Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ysaye: The Greatest?

From 1912. In the ninety-nine years since, has this Mendelssohn ever been bettered?

Friday Night Brahms

I used to dream of playing the Brahms like this. Janine Jansen is my favorite young violinist. If Hilary Hahn is the 'angel' of the violin, playing with perfect control and propriety, then Jansen is the 'devil' playing with tension and abandon that borders on the reckless. The result is that her performances are invariably a lot more interesting than Hahn's.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Prince's Speech

h/t Der Fersko

Quote of the Day:

Der Gronowski: I still imagine the months of the year in three rows of four months each, like my calendar: a Ghostbusters one I had in 1st grade
we're about to jump down a row from April to May

Thursday, April 28, 2011


It's like a Keith Olbermann....for sports!

(yes, I know..)

Quote of the Day:

Dad: You forget just about everything that happens in the distant past. But I can remember every time in my life that I stepped in dogshit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


This is a great take on why The Office is a fantastic TV show. But I hope that The Office writers realize that they have written themselves into a terrible corner that has only one way out:

Dwight Schrute's Reign of Terror.

One season more, culminating this time next year by Dwight being in a standoff with the FBI and 20,000 tons of explosives.

That is all.

History in Action

h/t La Kozak.
Today is a shameful moment in American history. That is all.

Quote of the Day

La Tran: vietnamese parents don't say i love you, but will try to stuff you full of food to show their love

Le Jazz Sacre

From the department of dumb ideas comes a jazz recreation of The Rite of Spring. Self-censorship is an important part of the artist's armor, and there are some ideas that should simply strike you as bad even before you attempt them. The original Rite of Spring is already as much jazz incarnate as anything by Mingus or Sun Ra.

And this group doesn't even try. It's just a literal rendering of Sacre for a Jazz combo. What's the point? Some pieces, regardless of genre, are simply too perfect to be fucked with. There is very little (unless you're Leonard Bernstein or Valery Gergiev) that you can do to the Rite of Spring to improve it.

(How to improve the Rite of Spring. Play the shit out of the piece. That's what Esa-Pekka Salonen, the reigning world champion Stravinskian, does.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sartre Wars

The most overrated philosopher of the 20th century finally makes sense. h/t Der Koosh

Little Chef

I already forget where I found this link, but whoever posted it said that it's like a Todd Solondz TV show for the Disney Channel. Not bad sir or ma'am. Not bad.

Zadie Smith on The Social Network

Zadie Smith, like David Foster Wallace, is not a novelist I have much inclination to read. But I can get behind their journalism every time I read an article written by either of them. This appraisal of The Social Network from the New York Review of Books is brilliant, even if I disagree with a lot of what she says about the movie.

Jersey Shore Delivered in the Style of Oscar Wilde

Apparently there are all kinds of sequels to this around the internets. But the first one is the best. The actors get too confident and lose the understatement.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ill Wind by Flanders and Swann/Mozart

A certain kind of amazing. I always find it amazing how so much classical music sounds so much more inventive when heard in a completely different context. Pop music has many, many strengths, but how many musicians today (in any genre) can harmonize with the invention/discipline of Mozart?

Billy Strayhorn Plays

A rare event.

Quote of the Morning:

Le Malon: its called Death in the Afternoon
it's champagne and absynthe
it is delightful
and you only need one
the name comes from hemingway
because we all want to emulate the guy who lived a destructive life and then killed himself

Quote of the Day:

Der Fersko: You can't put a price on Hank Kingsley

ET: Almanac

"...the liberal believes in the permanence of humanity's imperfection, he resigns himself to a regime in which the good will be the result of numberless actions, and never the object of a conscious choice. Finally, he subscribes to the pessimism that sees, in politics, the art of creating the conditions in which the vices of men will contribute to the good of the state."

