Monday, February 28, 2011

James Franco Facts

What it says.

From the Department of Kitschy Operatic Covers of Bad Rock Songs



h/t Daniel Stephen Johnson

The Golden Age

The best Best of TV in the 00's list I've ever read. Lest you think that's an insubstantial distinction, I'm willing to take it to the bank that the television of the past decade was a cultural golden age: akin to the movies of the studio system in the 1930's and 40's or the novel in the 1860's and 70's. It was simply an era in which the conditions to make a certain kind of great art got easier. That isn't to deny that there is ten pieces of trash for all the great product, or plenty of shows which never got the chance to grow. But the achievements on TV are staggering, and they comprise the lion's share of the culture that defines our time. Best of all, this age shows few signs of abating yet. Good movies get harder to produce, the art world is a slave to money, the music world remains in disarray, but TV is no longer the idiot box - and hasn't been in a long time. As Clive James once said, "Anyone afraid of what television is doing to life is probably afraid of life too."

Addendum: One or two bones to pick though.

1. Where the hell is Everybody Loves Raymond? Fusty and traditional sitcomy as that show might seem, it is one of the greatest comedies ever made for TV. It may have seemed like a 'family' sitcom, but unbroken and solid as the family was, Ray's was the family of everybody's nightmares - far scarier than Arrested Development for being that much more believable.

2. Maybe I just have a weakness for loud, tight-knit families, but I thought Malcolm in the Middle was a great show. Perhaps because it mirrors my relationship to my brothers perfectly. But I was always amazed that it could have been such an emphatically goyish family, yet Lois was the perfect ballebooste Jewish mother.

Idiot Wind

The Magic Flute in the Age of Obama (part I)

(some thoughts after seeing The Magic Flute in concert at the Baltimore Symphony)


(The Overture in Kenneth Branagh's movie of The Magic Flute. Yes, he made a movie of the Magic Flute. Yes, it's like every other Branagh movie. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes unbearable.)

I have always struggled with The Magic Flute in a manner I never did with the rest of the major Mozart operas. The plot makes absolutely no sense, and that's only when the story isn't sounding notes unmistakably in favor of proto-fascism. The music is, of course, amazing - but not 100% of the time. There are passages that sound as though Mozart jotted down the first thing that came to mind without taking the time to make things musically interesting - because even Mozart's first thoughts weren't always the best. Tamino is a boring character who is by and large given boring music to sing. Like the great directors of classic Hollywood, Mozart was working on a schedule. And even in his greatest operas there are musical passages which are no more than functional, preceded and followed by music of the highest genius.


(Mozart's little known Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica, Flute, Oboe, Viola and Cello. His interest in his last year seemed to turn to all sorts of otherworldly instruments)

What makes the Magic Flute work in spite of its flaws is its air of unreality. Mozart, with less than a year to live, wrote music that seems to emanate from the beyond. There are passages in the Magic Flute, many many passages, that seem to be too perfect for our world. The music of Mozart's last year: the clarinet concerto, Ave Verum Corpus, the last Piano Concerto, the final two String Quintets, the Magic Flute, La Clemenza di Tito, and the Requiem: all seem bathed in a light too shimmering to emanate from Earth. The old story goes that God may listen to Bach, but the Angels listen to Mozart.


(Andante in F for Mechanical Organ.)

We don't know what Mozart might have written had he lived as long as Beethoven or Haydn (would that Schubert lived as long as Mozart). Untouched as he was by the urge toward Romantic personalizing, the fact that Mozart died at the end of 1791 means that he died just as the cultural world's interest in formal perfection drew to a close. Whether that formal perfection is seen in a Canaletto painting, a Sheridan play, or a philosophical text from Kant or Rousseau, there was a definite predilection in the zeitgeist towards the most controlled possible order. In music, Haydn and Gluck may have codified the musical language of classical-era perfection, but Mozart brought that perfection to its zenith. Whether it was the fugal finale of the Jupiter Symphony, or the 20-minute-long through-composed finale to Act II of the Marriage of Figaro, or the theme and variations in the C-Minor Piano Concerto, Mozart managed certain feats of formal innovation that appeared beyond what all other composers could do. It was music so perfect that it seemed to have higher aims than mere expression. At Mozart's best, he did not write music without expression, he wrote music beyond expression. The greatness of Mozart lies within the fact that his music seems to express all emotions simultaneously. His greatest moments - and how many thousands of them are there? - seem to reflect back to us whatever emotions we need to read within them - from the happiest joy to the most mournful sadness, the highest seriousness to the lowest comedy.


(The slow movement of his final piano concerto)

And that fusion of music beyond music and form beyond form seems to find its highest expression in the sublimities of the Magic Flute. A piece written, as coincidence would have it, in 1791. Die Zauberflote stands as the musical endpoint of (what Hobsbawm would call) the short 18th century and all its hopes for how the 19th century would proceed. The dreams of the French Revolution hovered in the air, not to be shattered until well after Mozart was cold in the ground. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive" wrote Wordsworth of that period. It was one of those brief historical interregnums during which all things seem possible - much like the period following the Russian Revolution, the Velvet Revolution, and now perhaps the revolutions of the Middle East.


(Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II. Written in 1790, the piece in which Beethoven unmistakably becomes Beethoven)

A year earlier, an unknown 20-year-old composer named Ludwig van Beethoven had written two cantatas which suggested an altogether different kind of music. Before long, this revolutionary from Bonn would create music conveying emotions so primal that none could mistaken what they expressed. It was a different conception of what music was: confessional, abrasive, self-consciously disturbing. Some composers before Beethoven wrote music that disturbed, others wrote music that confessed, but no composer before Beethoven wrote music meant to convey their own private emotions as public statements. It was new music for an era that required new means of expression.


(d-minor Mozart. The key in which he came closest to Beethovenian personalization. And yet even at Mozart's ugliest there is always something in reserve.)

It was so shortly after Mozart's death that the idealism of the French revolution began to sour, and with the Revolution soured all the dreams of the Enlightenment - the abolition of aristocracy, the diminishment of clerical power, and most particularly the ability of a benevolent leadership to govern with enlightened judgement. And it is on that last point which The Magic Flute reveals its most disturbing problem.


(Sarastro's famous aria "O Isis und Osiris")

In the great Isaiah Berlin's seminal work, Two Concepts of Liberty, the great thinker warns against a particularly insidious totalitarian temptation. The temptation to ascribe enlightened benevolence to an authoritarian ruler whom his subjects can easily be seduced into perceiving as above the human lust for power. Berlin entitles this section 'The Temple of Sarastro.' And it is in Sarastro that we see Die Zauberflote's greatest problem - Tamino is asked to trust in a ruler that is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-wise, and we the audience are supposed to approve of his decision to do so.


(A chorale that is unmistakably Mozart. and yet it could fit just as easily in Tannhauser.)

Mozart could never write music that sounds 'fascist,' and yet it cannot be denied that he comes a bit closer here than anywhere else in his output. There is something tub-thumping and proto-Wagnerian about the Sarastro scenes. It's not so much the music of Sarastro himself, whose music is in keeping with the wisdom and compassion a benevolent dictator would invariably bestow, as it is the music of his subjects. We are supposed to be greatly moved by Sarastro's beneficence, and even if we are, does it then follow that we ought to do as he asks and purify ourselves through fire or give our loved ones the silent treatment? Should we approve of the way Sarastro is worshiped by the surrounding throngs?


(my favorite number)

These are the reasons that The Magic Flute will always give me pause in a way that The Marriage of Figaro never could. But Mozart's music is such that all these concerns ultimately don't much matter. If Beethoven or Wagner set The Magic Flute's libretto, it might seem a stirring paean to absolutism and tyranny. But Mozart's aesthetic allows for the unreality that makes this opera resonate so vibrantly. The Magic Flute invariably seems far less a hymn to despotism than it does a fairy tale. "Wouldn't it be nice...", Mozart's music seems to say, "...if the secrets to life were as simple as they are in the temple of Sarastro?" Even at its most commanding, Mozart's music is too compassionate to allow for such a closed solution. It is music which hears within us our inner longing for life to be simpler, for us to live in a perfect kingdom of harmony and understanding, and for the forces of mystery and irrationality to be banished from the world. And yet because of the longing that Mozart stirs, this opera provokes ever greater mysteries in us all. Why is our world so far from Sarastro's? Why do hatred and vengeance prevail in a world in which we know that they ought to be banned? These were eternal questions when Mozart set the Magic Flute's libretto, and they are truer now than ever. Tomorrow I will (at least I hope to) delve into the reasons that The Magic Flute is far more timely than ever before in the age of Barack Obama, the Tea Party, the revolutions in the Middle East, the propaganda of Fox News and Al Jezeera masquerading as journalism, the importance of Facebook and Google, the rise of China, and the world's dependence upon autocracies based upon oil. Perhaps these connections will be unbearably contorted, but I believe they're worth mentioning. Like Mozart at his best, I report, you decide :).

