Wednesday, September 28, 2022

20 hours at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

20 hours over two days was long enough to see both of the actual Shakespeare plays the self-designated Shakespeare Festival has seen fit to put on this year.

The Tempest had some good acting, but as a show it was dull, duller, dulles. This was partly the fault of the text, which is one of old Will's poorest: it's filled with people talking about what they're going to do later. But a good production can overcome that. This wasn't one. The direction was lax, the amplification in the outdoor theatre subjected the speaking to airport PA levels of unintelligibility, and the costuming was stunningly bad. The text specifies that Prospero has a sumptuous wardrobe, but he and Miranda looked like they were dressed in seaweed. How can Alonso be expected to welcome his new daughter-in-law if she looks like something the cat dragged in?

That Prospero was Black, his brother was Hispanic, and his daughter was Vietnamese is only what you expect of stage Shakespeare shows these days, and not a mental hurdle for the viewer, any more than was ...

King John, which was sort of guest-produced by a Seattle group calling itself the upstart crow collective, which "produce[s] classical plays with diverse casts of women and non-binary people." So this indoor-theatre production was mostly women - including a couple of OSF veterans, Vilma Silva and Kate Hurster - and a few non-binaries. And let me tell you, they were every one the most dynamic, vivid, engrossing Shakespeare cast you could hope to see. They'd all thoroughly thought through the words they were speaking, and their non-vocal movements were equally well chosen. Special credit to Jessika D. Williams as the sardonic Philip the Bastard and Aysan Celik as a thunderously vicious Constance. This little-known play is actually one of old Will's best, but it was the cast that really made it run.

The only disconcerting note was some bizarrely stylized fight scenes.

This is the first summer season OSF has put on since before the pandemic, and they're still not entirely geared up. The gift shop is closed, so is the members' lounge, and the display cases on the outside wall of the third theatre are empty. Maybe these things will be back in place next year. Maybe.

The other effect is that the theatres were half-empty. People just haven't been showing up. As a result of which, next season is cutting way back in number of productions. Masking and vaccination are strictly enforced inside the theatres, which we were comfortable with, but standards are a little loose outside in the businesses of Ashland. At least our favorite restaurants are still there, if sometimes closed over more days of the week than before.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

hobbit day

It was Bilbo and Frodo's birthday today, and going on an unnecessarily extended quest for fried chicken for lunch was an appropriately incongruous way to celebrate it.

In another world, one in which we all had better luck with health matters, I would have spent the later afternoon with a bunch of friends settling toastily into the auditorium at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, surrounded by its Tolkien manuscript exhibition, listening to Carl F. Hostetter talking about "Editing the Tolkien Manuscript." In the event, neither of us was actually there, and the whole thing was conducted by Zoom. Carl talked more about clues to dating the manuscripts and the characteristics, changing over time, of Tolkien's handwriting and penmanship, than about transcribing the text, defeating challenge though, he admitted, that can sometimes be.

So what should I then find but a post, a couple days old now, by John Scalzi on the decline of cursive writing. He says it's not being taught in schools any more. Oh really? Good riddance; I thought it made no sense when I encountered it (in fourth grade, not, as Scalzi reports as normal, second), some years before Scalzi was born. "Now we're going to learn a new way to write," the teacher said brightly, and I remembered how much trouble it had been to learn the old way to write - printing - and I was dashed if I was going to go through that again.

So I didn't. I just flatly refused to learn cursive, and I never have. Eventually my mother pointed out that I was going to have to learn to sign my name, so I learned enough cursive for that (though I never quite got the hang of the "v"), but that's it. The only things I handwrite these days are 1) notes and occasional first drafts for concert reviews; 2) annotations on printed out proofs; 3) memos to B. on the backs of old one-a-day calendar pages. And those are all printed, not cursive. As a result of which, any future scholars studying my manuscripts are going to have a lot less trouble reading them that Carl, or even sometimes the author himself, has or had with Tolkien's.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

we are bivalent

Yes, B. and I have received the new covid vaccine. Today was the appointment we'd made about ten days ago. I was anxious to get this done, because next week we will be seeing people and maybe having meals with them, so it's best to be up to date.

This is my fifth covid shot altogether; they had to inscribe it on the back of my vaccination record card, where there's room for just one more.

