calimac: (Haydn)
While everyone else is at Wiscon or Baycon or whatever, I went two two musical theatre productions, both from the South Bay Musical Theatre. Both were ... mixed.

Their regular production was My Fair Lady. Of all the classic shows from the classic period of Broadway history, this is the classicest, if that's a word. Every song in it is better than good, most are great. Eliza had a very strong voice, and kept her accents straight. If only she'd put more power in "Show Me" and "Without You", which is where she really tears loose. Higgins developed character over the course of the show, as if the actor gradually stopped being afraid of the part, but he wasn't that great a singer. Doolittle cut the rug with his music-hall songs pretty well. Freddy was ... unmentionable. The best actor in the show was the Mrs. Higgins, but the best moment was the look on Mrs. Pearce's face as Higgins sings the last verse of "A Hymn to Him" to her. The costumes were impressive throughout: When Eliza steps out, she's rigged for the part.

B. was with me for that one, but one was enough for a weekend for her, so she didn't go back the next evening for Chess in concert, first of a mere two-performance run. The reason for doing it in concert, just the music with a thin skein of narration, proved to be to cram in as many songs from as many different versions as possible without having to make them fit or to deal with what the director, who delivered the narration, feels is a basically unstageable plot.

Because it was a concert, the parts were all divided up among a lot of different people. Some were quite good, and some were ... not. (The ones who could never hit the right note; the ones who kept shifting between octaves in the middle of the song. On the other hand, then there was the singer who plowed through on the right notes despite the orchestra being completely out of tune.) The problem was that there wasn't enough of the good ones. By far the best of a lot of medium-good Florences (pinch-faced, but excellent voice with good characterization) sang "Nobody's Side" and hardly anything else. I also liked one Anatoly with a really deep voice. A woman sang "One Night in Bangkok," but maybe it should have been some other woman. And maybe her microphone shouldn't have kept cutting out. The narrator was right; the storyline falls apart in Act 2, and it went on too long.

In between, I got up to Davies for a gratifyingly heterogeneous SF Symphony chamber music concert. In order of increasing oddness, Barber's String Quartet (where the famous Adagio for Strings comes from), a flute-oboe-piano trio by Eugene Goossens (very French-sounding), a wind-quintet-and-piano sextet by Poulenc (a chaotic work from his "Stravinsky fils" period), and the Varied Trio by the centennial boy, Lou Harrison, for violin (played normally), piano (sometimes with its strings plucked), and percussion (alternatingly xylophone, rice bowls (some with water in them), and baking pans), exotically peaceful.
calimac: (Default)
In commemoration of the impending 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, I am proud to present you with ...

what I believe is the first cover version of any of its songs to be released. It was released in June 1967, same month as the original album, and it was produced by the same George Martin who produced the album. It's a comic actor and musical comedian artist of his (remember that Martin got his start in comedy records) named Bernard Cribbins, singing "When I'm Sixty-Four."



I haven't directly compared this with the original, but it seems to me as if George Martin just took the backing tracks from the original recording, stripped out the backing vocals (none too well), slapped the new lead vocal on top, and called it a day.

I gather that Bernard Cribbins is well-known in the UK, but he's not so familiar over here. I had to be reminded who he was, and who he is to me is the comic actor who played Mr. Hutchinson, one of the most memorable guests ever to stay at Fawlty Towers. Yes, he's this guy.
calimac: (Default)
After too long an absence from other scholarly venues than the one I edit for, I got to finalize the texts of two papers today, OKing the final tweaks from their editors.

Both are fairly short, but it's good to have them out. And for one of them, it means I get to be in this.

Also, I've gotten the reading text of the paper I'm giving at a conference next week down to 25 minutes, by cutting out everything that could possibly be considered extraneous. When I gave it at Mythcon last year, it was nearly 50 minutes, but I had an hour slot. This time I have half an hour, so it'll just barely fit if I talk fast.

Among the things I cut out was this:

"Early science fiction was often breezy about the problem of people on other planets speaking different languages than ours. In Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, for instance, the protagonist discovers on arriving that he's somehow grown a new organ that the natives have, which conveniently allows them to read minds and instantly learn each other's language, thus bypassing entirely any question of translation. This is the sort of thing that Douglas Adams was parodying when he invented the Babel Fish."
calimac: (Default)
I managed to do everything I planned on Saturday.

First to the downtown Redwood City street fair. They were holding a chicken wing cookoff, and I didn't want to miss that. Eleven booths in a row were cooking up their own varieties, and $10 was reasonable for eleven coupons good for one wingette each, plus a voting coupon to insert in one of the boxes on the side of the ticket booth to honor your favorite.

