Courtesy of the Random Complaint Generator:

At times, we all have an axe to grind. Currently, I’m grinding my axe in regards to Mr. Steve Creighton’s insults. So let’s begin, quite properly, with a brief look at the historical development of the problem, of its attempted solutions, and of the eternal argument about it. With all due respect, if he has spurred us to turn random, senseless violence into meaningful action, then Mr. Creighton may have accomplished a useful thing. He has been deluding people into believing that he has mystical powers of divination and prophecy. Don’t let him delude you, too.

If you delve deeply into Mr. Creighton’s op-ed pieces and thus, in tranquil clarity, submit to contemplation the expositions of disaffected hellions, you will indubitably discover why Mr. Creighton is terrified that there might be an absolute reality outside himself, a reality that is what it is, regardless of his wishes, theories, hopes, daydreams, or decrees. There are no two ways about it; one could truthfully say that his behavior is beneath contempt. But saying that would miss the real point, which is that I have never been in favor of being gratuitously insecure. I have also never been in favor of sticking my head in the sand or of refusing to reveal the constant tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces of dialogized heteroglossia resulting from his opuscula. Take a good, close look at yourself, Mr. Creighton. What you’ll probably find is that you’re invidious. Let me close by reminding you that the statements I made about Mr. Steve Creighton in this letter are in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch. And I will be heard.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Dirks referred me to this site or its precursor several years ago, and he somehow hit upon Creighton as the obvious choice of subject with which to provide a sample. The last sentence of that one was “A day without Steve Creighton is like a day without uncontrollable nihilism.”

Try it sometime, it’s very cathartic. Although sometimes I think being gratuitously insecure has its good points.

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I was feeling like skipping a rehearsal two weeks ago, then Allen called at like 5 o’clock that day and asked if I could fill in as accompanist, so of course I said sure. So then last week I was still feeling like skipping a rehearsal (no one’s fault, it’s Brahms Requiem), the family was spending the day at Six Flags (school vacation week), so I decided somewhat impulsively to go catch Kurt Masur conduct the BSO. Vadim Repin was the guest soloist playing the First Shostakovich Violin Concerto. Never did see a review of this program in the Globe (must’ve run out of space with the coverage of the Menudo Reunion Tour or something equally momentous).

I have two recordings of this, one with Oistrakh and one with Vengerov. In fact I heard Vengerov play this in Chicago back in ’99 with Rostropovich conducting. At that time I don’t think I had any recordings, and it’s not a work that bowls you over on first hearing. It’s in four movements, and the 1st and 3rd are slow, brooding, there’s definite melody but they are long meandering lines that take a few hearings to catch on. For a concerto, it’s really more symphonic, the solo part isn’t particularly showy, and as often happens in Shostakovich the fourth movement can’t sustain the build-up of the first three.

Several extended passages, particularly in the 3rd movement, are in octaves in the solo part, and in the Vengerov recording these sound kind of harsh and strident, I don’t know if it’s the sound engineering or the violin. Repin didn’t have this problem, I think he did a more convincing job of conveying the lyricism of the slow movements, knowing more instinctively when to back off and when to stretch things out. In the faster movements, though, he was a little on the careful side, without the abandon you get from the Vengerov/Rostropovich that makes these folk-like melodies take off when the orchestration really lets loose. When it’s all over a good 40 minutes have gone by, and for such an unfamiliar work the audience was wildly appreciative.

The second half of the program was Bruckner 4, not exactly the shortest symphony there is (the lights didn’t come up until about 10:20). Masur conducted with no score and no baton and knew exactly what he wanted and where he was going, shaping the phrase with his upper body rather than just beating time, he was practically dancing on the podium at some points. Although I’ve listened to recordings of this symphony a few times, the slow movements don’t stick with me at all, but the brass parts are instantly recognizable. This is probably true of most Bruckner. Hadn’t heard this one live before, I think that always helps Bruckner’s cause. Some people around me were getting a little antsy with all the false climaxes in the 4th movement, but you definitely got your money’s worth with this program.