We drove down to the facility that had had the prompt appointments, were in and out in about 15 minutes with no fuss, and then stopped by the nearby excellent fish & chips place to pick up some lunch to take home.

And that was the exciting event of the day in this household, unless you were a cat.

Monday, September 19, 2022

in memoriam, monarchs past

I sing the Georges Four
For Providence could stand no more.

Some say that far the worst
Of all was George the First.

But yet, by some 'tis reckoned
That worse still was George the Second.

And what mortal ever heard
Any good of George the Third?

When George the Fourth from Earth descended
Thank God the line of Georges ended.

- Walter Savage Landor
(who was not a fan of monarchy at the best of times, and this wasn't the best of times)

(There are other versions of this doggerel, but I prefer this one)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Berlin 1938: Broadcasts from a Vanishing Society

This was a concert I attended today, my first in the City since June. It was held in the post theatre on the Presidio, the old military reservation near the Golden Gate (now decommissioned and held by the NPS), and the reason it was held there was because the post theatre was built in 1939, making it vaguely contemporary with the show.

It was put on by the New Century Chamber Orchestra, normally a classical outfit but which remade itself into a 1930s cabaret band for the occasion. The idea was to convey an emotional understanding of a fraught time in world history through its popular music.

It was constructed as a series of news bulletins running through events of the Euroamerican year - including the biggies like the Anschluss, Munich, and Kristallnacht, but also cultural events - read by two announcers, seated at desks by the side of the stage, through microphones that distorted their voices to make them sound like they were coming over the radio. One was German (speaking with supertitles, but also sometimes in English) supposedly from Berlin, the other American supposedly from New York.

And every once in a while one or both would move to center stage and sing, undistorted, a song that reflected on the news they'd been reading, for both of them were actually singers only moonlighting as pseudo-announcers. The American was the noted baritone Thomas Hampson.

The songs were mostly sarcastic German cabaret songs, and at the end they rewrote Lili Marlene to turn it into a sarcastic German cabaret song. Imagine Tom Lehrer with a more brutal German sense of humor. (And in fact I learned while looking one of the composers, Georg Kreisler, up, that he also once wrote a song called "Taubenvergiften im Park," which, I swear to God, means "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park." But even translated, the song isn't as funny as Lehrer's.)

There were also a few American songs, Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" and a couple numbers from Kurt Weill's Knickerbocker Holiday (Weill being of course originally German himself, but you couldn't tell it from this).

Anyway, interesting show, if not quite what I was expecting, with parallels to current events left for the listener to discern.

And it was all the way up in the Presidio - that meant driving there and through its twisty unfamiliar precincts, though I've been to this venue before - on the first rainy day of the year. This was traditional California rain: no sudden heavy downpours; a cloud front just moves in and drops a heavy drizzle on you for the whole day. After running around with a lot of other customers trying to get parking permits from a series of broken machines (never mind, nobody ticketed us), I was both soaked through and plumbed out by the time I got to the hall.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

other minds

This came up in discussion again, so I might as well write it down now.

Tolkien made a statement that has often been taken as offering his imprimatur to those who wish to adapt and recast his works.

In 1951, in a letter to Milton Waldman of Collins, a publisher he was hoping would issue his work, he wrote of his intent in creating it, "to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story ... which I could dedicate simply to: to England, to my country." He explained that "I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and have many only placed in the scheme, and sketched." And then comes the key sentence:

"The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama."

All sorts of people have volunteered to be those "other minds and hands." They've even erected it as a motto. And they take this as his authorization.

It isn't.

There are several points which this interpretation leaves out.

1) Tolkien's description is of his former intent. He's long since given it up, disavowed it. The opening words of the paragraph, just before the "to make a body" I initially quoted, are these: "Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind ..." And just after the key sentence he puts one word: "Absurd."

He's both boasting of and apologizing for his project at the same time, a peculiar approach. It's evident that in his heart he still wants to do it. But that's not what he writes: instead, he is not endorsing the description he is giving of his former intent.