The Opium of the Intellectuals by Raymond Aron

The 100 Best Under 40 Composers

Excuse me while I jump for joy. I can't deny that lists like this are profoundly a step in the right direction, but why 100? Are we supposed to believe that the music of every young composer with a competent press agent is worth hearing? What the best among these musicians need is advocacy in the press that tells precisely why their music has merit. And at the same time, we need somebody who will call a spade a spade for the overrated among this group. There is a definite sense of 'kid gloves' when it comes to the new generation. In essence, critics are so relieved that there is finally a generation of classical musicians that interacts freely with pop music that nobody wants to criticize them for sounding like second-rate Indy Rock. So basically, what this list needs is a 'balance sheet' from someone who can at least give people an idea of what's what among these composers. Can anyone provide balance on those opinions? Probably not. But they can provide entertainment.

Why yes, Evan, this sounds like a very fun exercise! Let torture of listening to more student comp recitals begin anew!

Jews have Beards (who knew?)

The economists sat ringing Obama—two Nobelists, a former Labor secretary, and a former vice-chairman of the Fed. Not a Gentile among them, Krugman noticed, but “an amazingly high proportion of beards.”

RTWT here. Great article. h/t Le Malon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Quote of the Night:

Me (watching character whose name I forget in Treme playing the Giga from the Bach Partita No. 2 for Violin): Wow. I play that piece. And she plays it no better than I do.

Mom: Well, if you were an attractive woman you could play this part too.
I'm not even going to begin to count the ways in which this experiment is dumb. Don't waste a free New York Times article on this....unless you're curious.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Cuz it's awesome. Albeit it is far less absurd sounding when you don't speak the language in which it's sung (which should be Russian, in a performance that's otherwise wonderful).

Rustic Chivalry

I listened to Cavalleria Rusticana for the first time last night. It took me twenty-one years of opera fanaticism to get around to this. What in god's name was I waiting for? This is the music of Sicily. Not for nothing did Coppola set the ending of Godfather III to this opera (would that the movie were worthy of it's source). This opera is like Sicily (or at least my personal image of it) personified: the fanatical catholicism, the bloody vendettas, the warm climate, the sun-induced lust, the profound superstition. This is not opera, this is an episode of the Sopranos (and roughly the same length). So to all the haters who say that Italian verismo is simple-minded trash, I say...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Beatboxing Cellist

h/t Daniel Stephen Johnson

I'm pretty sure I'm not as impressed as he was. The arrangement sounds too much like standard issue Edgar Meyer. But the novelty of hearing a cellist beatbox is certainly worth an embedded link. And the cellist's playing (and beatboxing) a lot more impressive than the piece he's playing.

Footage from FDR's Second Bill of Rights Speech

h/t JB


Reports like this are outrageous. They show flagrant disregard for democracy and make me ashamed to be an American, a Jew, and an opera lover. That is all.

h/t The Tabak

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Evan Tucker's Handy-Dandy Top Operas List

If you ever want to immerse yourself in opera, this is where to go.

1. Mozart - The Marriage of Figaro: The perfect opera. Opera as what it should be - a democracy in which every performer matters. Ten equal parts (when the arias aren't cut), and each having unfathomable three dimensional depth. An orchestra as much a part of the total experience as the singers. Funny, sad, profound, lowbrow, complex and simple all at once. Pure pleasure in music.

2. Verdi - Otello: The perfect operatic tragedy. A lifetime of experience lets Verdi take us on a ride into the abyss. Not a single wasted note, and each

3. Sondheim - Company:

4. Bizet - Carmen:

5. Wagner - Die Meistersinger:

6. Puccini - La Boheme:

7. Mozart - The Magic Flute:


Stephen Fry on Language

h/t La Kozak.

Could also be titled "Why Stephen Fry should be King of England.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quote of the Day:

me: how's san fran?

La Winters: cold, no real weather, hilly, the usual

me: hehe

you don't know how good no real weather sounds when you don't live in a swamp anymore

La Winters: oh god, no, there's nothing to look forward to

like, sunshine or snowdays

time rolls by undifferentiated

it's maddening

Monday, April 18, 2011


More than Ligeti, Luciano Berio had to be the great genius of the Darmstadt generation. Could Ligeti, would Ligeti, ever do this?

Now THAT's neo-classicism!

Happy Pesach

(Israel in Egypt by Handel)

Toscanini Conducts Verdi

Everybody's clearly been rehearsed within an inch of their lives. The singers stand perfectly still, like pipes on an organ, with their hands folded at their diaphragms. Every detail of this performance was clearly planned sixty years in advance.