Some of the wings had sauces, some had rubs. One had a hugely thick breading. Some were spicy, some not. A couple of the more tangily Asian varieties had the booth workers precariously balancing tiny pieces of cucumber or sprigs of cilantro or whatnot on the wings, from which they'd fall off, usually into the bowl of sauce on the preparation counter, and if not, then in the customer's hands before you could eat it. Not really very well planned.

Also badly planned: no napkins, anywhere.

All this to the accompaniment of a very loud band down the street which was performing actually quite good cover versions of all the songs you used to hear on the top ten radio 30 years ago: "Hotel California", "Eye of the Tiger", and that song that goes "Leo, woah woah woah woaoaoah" - what is that song, anyway?

However, the wings were mostly pretty good, and that was my lunch, before heading to Bing for the afternoon to hear the Stanford Symphony in Anna Wittstruck's farewell concert as conductor. Stanford's reaped the reward of insisting she's been only the Interim Music Director these last two years, and she's leaving for a more stable job at the University of Puget Sound. (So, see, all you Seattleites: there is culture in Tacoma, or at least will be when she gets there.) She's been a good director, and we'll miss her.

She led a dynamic concert with Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2, a fine performance completely devoid of the flat Anglo accent that most norteamericano orchestras give it, plus a similar Cuban rumba-inspired piece, a new Dance Suite by Stanford faculty composer Giancarlo Aquilanti, and Beethoven's Seventh, all also well done. In fact all of the music was dance-like (Wagner called Beethoven's Seventh "the apotheosis of the dance"), except for a new piece by another faculty composer, Mark Applebaum, which he titled Xenophobe: In Memory of Democracy. One guess why he called it that, and one for what it sounded like.

No time for dinner: I had to rush up to the City for Other Minds' big Lou Harrison centenary concert, at Mission Dolores in the evening. I already had a ticket for this; if I hadn't, I might have fugged out, but I'm so glad I went. I've never been a big Lou Harrison devotee, but I've always enjoyed his music when I've heard it. Perhaps not so much the two astringent organ pieces that made up much of the first part - one of them was for foot pedals alone; an interesting idea, and we should have thought of applauding it by stamping our feet - but the very long second part was old Lou at his primest. It consisted of two multi-movement suites, both written in the 1970s, both in his mature modal, old-temperament, Asian-influenced, serenely spiritual style, and both accompanied by the "American gamelan", a collection of found percussion instruments that Lou and his partner Bill Colvig had conjured up out of tin cans, old oxygen tanks, and the like, wielded here by the William Winant Percussion Group, because really, who else would do it?

One was the Suite for Violin composed with Richard Dee, played by Shalini Vijayan, and the other was La Koro Sutro, a big choral setting of a Buddhist prayer translated into Esperanto. Don't laugh: Lou was a big proponent of Esperanto, which he found more useful than English in talking to Asians of various cultures on equal terms. Both works were hypnotically enchanting.

The concert began at 7:30. It ended at 10:30. Not just because the pieces were long. So was the intermission. Why? Well, the basilica was packed, but it has only 3 restroom stalls per sex, and that includes the portapotties they trucked in. Fortunately the Mission District is still hopping at 10:30 on a Saturday night, so I was able to get something to eat, finally, before heading out on a BART slowed by a derailment earlier that day.

I didn't get home until after 1 AM, but I was finally up and awake in time for a late Sunday afternoon concert in San Mateo by Viva la Musica, the choir to which [personal profile] athenais is a lately-adhered soprano. For a volunteer choir that doesn't even audition, I thought it did more than pretty well, and I was very impressed by the recently-composed repertoire: a mesmerizing "holy minimalist" setting of St. John of the Cross' "dark night of the soul" prayer, music by Ola Gjeilo, a composer who's impressed the gizzard out of me before, beautifully matched for the choir and instruments (including a piano whose part sounded like a cross between Rachmaninoff and George Winston); and a Jubilate Deo by Dan Forrest, setting its psalmist text in about seven different languages in as many musical styles, all of them slightly florid. Forrest is less incisive or truly inspired than Gjeilo, but still workmanlike and interesting, with a lot of captivating rhythmic accents in his fast movements. The only real flaw was the addition in the Mandarin setting of an erhu, the Chinese equivalent of a haegeum, and you already know what I thought of that.

Also this weekend I had published a review from last week. I actually attempted to interview the 15-year-old soloist after the concert, though I didn't get much out of him, except a few basic facts most of which make up my second paragraph; he seems a lot more confident on stage playing the violin.