2) His idea of what the "other minds and hands" would do does not include literary storytelling. It's other arts only. "Wielding paint and music and drama," he says, arts he did not aspire to. In writing to visual artists and composers inspired by his works, Tolkien consistently hopes for a work "akin to my own inspiration" (letter to Carey Blyton, 1964), but is not offended if it is not. (Unless it was in an edition of his book.) But he was infuriated by proposed sequels. "I suppose .... that there is no legal obstacle to this young ass publishing his sequel, if he could find any publisher, either respectable or disreputable, who would accept such tripe" (letter to Joy Hill, 1966). Tolkien is not endorsing fan fiction.

What about dramatic adaptations, though? It's evident, especially if you read Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-stories" (originally written in 1938/9 and published in 1947) that he considered drama an art separate from literature. But he changed his mind.

3) This letter was written in 1951. That's before The Lord of the Rings was published, after which Tolkien belatedly discovered through some painfully inept attempts at dramatization of The Lord of the Rings how naïve he had been in his description of planning to lay his legendarium out in the public domain in the Waldman letter.

Read the preface to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, which takes the perspective of a literary artist claiming ownership of and responsibility for his own writing. Read also the numerous letters expressing his dismay at early attempts at dramatization of the book in his letters for 1955-58.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

quick shot

A few days ago I got an e-mail from Kaiser, our health service provider, saying that the annual flu shot would be available on Monday. In past years, our local facility has put the stations for this in lobby areas on the upper floors of the medical office building. But on looking it up, I found these were now supplementary stations with limited hours, and the full 8/6 (you've heard of 24/7, this is 8/6) hours were to be in a drive-through station set up in the parking lot of a satellite building down the street (right adjacent to the Apple spaceship).

No appointment necessary, so B. and I drove in this morning to find no lines. We rolled down our windows, they checked our membership cards and jabbed our upper arms, and we were off.

While I had been checking, I also looked up the covid vaccine. The last time I'd checked, they hadn't had the new vaccine yet, and as my last booster was 5 months ago I was designated ineligible for a new one (usual threshold is 6 months). But now they do have the new vaccine, I am eligible and so is B., and after scouting listings for 3 facilities I found one where we could get an appointment for next week, before we go on a trip.

In other good news, the week-long heat wave broke on Saturday, and after a couple days of waiting for the sizzle to wear off, we're back to balmy late-summer weather. B. is now practicing violin without a fan on, for the first time in a while.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

a wizard's guide

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon). Argyll, 2020.

The title might lead you to expect some kind of expository lump, a fictional cookbook, but no, this is a novel, with a first-person 14-year-old protagonist. Her name is Mona, and she holds a responsible position in her aunt's bakery in this not-quite-medievalish city.

Oh yes, and she's a wizard. In this world wizards, who have a talent they're just born with, are none too powerful and can usually do their magic on just one thing. Mona's is baked goods, bread and cookies. She can use her magic to encourage the bread to bake properly, or to animate things, e.g. make gingerbread men dance. She also has a sentient sourdough starter living in the basement.

So when, in the course of this novel - sorry for mentioning stuff from the last third of the novel in a review, but this is the only way the title will make sense - she is the only wizard available to help defend the city from an invading army, what can her magic do to help?

Well, what the senior wizards - who never condescend to Mona: they treat her with respect as a fellow practitioner - had told her is that it's not the power of your magic that counts, it's the creativity of what you do with it. So here's something: a golem soldier baked of bread isn't going to mind being stuck with a knife or sword, and as it isn't serrated it's going to be awfully hard to cut the golem down that way. Defensive baking. You get the idea.

I usually bog down in fantasy novels I read for our book discussion group. This one, while not aspiring to greatness, was enjoyable and interesting all the way through. It's well crafted. It starts as a murder mystery, with a body discovered in the bakery, but this ends up being directly related to the plot, and not a sideshow as is usual. The characters are all individual and memorable, even when they disappear from the story not to return until much later. Only once did I have to stop and think, "Now who was that person they just mentioned?" and look them up from earlier on, and that was an incidental character who doesn't appear on stage. Though Mona's magic is vital to the city's defenses, she doesn't save it single-handedly. And we never forget that, hey, she's 14 and having a lot dumped on her shoulders.

