May 27, 2015
So it goes.
Unlike in the anodyne letters pages of other newspapers, the readers of the Wall Street Journal argue with each other and with the paper. I thought this exchange about the plight of African-American families was rather sad: first a woman writing about the past from Minnesota, then a man writing about today from New Jersey:
Pity we Americans. We can't win for losing.
May 26, 2015
A Russian immigrant in New York once described his home country as "Nigeria with snow." I've just finished reading Peter Pomerantsev's book Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible. Russia today is a zoo; maybe it always was. The fantasy-land of violence and corruption is scary and hard to believe...and maybe the West is coming to resemble it.
I'm tempted to quote a long paragraph about the unbelievable corruption at the top of the greasy pole in Russia, but there are too many such paragraphs and it's too depressing. It seems that Russia has never recovered from the long Communist period, when it was necessary to believe ten impossible and contradictory things before breakfast. Take the book out of the library.
May 22, 2015
Still coming down from last weekend's MahlerFest in Boulder. It was conductor Robert Olson's last, after 28 years; there were two performances of Mahler's 9th: Claudio Abbado said that the ending is supposed to sound like snow falling on snow, and Sunday afternoon I could not keep back my tears. Plus we got to hobnob with friends David and Mary Lamb, Mitch and Sue Friedfeld, Eric Sussman, Aaron Z. Snyder and others, all old chums from Jason Greshes's Mahler-list for lo these 20 years.
Having just moved to Colorado we had thought "Hot dog! Now we can go to the MahlerFest every year!" Then we were afraid that there wouldn't be any more Fests because founder Bob was retiring, but the search committee found the estimable Kenneth Woods. Maestro Woods is an American who lives in Wales, the conductor of a BBC orchestra there; he also leads the Orchestra of the Swan, which I guess he founded; and he plays chamber music (he's a cellist). He has conducted almost all the Mahler symphonies, and has recorded all the symphonies of Hans Gal and Robert Schumann, and much else. Furthermore, he is a thoughtful musician.
Joel Lazar told me a few years ago about a fairly famous conductor of the last generation, who he described as the most "incurious" conductor: having conducted a piece once, he never looks at the score again, until conducting it again. This is worse than a lack of curiosity. I have written here about the Pacifica Quartet's rendition of Beethoven's 11th string quartet, which I heard in a church on the south side of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a few years ago: in the last movement they did something so ethereal, so unexpectedly beautiful, that it lifted the whole thing onto another plane, without being unfaithful in the least to the score: they had clearly studied it and thought about it and found something special of their own in it. To judge from his very popular music blog, "View from the Podium", Woods is that kind of conductor.
There is a controversy over the order of the inner movements of Mahler's 6th symphony: it was published as scherzo-adagio, but then Mahler changed his mind, and apparently always played it adagio-scherzo. (Alma had stuck her oar in after Mahler's death, confusing things with a letter to the conductor Mengelberg.) Woods has decided on strictly musical grounds that it needs to be scherzo-adagio, that it makes more sense that way. He also thinks that the famous "train wreck" at the beginning of the 4th symphony should be played just as Mahler left it: that far from forgetting to put a ritard on the flutes and sleigh bells, he meant them to fade away into the forest like spooks (as it were), ignoring the strings as they enter.
We Mahlerites are in for some endless discussion, which is what we like! Long live the MahlerFest!
May 16, 2015
Off to Boulder
We're off to the MahlerFest in Boulder to hear two performances of M9 and to see old friends. It might be the last MahlerFest, because the marvelous conductor, Robert Olson, is retiring after more than 20 years. This will be a sad and a happy weekend all at once!
May 16, 2015
Well, what do you know.
In the Times Literary Supplement (April 3), Peter Marshall is reviewing Austen Ivereigh's book The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope:
Aha! We know that corporations are people, because the U.S. Supreme Court says so, and therefore they must be capable of sin! What's Marxist about that?
May 15, 2015
Goodbye and Thanks, Blues Boy
In October of 1978 we were living in England, and Ethne had booked herself a vacation trip to the USA, so she gave me her tickets to a B.B. King concert at the Hammersmith Odeon. I've never stopped teasing her about it because it was absolute magic, one of the best gigs I ever saw in my life. And he could do that for 200 nights a year. There will never be another.
