Friday, March 31, 2023

two concerts

1. What was I doing listening to MTT conduct the SFS in Mahler's Sixth? Normally I avoid late Mahler whenever possible, and the fact that I had a ticket on the series doesn't explain it. I skipped out when I had a ticket on the series to these same performers in this very symphony on what turned out to be the week after 9/11. A famous concert, I later read, which provided some much-needed catharsis. But, knowing the music, I doubt it would have worked for me.

Perhaps I came this time because last week I heard Hans Rott's symphony, acknowledged progenitor of early Mahler symphonies, a slightly different kettle. Mahler is a great orchestrator, that's clear: his music is never muddled, no matter how many things are going on. And the final three bars of this symphony are thunderously effective. But that's not a lot in an hour and a half. For the most part I found it meandering, inconsistent in tone and style, jerking around between moods - in short, Mahler. I began to miss Rott's straightforward and consistent style compared to this. For tragedy, the intended conclusion, it was as nothing compared to the towering darkness of the finale of Moroi's Third.

2. Or, for tragedy, how about this which I just reviewed? Chamber music by four composers killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

3. A fond farewell on the passing of Leslie Smith: dramatic soprano, singing teacher, auld acquaintance from Ann Arbor, someone whose company I enjoyed but wish I'd known better.

Thursday, March 30, 2023


The recent "woke" Broadway production of the musical 1776 is going out on national tour, and as it's coming to our city that means I can easily indulge my desire to see it. (I wish, by the way, to help reclaim the word "woke" for its proud original meaning, which is "aware of racial and social injustices," and drown out the silly meaning of "whatever Republicans don't like.")

If I'd known what I'd have to go through, I might have changed my mind when I saw that the vendor was Ticketmaster. First I had to waste several minutes establishing that I already had a Ticketmaster account which wasn't in my password list because I hadn't used it for about eight years, since before establishing the list, and then I had to answer about five automated phone calls giving me numeric security codes I had to enter on-screen. And since they give you only seven minutes to complete the order, that meant it timed out before I was able to finish it, so I had to start again.

That was the easy part.

The hard part came after I finished the order and found that the ticket sheet they sent me by e-mail contained no ticket bar codes. I didn't even notice at first the instruction that said to load the Ticketmaster app on to your phone and download the tickets from there. Irrelevant, anyway, as my phone can't do things like that, and even if it did I'm not eager to load an app I'd only use once in eight years.

I established a chat link - it said they'd get back to you within four hours (!) but it actually took only about 25 minutes - and eventually found out that, no, there's no print at home option for these tickets, but you can have them transferred to will call. After spending an hour on this altogether, I had them do that, but I won't be surprised if I get to will call, show them my documentation, and then they say, "I've just sent your tickets to your phone."

And then ... and then I go out for lunch in a mildly upscale Palo Alto restaurant that I haven't been to in several years, and find a new wrinkle. The host pointed me to a card on the table and said I can order via a QR code on the card. I hastily replied that my phone can't do that. The host fortunately said that in that case they'd send a waiter, and did not direct me to what else it said on the card, which is that if you can't access the QR code, use their website. I didn't bring a laptop computer along with me either! And if they have wifi, it didn't say.

Fortunately I could order via human being, and pay too, instead of using the QR code for that also. But it was a narrow escape.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

concert review: California Symphony

Sometimes I come across, on recordings or just as a written reference to it, to an obscure work that I'd like to, but doubt I ever will, hear performed live. Sometimes the opportunity to hear one of these works live does arrive. Results usually range from good to disappointing.

But last weekend I heard the Symphony in E by Hans Rott. It's not a masterpiece, and I'm not recommending it to anyone beyond mad symphony collectors like myself, but I was thrilled. As a performance, it was everything I could have wished for. It just brought the whole thing to vivid life.

And I reviewed it, so my satisfaction was complete. Lisa Iron Tongue hated it, but the difference is: she had not heard it before; I knew the piece from recordings, I knew its flaws and virtues, I knew what to expect.