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Was this possible a month ago?

Hopefully Self-Explanatory

Why To Marry A Good Speller



h/t EG

The Magic Flute in the Age of Obama (Part I)

(some thoughts after seeing the


(The Overture in Kenneth Branagh's movie of The Magic Flute. Yes, he made a movie of the Magic Flute. Yes, it's intermittently brilliant and nearly unbearable for the rest. Like just about every Branagh movie.)

I have always struggled with The Magic Flute in a manner I never did with the rest of the major Mozart operas. The plot makes absolutely no sense, and that's only when the story isn't sounding notes unmistakably in favor of proto-fascism. The music is, of course, amazing - but not 100% of the time. There are passages that sound as though Mozart jotted down the first thing that came to mind without taking the time to make things musically interesting - because even Mozart's first thoughts weren't always the best. Tamino is a boring character who is by and large given boring music to sing. Like the great directors of classic Hollywood, Mozart was working on a schedule. And even in his greatest operas there are musical passages which are no more than functional, preceded and followed by music of the highest genius.


(Mozart's little known Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica, Flute, Oboe, Viola and Cello. His interest in his last year seemed to turn to all sorts of otherworldly instruments)

What makes the Magic Flute work in spite of its flaws is its air of unreality. Mozart, with less than a year to live, wrote music that seems to emanate from the beyond. There are passages in the Magic Flute, many many passages, that seem to be too perfect for our world. The music of Mozart's last year: the clarinet concerto, Ave Verum Corpus, the last Piano Concerto, the final two String Quintets, the Magic Flute, La Clemenza di Tito, and the Requiem: all seem bathed in a light too shimmering to emanate from our world. The old story goes that God may listen to Bach, but the Angels listen to Mozart.


(Andante in F for Mechanical Organ.)

We don't know what Mozart might have written had he lived as long as Beethoven or Haydn (would that Schubert lived as long as Mozart). Untouched as he was by the urge toward Romantic personalizing, the fact that Mozart died at the end of 1791 means that he died just as the cultural world's interest in formal perfection drew to a close. Whether that formal perfection is seen in a Canaletto painting, a Sheridan play, or a philosophical text from Kant or Rousseau, there was a definite predilection in the zeitgeist towards the most controlled possible order. In music, Haydn and Gluck may have codified the musical language of classical-era perfection, but Mozart brought that perfection to its zenith. Whether it was the fugal finale of the Jupiter Symphony, or the 20-minute-long through-composed finale to Act II of the Marriage of Figaro, or the theme and variations in the C-Minor Piano Concerto, Mozart managed certain feats of formal innovation that appeared beyond what all other composers could do. At Mozart's best, he did not write music without expression, he wrote music beyond expression. The greatness of Mozart lies within the fact that his music seems to express all emotions simultaneously. His greatest moments - and how many thousands of them are there? - seem to reflect back to us whatever emotions we need to read within them - from the happiest joy to the most mournful sadness, the highest seriousness to the lowest comedy.


(The slow movement of his final piano concerto)

And that fusion of music beyond music and form beyond form seems to find its highest expression in the sublimities of the Magic Flute. A piece written, as coincidence would have it, in 1791. Die Zauberflote stands as the musical endpoint of (what Hobsbawm would call) the short 18th century and all its hopes for how the 19th century would proceed. The dreams of the French Revolution hovered in the air, not to be shattered until well after Mozart was cold in the ground. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive" wrote Wordsworth of that period. It was one of those brief historical interregnums during which all things seem possible - much like the period following the Russian Revolution, the Velvet Revolution, and now perhaps we have a new revolution to join them.


(Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II. Written in 1790, the piece in which Beethoven unmistakably becomes Beethoven)

A year earlier, an unknown 20-year-old composer named Ludwig van Beethoven had written two cantatas which suggested an altogether different kind of music. Before long, this revolutionary from Bonn would create music conveying emotions so primal that none could mistaken what they expressed. It was a different conception of what music was: confessional, abrasive, self-consciously disturbing. Some composers before Beethoven wrote music that disturbed, others wrote music that confessed, but no composer before Beethoven wrote music meant to convey their own private emotions as public statements. It was new music for an era that required new means of expression.


(d-minor Mozart. The key in which he came closest to Beethovenian personalization. And yet even at Mozart's ugliest there is always something in reserve.)

It was so shortly after Mozart's death that the idealism of the French revolution began to sour, and with the Revolution soured all the dreams of the Enlightenment - the abolition of aristocracy, the diminishment of clerical power, and most particularly the ability of a benevolent leadership to govern with enlightened judgement. And it is on that last point which The Magic Flute reveals its most disturbing problem.


(Sarastro's famous aria "O Isis und Osiris")

In the great Isaiah Berlin's seminal work, Two Concepts of Liberty, the great thinker warns against a particularly insidious totalitarian temptation. The temptation to ascribe enlightened benevolence to an authoritarian ruler whom his subjects can easily be seduced into perceiving as above the human lust for power. Berlin entitles this section 'The Temple of Sarastro.' And it is in Sarastro that we see Die Zauberflote's greatest problem - Tamino is asked to trust in a ruler that is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-wise, and we the audience are supposed to approve of his decision to do so.


(A chorale that is unmistakably Mozart. and yet it could fit just as easily in Tannhauser.)

Mozart could never write music that sounds 'fascist,' and yet it cannot be denied that he comes a bit closer here than anywhere else in his output. There is something tub-thumping and proto-Wagnerian about the Sarastro scenes. It's not so much the music of Sarastro himself, whose music is in keeping with the wisdom and compassion a benevolent dictator would invariably bestow, as it is the music of his subjects. We are supposed to be greatly moved by Sarastro's beneficence, and even if we are, does it then follow that we ought to do as he asks and purify ourselves through fire or give our loved ones the silent treatment? Should we approve of the way Sarastro is worshiped by the surrounding throngs?

These are the reasons that The Magic Flute will always give me pause in a way that The Marriage of Figaro never could. But Mozart's music is such that all these concerns ultimately don't much matter. If Beethoven or Wagner set The Magic Flute's libretto, it might seem a stirring paean to absolutism and tyranny. But Mozart's aesthetic allows for the unreality that makes this opera resonate so vibrantly. The Magic Flute invariably seems far less a hymn to despotism than it does a fairy tale. "Wouldn't it be nice...", Mozart's music seems to say, "...if the secrets to life were as simple as they are in the temple of Sarastro?" Even at its most commanding, Mozart's music is too compassionate to allow for such a closed solution. It is music which hears within us our inner longing for life to be simpler, for us to live in a perfect kingdom of harmony and understanding, and for the forces of mystery and irrationality to be banished from the world. And yet because of the longing that Mozart stirs, this opera provokes ever greater mysteries in us all. Why is our world so far from Sarastro's? Why do hatred and vengeance prevail in a world in which we know that they ought to be banned? These were eternal questions when Mozart set the Magic Flute's libretto, and they are truer now than ever. Tomorrow I will (at least I hope to) delve into the reasons that The Magic Flute is far more timely than ever before in the age of Barack Obama, the Tea Party, the revolutions in the Middle East, the importance of social networking, the rise of China, and the world's dependence upon oil. Perhaps these connections will be unbearably contorted, but they're certainly worth 'trying out.'

The Blair Hitch Project

When Tony Blair took office, Slobodan Milošević was cleansing and raping the republics of the former Yugoslavia. Mullah Omar was lending Osama bin Laden the hinterland of a failed and rogue state. Charles Taylor of Liberia was leading a hand-lopping militia of enslaved children across the frontier of Sierra Leone, threatening a blood-diamond version of Rwanda in West Africa. And the wealth and people of Iraq were the abused private property of Saddam Hussein and his crime family. Today, all of these Caligula figures are at least out of power, and at the best either dead or on trial. How can anybody with a sense of history not grant Blair some portion of credit for this? And how can anybody with a tincture of moral sense go into a paroxysm and yell that it is he who is the war criminal? It is as if all the civilians murdered by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be charged to his account. This is the chaotic mentality of Julian Assange and his groupies.

h/t Der Fersko


For all his many faults, Tony Blair remains the great world leader of my (28 11/12ths year) lifetime. I will never hold with how he acceeded like a rubber stamp to the Bush administration, and I'm not sure Blair does either. But there was very little Blair could have done to prevent the Bush White House from acting in the way they did, and there is ample evidence to suggest that having Blair on their side may have even softened their approach (would they have ever gone back to the UN three times otherwise?).

But in one regard, in some ways the key regard, Blair was absolutely right. A confrontation - of some sort - with Saddam was inevitable, even if we did not know the date. The continuance of state ordered violence against peaceful protestors in Libya proves what Saddam would have been capable if backed into the same corner, and we can be certain that by now Saddam would have been backed into exactly the same corner as Qaddafi.