The only distractions were musical. There's a character named Elgar and Mona has an Uncle Albert.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

the all-time great QE2 story

I haven't tried linking to a tweet before, so I hope this works. It's a brief video of a former royal bodyguard telling a story of what happened when he accompanied the Queen on one of their regular outings, a picnic on the hills outside Balmoral.

Friday, September 9, 2022

in commemoration, Pauline Baynes

It's just now been brought to my attention that 9 September, which it still barely is here, was the centenary of the birth of Pauline Baynes. She was the young artist who was commissioned to illustrate Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham in 1949, and who turned in mock versions of medieval manuscript illustrations that wholly delighted all who saw them. Here, for instance, is the first page of the story:

Tolkien wrote, in a tone of pleasure you don't often get from him, "They are more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme. I showed them to my friends whose polite comment was that they reduced my text to a commentary on the drawings."
This led to further work illustrating other works by Tolkien including The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Smith of Wootton Major, as well as C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories. The grander side of Tolkien's imagination was considered a bit beyond her rather small-scale approach, but on the other hand she did draw the cover for the large one-volume softcover which for many British readers is the iconic edition of The Lord of the Rings:

Honor her today and continuously, eh?

Thursday, September 8, 2022

so, the Queen

Whatever you may think of the British monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II didn't make it that way and it was not in her power to change it fundamentally. All she could do was be the best Queen she could, and I think she did pretty well: presiding, not ruling, and doing it with dignity and not behaving as if it was a total waste of her time.

Seventy years of it. And she was on the job to the end, commissioning a new prime minister only two days ago. (That makes 15 different ones in her reign, 3 of them women.) She was 96. Some were expecting her to go on a lot longer: her mother lived to be 101.

And now, King Charles III. Some wondered if he'd take that name. After all, the first two Charleses were hardly ideal models of royalty, and the name "Charles III" already had a smudge on it, being the term the Jacobites used for Bonnie Prince Charlie after his father, the Old Pretender, died.

But it's usual for the monarch to take his or her own name. Some articles have implied it's not, but the circumstances in which a king took a different name were rare and unusual. (In both cases it was a prince named Albert, due to Victoria's attempt to honor her husband. Both thought a King Albert was inappropriate, and took a middle name instead. Also, Victoria was actually her middle name (her first was Alexandrina), but she'd been called Victoria from childhood.

When Elizabeth became Queen, some expected her to take another name. There'd been only one Queen Elizabeth; was there the nerve to change that? But the Queen said it was her name and she was keeping it, and it turned out not to be much trouble to refer to the earlier monarch as Elizabeth I.

The official accession is a meeting of the Privy Council, probably tomorrow. The coronation comes later. It's a big ceremony but it doesn't mark the beginning of the reign. The Privy Council does that. By the way, I'd like to inform the radio announcer who was blabbing about it that the verb form of what the monarch gets at the coronation isn't "coronated." It's "crowned."

The Duke of Cambridge is now also Duke of Cornwall. That's automatic. But he doesn't get to be Prince of Wales unless and until the monarch says so. Elizabeth waited several years before giving that title to the (admittedly then very young) Charles.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

heat wave

It's been very hot here - over 100 degrees F, and we're in one of the cooler parts of the area - for several days now, and it'll continue through tomorrow.

A couple years ago during such a wave I retreated to a hotel for a couple of nights so that I could sleep under air conditioning, but B. has learned to be vigilant in the use of fans, and the nighttime temperatures are not too bad.

Daytime, not so much. Yesterday I spent the whole afternoon at a library - a tiny branch in an obscure corner of the jurisdiction, which proved to be not very crowded - and fortunately I had something printed out that I needed to read, so that was worthwhile.

The cats have been stretching out on the linoleum downstairs. Usually if I head upstairs around 5 p.m., Tybalt bounds past me to get upstairs first, because he figures I'm on the way to the bathroom where the cat food is kept, and they will get fed. Almost always he's right about my destination.

Today, though, he lay lying there until he heard me opening the canisters: then he bounded up. But he clearly wasn't going to expend any energy until he was absolutely certain that he was about to be fed.

Monday, September 5, 2022


B. and I are getting our exercise by taking walks through the neighborhood. We usually go past a couple of local landmarks: a house with a low brick wall around its front lawn where lizards (little fence lizards are common here) like to sun themselves, and a house whose owner keeps chickens she sometimes brings out into the front yard.

