Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Night

There were a lot of trick-or-treaters tonight, many more than last year, probably because the weather was nice tonight.

Andrew’s parents received a nonstop flow of trick-or-treaters for over an hour-and-a-half.

The kids were extremely cute. Some of the trick-or-treaters were as young as three years old, and some of them were as old as eight or nine.

We had everything prepared by the time it was dark. In addition to lighting the jack-o-lanterns, we had lined the front walkway on both sides with Halloween lights, so that the kids could easily make their way up the walk to the front door.

We stayed in the front hallway all night so that we could always answer the door immediately. Andrew’s mother would open the door and pretend to be surprised, while Andrew would kneel and hold the dog so that the dog would not rush any of the kids and frighten them. Andrew’s Dad and I would then pass out the treats, while the kids would remove their masks to show Andrew’s mother who they were, at which point she would pretend to be surprised all over again. Then the kids would pet the dog for a couple of minutes while their parents would come in for a brief “Hello”, at which point they would all go on their way and we would wait for the next group. It was fun.

I recognized all the kids. I recognized each one of them, either from church, or from the park, or both.

The dog was no trouble at all, and he didn’t bark once. He’s been through this routine before, and by now—this was his seventh Halloween at Andrew’s parents’ house—he knows what trick-or-treating is all about. The kids already all knew him, and he already knew all the kids, and he behaved himself perfectly, and none of the kids was frightened of him in the least.

The kids’ costumes were cute. There were lots of ghost costumes, and lots of skeleton costumes, and a few witch costumes, and a few animal costumes, and a couple of pirate costumes, and a couple of fairy-tale-princess costumes—and a sizable number of Hillary Clinton costumes, all of which were worn by the older kids. Seeing so many kids sport Hillary Clinton masks was hysterical. There were at least six different types of Hillary Clinton masks on display tonight!

It was too bad that it was all over by 8:30 p.m.

When the trick-or-treating was over, Andrew and I ate a late dinner at his parents’ house. We had grilled steak, French-fried potatoes, steamed broccoli and a tomato-cucumber salad. For dessert, we were awarded Halloween cookies—and we didn’t even have to wear costumes to get them! It was fun.

On Friday night, Andrew and I will go back to his parents’ house. That will be the final night before Andrew’s father leaves for Zurich, and Andrew’s mother will have a special dinner that night. She is hoping to make a baked carp, assuming she can locate a fresh carp she likes.

Andrew’s mother’s baked carp is to die for!

Trick Or Treat

Andrew and I are going to go over to his parents’ house tonight so that we can see the neighborhood kids go trick-or-treating. It should be lots and lots of fun.

Andrew’s mother has all sorts of Halloween cookies baked and iced and decorated and packaged and ready to give out to the trick-or-treaters. Andrew and I will get there before it gets dark and light the jack-o-lanterns and get everything outside ready for the kids.

We can’t wait.

And perhaps we will get some cookies, too!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Work, Work And More Work

Our weekend was pretty low-key.

Andrew and I both had a strenuous week last week, and we collapsed into bed very early Friday night.

On Saturday, we both went to our offices for six hours, arriving very early and remaining until early afternoon.

After finishing up things at work, we went to Andrew’s parents’ house and watched football games. We arrived at the end of regulation of the Iowa-Michigan State game, just as Michigan State tied the game with a last-second field goal, sending the game into overtime. Iowa prevailed after two overtimes, which pleased Andrew’s father no end.

Minnesota was not so lucky. As expected, the Golden Gophers got pummeled by Michigan.

Oklahoma did not play on Saturday.

We watched football games for the rest of the afternoon and evening, keeping our eyes on various games as we played with the dog and helped Andrew’s mother prepare food. It was a very restful afternoon and evening, and very welcome.

Today, after church, we all went out to lunch. After lunch, we all went to the care facility where Andrew’s grandmother lives. We spent an hour sitting with Andrew’s grandmother. After our visit, we drove to Saint Paul to hear Jonathan Biss in recital at Macalester College. The recital began at 3:00 p.m.

Biss programmed three Beethoven sonatas—one each early, middle and late—between which he played two compositions by Janacek.

I did not think much of Biss’s recital, especially his playing of Beethoven, in which he pounded the piano more than touched the keys. I thought his performance of Sonata No. 30 atrocious. Biss completely fell apart in the work.

Biss’s touch was more apt in the Janacek, and the spiky sparseness of Janacek’s piano pieces seemed to suit his temperament more than Beethoven’s music, where Biss was unable to generate any genuine drama or sense of involvement.

Andrew’s parents had heard Biss in recital before, six years ago. Andrew’s father said on the way home that Biss had not been ready for an international career in 2001 and that Biss remains unready for an international career in 2007. Among other things, Biss lacks sheer virtuosity at the level of a Gavrilov or a Kissin, which means he will have to sustain any budding career not as a touring virtuoso but as a “serious” pianist, and that may require more poetry and more intellect than he has at his disposal. I don’t think his prospects are good. I suspect Biss will have to settle for a fourth-tier, Jeremy Denk-like career.

For some reason, America does not produce great pianists in significant numbers. The last two pianists of note produced in the U.S. were Murray Perahia and Stephen Kovacevich, both of whom emerged over 35 years ago and both of whom moved to Britain as soon as their careers took off. The U.S. has not witnessed the emergence of a single major pianist since the early 1970’s, when Perahia and Kovacevich arrived on the world’s concert stages.

Why is this?

De Tocqueville said that democracies are destined not to produce artists of genius, an inherently contentious statement that may or may not contain some small grain of truth. I suspect that an answer may more accurately reside in the fact that piano lessons are no longer a routine part of children’s upbringing in the U.S.

After the recital, we returned to Andrew’s parents’ house and prepared dinner. Since it was chicken night for the dog, we decided to make it chicken night for everyone. It took a while for the stuffed chickens to roast, so we played with the dog and fed him snacks until his chicken was ready to eat.

Our plans for the forthcoming week are set: work, work and more work.

This coming Friday, after work, Andrew and I will decamp and move over to his parents’ house, where we will remain for ten days. We will have a good dinner Friday night and help Andrew’s father pack for Zurich.

The following afternoon we will take Andrew’s father to the airport, after which Andrew and I will spend the week with Andrew’s mother, providing her with company and helping her get things ready for a family visit. A week from today, Andrew and I will take Andrew’s mother to Saint Paul to attend a performance of “Agnes Of God” at Park Square Theater.

We’ll keep her entertained the six days Andrew’s father is away.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Working Full-Time Certainly Takes A Substantial Chunk Out Of The Day

Andrew and I have been very busy at work this week.

October is a very busy month at law firms, and things will not slow down until the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays draw nearer.

Andrew has had to work late every night this week, and I have taken advantage of this to work late, too. This gives me plenty of overtime, which I welcome, and it allows us to come home together.

We are going to go to work on Saturday, too, and probably work until mid-afternoon. After work, we will go over to Andrew’s parents’ house and watch college football games and play with the dog and chill out.

Tonight Andrew’s mother called and asked us what we wanted to eat on Saturday night. We told her that we had a taste for baked ham. She asked us what else we had a taste for, and we told her that we had a taste for escalloped potatoes with cream and chives and Brussels sprouts and parsnips and baked red cabbage and a special lemon salad she is famous for. She asked us what we wanted for dessert, and we told her that we had a taste for angel food cake.

It will not be much work for Andrew’s mother because we will chip in and help her prepare everything.

On Sunday afternoon, we are going to go to Saint Paul to hear Jonathan Biss play Beethoven and Janacek at Macalester College. We are looking forward to that.

On Monday, the work will start all over again.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Zurich? Or Home?

Andrew’s mother had a difficult decision to make this weekend.