Invading Iraq was probably as terrible as many have said it was during the entirety of the last eight years. But had the United States not insisted upon the invasion, I think we can be reasonably certain of one thing:

Unlike Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein had a very long and empirically proven record of state sponsored mass murder (democide). When the Kurds rebbelled against Saddam after the First Gulf War, Saddam ordered the murder of somewhere between 90,000 and 230,000 people in Northern Iraq. If you can, please just imagine the level of ruthlessness to which he would have responded to an insurrection in Baghdad. As terribly as the American occupation of Iraq has gone (well over 100,000 violent civilian deaths, 4 million people displaced), Saddam's retribution to an organized insurrection would have been far quicker - and perhaps far bloodier, however peaceful the protests against him might have been.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Quote of the Day:

me: remember the good old days when theater hopping was the worst crime you could commit against movie studios?
Der Fersko: Well
When you make over 2 Pauly Shore movies
Reparations are in order

Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia on the Cello


Julia Fischer, Daniel Muller-Schott

Perlman/Zuckerman will always own this piece in the minds of the (very small) public who loves this piece enough to listen to it on loop. But the added weight of the cello makes it completely different - more operatic and earnest, it's less conversational and feels like far less of a showpiece this way. Perhaps this is closer to what Halvorsen had in mind. Can the music handle (no pun intended) the added weight? Mostly, though it leak a bit of steam at some points. But nobody can match the intimacy, the agility, or the unanimity of conception between Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman. Would that they'd have played their entire careers at this level of musicianship.

Quote of the Day:

Bubbie (about Nixon in China): I thought it was completely unnecessary for that woman to 'revive' Chairman Mao.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Donald Duck listens to Glenn Beck..



with predictable results. I always pegged Donald as the perfect Father Coughlin listener anyway.

h/t Il Giovine.
"I have a bust of Abraham Lincoln in my office, and its not because of the greatness of what he did for our country, its because that whenever I look at it I have to remember that an actor killed him."

- Richard Donner

h/t AT

Atkins Diet: Day 3

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Open Letter to Marin Alsop that No One Will Read

Dear Marin,

I'm your audience. I may not be the one you desire, but I'm the closest you're going to get any time soon. I'm a middle class late twentysomething living in the Baltimore burbs. If you really need a full disclosure, I'm a frustrated musician who recently gave up on a lifelong dream of making a career out of conducting. It might not be an exaggeration to claim that I love orchestral music more than anyone in my age group who lives in the Baltimore area, including any student at Peabody. I'm not a subscriber - though my parents and grandmother are - but I faithfully get to the BSO at least once a month. I'm rarely accompanied by my family, usually I drag some friend who is nowhere near as enamored with classical music as I am and can't understand why I babble about it like it's the greatest thing in the world (which, as you know, it is). I'm as tired, probably more, of the stodginess of the concert hall as anyone you'll come across with the stupidity to work in your field as anything but music director of a major orchestra. I'm tired of the endless repetition of a sliver of the repertoire, I'm tired of endless begging for money to survive, I'm tired of seeing an ocean of grey heads, and I'm tried of explaining to people that classical music is still showing some signs of life. And I think you are too.

But I'm not sure anymore.

Not with the news of this new Sao Paolo gig of yours.

The Last Breakfast


h/t Der Miksic

(Is it) Esa-Pekka Salonen Conducting the Rite of Spring (?)



In all seriousness. EPS's videotaped performance with the LA Phil at Gehry Hall's inauguration was the single greatest performance I've ever heard of this work. We haven't heard anyone hold the Tchaikovskian volcano side of Stravinsky in such perfect balance with the Debussyian rigor (and no, that's not a contradiction) since Markevitch, at the very least. Perhaps you have to go as far back as Monteux for an equivalent. But Esa-Pekka received far better playing than either ever received in this piece from any orchestra. If the Rite of Spring is no longer a daunting challenge, it is because musicians of the postwar generation made modernism a priority to teach. And no musician displays those priorities to better effect than Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Part of what makes Salonen work so well in a piece like Sacre is because he's an extremely visceral musician, but without ever being an overtly emotional one. He is a Karl Ancerl for our time. His music-making is tremendously exciting, but he rarely sounds as though he has an investment in what he's conducting. It's not the best combination for Schubert or Brahms, but it makes him a conductor born for Stravinsky.

Which is what made his latest broadcasted performance of Sacre with the Philharmonia such a shock. It was, to be sure, the Rite with the excitement that only a master of Stravinsky could bring. But it was Russian to the core: brash, a free hand with tempo changes, and with subtlety almost completely removed from the equation. Frankly, I would have guessed that Valery Gergiev or Gustavo Dudamel had replaced him in an act of podium stealth. This sounded like a Rite of Spring for a midlife crisis, which for all I know, it may be. It was a completely uncharacteristic performance for Esa-Pekka, drastically different enough to sound as though he was trying to banish memories of what his old interpretation sounded like, and perhaps with it some memories of past glories.

EPS handled his LA Philharmonic transition as classily as any conductor ever handled such a messy event - and far better than Ernst Fleischmann handled his hiring. He announced his retirement years in advance, thereby allowing the orchestra to snap up Gustavo Dudamel before he became The Dude. But I have doubts Salonen should ever have left LA, and I'd bet anything that Esa-Pekka shares those doubts. Dudi, if he sticks around LA, could bring things to LA that Salonen never could (what those things are is for another day). But Salonen had already been there for nearly twenty years and created what is arguably the greatest orchestra for 20th century music the world has ever known. Who knows what EPS could have done with another twenty years in LA? He said that he was leaving to concentrate on his skillful but by no means masterpiece-level compositions. I thought it was a mistake, but I certainly believed him. It was less than a year later that we heard that Esa-Pekka was to succeed Christoph von Dohnanyi at the Philharmonia in London. It was by no means disastrous news, Salonen had nearly become director the Philharmonia twice or three times over and his schedule was as free as his compositions would allow. But why was this necessary? EPS has nothing to prove as a conductor, he could have been the youngest of the world's conductor laureates: an honored guest for orchestras around the world. All this served to do is distract from him developing as a composer, an avocation for which he certainly does have promise. Lesser composers than he have shown genius after fifty. But instead, he's just another moonlighting conductor with an orchestra he doesn't really need and probably no longer has thethe free time to properly hone his craft as a composer.

In any event, one day I don't doubt I'll be talking about Salonen's Bartok too. In this broadcast, a superb Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was preceded by a tepid Cantata Profana (an absurdly undervalued choral work). Salonen is one of the great conductors of an exceptional generation that is only now reaching its prime. He's not a 'warm' conductor, and if the piece doesn't look interesting in the score he probably won't do as well with it as Ivan Fischer or Manfred Honeck. But he has a gift altogether rarer than his contemporaries. He is a complete musician with a chance to revive the old model of the composer who performs. If classical music wants to be healthy, then we need many more people like Esa-Pekka. And we can only hope that he keeps developing as a composer, it'll be a victory for us all if he does.

Robert Fisk on Libya

Once again, it just shows that he's as brilliant a reporter as he is lousy a political analyst.

h/t Le Malon

And here's an example in the same newspaper of exactly how lousy an analyst he is:

So let's erase all the YouTubes and Facebooks and the shooting and blood and gouged corpses from Benghazi, and pretend it didn't happen. Let's pretend that the refusal to give visas to foreign correspondents has actually prevented us from hearing the truth. Gaddafi's claim that the protesters in Libya – the millions of demonstrators – "want to turn Libya into an Islamic state" is exactly the same nonsense that Mubarak peddled before the end in Egypt, the very same nonsense that Obama and La Clinton have suggested. Indeed, there were times last night when Gaddafi – in his vengefulness, his contempt for Arabs, for his own people – began to sound very like the speeches of Benjamin Netanyahu. Was there some contact between these two rogues, one wondered, that we didn't know about?

If you're going for a serious insult, that's about the most below the belt you can reach. Let's face it, Qaddafi is a pretty scummy guy, but to compare him to the Prime Minister of Israel? Not even Qaddafi deserves such a low blow.

Niall Ferguson Profile

"Something that's seldom appreciated about me," he declares, "is that I am in sympathy with a great deal of what Marx wrote, except that I'm on the side of the bourgeoisie."

Niall Ferguson

It never ceases to amaze me how many historians, whether from the right or the left, can be so brilliantly dumb. Reading Ferguson is like reading a mirror image of Eric Hobsbawm. Brilliant insights about the ambiguities of history line up on the page right next to the most simple-minded drivel. All the aspects, both good and bad, of this fascinatingly wrongheaded historian are on display in this wonderful profile. Ferg comes across as intelligent, fearsomely hard-working, a true believer, awesomely hypocritical, and not a little self-loathing.

PS. On aldaily today, there is a hagiography disguised as a review of something or other by Eric Hobsbawm by Terry Eagleton right next to the Ferguson profile. I have a lot of respect for Hobsbawm (mixed with the same exasperation I feel for Niall Ferguson), but if I had to give an award for the world's most annoying literary critic, I'm pretty sure Eagleton would have gotten it five years running by now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011



I have no idea how I used to not get Conlon Nancarrow (just go to 1:10 in).