These are useful as markers when I'm describing distances we may have to walk when away from home. I can say "as far as the lizard house" or "as far as the chicken house" and we know how much energy will need to go into it. We're talking up to about 0.3 mile here; except for turning around we don't walk further than that.

Usually we've been taking these walks in late afternoon, but a currently oppressive heat wave has discouraged that. This morning we were both up at 6 AM, just at sunrise, so B. suggested we walk then. It was very quiet. No lizards, no chickens, just a couple dog-walkers and joggers. But we did see a rabbit. White with black ears, it was nibbling leaves in the street gutter and didn't seem particularly afraid of passing humans. It must have been a pet that got out. Last time we saw a rabbit was a brown jackrabbit in Albuquerque.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

BISQC, day 7; Oxonmoot, day 4

I woke up at 1.30 AM and immediately turned the computer on, to find I was just in time for Jessica Yates' remarkable and provocative Oxonmoot paper attempting to reconstruct the topic of the lost lecture on Hamlet that Tolkien delivered at the Oxford English School in 1937, and about which she has been regaling me for the past few months.

I also started to watch a talk on The Hobbit which won my allegiance initially by pointing out that the story doesn't begin until the sixth paragraph, but instead of treating the previous paragraphs like the expository introduction they are, the author evidently was trying to sort the text out by internal chronology. Plus bad sound quality and I gave up on that one.

Also saw part of a proposal for a Tolkien museum. This got lively when the presenter showed a slide featuring a photo of what looked like Tolkien, with a pipe, examining plants in a greenhouse. "That's not Tolkien!" shouted some members of the in-person audience. "Yes it is!" replied the presenters. "No it isn't!" repeated the audience, and their will prevailed.

Meanwhile at the string quartet competition, the finalists were announced as the Balourdet, Isidore, and Opus 13 Quartets. Interesting, I thought: those are the three groups that played Brahms in the Romantic round, and my thoughts went back to an earlier competition when the three finalists were the groups that played Ravel in the Romantic round. At least, I thought, Isidore and Opus 13 did above-average Brahms: his quartets do not often come off well.

My own choice as the best ensemble was the Dior Quartet, followed by the Karski and either the Abeo or Terra.

The finalists get to play a major middle or late Beethoven quartet of their previous choice, and this time we wound up with all three of the most prestigious of the 5 late quartets, just about the most epic and intimidating music in the standard quartet repertoire: Op. 130/133, Op. 131, and Op. 132. Each took close to an hour.

My favorite of the three is Op. 132. I thought the Isidore Quartet did very well with it, but I've heard other performances I found more sublime. The Balourdet Quartet perhaps did better with Op. 131, which I find a tougher nut, and the Opus 13 Quartet attacked the enormous Op. 130/133 with gumption.

Regardless, the competition winner was the Isidore. Well, their Brahms was very good, and their Canadian competition quite stylish, and their Beethoven at least reached for real quality. Reasonable show; sorry I couldn't be there in person.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

BISQC, day 6; Oxonmoot, day 3; Watership Down conference, day 2

This was the day that all nine of the Banff string quartet competitors got to play a half-hour set of their own choosing. And what basically all of them chose was something modern, 3 of them Bartok. I got a little tired of listening to the unending screeing and scrawing. I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten quite so impatient if I were there in person, thus showing the disadvantage of remote listening.

Two half-points to the Abeo Quartet for choosing, for its modernist entry, half of the Shostakovich Third - and doing a much better job on it than they did at Menlo last month - and prefacing it with half of a Mozart, a composer rarely heard at Banff as the required Haydn takes up most of the 18th century air space.

And three quarter-points to the Dior Quartet for picking one movement each out of four recent quartets: less screeing and scrawing than alternation between slow, soft, and gentle; and loud, chaotic, and vehement, though never harsh and dissonant.

And a couple more partial points to the Karski Quartet, whose modern piece was the Debussy, which sounded awfully tame in the circumstances, and who followed it with a wild and woolly arrangement of the Beatles' "Come Together."

Everybody else, despite the brief incursions of Bach, Purcell, Grieg, and Schumann ... nah.

