, Governorships of New Jersey and Virginia gained by Republicans from Democrats.
1994: And, Both houses of Congress gained by Republicans from Democrats.
1996: Nevertheless, the Democratic President wins re-election rather handily, though without regaining Congress.

2006: Both houses of Congress gained by Democrats from Republicans.
2008: Presidency gained by Democrats from Republicans.
2009: But, Governorships of New Jersey and Virginia gained by Republicans from Democrats.
2010: And, House gained by Republicans from Democrats. (Senate would follow in 2014.)
2012: Nevertheless, the Democratic President wins re-election rather handily, though without regaining the House.

2018: House (but not Senate) gained by Democrats from Republicans.
2020: Presidency, and Senate, gained by Democrats from Republicans.
2021: But, Governorship of Virginia gained by Republicans from Democrats, and New Jersey nearly so.
2022: ?
2024: ??

when critics disagree

First you need to read Lisa Hirsch's post about the reaction to two negative reviews of a popular classical recital singer.

Then you need to read Joshua Kosman, one of the critics, responding to the reaction.

Then I need to clarify that I myself have no opinion on the particular issue, having little experience with recitalists and no knowledge of the tenor Jonas Kaufmann, the singer in question. Though I have had the experience of failing to see the appeal of some wildly popular performers, Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang being two.

So here's my reaction as a reviewer.

Yes, critics have different opinions. I myself feel uncomfortable being the only published reviewer of a particular concert. I feel it imposes on me an obligation, even if I don't succumb to it, to be authoritative: to reflect the consensus view and avoid expressing what I know are my own eccentricities. If others are reviewing it, I can say what I really think and it's relieving if others think something else, particularly when it involves observations of things I hadn't noticed.

But also, it's more than "gut-level satisfaction" to read a review you entirely agree with. It was reading reviews of concerts I attended, reviews that made me think, "Yes! I noticed that. And the evaluation agrees with what I was already thinking," that convinced me I had the chops, the capacity to judge and discriminate, to become a professional reviewer in the first place.

People who complain about reviews - it's always negative reviews, they never complain about positive ones - yes, I've had that. Sometimes they say bizarre things like stating the reviewer has no right to judge the quality of the performance. What? That's what reviewing is all about. What does this reader want, program notes? You've already got that. I sense what Kosman senses, that what these complainers mean is "... not if your opinion is different from mine."

What I've never had is the classic "You must have been at a different concert." (It's possible. A couple times I've attended multiple performances of the same program. Yeah, they were different.)

As for the fellow critic who was so exasperated to have told Kosman that he should never be allowed to review anything at all, Lisa H. is shocked that someone would express such a view over a single disagreement, but I'd guess that this response, though extreme, was probably not over a single disagreement but was the result of long-accumulated exasperation with Kosman, a reviewer easy to get exasperated with. (My candidate for Kosman's low point was a review of Carmina Burana which was devoted entirely to how much he hates the music. I once let my bias show in reviewing a work I purely hated - it was Mahler's Ninth - but I put that up front and spent the rest of the review on the impact of the performance on my views, which was easy to do because it was an outstanding performance. I think I was more professional than Kosman in this particular set of reviews. But that was a unique occasion. The rest of the time I simply keep my biases to myself in my professional reviews. I reviewed Zemlinsky's The Mermaid and bit my tongue the whole way. But I do let them hang out in my blog and am willing to defend them, as one of my readers recently learned.)

I'd prefer it if the Chronicle had more reviewers and didn't rely purely on Kosman, just because, as I noted, multiple voices are good. But if Kosman is sometimes exasperating, he can also be illuminating and judicious, so his voice is worth having among the chorus, Jonas Kaufmann or no Jonas Kaufmann.

Monday, November 1, 2021

a little day music

The Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra held another public rehearsal, in the same grass amphitheater in the Mountain View civic park that they played in on the Fourth of July. As before, B. was in the principal violin seat, and I came along as driver and listener. This time it was Halloween, so the repertoire was a bit different from July.

The Balletto from Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances, the least obviously seasonal of the repertoire; Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," a great workout for the winds; Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette," which got its place in this concert due to having been Alfred Hitchcock's tv theme tune; Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre," with several of the violins playing the solo part at once, which wasn't nearly as awful as it sounds; and a couple of pops pieces to close off: a 1940s song called "Autumn Leaves," known, though not previously by me, for having lyrics by Johnny Mercer; and a medley of spooky theme songs.

This last supposedly included the theme song from Scooby-Doo, which I don't recall any theme song from and didn't recognize any here; and the theme song from Ghostbusters, which doesn't have a theme song: all it has is a guy shouting "Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!" which the orchestra vocalized here, thus proving my point.

The "Funeral March" turned out to be the most challenging piece, due to its frequent shifts of tempo and key, and detailed repeating sections. One remembers that its composer was most at home in opera, and he brought some of that composing style to his other works. Then when the conductor tried to insert a main theme reprise into "Autumn Leaves," I understood what she meant the first time but most of the players had considerable trouble. However, most of the playing was quite adequate for an amateur group and a genuine pleasure to hear.

The small audience - this didn't get as publicized as much as July did - included a lot of small children in costume carrying goodie buckets. It was nice to know they're still making Halloween-celebrating kids, since trick-or-treaters stopped coming by in our neighborhood several years ago, so we've ceased putting anything out or buying candy that'd only get leftover.

The boys wore a variety of costumes, though dinosaur-shaped full-body onesies were popular among the toddler set; the girls were mostly princesses, though I did spot one 3-or-4-year-old Spiderwoman.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

music for Halloween

I have a truly ideal Halloween song for you. I came across this a few months ago and have been saving it up.

It's from Big Daddy, a group whose schtick is to take songs of a more recent vintage and play them in the style of a late 50s/early 60s rock-&-roll band. Often they merge the victim, er tune, incongruously with a specific song of the earlier era. The best of these was taking "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and combining it with "Duke of Earl."