Honey Badger Doesn't Give A Sh*t



from Goldblog.

Atkins Diet: Day 1

Libya

I very much supported the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben-Ali in Tunisia. But I could not drum up the requisite passion to write anything about it here. But terrible as it must have been to live in Egypt or Tunisia in recent decades, the authoritarian apparatus of Libya makes most other dictatorships look in comparison like representative democracies. Second only to Saddam, Qaddafi must stand as having presided over the most repressive state apparatus of the Modern Middle East. Like Kim Jong-Il, one cannot be fooled by the craziness of how he appears on television. The very mention of his name can elicit terror to Libyans. The ears of his secret police extend to every reach of his police state in a manner that can only be compared to East Germany at its most efficient. The best argument against pitching Qaddafi into the elite class of tyrants would be to claim that he had not sanctioned state sponsored murder on the scale of the worst dictatorships in modern history. This statement was, relatively speaking, true.

Until this week.

Qaddafi has now warned of a coming civil war. As with totalitarian governments from time immemorial, the rulers warn of the terrible things that might happen in the future - which they themselves then perpetrate. Estimates in Italy tell that 1000 people have already died in the brewing conflict.

Qaddafi declared himself willing to die a martyr. But it's likely that he has little choice in that regard. If he were to relinquish his power, where would he go? In Libya he'd be a dead man walking, and his penchant for denouncing other governments at the slightest provocation has earned him few friends. Even fewer of his remaining friends would be willing to withstand the condemnation of the international community if they granted him asylum. Furthermore, even if Qaddafi found asylum, could his underlings find asylum as well? One can only be terrified for how bloody this conflict has the potential to become. Furthermore, with (hopefully) newly burgeoning democracies in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, this conflict could easily spill around the region.

Qaddafi knows that he has a stranglehold on the world economy and is playing it to the hilt. The Dow Jones has gone down more than 2% in the last two days. He has threatened to torch the entirety of Libya's oil reserves, which will raise the price of oil by another 20 or 30 dollars per barrel. The entire world could very shortly stand on the brink of (at best) a double dip recession, simply because of a madman who wants to exit the world with a Wagnerian climax.

The world is a dangerous place. Sometimes more dangerous, sometimes less. But it survives because people are resilient and some people are even good. This could be earthshattering event that changes the world irrevocably, it could also be quite a bit less than that. It will probably be something in between, as usual. Let's just hope that the good people live on to fight the next battle.

How Not To Write About Classical Music

"The entire sound had that quality of levitation about it, as if we’d died and joined Stravinsky in his heaven. The Berliners’ deep stringy mahogany sound was deliciously offset by the art deco suavity of the penultimate set-piece – the Grecian equivalent of some piss-elegant society tea-dance. The final pizzicato evaporated into a chord that was no more than a whisper in the air. Hearing was believing."

- from the ever quotable Edward Seckerson of the Independent. I sometimes wonder if the musical establishment in London ever ventures to make an attempt to understand how responsible they are for the rather ...erm....picayune reputation our music currently holds.

Eretz Nehederet



This is an Israeli show that never lets anybody off the hook. Regardless of side or viewpoint. It's probably the best ambassador Israel has in this morally compromised period. It refuses to let those who wrongly single Israel out for criticism off the hook, and it also refuses to let people off the hook who single out Israel as a nation of special virtue. Not even Jon Stewart or Colbert would have been able get away with the savagery of what Eretz Nehederet has done. They should be regarded as an international treasure, particularly because all the right people hate it :).

Nicki Harnoncourt's Brahms blind spot


(Nick's Bach)

Nick Harnoncourt (yes, I call him Nick) is one of the great artists of our time. A conductor of negligible natural ability who by the sheer dint of his incredible musical ideas manages to elicit stunning performances. But are you (*&(#($*&#$*& kidding me Nicki? Really??? This is the most traditional Brahms Requiem since Karajan. Just stay away from Brahms. You clearly believe in that beard.


(Nick's Mozart)

Brahms's German Requiem is the dullest piece of music of the 19th century if you're not willing to play it at breakneck speed. 30 years ago Nick said in an interview that the German Requiem was never played according to Brahms's own specified tempos. If it ever were, he said, the results would astonish us all. We've now had recordings from Norrington, Gardiner, Rattle, Masur, Mehta, Herreweghe and Harry Christophers which (more or less) follow Brahms's own tempos. The results were variable, but one thing about them all was undeniable: a woolly Victorian snoozefest emerged newly minted. Brahms's requiem was suddenly full of drama and terror, and all those supposedly beautiful passages suddenly felt...well....beautiful because they stood in relief to the dramatic passages.


(Nick's Beethoven)

This is pathetic, and just plain wrong. You're better than this Nicki. What is it about Brahms that turns musicians boring?


(Nick's Brahms. Boo. It's just gotten flabbier since then.)
I'm just amazed that there is no neighborhood in Baltimore is on this list.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rumsfeld on Letterman



This will probably be taken down tomorrow. But....oh my god. Whatever one thinks Letterman should say, this is about the most surreal thing I've ever seen. Albeit incomplete.

h/t Der Fersko

Pretty Woman

Opera Chic calls it embarrassingly dated. I call it AWESOME!!!

Quote of the Day:

The Harris: There's no need to worry about people stealing candy from a baby - the free market will take care of it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

President's Day Vacation

Blogging will probably not cease over the weekend, but it will become scarcer while I travel up to the New Jersey/New York/Philadelphia area for general Il Giovine related hijinks including possible standing outside of the Met Opera to get ourselves Nixon in China tickets tomorrow. Dear Lord I've turned into a Modern Opera Groupie.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Musical Chairs (first in a continuing series):

Shock! Vasily Petrenko is taking a second orchestra. He's moving 'up' in the world to the Oslo Philharmonic. It would typical display of loyalty from the race known as conductors if he would announce shortly that he's leaving the orchestra that made him a star, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. But that's neither here nor there for now. The Oslo Philharmonic, the old band of Mariss Jansons, is giving up their current director, Jukka Pekka Saraste, so that he can take over the West German Radio Symphony of Cologne, which was until recently the band of Semyon Bychkov. Bychkov has been hotly rumored as a potential replacement for both James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera or Antonio Pappano at the Royal Opera House in London. Pappano is also rumored to be in the running to replace James Levine at the Met Opera in New York, but is also rumored to be in consideration to be new director of the La Scala Opera in Milan. But the directorship of La Scala may also be assumed by Riccardo Chailly, whose problems with management at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra seem to be continuing. Chailly is, apparently, also in talks to become the next music director of the Boston Symphony if (when) James Levine leaves in the next year. The directorship of La Scala could also be taken by Daniele Gatti, who is currently directing the French National Orchestra, and is also the interim music director of the Zurich Opera before Fabio Luisi is due to take over as Music Director in 2013 (more on Luisi in a moment). Gatti, though, is also rumored to be a preferred choice of the Berlin Philharmonic to be their next music director in 2018 when Sir Simon Rattle's contract expires. So he may wait out his opportunity at La Scala for a chance at the Berlin Philharmonic. And besides, continuity at the Zurich Opera only became an issue because Franz-Welser Most left the Zurich Opera to direct the Vienna State Opera. But he was ultimately the second choice of the Vienna State Opera, who wanted Christian Thielemann. But Thielemann was ensconced at the Munich Philharmonic and is the de facto music director of the Bayreuth Festival. When things at the Munich Philharmonic soured, the offer in Vienna was no longer on the table, so he took the directorship of the Dresden State Orchestra, recently vacated by Fabio Luisi (remember him?). Luisi is now slated to be the director of the Zurich Opera in 2013. But he has also been appointed recently as the principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. It is at least as possible that the Met will offer him the post of music director as Semyon Bychkov, Antonio Pappano or Yannick Nezet-Segiun. Yannick Nezet-Seguin was recently appointed director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, replacing Christoph Eschenbach (after an interregnum with Charles Dutoit, who could merit a paragraph of his own). Christoph Eschenbach is now with the National Symphony in Washington DC. He also recently gave up his position as director of the Orchestra of Paris. His replacement is Paavo Jarvi, who is now concurrently holding the music directorships of the Orchestra of Paris, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, the German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen, and the Cincinnati Symphony....y'know, it's probably best we just stop at Paavo Jarvi.

In other news, I'm beginning to see the logic in the Catholic divorce prohibition.