And what do you know, the choir from the last concert will be pairing with the orchestra from this one some time next year, so maybe I can review that and get two birds with one. We'll see how the schedule works out. The number of groups I've had to turn down because I'm going to be gone one weekend in June is unbelievable.
calimac: (JRRT)
I confess I've never read much of the criticism of F.R. Leavis. What I have read was enough to demonstrate that, rather to my surprise, Frederick Crews' famous "Simon Lacerous" parody - "Another book to cross off your list" - isn't much of an exaggeration. Leavis really was that brutally waspish - or waspishly brutal.

At one time, around the 1950s, he was the most influential critic out there. His disciples, trained by him at Cambridge or by his own earlier disciples, infected English departments everywhere, and the loaded terms seem appropriate. I've read one account by a dismayed college don whose department welcomed its first Leavisite, or tried to. He refused to engage in everyone else's give-and-take conversation about critical views. Either you accepted the master's dogma whole or you were beneath his notice.

The don emphasized that Leavis himself, whom he didn't really know, wasn't like that. But the style was in keeping with the severity of his critical views. Nowadays, I understand, Leavis is out of fashion. An age which eagerly studies even the confessed trash of literature - even if it's really only because everything else has already been done to death - on the grounds of what it says about popular taste and the publishing and societal context in which greater works were written, isn't going to have much time for a view of literature consisting of a tiny canon of unquestionable masterpieces and a vast realm of outer darkness.

But back when establishing a canon was the way to go in literary studies, it was he whose canon was the smallest and purest who became the highest priest, and that, I suspect, was the core of Leavis' appeal.

What I didn't read enough of Leavis to establish was what criteria he used to determine his canon. Which is why I was so interested to read this summary in a lucid book called Literary Feuds (Leavis' is with C.P. Snow, of course) by a state college professor named Anthony Arthur. He writes that Leavis saw great literature "as a positive moral force within society, particularly in the ways it exemplified the virtues associated with preindustrial rural life and exposed, as he saw it, the hollow and degrading materialism that the Industrial Revolution had unleashed."

And it occurred to me that anyone who holds those views ought to have loved The Lord of the Rings. Positive moral force? Check: Tolkien has one of the strongest moral visions in literature; to him, virtue consists of acting virtuous. It isn't inherent in the white hats the good guys wear. Perils threaten on every side. Contrast Tolkien with later fantasists like George R.R. Martin, for whom the absence of any moral force is treated as a feature, and you'll see the difference.

Virtues of preindustrial rural life? Check: By Tolkien's own account, the Shire is an idealized English Midlands village of his own 1890s childhood, with the Industrial Revolution entirely stripped out. The societies the hobbits visit on their journeys are equally idealized icons of cultures in the medieval literature that Tolkien studied professionally.

Exposed the hollow and degrading materialism of the Industrial Revolution? Check: The villains are manic industrialists, pouring out pollution and slag heaps everywhere. They're driven by self-aggrandizement and a lust for power and control. Saruman in particular rapes the Shire for his own creature comforts and to deny them to its inhabitants (see not just the Scouring of the Shire, but the stocks of goods that Merry and Pippin find in the ruins of Isengard).

This adds up to a book that Leavis should have been pleased to consider worthy of his canon of great literature. But somehow, you know, I suspect that he didn't. Leavis never wrote anything about Tolkien - probably he considered him beneath his notice, and the one thing that rings false in "Simon Lacerous" is the idea that Leavis would have bothered to attack Winnie-the-Pooh at such length at all - but less fastidious but equally high-minded critics like Edmund Wilson and Philip Toynbee did attack Tolkien. I don't need to cite how they violated their own loftily-stated critical principles in dismissing The Lord of the Rings - in Toynbee's case, stated not four months earlier in the same newspaper review column - because Tom Shippey has already done it in The Road to Middle-earth.

Would Leavis have done the same, had he bothered? Probably. His loss.
calimac: (Haydn)
This turned out to be quite the worthwhile concert.

The conductor was Roberto Abbado, new to me but a nephew of the late great Claudio Abbado (not that his bio in the program book says a word about that; they never say anything interesting.)

The first piece on the concert was also new to me, selections from a suite of incidental music to Gozzi's play Turandot, composed by Ferruccio Busoni some 20 years before Puccini's opera on the same topic.

I confess never having given Busoni's music the attention it deserves. This was impressive stuff, extraordinarily colorful, based on the winds and brass with nearly omnipresent timpani, and the strings mostly in a supporting role. It was highly rhythmic and great fun to listen to, in the same realm as another much later piece, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, part of which is based on - surprise! - Weber's incidental music to Turandot.