Hans Rott was Gustav Mahler's roommate at conservatory. They were friends, and when Mahler saw this rather revolutionary, on-beyond-Bruckner (Bruckner was Rott's teacher) symphony, he said that was the kind of symphony he wanted to write. And he did: it fits as a template over Mahler's First, composed eight years later.

But what about Rott? When he completed this symphony he was only 21, and it was promising enough that a career as a great composer could be expected. But then he became mentally ill and died at 25. And that's why you've never heard of him. If Mahler, who was two years Rott's junior, had died at 25, few would have heard of him today either, as at that time his only compositions to have survived were a fragmentary piano quartet, the first version of Das klagende Lied, and a few songs.

Most composers who died young that you've heard of were prodigies, like Schubert. But most composers developed more slowly, like Mahler. Or Beethoven. How many potentially great composers died young and are forgotten? Among those who left a trace of themselves as symphonists, there's Rott. There's Norbert Burgmüller (26), a friend of Schumann's. There's Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (an unbelievable 19), the greatest Basque composer before Ravel, 1820s. If you count her Military Sinfonietta, there's Vítězslava Kaprálová (25), 1930s. I collect composers like these, and that's what I was doing with Rott. I've heard Arriaga's symphony live, but until now, none of the others.

Monday, March 27, 2023


Do not buy a couch that is the same color as your cat.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

return of the tofu

We may specify that commercially-packed, shelf-stable tofu is an abomination. It tastes terrible and I won't eat it.

If I want tofu, it has to be hand-packaged freshly-made tofu from a local tofu maker, with a shelf life of only a few days. Buy it and make it for dinner no later than the next day, and that's pushing it. Chop up some vegetables and stir-fry them, add the sliced tofu and a packet of mild mapo sauce I bought at the same time, heat them up, and that's dinner. Delicious, and vegetarian too. (Mapo tofu is supposed to have meat, but I just don't put any in. Making it non-vegetarian seems to me to cancel the point of having tofu in the first place.)

I went through three local Japanese markets - the first two closed - buying tofu by the same little old tofu maker from San Jose's Japantown before the maker decided to retire. Fortunately the third market eventually found another local tofu maker which is also good, so I started buying that. But when the pandemic came, the fresh tofu disappeared from the shelves. After a couple times of this, I stopped looking.

Finally last week I returned to the market and found that the tofu had also returned to the shelves. Thus the tofu has also returned to our cuisine rotation, and we are content.

Friday, March 24, 2023

movie review: The Fabelmans

This was the only Oscar-nominated movie this year that I hadn't already seen but had an interest in seeing. Now that I have, I'm almost sorry I bothered. I didn't find it a very coherent story, nor much of an enjoyable viewing experience, which is one thing that a movie - which is after all a voluntary aesthetic encounter - must be.

Assuming that the story as presented is pretty much an accurate depiction of Spielberg's early life - which everything I've read about it indicates that it is (despite the title: fable-man, get it?) - than the problem seems to have been Spielberg's decision not to tell a focused story of how he decided to become a movie-maker, but to present a collection of Issues of His Childhood. This being real life, the various issues don't necessarily interact meaningfully, and he didn't make them do so in the movie.

There's three major issues: 1) his interest in making movies, 2) his mother's affair and his parents' divorce, 3) the anti-Semitism he encounters in high school. #1 makes him happy, #2 and #3 make him depressed. He takes #2 out on himself by quitting #1. But there's no interior view of what's going on in his mind: is he just too depressed to go on, has he actually lost interest, or is he flagellating himself by denying himself this thing he loves? No way to tell. He deals with #3 by making a school outing documentary which exalts one of the two bullies tormenting him at the expense of the other one, but why he does this is not clear, even when he's specifically asked. The fact that I found it difficult to distinguish the two bullies from each other made this part even harder to follow.

