Monday, October 31, 2022

domestic news

It's Halloween e'en, and I am not down in the living room waiting for trick-or-treaters to show up. We haven't had any for several years. Our outside lights are off, and I'm upstairs at my computer listening to a livestream concert from the SF Conservatory of Music: Ravel, Shostakovich, and Brahms.

I have nothing to add to the news which others have not said, except to note that the party of DT is now rapidly seizing the opportunity to become the party of Alex Jones.

My auto registration renewal came today, which is a relief considering that, though I submitted the renewal request over a month ago, they still haven't deposited the check.

A bubble of irregularity has appeared in the ceiling of our foyer. An insect specialist came by appointment today and found no droppings, so he doesn't think it's insects. It must be water, and there is a bathroom directly above the foyer, but no fixtures directly over the spot, so if it's water it must be a pipe leak. There may be much tearing apart in our future.

Meanwhile, the automated garage door opener we had installed three years ago began to beep continually. This proved to be a sign that the battery had gone dead. Rather soon, I'd think. After some research, figured out how to find the battery compartment and pulled out the battery, a cube of about 4 inches and very heavy. Unplugged it and the beeping stopped.
Now to replace the battery. Manufacturer's web site was hard to navigate, person on the phone was of no help whatever and led me to order what turned out when it arrived to be the wrong battery: right shape and voltage and all, but wrong connector. Armed with that info I was able to figure out what must be the right battery, and a much more helpful person told me how to return the wrong one. Also told me I could purchase the right battery at Lowe's, Home Despot, etc. Turned out to be true - at least an equivalent knockoff - but it wasn't in stock, I still had to order it. At least it's less expensive than the manufacturer's, and maybe it will have fewer customer reviews complaining about its short lifespan. Fortunately we don't use our garage door much - garage is for storage, not a car - because the door's going to remain closed for a while.

Friday, October 28, 2022

two concerts and a play

1. I reviewed the Peninsula Symphony last week playing Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Next week I'll be hearing the San Francisco Symphony playing Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Good thing there's more to classical music than repetition. (FKB fans: "But not much!")

2. The Danish String Quartet, less intensely bearded than they were the last time I saw them, came to Herbst for my first quartet concert of the season. Mozart's K. 138 Divertimento permits more individual expression when played for quartet than for orchestra. Britten's Divertimenti leaned over to the light and perky end of the spectrum. Mozart's K. 428 was altogether more serious, and Schumann's Third was epically Beethovenian. But the best moment was their encore, a Haydn adagio played in memory of Geoff Nuttall.

3. I don't normally go out of my way to see plays that are being signed. I don't know ASL so I don't need the distraction. But Why Not Theatre's Hamlet, at Bing, was supposed to be transformatively imaginative. Mostly I didn't find it so: small cast, no sets, gender fluid casting (Hamlet, Horatio, and Polonius were women, Ophelia was a man), racially fluid casting also. Nor was having one character - in this case Horatio - be Deaf and communicate only in ASL unprecedented in my experience. But I stuck through the rather dully-played opening because Hamlet always gathers energy as it goes along. Later, dirt was spread over the stage, and in the mad scene Ophelia threw clots of it at the others - who flinch - to represent the flowers, which was striking in more than one sense, and even more arresting was the duel scene, narrated by Horatio in ASL as the other actors recited their lines while sitting on the floor mostly motionless facing her. The epilogue was completely silent, but you don't have to know ASL to figure out when she's signing "Now cracks a noble heart." Was this stuff worth sitting through the whole thing for? Uh, maybe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Tár baby

I found the film Tár frequently baffling, and I'm putting these notes out here in hopes that somebody else who's seen it who's more attuned to this filmmaking style can enlighten me. Semi-spoilers.

1. Some movies can establish location clearly without title cards. This is not one of them. At one point Sharon implies that Lydia is keeping another apartment in Berlin besides the one they live in. Is that where Lydia is seen sleeping on a couch?

2. If, as Lydia avers at the film's climax, Eliot has her Mahler 5 score, does that mean that he's the person who snuck into her home and stole it earlier? And if so, is he also the person who, even earlier than that, snuck in and turned on her metronome in the middle of the night, and made her refrigerator hum? If so, why? And what is he doing in Berlin all this time? I thought he was in New York. (See, I told you this film needed title cards.)

