Thursday, June 29, 2023

little blue turtle

Of all our cats' toys, their favorite is a little blue plush turtle, about two inches long. I haven't seen the cats carrying this in their mouths, though B. has, but I've certainly seen that it gets around. I will see it lying on the floor upstairs. Two hours later I will see it downstairs. Two hours after that I will see it upstairs again. We only have the one.

On several occasions recently I've awoken from a nap to discover I was sharing my bed with a little blue turtle. When I went to do my laundry a couple days ago, what should be sitting on top of the dirty laundry but a little blue turtle. It's certainly a busy and active little beast.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Last week, I was back at SFS for my last concert of the season. The previous week, Igor Levit had played one of the most famous and often-played concertos in the repertoire, Beethoven's "Emperor." This week, he played what's probably the least-known and most rarely-played piano concerto by a composer with any "name" value whatever, Ferruccio Busoni's. It's 75 minutes long - at least twice as long as the average - and requires a chorus (male) in its finale, that's why it's so rare.

But despite being long, and dating from the height of the Giganticism period in classical history (1904), it entirely lacks the garrulous waffling quality of Giganticist icons like Mahler and R. Strauss. Though it has interesting and unusual harmonies, it's pleasant to listen to and carries the listener's interest along, at least in this performance led by EPS. It's not a display concerto: the piano part is complex but it mostly rumbles along in the background.

Most times that an orchestra plays a piece of this length, they stick something else brief in the program to fill it out. This time they didn't, so the paradox is the long work made for a short program. Even with applause and an encore, we were out within 90 minutes of starting time.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Sheldon Harnick

ah me, oy vey, Sheldon Harnick has died. He was the lyricist half of Bock and Harnick, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, and She Loves Me. He also wrote musicals with other people, and before he settled in musical theater he wrote words and music for cabaret songs, a couple of which were popularized by the Kingston Trio.

This song is often credited to Tom Lehrer, because it has a similar dark humor, but no, it's by Sheldon Harnick.

Now, on to the then-acclaimed, now often forgotten Fiorello!, the tale of La Guardia's political rise. We have 1) the professional politicians preferring to play poker than to pick a candidate; 2) Fiorello's secretary frustrated after he phones to break a date with her because he's too busy working; 3) the secondary love story; 4) the politicians mocking the corruption hearings for the competing Walker administration.

And lastly, some numbers from Fiddler, just a little offbeat this time:

I just want a phone

An article in the Washington Post (behind a paywall, no doubt) says that only 27% of US households still have a landline phone, a percentage that's dropped markedly in the last few years. The highest rates are with older people in the Northeast.

We're old, but we're not in the Northeast. (The Northeast factor is due to the dominant company there being Verizon, which pushed customers to sign up for advanced Internet plans early, when landlines were still common, so those were part of the package and most of the customers still have them.)

So why do we have one? It's not just because we've always had one, though that's a factor. The main reason is that, at least in our situation, a landline is more reliable. And that's an old copper-wire landline. Most people still with landlines have voice-over-internet, the article says. I was almost lured to sign up for that, but I'm so glad I didn't.

1. If the power goes out, your internet is out, and so is your phone if it's over internet. Copper-wire phone systems rarely go out.

2. Our internet service is unreliable. On warm days it regularly goes out at intervals. We've been trying to get this fixed for 15 years, but no luck.

More generally about cell phones:

3. Cell reception at our home is rather bad. We live half a mile from Apple world headquarters, but we can't get a reliable cell phone signal.

4. I don't like talking on cell phones. It's uncomfortable, the reception is often bad, and all that radiation going off right next to my brain doesn't put me at ease, either.

5. Cell phones in regular use have to be recharged all the time. Another nuisance. A landline doesn't have to be recharged.

6. True, landlines get more spam calls. But at least on a landline you don't have to pay for them.

No question, a cell phone is useful. Using pay phones was tolerable so long as there were still pay phones everywhere, but with their disappearance the cell phone became superior and I got one. But at least as long as we're at this house, I'm keeping the landline. And if we move, my default intention is to get another one.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

let me get this straight

This is my understanding, from what I've read. Maybe it's wrong.