To anyone who thinks that Verdi is pure melodrama for singers on an ego trip, I would submit Toscanini's Verdi as an irrefutable exhibit A. This is the stuff of Shakespeare and Sophecles at their most eloquent and perfect. Every note tintinnabulates in relation to every other as an unbreakable part of an indivisible whole.

Toscanini, fifty-four years Verdi's junior, became Verdi's favorite conductor at the end of his long life. We have precious few reminders of the operatic golden age over which Toscanini presided. The young Toscanini was every bit the tyrant in his younger years that he was as he aged, but his musical curiosity was far greater. Imagine how great American opera might have been had Toscanini thrown the same passion into American opera as he did into Verdi and Wagner.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Robin Williams's Finest Moment

In college we literally watched this fifteen times in slow motion in a futile attempt to ascertain how he sprang into the screen.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

80's Montage Time

Johnny Carson: Funeral for the Editor of Roget's Thesaurus

I remember watching this when I was nine or ten. It occurred to me to look it up today. One of my better ideas I must say.

Quote of the Day:

David: You know how to take all the fun out of a rainy day.

For Giuseppe Sinopoli

He died ten years ago today. Still a shock.

Hot Diggity

Never did Chabrier sound this smooth.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Minnesota Declaration

A declaration of principles from Werner Herzog.


Vaclav Klaus Steals a Pen

The President of the Czech Republic is notorious for being tight fisted, but this is Jack Tucker worthy.

h/t La Kozak.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mazel Tov

To Der Koosh and La Pothier on their historic announcement of the day. Wonderful news indeed!

Worst Band Ever

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I think I'm going to laugh.

h/t Le Malon

My Favorite Moment in Chamber Music

It just builds from nothing. Before you know it, you're in a spell.

It's rare that you hear a performance of this movement that takes it slowly enough. Fortunately the Marlboro kids (students of Serkin, Busch, Casals, The Moyses) always do Brahms well, sometimes leagues better than anyone else.

Hitch on the King James Bible

Though I am sometimes reluctant to admit it, there really is something “timeless” in the Tyndale/King James synthesis. For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivaled only by Shakespeare in this respect. It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening. From the stricken beach of Dunkirk in 1940, faced with a devil’s choice between annihilation and surrender, a British officer sent a cable back home. It contained the three words “but if not … ” All of those who received it were at once aware of what it signified. In the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar tells the three Jewish heretics Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that if they refuse to bow to his sacred idol they will be flung into a “burning fiery furnace.” They made him an answer: “If it be so, our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, o King. / But if not, be it known unto thee, o king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jewish Music on Russian TV

The only thing incredible about this is that it's on Russian TV. But that's friggin' incredible.

h/t Dad.

Return of the Detroit Symphony on PBS

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

It is heartwarming to see the DSO back in action. The danger is hardly over for them. But the temporary resolution of their strike is as important as anything they've ever done. All I know is that there is no better person to handle their current situation than Leonard Slatkin. When Slatkin is on form, he is the most capable American-style music director, and by the time he leaves Detroit he may well be able to say something different than that he was a conductor who never reached his potential. Instead, his obituaries would say that he saved a Great American Orchestra.

National Greatness

A project to inspire us all.

h/t El Banea.
Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay would be a better song if it didn't have the ocean noises. Just sayin'.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

For Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

Watch this and then try to tell me that Lumet isn't worthy to stand among the greats.

It is kind of amazing that Lumet died at the end of the week in which the end of Glenn Beck's show was announced. Maybe this signals the end of the Howard Beale era....probably not...

Also...go to 2:55. Is that Jay Leno?

TLC Promo


Rocky Top

A Very Haydn Day

Mariss (and Joseph) at his considerable best.

There are some days when only Haydn will do. Mozart takes you into the heavens, but Haydn shows you the glories of earth. His music is pure dirty jokes, beer, busty wenches and bonfires. You listen to Haydn to reconnect with fond memories that had nothing to do with work or money or achievement, just about having fun. And then to think about fond hopes for many more times like that in the future.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quote of the Day:

(Evan sits at one of the two side tables at Ed-Mart deli, quietly enjoying his chopped liver and his cucumber salad. Two old men are conversing loudly at the next table over. Their accents place them as in their late 60's and formerly residents of Baltimore's Forest Park neighborhood.)