3. Lydia says she's bruised because she was attacked. It looked to me as if she just tripped and fell while running up the stairs. Did I miss something, or is Lydia lying? If so, why?

4. Lydia invites Olga, the orchestra's probationary cellist, to an introductory lunch, where Olga tells of playing the Elgar cello concerto at the age of 13. I thought Lydia was going to summarily fire her for her horrendous table manners. Is ignoring these supposed to be a sign of how obsessed Lydia is by Olga?

5. Why is Olga living in what looks like a building untouched since it was bombed out in WW2?

6. Is it actually believable that a conducting student would disdain Bach's music because he was a white male with 20 children?

My interest was attracted to this film largely because it's about classical music. But unfortunately I can't evaluate the music in it, as I'm not very familiar with Mahler's Fifth and even less so with the Elgar cello concerto, two works I've never much cared for. I can tell you, however, that it would be most irregular to pair them on a regular concert: the combination would be far too much music, and heavy music at that, at once. I found that much more unbelievable than the moment in the plot that several critics have cited as unbelievable, which though unprecedented seemed to me to fit with Lydia's character.

I can confirm, in addition, that all the performers (conductors and instrumentalists) not directly characters in the story (onscreen or, in a couple cases, offscreen), and all the composers, past and present (except for a couple of the latter I hadn't heard of), are real people. So is the onscreen critic who interviews Lydia at the beginning: he's a real critic. (A fictional one would be unlikely to be so smarmy.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Henry V

Tuesday, as Jacob Rees-Mogg helpfully reminds us, is St. Crispin's Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and memorable as such for Henry V's famous speech about it in Shakespeare's play. Our online Shakespeare reading group, having crawled through Richard II and Henry IV last spring, and then taking a detour through Windsor with its merry wives, has just finished Henry V, and here's the historic notes I wrote for the first half of the play:

Prince Hal of the H4 plays has succeeded to the throne as King Henry V. Domestic rebellions behind him, he chooses to offer plot excitement to his realm by making an appearance in the French wars. This, according to Shakespeare and his sources, was gingered up by the Church so that they'd have something they could offer to finance the king and distract his attention away from confiscating church lands, which kings were wont to do. But there's a genealogical justification for this too, and in Act 1 Scene 2 the Archbishop of Canterbury offers it at tedious and numbing length.

I believe I can put it simpler. England had been fighting for territory in France since Henry II's time, but the current conflict has a more recent origin. Nearly a century before the time of this play, the direct father-to-son line of French kings had died out. The French had, or invented on the spot, a rule that the throne could only descend in the male line, so the crown was handed over to a cousin, Philip of Valois.

However, the last French king of the old line had had a sister. The English said crowns could descend through the female line, and lucky for them, that sister had married an English king and her son and heir was ... the then-current English king, young Edward III. So Edward declared his claim to the French throne, which his successors kept up. The French, of course, were having none of it. Active fighting, off and on, went on long enough that the conflict became known as the Hundred Years' War. Edward III and his son the Black Prince had won mighty battles in France, but the war fell into abeyance when Richard II tried to make peace, to be revived here by Henry V who takes the field against the current Valois king, Charles VI, who is not known for his mental stability.

The French King is accompanied by his son and heir, Louis the Dauphin, and his daughter Katherine, whom he offers to Henry as dowry. (Slinging daughters around this way was standard practice for centuries to come.) King Henry is accompanied by his brothers, of whom John of Lancaster of the H4 plays is now Duke of Bedford; the others are the Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence. The Duke of Exeter is his uncle who was of illegitimate birth and is not in line for the throne. The Earl of Cambridge, the conspirator against the king, is Henry's cousin, son of that nasty old Duke of York you remember from R2. And that about sums up the royal families.

Monday, October 24, 2022

two concerts

1. Thursday I reviewed the San Francisco Symphony again. I'm not sure why they wanted this concert covered: it was as close to a pops concert as an SFS regular season program will get. I decided to say so boldly at the beginning. I thought about comparing EPS's approach in the Symphonie fantastique to MTT's in a fabulous recording that he made with SFS, but it didn't fit comfortably in the review. Nor did a reference to the fleeting reminiscences of Saint-Saëns that I heard in the Liszt, when, of course, the reminiscence is the other way around. Saint-Saëns was a great admirer of Liszt.