1. The mercenaries were advancing to invade Moscow, and then they just ... stopped?

This may actually be the dodging of a disaster. I'm not at all sure that replacing Putin with a mercenary general would be a good idea. Especially not for Ukraine, for instead of stopping the war he'd be likely to prosecute it less incompetently.

2. So the guy who ran the submarine knew that the carbon-fiber shell was not rated for multiple descents, but he built and used it anyway? Using aftermarket materials??

I read some editorial defending the guy on the grounds that you can't push the envelope of human achievement without taking risks. I'm familiar with that argument from discussions of NASA. The difference is, 1) this wasn't pushing the envelope of human achievement, this was sight-seeing jaunts; 2) when you're taking those risks, you minimize them by being as vigilant as possible, not by cutting corners; 3) when the risk is high, you don't take tourists along.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Sondheim Festival VI: Sunday in the Park with George

I'd thought my spate of attending Sondheim productions was over, but last week I saw a poster in downtown Mtn View: a local theater group I'd never heard of, Los Altos Stage Company, was currently running a production of Sunday in the Park with George, which I'd never seen, in a theater I'd never heard of despite it being right behind the Los Altos library, which I go to all the time. It's called the Bus Barn Theater, and it lives down to what you'd expect of that name, except for two things: the acoustics are good and the sight lines not bad.

B. wanted to go too, so we bought tickets.

The performers were all excellent. They didn't have the not quite ready for prime time quality of some local theater groups, but were fully on top of their parts like some others I've seen. The problem was with the show itself. It's not very good.

The music is all characteristically Sondheim, but there's nothing in it particularly memorable, though some of the lyrics were amusing. But the plot, which is by James Lapine, suffers from an inherent flaw which didn't afflict the next Sondheim show, Into the Woods, which Lapine also concocted. Act 1 - which is tediously overlong - is all about Georges Seurat painting his famous work A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. And the problem with that is what I found in the movie about J.M.W. Turner, which is that watching a painter paint is just desperately dull and boring to see, that's all there is to it.

In Act 2, Seurat's (imaginary) American great-grandson, also an artist and played by the same actor, endures vapid cocktail party chatter after his latest installation, and then he visits the river island in Paris where his ancestor's famous painting is set. Here the figures in that painting - which as people had floated boringly around Act 1 - come alive and talk to him. Mercifully quick ending.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Amy Wisniewski

I ought to report on this, because Amy was a well-known and loved figure in Mythopoeic Society circles and I knew her for, oh, let's see, 48 years. She died last Tuesday at the age of 76.

Amy was already in the Society when I arrived. The first meeting I attended was at the small house that she and her partner (and later wife) Edith Crowe were living at in the flatlands of Redwood City. 48 years later, in a larger house further up in the hills, they were still hosting meetings. Almost every year, except during pandemics, they hosted the annual Reading and Eating Meeting. We would gather for a potluck meal and then take turns reading short selections around the (once real, later theoretical) fire.

For a few years, Amy was our discussion group's moderator, and she actually directed meetings with a skill and knowledge surpassing that of anyone else who had that title. Amy wasn't a Tolkien scholar; she didn't give papers at Mythcon; but she had read and absorbed his books and did the same for the books we were discussing, and consequently always had intelligent things to say.

What Amy was a scholar at was neuropsychology. She had a Ph.D. in the field and until her retirement taught at Palo Alto University, the same small specialized institution that Christine Blasey Ford taught at. They must have known each other, though she never brought it up and I wasn't crass enough to ask.

Once at a discussion group meeting at Mary Kay Kare's, we played with her kitties extensively, and they got so excited one of them had an epileptic fit. Fortunately there was a neuropsychologist in the house. Amy told us what to do to calm and treat the cat.

As a book review editor, I was long on the lookout for a book uniting Amy's interests that she could review. I finally found it recently in John Rosegrant's Tolkien, Enchantment, and Loss. But unfortunately by that time Amy, who had been ailing badly for some years, and was having eye trouble that made it difficult for her to read, was no longer in a position to take it on.

Like many Americans of Polish ancestry, Amy was originally from the Buffalo area, and she and Edith were preparing to move back at the time she died. Both long retired, they had little to keep them here aside from the discussion group, and lots of family to return to. One year not long ago I was just back from England with some Polish casserole seasonings I'd picked up at Tesco, and made a Polish chicken dish for the reading potluck, in Amy's honor.