This time, they have "The Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, and have subsumed it under a bizarre match with the unforgettable novelty song "Monster Mash." What's more, there's a spooky video, in which the Phantom, with some assistance from Dracula, serenades an oblivious Bride of Frankenstein. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Another week, another EPS-conducted concert. This one filled the hall rather more than the previous two did. Perhaps that's because Yefim Bronfman was on hand for the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto, which he played with charm and zest.

Also on the program, one hunk of string orchestra music and one of wind ensemble music. The first was Kongsgaard Variations by Anders Hillborg, supposedly based on a lyrical Beethoven theme, but it was buried so far as to be undetectable except in expressing a gentle mien throughout the piece. The latter was the "Happy Workshop" Sonatina by Richard Strauss, which didn't remind me particularly of anything even less than the Hillborg did of Beethoven.

Having had a nap that afternoon, I eschewed caffeine before the concert, but found myself, though not sleepy, tired and fidgety. Not a good state to appreciate music in. Also, I had practical problems both coming and going.

For a previous concert, I'd pre-ordered online and then picked up a fried chicken dinner from a boutique vendor that operates out of an industrial park garage slot just off the road inbound. The food had been of mixed quality, so I decided to try it again before judging. But though my order today went through fine, when I got there they were closed. Not out of business, just closed. Nobody there, no explanatory sign. I'm giving them till Monday (they don't claim to be open on weekends) to explain themselves, or else the blistering negative reviews are going up.

On the way home, huge construction-caused backup on the freeway. Got off, drove around the construction zone, got back on, only to find another such huge backup a few miles later. Switched to an entirely different route. Look, I take the freeway because it's fast and efficient. If it's neither, why bother?

Friday, October 29, 2021

me and popular music

I came across a series of YouTube videos labeled "Most Popular Song Each Month in the ..." for each decade from the 1950s to the 2010s. I don't know on what basis it was determined what was the most popular song for each month, but it seems a pretty good sampling of 12 songs per year, and a chance for me to test my knowledge of popular music. I listened through the whole set and counted up the songs that I recognized, that I know I'd heard before, and also the number of those that I positively like, that I've deliberately gone and listened to because I enjoy them. (A few that I recognize I positively hate, but only a few.)

What I couldn't count from clips of a few seconds is ones that I didn't know but would come to like if I listened to them a few times in full. All I can say of that is that there were more clips that sounded likely in the 2000s than in the 1990s.

I divided up the years by meaningful chunks.

1950-63, i.e. before the Beatles: A lot of nightclub crooner types in here, as well as (from 1956) Elvis Presley, whom I don't care for at all and, it turns out, know little of. I recognized a few instrumentals from the lush Muzak radio stations that my father liked to listen to in my youth. And some songs I know from Allan Sherman or Stan Freberg parodies. Rate: know about 3.25/year, like about .75/year.

1964-70: full of Beatles songs, every one of which I like. And a lot of others as well. (Top favorite non-Beatles song, probably "Downtown.") Though most of my knowledge of this period is retroactive - I wasn't listening to current pop music at the time - I'm apparently a child of my generation in finding this the heart of my pop-music tastes. Rate: know about 9/year, like about 6/year. Remember that's out of 12 total per year.

1971-80: this is the period I was in high school and college, so I was hearing a lot of incidental pop music even though I wasn't seeking it out, and styles were turning against my taste in the later 70s: though I know a lot of songs from that period, except for the weird outlier of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" (1978) (what's that doing in here?), there's nothing I really like in between McCartney's "Band on the Run" (1974) and Lennon's Double Fantasy songs (1980). Rate: know about 5/year, like about 1/year.

1981-85: This is the sole period in my life when I was actually listening to current pop music of my own volition. A couple songs I really liked hit the charts - one of them is here - and I kept on until the good stuff dribbled off a few years later. Rate: know about 6/year, like about 2/year.

1987-present: A true desert. I know almost none of this stuff, though when listening to these clips there's a fair number of post-2000 songs that I expect I might come to like if I ever heard them in full, but the point is, I never have, and I'm not moved to seek them out. One that I did, it turned out I wished I hadn't. For the 90s in particular, almost everything I know is either because it's a remake of an older song I know or else because Weird Al parodied it. But of the 6 songs I list as liking, most I really like. Top favorite: "Orinoco Flow" by Enya (1988) (what's that doing in here?). Rate: know about 1/year, like about .25/year.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

War of the Weirlds

I'm not sure what to make of the theatrical presentation I just saw at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall. Based on Orson Welles' famous 1938 War of the Worlds radio dramatization, it has that for a title and was concocted by something called the Rhum and Clay Theatre Company and premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago, and that's all I know, because the program is only accessible by QR code and isn't even on the presenter's website.

Four actors, all playing many parts - including all four of them coming out with pipes in mouth to play Welles in turns - combining chunks of the dramatization (the original script, I presume but don't know) with a story (fictional, I presume but don't know) about a reporter visiting present-day Grover's Mills, where the story was set, to research a podcast about whether the stories of wide-spread panic on the day were true or not, and gets involved in the family drama of a woman whose grandparents supposedly fled ... well, it's complicated, and the lies and truths and dramatizations and fictionalizations just pile up and start to involve DT and Qanon, but after a slow start the play does manage to maintain interest.

But two hours of that were enough, so I skipped out on the offer of a post-show panel discussion on media and disinformation, the more so as I've already gotten a surfeit of that from the book I've been reading at meals, The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984 by Dorian Lynskey (Doubleday, 2019). A combination of a biography of Orwell focused on the concerns he expressed in the book, a history of relevant earlier utopian and dystopian literature, an account of the novel's reception from submission up to the present-day, and a consideration of later works inspired by it or on the same theme (highlighting 3 media presentations: Brazil, V for Vendetta, and The Handmaid's Tale), it told me a couple things I hadn't known about Orwell.
1. From the beginning of his work on the novel, he referred to it in letters as his novel about the future, which should put an end to the frequent claim that he originally intended to call it 1948, which I've always doubted anyway.
2. When Orwell was sent as a correspondent to liberated Paris in 1944, one of the things he did there was dine with P.G. Wodehouse. George Orwell meets P.G. Wodehouse. "I inspected my imagination. Jeeves was right. It boggled."