Andrew’s father must travel to Zurich on business in early November. He has meetings in Zurich from Monday, November 5, through Thursday, November 8.

Andrew’s father wanted Andrew’s mother to travel with him to Zurich, and she had a great deal of trouble making up her mind whether or not to go. She was betwixt and between on the issue.

The idea of traveling to Zurich with Andrew’s father was a very welcome one in the abstract. Andrew has been to Zurich four times, and he convinced his mother that Zurich is a very beautiful city, with many fascinating museums and historical sights to visit.

However, Andrew’s mother would have been required to explore the museums and sights on her own for four days, by herself, and this fact she found to be very unappealing.

If Andrew and I were able to go, too, or Andrew’s middle brother, she would have said “Yes” in an instant. But we three have no vacation time to spare, and there is no way that any of us may participate in a trip to Zurich next month.

On Saturday night, Andrew tried to assure his mother that she would have a wonderful time by herself, exploring Zurich for four days on her own. Andrew knows Zurich very well, and he knows the Zurich museums particularly well.

He assembled guidebooks and travel journals and sat down with his mother, and helped her prepare a day-by-day itinerary that he thought would please her. In fact, he prepared an itinerary for both of his parents, an itinerary that involved them traveling to Zurich a couple of days before the business meetings convened, and staying in Zurich a couple of days after the business meetings ended.

Andrew suggested that his parents travel to Zurich on Friday night, November 2. Doing so would place his parents in Zurich first thing on Saturday morning, November 3, and would give them a full day to explore the Altstadt in a leisurely fashion before turning in very early.

For Sunday, November 4, Andrew suggested that his parents sleep in, and later that day attend the Sunday matinee performance of Humperdinck’s “Konigskinder” at the Zurich Opera. “Konigskinder” is never staged in the U.S.

For Monday, November 5, Andrew suggested that his mother explore four churches, each within an easy walk of the hotel: Grossmunster, Fraumunster, Wasserkirche and Saint Peter’s Church.

For Tuesday, November 6, Andrew suggested that his mother spend the day at Kunsthaus Zurich, one of the world’s great art museums, which has a comprehensive collection of paintings, and is especially strong in 19th and 20th Century works.

For Wednesday, November 7, Andrew suggested that his mother spend the morning at Zunfthaus Zur Meisen, a porcelain museum housed in an old guildhall, and that she spend the afternoon at the E. G. Buhrle Collection, a small art museum with an excellent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, as well as several fine paintings from 17th Century Flanders and the Netherlands.

For Thursday, November 8, Andrew suggested that his mother spend the day at the Swiss National Museum, a splendid museum that traces the history of Swiss history and culture. The museum houses a great deal of Medieval art, including ecclesiastical art (stained glass and frescoes), and is one of the world’s great repositories of Carolingian art from the 9th Century.

For Friday, November 9, Andrew suggested that his mother and father take the train to nearby Winterthur and explore the magnificent Oskar Reinhart Museum, with its unparalleled collection of German, Austrian and Swiss paintings. For Friday evening, Andrew suggested that his parents return to the Zurich Opera to attend a performance of “The Magic Flute”.

For Saturday, November 10, Andrew suggested that his parents spend the morning visiting Villa Wesendonck, once occupied by Richard Wagner and now the home of Museum Reitberg, known for its collection of non-European antiquities. For the afternoon, Andrew suggested that his parents visit The Thomas Mann Archives, and spend some time viewing Mann’s manuscripts and memorabilia.

Andrew’s mother would enjoy all this immensely—but she would not enjoy visiting those museums and sights by herself for four days. This was just too much for her to contemplate.

And she decided not to go.

Among other things, Andrew’s mother was concerned about being in Zurich immediately before a family visit. Andrew’s middle brother will arrive home on Friday night, November 9, and Andrew’s older brother and family will arrive home on Saturday, November 10. However, Andrew and I assured her that we would get everything ready for the visit while she and Andrew’s father were in Zurich, and she knew that we would take care of all preparations in a more-than-satisfactory manner. Ultimately, this was not a factor that influenced her decision not to accompany Andrew’s father to Zurich. In the final analysis, she simply did not to want to spend four days on her own in a city unknown to her, even a city with as many excellent museums to explore as Zurich. And, truly, she wanted Andrew to go with her. She would be in heaven if she could explore these museums with Andrew at her side.

Because he will be going to Zurich by himself, Andrew’s father will not spend any extra time in Zurich. He will depart on Saturday afternoon, November 3, and he will return on Friday afternoon, November 9.

While his father is away, Andrew and I will stay with his mother. We will do this so that she does not have to spend almost a week by herself. We will also do this so that we can help her get things ready for a family visit. It will work out better for everyone this way.

On Friday night, we went to hear the Minnesota Orchestra play Mozart, Skrowaczewski and Brahms, conducted by Skrowaczewski. The Skrowaczewski piece, for flute and orchestra, was a world premiere.

On Saturday morning, Andrew and I both went to work. We spent Saturday afternoon and evening at Andrew’s parents’ house, watching football games and assembling a Zurich sightseeing plan for Andrew’s parents.

Today, after church, we attended a Guthrie Theater matinee performance of “Jane Eyre”.

The adaptation was not perfectly shaped, and not perfectly paced, but it was nonetheless a successful stage realization of the novel. I liked it, and so did Andrew, and so did his parents. The performances were quite good.

After the play, we all returned to Andrew’s parents’ house and gave the dog lots of attention, since he had been home alone all day. We played with him the rest of the afternoon and evening, and he received lots of affection and lots of love (as well as his Sunday night chicken). He loved it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Busy At Work

Andrew and I are having a boring week, by design.

We have both been busy at work, and working long hours, and happy to tumble into bed early each night. We have been so busy, and so tired, that we skipped basketball night tonight. Neither one of us was up to it.

We have been listening to music, and reading, and chilling out whenever possible.

I had Andrew write about the discs we have been listening to. I still am reluctant to write about music. We have been listening to some very interesting discs (except for that boring disc of Brahms organ music) and, in our latest round of discs, we covered my favorite territory—Bach and brass music—in one disc.

We have nothing on the calendar until Friday evening, when we will attend a Minnesota Orchestra concert with Andrew’s parents. The conductor will be Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, a former Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra. Skrowaczewski is now one of the world’s grand old men of the podium, and the concert will include Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and Brahms’s Symphony No. 2. It should be rewarding: music by old masters, in the hands of an old master.

Andrew’s sister-in-law has decided that she does not want to attend the Guthrie Theater presentation of “Jane Eyre” at Thanksgiving, primarily because she would have to go on closing night, which will be her first night home. Consequently, Andrew and I and his parents are all going to go see “Jane Eyre” this Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday, Andrew and I have to go to our offices for half the day. By early afternoon, we hope to be able to leave, and go over to Andrew’s parents’ house and watch college football games.

We have not seen the dog in almost two weeks—not since the Friday before the Columbus Day weekend—and we are starting to miss him and, according to Andrew’s mother, he is missing us. She said that, last weekend, he spent the entire weekend waiting and listening for our car to pull up.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Andrew and I completed three of our current books this weekend.

Dorinda Outram’s “Panorama Of The Enlightenment” may be appreciated as a coffee-table book, but as a history publication it has little to offer. Only 340 pages long, it features 400 illustrations and it is a fairly handsome volume. Its discussion of the Enlightenment, however, is pretty basic and offers no new information and no new analysis. Is there even a market for this type of book? I don’t think so. This book was published in September 2006, and within thirty days it appeared in online equivalents of the remainder bin. Andrew and I picked up the book at nominal cost with bonus points from our History Book Club account. I am pleased we did not shell out its $40.00 list price.