We will all of us miss Amy very much.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

concert review: Garden of Memory

It was the summer solstice yesterday, so it was time for the Garden of Memory walk-through concert at the Chapel of the Chimes mausoleum in Oakland. I used to attend these annually, but I hadn't been in six years, counting pandemic years when they didn't have them, conflicting engagements and a reluctance to risk the virus accounting for the rest. But this year I decided to take it, especially when I learned they were limiting attendance (no at-the-door tickets, for instance), and it was indeed rather less perishingly crowded than before. But despite an official request for masks, only about 10% of the attendees were wearing them.

Many of my favorite performers weren't there this year, which meant I couldn't settle down and spend the whole four-hour event listening to Amy X Neuburg or Laura Inserra. Instead, I wandered around. I came in through the upper back entrance (the building is on a hill) and found one group I did know, the Orchestra Nostalgico, in their usual position on the porch, playing Nino Rota in their drier-than-a-big-band way. Wandering inside, I was distracted from a guy playing a lonely saxophone by the sound drifting up from the floor below through the big aperture. It was the slow wordless keening of a female voice accompanied by electronics: haunting and arresting. When I went down and found her, according to the performance map she was Majel Connery, but the music was quite unlike anything you'll find on YouTube with that name, so I dunno.

Elsewhere I heard a very quiet quartet of two violins, electric guitar, and steel drum; two women playing hushed Irish folk tunes on harp and dulcimer; a woman playing wandering modernism on a set of clarinets and saxophones, including a contrabass: I didn't know you could play pizzicato on a saxophone, but apparently you can; a number of performers of the "play a note, take a long pause, play another note" school; and a recital of new music for harpsichord. All these, you'll note, were quiet, though I did find one guy who loaded up his new-age electronics to heavy-metal volume level; fortunately he was in the closed-off Middle Chapel.

They didn't give out performance maps on site this year, though there were some posted on walls here and there; the only way to get one to carry around was by having printed it out from the website in advance, which I did because I'd read the e-mail to ticket-holders saying so. But a lot of attendees didn't have one, though that did not fully explain the number of attendees wandering around lost. Twice when I got in the elevator, I was joined by somebody who was trying to get to the very floor that they were already on.

Though I drove up at 2 PM, the Nimitz freeway was stop-and-go traffic all the way: I fear it's become like the 405 in LA. So I got off it as soon as possible and came in by 580. There's only street parking in the vicinity, but I found the last available space on the street by the back entrance an hour before starting time, and sat in the car eating my late lunch or early dinner. When I got down to the main entrance later on, I found three food trucks - none to my taste - and a bunch of plastic picnic tables outside, an advance on amenities of past years.

Hoping there was no covid, I had a good time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023


Edward Dusinberre, Beethoven for a Later Age: Living with the String Quartets (2016)
First violinist of the Takács Quartet describes the nitty-gritty of rehearsing and playing Beethoven's quartets, in the context of his history with the group: young Englishman joining three grizzled Hungarians and playing with them for 20 years, through two subsequent personnel changes. It really helps in reading this book to be familiar with the works and thus know the import of particular movements and passages, and even more to have heard the Takács play and know their amazing ability to listen to each other and unify their sound, and in particular Dusinberre's brilliance at melting lyricism. Because he never feels he's done learning how to play better, so this is a very self-critical book that can make its subjects look like incompetent duffers if you don't know at what a high level their self-criticism is pitched.

Jennet Conant, 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos (2005)
Social history of the Manhattan Project, focusing both on mundane issues like domestic power outages and useless cooking stoves, and on wild parties and security issues and the baby boom and personnel issues at the lab. Los Alamos was designed as a military camp but it was inhabited by civilians, and there's the main clash right there. Concludes with the long postwar story of Oppenheimer's loss of security clearances. Very little about technical issues; that's covered in other books. The title is the address of the project's office in Santa Fe, where new arrivals had to check in, often not knowing where they were going or what they would find when they got there. The principal character is less Oppenheimer than Dorothy McKibbin, the Santa Fe office manager, who was only occasionally on site in Los Alamos but got to see everybody. Some amusing anecdotes: for security reasons, use of titles like Prof. or Dr. was prohibited, so when a couple scientists sight-seeing in Santa Fe saw a statue and one said, "That's Archbishop Lamy" the other replied, "Shouldn't we say Mr. Lamy?"

