Friday, July 31, 2009

ICE 2009-10

The International Contemporary Ensemble, better known as ICE, must be the last performing arts organization in the world to announce its 2009-10 season, but never mind: it's a doozy.

From Adams (at the Mostly Mozart Festival) to Xenakis, with several concerts focussed on Saariaho and a dash of Carter, what more could you want?

Well, the closest they're getting to me is San Diego, but that's a 90-minute flight, so....


A new site worth a look: news, reviews, video samples, etc. at Classissima.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Even Sweeter Music

The return of pianist Sarah Cahill's A Sweeter Music commissioning project, this time at Old First Concerts, 1751 Sacramento (at Van Ness), San Francisco, CA. July 31, 8 p.m.

That's tomorrow, you know. Be there, or be square. If you're there, you get to hear a couple of my favorites from the program she performed earlier this year at Hertz Hall and several works not yet performed or not yet performed in CA:

Meredith Monk- excerpt from Steppe Music
Frederic Rzewski- Peace Dances
Phil Kline- The Long Winter (California premiere)
Jerome Kitzke- There Is a Field
Peter Garland- from After the Wars (premiere)
Kyle Gann- War is Just a Racket (California premiere)
Michael Byron- Devotion to Peace
Terry Riley- Be Kind to One Another

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Michael Steinberg

The news came late Sunday that Michael Steinberg had died at 80 after three years of treatment for cancer. I'm so sad about this. I'd never met him, but he was the best and most graceful of program annotators. The initials M.S. at the end of the notes to a San Francisco Symphony program always made me smile with anticipation. Deepest sympathies on his passing to Jorja Fleezanis, his children, and other relatives and loved ones.
The official announcement notes the following:
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The Michael Steinberg & Jorja Fleezanis Fund to Spur Curiosity and Growth through the Performing Arts and the Written Word / attn. Shelli Chase / CHASE FINANCIAL / 7900 Xerxes Avenue South / Suite 910 / Minneapolis, MN 55431.
You can find more obituaries and tributes to Steinberg here:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Road Trip Playlist

I'm bringing along a weird assortment of CDs:
  • Schubert, String Quartets 12 and 15, Alban Berg Quartet
  • French Cafe Songs, disc 2 of 2
  • Barry Schrader, Monkey King
  • Early French Tenors, Marston Records
  • Wind Quintets by Nielsen, Ligeti, Depraz, Nielsen Wind Quintet
  • Busoni, Piano Concerto, Dohnanyi/Ohlsson, Cleveland SO. Intruiged by the credit to the Men's Chorus of the orchestra.
  • Hesperion XXI, Villancicos y Danzas Criollas
  • Moravec, Tempest Fantasy and other works, natch.

The Letter

The 1940 film with Bette Davis, that is.

I rented it in preparation for seeing Paul Moravec and Terry Teachout's new opera, which is based on both the Somerset Maugham story and the film. It is, um, a period piece in so many ways: a transparent plot and astonishingly racist. I'm so curious to see how the composer and librettist dealt with the latter aspect of the source material.

Is She or Isn't She?

I think she is, but in any event, a very happy birthday to the great Licia Albanese, born in Bari at least 96 years ago today. And if you're thinking of listening to one of her recordings, you might try her Boheme with Gigli, etc.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where Amateurs Still Make Discoveries

Well into the 19th century, scientific inquiry didn't require a degree, a graduate degree, and an expensive laboratory supported by grants. Much scientific work was observational or taxonomic or could be done with comparatively simple and inexpensive equipment. Even in the 20th century, Sir Ernest Rutherford performed immensely important physics experiments with equipment that fit on a tabletop.
Astronomy is one field where amateurs still make significant contributions. There are a few reasons for this.
  • There's more sky than the pros can watch.
  • There are thousands of people who like spending their nights looking up.
  • The equipment isn't expensive. Well, while it's not exactly cheap, you can put together a nice rig for quite a bit less than the cost of a new car. A smallish telescope, a camera and mount, dark skies, and Bob's your uncle.
That's why an Australian named Anthony Wesley is on the front page of the NY Times today. He discovered a new feature on Jupiter the other day, and immediately notified NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA pointed a big telescope at Jupiter and confirmed that he'd found something new.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Will She or Won't She?

What diva is having a birthday that might get her to 'fess up to her real age?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Health Care Reform

So, there's a pretty good chance that Congress will approve some kind of health care reform this year. The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of the bill, both, to my surprise, with a public insurance option.
I read an article about the bills in the Times yesterday, and, frankly, it's dismaying, because they're leaving the present mess standing and requiring health insurance for all. (You can read that article here; for a comparison of the bills, click the multimedia sidebar.)

If you think I'm joking about the present mess, I am not. The New Republic ran a spectacular graphic the other day showing how many businesses, government entities, and other organizations are involved. Take a look; it's here.