There's very little showing what interests him about movies or how he goes about making them. His direction to the young actor playing the sergeant in his war movie, and his revelation to his father that he's making gunshots by pricking physical holes in the film stock are about the only things. This is annoying because he's shown as developing an almost professional-level skill while still in school. Where'd he get this from? If he'd been shown seeing John Ford movies in his early life, or taking an interest in framing in his filmmaking, that would at least have given the final scene some context and made it a reward to the viewer, instead of having it weirdly stick out in the air.

The most frustrating scene for me was Sam's meeting with Claudia, Logan's girlfriend. I kept wishing for him to have said something like this: "Logan told me to tell you that I was lying when I said I saw him kissing another girl, and he enforced this instruction with his fist. So I want you to tell him that I said I was lying. Whether you actually believe I was lying, that's up to you."

Thursday, March 23, 2023

tree fall

Our latest storm produced not just a number of fallen trees blocking roads, but three cases locally where the fall of the tree killed somebody who happened to be underneath at the time, in two of the cases in a vehicle. I also saw a story about a dead tree in a park which fell over and killed two children right in front of their horrified parents' eyes. That was not during a storm, but some time afterwards.

Nor do you need a storm. I was once walking on a sidewalk underneath a spreading oak tree when suddenly a large branch detached itself and crashed to the ground. This was a couple feet away from me. How badly I'd have been injured if I'd been directly underneath I don't care to think.

I like trees, but they can be dangerous. Look at the Ents in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. (Not the ones in the movie, which are ridiculous.)

In other news, I've gotten the schedule for the Kalamazoo medieval studies congress in May. This is where a lot of Tolkien scholarship goes on, so that's of great interest to me, but I've never gone. The complexities of getting there from here, plus the fact that I'm not a medievalist and have limited knowledge of or interest in the rest of what they do, have put it far too down my priority list.

Last year, however, the sessions were all online, so I bought a membership and attended virtually. This year, however, it appears they're recovering. Some sessions are online, some will be streamed, but too many won't be. I counted up ten sessions I'm really interested in, most of them on Tolkien, Lewis, or Le Guin, but only 3 of them will be available online. Is that enough? Oh, sure, there are other sessions which strike my passing curiosity, but based on last year, passing curiosity is all they'll satisfy for me.

I could actually attend in person, you know. Even at this date I could make the arrangements. But the chaos that the extra time and the absence from my computer would throw into my schedule (after another trip I'm taking two weeks earlier) are daunting; plus even ten sessions - actually only eight, since in two cases they're on at the same time - becomes hard to justify for the added expense.

Will I join online anyway for the three? Yeah, I think I will. Blast.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

concert review: Symphony San Jose

I got sent by my editors down to Symphony San Jose to cover last weekend's programming, and it really was something glorious. Sitting up in the front balcony, which is always the best spot in that house, the sound of Florence Price's First Symphony, which I would probably have gone to hear anyway, outdid itself in a passionate performance.

I really should go to hear this orchestra more often. At one time I had a subscription, which I let drop because while the orchestra was getting better, the programming was spotty. The previous management decided a few years ago to adhere to a theory that every concert should include a popular warhorse, and a lot of those are pieces I like but am just not moved to go out of my way to hear again. Still, this concert's work in that category, the Grieg Piano Concerto, was a lot more exciting and less vapid than it usually is.

A new manager has taken over and is programming next season, and has taken the opposite tack of playing not a single work that the orchestra has ever played before in its 20-year history. That still leaves room for a lot of classics from The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Rodeo to both Mahler's and Shostakovich's First Symphonies, but it also includes Lera Auerbach, Caroline Shaw, and William Grant Still. Despite an all-Puccini concert (in May; the centenary of his death isn't till November), it looks tempting, and I'd be making up for anybody who drops out because they're not getting Beethoven and Dvorak (neither of those two AT ALL are appearing) all year.