John Keegan’s “An Illustrated History Of The First World War” is an even more handsome publication whose text is drawn, in part, from his “The First World War”. Old text and new text are supplemented with photographs, paintings, cartoons, posters and maps from the period, and the result is pleasing if not full of insight.

Keegan’s “The First World War” was not one of his finer efforts. That earlier volume was an account primarily of the Western Front seen through exclusively British eyes, and it largely ignored the Eastern and Italian and Mediterranean Fronts, as well as the naval campaigns, all of which were as pivotal in the progress and outcome of the war as the Western Front. “The First World War” also ignored the economic forces at work before, during and after the conflict.

Such omissions are repeated in the more recent publication. For a fuller account of the war, its causes and its aftermath, the reader must look elsewhere.

Paul Cartledge’s “Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed The World” is somewhat of a mess. A poor rehash of Herodotus, it does not add anything new to existing knowledge of the battle (which is given a scant eleven pages in all) and it does not add anything new to the standard histories of the war between the Persians and the Greeks. Almost half of the book is devoted to setting the scene for the battle, and almost a third of the book describes how the battle has come down to us in popular imagination. All of this has been told a hundred times before, and told to better effect.

Cartledge further weakens his story by attempting to draw parallels between 480 B.C. and the current world situation. These attempts are embarrassing if not cringe-inducing.

I doubt that Cartledge would find many parallels between The Battle Of The Alamo and the world of today, in which case it is odd of him to draw parallels between The Battle Of Thermopylae and the conflicts of the present. Both at Thermopylae and at the Alamo, a severely out-numbered body of men fought gallantly to their deaths, but in both cases the particular skirmishes at issue were not vital to the outcomes of the overall campaigns. Both Thermopylae and the Alamo involved men fighting to their deaths against overwhelming odds, leaving legends of heroism and bravery and sacrifice in their wakes. As a practical matter, however, both battles had little lasting significance. They are remembered today primarily for the myths they fostered.

Greece won its war against Persia by defeating the Persians at sea subsequent to the Battle Of Thermopylae. Greece, facing a vastly larger Persian army, knew it could not win a land battle against its more powerful foe and, from the beginning, placed its bet on a winning naval strategy. It is, accordingly, somewhat perverse for Cartledge to claim that the Greeks at Thermopylae, even though losers of the battle, staunched the onslaught of barbarian hordes and thereby launched the foundation of the West.

I think it is long past time to lay this claim to rest.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Guess We Get Out More Than I Thought

Sometimes it seems as if Andrew and I never go to the theater because we can’t find anything we want to see.

This morning I was filing away our theater programs, and I could not help but notice that we have attended quite a few theater performances, all in all, in the last twenty months—23 performances in total, a larger number than I had realized.

Light In The Piazza (New York)
Hamlet (Minneapolis)
Doubt (New York)
Faith Healer (New York)
The History Boys (New York)
Hairspray (New York)
Noises Off (Hamburg)
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (In German) (Hamburg)
The Glass Menagerie (Minneapolis)
A Thousand Clowns (Minneapolis)
The Madwoman Of Chaillot (Minneapolis)
Funny Girl (Minneapolis)
Major Barbara (Minneapolis)
1776 (Minneapolis)
Private Lives (Minneapolis)
The Woman In Black (London)
Awake And Sing (London)
The Last Confession (London)
In Celebration (London)
The Dresser (Minneapolis)
Speed The Plow (Minneapolis)
King Lear (Minneapolis)
The Seagull (Minneapolis)

Maybe we are not as boring as I thought.

Royal Shakespeare Company

On Wednesday night Andrew and I attended the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “King Lear” at the Guthrie Theater and last night we attended the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “The Seagull” at the Guthrie Theater.

Andrew and I went to “King Lear” by ourselves, but we went to “The Seagull” with Andrew’s parents and our landlady.

“King Lear” is such a great play that I do not even know how to discuss it. I read the play in high school, and again in college, but I had never seen the play staged until Wednesday night.

I thought the performance was quite good, but I have no frame of reference in this work. I can imagine a superior performance, but perhaps I am being unrealistic, because “King Lear” is known to be almost impossible to stage. A great performance of the play may be beyond the capabilities of human beings.

The play held my attention for three hours and forty-five minutes, and that has to say something for the skills of the actors onstage. In hindsight, I am glad that Andrew and I recently attended a performance of “The Dresser”, as it was interesting to see these two related plays in close succession.

I had never seen a performance of “The Seagull”, either, although I had read the play a few years ago. On the page, “The Seagull” always struck me as a notch below “The Cherry Orchard” and “The Three Sisters” and “Uncle Vanya” (and even “Ivanov”, for that matter).

The RSC performance of “The Seagull” was riveting. It may have been the best thing I have ever seen.

The company of actors was extraordinary. They offered the illusion of having known each other for life and having shared the same suffocating, oppressive environment for decades. They were unafraid to show irritation, and pettiness, and desperation, which made their displays of humanity all the more moving. A sense of community infiltrated the performance as the characters and their unfulfilled dreams rubbed elbows and overlapped and butted heads, often to very unpleasant effect.

This was not a genteel “Seagull”. This was not a “Seagull” in which the characters slowly and elegantly waltzed through their despair and shattered dreams in daguerreotype fashion, exhibiting a faded charm removed from flesh-and-blood concerns. This was a messy “Seagull”, filled with life, passion and terror. From the printed page, I didn’t know this play had such richness. I would like to see this production of “The Seagull” again, for three or four nights in a row, were that possible.

I was not the only one who was in awe of the production. Andrew and his parents and our landlady were equally full of admiration. Our landlady, a former drama instructor and constant theater-goer, said that the RSC “Seagull” was perhaps the single finest stage production she had ever seen.

I am very glad that the RSC made Minneapolis one of its stops on its American tour.

This weekend Andrew and I are going to stay home. We have a long list of things we need to get done, and we plan to have a very productive but quiet weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fred Kirshnit

Per a request, below is a re-publication of an article Andrew wrote, ten months ago, about a New York Sun article authored by Fred Kirshnit.

Yesterday, December 5, 2006, a bizarre article appeared in The New York Sun. The title of the article was "New York Drops Off The List Of The Big Five Orchestras". The author of the article was Fred Kirshnit.

The thrust of the article was to claim that America's five finest orchestras are now the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony, the latter three ensembles having replaced the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, former members of this exalted group.

Kirshnit is a virtually unknown personage who for years posted concert and opera reviews on an obscure website,, before joining the Sun to supplement Jay Nordlinger. Anyone who wishes to sample the quality of Kirshnit's work will have hours of fun and millions of laughs leafing through years and years of Kirshnit's web reviews, which remain posted at These old reviews are some of the best sources of reliable hilarity in the entire online world, akin to the novels of E. F. Benson--always available when one needs a bit of light amusement.

When I first discovered the website, initially I thought that the whole thing was a big put-on. Kirshnit's reviews were, I thought, deliberate send-ups, mimicking the bad writing and perverse musical judgments too often on display in musical coverage in American newspapers and magazines.

After I read about a dozen or so of Kirshnit's pieces, however, I started to realize that this guy's writings were not tongue-in-cheek at all but that he took himself deadly seriously, just like the television character Ted Baxter or the vocal artist Florence Foster Jenkins, neither of whom had a clue that they were ridiculous figures, entitled to nothing but scorn.

As I learned in law school, anyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but no one is entitled to his or her own set of facts. While Kirshnit's judgments in his Sun article are neither serious nor informed--they speak for themselves and will be taken seriously by no one--his many ridiculous misstatements of fact need to be corrected for the record.

I am going to italicize the biggest howlers, but I encourage everyone to read the full article, as it truly is priceless. Visits to the website are also a must for anyone who needs a laugh.