"Nobody loves me but my mother/ And she could be jivin' too."
May 15, 2015
A musical joke (or two)
"How do you get two oboists to play in tune?"
"What is a burning oboe good for?"
"How many oboe players does it take to change a light bulb?"
May 15, 2015
Schubert's 'heavenly' length
I'm listening to one of dozens of recordings I have of Schubert's "Great" C major symphony, by Franz Konwitschny and the Czech Philharmonic. It's one of the best ones, and I don't know anything about Konwitschny, except that the orchestra apparently called him "OneWhiskey". Glorious music-making, on the somewhat obscure old Urania label.
May 14, 2015
In the furtherance of getting my eyes examined
We looked up Kaiser Permanente's website to find out if any eye doctors in Colorado Springs accept their insurance. The only thing I could find was a Dr. Shreck at a Kaiser Permanente building, so I called an 800 number and talked to a computer for a few minutes. When the computer wanted me to go find my wallet and get out my Kaiser Permanente card, I laughed and hung up. I found what appeared to be a local number for appointments, but a recorded voice wanted me to leave a message, which I did; nobody ever called back, but we had some errands to run anyway, so meanwhile we drove to the building, at the other end of town, 15 or 20 miles away.
There is a great long list of doctors' names on display in the lobby, but none of those doctors are theirs; although Kaiser Permanente's name is on the building, they only lease part of it. When we found Kaiser, they was nobody there. We wandered through the empty offices until we found Administration, where a very nice woman was having lunch at her desk, and asked if she could help us. Sure enough, everybody was out to lunch; she told us that she was sure we would like Dr Shreck, and that he and his assistant would be back soon. I asked her if she got paid extra for taking care of business while everybody else was at lunch; she laughed and said no, and in fact she was responsible for two other locations as well, including Pueblo, which is 40 or 50 miles away.
We went away and had a sandwich, and came back to make appointments. Ethne needs to have a checkup too because she had cataract surgery a year ago, and Dr Shreck can do that. Everyone we eventually met was very nice. Everything is different in the West, and everything is different when you get old, but I suspect everything will be just fine when we learn to jump through all the hoops.
There was a final surreal touch. The next day I got a telephone call from a computer wanting me to take a survey about my customer satisfaction. The first question was, did I remember talking to a Kaiser Permanente representative on the phone? I said no. The next question was, did I want to call back when I remembered...? I laughed and hung up before the machine could say "Your call is important to us..."
May 14, 2015
More on regulations
There was a column in the Wall Street Journal this week about how tough graduates are going to have it in 2015, which was mostly an excuse to bash the usual suspects, such as the teachers' union. But one paragraph caught my eye:
Presumably you have to have a license to be an emergency medical technician, while you can probably help Grandma choose a color for her living room walls without a license, but then you will not be a licensed interior designer. But the basic point holds: the number of vocations requiring or offering certificates or licenses has skyrocketed in the last 50 years, and why should an interior designer be licensed at all?
And that reminded me of the front page of last weekend's Review section. It galls me to have to agree with Charles Murray about anything; he was the co-author of a nasty book called The Bell Curve in 1996, which purported to show that Jews and Asians have higher IQs than I do, and that African-Americans are not as smart as I am. The bell curve was a sort of graph of IQ tests with minuscule differences in it, easily explained by the fact that the families of Asian kids demand that they do well in school, while black kids are far more subject to peer pressure and don't want to "act white", and all of course without admitting that the "Intelligence Quotient" might not be best measured by a micrometer.
[My poor brother loved the bell curve nonsense. I wrote to him that I would give ten points off my IQ to be able to play the piano like Fats Waller, but he didn't get it, and wrote back telling me what Fats Waller would be doing if he were alive today, racist nonsense which I can't repeat in a family blog, and which anyway was comparing yesterday to today, nothing about anybody's IQ. But my brother was an increasingly unhappy man, a fact which I cannot blame on Charles Murray.]