At the pre-concert talk, the regular speaker, a violinist in the orchestra, brought on the concert's guest conductor. At the end, the speaker asked the conductor to tell us something interesting and unusual about himself. The conductor fumpfed for a minute, then said, "At university I was a double major in music and government. I've always been interested in government: when I was nine years old I could give the full names of all the Presidents of the United States in order." I half-raised my hand at that, because I could do that too. Then he said to the speaker, "I'm not going to do it now, but give me a number." The speaker said, "19," and the conductor paused for a moment in thought and then said, "Rutherford B. Hayes." Pretty good. Not many orchestra conductors could do that.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Sondheim festival III: Follies, the high school musical

So this theatrical group, composed entirely of students from numerous local high schools, put on a quite excellent production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a few years ago. How would they do with Sondheim's Follies? Not so great, although everybody was competent on the level of knowing their lines and being able to depict a character. But a play that's largely about couples aged 50 whose marriages are falling apart requires more seasoning than high school actors are going to have, and Sondheim's complex songs require more self-confidence than a lot of these people have got either. Mousy renditions of "Broadway Baby" and "In Buddy's Eyes" don't cut it. The one performer who had what it takes played Carlotta, one of the lesser roles, and her big number "I'm Still Here" was the highlight of the show, more enjoyable than most professional versions I've heard. A big hand, then, for Audrey Rechenmacher.

Exceedingly bare-bones production in the small performance space at the Mountain View CPA. No ghosts of the characters' earlier selves, a lot of double-casting in the minor roles. Minimal sets, sketchy costumes. The leading character of Phyllis wore a very fetching green dress, but a couple dance-hall girls had enormous runs or actual holes in their stockings. I don't think they were intentionally seedy.

Since I don't know Follies well, and had never actually seen it performed before, I took this as a get-acquainted prelude to the adult community theater level, and unstaged concert version, that I plan to see next month.

Saturday, March 18, 2023


Yesterday's edition of the neighborhood mailing list (I get a daily digest) was full of reports from pockets of our neighborhood that still haven't gotten their power back. That was Friday, and the windy storm that knocked all those trees down was on Tuesday. Today's paper confirms that there are still several thousand customers without power in the immediate area, and some of them are in our town.

The reason for the delay, of course, is the vast number of incidents overwhelming the crews that need to clean them up (and, the mailing list reports suggest, the exhaustion of workers who need to commute hours to get here, as people in such lines of work can't possibly afford to live here, but that's another matter). It hasn't hit us personally, which is good, because right now I'm buried in collating all the corrections for the proofs of the next issue of Tolkien Studies (that's the long-delayed 2022 issue), including some confusions that the publisher made of the illustrations (mostly musical scores) in one article, rendered more hazardous by their having renumbered them all. We missed one of the glitches ourselves; fortunately the author noticed it. Read your proofs, authors! Deadline is tight, and I don't need inaccessibility to my computer right now.

I had to dodge some fallen trees on a drive home from the City after the previous storm cycle last month, but this one hasn't been much to me personally, except for the twice-canceled Sondheim show. I did have to go out in the height of the rain for a medical appointment some distance away, but having repeatedly to hold my breath while they ran the ultrasound was more discomforting than anything involved in driving there. It currently looks as if our area will be spared the brunt of the next storm coming in a couple of days, though down south the San Bernardino Mountains towns that were socked in with snowfall may be getting more of it; the news article didn't specify that. In the meantime, between storms, it's cracking 70 F for the first time this year. There will be plenty more where that came from. I almost didn't need a jacket last night attending a concert by the Philharmonia Baroque and Apollo's Fire presenting a variety of diaspora Jewish ethnic music. Next week I'm attending a concert of wind chamber music by victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and this seemed like an appropriate prelude. Some of it was pretty haunting.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

no show

Last Thursday, B. and I had tickets to see a production of Sondheim's Into the Woods at a local community college, up on the edge of the hills. In fact, "Foothill," that's the name of the college. What should hit that day but one of the giant storms we've been getting lately. Fortunately I checked my e-mail before we went out, and found a notification that the power was out on campus so the evening's show had been canceled. But not to worry: they were adding a new performance the next Wednesday, and anyone who could make that day was welcome to transfer to that.