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New Baby Boy Bartlett!

Apr 24, 2005

Don’t drop your teeth, I had nothing to do with it. Scott and Shelley have conspired to produce the second Bartlett boy of his generation.

Fletcher Mark Bartlett was born on April 12. You can see more info here, at least for a few months yet. Mom says he looks nothing like that, though, but there’s definitely that Grandpa Bartlett resemblance there. We’re off to see for ourselves in a couple of weeks. Justin’s excited that he’s not the only boy on that side of the family any more. Alexa and Ashley are excited to have an honorary baby brother. In fact, everyone is excited. Cigars all around!

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So I haven’t posted in four weeks, but look on the plus side, I’ve saved you the trouble of wading through a bunch of rants about the weather. We’ve made it to the nether end of the fourth snowiest winter on record, and in retrospect it wasn’t that awful, but I’m sure that’s what the English said at the end of the bubonic plague, too.

So let’s talk about something truly momentous, like the return of Doctor Who, which premiered on BBC1 Saturday night with the first new episode in 16 years. Although there’s still not an American distributor in sight, I was hopeful that somehow I’d be able to see at least the first episode before another 16 years went by. For a while I figured I could get one of my cohorts in the London office to tape it for me, but then I thought, That’s so eighties, in this web-enabled era that we live in I should be able to just download the damn thing. So after about 5 minutes of surfing on usenet and downloading the latest version of BitTorrent, I was off and running, and after about a 10-hour download I’ve got me the first episode, hurrah! This is, of course, morally reprehensible and borderline criminal, but it’s hardly the most incriminating thing on my hard drive, so you capitalists out there lighten up. It’s not like I’m going to sell copies to Who fans who can’t figure out how to do this themselves (I doubt there are any, for starters).

As a first episode, it shows plenty of promise within the confines of what is considered acceptable tv in this day and age. Christopher Eccleston, whom I’ve only seen as the deranged military guy in 28 Days Later, is only slightly deranged as the Doctor, creating an incarnation subject to rapidly changing moods, generally wide-eyed and child-like, but with the weight of the universe on him. Billie Piper as his companion Rose is, as Letterman would say, easy on the eyes. If she does nothing more than wear the clingy outfit she was wearing in this episode, we have a winner.

Producer Russell T Davies has chosen to for this first strike to remake parts of Spearhead from Space, this time doing the Auton shop dummies coming to life properly with plenty of smashed store windows and bodies littering the streets. Nobody dies on camera, and only one speaking character of consequence dies at all, the guy with the Doctor website who spends his free time piecing together all the various sightings of the Doctor through history. He would’ve made a worthwhile recurring character, but on the other hand you don’t actually see him shot by an Auton, so maybe he survives. The episode wimps out on killing off either Rose’s annoying boyfriend or her mother, either or both of which would’ve made her sudden decision to go with the Doctor at the end a little more plausible.

The script is fairly action-oriented, no problem there, although the action consists of an inordinate percentage of people running around, as though moving faster makes it more exciting. There’s a good amount of humor in the script, and I think there’s some definite chemistry between the two main characters, and the supporting cast are uniformly good except maybe for Rose’s boyfriend, who needs to be sort of a jerk and a wimp without coming across as a parody. At one point he’s replaced by an Auton with a suitably glazed expression and glossy complexion, and Rose doesn’t notice, the point being that they’re not really that close to begin with, I suppose, but it’s done a little too obviously.

What I think makes sense is that there’s no attempt to resolve the regeneration from the previous Doctor, or even to reference such a thing as regenerations, there’s no heavy continuity-laden backstory about the Autons (I don’t know that the Doctor ever mentions he’s encountered them at least twice before), there’s a few off-the-cuff remarks that fans will pick up on, but not much else. Davies probably figures he’s got plenty of time to work all this stuff in, while fans who already know what’s gone before want to skip all of those revelations being made again. While Doctor Who is an icon in Britain, it’s not like everyone knows all about his origins and can quote chapter and verse of every story. What you’ve got in this episode is not classic Doctor Who (they spent too much money to hope for that), so you’re going to miss out on the long scenes of exposition and endless chases through catacombs and rock quarries, not to mention the so-called special effects, all of which were part of its charm and, as the actors themselves keep saying in the dvd commentaries, “very much of its time.” If I can continue to see the new episodes beyond this first one, I’m hoping they start to build on each other, I think the people making the show know what they’re doing, and if they don’t succeed they will only prove that it truly can’t be done.