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

new phone

AT&T has been after me for months to get a new cell phone, because the old network is being shut down. In February, so what's the hurry? Putting this off has been encouraged by the prospect of the difficulty always attendant on getting a new device with new protocols and new arrangements, and having to learn them all. Antipathy to technological advances would considerably lessen if interfaces were standardized across versions, instead of being upended and redesigned every time some engineer has a brainstorm.

However, the last time they badgered me, they also revealed - which previous badgers had not - that I was entitled to a free upgraded phone, and that it would be a flip phone like the one I already had. So it arrived yesterday and I set it up and actually got my account transferred through the online interface, even though it crashed halfway through.

Of course I'm not as happy with the phone's interface as I was with the old one. The navigation buttons, the ones that surround the OK key, are not programmable as they had been. I'd had them set up to go directly to useful apps like the tip calculator. This one doesn't even have a tip calculator. On the other hand, other useful items, like the contacts list, are easier to get to in other ways than they had been on the old phone. I was able to change the settings list from a page of cryptic icons - I hate icons, I'm an iconoclast - to an actual list with the names of the items on them, and what's more one can re-order the list so that the preferred ones are on top.

Biggest problem is that the phone is full of links to online things like Google Assistant, Bluetooth, WiFi, even YouTube, dangerous things that would use up all the money in my prepaid account in a flash. I made sure they're all off and I hope they stay that way. The net effect is to make my flip phone feel more like a smartphone. I don't want a smartphone; if I wanted a smartphone I'd have gotten an actual smartphone. I want a dumbphone. I'm an iconoclast and I want a dumbphone.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

two concerts

1) Music@Menlo held the first of its winter "residency" concerts of the year on Saturday afternoon. It was titled "Voyage Through the Americas," and one's first thought might be of a rather cramped idea of a sampling of composers of the Americas. Only 3 are South Americans, from just 2 countries; the other 5 are all U.S.ians, 3 of them from the "greatest generation" that flourished in the 1930s-40s. All 8 are men, of course; all but one white, all but one dead. Well, you review the concert you heard, not the one you might wish to have heard.

But it emerged that the plan in the minds of the curators and principal performers, pianist Michael Brown and cellist Nicholas Canellakis, was more specific than that. They wanted to show musical cross-pollination in the mid-20C between the U.S. and Latin America. Thus, the two Argentine composers both studied in the U.S. And most of the U.S. music on offer was directly influenced by Latin American style. This was obvious in the case of Copland's El Salon Mexico and Gershwin's Cuban Overture, both of which resulted from the composers' visits to the named countries in 1932, at which they were impressed by the local music and returned with chunks of it in their tourist bags.

But some of the connections were a little more strained, thus Barber's Souvenirs, a four-hand piano suite, played by Brown and Gilles Vonsattel, evoking, tongue slightly in cheek, the glossy ballroom dance music of the composer's 1910s youth. It earned its place on this program because one of the six dances is a tango. Of sorts.

Both the Copland and Gershwin were orchestral works, played here in piano arrangements dating from the time (2 hands for Copland, 4 hands for Gershwin), but with the orchestral percussion added back in for what the curators considered a necessary flavor. This was played with zest by virtuoso percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum and added as much to the texture as you might imagine.

All the playing was very good, reaching its height in Canellakis's rendition of the cello solos in Bernstein's Meditations from Mass written for Rostropovich. (Also a reduction with piano of an orchestral work, also with percussion reinserted.) I also liked his work in Golijov's Mariel, a lament for a deceased friend, in which the rumbling accompaniment comes not from a piano but - more agreeably, actually - from a marimba, clonked by Rosenbaum.

There was a little more - a cello/piano rhapsody by Ginastera and some brief piano pieces, modernist by Villa-Lobos from Brown and ragtime by Joplin from Vonsattel. An enjoyable outing altogether, regardless of what it consisted or didn't consist of.

2) Back to SFS on Thursday for another lightly populated EPS-conducted concert, this one featuring the U.S. premiere of a new violin concerto by Bryce Dessner. This is a most peculiar work, fast-paced, nervous, and chittery. The soloist, Pekka Kuusisto, for whom the work was written - did he ask for this? - saws quickly back and forth almost ceaselessly for the whole 24 minutes, but except in the cadenza he could rarely be heard, as the orchestral strings either match him or do something else that drowns him out. Meanwhile the rest of the orchestra is trying out fragmentary melodic material with a vaguely minimalist cast. Certainly the clanging chords for percussion and brass at the very end of the work bore more than a faint echo of Glass's Akhnaten.

This was surrounded by two standard repertoire but not blockbuster pieces, Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2 (a more garrulous first draft for No. 3) and Schubert's Fifth Symphony, the most popular of his early essays in that genre. These received fast-paced but not over-hasty performances, smooth and genial but with hints of potential turmoil underneath.

Last week all the string and percussion players were wearing masks; this week only two or three players were. Neither did any of the performers at Menlo have masks. In both cases, though, by decree of the venue the audience was entirely masked up, with vaccinations checked at the door. This is a minor nuisance one can live with, especially considering the likelihood of dying without it. And I'm gradually learning to remember to have my vaccination record with me when I leave the house, instead of having to rush back in to fetch it.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

the most boring day of my life since I stopped attending summer camp

It wasn't just that it was jury duty. Jury duty - by which I mean waiting in the courtroom as part of the jury pool; I've been called up for voir dire once or twice but have never actually served on a jury - is only moderately boring. What turned this into the transcendental was covid restrictions requiring half the seats in the courtroom to be empty.

This meant that the lower half of the jury pool, including me, had to be seated in an empty adjacent courtroom with a video and audio feed of the proceedings. The video was tiny and nearly useless, and the audio was frequently inaudible. Nevertheless we had to sit there and pretend to be paying attention to it for hours on end.

The only interest came from the automated instant transcription system, which struggled terribly. It had no more success hearing what was being said than we did, and was out of its depth when it could. The word "juror," which predictably appeared rather frequently in the proceedings, was not in its vocabulary, so we got frequent "German" and "Karen" and the occasional "jerk."