Musical Chairs (first in a continuing series):

Shock! Vasily Petrenko is taking a second orchestra. He's moving 'up' in the world to the Oslo Philharmonic. It would typical display of loyalty from the race known as conductors if he would leaving the orchestra that made him a star, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. But that's neither here nor there for now. The Oslo Philharmonic, the old band of Mariss Jansons, is giving up their current director, Jukka Pekka Saraste, so that he can take over the West German Radio Symphony of Cologne, which was until recently the band of Semyon Bychkov. Bychkov has been hotly rumored as a potential replacement for both James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera or Antonio Pappano at the Royal Opera House in London. Pappano is also rumored to be in the running to replace James Levine at the Met Opera in New York, but is also rumored to be in consideration to be new director of the La Scala Opera in Milan. But the directorship of La Scala may also be assumed by Riccardo Chailly, whose problems with management at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra seem to be continuing. Chailly is, apparently, also in talks to become the next music director of the Boston Symphony if (when) James Levine leaves in the next year. The directorship of La Scala could also be taken by Daniele Gatti, who is currently directing the French National Orchestra, and is also the interim music director of the Zurich Opera before Fabio Luisi is due to take over as Music Director in 2013 (more on Luisi in a moment). Gatti, though, is also rumored to be a preferred choice of the Berlin Philharmonic to be their next music director in 2018 when Sir Simon Rattle's contract expires. So he may wait out his opportunity at La Scala for a chance at the Berlin Philharmonic. And besides, continuity at the Zurich Opera only became an issue because Franz-Welser Most left the Zurich Opera to direct the Vienna State Opera. But he was ultimately the second choice of the Vienna State Opera, who wanted Christian Thielemann. But Thielemann was ensconced at the Munich Philharmonic and is the de facto music director of the Bayreuth Festival. When things at the Munich Philharmonic soured, the offer in Vienna was no longer on the table, so he took the directorship of the Dresden State Orchestra, recently vacated by Fabio Luisi (remember him?). Luisi is now slated to be the director of the Zurich Opera in 2013. But he has also been appointed recently as the principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. It is at least as possible that the Met will offer him the post of music director as Semyon Bychkov, Antonio Pappano or Yannick Nezet-Segiun. Yannick Nezet-Seguin was recently appointed director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, replacing Christoph Eschenbach (after an interregnum with Charles Dutoit, who could merit a paragraph of his own). Christoph Eschenbach is now with the National Symphony in Washington DC. He also recently gave up his position as director of the Orchestra of Paris. His replacement is Paavo Jarvi, who is now concurrently holding the music directorships of the Orchestra of Paris, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, the German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen, and the Cincinnati Symphony....y'know, it's probably best we just stop at Paavo Jarvi.

In other news, I'm beginning to see the logic in the Catholic divorce prohibition.
This has to be one of the more futile gestures in the history of authoritarian governments.

h/t The Olsen.

If Anne Frank Were A Cheesehead (I've gotta stop with the bad tasteless jokes)

I'm pretty sure this is a first. At least since the Civil War. The Democrats in the Wisconsin House of Delegates have literally gone into hiding to avoid law enforcement officers to prevent the Republican majority from having a vote on stripping public employees of their right to collective bargaining.

I have no idea how this fight got so intense (not that I knew anything about it anyway), but the entertainment value of this issue is obviously sky-high.

h/t Le Malon.

addendum: I've been informed that this happened in Texas about seven or eight years ago. About the redistricting. If that ever happens again, I have a different idea: why doesn't everybody leave Texas :)?

WikiApologies

Wow. Well...um....the entry about Catonsville Maryland is exactly as it was last night. I have seen wikipedia damage repaired in a matter of seconds. But an entry on Catonsville is not exactly an article people are batting down the doors to access. So...er....at least I've never done anything as dumb as what Glenn Beck does...

The Detroit Symphony may be going under, and perhaps GM and Chrysler soon after. But at least the city's getting a cultural landmark at least as important.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wikipedia in Action

Here are the first few paragraphs of wikipedia's text from Catonsville MD at the moment Le Malon pointed me to this. Neither I nor anyone else condone anything in this text. It's just a pretty extraordinary example of wikipedia defacement. I'm just noting that it's there. But I would almost guarantee that it's gone by the time you visit Catonsville MD. Take a look and see how long the description below lasts...

Catonsville, Maryland
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Catonsville, Maryland
— CDP —

Location of Catonsville, Maryland
Coordinates: 39°16′26″N 76°44′17″WCoordinates: 39°16′26″N 76°44′17″W
Country United States
State Maryland
County Baltimore
Area
- Total 14.0 sq mi (36.3 km2)
- Land 14.0 sq mi (36.3 km2)
- Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 479 ft (146 m)
Population (2000)
- Total 39,820
- Density 2,843.9/sq mi (1,098.0/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
- Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP codes 21228, 21250
Area code(s) 410
FIPS code 24-14125
GNIS feature ID 0583624
Catonsville is a census-designated place (CDP) in Baltimore County, Maryland, United States. The population was 39,820 at the 2000 census. Catonsville is a stoner community bordered by Woodlawn to the north, by Baltimore to the east, by Elkridge to the south, and by Ellicott City to its west.
Catonsville is DOPE (get it?) kids do hella dope in this town, and thanks to one person, justin fagdale, he so afraid no one will like him that he drags random scene bitches in with black hair and skinnies, in which he begins to rape and shoot them up in his van, two weeks later they return for more heroine. shut up hipsterS (dope fiends). smoke bowls.
Contents [hide]
1 History
2 Geography
3 Climate
4 Demographics
5 Education
5.1 Primary and secondary education
5.1.1 Public schools
5.1.2 Private schools
5.2 Colleges and university
6 Natives and residents of note
6.1 Arts and media
6.2 Music
6.3 Sports
7 Professional sports teams
8 References
9 External links
[edit]History

Europeans were the second group to settle the area now known as Catonsville. It is generally believed by historians that native tribes, known as the Piscataway, smoked hella bongs and rolled fat spliffs before the European colonists arrived. This tribe occupied the land between the Potomac to the Chesapeake Bay and up the Patapsco River. Catonsville was located along the Piscataway Trail. The colonists and the tribes got along until the mid-17th century, when the English government ended the practices of Catholic Missionaries in the area. It is believed that the tribes were driven from their villages and some were hunted by slave catchers. As happened in many areas of the early colonial America, diseases unknown to the tribes were spread by the colonists. Eventually, the tribes moved north under the protection of the Iroquois.
With most of the natives scattered, the colonists expanded across Maryland. Present day Catonsville was settled in the 18th century. In the early 19th century, a county road along the Patapsco River—named the Frederick Turnpike, later designated Route 144—was opened by the Ellicott family to service traffic between their flour mill, Ellicott Mills, and Baltimore. Catonsville as we know it today was settled along this route by Richard Caton, under the authority of his father-in-law Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Travelers along "the turnpike" (as it was then known) rested and conducted business in the area, causing Catonsville to grow.
The large dope feind ring located in Catonsville destroysa communities and such, justin martindale is a part of this, hes a faggot who like to shoot up girls because he has no game :) were built by wealthy Baltimoreans. Originally, these communities were used as summer residences to escape the heat in Baltimore. Eventually, as in many communities with the introduction of the automobile and electric trolley, families began to reside in Catonsville year round. Baltimore has attempted over the years to annex Catonsville, the last attempt in 1918, but all attempts were rebuffed. The community remains an unincorporated town in Baltimore County. It is home to Spring Grove Hospital Center, the nation's second oldest continuously operating psychiatric hospital, as well as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Catonsville was briefly made quite famous during the 1968 protest by the "Catonsville Nine", during which draft records were burned by Catholic anti-war activists.
In 2002, the Maryland legislature issued a proclamation declaring Catonsville to be "Music City, Maryland" due to a concentration of musical retail stores, venues and educational facilities in the area.
In 2007 Money magazine ranked Catonsville the 49th best place to live in the USA, third best in Maryland and Virginia.
Catonsville is a terminus of the Trolley Line Number 9 Trail.

Short Reflections on Brahms 3 on the Car Radio

Brahms 3rd is a Beethoven symphony played backwards. It is a journey from light to darkness. The movement that Beethoven would put first is last, and the movement Beethoven would put last is first. Each movement is darker and more resigned than the one that came before until a last movement nightmare that is the one of the most violent things Brahms ever wrote. Instead of a Beethovenian peroration, Brahms ends the symphony ends the symphony with gentle resignation.


(World Champion Brahmsian Bruno Walter layin' it down with the pre-WWII Vienna Philharmonic. Sound ain't great, but neither of his remakes were on youtube. And this one might be even better than the other two. Nobody gets inside Brahms 3 like Walter.)

It's the hardest of the Brahms Symphonies to understand, and most conductors don't play it as though they do either. Some music is by and large musician-proof. Bach is a composer who generally works his magic so long as you play the right notes in the right order, so is Stravinsky. Brahms is nothing like that. His music needs a conductor willing to take a proactive hand, but not too proactive. The best Brahmsians know the music so well that they've internalized it. They unconsciously remember every harmonic ambiguity, every subtle metamorphosis of each motif, and know how to render all these ornate details into a coherent whole. Conductors like Toscanini and Szell were always a little too controlling for Brahms. While conductors like Furtwangler and Jochum were always a little too willful. The best Brahmsians are conductors like Felix Weingartner, Bruno Walter, Christoph von Dohnanyi and James Levine, who know exactly how much give and take to give each moment of the piece. Always precise, always flexible.
In France Jim Cramer would be considered a world class performance artist.