Followed by a slow drift into more familiar territory. Veronika Eberle was soloist in Schumann's soft and dreamy violin concerto, and it wrapped up with a rhapsodic performance of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony.
calimac: (Default)
A few weeks ago somebody in my FL commented on and linked to an article praising the movie Tomorrowland for its positive vision of the future. I recalled an intriguing trailer for this movie before it was released, but I hadn't heard another word about it since.

I should have taken that as a warning (it's not always deserved: some obscure movies are really good), but I borrowed it from the library.

An interminable distance in, the bratty teenage girl who appears to be the hero is, along with the viewer, desperately trying to squeeze out some clue to the plot from the even brattier pre-teen robot who's been manipulating her life, when the robot threatens to shut down if she asks any more questions.

"Yes! Do it!" I thought, and then I thought, "I have the power to do it to you. It's called the 'stop' button." So I did, and then I checked the scene selector to discover that it was still less than halfway through the movie.

Yikes! Neither the presence of George Clooney nor of Hugh Laurie (badly miscast: should have tried someone like J.K. Simmons), nor a walk-on character named Hugo Gernsback (nothing to do with the original), can save this terminally boring clunker.
calimac: (Default)
The Lamplighters, A Song to Sing, O!, written by Barbara Heroux

I can't send you to this one, because this was the last performance. Wish I could, though.

Once before, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, the Lamplighters did a show with this premise, telling the story of G&S through their music. That one was an original stage musical with the real people as characters, with the songs taken from G&S but with new lyrics written.

This one isn't like that at all. It's essentially a concert performance of highlights from the G&S repertoire, delivered mostly in chronological order and performed by a cast of ten, not consistently representing any particular original performer, in evening dress with a minimum of costuming (usually just the headgear appropriate to a pirate or policeman or poet or peer). This is embedded within a part-dialogue, part-narrated script, delivered mostly by two non-singing actors as Gilbert and Sullivan, mostly from inside shells at the sides of the stage decorated as their personal studies. Much of the script is taken directly from letters and other original sources, and it includes just enough plot summary to make sense of the songs' context.

Most of the songs (some of them abridged) are greatest hits, though there were a few surprises (Katisha's solo, which is often cut), and the requirement to cover every show has put in such gems as the "matter matter" trio from Ruddigore and the Christy Minstrels number from Utopia Limited. At the end, after the description of G&S's deaths, comes the sorrowful "The world is but a broken toy" from Princess Ida, which makes a lot more sense here than in its original place.

Occasionally a song will interact with the narration, as when Bunthorne begins his solo with his recitative "Am I alone and unobserved?" and then stopped and glared at Gilbert in his study until he retired, before going on with "I am." And the narrative description of the Carpet Quarrel is illustrated by the agitated "In a contemplative fashion" quartet from The Gondoliers, the show that had immediately preceded the quarrel.

The stagings, though simple, were always clever and imaginative (other cast members walked across the back of the stage illustrating each of the Mikado's crimes and their punishments), and the performers were the cream of the Lamplighters' estimable crop. There were two unsurpassable comic baritones, Lawrence Ewing and Chris Uzelac; two lyric tenors, Samuel Faustine and Patrick Hagen; two darker baritones, the veteran William Neely and the outstandingly strong Robby Stafford; two lyric sopranos, Jennifer Ashworth and Erin O'Meally; a Katisha/Buttercup in Sonia Gariaeff; and an alto in Cary Ann Rosko to play Psyche, Pitti-Sing, Phoebe, and Tessa (the Jessie Bond parts). It was just excellent all the way through, it was stuffed with 33 superb numbers, and it took three hours.
calimac: (Default)
The unanswerable question is, How is it that someone as fond as I of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail had never seen its stage musical spin-off, Spamalot?

Well, I have now. Palo Alto Players is doing it, and they're doing it with such zest and imagination, plus quality, that it's terrifically worth seeing it, and it finishes this weekend, so locals should act now.

It only loosely follows the movie, with just a few parts of the script directly taken from it - and several of these, notably the Black Knight and the reading from the Book of Armaments, were performed quite differently - but it was terrific fun on its own account.

There's gobs of anachronisms, and the fourth wall may never recover from the amount of breakage it took during this show. But what I liked best of the added material was the fair number of really cheap puns, like this one:

ARTHUR (explaining the Holy Grail to uncomprehending knights): It's a symbol.
ORCHESTRA: [cymbal crash]

The songs are quite lively and several, even among the new ones, are memorable, and the spirit and characterization brought even by the back-of-the-stage ensemble members was admirable. I was particularly impressed by Michael Monagle as Arthur; not only did he both look and sound like Graham Chapman, but he had the combination of comedian and straight man mixed perfectly. (Others were more incongruous, but still good: Galahad looked like Jack Black, and Robin looked like Roddy McDowall.)