We were, so we did.

So on Tuesday, what should we get but another giant storm. And on Wednesday, a notice that power had gone out on campus again, and it was still out, so the replacement performance was also being canceled. Maybe it's being in the hills, and with lots of vulnerable trees around, that did it.

Show's about to close anyway: no more replacement performances, few tickets for the remaining shows (if the power comes back on for them) and we can't make them anyway.

So, scratch Into the Woods from my spring Sondheim festival. One down (Assassins, last month), one canceled, three more to go.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

concert review: Vienna Philharmonic

Once again, the most renowned orchestra in the world has come to just about the worst large auditorium in my area. And I was sent to review it.

The selection of works - Brahms and Mendelssohn - was delectable. The sound quality was beautiful, though the acoustics did their best to negate that. The conducting was wayward and eccentric. I've heard a lot better from the VPO in other hands. I fancy they might have done better with Strauss's Alpine Symphony the previous night; it's the kind of work that might respond to this approach. But how Bruckner's Eighth, which requires the most careful of shaping, came out the next evening I shudder to think.

This was an unusual form for a review from me, because - concentrating on the sound quality - I discussed the concert as a whole instead of the pieces individually. How I knew the word "intercalary" I can't remember, but it must have been right because the editors left it in.

Monday, March 13, 2023

concert review: theatrical song recital

The weather forecasts had led me to expect a heavy downpour when we returned from Stanford at 9 pm, but not a trace of rain. We'd headed out to the large lounge facing the foyer of one of the older Stanford dorms for a concert by an ensemble billed in the Music Department calendar as "Students of Music 183C: The Interpretation of Musical Theatre Repertoire." It was easy to get to, it fit our interests, so we went, although I think we must have been the only off-campus attendees.

Seven students each sang two or three songs in the damp acoustics, accompanied by their professor at the piano. You don't expect much from an undergraduate class; still, one would like heart-throbbing ballads like "Somewhere" or "I Dreamed a Dream" to be rendered with a little less wispy mousiness. And there was plenty of stuff like landing on your high note and then skidding around until you find the right pitch. But the one male student, though his intonation could use help, had a great sense of stage presence. The singer who tackled "Think of Me" from Phantom nailed the cadenza (better than Sarah Brightman, said B., though that's not a high bar *meow*), and the other one who sang "Vanilla Ice Cream," surely the best song in She Loves Me, was wonderful in pitch, projection, and character, with her smartphone standing in for Amalia's letterpad. Overall, a worthwhile hour out.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

everything one after the other

We hosted the quarterly MythSoc book discussion meeting this afternoon, and only two other people showed up. Fortunately we'd all at least partly read the book, which was Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. As this story prominently features a donut shop, I went out and bought a dozen donuts, which didn't get quite half eaten.

The book was mostly enjoyed, though I found it it clotted and unnecessarily messy in a way that was apparently deliberate but didn't work for me. In which it struck me similarly to the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, which was about to have a big night.

Some of the people who might have come to the meeting but didn't had to excuse themselves because of family emergency, health issues, or not being able to get home in time for the start of the Oscars broadcast. We were already home, so we didn't have that problem, and watched the whole thing.

By now, anyone who cares will know that one movie won just about everything, everywhere, all at once. In fact: there are by one definition eight major Academy Awards (Picture, Director, the four acting awards, and the two screenplay awards). It's only possible to win 7 of these, as the two screenplay awards are mutually exclusive. Everything Everywhere All at Once wasn't nominated for Leading Actor, but it won all the other six. No other movie has ever done this, in the entire history of the awards. The last one to win as many as five was nearly 40 years ago, Terms of Endearment in 1984. (Up until 1956 there was a separate writing award for Story, but only one picture ever won 6 major awards if you include that, Going My Way in 1945.)