But Murray's piece in last weekend's WSJ was an excerpt from his latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission:
In 2013, the Code of Federal Regulations was over 175,000 pages. A huge number of these regulations, maybe a majority, are "stupid, pointless or tyrannical", often preventing people from doing their jobs according to their own judgement. The vast majority are not spelled out in legislation; regulatory agencies are allowed by Congress to make them up, and when you run afoul of these regs, the said agencies are the judges and the juries, and there is no appeal. Many of them "could be written only by bureaucrats with too much time on their hands, such as ones that mandate a certain sort of latch for a bakery's flour bins, or the proper way to describe flower bulbs to customers".
I am reminded of something I read in England many years ago. Suppose your wife makes really good jam, and everybody raves about it at the church bazaar, so you decide to market it to grocery stores and on the Internet. It would take a team of lawyers weeks to tell you what is required in the printing of the label that goes on the jar, just for a start. This is because England is a country that dates its laws, its unwritten constitution, back to 1066, almost a thousand years, and there are laws on the books that have never been repealed and which are forgotten and not obeyed because they are irrelevant.
And sure enough, Murray's solution to the problem of over-zealous regulations is civil disobedience. Ignore them.
In other words, points out Murray, the regulatory agencies are like the Wizard of Oz, the voice booming when it is directed at you or me, but when the curtain is swept aside, revealed as impotent. There's more: he proposes insurance against the regulatory agencies ("People don't build tornado-proof houses; they buy house insurance") and a legal foundation, and occupational defense funds.
Governments, local, state and federal, are going to make libertarians of us all.
May 9, 2015
Colorado is more England than England
If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes...
Is this the end of the world? Is the weather as screwy everywhere else as it is in Colorado? It's been raining for ten days or so now; wish I could send some of it to California. I worked four hours this morning at B&N, came home and took a nap while the sun was shining (I should have taken the opportunity to do a little yard work), and when I awoke it was raining yet again, harder than ever, complete with hailstones. And hearing the thunder I remember that at 6000 feet I am closer to the gods playing bowls!
May 8, 2015
More music in the Springs
Went to the Mezzanine last night, a remarkable venue downtown; it costs only $10 to get in, and whatever you spend there goes to benefit the local Conservatory of Music. Last night was a CD release party: Angelina Gadeliya was playing her new album, Schnittke and his Ghosts. I had never heard any solo piano music by the late Soviet composer before, nor Webern's Op. 27 Variations for Piano. She also played an adagio by Mozart and a Skryabin sonata. She's a wonderful musician, and a lot of my friends were there; plus Angelina's husband had laid on a table full of eats, and there were some families there with children, so a good time was had by all.
And along the way there was a real surprise for me. There was a question and answer session, and she was interesting on the subject of recording, and that the editing process is harder work than the recording: you might have half a dozen takes of a phrase for the producer to choose from (and that reminds me of a Klemperer story, for another time). I asked her about the fact that on her CD it says "Volume 8": what's on the other seven? It turns out to be a series called Music of Tribute, which includes everything from Haydn to, er, Schnittke, played by half a dozen different pianists. And she mentioned the name of Heiner Stadler.
I buttonholed her later -- a delightful person to talk to -- and sure enough, her producer, and the label boss at Labor Records, is the same pianist, arranger and composer who released several legendary albums of "free jazz" back in the late 1960s and '70s. I've got a couple of them on the old Tomato label (recommended to me by Max Harrison) but I never knew anything more about Stadler. Labor Records issues everything from Louisiana Red to Eric Salzman's The Nude Paper Sermon. The label's website has a sort of strap line:
Stadler has a Facebook page, a Wikipedia entry... This calls for a new entry in the Encyclopedia.
You just never know what you're going to run into in Colorado Springs.
May 5, 2015
View from the back yard
We've had two old trees taken out and others pruned, and our view of Pikes Peak has improved.
May 5, 2015
View from the driveway
Here's the moon over Colorado Springs, after our first salon: a perfect end to a perfect day.
May 5, 2015
A good point
The WSJ today has a review by Edward Rothstein of the current exhibit, "Life at the Limits: Stories of Amazing Species", at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. There's a frog that can be frozen solid in the ice, and survive; there are creatures with green blood, and with transparent blood; and creatures which can survive in any temperatures from just over absolute zero to 300 degrees fahrenheit; and much more.
And Rothstein writes, "wonder should be central". Yes. Forget liberal and conservative, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, young or old, and wonder at the astonishing ingenuity of nature and the eternal mystery of the Universe we live in.