J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years (1976)
One of the first attempts to tell the full "White House horrors" story, based on a pair of huge New York Times Magazine articles. Excellent, clear, and monumentally detailed - it's a very long book - on the early stuff, but once the Watergate burglars are caught it needs to tell two stories at once - the cover-up and the public unraveling - and it gets clotted. I dug this one up because it was reported as one of the few early sources to finger Mark Felt as Deep Throat, but it only sort of does so. It mentions Deep Throat in passing only once - this is not a history of the journalism - and just says that many people think he was Felt. I don't know who these people were, because although his name did come up, most detailed investigators dismissed him as a possibility until much later on.

David Kaczynski, Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family (2016)
Brief, painful. Discusses the discovery that his brother was the Unabomber more from an emotional perspective than an event-recounting one. Though it does say that David's wife suspected it before the manifesto was published. Also a lot on his parents, particularly their deaths. David's father committed suicide in the face of incurable cancer. This book was published long before Ted reportedly did the same thing.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Back up to the City for the most basic red-meat program possible, the two largest-scale concert works of Beethoven's "heroic" period: the "Emperor" Concerto and the "Eroica" Symphony. Still, these works are some of the greatest music ever written and they deserve to be played, just not perhaps too often. It'd been a while since I'd heard either.

EPS conducted and Igor Levit was the pianist. I liked the crisp clarity of Levit's playing, and especially the quiet subterranean way he navigated the concerto's transition from the Adagio to the finale. For an encore, he played a little Shostakovich waltz.

The "Eroica" was a dramatic, energetic performance that kept the music continually exciting.

Again, not an earth-shattering performance but a good one, and much more in keeping with SFS's traditional strengths than the last such concert.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

obit notification

Glenda Jackson, who returned to acting in old age after a long career as a politician, has died.

My favorite movie of hers is the one in which she played Richard Nixon.

Under disguise, of course. It was called Nasty Habits and was Watergate set in a nunnery. Thoroughly chortleable. Geraldine Page played Haldeman and Sandy Dennis was John Dean.

A recently deceased person of great infamy who made a principal character in some surprisingly good movies was Theodore Kaczynski. I recommend Ted K in which he's played by Sharito Copley, and also the miniseries Manhunt: Unabomber in which he's played by Paul Bettany, although that's more about the heroic, put-upon FBI agent played by Sam Worthington.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023


Monday was our 29th, would you believe? (And not counting the 5 1/2 years we were together before that.)

B. was at orchestral rehearsal that afternoon, so it wasn't a good night to go out for dinner, so I made our special turkey meatloaf, plus steamed brussel sprouts (B's favorite). Besides, the Mexican restaurant I had in mind is closed Mondays, so we went on Tuesday, after feeding the cats. It's a place I hadn't been to on my own, as it doesn't do lunch. Food fairly good. I had shrimp loaded with strips of bell pepper, B. had a chicken burrito.


We've read the indictment. How anybody can continue to carry support for this malign thug is beyond belief, but then the same thing was true after hearing the Billy Bush tape, and anybody capable of bearing an ounce of shame must have left then. The defenses beggar the imagination: Kevin McC. says a bathroom is a good place to secure sensitive documents because it has a door that locks. From the inside, you clown, from the inside. Does he think the documents have hands and can lock the door themselves? Is he as stupid as he's making himself out to be, or is it just a deliberate fogging of the issue?

Sunday, June 11, 2023

concert review: 5 Centuries of Chaconnes

I couldn't resist a piano recital with that title, performed by the ubiquitous Sarah Cahill (who's gotten a lot more ubiquitous in my concert-going since I got on her publicist's mailing list, which is how I found out about this), and held as it was at a local arts school, so it was easy for me to get to. A chaconne is a work with a 4- or 8-bar sequence of notes or chords that repeats continually and forms the harmonic foundation rather than a melodic seed, though it may move from voice to voice or be fragmented or hidden.