One other line I particularly appreciated. Having been instructed by the Knights of Ni to seek success on Broadway, and having been informed that this can't happen unless you have some Jews, Arthur is in despair on finding any until Patsy reveals that he's half-Jewish.

ARTHUR: You never told me that.
PATSY: It's not something you say to a heavily-armed Christian.
calimac: (Default)
Jim C. Hines has been writing about his depression issues, and one point he keeps bringing up is to say "Depression doesn’t make me creative or smart. My creativity, my work as a writer, these things happen in spite of my depression, not because of it. ... Please stop spreading the bullshit myth that creativity and intelligence are in some way enhanced by mental illness."

Maybe not, at least in his case. And certainly it's better for your mental health not to believe it.

But I'm thinking of two of the twentieth century's most beloved creative artists. And while I don't know whether they suffered from clinical depression or not - and neither does anybody else, because they never got diagnosed or treated for it - they did at least both suffer from profound melancholia so severe that it crippled their social lives, and they were both absolutely convinced that it was the entire engine of their creativity. Which is why they refused to have it treated.

And they may have been right, because a deep sadness and melancholy pervades their best work, and that's what people love it for - though that's along with an equally pervasive sense that you have to accept what life deals you and keep on grappling with it, no matter what happens.

No matter how much the toad work squats on your life. Or no matter how often Lucy snatches away the football.

For the two beloved creative artists I'm thinking of are the English poet Philip Larkin and the American cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Despite the interesting fact that they were born the same year (1922), they never had any interaction so far as I know, and it would never have occurred to me to think of them together had I not happened to be browsing through biographies of both in close succession.

Then it stunned me how much they have in common, in particular how much that pervasive sadness in their work is responsible for its distinctive character, and - from the biographies - how certain they were that they'd rather live with it than risk losing the creativity they were sure was bound up with it.

Of course, there's more to it than that. Both men's intimates testify that they could be be boon companions, riotous fun to be with; but it's also true that both were totally averse to public lives and rarely appeared there - Larkin had a particular response to the idea of speaking or reading in public; he said "I don't want to go around pretending to be me" - and tended not to travel much, preferring to hole up at home. Larkin had his job as a university librarian; Schulz, who always said he was good at only one thing, had his cartoonist's studio.

There were differences, of course. Larkin, though he never got less melancholy, dried up as a poet in later life, much to his distress, while Schulz, tied to newspaper deadlines, managed to crank them out, publishing a strip daily, with only one short break, for nearly fifty years.

Another difference is that Larkin never married, though he kept a couple of women stringing along for years thinking that he might; an aversion to domestic obligations and to children seem to have been his problems here. Whereas Schulz married twice and had five children. But here's where the melancholia theory really hits the road. Schulz's biographer, David Michaelis, while attributing much of the breakdown of his first marriage to Schulz's inertia and withdrawal, also says that Schulz considered his first wife something of a bully. She was the model for the character of Lucy. Charlie Brown was always saying, "My stomach hurts"; well, Charles Schulz's stomach always hurt. After he divorced and embarked on a much happier second marriage in 1972, his stomach never hurt again, and neither did Charlie Brown's.

But here's the thing. That's also just about the time that Peanuts lost its edge and began to turn into the random mush that disfigured its later years. Maybe he was right: he needed to be unhappy to create great work. Good grief.
calimac: (Default)
Tom Shippey, Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction (Liverpool University Press)

Tom Shippey is, of course, the renowned Tolkien scholar, famous for his lucid explanations of what Tolkien was actually trying to do, and his robust denunciations of critics who carp at Tolkien from positions of cluelessness as to either his intent or achievement.

I knew that Shippey was also interested in SF, partly because he's edited collections of both the literature and of criticism, and because I knew of his interest in SF and fandom on a personal level. Once when I got to spend most of an afternoon in his company, he spent much of his conversation with me discussing Peter Weston (to whom this book is dedicated) and his fanzines, perhaps because I was the only person Shippey would be meeting on that trip who knew Peter Weston.

But this collection of essays, some of them dating back 40 years, is the first I've read of Shippey's own criticism in the field. And sure enough, he treats it just as he does Tolkien, explaining lucidly how SF works and chiding critics who don't get it. The first chapter, following the same principle of close reading pioneered by Samuel R. Delany in The Jewel-hinged Jaw, compares a sample opening scene in an SF novel (Pohl & Kornbluth's The Space Merchants) with a similar opening "man performing his morning ablutions" scene from a mainstream novel (Orwell's Coming Up for Air), and showing how the details in each give you information about the society you're in, but whereas Orwell's are designed to fix the character in a socio-economic context known to the reader, Pohl and Kornbluth are giving you new information ("depilatory soap"? "trickle from the fresh-water tap"?) and force you to store it in your mind until you've accumulated enough to form a picture of the society you're reading about. SF readers are used to reading this way. People who find SF unreadable don't.