2. Friday B. and I ventured over to Stanford for a song recital by a couple of voice students, Jin-Hee Lee (soprano) and Danny Ritz (billed as a tenor, but he sounded more like a light baritone to us). Is this the first time I've been to Campbell, the Stanford Music Dept's tiny recital hall, since before the pandemic? Maybe so.
We were attracted to this because of the heavy offering of musical theater songs, especially Sondheim and Rodgers-and-Hart. There was also a chunk of French art songs, most of which B. knew. Lee was better on the art songs, Ritz at the musical theater. Most of the songs were on the theme of love. In the duets ("Tonight," "If I Loved You"), the singers' friends who made up most of the audience hooted and cheered whenever the singers ventured to act a little, holding hands or gazing into each other's eyes. You can venture your own view on whether that means they're also a couple offstage or not.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

computer adjustment

I bought my computer a new mouse. The old one had begun to double-click: you press the button once but it clicks twice. Actually it had been doing this for some time, but whap the thing a few times and it'd stop, for a while. But then the whaps stopped working. I opened it up, which I hadn't done before, and took out a wad of cat hair that had become wedged in, but that didn't stop the double-clicking either. It was just the most-used left button, so I was pretty sure it wasn't a software issue, just a very old mouse.

Actually it wasn't a mouse. It was a Logitech wired trackball, and so is the new device replacing it: fortunately they still make them. I've always preferred a trackball; they sit still on the desk and don't require room to move around, or friction to respond to. And wired, despite the nuisance: that means it's always physically attached to the computer and can't wander off, with or without feline assistance.

At about the same time an alarming software issue arose. I lost access to Outlook, which is pretty grim because that's where I keep all my e-mail. I'd quite recently run a backup, but that wouldn't help with subsequent arrivals. I closed the program and restarted it, but that didn't fix the problem. Before considering taking the computer in, I shut down and restarted that. And I noticed, even though I'd closed all the running programs first, that the shutdown said Outlook was still running and the shutdown program would have to close it. I bet that two copies of Outlook had somehow opened and were interfering with each other and that's what caused the problem, I thought. And sure enough, after the restart it worked fine.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Tolkien Studies supplement

Subscribers have begun to receive printed copies of what's labeled as "Volume XIX, 2022, Supplement" of Tolkien Studies. This is the special issue containing Tolkien's "Chronology of The Lord of the Rings" edited and with commentary by William Cloud Hicklin.

And they're wondering, so what about the regular Volume XIX? Fair enough: you deserve an explanation and here it is.

Originally we were planning to have this be a supplement to Volume XVIII, but because it came out in 2022 it was attached to Volume XIX instead. It was delayed because of the complexity of working with it, and Volume XIX, which had to be put off to make time for the Supplement, got put off even more. The contents have been chosen and submitted, but it's still in the editing process.

West Virginia University Press policy for selling journals is on an annual subscription basis. That is, once you pay your annual subscription fee, you will receive any issues that appear that year, for no additional cost. Thus, if we do get out two issues this year - the supplement and the regular - anyone who's purchased the supplement, at the full annual cost, will receive the regular issue as well. That, at any rate, is the plan.

More I can't tell you; I have to get back to editing ...

Thursday, October 20, 2022


So in another most entertaining twist in British politics - and I remember the spasm that ejected Mrs Thatcher; this is even more baroque - Liz Truss is resigning. This time it'll supposedly take only a week to name a successor - if they can find one! - which will leave her at less than two months in office.

To my mind Truss's reign will be summed up by Commons leader Penny Mordaunt stating, in a debate, that "The Prime Minister is not under a desk."

(This was in response to an opposition MP claiming that she was cowering in fear of making decisions, and asking that they get someone else instead. Well now they will.)