Quote of the Day:

Mom (relating what happened at a Shiva House): It was -------'s birthday so they brought him out a cake. After they finished singing Happy Birthday he asked, are you sure this is appropriate?

James Earl Jones reads Justin Bieber



h/t th'O'Keefe

Hitler Finds Out Adams Mill is Closed



A bit douchey, but still hilariously funny for anyone who is a drinker in DC (and it's rather impossible to live there without being one). h/t The Bryant.
James Brown was the Carlos Kleiber of funk....I like it.

Quote of the Day:

Der Smilowitz: "I see people" - The Fifth Sense

The Kaiser Rolls Over (oy....)

Michael Kaiser is the chairman of the Kennedy Center. Within the ten years he’s held that position he took a struggling, increasingly irrelevant behemoth of an arts organization and turned its fortunes around in a way thought unable to be done. Before the Kennedy Center, he did the same for the Royal Opera House in London, the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, and the American Ballet Theater. Depending upon whom you ask, he’s either arguably the best arts administrator in the world by a few hundred leagues, or the luckiest businessman in the history of the arts. Unfortunately, like many great businessmen in all fields, he has deluded himself into thinking that anyone can do what he does and that those who aren’t able to succeed on his level simply aren’t trying hard enough. He is the performing arts equivalent of a supply side economist - telling arts executives from failing companies that the only way to increase their revenues is by spending more money. Many of these executives come away from him feeling that spending beyond their means is the most responsible way to re-achieve fiscal solvency. Whether or not he practices as he preaches, his message is dangerous and irresponsible. The first duty of an artistic organization will always be to create a great product. But in terms of their need to do so within the means they have, there is no difference between an arts organization and any other business. Those who spend beyond them cannot expect that there will be a savior who will bail them out of the mess they created.

Mostly on his regular perch at the Huffington Post, he’s beaten on this drum - and by extension, most of the hard-working people that comprise his colleagues - so often that he could declare himself completely wrong tomorrow and lots of people in the arts world would still hold him in contempt. But in his latest column he made a claim so provocative that I’m not even sure he realizes how incendiary he’s becoming. His claim is as simple as it is inflammatory: the reason the arts are in trouble is that artists are not making good enough art.

The degree to which that claim is true is impossible to know. But one thing from it is easy to intuit. Michael Kaiser just shot himself in the foot. Artists always need to trust that the people who promote their work approve of what they do. This is a comment that would haunt any arts executive for the rest of their career, but for the chairman of the Kennedy Center to say this is an unbelievably stupid business decision.

But even if this latest column is idiotic from a business standpoint, and even if it’s impossible for anyone to have a completely accurate view of the state of the arts, is Kaiser wrong? Well,...... not really.

Don’t misunderstand, he’s not totally right. By any standard there are all sorts of great American artists living in our time: from John Adams to David Mamet to Mark Morris to Philip Roth to James Rosenquist to Stephen Sondheim (even if he’s twenty years past it). There are artists in the younger generations who have already done incredible work and I have no doubt that some of them will soon ascend to the same prestige their predecessors now hold, if they haven’t already. BUT, there simply aren’t enough great artists in the 'arts.' There hasn't been for a long, long time.

Even in the postwar years, an alleged golden age to which Kaiser refers, there weren’t enough great artists working in 'the arts.' In the 50’s and 60’s, what artists were forward-thinking people most excited about? Alfred Hitchcock, not Tennesee Williams. They went mostly to Jerome Robbins Broadway productions, not to Balanchine ballets. They listened to Miles Davis, not Stravinsky (and it’s kind of hilarious that anyone would call Stravinsky the classical music giant of postwar America).

Even today, it’s difficult to say that the greatness of mid-20th century movies didn’t leave a far bigger impact on its time than the era’s plays, jazz than mid-20th century classical music, choreographed musicals than modern dance. And if 'the arts' were lagging behind then, how much more are they to today’s genres? Let's be honest here. What broadminded music lover would throw a new Sufjan Stevens into the fire to get an extra album from Nico Muhly? How many observant theatergoers would destroy a new P T Anderson film if it meant getting another play by Tony Kushner? Hell, who would even destroy a Spike Jonze music video if it meant being able to hang up a Damien Hirst in their apartment (...unless they were worth more than $30 million already)?

Whether from ignorance or informed judgement, most people feel that the arts (at least as Michael Kaiser defines them) are not as worthwhile as other forms of culture. C’est la vie, I suppose. There are still great artists and I hope there always will be. But there aren't enough of them. And if my claim is true, then the blame goes everywhere. It’s not just the fault of artists. Many of the reasons that what Michael Kaiser says is true have to do with people who have the positions, the power, and the influence of....Michael Kaiser!

How can composers learn to write for orchestras if they don’t regularly have orchestras at their disposal for which to write (regardless of quality)? Even if we don’t have a world premiere of a great new opera to look forward to every month, could the situation improve if major opera companies made investments on helping young composers develop the way they do for young singers? And how can we regularly expect to see great visual art if major galleries are only willing to show exhibits of artists who spend the time it takes to obtain advance hype? For that matter, how can playwrights learn to write plays fit for marquees on Broadway if Broadway isn’t willing to produce new plays?

No doubt these are extremely simplistic generalizations, perhaps they're even ignorant. But my only point is this: In order to achieve great things, artists need years upon years of practice on the materials for which they’re writing. And they’re not getting the help they need from the places where they should. Saying, as Mr. Kaiser does, that he gives something back to the communityby giving promising beginners and artists on the cultural fringe a chance to do free concerts on the Millenium Stage is not the same as giving these people a chance to break into the cultural mainstream.

I do believe that with many exceptions, the overall quality of new classical music, new theater, new visual art, new dance has dropped precipitously as far back as living memory goes. So sue me. I believe that the energy to create has been sapped because the willingness of many people, particularly arts administrators, to take risks on new concepts has been sapped. Unfortunately, the only people who can revive the spirit of innovation are powerful people like Michael Kaiser. And for all his talk about risktaking, his record on innovation is as alarmingly timid as most other arts managers.

We in 'the arts' still allow ourselves an aristocratic definition of what constitutes art. But the invention of the recorded sound and images is the single greatest cultural leap since the invention of alphabets. No longer does art have to be transcribed on paper. It only has to be recorded. Anybody with access to a guitar and a computer can log years of practice on their material which no amount of grant writing could ever hope to equal. Anyone can now make great art with the most flimsy materials imaginable. And while ‘the arts’ is busy trying to find a way forward. There are unknown people at this very moment with video cameras and computer recorders creating art on a level that nearly all classical musicians could never hope to achieve, even with twenty years of schooling.

...and get off my lawn!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quote of the Day:

Me: So what did you think of Nixon in China Bubbie?

Bubbie Witow: I loved the music but I think Henry Kissinger should sue for slander.

The Rite of Spring Rodeo Show



I'm feeling somewhere between fascinated, amused and frightened. Except I feel rather extreme versions of all three. It's as though I'm staring at a perfect disaster.

Abduction from the Seraglio odds and ends...



Just because it's the coolest bass aria this side of Boris.

...ah hell, why not the finale too...

Quote of the Day:

(about Turkey)

me: all i know is that erdogan is an extremely talented politician
Der Schreiber: Well, I mean, he'd have to be.
He also has a pretty good mustache of leadership.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Harry Baals Government Center



h/t Le Malon

Ah L'Amour



I'd forgotten about this little f-ed up gem.

h/t GZ

Also.....Alex Ross has another in his continuing series of Alban Berg Valentines.



Truly the most romantic of all composers.

An American Tragedy


(One of the world's great orchestras playing Berlioz in their 1950's Golden Age under Paul Paray.)

Anyone who visits this blog, please read this. It's absolutely heartbreaking. The Detroit Symphony is one of America's great orchestras. The city of Detroit without the DSO is as unthinkable as the city without the auto industry or Motown.

If the Detroit Symphony goes under, then every orchestra in a declining city is in peril. Orchestras with unbroken cultivations and traditions that often span a century and a half will have to close their doors. Many of America's greatest musicians will be without a job or a pension. These orchestras were once the pride of their cities, they were symbols that showed to the world that you needn't be from Vienna to appreciate great music. Part of the reason that Europeans took so well to American music after World War II was because they saw how deeply Americans cared about European music in turn. But now, the Detroit Symphony, like Detroit itself, is in danger of extinction. If Detroit's orchestra can disappear from the city, any other business can too. If the Detroit Symphony disappears from the music scene, any other orchestra can too. Imagine a world without the Cincinatti Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra. This is the world we're facing if people can't face reality very soon.

