Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Schoenberg preview

Sometimes I am so erudite, I could just pee.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Exciting news

Pierrot Lunaire (or part of it) will be performed in Philadelphia (of all places) on Sept. 7 and 9. I'm hoping to do a preview article. I heard the pice in it's entirety at the Philadelphia Art Museum (of all places) back in the early 90s (before my second, disastrous marriage). James Freeman condcuted the indispensible Orchestra 2001. Program also included Milton Babbitt's "Transfigured Notes," with the composer on hand.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Oh yeah, now I remember

The United States has produced the following:

Charles Ives
Elliott Carter
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hermann Melville
Henry David Thoreau
Abraham Lincoln
King Oliver
Martin Luther King Jr.
Frank Zappa
Ira Segall
Lynn Kendall
Linda Bernier
and me.

And it gave safe haven to Arnold Schoenberg, Albert Einstein, Stefan Wolpe and Ronnie Breslow.

Something went right somewhere.

What's not to like?

On the way home from Sellersville last Thurday, we drove past a dakened home with a big American flag hanging from the porch. The flag had a spotlight on it, enriching the red and blue and putting deep shadows into the folds. I remarked how pretty it was.

"You're not a patriot, are you?" my companion asked.

"Well, I do like this country," she replied.

"Why?" she asked.

And damned if I could come up with an answer. I've been thinking about it for the past week, and all I have is an endless list of negatives: the love affair with guns, the occasional mass killings, the religiosity, the anti-intellectualism, the international adventurism, the greed, the poverty, the hatred of the poor, the corporate rape of the environment, and now that Paul Ryan is back in the news, the emphasis on heartless libertarianism. There are the founding ideals, of course, of equality and such, but they were the ideals of slave owners, and they left us with a constitution whose oversights led directly to Dred Scott, the Civil War, and Citizens United.

One good thing about that last, though: now that the super pacs are running anti-Obama ads every 10 minutes, I have a real incentive to give up TV for the next three months. Thank you, Americans for Prosperity.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bend sinister

At the Sellersville Theater last Thursday, bassist Tom Fowler autographed my copy of the Roxy CD, and, in return, I autographed for him a copy of the article I about the Grandmothers. While I was signing, he said to me, "Do girls think you're weird because you're left-handed?"

"No," I said, "they think I'm weird for countless other reasons."

I hope everyone in the Northeastern U.S. got outside yestasrday. It was too beautiful a day to be cooped up in the apartment for any lenght of time. Philadelphia in August can be brutal, but at the moment we are enjoying the false fall. Yesterday was sunny but not too warm, and the humidity was low — the perfect day for a bike ride. I went through Pennypack Park, out Torresdale Avenue to Glenn Foerd, and then back past Northeast Philadelphia Airport, and for a brief time, I was happy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Grandmothers of Invention are, from left, Miroslav Tadic, Tom Fowler, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Chris Garcia, and Don Preston. For last night's Sellersville perfomance, Tadic was replaced by Robert Mangano.

The Grandmothers of Invention played a terrific set last night at the Sellersville Theater. The band consisted of members of the 60s and 70s versions of the Mothers of Invention — Don Preston, who will be 80 next month, Tom Fowler, and Napoleon Murphy Brock — plus relative newcomers Chris Garcia on drums and Robert Mangano in Frank Zappa, on guitar. The group performed the Roxy album almost in its entirety (minus “Be-Bop Tango") plus several other favorites including "Oh, No," "San Ber'dino," "Debra Cadabra" and a medley from Burnt Weeny Sandwich. (The repertoire did not extend beyond the mid-1970s.)

Napoleon served as ringmaster, and was, in general, a more genial host than I remember Frank ever being.

The little theater was only about a third full, though the people who did attend, including some in their teens, were obviously fans. I could see their lips moving in the dark as they sang along to most of the numbers. Knowledge of the lyrics was a plus, since the amplification made them to understand. My companion for the evening, who did not know Zappa’s work, said that while the music put her in a good mood after a very bad day, she had a hard time following the words. A pity, since one can't fully appreciate "Penguin in Bondage" without a grasp of the subject matter. .