Even better is a set of two chapters on a novel that forms an ideal topic for Shippey's approach. Usually when an established mainstream author writes an SF novel, the results are pretty dire, because they've wandered into a field they don't know how to write. But what happens when an author of high literary reputation who does know the SF field and its conventions writes an SF novel? Well, you get a competent SF novel. But what you also get is a large set of book reviews by literary critics who'd normally never touch SF, but who review this book because of its author's high literary repute. So Shippey has dug up all such reviews of Kingsley Amis's 1976 alternate-history novel The Alteration, and analyzed their near-universal and comprehensive Not Getting It.

In another essay, Shippey uses The Alteration to examine the rules and conventions of alt-history in general. In a third chapter he compares and contrasts it with "change the past" stories, literally drawing a matrix whose axes are the desirability of changing the past, and the possibility of actually doing so (given the opportunity to try). For instance, Lest Darkness Fall and A Connecticut Yankee both treat change as desirable, but in the one it succeeds; in the other it fails.

I really appreciated a chapter on magic in SF in the Unknown Worlds tradition, which treats it as a predictable, reliable science (actually more engineering). Shippey points out that this derives, directly or indirectly, from Frazer's The Golden Bough, which codified rules of magic from societies which consider them predictable and reliable. It's an entirely different view from one treating magic as religion. He contrasts this with stories in which whether, or how well, magic works depends on who's doing it (citing Earthsea, about which he has a whole separate chapter, as an example of this). But isn't it true even in our world that some people have the engineer's equivalent of a "green thumb" and others just don't?

Another place where I felt a little cautious came in a generally excellent chapter on cultural engineering in SF. Shippey discusses two stories by Poul Anderson and Winston P. Sanders (bashfully admitting in an introduction that he hadn't realized when writing the essay that they were the same person) showing that SF authors (at least this one) realize you can't just show up and engineer a culture around: if you try, there will be blowback and other disasters. (See also Le Guin's "The Word for World is Forest," which Shippey does.) What got me was a citation of John W. Campbell getting this point by writing an editorial in ASF in 1959 saying that American intervention in Vietnam would accomplish no good. Shippey commends Campbell for having the self-control to avoid crowing about this perspicacity ten years later; but I think it's far more likely that by ten years later, Campbell had changed his mind. I suspect that someone as right-wing as he would be unable to resist the temptation to be on the opposite side from the anti-war protesters.

Oh, there's much more in this book: a discussion of why 1984 doesn't really work, either as SF or as a novel; discussions of Jack Vance, Bruce Sterling, and Starship Troopers. I'd recommend it with enthusiasm for anyone interested in the thought that goes into SF literature.
calimac: (Haydn)
Charles Dutoit conducted two big pieces - Mozart's K.482 piano concerto with Emanuel Ax, and Debussy's La mer - and two bonbons rarely heard from orchestras at this level, de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat dances and Sibelius' Karelia Suite, the latter of which SFS had never done before.

The pre-concert speaker described La mer as not trying to portray the sea in the way that Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony portrayed a storm, but more to portray one's feelings in response to the sea.

And I thought, is this a case of the locating emotional response solely in the respondent and not in any inherent qualities of what's being responded to that C.S. Lewis railed against in The Abolition of Man?

Maybe, but the performance itself put the lie to the premise. It was most outstanding in the surging sections, the parts that carried the most dramatic onomatopoeia of the sea. That was the highlight of a compact and intense performance.
calimac: (Haydn)
Two of them have been published lately.

First, I went to Kohl Mansion in Burlingame to hear a Russian piano trio in the last concert of the Kohl season. A piece by Rimsky I'd never heard before: interesting.

Then, I went to Lesher in Walnut Creek to hear the California Symphony in the last concert of its season. I'd reviewed Dan Visconti's guitar concerto here last year, and that was pretty good, and his cello concerto was more of the same. So I was happy to expend my space on that, even though the reason I wanted to go was for a chunk of Bruckner.
calimac: (Default)
My plan for Saturday was to occupy part of the day by heading out to Bodega Bay for lunch at one of the fish & chips places there.

I didn't get any further than Sebastopol, a modest-sized town less than halfway out to the coast.

I'd made a brief stop at a used-book store, and then noticed in the window of the ice-cream parlor next door a big poster for the Tiger Crawl, a tasting tour of 23 restaurants in town, and it was to be that day.