Depending on criteria that may be the shortest term as PM ever. George Canning died after 4 months in 1827, but the most elaborate succession crisis in British history was 1834-35, when King William IV fired the Whig government of Lord Melbourne - the last time a monarch tried such a move - and put in the Tories. The Duke of Wellington, the previous Tory leader, insisted he had retired, and had passed the torch to Robert Peel. But Peel, with uncharacteristic bad judgment, had chosen this time to vacation in Italy, and in pre-railroad pre-telegraph days it took 3 weeks to fetch him back, during which time Wellington acted as interim caretaker. If that counts, that's a shorter term. (Wellington had been PM before, for just under 3 years.)

But the Commons was still dominated by the Whigs, so Peel gave up after four months - just a day or two more than Canning's term - and the Whigs came back in. The gradual crystallization of the party system out of the amorphous masses it had been in the 18C is what made the selection of a government a matter of nose-counting and no longer monarchial selection.

Although that was still always tempered by whether Parliament will accept them, which is why the real shortest Prime Ministership - so short it's not always included in the lists - was that of William Earl of Bath in 1746. He formally accepted office but found that gaining support was futile, and gave up after two days.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Geoff Nuttall in memoriam

Startling news, that Geoff Nuttall - violinist (usually first violin) of the St. Lawrence String Quartet - has died, aged only 56, of pancreatic cancer. Memoriam is up on the quartet's web page right now.

I knew his work well; the SLSQ has been the resident ensemble at Stanford for over 20 years now, hosting seminars and workshops as well as putting on their own concerts, and Geoff was usually the front man for this. What they're going to do without him I can't imagine. Two other positions in the quartet have changed hands over the years, and the ensemble has adapted, but without him it will truly be a different group.

He was a notable player, with an expressive curlicue sound particularly well suited for the elaborate first violin parts of the quartets of Haydn, his favorite composer. He moved around expressively, even excessively, while playing, bending over (even while seated), shifting his feet constantly.

And he spoke for the quartet, in a folksy, even twangy, but learned and above all enthusiastic way, keyed to conveying to a general audience what was great about the music he was discussing while neither oversimplifying it nor talking down. He was a great communicator as well as a great chamber violinist. Here, have an example of both:

Monday, October 17, 2022

concert review: Winchester Orchestra

B. liked the program, so she came along with me to this concert by a community orchestra of which she was briefly a member a while ago until deciding against spending all her time rehearsing orchestral music she hadn't chosen and playing it at breakneck speed (which they're still doing).

I'd heard that music director Scott Seaton had resigned to take another post, but he was still there.

The strings sounded lovely, the winds were placid instead of piquant, but the brass were bold and coarse. This worked well in a hopping dance from de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat and the stark opening chords of Sibelius' Finlandia, not so well for a haunting horn theme in Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending.

Soloist for the Lark was the orchestra's concertmaster, Bill Palmer, who played with a wonderfully sweet tone. For all his technical imperfections, and there were more than a few, this was a generous and rewarding performance.

For a big concluding work, Schumann's Fourth Symphony, my favorite of his, a performance strong on the dark and brooding and light on the coy and fluttering. Glad to have had this.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I had a strenuous schedule for my visit to the City on Thursday. Arrive and park (I wasn't going to lean on public transit for this) at 5 pm when the restaurants open for dinner, have what I hoped would be a quick one (it was 45 minutes) at a place new to me convenient to the city library, then walk over to the library and check out some books I need for my research; then the much longer walk across the civic center to the symphony hall in time for the pre-concert talk at 6:30

I was most concerned to get to the pre-concert talk, because I'd just been assigned to review the concert, and the talk might have useful insights.

Only to find, when I arrived tuckered out - I don't walk fast or easily any more - and barely in time, that SFS has discontinued pre-concert talks this season (this was my first concert of the season), without having announced this. If I'd known, I'd have had an extra hour to work with.

However, that evening and that evening alone, there would be a post-concert interview with the composer and pianist of the concerto being premiered that evening. So that I stayed for, and yes indeed it was exceedingly useful for my review. It also made my departure much later, so I was glad I'd driven.

I've dealt with Magnus Lindberg's music before; that's why my editor asked me to cover this one. I find his music a little clotted and hard to follow, but I have a general handle on it. This was an interesting concerto, though I didn't enjoy it half as much as Mason Bates's last season.