Old Man #1: So what do you think of Donald Trump?

Old Man #2: I think if he were Jewish there'd be a lot of antisemitism right now.

Old Man #1: Yeah. But that Donald Trump has some good looking wives.

Old Man #2: Does he! His second two wives are the most gorgeous women I've ever seen.

Old Man #1: Yeah, I saw his new wife on television the other day. She was wearing a fur coat and a miniskirt, and everything was pourin' out. Some papparazzi guy asked her, 'if Donald didn't have that money, would you marry him?' So she made like she was gonna flash the camera and opened her fur coat and said 'If I didn't look like this, would Donald have married me?'

....Pikesville: Literary gold mine since 1982.

ET: Almanac (and afterword)

"Criticism is of two kinds: praise and condemnation: approval or reproval. So many people have told me to ignore negative criticism. If only it were that easy. There are very few of us whose lives have not been deeply affected by negative criticism. Thomas Hardy stopped writing novels after Jude the Obscure was badly received by the critics. He had over 30 years' work left in him so the critics deprived the world of many great novels. John Keats was silenced by his critics and died believing himself a failure.

There may be a good reason for the profound effect of criticism. Mankind evolved in relatively small communities. The civilisation of the last 10,000 years has made hardly any difference to our DNA: the motivations which evolved before that still influence our daily lives, even though many of them are no longer relevant. Our deep response to negative criticism is, I suggest, a remnant of these primordial instincts. In primitive times being considered useless might be fatal. "I am a tainted wether of the flock, meetest for death: the weakest kind of fruit drops earliest to the ground." -The Merchant of Venice. Act iv. Sc. 1. Who would want to be chosen for sacrifice or considered to be worth more as a source of protein?

Before there was law, social justice was based on honour. In some lawless communities, such as the inner-city gangs it still is: in such societies it is distinctly unhealthy to be unpopular. Whole societies have been based on manners, etiquette and honour. Alexander Pushkin fought 29 duels and was eventually killed at the age of 39 defending his wife's honour - and, by all accounts, it wasn't worth defending. In such duelling societies the critic had to consider whether his target might be a better swordsman or a better marksman.

Manners or etiquette were codes of social conduct designed to prevent the hurt disapprobation gave to others. In modern society -- particularly in Britain -- this has become inverted: politeness is now considered offensive whereas familiarity and insults between mates are a sign of affection.

This Internet age has given rise to the critical sniper - and snipers have always been the most despised of soldiers. The Internet critic is foulmouthed and illiterate - he hides behind a cloak of anonymity, he offers no products of his own making. The insults he issues have a playground quality. He says to others what was once said to him, believing that they will feel the same hurt as he did - and still does. And somehow this will compensate him. The abused has been sold on the benefit of becoming the abuser.

The only criticism that is valuable to others reflects universal truth, it is not merely an expression of the inner conflict of the critic, and needs must be practised by those most qualified and most altruistic. Negative criticism is often nothing more than boasting in disguise and, like most boasting, is just an outward manifestation of inner feelings of inferiority."

Both of these exemplars of erudition are from the youtube page of SpokenVerse, the site of a man who posts readings of English language poetry for no better reason than the edification of anyone who visits his page. No doubt like most of his fans, I found him by reading Roger Ebert's post on him. And like Roger Ebert, I adore his youtube page. For those who love poetry, it is a place where we can appreciate a master reader who can show us the proper pacing, diction and cadence of poems both unfamiliar and those which we know by heart (assuming anybody has successfully memorizes an entire poem anymore, I'm not sure I have..).

It is a page that superbly renders an 'Old World' feel of culture as something unambiguously ennobling, and perhaps because of that sentiment its proprietor's notions of acceptable conduct might seem to us a bit antiquated, perhaps even reactionary. As true as much of what he wrote above is, I can't help feeling as though I'm reading a person who lauds a more civilized era which never existed. Indeed, the times have changed, but in many cases they evolved for the right reasons. He seems to approve, or perhaps laud, Pushkin's penchant for dueling. Criticism may have killed Keats, but honor certainly killed Pushkin.