No information on time and tickets. The ice-cream parlor wasn't yet open for business for the day, but the door was unlocked, so I went in and asked. Yes, they were one of the participants. It was a fund-raiser for the local high school, tickets could be had there, and it began at lunchtime in an hour and went at your own pace.

So I went to the high school and bought the ticket, which consisted of a large colored sheet of paper with a map on one side showing the restaurants, and a more detailed list on the other. At each stop there was a box for them to sign you off, or just as often forget to do so.

In theory the restaurants were all within walking distance, but it'd be a long walk. I drove around to the more outlying ones, which were in clusters, including the ones at the end of the list on the other side of town where I was one of the first customers, then going back to downtown to finish up.

At most places they'd set up a trestle table on the sidewalk, staffed by volunteers, usually students from the high school, and one or two of their signature dishes, of which they'd give you a bit. It's best to take very small portions at these; it's easy to get quite stuffed.

The best items I had were corn and bean samosas (no potato) at a brewpub, and the equally vegan veggie & dumpling stew at a highly-rated little cafe. But I was also impressed with the tender pulled pork at an aggressively Texan bbq place.

I finished all 23, though it took over 3 hours to do it, and despite the car a lot of walking. I went back to Santa Rosa and rested for the rest of the day until the evening's concert, including skipping dinner for which I had no mind. Oof.
calimac: (Haydn)
You all know that one of my favorite composers is Shostakovich, right? Well, my favorite Shostakovich symphony - it's not the greatest, but it's my favorite - is the Eleventh, an unbroken sixty-plus minutes of the grimmest, bleakest music you ever heard. How could I resist the rare opportunity to hear two different orchestras play this chilling masterwork on consecutive evenings?

So this past weekend I parked myself up in the North Bay, and went to hear the UC Berkeley Symphony under David Milnes play it on Friday evening at Hertz Hall on campus, and the Santa Rosa Symphony under Bruno Ferrandis play it on Saturday evening at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center.

The performances weren't all that different. Berkeley's was rawer and rougher, putting more emphasis on the finale, which was marked by a strong upturn in tempo and some tremendous clanging from the percussion, especially what Leonard Bernstein used to call the "Winnipeg Sound" from the gong. In Santa Rosa, Ferrandis, who bobbed and weaved around the podium for the rest of the program, stood stock-still for this piece which he led with firm control. There are times when iron rigidity is the proper approach to music, and this is one of them.

The reason the Eleventh is such a dire work is that it's a musical depiction of the 1905 Winter Palace massacre and the tragic atmosphere around that, with suggested overtones of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, which occurred just before the piece was written. Ferrandis explained all this in a pre-concert talk, adding that the election tension in his native France right then was making him identify with the work even more.

Oh yes, there was more on the programs. Santa Rosa offered an all-Soviet evening, with high-energy performances of Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite - his most tuneful work that isn't Gayne - and Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, which Vadim Gluzman whipped through with smooth ease. Berkeley had a graceful and pastoral rendition of Elgar's Cello Concerto, with as soloist a recent graduate named Melody Huang. Is she going professional? No, she's going to Harvard Medical School this fall. Also a recent concerto for a Korean bowed instrument called a haegeum, of which I'll just refrain from speculating what kind of animal in pain it sounded like.

On the way home on Sunday I stopped by the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek to hear the California Symphony play my favorite symphony by another of my favorite symphonists, Bruckner's Sixth. It further turned out that this was the concert that my editor had been trying to reach me to ask me to review, so that folded together quite nicely. Of course that did mean the review would have to focus on the cello concerto being premiered, but fortunately it was Really Interesting. I'll show you the review when it's published, probably on Tuesday.

That did leave some time between concerts, much of which I spent in monkish concentration on revising a scholarly paper, with no home computer, or cats wanting petting or food, to distract me. On Saturday I was on my way out to lunch when I was waylaid by ... but I'll tell you that story tomorrow.
calimac: (Maia)
One result of watching that set of Star Wars remakes of the Sgt. Pepper songs, that's gotten enough signalling in the past few days that I shouldn't need to link to it, is that it's setting the original songs loose in my head again.

So there's Pippin, (im)patiently waiting for his dinner even though it's over an hour till feeding time, and I sing for him:
Hungry Pippin, pussy cat:
When are you going to feed me?
When are you going to fill my bowl with food?
calimac: (Default)
I decided to take the plunge and migrate my LJ entries over into DW. It turns out I waited long enough for the queue to die down, and the process was completed by the time I checked an hour later.