I wrote a sentence comparing EPS's orchestral sound to MTT's and then cut it, thinking it would be useful to save for next week, when I'm also reviewing SFS, and EPS will conduct a showpiece that MTT was spectacular in, the Symphonie fantastique. If the sound comes out the same as this week, I'll know what to say.

Saturday, October 15, 2022


For some reason I've been thinking about my experiences, all long ago now, playing sports. Not a favorite activity of mine, but I've been induced to do a little.

There are two ordinary sporting activities that I simply cannot do, though others do them all the time. I just can't.

1. I cannot hit a moving ball with an implement. I'm not just bad at this task, but completely incompetent.
This eliminates baseball and softball, and all net games like tennis, ping pong, badminton.

2. I can't do anything if the other team is physically interfering with me.
This eliminates a lot of games I might be OK at without this feature (because there's no implement between you and the ball), like basketball and soccer. When forced to play these in school, I concentrated on just getting in the way of the other team, as that's the one thing I could do.

A couple other restrictions:

3. No way in heck am I going to catch a ball thrown from a great distance.
This also eliminates baseball, and American football.

4. Even in youth I was the world's slowest runner and had the weakest arm strength.
So no track and field or weights. Don't even think about gymnastics.

That left me with two kinds of ball games:

A. Ones in which there's no implement between you and the ball and the other team is kept physically separate.
That basically meant volleyball. I was reasonably OK at volleyball and enjoyed playing it. I especially liked that you were surrounded by teammates so a lot of cooperation was needed.
You could also put bowling in this category. One of my grandfathers took us to bowl. I found I could be pretty good at it if I concentrated really hard. The problem was that I didn't enjoy doing that. It was too mentally stressful, and over time I found it was really not very interesting. So I never seriously took up bowling.

B. One in which there's an implement, but the ball is sitting still.
And that's golf. (Well, croquet, but my experience with that is minimal.) Both my grandfathers were enthusiastic golfers and tried to recruit me. They never took me actually to play a game, but I practiced at driving ranges a lot. But the problem that arose was similar to that with bowling. I found I could only hit the ball off the tee with adequate force if I worked up a strong short-term hatred of the ball. But I didn't want to do that. It was mentally exhausting and distinctly unenjoyable. So I never took up golf either.
But before I quit, one day my brother and I snuck out and played nine holes on the course by the side of which my grandparents were living. One hole I made in par. I consider the ability to do that to be the minimum standard for golfing competence, so I have that to my credit.
But the actual events do not certify my golfing skills. The hole was a short par 3 with a large water hazard taking up most of the space between the tee and the green.* My ball skipped off the water, like a rock thrown with that intention, and landed near the green. Sheer luck. Two putts and I was in; a competent golfer could probably have done it in one putt.

*It was hole 16 of the Seven Lakes Country Club in Palm Springs, California.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Ralph Vaughan Williams: a commemoration

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of this great composer, so it seems an appropriate time to pay tribute to his work, especially as it tends to get left out of histories of 20th century music that aren't intended as exhaustive surveys.

The problem is that RVW wasn't a radical revolutionary, nor did he have weird psychiatric ticks, the kinds of things that make composers easy to write about. He was a level-headed man who lived an ordinary uneventful life (aside from his mistress, and that's quite a story) and who simply wrote some great music.

Two things you need to know about RVW to start with: first, his first name is pronounced Rafe. "Any other pronunciation used to infuriate him," writes his widow, who really ought to know. Strangely, I've met a few people who remember this backwards, and are convinced that he hated it.

Second, his last name is "Vaughan Williams." Two barrels, no hyphen; file him under V. Anybody who knows people named Nielsen Hayden should have no trouble with that. But he's usually just called RVW.

RVW, like Anton Bruckner, was a late-blooming composer. He didn't hit his stride and start writing pieces for which he's remembered until he was in his mid-30s, around 1905-10. But then he remained active and fluent right up to the end. He was 85 when he died in 1958, less than a year after completing his Ninth Symphony.