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So a couple of days ago I hit the big four-two, and like most recent birthdays it was met with a mixture of dread and self-loathing, but there was cake involved, so it wasn’t so bad. Having long since passed the milestone birthdays that actually mean something (the last one being at 35, after which you can become president), we’re now full swing into the birthdays where you are basically counting down rather than counting up. 42 of course has special meaning for any self-respecting Hitchhiker’s fan, so maybe this year will reveal the meaning of Life, the Universe and… what’s the other one? Everything! Oh, yes.

Beth engineered a surprise birthday gift by bestowing upon my person my very own copy of Iron Man #1. I’d happened to see it up on the rack behind the counter at Jack’s several weeks ago, and while it wasn’t perfect, perfect has become too expensive as far as that comic is concerned, and he was calling it Fine and asking $110, which is about what the guide says it’s worth. It was definitely on the plus side of Fine, though, although my cursory examination lasted about three seconds before I handed it back to Jack. I mentioned it to Beth and the kids at dinner that night, as the original Iron Man #1 (not his first appearance, but his first solo book) has always been a holy grail of my comic collecting. I’ve seen many copies over the years but somewhere between when I stopped collecting after college and started up again 10 years ago, the priced had gone up about 1000% for a pristine copy. One of my “one that got away” stories is that at a show I went to during my college years I held a mint copy in my hands that a guy was asking $45 for, but the guide said it was worth $40 so I passed it up.

Recent conventions have shown that it is no longer a reasonable goal to acquire all the ’70’s Marvels in mint condition, because they are getting increasingly harder to find, and increasingly expensive. So I’ve had to lower my standards somewhat in the interest of completeness over quality, since now that these books are 30+ years old they’re collectible in any condition. Iron Man #1 is actually from May 1968, pre-dating my current collecting area of interest, but I’d be willing to make an exception, although even at $110 it would be substantially more than I’ve ever spent on a single comic. So in that respect it was the ideal gift, in that it’s something I really wanted that I never would have bought for myself (leaving aside for the moment that I technically did buy it myself since Beth is buying me gifts with my money).

Also celebrating a birthday this month is this weblog, which hit two years old a few weeks ago to no fanfare or ceremony. While I haven’t kept it updated as often as I would like, I’m still plugging away, and after this year’s Boskone have a new resolve to write more, and more often, and after all this site was originally intended to be a means to that end, regardless of the fact that, 160+ posts later, the only person that seems to check in regularly is Phil. Anyone else out there who’s actually reading this crap, drop me a line or leave a comment yea or nay, it’s always nice to get mail that doesn’t start with “Mark, Refinancing opportunities now!”

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mataglap redux

Feb 27, 2005

A recent e-mail from an uncontrollable nihilist breaks two-plus years of silence in order to provide a linguistics lesson on the name of this website:

mata = eye(s)
gelap = dark

The spelling in Indonesia would normally be “mata gelap”, two words,
but it is possible that they render it “mataglap” in slang (or in Malaysia).
Yes, it means “dark eyes”. I didn’t know the “crazed” meaning; I would have
just taken it to mean dark retinae, same as English. But google seems to be
with you.

“Mata hari” (eye of the sun) is a diff structure, hari being a noun
(you’d be tempted to think it “sunny eye” otherwise). It can also be rendered
“hari matanya”.