I do not approve of anonymous snark. Everything he says about the cowardice of anonymous vituperation is quite true. I do, however, approve vociferously of non-violent acrimony, censure, contempt, corrosiveness, cynicism, derision, disparagement, invective, mockery, rancor, sarcasm, scorn and snark, so long as it is done with the weight of one's name and 'reputation' behind one's statements. I will always maintain that those who wish to criticize in the most strident possible terms should be able to do so long as they sign their name and are ready to stand against the winds that blow back. In the interests of harmony and happiness, it's certainly not wise to engage in criticism except on issues that truly matter. Nor should rigorous criticism ever be a reason for withholding civility, or generosity, or compassion. It is the establishment of these two qualities in tandem, both unflagging support and therefore a need for rigorous evaluation, that (hopefully) makes us humans something worth preserving.

Perhaps that's why I can't help thinking that for all his erudition, SpokenVerse's above statement sounds not a little bit like Thumper's statement in Disney's Bambi, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." There are so many things about that statement which should rub us all the wrong way. But one can't help understanding why people would believe that. Getting your feelings hurt feels terrible even for the most thick-skinned among us, and yet it's a necessary process. Without criticism, there are many aspects of our lives which will require criticism so much more.

This is why I can't help finding these two discursions, one from a plain-speaking bunny with a thyroid problem, the other from a high-flown and long-breathed intellectual, are fundamentally identical. It is as much a reflection of Disney and Conservative America as indicative of yearning for the 'lost old world' of salons and private libraries. This has been the cry of the conservative from the beginning of time. It's easy to only have nice things to say when the world's established order is slanted for your protection over someone else's.

Criticism is a great, and necessary practice. It fulfills a purpose both evolutionary and democratic. The health of a civilization is not only judged by the health of its commerce, science and arts, but also by its ability to evaluate itself against the standards of what it is possible to meet. The fact that we can never attain ideals makes it all the more important to be reminded of what they are. This is why criticism must always be personal, or nothing worth. The critic, however venal, fulfills a need to which all humans must submit. In life, we are all performers, and therefore all critics as well.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Carlos Kleiber Falstaff

I do not believe it. A pirate recording of a Carlos Kleiber Falstaff from 1965 at the Zurich Opera. It's as though Youtube gave me a belated birthday present. I couldn't ask for a better one.

Carlos Kleiber was a conspicuous absence from my top 20 conductors list. I can't in good conscience put a conductor on the list who barely conducted. But I don't think there is any doubt that he was the most gifted conductor of the recorded, or that his failure to achieve his potential was both one of the greatest tragedies and the most fascinating stories in the history of music. And it has now reached a whole new level of fascination. A new biography is scheduled to be released soon which will make the no doubt inflammatory claim that the great Erich Kleiber was not Carlos's biological father. It often occurred to me that there was far too little resemblance in either physique, temperament or musical personality between father and son. But that's not the half of what makes this fascinating.

Apparently, there is an 80% chance that the father is none other than Alban Berg. Berg, apparently, pulled a Wagner and began to schtupp his most devoted conductor's wife while the conductor labored on the world premiere of his masterpiece. Kleiber conducted the premiere Berg's great opera, Wozzeck, after 124 rehearsals (easily breaking Hans von Bulow's record for Wagner's Tristan of 77), and Berg apparently busied himself equally with the unattended Mrs. Kleiber. The result was, no doubt, a multi-year affair (as Carlos was not born for another 5 years). Erich Kleiber was a great conductor,, but not the most imaginative one. He was a supremely practical musician who knew how to obtain extremely exciting results. He got them in part because he was a supremely determined man who thrived on challenge. Carlos Kleiber displayed enough evidence for us all to call him a musical genius, but he was as impractical and dreamy as his father was rigorous. In the face of challenge, Carlos wilted. For Erich, there was no obstacle too great. For Carlos, there was no obstacle too small. Perhaps this does make him more like Berg. But let's hold off judgement until I read that biography.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stravinsky Died 40 Years Ago Today

(The Flood: Commissioned by and written for an CBS broadcast in 1962.)