I wonder if this is the first time anyone has won an acting Oscar for playing an IRS agent.

I'd also like to give Everywhere another award, for best acceptance speeches.

Thoughts on some other awards: Having seen all the Documentary Short Subject finalists, I agree, The Elephant Whisperers was the best. The Animated Short Films didn't inspire me as much. I detested The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, but that was for the inanely sappy story. I'll admit it was well-animated and the voice cast did their jobs well, so since I wasn't tremendously excited by any of the others either, I'll give its win a pass.

The only other award I can comment on in full is Best Song, as the finalists were all played in the ceremony. The actual winner, "Naatu Naatu," I think could have won Best Dancing, but I didn't think much of it for Best Song. Out of a generally uninspiring lineup, I thought the best was Lady Gaga's "Hold My Hand." Wait a minute, that was from Top Gun: Maverick? I saw that movie, but I don't remember there being a song.

Best host joke by a long shot was Jimmy Kimmel's comments on the Best Editing award: "Anyone who's ever received a text message from their father knows how important editing is. Editors do amazing things. Editors can turn 44,000 hours of violent insurrection footage into a respectful sightseeing tour of the Capitol." (Twitter video link: the delivery does help make it)

Which is of course a zinger at Tucker Carlson's selection of footage, but an even better zinger was the one delivered by the not-always-reliable Bill Maher, which has to be seen to be appreciated (YouTube link).

Saturday, March 11, 2023

out in the world

First in a very long time today: a casual social event, a friend's birthday party, he having reached a very large and very round number. Instructed not to bring gifts, most of us brought bottles of varyingly exotic beers anyway, because we know what the celebrant likes. I'd found one of English oatmeal stout, i.e. beer with actual oatmeal in it, or so the label claimed.

Guests were from various areas of his life, so many of us didn't know each other, hence a lot of introducing ourselves going around. I think I won the informal contest for guest who'd known the celebrant for the longest, our acquaintance going back at least as far as taking a medieval history class at university together, if not further.

Found myself in a conversation with people reminiscing about the bands they'd seen in various long-defunct dives, the bands being the likes of the Ramones and Motörhead which I know only by name. The only vaguely relevant contribution I could make was to recall that in my college days, which slightly predated theirs, my principal popular music outlet was going over to the Great American Music Hall to see the likes of Martin Carthy. If I'd been asked who that was, my standard way of defining Martin Carthy for people who've never heard of him is, "He's the guy who taught Paul Simon 'Scarborough Fair'."

Friday, March 10, 2023

plain about the plane

So I watched Netflix's 3-part documentary, MH370: The Plane That Disappeared. It's oriented not to tell the story of the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight to Beijing that vanished and has never been seen since, but to tell the story of the unfolding of the evidence. It starts by recounting the day itself, emphasizing the confusion over the gradual realization that something had gone wrong, and then turns to the development of various competing theories: a suicide mission by the captain (end point, the south Indian Ocean); hijacked by Russians eager to drive the invasion of Crimea off the front pages (end point, Kazakhstan); shot down by US spy planes to keep sensitive equipment in cargo from reaching Chinese hands (end point, South China Sea).

The documentary presents all of these in counterpoint and doesn't take sides, though it leans towards the last. The conspiracy theorists admit they don't have a definitive answer or any proof; they just strongly doubt the official story. But I did get very tired of the way they backed their stories by conjuring up ulterior motives for the supporters of the other stories: oh no, Blaine Gibson (the guy who's been finding wreckage on Indian Ocean beaches) has done business with Russians; oh no, Inmarsat (the tracking company whose pings indicated how far the plane traveled) also works for the US government. The Russian theory in particular requires the plotters to have the sort of omniscient pre-knowledge of the plot that's characteristic of bad conspiracy movies.