And yet “darkness of the eye[s]” would be “mata gelapnya”. Malay/Indonesian has confusing rules about word order; “-nya” often flips things around (often, but not always).

buku Mark = Mark’s book[s]
buku Marknya = Mark’s book[s]
Mark bukunya = Mark’s book[s]
Mark buku = ???? (invalid form)

guru sekolah – the school’s/schools’ teacher[s]
guru sekolahnya – the teacher’s/teachers’ school[s]
sekolah guru – the teacher’s/teachers’ school[s]
sekolah gurunya – the school’s/schools’ teacher[s]

That gotnya?

That’s more thorough than what I got from my sister-in-law’s brother a long time ago:

I asked an Indonesian girl I work with about mataglap. She had not heard your usage but said:

“mata: meaning eye
gelap: meaning dark.

but i’ve never heard of mataglap. u sure it’s indo and not phillipino? cause mata means eye in both indo and phillo. unless it’s some provincial dialect that i don’t know. “

I also heard last summer from the owner of, asking if I’d like the e-mail address or something, but I declined. I just like the word, what it means is relatively superfluous. Let’s not worry so much about dark eyes or dilated eyes and focus instead on man-eating nanotech.

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Boskone 42 report

Feb 21, 2005

Happy President’s Day!

Spent the weekend at what by my count is my twelfth Boskone, the local sf convention that was very handy when it was in Framingham and now marginally less so now that it has relocated to downtown Boston. What I discovered during the Worldcon last fall was that I don’t really need to drive into the city every day, and the money saved by not having to pay $20+ to park can be better spent on books. So, even though it’s a bit colder than it was during the Worldcon, I schlepped from the green line every day, and that seemed to work just fine. It’s not like you go back to your car in the parking garage during the day anyway.

This year’s guest of honor was Orson Scott Card, whom I’ve only seen on a panel or two at one of the recent Worldcons (Philly, I think). He’s a good guest of honor in that he’s got plenty of opinions about everything, but unlike other pontificating sf authors like Bear or Brin, I get the impression his opinions center more around deconstruction than saying anything positive. In fact, he’s downright controversial as apparently he’s published a few screeds against homosexuality over the years (being a card-carrying Mormon) that seem to have caused some fans and pros alike to boycott the convention. Some of it can be attributed to post-Worldcon fatigue, too, I suppose, but more than the average share of pros were awol given that there were no weather problems this year.

In spite of that, most of the panels I attended managed to do quite well with who was available. I skipped Card’s goh speech to hear George RR Martin do a reading, as did plenty of other people. GRRM continues to give Boston a slot in his calendar every year, so I got to hear him reading another excerpt from possibly the most anticipated sf book since The Last Dangerous Visions, the next volume in his “Song of Ice and Fire”, now three years late and counting (and hopefully not to suffer the same fate as TLDV). The reading was short enough that he could field a number of questions afterwards, and he admitted to having trouble with this book because of a combination of the pressure involved (given the level of anticipation he’s created) along with some retrenchment as he’s writing due to finding more to say about certain events than he thought he would. When the book ever comes out, it will be enormous, and enough time has elapsed since I read the first trilogy that I’d have to go back and read at least the last one again.

The science guest of honor was Alastair Reynolds, which was a real thrill as I’ve read literally all his books (just finishing up Absolution Gap as we speak) and I don’t think he’s been to an American convention before. This saved me the trouble of having to haul one of his “mammal-crushers” all the way to Glasgow. He did a couple of slide shows as well as a reading and participated in a few panels, and I caught most of those and he was very engaging and seemed like a nice guy, even keeping his cool when a rabid filker started shrieking at the end of Reynolds’ slide show because he was running overtime and eating into the next event in the room. That was one of the nice things about the layout when Boskone was still in Framingham that they could segregate the filkers from the rest of the humanity.

Boskone has adopted kind of a minimalist approach the last couple of years, I’m not sure how much of it is by design. I know they did away with the “green room” concept for pros, thinking they’ll hang out in the con suite more, which doesn’t seem to be the case. They also seem this year to have done away with notifying panelists when their time is almost up, causing panels to go right up to the hour, and then the next panel starting 5 or 10 minutes after the hour. The dealers room was a bit of a letdown, also, no British books, no Glen Cook, the book dealers that were there did primarily new stuff and collectible stuff, and they seemed to have less space, but tbere wasn’t necessarily more of anything else, just less space in general. I figured I would find at least a couple of BSFA nominees there but didn’t see any, so I barely bought anything. Reminded me of the one Lunacon that I went to way back when.