The title was a little exaggerated, as the 6 works included nothing from the 19th century, but there were 17th and 18th century Baroque keyboard works by Purcell, Handel, and Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. From the 20th and 21st centuries, we had works inspired by Handel or Bach, as a modern usage of the term chaconne implies. The composers were Nielsen (a rather jaunty piece), Gubaidulina (very modernist, except for a section imitating a Bach fugue), and a composer not only living but present in the audience, Danny Clay, whose Still Cycles takes chords and trills from the Handel piece we'd heard earlier and repeats them between long pauses, creating a quiet and hypnotic music that sounds more like Morton Feldman than anything else.

It was Clay, invited to help explain what a chaconne is, who suggested that what the repeating harmonic sequence does could be called "looping."

To a post-concert audience question from a little girl about what age she started playing the piano (6), Cahill also said that her preferred practice mode is simply to sit at the piano all day. Recently, she said, she was in D.C. at the National Gallery and got to practice at their piano all day, after which they told her that this was the instrument that had accompanied Marian Anderson at her 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert. How cool is that?

Saturday, June 10, 2023

revenge penalty

When I wrote about Kaija Saariaho's opera Adriana Mater, with its libretto by Amin Maalouf concerning a young man who vows to kill his rapist father but finds in the event that he just can't bring himself to do it, I wrote that his mother says to him, "If you were really his son" (as opposed to her own), "you would have killed him." It's an argument for mercy and grace. But I didn't mention that she also says, "This man deserved to die, but you, my son, you didn't deserve to kill him."

That interesting formulation - focused on the morality of the execution rather than on the vengeance - stuck in my mind. So I'm reading Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher, which is the topic for our book discussion group this week. It includes a princess from a small kingdom who's trapped in an abusive marriage with the cruel prince of a much larger kingdom. She can't leave him because he'd take it out militarily on her homeland if she did; the marriage was purely for diplomatic purposes anyway.

So in this scene, the princess's sister is discussing the problem with a hedgerow witch-type and declares, "He deserves to die." The other replies, "Lots of people deserve to die. Not everybody deserves to be a killer."

How interesting: almost exactly the same formulation. (The opera came first.) I've even seen this argument given primary-world application, in the form of articles discussing the moral toll that being an executioner, or even a participant or witness, in death-penalty states takes on those who do it.

Of course the conversation in Nettle & Bone also reminded me of this, and I hope I don't have to tell you where it's from, who's speaking, or who they're talking about:
"I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."
"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."

Friday, June 9, 2023

opera review: Adriana Mater

A concert performance - really semi-staged, with minimal props and no scenery - of this opera by the late Kaija Saariaho is this week's San Francisco Symphony program. I attended the first performance last night. EPS conducted, and the production was stage directed by Peter Sellars, who gave an evocative, impressionistic pre-concert talk about the intangible aesthetics of the work. Both of them did the same jobs for the original production in Paris in 2006.

The opera has two acts, it has four characters, and it lasts somewhat over two hours. Adriana is a young woman who rebuffs the advances of a crude and uncouth man. He becomes a soldier in the civil war that erupts in their unnamed Balkan country, forces his way into her house on a military pretext, and rapes her. To the dismay of her elder sister, she decides to keep the resulting pregnancy, but wonders what kind of child will result from the mixture of her blood and his.

Seventeen years pass during intermission. Adriana's son learns his origins from somewhere else, and is furious both about this news and with his mother and aunt for having hidden it from him. He vows to track down and kill the monster who sired him. To her sister's horror, Adriana doesn't try to stop him. "If he is meant to kill him, he will kill him," she says. What she means by this becomes clear when her son finds the man, now blind, sick, repentant, and longing only for death. The son keeps threatening to kill him, but he can't do it. When he reports this to his mother, she says, "If you were really his son" (as opposed to her own), "you would have killed him," and all three - the young man, his mother and aunt - have a big hug.

And so this opera which is all about violence turns out at the end to be a call for peace and reconciliation. I think that's the best term: they don't forgive the man, but they're reconciled to his existence.