But the best moment came when the clerk called a new juror candidate by name. As best as I could hear, his name was Stephen Kirwan or something like that, but it came out in the transcript as "Stephen King Kong."

Everybody in the courtroom laughed, the only moment all day when we could be said to be enjoying ourselves, but I suddenly remembered my sf-con costuming friends who've made a gimmick out of comic mashup costumes like Will Scarlett O'Hara or Red Sonja Henie or Salvador Dali Lama. This would be a good one for their list, so I've passed it on.

Friday, October 22, 2021

more on Malcolm Arnold

When I posted for Malcolm Arnold's centenary yesterday morning, I was in a hurry, for a Reason to be Named Later, so I didn't have time to put up more than the basic dance sets. But today I have the time to bring up a little more Malcolm Arnold.

First is a video of the only live concert performance I've ever come across of one of Arnold's symphonies. And it's his Fifth, the best work of the bunch. Even though it's a community orchestra and a little rough, it's actually a very good performance. If I'd known about this before it happened four years ago, I'd seriously have considered going to Phoenix to hear it. At least I can get the videorecording.

And when I wrote my long post on Arnold several years back, I said that someday I wanted to annotate the jokes in Arnold's staggeringly ridiculous parody of Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3. Well, today is that day. This parody was one of several pieces that Arnold wrote for the comedy concerts that the cartoonist and musical humorist Gerard Hoffnung put on in the 1950s.

The original concerts exist only in audiorecordings, but fortunately a Hoffnung revival concert was put on in Prague, of all places, in 1992, and that was videorecorded, so you can see the visual jokes as well as hear the audible ones. You can watch the entire concert here and here - the overture is near the start of the second part - but here's a clip of just the overture, with my comments below.

(Note that throughout the work, the orchestration is coarsened, with added thumps, whoops, and blats)
0.07-0.20 Opening chord held for several bars
0.28-0.58 Conductor responds to diminuendo by crouching behind podium
1.08 Portamento swoop by violins
1.40 Extra punch in a sforzando chord
2.37-2.44 Must be a pop tune that's inserted into the flute part here, but I don't know its source
3.06-3.18 First insertion in the wrong place of the offstage trumpet call scheduled for later in the work
3.29 Tutti chord fails to arrive on schedule as the separating wind chords just keep going
3.31-3.45 Tutti chords continue not to match when the conductor expects them
4.29-5.30 Main theme of the piece (in altered form) transferred to oompah band which marches onstage here
6.16-6.19 Particularly over-coarsened chords here
6.36-6.46 Here's that offstage trumpet call in the wrong place again
7.06-7.15 A little added percussion
7.52-8.06 And the offstage trumpet call misplaced yet again
8.07-8.14 Duple-time music turned into triple-time oompah
8.22-8.30 This time the conductor dances along with the triple-time oompah
8.50-8.58 And when the offstage trumpet is supposed to play? Nothing
8.58-9.14 Conductor backs up four bars and tries again. This time he gets the main-theme oompah band
9.30-10.15 And for the second scheduled appearance of the offstage trumpet? We get all the trumpets in the world and they won't stop until the conductor holds up a red flag
(At this point we just skip over the entire recapitulation and go straight to the coda)
10.35-10.50 Violins get stuck and won't go into the closing Presto until somebody blows a whistle
(11.39 Here most of the coda is also cut)

And here's one more amusing Arnold work, a suite of his music for the 1954 comedy film The Belles of St. Trinian's.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Malcolm Arnold centenary

Today is the centenary of the birth - in Northampton, England - of Sir Malcolm Arnold, one of the noted British composers of the last century and, fifty years ago, the first then-contemporary composer I discovered whose music, in the form of his English Dances, I really enjoyed.

I've written of him here before, notably in this post, but here I'll just put links to his most deservedly popular music, his earlier dance sets. Here, have 16 slices of charm:

English Dances:

Scottish Dances

Cornish Dances

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

another missing item

I'd put the recorded tv show on pause when I went to the kitchen to put the snack away. Then I came back to the living room, sat down in the armchair, and started the show up again. And I did this with the remote, right? Because the set itself just has an on-off button, no other controls.

But when an ad came on and I wanted to fast-forward, I could not find the remote. It wasn't anywhere around, not tucked in the seat, not on the table, not under the chair or its footstool. I even checked in the kitchen in case I'd somehow absently taken it with me (which I do sometimes) and left it there and unpaused by magic.

Nowhere. I had to watch the rest of the show straight through and use the set's button to turn it off.

Only then did I notice the tiny edge of a shadow way under the couch. It was the remote. What was it doing there? I hadn't sat on the couch. It couldn't have fallen there from where I was sitting. It's too big for a cat to carry, and no cats were around anyway.

It's a mystery.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

home on the range

We have a new range/stove/oven. Our old one, which had been getting weird and cranky for some time, spectacularly expired a week ago when I turned the oven on and the heating element sparked and then physically fell apart, with a clunk.

The local appliance store where I bought our washer and dryer has gone out of business, but left behind a web site urging its customers to patronize other local independent stores, which it named, and stay away from the big box stores. I went to the independent I would have visited anyway the first time if it hadn't been closed on Monday, which was the day I'd been doing my shopping. All their units were over $2000.

This seemed improbable. Consumer Reports lists most of its recommended electric units at under $1000 and says that extra money doesn't get you extra quality. I defected and went to a big box store, Best Buy. (Although I found gas cooking preferable when I had it, years ago, I'm not buying a new gas stove at this stage of the environmental game. Not to mention that my house probably has no gas line to the kitchen.)

First step was to limit my search to the brand that Consumer Reports found generally most reliable, Samsung. Then to sort through the models listed on the web site. The way it works in this field, every minor variant in features is a different model, so they proliferate. A model with fingerprint-resistant coating is $100 more than otherwise exactly the same model without it. Then to see which ones they had in stock.