As I said, the panels I sat in on were mostly worth hearing, I think there’s some tiredness to some of the topics, but maybe I just need to make different selections. I tend to avoid the writing-oriented “how-to” panels as they tend to offer either obvious or conflicting information, and seem to be geared towards people who shouldn’t be writing in the first place. Although not really a how-to panel, the one with GRRM and Wen Spencer and a couple of others about the nature of trilogies as a standard of fantasy did tend to stray into that topic occasionally, with Martin saying people shouldn’t write novels first, they should make their name with short stories (with Spencer as someone who started with novels) and Spencer saying that one chapter does not equal one scene (with Martin saying that in his books, one chapter does tend to equal one scene). The fallback history of sf panels are only as good as their panelists, and unless you have somebody who was there like Hartwell or Silverberg or Pohl, you end up with people regurgitating stuff second hand that may or may not be completely accurate.

Still, well worth the tired rear-end and looking forward to Readercon after a year off last year. Still hoping to do Glasgow in August, but right now plane tickets are $800, so unless they drop by about 50%, we’ll be finding something else to do at that end of the summer.

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Pats win! Pats win!

Feb 6, 2005

All this talk of dynasty takes away from the week-in, week-out effort that this team has demonstrated during the course of the season to get to this point, such that the outcome of the big game this year was a foregone conclusion, and otherwise ambivalent Superbowl watchers were rooting for the Eagles just to cheer for the little guy and spread it around a bit.

In central Illinois, the Cardinals and Bears were the nearest teams but neither of them were doing much of anything during the ’70’s, so us kids would just jump on the bandwagon of whatever team was winning at the time. I was variously a Dolphins fan, Redskins fan, Steelers fan, and had the coats and belt buckles to prove it. And somewhere right now in some backwater part of the country there’s a bunch of kids who are Patriots fans just because they’re the hot team right now. Not the most glamorous bunch, but still a bunch of clutch players who can’t help getting in the hall of fame eventually with this kind of consistent behavior.

After seeing the Red Sox break the curse, nothing the Pats can do will measure up to that, but they set the stage three years ago with their first win and I think helped people here think that if the Pats could do it, so could the Red Sox. Maybe this year I’ll remember to bring the camera to the parade.

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Jan 27, 2005

So as I alluded to yesterday, last week I went to the BSO, ostensibly to hear Garrick Ohlsson play the Viktor Ullman piano concerto, not because it was Viktor Ullman but because it was Garrick Ohlsson. Ullman was a German Jew who died in a concentration camp and saw virtually none of his music performed in his lifetime. The concerto is in four short movements, sounding something like Bartok strained through Schoenberg, not bad as a piano part, the orchestration is a little thin in places.

Anyway, the rest of the program was James Conlon conducting Shostakovich 7th, the so-called “Leningrad” Symphony that stands with the 11th and 13th as the three titanic pillars of his symphonic output. The 7th clocks in at a full hour and 20 minutes, and by the end Conlon looked visibly exhausted and very sweaty, but the smallish audience was very enthusiastic (virtually no one on the main floor was bolting for the exits as they usually do as soon as the baton comes down). All that was missing was Conlon doing a Rostropovich-style hugfest with all the orchestra members during the applause.