It was staged by placing four square elevated platforms irregularly around the stage, two in front sticking out into the audience seating and two by the side, stage left. The singers stand on various different ones and interact by walking between them, carrying ipads with their musical parts. The white surfaces are bathed in various colored lights. A blackout covers the rape scene, but the orchestra screams a lot. The text, by Lebanese-born French author Amin Maalouf, is in French, not that it's easy to tell from the murky singing. Supertitles in English are helpful but aren't adequate to cope with some of the overlapping vocal lines.

The only cast member whose work I knew was Nicholas Phan as the son, but his gorgeous tenor was fractured by the fury that suffuses the part. Mezzo Fleur Barron as Adriana and soprano Axelle Fanyo as her sister were hard to tell apart vocally and tended to get buried beneath the accompaniment. Christopher Purves as the man gave a powerful baritone, particularly in act 2.

Saariaho's scoring is dark, brooding, and churning, but colorful and interesting. The sonic idiom resembles spectralism, but it has none of the vast sheeting quality of that musical style. While it's not my preferred musical character, I found it often effective and captivating, and even two hours of it was almost not too much. As often in opera, I kept wishing the singers would shush so that I could hear the music better. Only at a few points do the vocal lines really meld with the orchestral ones in powerful drama, which is what I really want to hear in opera. The inspiration started to run out of steam in act 2 when the orchestra responds too closely to the text. Every time the son calls his father a monster, the orchestra replies by going bleargha bleargha. We could have done without that.

Still, though, I'm glad I heard this: effective drama with interestingly crafted music by a composer whose idiom I'm learning to appreciate. So I am minded to take the earnest recommendation I've received and attend Saariaho's Innocence from SF Opera next spring, despite - from what happened last time I went - the avalanche of subsequent phone calls it will get me from the Opera entreating me to subscribe.

an incident

Arriving at the bus stop in the City at 10:30 pm after my concert, I leaned my arm up against the outside wall of the bus shelter. At which the man sitting inside the bus shelter on that side - he was Black, probably about 40, with a cap and a smartphone he was looking at - suddenly said, "Are you intending to hit me?" I said, "What?" which was a mistake, for he then launched into a long and mostly unintelligible diatribe, including a lot of insult terms, among them the N-word. It was at that point that I figured out he wasn't really talking to me but was off in a world of his own.

Then, although by appearances waiting for the bus, he got up, went around me - if he'd been planning a physical attack, that would have been the moment - and walked off, last seen by me crossing the street at the intersection.

That might not even make the top ten spookiest encounters I've had in the City.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

concert review: Redwood Symphony

Even at my age, I'm still capable of learning practical rules of life the hard way.

That barbecue counter where you're used to having quiet weekday lunches? Don't try to have dinner there on a Saturday.

We finally got to the concert hall in time for this.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Denny Lien

I didn't mention Denny Lien when he died nearly two months ago, but now that a memorial fanzine of his writings has been published, I'd like to pay tribute to two of his signal virtues.

First, his skill as a reference librarian. As a librarian myself, and having a modicum of that skill and training, I can recognize a true master when I see one. Denny had the particular talent of being able to make small and intricate corrections without seeming to be drowning in trivial distractions.

Second, the selfless care he took of his ailing wife, Terry Garey. I didn't know Denny very well, but Terry is an old friend of mine from a long way back, the same vintage and environment as the late Andi Shechter, and I appreciate what Denny could do for her.

The fanzine has a few examples of Denny's learning and wit that generate responses of mine.

First, on page 11 is a newspaper letter to the editor decrying "the technique of proving the obscurity of a subject on the basis of its nonappearance in a totally inappropriate reference work." I found a choice example of that once, years ago. An orchestra member had the job of giving preconcert talks, and was faced with the responsibility of speaking on Carmina Burana, a work he loathed. His technical analysis of it was actually pretty good, but he tripped up in attempting to prove that Carl Orff was a composer of utmost insignificance. "He isn't even listed in the authoritative St. James Press guide to Contemporary Composers." I'd used this reference work and I raised my hand. "The St. James Press guide to Contemporary Composers," I said, "says in its foreword that its coverage is limited to composers still alive at the date of compilation. Orff had already been dead for a decade, so he wasn't eligible any more than Stravinsky or Bartok, who aren't there either."