But music director Mr. Jansons recently announced his intention to move back to Europe permanently, taking over not one, but two of the world's finest ensembles, and leaving Heinz Hall forever.

Yes, Mr. Kirshnit, and thank you for that timely news bulletin. As everyone on the planet already knows--except for you, apparently--in June 2002, four and one-half years ago, Mariss Jansons announced his "intention" to leave his post with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

And, alas, I have even more news for you, Mr. Kirshnit. JANSONS IS ALREADY GONE! He has been gone for two and one-half years!

Now the powers that be have spent their money not on a new music director but rather on spin doctors. The new paradigm is for the orchestra to be led by Sir Andrew Davis, Yan Pascal Tortelier, and Marek Janowski. And, apparently, the twain shall never meet. The plan is for each conductor to instill his own ethnicity into the mix and for the public to swoon with delight at the innovation.

Mr. Kirshnit, you are to be commended on your excellent Jackie Collins imitation!

And once again, Mr. Kirshnit, you are to be thanked for that timely news announcement, which the rest of the world learned in September 2004. You will be happy to learn that "the plan" has now been in place in Pittsburgh for 18 months.

But wait, Mr. Kirshnit--I have even more updates for you! Andrew Davis announced, more than two months ago, that he will not continue as part of "the plan" and that he will cease to "instill his own ethnicity" in Pittsburgh when his contract expires in another 18 months. Are you withholding this news, waiting to break it in March 2009 or thereabouts?

Rumor has it that the very talented Kent Nagano will leave troubled Montreal and settle on Michigan Avenue.

"Rumors" about Kent Nagano taking over the Chicago Symphony may be floating about in other solar systems, but in OUR solar system there are no rumors involving Kent Nagano and the Chicago Symphony. Anyone who knows anything about the Chicago Symphony and its Board Of Directors and its management knows that Kent Nagano is not on Chicago's short list or on Chicago's long list or on ANY list concerning Chicago's search for a music director.

The "rumors" in Chicago involve Riccardo Chailly, Riccardo Muti and David Robertson. The members of the orchestra want Chailly, the Board Of Directors wants Muti and Deborah Card wants Robertson. The members of the orchestra are lobbying against Robertson, Chailly needs to be given a reason to leave Leipzig, and everyone would love to have a glamour figure like Muti at the helm of the orchestra but there is great concern that Muti would be hard to handle.

Austrian Franz Welser-Most had a terrible reputation when chosen to take over. Crucified by the British press--they quickly dubbed him "Frankly Worst Than Most"--he was hunted down in London as relentlessly as Bill Sykes. His tenure at the head of their Philharmonic was not just stormy but deeply unsatisfying for audiences at the Royal Festival Hall.

In Cleveland, performances have been uniformly poor, unpopular with both patrons and critics alike. For four years now, Maestro has brought his charges to Carnegie and my critical reaction has been somewhat subdued as I have been forced to concentrate on physically controlling my impulses to shudder on a regular basis.

Mr. Kirshnit, thank you for that 1990 update, as well as for the Norman Lebrecht imitation, which I genuinely enjoyed. Are you participating in a competition for a bad writing award?

Things have changed quite a bit in London since 1990, Mr. Kirshnit. Welser-Most was always popular with London audiences but fiercely opposed by some of the London critics at the very beginning of his tenure with the London Philharmonic. Welser-Most was only 27 years old at the time, and his youth was held against him.

By the end of his tenure with the London Philharmonic, in 1996, Welser-Most's London reviews were quite good (and often considerably better than that, especially in Bruckner--he began receiving superlative London notices in Bruckner from the age of 30 or so), and he and the London critics have long since made peace. Welser-Most's reception in London today is near-rapturous, which you would know if you kept abreast of the London musical scene.

The performances in Cleveland under Welser-Most have been uniformly excellent, at a higher standard than anywhere else in the world. This cannot be a surprise to anyone, as the Cleveland Orchestra is the finest orchestra in the world on a pure ensemble basis. Anyone selected at random from the telephone directory could conduct the Cleveland Orchestra, and the performance would be magnificent. This is because the members of the orchestra would ignore the conductor and play as a chamber group, acutely listening and responding to each other.

Welser-Most's reception in Cleveland has been extremely positive among audiences, patrons and the Board Of Directors. It is the critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Donald Rosenberg, who does not like Welser-Most. Other than Donald Rosenberg, Welser-Most's Cleveland reception has been a very fine one--so fine, in fact, that after his first year in Cleveland the orchestra's Board Of Directors asked Welser-Most if he would extend his five-year contract to a ten-year contract, which Welser-Most agreed to do.

In the late 1990's, Seiji Ozawa became the most infamous victim in Massachusetts since Sacco and Vanzetti. His troubles began with The Great Nutcracker War, when he took his orchestra to Asia in November and December 1996, leaving the city without a season of Christmas music performances. Then he dared to assert his leadership at the Tanglewood festival, replacing certain key personnel who were beloved by the press. The crushing blow came from New York critics, who wrote articles claiming the BSO had lost all professionalism and that its sound was devoid of proper intonation and balance. This avalanche of disrespect eventually led to Mr. Ozawa abandoning his lifelong artistic project and signing on with the Vienna State Opera, where, I am happy to report, everyone loves him.

Mr. Kirshnit, are you writing about Vienna, Austria, or Vienna, Saskatchewan? You clearly know nothing about the music scene in Austria.

Seiji Ozawa has been a well-publicized disaster in Vienna, held in such low repute by all parties that he has basically departed from the house, and is now merely a figurehead whose appearances are confined to the opera house's stationery.

Ioan Holender, the Intendent, does not like him, the critics do not like him, the public does not like him, and the members of the orchestra do not like him. Ozawa's conducting of his first big production in the house, Ernst Krenek's "Jonny Spielt Auf", was such a preeminent disaster--reported in frightful detail, worldwide--that he was basically written off by everyone concerned from that time forward. And that "Jonny Spielt Auf" was the absolute high point of his Vienna tenure!

The Wiener Staatsoper is now simply waiting for Welser-Most's contract in Cleveland to expire, because Welser-Most is Holender's choice to replace Ozawa. Welser-Most is also being aggressively lobbied for this post by the Austrian Ministry Of Culture, on orders of the Austrian government.

Ozawa now only appears in Vienna for a handful of performances each season--roughly eight performances a year, in a house that performs seven nights a week, ten months a year--and he has no involvement in the selection of repertory, artists, new productions or anything else pivotal in the administration of an opera house. He is music director in name only. Everyone in the world knows this, whether they live in Vienna or elsewhere--except, apparently, you. And you are "happy to report" that "everyone loves him" in Vienna? YOU DO NOT HAVE A CLUE WHAT YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT, MR. KIRSHNIT.

Your recitation of the facts about Ozawa's deteriorating situation in Boston is also totally mucked up. The facts in Boston are as follows.

Ozawa completely lost the confidence of the members of the Boston Symphony between 1980 and 1990. From 1973, when Ozawa assumed his position in Boston, until the very early 1980's, the members of the orchestra disliked him--from a musical standpoint--but nevertheless the musicians continued to play exceptionally well as an ensemble, assuming that Ozawa, a very limited musician, had such obvious shortcomings that the Board Of Directors would replace him in short order.

In 1980, Ozawa's contract was extended, to the dismay of the musicians, and Boston Symphony musicians began departing, moving on to other orchestras. Morale among the musicians got worse and worse throughout the 1980's as Ozawa's contract kept being extended , and departures of orchestral members continued, until by 1990 the orchestra was only a shell of its former self. It was during this same decade that much of Boston's traditional subscriber base abandoned the orchestra.