As it turns out, I was also witness to the previous performance of Shosty 7 at the BSO, conducted by Valery Gergiev what I thought was maybe 5 years ago but turns out to be 10 (oof!). That time it was the only thing on the program, which probably makes more sense. It’s just as well that a relatively forgettable work started the show this time, since it would’ve been a shame to program something substantial as a first course. One of my first Shostakovich acquisitions on LP was Toscanini conducting the American premiere of the 7th (along with the 1st) live on the radio, shortly after it was written. The first movement was so overwhelming I couldn’t listen to the rest of the recording for days afterwards, not something that happens very often. In spite of the scratchy fidelity, the impact of the 1st movement, with all the various highs and lows, and particularly that long middle section, a repetitive, ominous death march that keeps coming at you with more instruments added each time, is quite visceral, even moreso live when you think the walls are going to cave in at any moment. This is supposedly Shostakovich’s response to the Nazi siege of Leningrad, although he’d already started before the city was cut off. The 2nd and 3rd movement are less programmatic, one predominantly slow and the other more of a scherzo, but both movements jump around between fast and slow sections, with one memorable melody after another. The 4th movement doesn’t really hold up to the other three, taking a long time to get going without much happening, but somewhat redeemed by a big wind-up to the finish, quoting the 1st movement again, more convincing live than on recordings, it seems.

My enthuasiam for Shostkovich started innocently enough when I first moved to Boston and was doing temp work for Coopers & Lybrand (since consumed by Price Waterhouse), listening on my walkman to classical music on WBUR (which you can’t do any more either) and was smitten by a recent recording of Shostakovich 6th symphony conducted by Kondrashin, so much so that I ran out and bought the LP shortly thereafter. For some reason at that point in my life I had recently become enamored of long slow orchestral works, and Shostakovich was almost always good for one of those in his symphonies. The 6th uses a big orchestra but mixes up the instrumental combinations with infinite variety, with the music sometimes crawling almost to a complete stop. I had never thought much of Mahler in college, but Shostakovich was the composer that bridged the gap, such that by the time I’d bought most of the rest of the symphonies on records, I started buying Mahler symphonies about the same time that I switched to CD’s.

That recording of the 6th, plus the Toscanini 7th and 1st, and most of what came afterwards came from the record department at Barnes and Noble on Washington Street. From Briggs and Briggs in Cambridge I could even buy the mini-scores of some of the symphonies (ridiculously expensive now, but cheap then because there were no copyrights on Russian composers). Once I had most of the symphonies (primarily with Haitink) on records, I’d bought a CD player and had to go back and get them all again, and filled in along the way with the string quartets and concertos and movie music and chamber music. Everything but the piano music, oddly enough, which is mostly written in a different idiom and doesn’t have the same interest for me that the other stuff does (I substitute Prokofiev’s piano music instead).

My first and only trip to the BSO with Beth was to hear Shostakovich 13 (don’t remember the conductor, the program is still in the attic somewhere), preceded by dinner at a Russian restaurant in Brookline that’s not there any more (we did meet in a Russian lit class, after all). Beth established the tradition at that first outing of falling asleep at classical concerts, no matter how expensive the tickets or how loud the music. The only exception was maybe the most memorable concert I’ve ever witnessed, when the BU symphony did the 11th back around ’91 as part of a mini-festival of Shostakovich. It was a free concert and we got there early enough to score front row center in the balcony of the Tsai. I knew the Haitink recording well by then, and this is another 80-minuter that ends with a bang like the 7th, so I expected the last crashing chords to be met by instantaneous, thunderous applause. But instead the audience was so collectively stunned by the performance that the echoes of the last chord hung in the air for what seemed like a minute before anyone dared to break the silence and start applauding. The first trumpet was a bit dicey (ironically, Don had auditioned there and not gotten in, but I’m sure he could’ve done a much better job), and the stage wasn’t big enough to hold all the players so a lot of the percussion was on the floor on either side, but the enthusiasm of the student orchestra made for a tremendous performance, and there was enough programmatic content to the music that Beth stayed awake to the end. When I described it to Phil months later my voice cracked just talking about it. I didn’t listen to a recording of the 11th for years afterwards.

Obviously there’s more to Shostakovich’s appeal for me than just really long slow movements now, I’ve always been a fan of things Russian, and while I knew he existed in my college years (in fact he received an honorary doctorate from NU a few years before his death. Supposedly when he asked the dean what the diploma was good for, the dean said, “That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee”, which is probably about right) I hadn’t heard much of him beyond seeing Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the Lyric (maybe best remembered for one section where repeated trombone slides indicate the main characters are having a quickie offstage, music referred to in its initial western performances as “pornophony”).