A visit to the local store, to perform a reality check by examining these treasures in person, provided also employees who were eager to be friendly and helpful, if not always well informed. Because it best suited our purposes of those that were in stock, we wound up with this one. It differs most dramatically from the old in the heating elements all being hidden underneath a featureless glass surface, which is true of most of the electric stoves these days.

Delivery, installation, and bringing out of the dead were performed by a different entity but arranged for and paid through Best Buy. That happened today, and this evening I made my first attempt to use the thing. I made the simplest dinner in my repertoire, heating up a Bertolli's frozen pasta entree with some extra chicken and veggies thrown in.

At first it didn't work. Ten minutes is enough to heat this meal up, but this time nothing happened. Had the designers of the heating elements forgotten that a layer of glass would come between the heating and the pan? I eventually concluded I'd been using too small a burner, although the manual warns you strongly against using a burner larger than the pan's contact area. But I picked a larger burner and it came out OK.

I think my next step is to try boiling a lot of pans of water under different circumstances and seeing what happens. But not tomorrow, as I have an all-day Occupation to be Named Later.

We also tried running the oven, and learned that when it turns off after the amount of time you set it for, the machine plays electronically a little song. This seems to be a Samsung thing. Our washer from the same mfr plays a verse of Schubert's "Die Forelle." This one I didn't recognize, but it wasn't "Home on the Range": they missed a bet there.

Monday, October 18, 2021

who killed Colin Powell?

Gen. Colin Powell has died from complications of covid, even though he was vaccinated. One is already hearing some fools say that this shows that the vaccines don't work. No more than a person dying in a high-speed fiery crash, even though they wore a seatbelt, proves that seatbelts don't work.

Nothing is perfect protection, but there are likelihoods. And Colin Powell was quite elderly (84) and suffered from a cancer that reduced his immune system. Someone in that category is not going to get the same degree of benefit from the vaccine than the younger and healthier. But they're still less likely to suffer severe covid with the vaccine than without it, it's just that the danger in either chance is greater than for others.

What would have saved Colin Powell from covid is not getting the virus in the first place. And the way to stop it from floating around is for everybody to get vaccinated. Then the virus will have nowhere to go and random people will be less likely to pick it up or, if they do, be as infectious or for as long.

In other words, it was the unvaccinated who killed Colin Powell. I hope they're humbled and shamed by this.

Public health is one area where your actions don't affect just you, but everybody else. If you won't get vaccinated, get quarantined. You don't get to decide for yourself whether to spread deadly virus around any more than you get to decide for yourself that green means stop and red means go.

(Article explaining this. Another one, better but possibly behind a paywall)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

two talks and a set of awards

Stanford sponsored a couple of online talks that looked interesting.

The first one was by a calligrapher who's undertaking the job of reproducing, in fresh calligraphy on fresh vellum, the entire text of Beowulf. This seemed like a promising idea until my heart sank as the calligrapher revealed that 1) she doesn't read Anglo-Saxon; 2) she doesn't understand the script that Beowulf was written in. She just intends to reproduce verbatim the strokes of the original without having any idea what they represent.
That's bad enough, but then how do you do this for a text parts of which have been lost through decay and having the edges of the sheets burned off in an 18th century fire? You can research what scholars think the lost words and letters say, but without knowledge you can't make your own decisions about which ideas you think are right; and if you don't know the language or the script you can't possibly draw those characters in a way that will look real.

The second talk was by a pair of scholars on the intersection of art, sex, and the law. One was telling the story of NYC avant-garde artists in the 1960s (Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman) and their problems with obscenity prosecutions; further on how their archives have been mucked up by pandemic-forced moves and will take years to straighten out again. I was relieved when the start of the talk, giving the artistic context, was littered with the names of lots of other people I've heard of, from LaMonte Young to Yoko Ono, so I had a knowledge base to hold on to.
The other speaker was more academic in style and I had a harder time following her drift, but the main point seemed to be how NAFTA-initiated intellectual property restrictions are making it hard for Mexican trans people to import specific fashion and artistic supplies from the US. On top of the difficulties you can already imagine about being trans in Mexico. So that was interesting if regrettable to hear about.

This year's Mythopoeic Awards were announced today. The online awards ceremony was a glorious bouquet of mispronunciations, and the winners struck me as mixed. I was only able to vote in the Myth and Fantasy Scholarship category, and while Anna Vaninskaya's Fantasies of Time and Death was not my top choice, I considered the top three to be nearly equal in quality, and this was one. I was out on the Inklings Studies category because of having an essay in one finalist collection, but I did express my opinion on the other finalists, and I did not put Tolkien's Lost Chaucer by John M. Bowers on top. As a history of Tolkien's ill-fated scholarly Chaucer edition I thought it quite useful; as a description of Tolkien's unpublished Chaucer scholarship somewhat less so, and as a literary source study on Chaucerian influence on The Lord of the Rings, well, that part would better have remained unpublished. No, the outstanding books of the year were Catherine McIlwaine's Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth (the Bodleian Library exhibit catalog) and John Garth's The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, with the former taking the edge since this was its last year of eligibility.
B. was pleased when A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) took the Children's Literature award. I'd read, or started to read, two of the Adult Literature finalists, but I didn't like the winner, The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune, as much as Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Bowers' and Klune's acceptance speeches in which they express wonderment that their work was considered worthy of the award may be more level-headed than they realize.

Friday, October 15, 2021

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

My last previous SFS concert, 18 months ago, was Esa-Pekka Salonen's last appearance as a guest conductor before he was scheduled to take over as music director. Since then they had a few concerts last spring, none of which I attended, and we're now a few weeks into the next season, and on Thursday I got to hear EPS in his new capacity. (The initials have not yet taken over. His parking space in the executive lot has his last name on it, as does everyone else's; previously it read "MTT".)

Vaccination was required at the door and masks inside. Possibly due to the exotic repertoire, this concert was lightly attended. I was the only person in the 34-seat balcony side box where I normally sit, and I think that's the first time this has happened since they abandoned Wednesday concerts.