Being up for part of the middle of the night enabled me to hear a couple of Oxonmoot and WD papers. One of these the presenter spent more time fiddling with his electronics than giving the paper. WD had turned the Zoom chat function off, otherwise I'd have written "Get -on- with it!" Unfortunately for the sake of hearing them, I'd fallen back asleep by the time anything I as really interested in was on. Maybe they'll be available later; I await word from the conferences on that.

But I did get to a couple of afternoon (my time) Oxonmoot papers, including a presentation on computational analysis which was almost a parody of the "all about the method, not a penny for the results" kind of analytical speaker, but also including a robust defense of the male heroes of The Lord of the Rings as the kind of sensitive, showing their emotions, willing to emotionally support and bond with each other, males that a young female reader (as the presenter had been when she found the book) could identify with. Her number one choice is Sam, a pick which I think Tolkien would have approved of.

people saying what I'm saying about the Rings of Power, only better than I

Michael Drout

Laura Miller

Inkoo Kang

Friday, September 2, 2022

BISQC, day 5; Oxonmoot, day 2; Watership Down conference, day 1

That's right: in addition to remote-listening to the Banff string quartet competition, I'm remote-attending two conferences, the Tolkien Society's Oxonmoot and a conference from the Centre for Fantasy at Glasgow celebrating the 50th anniversary of Watership Down. I wouldn't be able to do that if I were physically there; I'd be stuck at just whichever one I was at.

This morning's BISQC concert was the Canadian Commission, always the oddest experience of the week. The competition commissions a new work for string quartet by a Canadian composer, to be about ten minutes long, and then they have all the competitors play it in sequence in one marathon concert.

It takes quite a work to be tolerable listening to nine or ten times in a row, and this year's was much more agreeable than any of the works in the 21st century round. Composed by Dinuk Wijeratne, it's titled The Disappearance of Lisa Gherardini. She is not, as I initially presumed, some recent kidnapping victim, but the Mona Lisa of whom Leonardo made his famous portrait. But that's all I know about the piece: in what sense she's meant to have disappeared I don't know.

The music is roughly tonal, containing a lot of dramatic tuttis and expostulating solos. It didn't lend itself to much interpretive difference musically, and unlike last time everybody figured out that a couple solo passages for violin and cello were supposed to be jazzy. In fact, the cellist of the Isidore Quartet, who was Black, put on a pair of dark glasses at that point.

Which brings me to the way the performances did differ. Evidently the composer marks one spot as a place where the performers are supposed to interrupt the music, but exactly how to do it is up to them. Some uttered whistling sounds and hisses, others gave elaborate gestures silently, some combined both. Monarchs in the gesture department (they didn't make many unmusical sounds) were the Dior Quartet, who reacted physically to the music at several other points; and some of whom actually got up from their seats and moved around the stage during their solos. The violist of the Animato Quartet stood up, but she didn't go anywhere. Most amusing was the first violinist of the Agate Quartet, who showed off to his colleagues and the audience the ipad that he kept his music on, which was now showing an image of the Mona Lisa.

This is actually the second day of Oxonmoot, but there wasn't much on the first day except the trivia quiz, which is always fun. My favorite round was the sets of emojis intended to represent chapter titles from The Lord of the Rings. I didn't have any trouble with the cleverest, which was [airplane] [car] and, of course, represented "Flight to the Ford."

Today I only got to one full item, but it was most enjoyable: a copiously illustrated talk by Brian Sibley on the history of the marketing and merchandising of Tolkien. "[slide] You can get the One Ring! [another slide] You can get the two One Rings! If only Saruman had known about that." Another paper I was distracted during, others I was asleep during (most of Oxonmoot takes place in the middle of the night in this time zone), another was cancelled, and the panel discussion on The Rings of Power I skipped out on after it was clear that the panelists got further in the show than I was able to manage.