His music is intensely English in a 'rooted in the landscape' way, as Tolkien's writing is. This though he was not a countryman but a Londoner by nature. (This though he was born in a Gloucestershire village - he didn't live there for long - and had a home out in Surrey after his first wife became unable to handle city staircases.) This landscape feel puts him in the same category as other pastoral nationalists like Grieg and Dvorak, but a lot of British composers of more continental bent didn't approve. He and his compatriots (Holst, Butterworth) were mocked as "cowpat" composers.

Actually there is a strong continental, particularly French, strain to RVW's music. He studied with Ravel for the purpose of acquiring a little polish, and it stuck. Compare his more pastoral works with those of Delius, on whom the French scent is more obvious, and you'll see.

But the English was his strongest rooting point. He edited collections of Renaissance-era compositions of his country, some of which he used in his music, and he traveled the countryside collecting folk songs, some of which he also used in his music. Plenty of composers of other countries have done the same without being called "cowpat" composers. Nobody would call Bartok that, and he was one of the great folksong collectors of all time. I guess it's because his music wasn't as pastoral as RVW's.

But then, again there's a mistaken generalization. Vaughan Williams's music was not all pastoral, far from it. Though he's best remembered for some shorter pieces which sometimes are: The Lark Ascending, a short violin concerto inspired by a poem by George Meredith; and the Fantasia on Greensleeves, an even briefer simple setting of two folksongs. The third standard RVW work is a bit different: the Tallis Fantasia is a richly contrapuntal fantasy for strings based on a Renaissance hymn tune. It has the reverberating quality of a massive cathedral.

But you can hear the variety of his work by listening to his nine symphonies. These were only numbered starting with No. 8, whose digit retrospectively numbered all its predecessors, previously all known only by title or, if they didn't have one, key. I don't know any other composer who did that.

First was A Sea Symphony, a huge choral-orchestral work setting poems of Walt Whitman. It's amazing how RVW could turn Whitman's choppy, blocky poetry into something lyrical. The slow movement, "On the beach at night alone," is my candidate for the greatest single vocal-orchestral work of the 20C.

Second was A London Symphony, alternately jaunty and impressionistic, with some of that Ravel polish to it. This was the first of his symphonies I got to know. Then A Pastoral Symphony, oh boy, cue the cowpats: but listen to it, because it's frequently tough and wiry, pastoral but not soft or gentle.

The Fourth through Sixth have no titles, no programs, but they form a trilogy that - though the composer strongly denied it - is often seen as a portrait of modern times. As a set, this is his masterwork. The Fourth can be dissonant, tough, even brutal. "I don't know if I like it," the composer said, "but it is what I meant." Although I've heard performances which bring out the jaunty side reminiscent of the Second. Written in 1935, it's seen as a warning of WW2 to come. The Fifth dates from during the war, and has a serenity to it, and also a sure depth, that suggests a hope for post-war peace. And the Sixth is odd and creepy, especially the finale which is marked unbroken pianissimo, though few dare to play it that way. Is that the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust?

The last three are more miscellaneous. No. 7, the Sinfonia Antartica, is based on music for a film on Robert Scott's explorations. It's wintry but evocative, and is some of my favorite RVW. No. 8 is brusque and jaunty again, but succinct and more lighthearted than any of its predecessors. It has one movement just for strings and one just for winds. The Ninth is median in tone, somewhere between the Third and Fifth and the Fourth and Sixth, but I find it difficult: it's the only one I've never really absorbed.

RVW didn't write much chamber or piano music, but there's lots more choral and orchestral work to hear. I'd like to point to his opera The Pilgrim's Progress, which I've actually seen staged: nothing much happens but the music is beautiful, and that's what I want. Then there's Job: A Masque for Dancing, which dates midway between the Third and Fourth Symphonies and manages to sound like both of them, quite an achievement.

You can find a lot of this work by searching, so I'll leave you to it. Happy birthday, Rafe.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

a little concert

I wandered over to the grass amphitheatre behind the Mountain View CPA late yesterday afternoon for an outdoor concert by the Peninsula Symphony brass and percussion sections. It had been a long time since I'd heard live any brass music, what with pandemic and all, and this seemed like a safe occasion to get some, though few of the audience wore masks or observed social distancing.