The management of the Boston Symphony did not handle the situation well. Boston has the largest endowment of all American orchestras, and long-term full-season subscribers who departed were to some extent replaced by new, mini-season subscribers. The orchestra, financially, was still doing quite well and the management, through some combination of inertia and bad judgment, allowed the situation to continue to deteriorate for another decade.

It was only when Mark Volpe became the orchestra's Executive Director, in 1996, that he was able to convince, quietly, important members of the Board Of Directors that it was time to ease Ozawa out the door.

Ozawa's departure from Boston had nothing to do with the 1996 tour to Asia or to staff changes at Tanglewood. The infamous 1998 Greg Sandow Wall Street Journal article, similarly, had nothing to do with Ozawa's ouster, which by that time was, in any case, already engineered. Publicly, Boston even came to Ozawa's rescue. Anyone can read, online, the furious denunciations of Greg Sandow issued by the Boston Symphony in response to his Journal article as well as the statements of support the BSO strong-armed out of several prominent musicians on Ozawa's behalf.

Boston's reviews, in any case, had been deteriorating for years, in New York and elsewhere, long before the appearance of the Sandow article. Andrew Porter's Ozawa reviews in The New Yorker, still widely available, address the shortcomings during the first fifteen or so Ozawa Boston years, after which point no one--the members of the orchestra, Boston's musical public, the record companies--any longer cared. Boston's fall from greatness had already happened. By 1990, it was a done deal.

Despite having been so good for so long, the Philadelphia Orchestra has quite recently lost its edge. After enjoying the heralded reigns of Stokowski, Ormandy, Muti and Sawallisch, all of whom preserved that patented "fabulous Philadelphians" sound, the players were extremely upset by management's decision, taken unilaterally and without consultation, to hire Christoph Eschenbach. That signature sound is now unraveling at the seams.

Mr. Kirshnit, Philadelphia lost its unique sound long ago, during the Muti years. Muti deliberately altered the "drenched" nature of the Philadelphia string sound, which he believed to be inappropriate for much of the orchestral repertory. That was one of his publicly-stated objectives when he was named Ormandy's successor and, whether people liked the change or not, Muti effectuated it, and he effectuated it fairly quickly. The Philadelphia sound, as altered by Muti in the early 1980's, has not substantially changed since that time. Sawallisch consciously sought a less brilliant sound than Muti, but the Philadelphia sound has been consistent since 1982 or 1983, through the remainder of the Muti years and through the Sawallisch years and through the now short-lived Eschenbach years.

The "unraveling at the seams" in "that signature sound" occurred almost a quarter century ago, Mr. Kirshnit, and not under Eschenbach. Eschenbach's problems in Philadelphia have had nothing to do with Philadelphia's sound--they have been caused by his wildly fluctuating tempos, which have not convinced the musicians, and the attendant decline in unanimity of ensemble that all those tempo changes create.

Eschenbach's fate in Philadelphia was determined during his first European tour with the orchestra, a tour that included concerts in Vienna and elsewhere in Central Europe. Influential patrons of the orchestra accompanied the orchestra on that tour, and when they read the orchestra's reviews--especially translated for them--from the German and Austrian newspapers, they were shocked. The reviews were brutal, just about the worst reviews any major American orchestra has ever received on a European tour. The critics announced that the Philadelphia Orchestra was no longer a "great" orchestra, no longer a "special" orchestra, no longer an orchestra worth going out of one's way to hear. The Philadelphia Orchestra's supporters did not much appreciate reading such harsh words about their orchestra. Eschenbach's fate in Philadelphia was sealed after that first European tour, a fact widely if quietly known in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Nobody in this part of the world seems to know how good this ensemble really is, but this, I believe, is strictly a matter of East Coast superciliousness. Esa-Pekka Salonen is a dynamic, exciting presence, and a first-rate composer to boot. His ability to prod his forces into extraordinary bursts of color while still keeping proper balance allows the left coast Phil to dance on winds positively fairy-blown. The strings are lush but nimble, the woodwinds precise and poetic, the brass warm and accurate, the percussion bright and crisp. All are allowed to let loose in a rather elastic manner. Perhaps Mr. Salonen's secret is a palpable confidence that allows his players to breathe freely while still under his strict control. Whatever the formula, he has applied it exceptionally well. For 20th century music, this is the band of choice.

Mr. Kirshnit, I love your Barbara Cartland imitation! I hope you win that bad-writing award, because you sure have worked hard to come out on top. That is one of the most inane paragraphs anyone has ever written!

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is a regional orchestra. It has a very unpleasant sound--it has always had a very unpleasant sound--and its level of ensemble "swims": the orchestra cannot play as a tight, cohesive ensemble.

The string sound of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is particularly unpleasant. It is a very thick, colorless, undifferentiated sound. It is not luminous, it is not translucent, it is incapable of delicacy, and it suffers from a total lack of refinement. It is, however, loud.

The woodwind section is the best section of the orchestra, but the Los Angeles Philharmonic winds offer no competition whatsoever to the wind sections of the Cleveland Orchestra or the Chicago Symphony or the Philadelphia Orchestra, all three of which feature wind ensembles at an entirely different--and much higher--level.

The brass section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is merely bad. However, I would like to concede one point to you: the orchestra's percussion section, no doubt, truly is "crisp", as you state. But are not all percussion sections, because of the instruments they play, by their very natures, "crisp"?

Alas, none of the different sections of the Los Angeles Philharmonic blend well together. I can say this, having heard the orchestra on its home turf, Disney Hall. I have also heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform at the concert hall of the Kennedy Center in Washington and at Carnegie Hall in New York, and the orchestra sounded disgraceful in both of those venues, too. However, orchestras can be shaken out of tune by traveling, and orchestral musicians generally hear each other in new and different ways in foreign halls, so it is impossible to know how any orchestra truly sounds unless that orchestra has been heard in its home auditorium. I HAVE heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic play in its home auditorium, and I can state, uncategorically, that the orchestra sounds just as bad in Los Angeles as it does on the Eastern Seaboard.

However, all of the West Coast orchestras have horrible sound, and they have ALWAYS had horrible sound. The San Francisco Symphony has a horrible sound, too--not even Herbert Blomstedt could do much with the sound of that orchestra--and the Seattle Symphony has a TRULY horrible sound. I have always assumed, rightly or wrongly, that this must have something to do with the very, very best musicians always gravitating toward Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia, always the most prestigious jobs for American orchestral musicians since Boston's downfall.

So, Mr. Kirshnit, which are America's very finest orchestras?

I know of no informed, serious person who does not rank the Cleveland Orchestra number one. Cleveland is also the ONLY American orchestra that ALWAYS receives dazzling reviews in Europe.

I know of no informed, serious person who does not rank the Chicago Symphony Orchestra number two. The Philadelphia Orchestra traditionally offers Chicago its competition for the second spot, but the Philadelphia Orchestra is going through a bad period right now.

I know of no informed, serious person who does not rank the Philadelphia Orchestra number three. Despite its current difficulties, it remains a splendid ensemble, capable of playing any other American orchestra under the table, save Cleveland and Chicago.

After the top three spots, rankings become more difficult. The next grouping would have to be, in alphabetical order, Cincinnati, Dallas, Minnesota, New York and Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh is losing important musicians now, moving to other orchestras, a situation I am confident you are keeping up-to-date on, Mr. Kirshnit). The next grouping would have to be, again in alphabetical order, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Boston. After that grouping, the rest of America's orchestras are all pretty much lumped together in a muddle.

Truly, the concept of the traditional "big five" American orchestras should be replaced by the "big three", because that has been the reality of the orchestral situation in the United States more or less since the day I was born--in 1980.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

"Do Not Go Gentle . . ."

Andrew’s maternal grandmother, his only living grandparent, lives in a care facility.