I find classical music's fixation on composer's birthdays to be rather morbid, so I suppose acknowledgement of death days would be still moreso. But Tom Service has a wonderful little blogpost on Stravinsky in The Guardian site today. Service is, at his best, easily the most perceptive of the mainstream British critics. His two main points are firstly that Stravinsky's growth as a composer is incredible. In each piece, Stravinsky assimilates different styles, influences, whole attitudes that are entirely different from one another. Each work almost sounds as though written by a different composer, but not quite. There's something unmistakeably Stravinsky about every piece he wrote. That is his genius. If one compares 'The Flood' (see above) to The Firebird or Petrushka, they sound utterly different, and yet they sound the same.

But even more important is his other point: there is not a single great musician of the 20th century who has escaped Stravinsky's influence. It is almost as though each of Stravinsky's pieces has bequeathed the career a different great composer. Lots of musicians -- never geniuses but very talented ones -- mine the same idea for their entire careers. It is not within them to adapt to new times or new styles. In these cases, music would mean exactly the same thing to them in 1965 as it does in 2008. They hang on to a set idea of what great music must be and they think any divergence from that idea somehow cheapens the art. And because their idea of music never changes, theysee music not as an infinite series of possibilities but as a 2-D model that can be mastered. So whenever they encounter genius, the same story ensues: the genius takes their musical contribution, assimilates it into his/her musical vocabulary, and then moves on to soak up different influences, and then the mere talent cries bloody murder. This is the mindset of Wynton Marsalis to Miles Davis, the mindset of Pete Seeger to Bob Dylan, and the attitude encountered by Stravinsky at every point in his career. Throughout his career, Stravinsky reinvented himself anew, keeping abreast with every advance
in twentieth century music, and yet throughout he sounded like no one but himself.

Even so, while I passionately love individual pieces of his, I've never been able to accept him as one of my absolute favorite musicians. His style does not lend itself to personal warmth and his adapting a different style to every piece feels at least a bit vapid, not unlike David Bowie or Lady Gaga continuously finding new ways to shock people without creating meaningful art. But in some ways, Stravinsky's art was larger than any need to express feeling -- and the very nature of expression in music is a term which some people (not me) might dismiss as an outdated 19th century notion. In the 30's, Stravinsky famously declared that music expresses nothing at all. Perhaps Stravinsky didn't need to express anything.

Yet something about this notion has always gnawed at me. Abstract as his music can sound, I look at the chronology of his works and can't escape the feeling that Stravinsky is mapping out an emotional autobiography in sound. For all the abstraction of his music, the majority of his great scores were tied to narratives. Purely as an exercise: let's look at the narratives of the first "Russian" phase of his career: His first great ballet, The Firebird, is a perfect fairy tale, expressing the terrors and wonders of early childhood all too vividly. Next comes Petrushka, a parable about a Russian fair in which the puppets come to life. Perhaps Petrushka is about the excitements of late childhood when you first wake up to the larger world and even the miraculous seems possible. Then of course comes The Rite of Spring -- technically about the pagan sacrifice of a virgin for the spring harvest. But with all the ritualizing of its adolescent aggression and intimations of sexual awakening, the sense of early adolescent hormones is unmistakable. And then came his first opera, The Nightingale, in which I can't help thinking that the bird sings in an unmistakably erotic fashion. Perhaps the adolescent longings of the Rite seem mastered and initiated into sexual maturity. All of this finally culminating in Les Noces, meaning literally: The Wedding.

No doubt one can play this game with the entirety of his career, just as one can with many other composers and artists. But it's always a little silly to ascribe narrative stories to music. How can you say that a series of chords definitively represents a specific narrative. Perhaps music can only express itself, perhaps music is capable of expressing something more. But there is no composer for whom that question was more important than Stravinsky. No composer did more to discourage us from seeing a large personality behind the music, yet few composers had a personality that thundered so loudly through their music than Stravinsky's.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

World's Greatest Dad

I wouldn't speak to my kids either if they were Yankee fans.