There is only one thing more tragic for an organization than a resulting standoff after all parties come to the table in good faith and still find no common ground. And that is the realization that the disappearance of the organization may well be its only option. In order to revive classical music, we will probably have to demolish its ageing institutions. The resulting metamorphosis will be heartbreakingly difficult, but we may not have any other choice.
Maynard Ferguson is easy to appreciate: Fat Guy likes loud noises. I can dig that.

Coltrane's Giant Steps Notated



It's Tenor Sax so it's notated on concert B-Flat. Impressive, no?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lord of the Rings vs. Atlas Shrugged

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

From Paul Krugman

Not that he came up with it on his own. That involves humor, which as we all know is not exactly his strong suit.

h/t CPL

Quote of the Day:

me: i was watching the wizard of oz last night
and the thought occurred to me
this movie exists
The Hicks: you mean that if it didn't exist and you described it to someone you could use it as an example of how in an infinite time horizon, all things will occur
me: indeed
to say nothing of the midgets doing heroin
The Hicks: like Shakespeare playing checkers with John Wilks Booth using oreos and Hydrox?
me: precisely
The young Bernard Haitink was the greatest of all Bruckner conductors.

That is all.

4 commercials by Ed Wood

Nixon in China posted on BBC3 for the Next Week

Anyone who does not take the opportunity to hear this piece, in whatever format, is missing out. At this point, John Adams may be the single greatest composer America has ever produced, and this is his most famous work (albeit not necessarily his greatest). Neither Copland nor Gershwin nor Ives ever produced so many great works over so long a period. It is all too fashionable to rag on John Adams, particularly in Europe, for writing music that people love. Whether or not his detractors realize it, the music of John Adams (to say nothing of Glass and Reich at their best) presents a far greater intellectual challenge than nearly anything by Boulez or Stockhausen. The European avant-garde produced some masterful composers - Ligeti and Berio to name the first that come to mind. But the insularity and dogmatism of the Darmstadt School created a breeding ground for frauds. The Darmstadt aesthetic bears greater responsibility than any other event in music's recent history for the current state of classical music - which, in case you haven't noticed, is a cultural backwater.

In any event, Nixon in China is having its second moment in the sun. Twenty years ago, it was labeled a cartoon opera. Fortunately, we now understand that it's a very serious work and a very serious meditation on history, power and the 20th century. It's an opera fundamentally about the clash between the two dominant world-views of the twentieth century: deregulated economies vs. centrally planned, democratic government vs. authoritarian. The opera's creators are wise enough to neither take a side nor exonerate either world-view for the flaws of their systems. Furthermore, Adams creates a score that is a marvel. The 'minimalism' is a simple schematic over which he can lay all sorts of different sounds that have primal meanings for us all - sometimes sounding of the chants of Tibetan Monks, sometimes like Glenn Miller. Like all the greatest composers, John Adams knows precisely how to orient the ear through the most complex harmonies, rhythms and polyphony (and make no mistake, it's a VERY complex score). And on top of all that, he may be the greatest living orchestrator (at least the greatest who's not from Finland). So I firmly believe that Nixon in China is a piece that everyone should give a fair shake, lest history leave them as far behind as it left Mao and Nixon. It's a piece that explains us to ourselves better than we could if we didn't have it.

Or you can just watch the world premiere production here...

World's Most Generic News Report



A hall of mirrors.

h/t Il Giovine.

Finlandia Hymn (Finnish)

Round About Midnight

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Quote of the Day:

The Manning: Its strange being near this many children
They're small, dirty and impulsive

Yuja Wang like whoa!


(Horowitz's Carmen Transcription in the practice room, for shits and giggles.....)

Went to the Baltimore Symphony last night with The McBee and Die Grimes, I made the effort far more for the Bruckner 6 than for Rach's Second Piano Concerto. I'm sad to say that the Bruckner was slightly disappointing. Juajo Mena was on the podium and he gave a reading that was mostly very sensitive but didn't hold the architecture of the score together - nobody should conduct Bruckner until their hair starts graying. Mena studied with Sergiu Celbidache, and you could hear Celi's influence in the incredible array of beautiful sounds he drew out of the orchestra. Unfortunately, also often like Celibidache, he was faced with an orchestra that didn't seem to know Bruckner very well, and there were an uncomfortable number of mishaps through all the winds and brass.


(For the last seventeen years of his life Celi was director of the Munich Philharmonic, an orchestra that knew their Bruckner. Unfortunately by then Celibidache's attempts at probity had turned into caricature. And what were once beautifully layered conceptions from one of the great conductors of the twentieth century calcified into Zen slowness. Tempos like these should never work. And yet Celibidache gets away with it, because even in his dotage he was a truly great musician.)

Much as I occasionally still love his music, I have long since tired of Rachmaninov appearing on every concert program. So it was to my astonishment it was the Rach that overwhelmed - not with pyrotechnics, but with poetry. Yuja Wang does not look like a thunderer, and frankly she isn't. This is not Martha Argerich's Rachmaninov, it is the work of an extremely sensitive musician who obtained the most musical possible results. And even if Wang doesn't overwhelm with size, she sure can overwhelm with speed. The final movement was taken at a heady clip, and she brought out the contrasts and transitions with the slower sections perfectly. This was extremely sensitive, characterful playing in a work that practically invites displays of incredible vulgarity.


(Her sound is smaller without a microphone, but this is almost the same performance we got. Very tasteful, extremely musical without stamping a personal imprint.)

And then, as an encore she did the Horowitz Carmen Transcription. Horowitz would have made a bigger sound, but she played it nearly twice as fast as Horowitz did (at least in later years) and with all of Horowitz's clarity. If Lang Lang is our Horowitz - a wonderfully talented musician whose overexposure can lead to displays of vulgarity - then perhaps Yuja Wang can be our Alicia De Larrocha. She's clearly a musician of impeccable sensitivity. I can't wait to hear what she can do with Mozart, Chopin, Debussy et al.


(Lang Lang doing Rach 2. Opposite pole approach. Big-boned, manic, virtuoso, gaudy. With Lang Lang's personal interpretation on nearly every note. I prefer Wang, but I can't deny that this works in its own way.)


h/t Der Fersko
Ultimately, Western Europe decided that the choice between communism and fascism was a false choice. This was a decision that Europeans made for themselves, but America played a crucial role in bolstering the European liberals who won over their societies. The sentiments one heard coming out of Tahrir Square in recent weeks made clear that there is, in fact, a constituency in Egypt for liberalism. Egyptian politics, it turns out, is not simply a horrifying choice between secular autocracy and Islamism. Many of these liberals have been looking to America—and specifically President Obama—for moral support. In the weeks and months to come, he should not disappoint them by being too quiet or too cautious.

Essential reading from TNR.
The NPR Jazz 100.

I was never that big on Weather Report. But it's not a bad list.

Atlas Shrugged: The Movie

Oh god, Oh my god. No no no no no no no no no no.



You can always tell Ayn Rand nuts by the fanatical gleam that comes into their eyes when social policy is mentioned. The gleam tells you that their souls have temporarily gone on vacation while the programming has kicked in. Ayn Rand has never been more venerated than she is in our day. Her work is, in a securely wrapped package, everything the most noxious elements of Republican party economics stand for. And now they have found a way to market their philosophy to people too lazy to even read her books. Now that we're in the era of the Tea Party, I have not been this scared of a movie since at least the Passion of the Christ.




h/t Der Fersko
seeing nixon in china in a week. tried not to listen to the broadcast today. i lasted less than an hour.

Friday, February 11, 2011

For Those Who Care

Andris Nelsons's Mahler 9 is the proverbial shit. Romantic with a capital "R," excessive with a capital "E". It sounds like what I imagine Willem Mengelberg's performances of the piece did. Even if he's clearly an undisciplined interpreter (I can almost hear his mentor, Mariss Jansons, yelling at him in the dressing room for all the unnecessary tempo shifts) he is easily one of the great conducting talents of the younger (my) generation. Is there any other young conductor who could take Mahler 9 into the stratosphere?

Listen here. You have four days left. I'm definitely listening again this weekend.

Egypt

One of these days I want to do a longer piece about the unbelievable changes in the Middle East. Whatever else happens in the future, this is one of history's very great days. So long as people have memories, the hope which today signifies will never be forgotten. Let's hope there are many more days like this to cherish.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Will Lose!

50 lbs in 2010. That is my second month of New Year's Resolution.

Quote of the Day:

(at the Olive Garden in College Park for Ethan's 20th birthday)

Dad: What wine should we get. How about a Chianti?

Bubbie: Is that the wine which Hannibal Lector drinks when he eats people?
Mohammed El-Baradei is about to post shirtless pictures of mubarak on dating sites.

Most "Jewish" Books

Jewcy released the 50 most 'essential' works of Jewish Fiction in the 20th century. Who doesn't love a good list (the list is life after all). The truth is that I have no idea what 'essential' means, but here is a list my personal list of the most Jewish books/short stories of the 20th century, then a list of the most 'Jewish' books. Please bare in mind that I am only literate by the standards of my own generation, for whom I make no apologies. I love the internets as much as they do.