I never met Andrew’s grandmother until a couple of months ago. On a Sunday afternoon in August, after a gathering of Andrew’s mother’s family to celebrate the birthday of one of Andrew’s mother’s siblings, Andrew’s parents and I stopped at the care facility to visit his grandmother.

It would not be accurate to say that I was introduced to Andrew’s grandmother that day, because there was no introduction. Alongside Andrew and his parents, I simply sat in a room with her for an hour.

Andrew’s grandmother is 95 years old, and she suffers from senility. She no longer recognizes anyone and she lives in her own isolated world.

Andrew’s grandmother lived in her own home until age 90. That year she fell on the steps of her church and broke her hip. She was never to return to her home again.

After her hospitalization for hip surgery, she went to live with Andrew’s parents, but by the time she left the hospital she was already a different person. She more or less lost all capability of functioning, mentally and physically, within a few weeks of her fall, and she was never to regain her lost faculties.

She spent several months living with Andrew’s parents, and it was a very unhappy situation. She had to be cared for around the clock, because she could do nothing for herself. She had to be watched at all times, even at night, because she was prone to rise in the middle of the night and try to use the stairs.

Andrew’s mother was a virtual prisoner for those months, unable to leave the house even to do food shopping. Andrew’s parents got virtually no rest during that time because they were full-time caregivers, even throughout the night. Finally, they had no choice but to place her in a care facility. They were quite literally killing themselves trying to care for her.

Until three years ago, Andrew’s grandmother would occasionally recognize Andrew’s mother, her youngest child, as well as her oldest son, but for the last three years she has recognized no one. She does not talk and she does not listen to or comprehend anyone or anything. Speech has no meaning for her.

The only pleasure she seems to have is sitting in a conservatory at the care facility. It is a beautiful sunroom with a glass roof, filled with plants and flowers and small trees and comfortable chairs, and she smiles when she is escorted into that room. She likes to sit in the room, and enjoy the plants and flowers and trees and natural light. I don’t think she takes pleasure in anything else.

Her life is spent sitting in a chair, or walking between chairs: chairs in her bedroom and chairs in the dining room and chairs in the great room and chairs in the conservatory. Even at night, she sits in a chair in her bedroom. She does not sleep in her bed. Instead, she will occasionally nod off in a chair. That is her only slumber.

Andrew’s mother goes to see her most days, spending an hour with her either in the morning or in the afternoon. Once a week, Andrew’s mother will have lunch at the facility, eating next to her own mother in the dining room.

Andrew’s father generally accompanies Andrew’s mother on weekend visits to the facility.

Andrew goes to see his grandmother every other week. He always goes to see his grandmother at lunchtime during the workweek, and he goes on a day on which his mother has lunch at the facility. He has lunch there on those days, too, and his grandmother sits between him and his mother and they all have lunch together in the dining room.

It is very sad, and it is also very painful. There is no longer a person inside Andrew’s grandmother, or at least no way to reach whatever person remains inside her.

The reason I never met Andrew’s grandmother until August was because Andrew always told me that there was no point in my going to the care facility to meet her because there was no one there to meet other than the body of a former person who was now an empty shell. In fact, the only reason I met Andrew’s grandmother in August was because Andrew’s parents decided to stop and visit her that Sunday afternoon after the family gathering, and we had all gone to the family gathering in one car.

That Sunday afternoon we all sat with her for an hour. There was nothing more to our visit than sitting alongside her. She did not converse. She did not look at us. Our conversation had no meaning for her. Andrew’s mother would touch her and kiss her, and she did not respond to the touches and kisses. It was very, very sad.

I can see, from photographs, that Andrew’s grandmother had been a very, very beautiful woman in her day, surely one of the most beautiful women in Minneapolis. In her wedding photographs, she is dazzling. In those photographs, I can see her beautiful face, a face so beautiful it is almost startling. More importantly, her eyes in those photographs reveal a keen intelligence and a bright, vivacious personality and a youthful, vigorous energy. Seeing those photographs, I can instantly understand why Andrew’s grandfather wanted to marry her. Any well-bred young man would have wanted her as his wife.

During my visit to the care facility, I could tell that one question, and one question only, was going through Andrew’s family’s minds the entire visit: how much longer will this be permitted to continue? A shadow existence, such as that now suffered by Andrew’s grandmother--a person whom they all used to know and love and cherish--surely must be one of the most painful things in life for anyone to have to watch and endure.

For her sake, and for the sake of her family, I hope Andrew’s grandmother is called home before long.

My own grandparents are already gone.

My paternal grandfather died before I was born.

My maternal grandfather died when I was five years old. I barely remember him, because he lived in Indiana and I saw him very rarely. I don’t even remember attending his funeral, but I am assured by my parents that I was there.

My maternal grandmother died when I was fifteen. I do remember her, and I remember her well, but I seldom saw her because she lived in Indiana and my family did not have time to make many trips to Indiana. I generally saw her once a year, either at Christmas or during the summer, when she would come to Oklahoma for a visit.

The grandparent I genuinely knew, and loved very deeply, was my paternal grandmother, who more or less raised me. She lived out in the country, on a farm, and I spent about half of the first ten years of my life living with her. Whatever I am today, I owe to her.

She gave me love and care and attention and affection, without limit, and she was the first person who loved me unconditionally and wanted nothing in return. In fact, until I met Andrew, she was the only person in my life who loved me unconditionally and wanted nothing in return.

I always loved summer days on the farm. We would garden in the mornings, and sit outside in the shade in the afternoons, and play cards at night. On Friday mornings, we would go to town and do the shopping for the week.

My grandmother did not have much money, and her garden was very important to her. Her summer garden was responsible for providing her with fruits and vegetables for the whole year. From her garden and orchard she would can peaches and pears and cherries and green beans and corn and tomatoes and carrots. She would make strawberry and raspberry and apricot preserves. She would keep mounds of potatoes and apples in the basement, enough to last through the winter.

My grandmother also kept chickens. The chickens provided her with eggs, and egg money, because she would sell fresh eggs to neighbors.

My grandmother had a hard life, and yet she was very happy—at least, she appeared to be happy the entire time I was with her. She always laughed a lot, and seemed pleased and privileged to be able to spend time with me. I loved her so much that writing about her now brings tears to my eyes.

She died when I was a senior in high school. Her car was hit by a truck one Friday morning on her way into town. The driver of the truck said that she had pulled out onto the highway from a country road directly into his path.

My mother showed up at school that day, in the middle of classes, to retrieve me. I was called out of class to the principal’s office, where I found my mother.

I knew something was up, but I never expected to receive the news that my grandmother had died. I started crying right there in the principal’s office.

That day was the saddest day of my life.

After my grandmother died, I never thought I would be that close to anyone ever again. I could not even conceive being that close to another person, or loving someone so totally and so unconditionally, and I thought that part of my life was behind me forever.

Happily for me, it was not, but I was not to know that for another four years.

I never told Andrew about my grandmother until Andrew and I had been together a couple of months. Then one afternoon it all came out of me, like a flood.

We were taking a bath together, and suddenly I found it necessary to tell Andrew everything I could think of about my grandmother. I talked, nonstop, for almost an hour and a half. Andrew looked at me and listened the whole time, but he did not say a word. He just listened while I talked. I did a lot of crying while I talked, and my talking ended only because the bathwater had become cold and because we needed to get up and dry ourselves and warm ourselves.

Sometimes I have the odd notion that Andrew and I, when we get old, should retire to the small house my grandmother owned in rural Oklahoma. It was a very simple and very small house: a kitchen, a living room, two small bedrooms, a tiny bath. There was a full attic, which she used for storage, and a full basement, filled with jars of canned fruits and vegetables and bins of potatoes and apples. There was a small front porch.

It was not luxurious, but it was home.