As in San Jose, the string and percussion players were all masked, the winds and brass not. EPS, also unmasked, came out to applause and stood motionless, arms by his sides, on the podium. Linda Lukas, the third flute and about the only one left (the first two flutes, a married couple, both retired last year and have not yet been replaced), sat equally motionless, instrument raised to her lips. This tableau lasted for a long time as silence seeped throughout the auditorium.

Then, without any signal from EPS, she began the opening solo of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. EPS started to conduct with a couple pickup bars before other players joined in. A delicately sumptuous, but vigorous and dramatic, performance of the work followed.

Connections between the concert's pieces were craftily planned. Where Debussy was inspired by a poem by Mallarmé, Kaija Saariaho (who turned 69 on Thursday - happy birthday!) was inspired by a poem by Saint-John Perse for her Aile du songe. This is functionally a brief flute concerto. The orchestra of strings and percussion (no winds) mostly hovered in the background, spectrally, while soloist Claire Chase, who came on stage with a bit of a Groucho walk, made her instrument jump around with various flute-like sounds and a few un-flute-like noises which sounded rather intestinal.

Perse's and hence Saariaho's work was intended to evoke birds, and so - as its title proclaims - was Olivier Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques, which is functionally a brief piano concerto. Here the pianist, Jeremy Denk, and the orchestra (winds and percussion, no strings) were more in it together than in the Saariaho, but despite the claim of being based on birdsong, this hunk of angular modernism with post-Stravinsky whooping noises more evoked the sounds of a factory. I like some Messiaen, but not this one.

Lastly we returned to Debussy for a run through La mer. This rendition got warm applause from the audience but did not please me. The slow parts sounded tentative while the fast ones were increasingly hasty and brusque. I'm hoping for a better result when I return next week.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

world according to cat

The most desirable thing in the world is getting under the bedsheet and wrapping yourself up in it, while the human is trying to make the bed. Being ferreted out and tossed off the bed shall not stop you from instantly resuming your appointed rounds.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

medium entertainment

I discover TV shows by wandering into the living room and seeing what B. is watching. This time, a couple weeks ago, it was the second episode of a new drama called Ordinary Joe. B. lost interest but I've kept on through at least two more episodes. If I don't bother to watch at some future point, I'll know I'm done. More likely it'll be canceled.

Ordinary Joe's gimmick is not Joe, who though central is rather inert, nor the plot of his life, which is thoroughly mundane melodrama, but the fact that there's three of him. Joe faced a trilemma of what to do that afternoon after he graduated from college, and now ten years later each choice has led to a drastically different career, marriage to one of two different women or a single life, and lots of regrets over roads not taken. What's more, both of his wives are also active in his other two lives. So it's keeping track of what's going on as the three storylines jump back and forth that gives this otherwise dull story its slightly mind-bending appeal.
(e.g. which is the version of wife #2 who's having an affair with her boss? Is it the one Joe's married to, the single one, or the one who's married to Joe's best friend? Not clear at first, as the color-coding of the plot lines is not that consistent. But it turns out it's the single one.)

The other medium entertainment of the week came from the notification that Opera San Jose's first production of the season would be online only, meaning we could try out an opera of questionable charm without having to take the trouble of going there. It was a 40-minute, one-act, two-character drama by Rimsky-Korsakov titled Mozart and Salieri, after Pushkin's poem on the subject. No, Amadeus was not the first treatment, and in fact the plot is pretty much the same as Pushkin's. Salieri fumes at Mozart's superior talent and determines to do him in. In this one he invites him to lunch and gives him a slow-acting poison.
It was more talk than action, the music was mostly meandering recitative that didn't sound much like Rimsky, the singers were OK, there were a few snatches of genuine Mozart. But I couldn't share the enthusiasm of SFCV's review.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Beethoven half-marathon

I was up in the City again on Saturday for a musical event I couldn't resist, although less than 200 other people seemed interested enough to be there: the first day of a two-day marathon concert run through all 32 of Beethoven's canonical piano sonatas. Two concerts, each over three hours long, and I suspect the fourth concert on Sunday will be a lot longer than that.

Previous experience with listening through the entire cycle, both on recordings and in series of concerts (more spaced-out than this one) suggested to me that trying to take in the whole thing in two days would overwhelm my sensors, so with regret for missing the Waldstein and the Appassionata I just got tickets for the first day. But this event had what turned out to be a greater source of variety and refreshment than I'd expected: 12 different pianists (with another 5 to be added in on Sunday), where all my previous traversals through the canon had been by one pianist each. Most played one of the 15 sonatas each, with a couple returns, and several of them were due to reappear on Sunday. Only 2 of the 12 were women, though so were 4 of the 5 who didn't play on Saturday.

Ranging from distinguished names in the field (the most renowned I heard was Stephen Prutsman in Op. 7) down to conservatory students not quite ready for prime time, the pianists vied for titles like the most dramatic, the wittiest, the most transparent, the most lyrical, the deepest tone colors, and so on. If I were formally reviewing this I'd have taken notes and could go into detail.

But what a satisfying listening experience this was. One of the pandemic-canceled concerts I most regretted missing was Andras Schiff playing the four wonderful sonatas of Opp. 26-28, and that entire repertoire was just the second half of the second concert here. I'm sure I liked this a lot better than I would have Schiff, whom I've never been especially fond of as a pianist. Richard Raymond in Op. 27 No. 1 was quite extraordinary in his variety of expression, as was Mari Kodama in the intensity she brought to the "Moonlight" Sonata.

For some unfathomable reason, the concerts were in the SF Jazz Center, which has at least improved its acoustics since the last time I was there for a classical chamber concert. Seating was open and there was plenty of room to keep distanced. Having lunched beforehand, I drove up in just enough time for the 1 pm start. Forced by a weekend street closure on Hayes Street to go past the Grove St. garage, I decided just to park there. But a sign saying they closed for the night at 10 gave me pause, as I was quite sure we wouldn't be done with the evening 7 pm concert by then, nor were we. So after the first concert let out at 4.30, I hauled my car out and found a street space. Then I had to seek dinner. The concert hall had been strict about vaccinations and masks, my favorite nearby Thai restaurant was rather less so, but it was still pretty empty at 5.15. One healthy meal of crisp veggies, shrimp, and a little rice later, I was primed for another plunge into Beethoven.