Thanks, guys. And thanks, too, for autographing my copy of the Roxy CD. Cal Schenkel was also introduced from the audience, but he slipped out while I was still standing in line waiting to meet the band.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012


Ives's Fouth Symphony and Carter's Concerto for Orcehstra

As I said in my previous post, the time I spent of the air with Marvin Rosen July 25 went by very quickly — so quickly, indeed, that I did not have the opportunity to play all of the music I wanted. One of the pieces I cut before I even got to the studio was the second movement, the so-called "comedy," of Charles Ives's Symphony No. 4, which I wanted to contrast with Elliott Carter's Concerto for Orchestra. I have long thought that the latter would not have been feasible without the example of the former, even though Carter never mentions it in his list of inspirations for the piece.

To my ear, both pieces have a similar expressive arc, and they end in much the same way: all hell breaks loose and then things get very quiet, quickly in the case of the Ives, more gradually in the case of Carter. Although Ives completed his Fourth Symphony by the mid-1920s, more or less, and Eugene Goosens conducted the first two movements as early as 1927, a performance of the full work had to wait until 1965, when Stokowski led the premiere at Carnegie Hall. The famous first recording, still considered definitive, followed in a few months.

This was just a couple of years before Carter began to plan his Concerto for Orchestra. He certainly was familiar with the Ives, having attempted to edit the manuscript at one point, and with the Stokowski LP, and I insist that it was lurking somewhere in the back of his mind as he fulfilled his commission from the New York Philharmonic. To me, it is almost as though he set out to re-write Ives's symphony while eliminating what he always thought to be its flaws — first, the use of musical quotations, and, second, the muddied orchestrations in which some instruments are impossible to hear. One thing about Carter's music: as complex and multi-layered as it is, everything is audible. I floated my theory past one Carter expert who responded with what felt like an e-mailed shrug, but I stand by it. Not that it matters. The Concerto for Orchestra stands very much on its own.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Self-promotion department

There's still time to listen to my appearance on Marvin Rosen's program Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde. The mp3 files will remain on Marvin's website until August 12.

Response to our all-Carter program has been limited, but uniformly positive. Some of my friends didn't care for the music, but they thought I did pretty well, which was a relief. I felt I stammered and repeated myself, and I had these visions of listeners sitting in their cars thinking, "Who is this goofball?"

Marvin said it had been a "great show," and, more inportant, so did his wife, Beata, who, I am told, is his most outspoken critic, one who would never say anything just to be nice. I want to her, too, for driving me from the Rosen house to the studio and back. Without her, I mostly likely would have been at least a half hour late to the show. I left my house in plenty of time, but, driving up Route 1, I missed my turn off and ended up a couple of townships away. Finally, when the trip odometer hit 40 miles — after Google Maps had assured me the journey from my home to the Rosens' was only 33 — I decided the time had come to turn around.

I walked into the studio with about eight minutes to spare. I was feeling frazzled and very foolish, but Marvin assured me we had plenty of time, and he was right. He loaded the first CD, and there was nothing left to do but sit and chat and load up on bottled water.

The WPRB studio is a seedy, poorly ventilated, trapezoidal room in the basement of Princeton's Bloomberg Hall. The window in front of the board looks out onto an empty elevator well and, beyond, a meandering white corridor. (During On Conversing With Paradise, I went out to use the men's room and followed the corridor to its dead end before going back. I'd missed the turn, as I had on Route 1. A pattern was developing.)

The board was compact, with a pair of turntables on one side and a stack of CD players on the other. There were two foam-shrouded microphones, mounted on swivel booms. I sat at the one on the right as we faced out the studio window. Marvin told me to speak up and keep my lips close to the mike. I actually didn't hear much of the music I had brought. Marvin and I spent much of the time going over what we would talk about during our next segment. He had a list of questions prepared, and he told me in advance what he was going to ask so there would be no unpleasant surprises. Near the end of the show, he said he wanted to ask what Carter was working on these days, and when I told him I didn't know, he said he would skip it. This was not gotcha journalism. He wanted me to be at ease.