Joseph Brodsky Reads


Cunning Little Vixen

"Opera, like the comic strip, is a naturally 'hot' medium which values the ability to emote well over subtlety. There will always be a place for subtlety in both genres, but both must firstly tell their stories in vivid, bold emotions and leave their inhibitions at the door. The marriage of opera and comics may seem ridiculous, but the two are natural fits with one another, and experiments to find out if they can be welded together are long overdue."

That immortal piece of writing was by me, yesterday. Obviously, I was not thinking right. I'd forgotten that Leos Janacek did an opera based on a comic strip in the mid-1920's. The result was The Cunning Little Vixen, which in my view might be the greatest opera of the 20th century.

Yet no composer of Janacek's stature ever tried again.

Quote of the Day

Der Koosh: where did you have in mind?
me: i have no idea yet
baltimore, dc, sao paolo
Der Koosh: I hear Sao Paolo's nice this time of year
Eddie Valiant suggests Cocomo

ET: Almanac

``Too often the Doughface really does not want power or responsibility. For him the more subtle sensations of the perfect syllogism, the lost cause, the permanent minority, where lie can be safe from the exacting job of trying to work out wise policies in an imperfect world.

``Politics becomes, not a means of getting things done, but an outlet for private grievances and frustrations. The doughface once disciplined by the responsibilities of power is often the most useful of all public servants; but he, alas, ceases to be a progressive and is regarded by all true Doughfaces as a cynical New Dealer or a tired Social Democrat.

"Having renounced power, the Doughface seeks compensation in emotion. The pretext for progressive rhetoric is, of course, the idea that man, the creature of reason and benevolence, has only to understand the truth in order to act upon it.

``But the function of progressive rhetoric is another matter; it is, in Dwight MacDonald's phrase, to accomplish "in fantasy what cannot be accomplished in reality." Because politics is for the Doughface a means of accommodating himself to a world he does not like but does not really want to change, he can find ample gratification in words. They appease his twinges of guilt without committing him to very drastic action.

``Thus the expiatory role of resolutions in progressive meetings. A telegram of protest to a foreign chancellery gives the satisfaction of a job well done and a night's rest well earned. The Doughfaces differ from Mr. Churchill: dreams, they find, are better than facts.

``Progressive dreams are tinged with a brave purity, a rich sentiment and a noble defiance. But, like most dreams, they are notable for the distortion of facts by desire."

Arthur Schlesinger: The Vital Center

Spot the Dog

h/t Le Malon

Monday, April 4, 2011


The composer who makes Watchmen into an opera will be the American Wagner. This graphic novel is as masterful as the movie is incompetent. By now it's a cliche to say that Watchmen is a brilliant sendup of the superhero archetype, or that it describes the dark underbelly of the heroic qualities which Americans venerate, but that doesn't even begin to describe what it accomplishes. Watchmen is one of the few works of art that successfully entertains the disturbing idea that, perhaps, human compassion can and should be subverted. Perhaps it is justifiable to kill millions in an effort to save billions. There is a dark nihlism which pervades this book, not unlike what one finds Milton and Wagner -- a dispairing disgust at mankind's ability to inflict suffering and destruction on itself. One cannot deny that the message of this book is, in the most profoundly serious way, authoritarian and anti-humanism. Yet so overwhelming is the power with which it argues its point of view that we're compelled to entertain the possibility that such despair is the only legitimate way of looking at the world. We are compelled to be compelled by Watchmen just as we are in a work like Paradise Lost or The Ring Cycle. It may not give pleasure the way in which Mozart or Calvin and Hobbes do, but it secretes a powerful spell that easily leads to infatuation. Like Milton and Wagner, Moore had to stand the conventions and trivialities of his genre on their heads. In each case, the result is something so imposing that it can haunt you for days afterward.

This is a story which neither a traditional novel nor traditional artwork could render half as effectively. Like all great works, it's form blends seamlessly with its content. A mere look at a panel is all it takes for us to understand the three-dimensional complexity behind each protagonist's archetype with an immediacy no novel can give, and we watch them progress through a narrative which requires enormous virtuosity both in the art of story telling and in the art of making characters' speech sound distinctive.