As for the conference on Watership Down, one of my favorite non-Tolkien fantasies, it's only 2 days long and most of the paper sessions are tomorrow. I missed the keynote speech by Adams's daughter, but two papers were available in recordings and I was able to watch them to my benefit. One was John Rateliff's defense of Adams against the criticisms of Ursula Le Guin; despite my fondness for Le Guin, I mostly agree with John. Mostly. The other paper was a fellow named Michael Mikesell who's discovered that there are two differing texts for Watership Down, both in print. They only differ significantly in one passage, and he was here to tell us about it. I have two copies of the book, and I hastened to check them: I have both texts. This will be of significance if I ever get around to the paper I want to write on Watership Down.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

the ringzzzz ... oh, sorry, I fell asleep

I watched the first episode and a bit of the second of The Rings of Power, giving up about ten minutes into the second when the two hobbits (yes they are, they're hobbits) have the same conversation for about the fifth time in those ten minutes about whether they should help the stranger from the meteor. Any curiosity about who the stranger is is not worth wading through more of this to satisfy. Besides, I can find out more efficiently when the spoiler plot summaries get written.

But first, let me give this show compliments where due:
1) The scenery is awfully pretty.
1a) Furthermore, it's bright and sunny when it's supposed to be bright and sunny. Peter Jackson made everything with elves in it dark and gloomy.
2) They know how to pronounce "Sauron" correctly.

This show is fan fiction: fan fiction with a large budget. It quickly departs from the known facts within Tolkien's sub-creation sufficiently far, and unnecessarily so, that I can't really feel it has anything to do with Tolkien. Which won't prevent many people from mixing up its characters and plot with Tolkien's characters and plot.

Furthermore, it's dull and mundane. Everybody in it, at least the elves, is either a righteous monomaniac or else a conniving skeever. There's no morals, only the cheap imitation politics of bad fiction. It doesn't feel at all Tolkienian. I kept feeling the breath of Le Guin's "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" down my neck.

I guess I get something different out of Tolkien's works than some other people. I don't care for this invented world because of the characters, or the setting, or the plot. That's nice but it's not what I'm there for. What makes Tolkien's stories worthwhile is the skill and quality with which he wrote them. And if you want to know more about that, check out the critical works of Verlyn Flieger, who's done more than anyone else to illuminate that skill and those qualities.

What I want is Tolkien's writing, not some cheap imitation that can't do what he does. It doesn't satisfy me, it's not what I want.

BISQC, day 4

It looks like tonight's "alumni concert," where the two ensembles that shared first prize at the previous Banff quartet competition return to play a little Brahms and Schubert, is not part of the livestream.

So I can report from today on this morning's final concert of the "romantic round." I'm glad I got to hear Mendelssohn's Op. 13 twice yesterday, but the unquestionable winning entry of this round was the Dior Quartet in Dvořák's Op. 106. When players bring the utmost in enthusiasm and dedication, Dvořák can be wonderful and captivating instead of slightly dull. The drive in here, and the percussive snaps, made this one run.

Quatuor Agate in the Ravel quartet was also very good, clear and crisp in a way I wasn't expecting, and the Isidore Quartet did well by Brahms's Op. 51 No. 2, which they gave the real Brahms flavor to.

So with nothing else to watch, I can return to the increasingly dismaying sensation of watching Amazon's The Rings of Power. More on that when I finish the available material, if I ever do.

21st century string quartet

I was awake and I had the time and curiosity, so I listened through the videorecordings of Monday's and Tuesday's Banff International String Quartet Competition's performances of the required 21st-century quartet of the performers' choice. I can't say I was much impressed. All but two of these composers were new to me, and none inspired me to want to hear more of that.

There were eight composers because two of the nine groups chose the same piece. The composers were: Vivian Fung and Kevin Lau (Canadian, and way to suck up to the judges, guys), Pascal Dusapin and Corentin Apparailly (French), Billy Childs and Derek Bermel (American), Andrea Tarrodi (Swedish), and Prach Boondiskulchok (Thai-British). So far as I can tell, two of the eight are women.

All the pieces emcompassed a great variety of styles. There were always sections that were grossly dissonant or turbulent, and there was usually a section, often brief, that really caught the ear - often an unusual ostinato (ostinato in harmonics, ostinato in tremolo) under a completely forgettable chromatic melodic line. Often there'd be a section reminiscent of older music, though never minimalism: Webernian modernism, Shostakovichian bleakness.

Though this was a selection of music of great variety, the pieces showed just as much variety within themselves as they did against each other. As a result, the whole collection sounded rather alike. I'd like a better selection next time.