The time on-air went by quickly — so quickly, indeed, that we didn't have time for all of the music I had wanted to play. I had hoped to finish up with Carter's Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord, but by the time the Concerto for Orchestra was finished, we had only about eight or so minutes left. Fortunately, I had brought a couple of alternates. Marvin asked me a few parting questions, and we played the "Bariolage," a six-minute piece for solo harp, which took us right up to the end of the show.

The DJ with the time slot after Marvin's cut it even closer that I had. He arrived a minute or so late, while the station ID was still playing. For a while, Marvin thought he was going to have to stay on the air.

Marvin, Beata and I had a post-mortem lunch at a family-owned Mexican restaurant in Princeton. Then Marvin went to work at Westminster Choir College, and Beata gave me a tour of their house and garden. I thought I was a compulsive collector, but Marvin owns more than 15,000 CDs. They are everywhere, except for two small rooms — the kitchen and an upstairs office — where Beata forbids them. In the living, they are actually a theme of the interior decor, covering an entire wall. The place smelled pleasantly of fresh-cut wood, a symptom of the endless rows of IKEA shelves.

I haven't listened to the broadcas, by the way. If I want to hear it again, I can just replay the CDs on my home stereo and avoid all the commentary.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

OK, now I get it

Finished reading Lullaby last night, and this morning I suddenly realized why the pliot seemed to work for me: it's an urban retelling of True Grit, with Spenser in the role of Rooster Cogburn. If confirmation is needed, consider that the name of the girl — Mattie — is the same in both books. The only iteration of True Grit I know is the John Wayne - Kim Darby film, but now I want to get to the novel, while I'm thinking of it. Springfield Township Library has a copy. I'll check it out when I return Lullaby tomorrow.

The confrontation at the T station made me think the real world is better off without Spenser, Hawk, Vinnie Morris and their ilk. Fortunately, we will not have to find out. The sort of Western shoot-'em-ups depicted in the book — good guys on one side, bad guys on the other, and a hostage in the middle — rarely if ever occurs in our major cities. After the Aurora massacre, does anyone actually believe we'd be safer if well-intentioned citizens armed themselves and were willing to open fire at a moment's notice?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Spenser at 80

I've always liked Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser and Virgil Cole novels. While I never throught he was in the same league with Hammett or Chandler, he was always a fun, easy read, and I consumed his books one after another, like potato chips, barely pausing to savor one before picking up the next. After he died in 2010, his estate farmed out his characters to writers who were charged with peretuating the several franchises. The first of the new Spenser books, Lullaby by Ace Atkins, came out a couple months ago, and I'm reading it now. It is better than Sixkill, the last Spenser novel Parker wrote, but that's not saying much. Sixkill was, I think, Parker's weakest story (Catskill Eagle was his most preposterous), and at the time, it made me think that, perhaps, the author did his character a favor by dying.

The plot of Lullaby plot is absorbing enough (I'm about 100 pages from the end), but Spenser himself is much more smug, pedantic and judgmental than I remember him. I also keep asking myself, just how old are these people? Parker would have been 80 next month, and given that the Spenser was in his early forties when Godwulf Manuscript appeared in 1973, and no attempt has been made to telescope his history, he has got to be up there as well. It's hard to buy him as a tough guy anymore. (Imagine Groucho Marx, circa 1970, beating people up.) His sidekick, Hawk, is even sadder, since he tries so hard to be stylish.

Then there's Susan, Spenser's love interest. She must be in her mid-70s at least, and she’s no longer believable as the svelte goddess who turns heads every time she enters a room. There is a scene in Lullaby where she is sitting on a sofa in nothing but a sweatshirt and panties, with her feet tucked under her. It's meant to be a turn-on, but ewwww. I kept thinking of my mother. I’ve known a lot of elderly women, and they possess many stellar qualities, but kittenish sexuality is not one of them. Nor should it be.

Parker once said he dealt with Spenser's age by not dealing with it, but the time for denial is long past. The series should be either rebooted or retired.

Oh, and it there's ever another TV adaptation, may suggest Hugh Laurie and Lisa Edelstein for the leads? Loved them on House, though the series itself quickly fell to pieces.