The house was sold after my grandmother’s death, and I don’t even know who lives there now. Nevertheless, somehow I wish that Andrew and I could one day live in that house. It seems appropriate that we should live there, because Andrew, like my grandmother, loves me unconditionally and wants nothing in return.

And I could see all of that, and more, in Andrew’s eyes that afternoon in the bathtub, as he silently listened to me talk, and cry, as I told him about my grandmother while we sat in the freezing bathwater.

No doubt Andrew and I will never actually have the opportunity to retire to my grandmother’s house. For one thing, the house will probably not even be standing by the time we are ready to retire. For another, I don’t think that Andrew and I have a clue what retirement and old age has in store for us.

But I believe we would be happy there, and for all the right reasons.

When the day comes that there is no longer a person inside each of us, I hope we are called home. I don’t want us to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day Weekend

Our weekend in New York was a lot of fun.

I like going to New York. We always have a great time there.

The best thing about New York is playing with Andrew’s nephew. He’s a lot of fun, and we all love playing with him. As he grows, he is more and more fun because he can do more and more things.

He loves it when everyone gets on the floor and plays with him. Sitting in the middle of the living room floor with his toys circled around him, surrounded by his Dad, his granddad, his two uncles and me, he is completely happy for a couple of hours at a time. He smiles and smiles, and laughs and laughs. While he plays with us on the floor, he also keeps his eyes on his Mom and his grandmother. He wants to make sure he is not going to miss out on any food, I think (he is a very good eater).

While we were there, he did not want to take his nap after lunch, probably because he did not want to miss out on any fun. He liked having so many people to play with, and he hated having to stop and take his afternoon nap. He cried for a few minutes each afternoon when he was told it was naptime, and it was always his Dad who would take him to his room and comfort him and settle him down and tell him his naptime would be over before he knew it. Once he lay down, he would go to sleep almost immediately.

He’s a real Dad’s boy (not that he’s not a real Mom’s boy, too). He loves it when his Dad plays with him, and he often tries to mimic his Dad. He looks to his Dad when he is having trouble with his toys, or having trouble figuring out something, and his Dad is always there for him.

Andrew’s mother says that he is an exact duplicate of his father at the same age, not only in terms of his looks but in terms of his walk and his speech and his mannerisms and his personality, too.

He’s quite a little guy. Andrew says that he has completely forgotten what life was like without him, even though his nephew is not quite two years old.

He loves mealtimes. At lunch and dinner, he sits in a high chair between his mother and his grandmother, and they take care of him. In part, he feeds himself, picking up things from his plate and putting them into his mouth. He puts small pieces of chicken and pork into his mouth, as well as peas and lima beans and tiny carrots, which he picks up one by one. For mashed potatoes and noodles and stuffing and applesauce and jello, he is fed with a spoon.

He loves sitting in his high chair because he can observe everyone else around the table. He watches everyone during mealtimes, and he often kicks up his feet and raises his arms in excitement and exclaims gibberish and smiles, after which he will go back to eating.

He also likes to sit in his high chair for 30 minutes before mealtimes. During this time, he will sit and intently watch whoever is working in the kitchen. He will be given a cracker or something else to chew on while he watches the activity, and whoever is in the kitchen will talk to him and engage him.

For his breakfast, Andrew and his father and his middle brother and I would feed him while everyone else slept in. This was our exclusive time with him, and we would take turns feeding him his cereal and fruit and playing with him. For us, this was a very special time of day.

For most of the weekend, we all simply stayed in the apartment and visited and watched college football games and played “Monopoly” and played with Andrew’s nephew.

On Saturday evening, Andrew and his mother and I went over to the New York State Theater to attend a performance of the traditional Mascagni/Leoncavallo pairing. I had never experienced either opera before, and I enjoyed the performance, and so did Andrew and so did his mother. None of us thought the production or performance to be especially good, but we enjoyed having the opportunity to see and hear these realist works, performed in Neo-Realist style in tribute to Italian Neo-Realist filmmakers Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini.

Both “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “I Pagliacci” are unsubtle works, if truth be told, and they have pretty much been dropped from the repertory outside the United States. Even in Italy, these works are rarely revived now.

Why are these operas so popular in the U.S.? My guess is that their U.S. popularity is due to their simple stories and easily-digestible musical scores. Neither of these works poses a problem for the occasional opera-goer, who may not be able to make it through “Cosi Fan Tutte” or ”Lohengrin” or “Capriccio”.

I should know. The first opera performance I ever attended, in high school, was a university music department’s realization of “Cosi Fan Tutte”. I wanted to die during the whole performance. At the time, I thought it was the most boring thing I had ever encountered, and it almost turned me off opera for life.

Early Sunday morning, Andrew and his brothers and I took the 8:30 a.m. ferry out to Liberty Island and Ellis Island to visit The Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island’s immigration museum. We had a marvelous time.

The Statue Of Liberty was magnificent. I found myself incredibly stirred as the boat moved closer and closer to Liberty Island, bringing The Statue into clear view. This is one of the great, great experiences for an American. I was chilled.

We spent more than an hour on Liberty Island, walking around the island and looking up at The Statue. We were unable to go inside the monument, because all monument passes for the day had been reserved more than a week in advance, and we had waited too long before trying to secure passes for the day.

After Liberty Island, we took the ferry over to Ellis Island and we went through the immigration center and museum. It, too, was very moving, although the museum itself and its exhibits probably need to be completely redone. It was patently obvious that museum professionals had not been involved in the museum’s design or in its displays, which frankly were not very good. The British know how to do history museums much better than we do. Americans should take a page from the British on how to do history presentations.

Both The Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island are administered by The National Park Service. Both attractions, technically, are free, but visitors must pay $13.75 per person to take the special ferry out to the attractions. For a family with three children, a visit would cost $68.75, a sum that surely inhibits many families from visiting these sites. These treasures should be freely available to all Americans, and the ferry should be free (or at least feature only a nominal charge) in order to encourage as many visitors as possible.

Over the weekend, Andrew’s brothers made their Thanksgiving plans.

Andrew’s older brother and his family have decided to spend two weeks in Minneapolis over Thanksgiving. They will travel to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, November 10, and remain in Minnesota until Sunday afternoon, November 25.

Andrew’s middle brother will come home twice in November. He will first come home over the three-day Veterans Day weekend, arriving on Friday evening, November 9, and departing on Monday evening, November 12. He will return four days later, on Friday evening, November 16, and remain until Sunday afternoon, November 25.

This will give us a lot of time to do things, which we all look forward to. One of the things we plan to do is to attend the Minnesota/Wisconsin game on Saturday, November 17. Even though the Golden Gophers are not having a stellar year, Minnesota always seems to give the Badgers fits at home.

We did not really have a Thanksgiving last year because we were in Hamburg. I look forward to having a genuine Thanksgiving this year. I want to eat turkey and ham and stuffing and cranberries and pumpkin pie and all the trimmings.

Over Thanksgiving, Andrew will celebrate his birthday and I will celebrate my birthday. In addition, Andrew’s parents will celebrate their wedding anniversary. This will be fun, because we really had no celebrations last year because, once again, we were in Hamburg. The trip to Hamburg, itself, was celebration enough.

This week we will attend the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances of “King Lear” and “The Seagull”. Andrew’s sister-in-law, who loves theater, attended performances of both plays in New York and she said that we will enjoy them very much.

She attended “King Lear” on a Saturday afternoon, but she had to attend “The Seagull” on a weeknight because there was no matinee performance of “The Seagull” during the New York engagement.

The New York performances were in Brooklyn, and she took the subway to Brooklyn for the matinee performance of “King Lear”. However, Andrew’s brother drove her to Brooklyn for the evening performance of “The Seagull” and he returned to Brooklyn to retrieve her after the conclusion of the performance.

