November 2010

Recordings

Grooves in the Mist — a Vinyl Memoir: Part I

"Somewhere around 1950," Leopold Stokowski once quipped, "recorded sound stopped being a novelty and started sounding like music." I was reminded of this the other day, when I received from Netflix the DVD of "A Letter To Three Wives", which was filmed in 1949 and features Kirk Douglas playing the Brahms B-flat Concerto to friends on an enormous console, probably a Capehart or a Zenith "Cobramatic". At one point in the movie, he becomes miffed at someone for having broken some shellac, and we see him revealed as an early version of the classic suburban audio peacock, petulant and anxious over any flaws in his equipment.
Music

Two at Davies Hall: San Francisco Symphony/Conlon; Staatskapelle Dresden/Harding

A tale of two orchestras, two conductors, two soloists, several accents, two continents... Indeed. Two recent musical evenings, performed back to back by our own San Francisco Symphony under James Conlon, and by the legendary Dresden Staatskapelle, on tour with Daniel Harding, were highly revealing of the differences which can still exist in the identity, tradition and manner of orchestras. By programming emotionally mainstream works, containing few neuroses or cataclysms, both conductors necessarily brought the focus of the audience's attention to beauty of execution, national perceptions of orchestral warmth and tone painting, and to their own manner of leadership.

New York Arts in Australia

Opera Australia’s Der Rosenkavalier

Though one hundred years old and a comedy set in 1740's Vienna, Der Rosenkavalier is still fresh. This is partly because the opera is timeless because, as Robert Gibson and Andrew Riemer's interesting program notes point out, it is an anachronistic mixture of different bits of Viennese cultural. For instance one can nitpick the fact the romantic waltzes Richard Strauss incorporated into the opera's music and plot wouldn't exist until the 19th Century (they were barely dancing l'Allemande with linked hands in the mid 18th Century). Thus the opera is about as logical and historically accurate as a myth is -- it is a rich Dobos torte (whose recipe Dobos donated to the Budapest Pastry and Honey-bread Makers' Guild five years before the opera's première, for what it's worth) of many integrated layers, some chocolate, some nutty, some sugary, and some disturbing, ashy and mawkish. Present also is something of Sigmund Freud's contemporaneous Vienna, not just in the way we see how his patients' inherited neuroses manifested themselves some generations prior, but also as psychology as one of the last frontiers of the enlightenment. The famous final duet is to be sung "träumerisch": the young hero Octavian sings "Ist ein Traum..." just as the "secret of his dream is revealed" (see photo of tablet below). He wakes up from the intense love affair with the Marschallin and realises the true nature of his feelings. This happens only after he has convinced his rival the Baron Ochs of his insanity by simulating hallucinations in a kind of upside down abreaction in the form of a Viennese masked ball. Octavian awakens to the realisation that his love for the Marschallin is "mere" warm friendship and discovers true love for the young Sophie who is fresh from the convent. He had refused to face the dawn in Act I, but by Act III he comes to act on the dreams, or at least the strange events, of the intervening scenes in which he undergoes two transformations to the opposite sex, encounters a symbolic silver rose, tries to duel Ochs and sets up said masked ball, before fixing his and Sophie's lives. Octavian, knightly and hot headed though he is, has a manly grace. He forsakes brute force in the end to find a third alternative to his problems, which should be relevant today when the beastly Baron Ochs' style of greed of is often valued over character, civility and proper thinking. Or at least relevant to those who more reasonably mistake romantic love for friendship or believe one necessarily precludes the other for all time.

Architecture | Urban Design

A Grand Tour, Part 3: Some Cool Buildings

Urban planning is a sound and necessary activity, but you can’t eat a menu, right? Buildings, trees, curbstones; it is particularity which makes a city and in the end it takes physical objects to settle arguments about what is good, bad and weird in architecture. In that spirit, here are some buildings good enough to eat.
Art

More Caravaggio throughout Italy

The shows in Italy honoring the four-hundredth anniversary of Caravaggio’s death have been so popular that authorities at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence have announced they are extending “Caravaggio e Caravaggeschi” at the Galleria Palatina until January 9th. Pilgrims can also take advantage of “Caravaggio e altri pittori del XVII secolo” at Castel Sismondo in Rimini until March 28th.
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