My first question was, what would happen to the cross-posted entries I've been making for the last few months? Would I get duplicate entries? And the answer is no, the tool is smart enough to recognize these entries; it doesn't duplicate them, but it does import the LJ comments to the DW entry.

Now I have more questions.

1) Is there any way to search your journal online? The search function on DW pages is for whole journals, not for individual entries by keyword within your own journal, which is what I want.

2) Or I could download it. There used to be a marvelous LJ tool for downloading, but it broke in one of the LJ updates and has never been fixed. Is there some kind of equivalent for DW? And I do not mean the hopeless Export Journal tool, which only downloads entries not comments, saves them in a ridiculous and useless format, and apparently only takes one month at a time. I want something better than that.
calimac: (Default)
who, it would appear, died yesterday, was one of the most interesting people I knew - and one of my favorites, a model of the lively and intelligent older woman.

In her distant youth, she was for a few years the wife of Avram Davidson, and remained a friend and literary collaborator with him ever afterwards, and one of the foremost proponents of his work after he died.

Soon after her time with Avram, she was for a brief period the live-with ladyfriend of Philip K. Dick. Being romantically entangled with PKD was a hazardous occupation (Grania slotted in between his third wife and his fourth wife), but she remained devoted to his work as well, and one of the last times I talked with her was over dinner at the PKD conference in San Francisco a few years ago.

By the time I met her she had settled down for the long haul, in a home in Terra Linda in Marin County, with a very calm and quiet doctor named Steve Davis, who died a while back.

But it's unfair to define a woman by her men, however important or interesting or relevant they may be. Grania was a solo author herself, not just Avram's collaborator. I first encountered her in the form of the name on the title page of The Rainbow Annals, a fantasy novel based on Tibetan mythology, which is something you don't see every day. It stuck with me, and I remembered it when I met her some time later at some fannish social event.

We always remembered each other, and always had a great time talking. She was interested in almost anything. I was not in the least surprised to see her and Steve among the audience at a performance reading of Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, something else you don't come across every day. And the last time I saw her was at Borderlands for the publication party of her short-story collection, Tree of Life, Book of Death: The Treasures of Grania Davis. That I had to have, and I was delighted to get it in the author's presence.
calimac: (Default)
Another recital by one of my favorite pianists since I first encountered him when he was an obscure student some 45 years ago. I last heard him three years back, also at Davies, in a program much like this one.

Three medium-weight works by heavyweight composers: a French Suite by Bach, a set of Schubert Impromptus, and a stray but dark-toned Rondo by Mozart. Plus one very heavyweight work, Beethoven's final Sonata, Op. 111.

Perahia played them all with feeling and authority. Considering that the last time I heard Schubert's Impromptus they were played with no feeling whatever, it increased my appreciation for what a truly great pianist can bring to a work.

No encore. After applause brought him out yet again even after the house lights had gone up, Perahia put his hand to his heart to express his appreciation, and then went offstage again. I expect he felt that after you've given Beethoven's final words, there's nothing more to be said.
calimac: (Default)
This is the string quartet that won the Banff competition the time before I went, and the video embedded at the bottom of my review (of the finale of a different Beethoven quartet than the one they played this time) is the same video I embedded at the bottom of my post last year saying "I'm going" to the competition because "I want to hear more people who can play like this."

And I did; and I see from the bio in the program book that the winners of that iteration, the Rolston Quartet, will be teaming up with the Dovers to play Mendelssohn's Octet in Montreal in June. That should be good, and not just because I believe that whenever two string quartets appear on the same program, they should be required by law to play the Mendelssohn Octet.

I have heard the Dovers myself before now: they re-appeared for an alumni concert at last year's Banff, and I caught them last fall in San Francisco playing Dvorak's "American" Quartet, not a gnarly enough work to catch this group at its best. This concert, though ... this one was tough stuff. I reported the pre-concert lecturer (well-meaning, but it's really about time for him to retire) mentioning that one of his community-class students had asked him in puzzlement at the Shostakovich, "How do you listen to music like this?" I didn't give the lecturer's frustrating answer, "Just listen." Isn't it obvious from the question that the student needs his or her hand held a little more than that? I'd find a more lyrical recording of the piece - there are some - and point out the melodies and what the composer does with them. Once you absorb that, you can hear it in a tougher performance, and use it as a base to grasp what the tougher one adds to it. I don't have that much trouble with Shostakovich (any listener who finds the Second baffling will be absolutely dumbstruck by the late quartets), but that's how I learned my way around late Beethoven. I was astonished the first time I heard a performance of Op. 132 (the piece played here) that brought out the curvaceous beauty of the work: I'd never heard that before. But now that I've found it, I can always hear it.
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