Also on page 11 is Denny's simple recipe for pizza. (Remove the frozen pizza from the box, heat it up and eat it.) I've seen an even simpler pizza recipe, that's capable of providing better results:
Pizza. Ingredients: 1. Phone. 2. Coupon.

The garbling of Carl Akeley's name as Earl Akaley, corrected by Denny on page 27, reminds me of the worst such garbling I've seen. In a published transcription of tape recordings of the conversation of Philip K. Dick, Phil twice mentions a composer named Schmenkna. There is no such composer. It's pretty obvious that he's referring to Bedřich Smetana.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Guest conductor for last night's concert was Manfred Honeck, music director in Pittsburgh, a healthy-looking grey-haired guy.

He brought with him a brief recent piece that Pittsburgh had commissioned, by Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano, originally from Venezuela and now a conductor working mainly in Europe. amazon (pretentiously eschewing a capital letter) - referring to the warrior women, not the river or the shipping company - is a bustling, active work resembling movie music in the Danny Elfman mode, with sudden quiet passages and a lot of percussion (7 players) clopping around in the background.

The rest of the concert delivered brilliantly colorful, rather than interpretatively compelling, versions of two of my favorite large-scale works.

In Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody, both pianist Beatrice Rana and the orchestra were magnificently crisp, like a single perfect potato chip that somehow takes half an hour to eat.

Schubert's Great C Major Symphony, of which I would not put "crispness" among its many virtues, was blisteringly fast, with a terrifyingly intense coda.

This was not MTT's or EPS's, let alone Blomstedt's, SFS, but it was good enough.


Next week's concert will be less familiar and more challenging: a concert version of the opera Adriana Mater by Kaija Saariaho. Who just died yesterday, I learned to my shock this morning. She was 70. Peace to her memory, and as this concert will be the first to demonstrate, her music will live on.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

new machines

A couple years ago our kitchen range fell apart and we got a new one. This week it was the turn of our dishwasher. Our disposition of chores is that I cook dinner (B. hates cooking) and B. does the dishes, so I rarely touch the dishwasher, but I was heavily involved in the purchase process, for which we replicated what we did for the range.

A library visit for Consumer Reports (whose annual Buying Guide is now the same shape and size as a regular issue) revealed that the top brand is something called Bosch. This was confirmed by the salesfolk at Best Buy, and fortunately we were able to get the least expensive version. You can pay $100 more for a different-shaped handle or for a stainless-steel surface, but we didn't.

Only problem was that the deliverers did not phone the previous day with a time window as the salesfolk had promised. 5 pm I phoned Best Buy customer support who told me to wait till they called the next morning; I said that wasn't good enough, and by employing heavy sarcasm ("Are you calling the salesperson a liar?") got them to check the schedule, which said we were the 6th customer on the day's list, probably early afternoon.

Next morning, still no call, but another call to support got a window of 1-4 pm. Fine. Showed up at 3, did the job, no trouble. Dishwasher works: less noise than the old one, no leaks on the floor, moderately good at drying the contents.

In less epic vein, we replaced the older of our two litter boxes. The cats weren't using it any more, and that must have been because the plastic had absorbed just too much odor over the years. They certainly like the new one.

The problem was that covered litter boxes now comes with the kind of bells and whistles we're all familiar with from computer shopping. There's a little swinging door over the entrance. And there's a sieve at the bottom. The idea is that you clean the box by lifting the sieve out; the poop comes with and the loose litter stays behind. Then you just dump the contents from the sieve into the wastebasket. Easy, no?

No. First, we're not putting the cat poop into a wastebasket to sit there smelly all week until trash day; it goes in a bag which is put directly in the outside bin. But I can't dump the sieve into the bag without three hands like the woman in the Charles Addams cartoon.

Second, the process of reassembly is far too complex. You don't just put the sieve back in, because then it would ride on top of the litter. So there's an extra bottom part. You put the sieve in that. You dump the litter from the other bottom into that one, on top of the sieve. Then you lift the now-full bottom and put it inside the now-empty bottom. Is that at all clear? I could not find words to explain it to B.

Way too much trouble. It's easier to use the scoop, the one the ads say you don't have to use any more.

As for the swinging door, the cats knocked it off on the first day. So the bells and whistles are all gone, and we're back to a normal covered litter box.