There were about 20 musicians in all. Most of the pieces were arrangements. Selections included the opening fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra, all right! Also an extremely abbreviated Ride of the Valkyries, the Polovtsian Dances, Nimrod (yes, at a brass concert), and some tunes from Porgy and Bess (first, a trumpet played "Summertime"; then a trombone did; then they all did). 9 items, 75 minutes including an intermission.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Caro again

I've written before of the lapses in description and reasoning in Robert Caro's multi-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, and I've just found another one. I only found it, though, because Caro is such an entertaining writer that I got down Master of the Senate, his volume covering 1949-57, for dinner-table re-reading.

I was reading the chapter on LBJ's futile attempt to position himself as a fallback candidate for the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention of 1956. Caro says that LBJ's big mistake was to assume that his Senate colleagues, big shots in the Capitol, were equally powerful in control of their state convention delegations. But that wasn't so, Caro says, and quotes a reporter as writing that for "control of delegations ... the big men at conventions are governors and municipal leaders" (p. 807). Why Johnson - depicted elsewhere in the book as the supreme political genius - didn't know that is left unexplained. Except that he did control his own Texas delegation, so there is that.

But Caro says that he depended for his support in other states on "senators, or former senators." And Caro names seven men, five of whom were current senators (p. 806).

But what Caro doesn't say is that when this is taking place, in 1956, the other two, the former senators - Bob McFarland of Arizona and Ed Johnson of Colorado - were the Governors of their states. After having lost his Senate seat in 1952 to an obscure opponent named Barry Goldwater, McFarland had been elected Governor in 1954 and was right now engaging in what would be a successful re-election campaign (Governors of Arizona then served a 2-year term), so if governors can be powers in their states, he surely was one. (I don't know why Ed Johnson didn't run for re-election in 1956.)

Yet McFarland was unsuccessful in persuading the Arizona delegates to vote for LBJ (p. 818), so again things are more complicated than Caro would like to tell us.

Friday, October 7, 2022

chewy reading

1. Suddenly I'm finding a whole lot of articles and reviews about Tár, a new movie about a star conductor of the imperious old school, played by Cate Blanchett, who's accused of emotional abuse. Sounds fascinating, and the reason the articles are appearing now is because the movie is supposed to be released today. But according to Moviefone (where I couldn't find it directly, probably because of the accent in the title; I had to look it up under Blanchett), it's not appearing for another three weeks. I expect I'll have to go see this one.

2. B. has been watching the Korean series Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix. I learned, I think from a comment on one of the articles on Tár, that it was preceded by a one-season show starring the same lead actor, about students at a classical music conservatory, titled Do You Like Brahms? That is not on Netflix, but I found a video of musical excerpts from it.

3. Michael Tilson Thomas, facing his mortality. I thought this particularly wise: “Even in a situation where the time is short, whether in rehearsal or in life, you can accept and forgive yourself,” he said. “You can say, ‘I had this much time and this is what I could accomplish.’ And that’s fine. I am at peace with it.”

4. Laura Miller is one of the best literary commentators out there, and this analysis of Maggie Haberman's book on DT is more substantial than the book seems to be. I was especially struck by her observation that "Trump expected his political career to operate the same way his New York and New Jersey real estate development enterprises did" and her demonstration of how that worked in the next paragraph, and by her note that "what’s fascinating about Trump and his presidency is not him, but the people around him." About the people who tried to tether him to reality but only wound up enabling him, she reaches the rare example of a Tolkien comparison that works: "Like Saruman and Gollum, their compromises and torments are more interesting than the dark lord they served."

5. This is old but I saved it. It's sf author Connie Willis's reaction to the repeal of Roe.

6. Columbus Day v. Indigenous Peoples Day. I'm staying out of this dispute altogether.

7. I'm not sure what to make of this. It says it's a Historical Database of Sundown Towns, that is, towns where Black people (or other minorities) were told they had to be out of town by sundown, i.e. they couldn't live there. But its information seems awfully sketchy and, when looking up towns I know in California, I find it includes towns whose evidence is that it once had a pogrom of the Chinese in the 1880s, or one report of a Black or Hispanic person feeling harassed and unable to buy a house. Which are bad but not the same thing. We need a finer distinction and less sweeping generalization.