Opposition and fear are starting to build. The governors quite rightly fear unfunded mandates. Businesses look at the requirements for providing insurance to their employees, and you just know that many businesses will either not grow or will lay people off as they hit or try to stay under the size limits where it's required that they provide insurance.

Here's the deal: we don't need health insurance. What we need is health care. The present system, which combines employer-sponsored health insurance, socialized medicine for the poor, those over 65, veterans, and the disabled, and a patchwork of individual policies and state-sponsored programs, is insanely inefficient, inequitable, and expensive.

Any single-payer or integrated system would be better. I'm a Kaiser Permanente member and have been for 19 years now. Kaiser owns its own buildings, hospitals, and anicillary facilities; sporadic attempts at outsourcing, like giving maternal care to Alta Bates, worked badly and just lasted a few years. There's some specialization, in that, for example, in Northern California, brain tumors are treated at the Redwood City hospital and much orthopedic surgery is done at Vallejo. It's an excellent model; referrals take place seamlessly; test results are available at the touch of a keyboard; if you need X-rays, they send you downstairs and the photos are taken. Doctors are on salary instead of being paid per patient or per procedure. There are no incentives at all to provide too much care, as there are for other doctors.

The funny thing is that 25 years ago when I moved to the Bay Area, Kaiser was looked on with some suspicion. For one thing, it was the working class person's health care. The plan originated with the visionary Henry Kaiser, who wanted his workers to have decent health care available. And the membership has always had high percentages of minority and working class people.

For another, it had a reputation for not working very well, for being too controlling, for not referring, for being incompetent.

Things have changed a lot since the 1980s. Kaiser has improved enormously, while the fee-for-service system has gone insane and gotten crazy expensive.

It's time for the US to look at single payer or an integrated, socialized system. The transition would be mighty painful, but it would free up an awful lot of money in these ways:
  • Predictable financing, through taxes on all individuals and businesses
  • Ability to control costs in a rational and consistent way
  • Coverage for all
  • Simplified billing and administrative systems
Alternatively, the government could mandate that all insurance companies must provide policies to anyone who applies, at a predictable, government-determined rate, and that those policies provide nationally-consistent coverage.

I don't think the political will exists to do either of these things, and so we will wind up with a continuation of the current Frankenstein-monster system.

Now, if you think my ideas are just! terrible! and would rob people of their choices, think again: as Paul Krugman pointed out the other day, the private health-insurance system (employer-paid and individual plans) pays 34% of U.S. health care costs, while various government-sponsored programs pay for 46%. "Most of the rest is out-of-pocket spending," he says.

So, given that we're already more than half way to socialized medicine, let's go all the way while we have the chance.

Update: rootlesscosmo suggests a couple about the current situation. Click here to read an editorial by Arnold Relman. The other link is, alas, broken.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why I'm Sticking to Hard Copy for Now

Amazon erased electronic copies of (wait for it) George Orwell's 1984 from purchasers' Kindles.

I read about this earlier today at David Pogue's blog. It turns out that the electronic publisher did not have the right to publish 1984, which is still under copyright in the United States, and will be until 2044. Still, the irony is delicious. And it explains one reason among many that I'm not getting a Kindle any time soon: I don't want to pay for something and have it removed from a device I own.

To put this into classical music perspective, this is the equivalent of the Metropolitan Opera turning up on your doorstep and removing your copy of, say, the 1937 Martinelli/Tibbett/Rethberg Otello or Kirsten Flagstad's first Met Tristan broadcast, which is from 1935. Not that anyone I know has anything other than the official Met LP or CD issues of Otello (the 1940) and Tristan (from 1941), of course.

This isn't the only reason I'm steering clear of the Kindle. I have a T-Mobile G1 Dream, and there are multiple ways to read public domain books on it. And lots of public domain books I want to read.

Trollope or Scott, anyone? Bard of Avon? Milton or Blake? Bronte?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Honor of the Day

At the Washington Post, Anne Midgette has posted an excerpt from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. When I saw the teaser in my feed reader, this text caught my eye: " I am commemorating this event with one of my favorite renditions (listen to that low register) of an aria for which I retain a great, even irrational fondness."

Well, gosh, wouldn't you expect Osmin's aria, "O wie will ich triumphieren" from that? I did - and what I got was "Marten aller Arten." So I take this opportunity to post my own commemoration. It's in the wrong language and the singer was nearing the end of a splendid career, but Ezio Pinza toward the end is still better than almost anyone else in his prime.