But the stories all leave lots of holes that aren't addressed. Nothing I already knew about this story isn't covered in this film, and it does include a lot I didn't know. Assuming that it's accurate, and that it's complete - and I'm expecting that the answers to my questions will include a lot of denial of those assumptions - here are some questions that raised in my mind that weren't settled.

1. When the Malaysian military initially reported that the plane had turned southwest, they weren't certain that the signal they saw was of the same plane. Later they reported that they had now confirmed this. What was the basis for the confirmation?

2. When the first piece of wreckage, the flaperon, was found on Réunion, it was not at first certain that it came from MH370. Later, investigators reported that they had now confirmed this. Florence De Changy, the French reporter, says that this confirmation came from 12 ID numbers stamped on the piece, but that only one of the 12 actually matched the records for the plane in question. Can that possibly be true? If so, where's the confirmation from?

3. The theorists are suspicious that Gibson has so easily found so much wreckage on various beaches. Have other people been looking and not found any?

4. Why is Gibson's wreckage only from the shell of the plane? Hasn't any of the contents - like passenger belongings that might also float - been found? (Lack of this might support the theory that the wreckage was actually salted and came from a decommissioned plane.)

5. Any discussion of how such small pieces survived the rough ocean and great distances in time and space from the presumed crash site to being found (over a year?) later on the coasts of Africa and Madagascar?

6. Cyndi Hendry is a volunteer who scoured imagery of the disappearance area in the South China Sea and found pictures of what she claims is wreckage. If this is the answer, then: Why wasn't any of that wreckage found in the initial physical search of the area, before it was proposed that the plane flew somewhere else? Why hasn't any of it washed up on beaches there?

7. If the plane had sensitive computer equipment being sent to China and the US wished to stop this, is this the only time such equipment had been shipped to China? If this happened all the time, there ought to be many stories about planes being intercepted.

8. Why do the conspiracy theorists consider it so damning to the Indian Ocean theory that the plane hasn't been found? Isn't it a huge expanse of ocean? Isn't it tremendously rough waters, thus making it hard to search, with a highly mountainous and irregular bottom? These are not typical of the waters in which planes have crashed in the past, and their locations were more precisely known than this. Not finding it doesn't surprise me at all.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

saved by the e-mail

Today the next blustery rainstorm hit our region. Not a day to go out in, yet B. and I had tickets for a musical production at a local community college this evening. As I was about to get started on an early simple dinner (Sicilian lentil soup mix, with chicken sausage and spinach), I checked my e-mail. Item: power outage at the college, show's off. Good thing we learned about it in time. Substitute performance arranged for next week, so with luck you'll read about it then.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

concert review: Paul Huang and Danbi Um

And then my editors sent me up to the City to cover a recital for two violins, featuring a bunch of works I didn't know, though at least I knew something of the composers. But I listened to them all, mostly with the scores, ahead of time, and was able to jot down a functional descriptive review.

Only afterwards did I find from my files that I'd reviewed the Moszkowski Suite once before, over a decade ago, and said pretty much the same about it then.

Monday, March 6, 2023


The New Yorker, 6 March issue, the one with the cover depicting DeSantis about to fillet a book.

Article on the decline in humanities majors in US universities, sees fit to explain what STEM stands for.

Article on the role of phosphorus in life and fertilizer, tells how important phosphates are to human biology but says nothing about what a phosphate is.

Article on using chatbots as mental health therapists. (The human ones are all booked up.) Meets a developer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and mentions as an aside that the lab "supplied plutonium to the Manhattan Project." Well, no. There was a pilot plutonium facility at Oak Ridge, but most of the plutonium came from Hanford. Oak Ridge's main role was to produce enriched uranium. The distinction makes no difference to the article, but if you're going to mention it, why not get it right? Or did a chatbot write the article?

The article on humanities majors interests me, because it shows the imperatives as having changed so much since my own university days nearly half a century ago. The increased cost of tuition and the increased difficulty of finding a well-paying job afterwards, both increasing the pressure to train for a hot career in engineering or the like, even for people who'd rather study literature.