10 Most Jewish Texts of the 20th century:

1. Kafka: The Hunter Gracchus - The Hunter Gracchus has wandered from place to place since the 4th century, experiencing in death a boredom that is little different from his life, or the lives of the people he meets. Who could call this anything but the most Jewish allegory ever, with the most Jewish message ever?

2. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Gimpel the Fool - Gimpel is treated badly by everyone he knows all his life long, yet persists in seeing the good in others. Through this he sees the folly of people's vanities and in old age achieves the kind of wisdom that can only be acquired by a lifetime of smiling through suffering. Maybe this should be #1. Ah well, indecision is pretty Jewish too.

3. Saul Bellow: The Adventures of Augie March - I doubt any book ever got the optimism of postwar America better than this one. This 600-page monster is not about plot, nor is it about Augie's triumphs or setbacks. It is the many experiences of a young Jewish guy, amazed that the opportunities of the world are open to him in a way they never were to those who came before him. It's a book about his hunger to make the most of them. There is something zen

4. Amos Oz: A Tale of Love and Darkness - Oz's autobiography is far more than a chronicle of his early life. It's a time portal to the world of early Israel, an era when people were still astonished that such a place would exist. This is a chronicle of Israel's hopeful beginnings and growing disenchantment with itself. It's a story about reality intrudes on our illusions. Pretty Jewish, no?

5. Shalom Aleichem: Tevye the Dairyman - Yes, that Tevye. Actually, the tone of the book is not completely different from the musical, but far more extended. Beneath the humor, and the humanity, is a very dark examination of life in the Pale of Settlement, the upheavals of the early 20th century, the desire to preserve tradition in the face of assimilation, and how life must always carry on in spite of tragedy. In the words of Walter Sobchak, it's "as Jewish as fucking Tevye."

6. Isaac Babel: Odessa Stories -

Most Goyish Book of the 20th Century:


Most Goyish Book

Paradise Lost. I'm sorry, but no Jew would ever think to justify the ways of God to Man. Or for that matter, write the justification as epic poetry. Why didn't this guy go to med school?

1. Don Quixote: There is nothing more Jewish than watching your hopes be dashed in the most humiliating possible way for the amusement of others.

I, Claudius

Invisible Man

Winesburg, Ohio

Portnoy's Complaint

The Adventures of Augie March

Atonement

Herzog

Mrs. Dalloway

Middlemarch

Uncle Vanya

Random Messiaen Memory

Back when I was a junior in college I was at home for a weekend and working on a paper. I had left the weekly Cleveland Orchestra broadcast on in the next room at high volume - thinking as every college student does that he works better with the radio/TV on. Boulez was conducting, and it was his typical light fare: Messiaen, Berg, Birtwhistle and so forth.

On came Messiaen's Oiseux Exotiques (Exotic Birds), and simultaneous to its opening, into the room with the radio walked my classical music illiterate younger brothers, who at that point in their lives had probably never heard a piece in the Darmstadt aesthetic (I suppose that changed at my senior composition recital).

Within thirty seconds, I hear their conversation turn into complete silence. Two minutes later I hear hysterical laughing. Thinking I had to save I shout to them 'Sorry guys, if you want you can turn it off.' Ethan shouts back 'actually, Evan, keep it on. I think we kind of love this.'



Whether you listen to it seriously or with the same 'quotation marks' that rock-lovers give to Journey or Styx, it is an extraordinary piece. Messiaen was not always the most,...umm....short-winded composer. But in this piece, all there is is an extraordinary collection of aural images. If you ever doubted Messiaen, start here. Messiaen paints the aviary of our dreams.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I often find that I can't read scores as I'm listening to classical music because the lack of observing soft dynamic markings drives me crazy.

I have no problem with disregarding the markings so long as musicians find an equivalent solution. What bothers me is when the markings seem to go completely unacknowledged. And there is nothing that goes unacknowledged as often as the dreaded p or pp marking. If a composer does what Verdi does and puts down ppppp we can usually get it down to p or pp.
Frodo and Sam could have gotten the job done in four hours.

h/t Der Schneider

Tarantella siciliana



After today, I will never get the image out of my head that Mendelssohn probably listened to Italian folk musicians playing this piece the day before he wrote the opening movement to the Italian Symphony.



I'm not the biggest Mendelssohn fan, but that opening is unforgettable. So is the way which Kurt Masur gets the strings of Mendelssohn's old orchestra to honor every single one of that opening's phrasing and dynamic indications. Good job kids.

Vuvuzela Quartet



Amazing.

...It's imperial sentiments have become synonymous with the Nazi movement. But, in fact, this was the Republican anthem, and before that, it was the slow movement of a Haydn quartet.

If you want the real thing - listen to the Horst Wessel Lied. Creepy as hell, don't say I didn't warn you.

Trick Shot Quarterback



h/t Chait

Quote of the Day:

(about Caravaggio)

Me: but i look at medusa's head and i think 'yeah baby!'
The Koosh: you always were fond of the ladies with baggage

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dearest Mendelssohn,

Much as I love the Italian Symphony, does the Chicago Symphony have to have hammy actors read your letters in concert? It just makes you sound like your travel works are the travel journals of a narcissistic brat who thinks the world needs to know everything that happens to him and that he thinks....

....wait a minute......

Anyway, you're lucky you were a one-in-a-million craftsman.

Love,

Evan

Angie Dickinson performs Steve Reich



I guess that makes Lee Marvin the instrument.

h/t The Rambler.

Quote of the Day:

Dad: Catholics have the best looking churches because they have a particular style and a sense of taste. The only aesthetic quality synagogues have in common is that they all look like a club basement.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Milton Babbitt: The Movie


(All Set - not bad, jazzy in the Ornette Coleman way)

NPR has posted what amounts to the World Premiere of a biographical film about Milton Babbitt. What instantly comes across is that Babbitt is an incredibly intelligent and personable man, and a brilliant teacher. The other quality communicated is that he is a composer who nearly destroyed all of his good pedagogical work. Babbitt wrote the ultimate ivory tower music, music composed by an unimpeachable godfather (in every sense) who ruled the roost of his own personal fiefdom for sixty years. When you have an endowed chair at Princeton, nobody in your field has enough gravitas to match your own. If Milton Babbitt says that a piece of music has worth, who are we to argue? And who are we to say that the music of such an intelligent man is over-rated? He's a Princeton Professor! Their first in music!


("Occasional Variations." His electronic music is his best. Sounds like Aphex Twin's rambling grandfather.)

Again and again, we hear all the same apologies for his music - the litany the music world hears all too often. 'It takes many hearings to appreciate,' 'the performances weren't good,' 'the music is actually beautiful if you learn how to listen to it,' 'he puts in little fragments of melodies,' 'the same things were said about Beethoven and Mozart in their day,' and jargonjargonjargonjargonjargon. History makes fools of us all, and all of these things might be true. But Milton Babbitt's music has been around for 65 years, and nobody but a musical insider's insider seems to have ever found genuine value in it. Professing to understand Babbitt, and a few others, is like an entry code into a musical club that demonstrates a rarefied level of musical understanding. Maybe it does, but I'm certainly not a member of that club, and nor would I want to be.


(Septet but Equal. I feel like I'm sharing these just for the titles, now we're getting into the stuff that sucks. Could even the best-trained musicians in the country discern any individuality in this music?)

Milton Babbitt's music is not terrible (some of it anyways...). It is, in its way, exquisitely crafted and sometimes quite entertaining. It's just not particularly original, individual or great. Pierre Boulez likes to complain about Shostakovich being a second or third pressing of Mahler. If that is true (and I disagree vehemently), then Milton Babbitt can certainly be seen as a second or third pressing of Schoenberg. I've listened to more serial music in my (admittedly rather young) lifetime than I ever care to admit. I've even enjoyed some of it (at least I think I did). But there is no denying that it is a musical dead end - an artificial system of creating music brought to us by people who can't bear the thought that music exists in ways the 19th century never dreamed of, and continued by people who are simply too untalented to write music that communicates something other than a generic mathematical process that can be done by anyone who understands (or at least professes to) the system.


(Fourplay. Funny title, lousy music.)

But the ultimate criticism of Babbitt is not to be found in his music, or anybody else's. It is in the thousands of music students who've ever felt intimidated by their professors into writing music in a style they hated. Students might protest that they didn't like it, but all the composition teacher had to do is to say that Babbitt (who probably taught them) or Elliott Carter was writing the only type of music worth writing in our era, everything else is crap. The professor assigns you the grade, so you're ultimately writing for him. But the losers in this bargain are everyone else. From all the potential composers who went through the rigors of atonal/serial composition, and then decided to sell insurance (a noble profession for frustrated composers), did we lose an American Schubert? An American Tallis?

We'll never know.


Dramatic 'Reading' of "Who Cares If You Listen."