This is also one of the first recordings I have a clear memory of. It was the second or third track on my parents' Pinza LP, which started with "Madamina!" from Don Giovanni, the great DG of his era stepping, temporarily and hilariously, into the servant's role. Oh - and that's Bruno Walter conducting.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up, Hong Kong Edition

The court case surrounding the estate of billionaire Nina Wang includes these elements:
  • The two kidnappings of Mrs. Wang's husband Teddy, who amassed the billions. He was never seen again after disappearing the second time.
  • The alleged affair between Mrs. Wang, who died at 69, and the much younger feng shui master Tony Chan, who is married with three children.
  • The two wills, one in Chinese, one in English, the latter written when Mrs. Wang was dying. The Chinese will leaves the estate to the family charitable trust, the English will leaves the estate to Mr. Chan.
It's a lot more fun to read about than the Brooke Astor case, I'll tell you that. And if they really did build model helicopters together and leave coins and jade ornaments in 80 feng shui holes around Hong Kong, it sounds as if they had plenty of fun together. If, if, if.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tigris and Euphrates

The storied Euphrates river, which supplies Iraq with much of its usable water, is drying up. This ecological and social catastrophe results from politics: Turkey and Syria, which neighbor Iraq, do not have treaties with Iraq governing how much water they can take from the river. They take a lot, much too much.

We live on a small planet; what one country does affects another. For other social and ecological catastrophes caused by the mismanagement of water, see many articles on the Three Rivers Dam in China.

Personal to Internal Copy Editor

Make up your mind about whether it's "copy editor" or "copy-editor."

Memo to Los Angeles Philharmonic Copy Editors

That press release about the upcoming concert performances of Porgy and Bess, at the Hollywood Bowl? First thing is, I am enormously impressed that it's possible to assemble two good casts of singers for the opera. I hope to hear some of these talented singers in other operatic roles.

Next thing, you know, I agree that the amount of dialect in the libretto is slightly embarrassing in 2009, and it should be de-emphasized in performance. But I'm also reasonably sure that the libretto and score style one character's name this way:

Sportin' Life

Your press release says:

Sporting Life

Are you also changing the title of one of his big numbers to "It Isn't Necessarily So"? Please don't. Ira will roll over in his grave.

Memo to San Francisco Opera Copy-Editors 2

Found in email from the company announcing the availability of single tickets. If this is an accurate representation of what the company regards as "new," we are in big trouble. I've deleted the promotional copy, but keep an eye on my commentary [inside the square brackets].
New to Opera? We recommend the following time-honored favorites:
  • Il Trovatore
  • Il Trittico
  • The Daughter of the Regiment
  • The Abduction from the Seraglio [described as a laugh-out-loud comedy]
  • The Girl of the Golden West
A Seasoned Opera Fan? Enjoy the many new operas we present this season:
  • Salome [premiered in 1906, last produced in SF in the 1996-97 season]
  • Otello [premiered in 1887, last produced in SF in the 2002-03 season]
  • Faust [premiered in God knows when, last produced in SF in the 1995-96 season]
  • Die Walkuere [premiered in 1870, last produced in 1999 during the most recent Ring cycles]
I really, really want to know what exactly is going on here. The second list isn't new productions, because Fanciulla, Trittico, and Trovatore are all new productions. The two biggest rarities of the season, Trittico and Fanciulla, are in the New to Opera list, while Faust, the most deadly dull work surviving in the repertory, is considered appropriate for seasoned fans. Who wrote this copy, anyway? It's a big turnoff to receive patronizing and inaccurate email from San Francisco Opera.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Read Together I

Every now and then you run across blog postings that complement each other nicely, by reflecting on related or similar aspects of music. Take a look at these, for example, which talk about the related processes of transcribing and copying other composers' music:
  • Kyle Gann, Trying to Remember That Kind of November, where he starts to discuss transcribing and analyzing Dennis Johnson's November, an important (and extraordinarily long) piano work from 1959.
  • Kyle's second posting on the process, Notating Dennis.
  • Daniel Wolf on the subject of what he has learned from transcribing music, Copy that. (I'd be curious about what anyone thinks of Winslow's Law, by the way.
  • And Daniel on the subject of his annual notation Reboot.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Corporations and Their Employees

Earlier this year, EMC, for which I used to work, "temporarily suspended" its 401(k) match, which was an annual match of up to $3,000. EMC has around 27,000 employees, so we're not looking at a small amount of money here. (It is true that EMC is apparently granting stock to employees in lieu of the match, so there is potential upside, with the emphasis on potential.)

Today, EMC agreed to shell out $2.4 billion to acquire Data Domain, winning a bidding war with Network Appliances. That $2.4 billion is a multiple of what a year of 401(k) match would cost the company. EMC is also a conservatively managed company, and when I left, I think they had something like $6 billion in cash reserves. Maybe that has gone down. Maybe, in the face of decreasing profits, they just had to cut the 401(k) match. But, apparently, they also needed to spend $2.4 billion to buy yet another company.

Update: I have corrected the name of the company EMC is acquiring to Data Domain.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Trouper to End All Troupers

Joyce DiDonato finishes a Covent Garden performance on crutches, discovers at the hospital that, yes, she broke a leg. She's planning to continue the run....using a wheelchair!

And she asks that, in the future, well-wishers stick with "bocca di lupo."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I Will Have to Hear for Myself.

The reopening of the renovated Alice Tully Hall was widely greeted with pleasure (though note Alex's reservations). Today, Allan Kozinn discusses why he is not happy with the renovations.