On the second of those trips to Brooklyn, Andrew’s nephew was left with a baby sitter for the first time. The baby sitter was a neighbor, and it really did not count as a genuine baby-sitting experience because Andrew’s nephew was long since in bed, asleep, when the babysitter arrived to spell Andrew’s brother so that he could drive back to Brooklyn to pick up his wife. Nevertheless, this was the very first time that Andrew’s nephew has ever been left in the care of a non-family member.

According to Andrew’s sister-in-law, the RSC presentation of “The Seagull” is truly something to behold, the most wondrous and exciting and fulfilling production of a Chekhov play to be seen in years and years and years. She said it was so good that the New York critics--aside from The Wall Street Journal reviewer, who extolled the production to the skies--did not even know what to make of it. It was of a standard we seldom, if ever, experience in this country.

At both performances she attended, the New York audience was stultifying. The audience’s attention waned after the first ten minutes of both plays and afterward the audience only perked up once: in “King Lear”, during a gratuitous nude scene.

Over Thanksgiving, we may take Andrew’s sister-in-law to a Guthrie Theater performance of “Jane Eyre”, the showcase presentation of the Guthrie’s Fall season. It is a lengthy adaptation of the Bronte novel, given a complicated production with an enormous cast, and she may enjoy it very much. It is the kind of production a commercial theater could never attempt because of the massive cost involved. The Guthrie’s “Jane Eyre” is supposed to be far from perfect, but well worth seeing. However, if we are to take Andrew’s sister-in-law to “Jane Eyre”, it will have to be on her first night home, because the final performance of the run is that very evening.

We are also thinking of taking her to two other theater offerings: the Guthrie’s presentation of Brian Friel’s “The Home Place” and Park Square Theatre’s presentation of John Pielmeier’s “Agnes Of God”. The latter, however, closes after the Sunday matinee of November 11, so she will have to go on her second day home if she is to see that play.

Andrew’s sister-in-law will let us know about “Jane Eyre” and “Agnes Of God” in the next week or so. If she wants to see one or both plays, we will get tickets. If she does not want to see one or both plays, we will probably go see them ourselves prior to the Thanksgiving period.

I have never attended a performance at Park Square Theatre, which is in Saint Paul. It is one of several fully-professional theater companies in the Twin Cities that supplement the work of the Guthrie.

The Guthrie is the big guy on the block, obviously, what with its huge budget—by far the largest budget of any theater in the U.S.—and its three stages, all of which operate year-round. It has been America’s most important theater since its founding.

However, Theater In The Round and Jungle Theater and Park Square Theatre and Theatre De La Jeune Lune are fully-professional theater companies, too, and those theater companies also operate year-round, generally giving their presentations four- to eight-week runs.

This makes the Twin Cities one of the country’s theater meccas, and I think Andrew’s sister-in-law will enjoy this once she and Andrew’s brother make the inevitable move back home.

Minneapolis is unique in that it is one of the few large American cities in which repertory theater is the main event. Roadshow presentations of popular Broadway musicals do not do well at the box office in Minneapolis. In most large American cities, roadshow presentations of Broadway musicals are the most popular theatrical events in town and garner the largest portion of box-office revenues. In Minneapolis, the reverse is true—touring Broadway shows generally do poorly, and large producing companies like The Schubert Organization have almost written off the Twin Cities as a profitable touring destination. Theater-goers here seem to prefer legitimate plays to musicals, a tribute to the foresight of Tyrone Guthrie, whose belief in the power of serious theater has taken root here.

This will help make Minneapolis a hospitable permanent home for Andrew’s sister-in-law.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Oh, Those Nasty Brits!

British book reviews are exceedingly colorful, at least compared to our milquetoast American counterparts.

Andrew found an hysterical review of a biography of actress Joan Collins in The Telegraph. This is a book neither of us would ever read, but I am exceedingly glad I read the review. It had me in stitches.

I only extract the best lines:

Whatever one might think of Joan Collins, she does remain eternal and utterly incredible in much the same way as, say, Bamburgh Castle.

Bear with me on this one.

Both are famous English landmarks, renowned for their brooding beauty and timeless appeal, and both have withstood attack and the abrasion of salt wind for centuries.

Neither has been extensively restored, as Miss Collins insists that she does not believe in plastic surgery, only the camouflaging effects of “lashings” of make up.

Still, from certain angles, it is clear that at least one of them is an old ruin. . .


During her first assault on Hollywood, Collins slept with so many men that she was known as The British Open.

“Joan's had more hands up her than the Muppets” was how one actress deftly put it. . .


Coming across her early adventuring in Tinseltown is like finding unexpected passages of mirth and froth in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The thing was, five times married, Joan never looked innocent. . .


Husbands, lovers, collaborators, friends: here is a woman with no use for the corpse once she had extracted the marrow. Yet somehow she endures over the decades: green-eyed Saint Joan presiding above a bonfire of dried sticks and husks of husbands.

It is hard not to admire her for that, however awful she might be.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pumpkin Time

Andrew left for Louisville very early this morning, and I will be staying with Andrew’s parents until Andrew returns. In fact, even after Andrew returns from Louisville late Wednesday night, he and I will stay with his parents until Friday, when we will all go to New York for the Columbus Day weekend.

Our weekend was fun. I did not let the Sooners’ loss spoil my weekend, even though I was dumbfounded and sorely disappointed by the loss.

We’ve all given up on the Golden Gophers for the year, more or less, although we plan to attend the Minnesota/Wisconsin game the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That will be the only Minnesota game we plan to attend this year.

On Friday night, “Speed The Plow” was a major disappointment. The best thing about the play was that it only lasted ninety minutes. The best thing about the evening was the excellent dinner Andrew and I had at an Italian restaurant before the play.

David Mamet has a great gift for language, and he has fully mastered the rhythmic requirements of the stage. He is a natural-born playwright. However, I am not sure that he has anything to say. “Speed The Plow” struck me as a writing exercise, written simply to keep a writer’s gears greased and in motion. The play fundamentally was empty and nihilistic.

On Sunday afternoon, “Un Ballo In Maschera” was a real trial to sit through. I despised everything about the production: the stage design, the costume design, the lighting design, the stage direction, the singing and the conducting. I thought everything and everyone involved in the production was amateur. If I had not become acquainted with this work by listening to the Callas recording the past two weeks, I would think this opera not worth mounting.

The performance was so poor that we almost left after Act II. The only reason we remained for Act III was because we knew it was the shortest of the three acts and because we wanted to hear the baritone’s aria. We were not rewarded for our endurance.

Saturday was the fun weekend day. We got a lot of yard work done, and we watched a lot of college football, and we ate a lot of good food.

We also bought three pumpkins and carved three jack-o-lanterns to place outside the house. Andrew’s family always carves three jack-o-lanterns, a tradition that began when Andrew and his brothers were little boys and when each son got to carve his own pumpkin (with a little help from their Dad, of course).

On Saturday, Andrew’s mother prepared the pumpkin meat as soon as we scooped it out of the pumpkins. She cooked the pumpkin meat with different spices in three different batches, and it was a fairly lengthy and complicated procedure. She will use the prepared pumpkin to make pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies.

Last night, Andrew’s mother prepared for us her special version of pumpkin bread, made with lots of walnuts and raisins. It is to die for. We all ate some last night, while it was still warm, and it was heavenly. I have two pieces packed in my lunch today, which I have been informed will be best if eaten with the fresh pear-and-strawberry salad Andrew’s mother made for me, too. First, however, I am supposed to eat the chicken sandwiches and coleslaw Andrew’s mother packed for my lunch.

I don’t think I am going to starve while Andrew is away!

Until Friday, there will be nothing going on this week except work.

I can handle that.