8. Angry rant in an angry Scots accent about The Rings of Power. This is 20 minutes I found a lot more satisfying than an hour plus of the original, which was all I could stand.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

ballet review

And we're home. My previous post was written from the hotel where we broke our journey overnight.

The cats, though they got along pretty well with the sitter, are desperate for attention. Tybalt crawls up on my chest or shoulders almost every time I sit down.

And I learned on the way that two days of driving seven hours a day is now at least one too many days for me. Lots of breaks and all the caffeine in the world won't keep me from getting loggy on the second afternoon. Good thing we didn't drive to Mythcon, a 20% longer trip.

But now I'm home and find - as expected - that the last thing I did before leaving, writing a performance review, saw publication while I was gone.

Normally I don't cover ballet - I'm just a music guy - but when two choruses that are within my coverage sing Carmina Burana while a local dance company performs to it, that seemed like a good opportunity to trap several birds at once.

And I had something of a revelation. A few years ago I wrote of my disillusion with ballet. I'd attended the San Francisco Ballet fairly often in the 1980s and enjoyed it. But my recent experiences at their recitals had been disappointing: I found the work crude and ugly, athletic rather than artistic in aesthetic, and just not appealing. The final straw came when I read an article naming what the author claimed were the three greatest ballet choreographers now working. I realized I'd seen work by all three at the SF Ballet and thought them all terrible.

Was it them - had ballet entered a trough of ugliness, the way modern music did in the 1950s? - or was it me - had I just lost my taste for ballet?

It was them. The Peninsula Ballet Theatre, a small local company without the pretensions of the SF Ballet, delighted me wholly. Their work had beauty and grace, and when it wasn't either of those things it was funny, and sometimes it was all of them at once. This is exactly what I got out of the ballet in the 80s. True, work by George Balanchine that I saw back then was orders of magnitude more sublime than that of the local choreographers I saw last week, but at least they're all working towards the same admirable goal.

I wrote: This was a fine evening with a company that still maintains that grace, beauty, nobility and a little humor are the essence of ballet. And I hold by that. I will go back here some time. I've described the neglected composers of the 1950s who aimed at beauty instead of ugliness as the Hidden City. Well, I've found the Hidden City of ballet.

Monday, October 3, 2022

aborted vacation

I've heard there are people who dislike using the word "abort" to mean other things cut off (space missions, running of computer programs) because it reminds them of aborted pregnancies to which they object. Well, tough.

After completing our stay at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (described in previous post), B. and I headed north - not quite to Seattle, but somewhere in that general direction - to visit her brother and family who have settled out there. A. and his wife M., not quite retired yet but working from home, are now rattling around a huge house they've had built for themselves out on the expanding edge of civilization, about the desirability and aesthetic qualities of which I prefer to express no opinion whatever. Two of their three children are nearby and we got to their places too - a son (married with two daughters aged 8 and 7: great girls, they read a lot) whose house is literally right over the back yard, and a daughter who lives up in the mountains where the smoke from the forest fires is so strong she can't work in her garden but who hasn't gotten around to changing the house's air filter, tsk.

We also got to see a couple friends from the area, and out on a family meal expedition to a locally famous breakfast cafe crammed into a decommissioned circa 1900 school gym basement. Powerfully crowded place, despite which everyone even in the waiting area was unmasked, tsk, but fantastically fast service: from the moment we were actually seated until our meals arrived took (I had my watch out) ten minutes. That's not to the ordering or the drinks, but the full honking meals. The food was OK. The world's largest cinnamon rolls are huge, but they taste like ... a cinnamon roll. I couldn't resist ordering a "whole hog omelet," which lacked snouts or trotters but was packed with slightly burnt ham, sausage, and bacon, folded into the egg patty instead of mixed in.

Good thing for trying it that we went there on Saturday, because later that day, M. tested positive. A little fast for her to have gotten it from the cafe. A. tested negative, so did we, but we were taking no chances. We called off our last day, including more friends with cats, packed up into my trusty little car and headed home over a day early, eating fast-food window service and wearing masks whenever we couldn't avoid human contact, near-constant availability of classical music radio, and regular text-messaged photos of our cats from our cat sitter our only company.