Though it says it's about the humanities in general, the only field of study it discusses at all is English literature. There it loses me. I was a history major, which my univ classed as both humanities and social studies. I chose it both because I loved to read history and because of my excellent school training, with an Advanced Placement teacher who encouraged me to run rampant in doing research. My father had an adjunct position at the Stanford Medical School, so I was eligible to borrow books from the Stanford library, a privilege I took advantage of.

Whereas English lit - no. I hated that in school. Some authors I liked: I liked Shakespeare and Steinbeck. But I was forced to read Joseph Conrad, Hemingway, Dickens and Melville, as well as drippy nonsense like A Separate Peace, and I detested it all. Even worse was the directions for how to write about them. Not about the plot or the characters or the writing style, but the hidden symbolism: that was the only acceptable topic. The New Yorker article says that it's only recently that literary criticism has gotten hermeneutic, but this is how it actually was where I sat way back then. I got so fed up I wrote a paper denouncing this approach, rehearsing (had I only known it) the arguments in Susan Sontag's essay "Against Interpretation," which had been published a decade earlier. I got an F on the paper. As there was nothing wrong with my writing ability, this reflected my teacher's disapproval of my arguments, so I suspect she would also have given Sontag an F.

So no English major for me. Despite the university's requirement for a literature writing course, I got through my years without taking a single class from the English department (the secret was that other departments also gave qualifying courses). Thus I was much amused when, decades later, I was the guest lecturer for a university English department course. The topic, of course, was Tolkien, someone who would not have made the list in my day.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

concert review: Dreamers' Circus

SF Performances, which mostly puts on classical chamber music, offered a pan-Scandinavian folk ensemble with a classical connection: their violinist is also a member of the Danish String Quartet. But you wouldn't know that from anything he played tonight. All three play multiple instruments, but the other two are mostly heard on accordion and guitar.

Aside from a couple of songs using hums and whistling as just more musical instruments, all of the music on offer was instrumental: some folk tunes, some that the group's members have written themselves, no perceptible difference. Not all the music was lively, but it was almost all fast and intricate. Attractive and very pleasant to listen to, especially when the rhythms got hypnotic, but there was nothing of the haunting morose quality I've heard in other, especially Swedish, folk music.

This could have been at the Freight & Salvage, and it would have been almost exactly the same.

Friday, March 3, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Yuja Wang, frequent guest pianist, has graduated from the regular concert series to the Great Performers Series, which may be why Davies was packed on Thursday, which it hasn't been for any of my ordinary subscription concerts, to hear her tackle the famous Rach Three*, which I've heard her do here before.

Figuring if she was to be the headliner, Yuja - already noted for her flashy outfits - decided to dress for the part, and appeared in a boldly red sequin-covered minidress, so tiny that it went up to here and down to there.

Never mind that, how was the playing? Astounding as usual. What's most striking is the calm energy with which she plays, full of power without exertion, and the clarity of the individual notes, even in fast runs.

The huge audience was delighted, and leapt to its collective feet. For her first encore, Yuja played an abridged arrangement, with added flourishes, of the Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez. For her second encore, a toccata-like piece I was not familiar with. For her third encore, a bit of Carmen.

The other half of the concert - all was conducted by EPS** - was two recent pieces. Tumblebird Contrails by Gabriella Smith, inspired - said the composer in an introductory talk - by sitting on the beach at Point Reyes, was full of whooshing sounds that sounded like waves, pittering sounds that sounded like raindrops or like sand squishing between your toes, and sheens of string sound that sounded like an evocation of enjoying yourself while this happens. Nyx, a tone poem by EPS himself, is big and bold next to this, full of interesting sounds, by far the most effective and agreeable piece of his that I've heard.

*Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 (1909) by Sergei Rachmaninoff
**Esa-Pekka Salonen, SFS music director