Friday, October 8, 2021

after the concert

I got home about 10.30 on Thursday evening. B. was still up and told me with some tenseness to check my e-mail. That's how I came to spend the next half-hour writing a quick memoir of the late Mary Kay Kare, filled with regret and frustration at how I tried to be her friend, but full success at that was beyond my friendship skill set.

I've received a number of compliments on the excellence of this quick portraiture, and it's not the first time a hasty memorial that I've written in the first flush of grief has received such responses. I seem to have a knack for this, but I'd much rather not have to write them in the first place, wouldn't you agree?

So where had I been? For the first time in over 19 months since before the pandemic, I'd gone up to San Francisco for a concert. Aside from distance and time, it wasn't more difficult than going to San Jose. I picked up take-out on the way for a quick dinner, and parked in the garage a block from Herbst Theatre, which was masked, vaccination-required, and (unlike San Jose) firmly socially distanced in seating.

It was the first in a four-concert series from San Francisco Performances that I could not resist. The Catalyst Quartet, who are all I think Hispanic, decided to play a set of concerts of the music of historically important Black composers. I'd heard all these composers, I liked their music, and I wanted to get to know them better.

The main feature of the concert was the precocious (he was 18) Piano Quintet in G Minor (1893) of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (yes, named in honor of the obvious person), which the performers in post-concert talk said was influenced by Dvorak, but I don't hear that: to me it's in a Brahmsian declamatory style, yet filled with un-Brahmsian touches throughout, like the florid flourishes in the piano in the first of four epic movements. Stewart Goodyear was the pianist, like SCT British and of half-Black half-white parentage.

We also had a set of 5 short quartet pieces by SCT, these more looking forward to Stravinsky than back to Brahms; and the full "Lyric" Quartet by George Walker, a notable African-American composer (first of that description to win the Pulitzer in music) whose music I've reviewed before. He wrote this in 1946 and it fits the same description as the Quartet of a decade earlier by Samuel Barber (about a decade Walker's senior). It has a famous central Adagio often played by itself with string orchestra, surrounded by faster and harsher outer movements. Except that Walker's movements fit better together, yet his Allegros are more diverse in style than Barber's. But like Barber, Walker wrote on the human scale that was being abandoned by many post-WW2 composers, and I'm grateful to have his work.

And so my soul was enriched by music and I was unknowingly readied to face our human mortality.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mary Kay Kare

This is Mary Kay in happier times, about ten years ago I think. I'd like to remember that, because life was not always good to Mary Kay, most grievously to her when her beloved husband Jordin died unexpectedly after heart surgery four years ago. Since that time she had felt utterly bereft and was often incommunicato, to the distress and frustration of her friends, which is essentially why it wasn't realized immediately that she had died very recently of a blood infection. The news was passed on through a couple of hands and I don't know any more than that.

Mary Kay was from Oklahoma, and though she remained in touch with her family, she tended to describe home and family alike as something she was glad to escape from. A career as a catalog librarian was part of that escape; she worked for several years in quality control for OCLC (known to the general public as the proprietors of WorldCat) in Ohio. But as with a lot of us in that field, her career stalled when posts ran out and she fell out of the current swim. I was able to get her an interview for an open post once at a library where I was working, but it didn't get any further than that.

It was fandom which really caused Mary Kay to blossom. She was a conrunner, she was a smof, she was a Hugo administrator, she was an apahack, she was a filker, she was active in our local Mythopoeic Society discussion group, she was like many fans a loving cat-owner. She met Jordin at a Worldcon, and they were a devoted couple ever after. The only catch was that Jordin's work required him to spend a lot of time in Seattle, and Mary Kay was very sensitive to weather and could not handle the overcast climate. They tried a number of solutions - part-time here, part-time there; living separated part of the time; before finally being able to settle in San Jose several years back.

Mary Kay at her best was intelligent and invigorating and a great person for conversations about books and cats. I wish we could have done more to alleviate the depression and the self-deprecation that loomed over her so much, darkening even the earlier years and getting worse over time. But she could be hard to reach, both in terms of establishing conversation and in pursuing the conversation you're having. I'm sorry things didn't work out better for her.

temperate glory

The temperature has finally dropped to 70F for the first time since - let's see, I've been keeping a spreadsheet of the weather forecasts so I can be prepared for heat waves - since the end of April. Over 5 months. Maybe I can finally put away the fixings for chicken salad, which is my go-to dinner recipe on nights when it's too hot to cook, and bring back out the lentil soup which is a mainstay for winter.

Fortunately this summer the heat never got quite so continuously over 100F that I was forced to retreat to an air-conditioned hotel room as I was last year. Plus B's vigilance in running fans in open windows in the evening to cool the house down has been balm to our bodies even as it aggravates the electric bills. Fortunately we can afford to suffer through the latter.

In other news, one of the many great things about not being on FB is that I didn't even learn about the Great Outage of Monday until it was over. But now, thanks to the whistleblower, we're in for another orgy - for this has happened before - of social therapy for FB, where everybody goes around the circle and tells it what's wrong with it. And Z. issues heated denials that his company would ever do what the documents have just proved that it does do all the time.

In today's column, Leonard Pitts chides FB by pointing out that getting people to talk to one another doesn't necessarily bring them together, and he cites an interview his newspaper did 22 years ago with a historian pointing out the long history of the erroneous assumption that it does. But in fact knowledge that it's an error dates back in pop culture rather longer than 22 years:
Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley

On Saturday I did it. I went to a live symphony concert, my first in 19 months. The last one was the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony on 2/29/20, big work on the program Mendelssohn's "Scottish." This one was Symphony Silicon Valley, big work on the program Dvorak's "New World."

I was there to review it for SFCV. So that was another way in which this was a long-awaited refreshing.

SSV required masks and vaccination, but otherwise acted as if the pandemic was over. They didn't spatially separate the audience, they didn't forgo the pre-concert talk or an intermission. I decided not to trust to one of my interim cloth masks, but got one of the newly arrived 3M N95 masks I'd ordered online. It was actually more comfortable - the straps go over the head and under the chin instead of around the ears, and it's the only mask I've had yet which doesn't cause fogging up of the glasses.