When the Chorale way back when was rehearsing a new piece by Larry Wolf that was set to text of Whitman, Wolf came to visit one time and talked about choosing text focussing on joy, saying “I understand that Shostakovich had a hard life, but I find it hard to be uplifted by that kind of music”. As the program notes for last week’s concert indicate, you really can’t separate a lot of the Shostakovich symphonies from their programmatic elements (even though Shostakovich supposedly disavowed a lot of them in “Testimony”), giving his work an extra-musical subtext that most concert music doesn’t have (much like Adams’s “On the Transmigration of Souls” as a very recent example). But it’s more than just that, also, there’s tons of melody in his work, great harmonic progressions without (usually) resorting to just percussive clusters of notes, wide varieties of mood within the same piece, I think much of it is uplifting, exhilarating even. Maybe the piano stuff will even grow on me someday.

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Jan 26, 2005

One good way to get through a snowy New England winter is to go to a lot of concerts, which is what I’ve been doing this month, so pardon me if I drone a while to catch up. The trick is to not buy tickets in advance, since you never know what the weather will be like, and what with the concert-going public’s habits shifting more towards last-minute decisions anyway, this works out just fine. When I went to the BSO last Thursday to hear James Conlon conduct Shostakovich 7th, they still had rush tickets (crappy seats, but discounted to $8) available for sale at 6 pm, even though they start selling them at 10am. More on that program later.

Monday night I went to NEC to hear piano faculty member Gabriel Chodos perform the Liszt Sonata and the Hammerklavier. Richard Dyer’s review is here. I generally agree, Robert was there and didn’t stay for the second half, but he missed out, since while the Liszt was pretty good, the Hammerklavier was stunning, the endless slow movement and the sometimes downright bizarre last movement especially. The audience was completely taken in by the performance. The first movement went about the same as the Liszt, sort of on the athletic side, but by the same token with a strong forward-moving drive. Sitting down front, as you can only do at NEC with a free concert, the piano comes out sounding a little muddled, as though he’s using too much pedal sometimes, but since you can see that he isn’t, there’s something in the acoustic that works a little to the music’s disadvantage sometimes. I have half a dozen recordings of the Liszt Sonata and they’re all completely different, but the piece does hang together very well, I’m surprised I never heard it anywhere in my college days. But I don’t think I’d ever heard the Beethoven before, and considering how overplayed the last three sonatas are, it’s odd that more performers haven’t turned to op 106 (and 101 for that matter). Back at NU there was a short list of pieces you shouldn’t touch until you’re at least 30. I think the Hammerklavier would be one of them.

On Tuesdays at lunchtime the music director of King’s Chapel has put together short recital series which I’ve been going to the last few weeks. It’s very sparsely attended, but maybe that’s just because every week it’s been about 30 below outside. There’s no piano there, but I’ve been to three this month, including a medieval recorder group, a tenor, and a wind quintet. They’re a nice little midday diversion from the otherwise wacky world of foreign exchange. The church, which is a million years old and was original Anglican but is now Unitarian, is kind of a neat setting, too. Down the street is St. Paul’s Cathedral, which has a Wednesday series. I skip the organ recitals, but there was a noontime piano recital there last week featuring a teacher from the Rivers School who played some out of the ordinary Liszt and Schubert. This was even more sparsely attended (single digits, including a homeless guy who talked to himself through half the program), they at least have a piano, although it sounds like it needs some work, and it’s a much more cavernous space to fill up.

These lunchtime concerts are good because they’re cheap (generally $3) and don’t require hanging around in the city all evening, so I can still see my family once in a while. I’m just surprised, cold weather notwithstanding, that more people don’t go, but then I’ve been working downtown for four years and just managed to drag my keister to my first one three two weeks ago, so go figure.

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