I was more ignorant than dismissive of graphic novels. Even after I read Maus when I was 16, it never occurred to me to think of comic books as an artform. From nearly the earliest age I'd loved Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, Doonesbury and especially Garfield. But the question of whether comics could be more than mere entertainment had never occurred to me to ask until I was in college. Like all kids, I had the ability to be completely spellbound by what I saw without thinking about its source so long as it was good. It is an ability which we as adults can only strive to emulate.

The Watchmen movie was, without a doubt, one of the most risible comic book movies I have ever seen -- doing everything it could to turn the delicate complexity of this book into the most two-dimensional comic book stereotype one can imagine. Things that came to life from the page were as wooden as a petrified tree on the screen. It contained what I view as the new standard for awkward sex scenes, and attempted to compensate for its inadequacy with an ugly orgy of unnecessary violence. I felt like I had just walked out of a movie that was far more like pornography for violent people than a genuine realization of great source material.

Perhaps Watchmen is as unfilmable as many people say. But I think that Watchmen, and many other graphic novels, could find an ideal second home in the opera house. When friends from high school and college asked me why I never read comic books, I'd answer them 'what need do I have for comics when I have opera?' Like opera, the comic strip is not a naturally subtle art. In neither is it ever enough to show or imply. Plot points must be blatantly stated from frame to frame or aria to aria. That does not mean that either genre requires any less invention in its story telling, but it does mean that the manner in which it's told can not be suggested.

Paradoxically, this leads to the ability both genres to subtly imply certain things which films and traditional novels never could. Dr. Manhattan's omnipotence does not compel awe on a movie screen, because there is nothing a movie screen cannot show us. But the limitations of a comic strip are such that anything we can imagine Dr. Manhattan doing in our imagination is far more powerful than any feat we watch him do as a movie spectacle. Imagining Dr. Manhattan's inner life would be, I believe, a task which music -- the language of suggestion itself -- can be even more capable of rendering with vividness. Similarly, the sympathetic side of Rorschach's character is dulled by so vividly showing him commit acts of gory violence. Rorschach is the driving engine of the story, we are asked to view most of it through his eyes, and it is very hard to feel any ability to care if its de-facto narrator seems like a mere cartoon psychopath. In both of these cases, we must imagine what they're thinking even as they seem to speak their minds with total candor. A comic book allows us to use our imaginations to give their actions personal qualities which a faithful movie adaptation, which inevitably does so much of the imaginative work for us, never could. The only artform which could render it with similar vividness is opera. A great score could suggest every quality about these characters which a movie never could. Opera, like the comic strip, is a naturally 'hot' medium which values the ability to emote well over subtlety. There will always be a place for subtlety in both genres, but both must firstly tell their stories in vivid, bold emotions and leave their inhibitions at the door. The marriage of opera and comics may seem ridiculous, but the two are natural fits with one another, and experiments to find out if they can be welded together are long overdue.

(Go ahead. Tell me John Adams couldn't knock Watchmen out of the park.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ken Burns's The Vowels

Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ

For background, go here. Even after reading this, I'm still not sure I get what . All I know is that Klaus Kinski would be impossible to invent.

Apparently the whole 'performance,' whatever it was, has now been reconstructed from various sources. It is all on youtube. I'm not going to watch it yet, but this immediately goes near the very front of my 'to watch' list.

Bach in the Woods


h/t Tim Smith

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Perfect Casting for Waiting for Godot

Vladimir: Jerry Seinfeld
Estragon: Larry David
Pozzo: Jason Alexander
Lucky: Michael Richards
Kid: Danny Woodburn (Mickey)
Godot: Bob Sacamano


Vladimir: Ricky Gervais
Estragon: Steve Carell
Pozzo: Rainn Wilson
Lucky: Stephen Merchant


Vladimir: John Cleese
Estragon: Michael Palin
Pozzo: Terry Jones
Lucky: Eric Idle

Friday, April 1, 2011

Quote of the Day:

Der Koosh: All things are possible when a man possesses the bling.

Evident Utensil

A Beautiful Video

h/t The Failing.

The Other Half of the Britten Serenade

Cuz Britten is extraordinary, Robert Tear is awesome, and Neville Marriner is pretty neat.