I even treated myself to dinner out beforehand, at Poor House Bistro, which is about to be displaced by the encroaching Google Village, hopefully to reappear at another spot.

There will be more to come.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

card readers

Credit and debit cards - which have become more necessary lately, as the pandemic seems to have put an end to easy cash transactions even in smaller shops - have been getting more complicated and require savvy-computer-end-user levels of experience and awareness to use properly.

It used to be that all insert-card readers expected you to put the card in and then immediately pull it out. But it's increasingly common now to get ones requiring you to leave the card in until the DO NOT REMOVE CARD sign changes to REMOVE CARD, which are surprisingly easy to misread the one for the other. I suspect that's to do with the replacement of magnetic stripes with chips.

But then there are ones that not only expect you to pull the card straight out but which don't display anything on the screen until you do. So beware, the tired or distracted user.

Now there are the touchless or tap cards. Oh, watch out for those. I was purchasing groceries and preparing to run a card through the stripe-reader when suddenly the reader displayed "purchase approved" before I'd done anything. Ah, I'd also been holding my wallet and the reader had detected another, touchless card buried deep in a wallet pocket and plonked the purchase on that. Not the card I'd been intending to use.

So, another caution of modern life that they don't specifically warn you about so you have to learn it the hard way: don't let your wallet or other card-holder anywhere near the reader or you may make a surprise purchase.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

another thing Zoom can't do

We learned while reading plays aloud on Zoom that Zoom is inhospitable to reproducing multiple people talking in unison.

What we learned from a library educational program today is that Zoom also balks at reproducing the raucous sound of a crumhorn.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

This is a different Van Gogh images projection show than the one that's been on in San Francisco. The reviews I've seen say it's better, and it's also closer, which is the determining factor for one with only a casual interest. It's in the San Jose convention center's South Hall, which is the giant temp building they put up to occupy their back parking lot a few years ago.

You show your proof of vaccination - though they're quite bewildered by the actual card, expecting it to be transferred to a phone - and nobody's very interested in your ticket - and head down a clogged (because people read very slowly) passage by a series of panels with explanatory narration and quotes from Vince's letters in English and Spanish. Finally, if you get around that and the arrow-bearing signs reading "Gogh This Way" which must be terribly confusing to anyone who doesn't know how to mispronounce the name, you get to the main hall.

My tastes in visual art run towards the fractal. I like art which reveals more detail the closer you look at it. Van Gogh isn't like that. His art looks better the further back from it you get (which is hard to do in a cramped and crowded art gallery). Close-up it disintegrates, as the impressionists' art does, except that Van Gogh is more dynamic than any impressionist. You get up close and personal with a Van Gogh not to appreciate its beauty, but to study his technique.

Well, this exhibit is entirely up close. It's a huge room draped with hanging canvases all around and some randomly in the middle, on all of which and on the floor photo images of Van Gogh artwork are projected from ceiling cameras at Brobdingnagian size, with 2-4 fold repetition across the room so you don't have to look at everything. It's technique study time, all right, except that a major part of studying Van Gogh's technique is appreciating the three-dimensionality of the clumps of paint stuck to the canvas, and you're missing that here. There's nowhere to stand back, and if you get up really close to this, you see the individual pixels of the images.

What keeps this exhibit going, and what makes it so unpainterly, is its activity. The images change every minute or two, and in between they move. Images flow onto the screens bit by bit, as if an invisible paint brush were creating them as you watch. Ink drawings erupt into color. Foregrounds move in front of backgrounds, clouds waft around in the breeze, petals rush past blossoming branches, waves rock in the surf, portraits of people actually blink - oh, come on.

The whole sequence takes about 30-40 minutes to run on loop, and it's worth seeing parts of it twice. Attendees mostly stood around or sat on the floor. There were a few chairs and benches, and after a few minutes I took refuge on a rare vacant one. Meanwhile recorded music played, hard to hear over the roar of the air conditioning, but it seemed a mixture of minimalism, folk, and Parisian cafe music.

And then there's a meager gift shop with exhibit swag (plus covid masks with Vince's paintings on them: that I liked), and out the door.

It was an immersive experience, it gave a definite sense of the artist's style, but it also felt artificially curated and separate from the real art.

Monday, September 27, 2021

flew shot

No we didn't fly, we drove to our flu shot, but it was a longer drive than we'd hoped.

So various articles had been urging people to get their flu shots early this year. Our provider had said they were going to start last week, but when we went in to our local facility, they said they weren't starting for another week. Then B. discovered they had a hotline number that confirmed this, but when I tried it a few days later, it had been changed to say that they'd postponed it indefinitely.

Other vendors were offering the shot (though it wouldn't be free, but quite expensive, if we did it that way), so this was vexing. But then it occurred to me: the phone hotline voice menu had asked callers to specify their local facility. What if I specified a different facility?

And what do you know: two of them, about 20 miles away in different directions, had already set up their flu clinics. It was just ours that was running late.

So to one of these we drove this morning. Two lines under tents in the parking lot, one for flu shot, one for covid vaccine. The former line was much longer; this is civilized country, so most people around here already have their covid vaccine. One man in the covid line was wearing a t-shirt that read "Just Do It" and I wondered, if that's his philosophy why hadn't he been vaccinated already?

Our line was mostly older people, although a family group in front of us had 2 small children, both of whom cried like the dickens when their turn came, as the nurses kept saying "It's all right." No it isn't, I'm sure the kids wanted to reply: you're sticking a needle into me! Everyone was masked although one older person had it pulled down to her chin, which is pretty clueless. It took over an hour to wend through the line though there were plenty of open stations. It was 10 am when we got there, and when we left at 11 the line was much longer and extended out of the tent, which it hadn't when we arrived, to a much hotter parking lot than it had been when we arrived.

But we're jabbed now and I hope that takes care of that. Next, still waiting for word from Godot about the covid boosters.