Sunday, March 05, 2017

Beethoven's Fifth

On February 5, I went to an all-Beethoven program at Lincoln Center, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Iv├ín Fischer.  

They did two symphonies and a piano concerto, ending with the Fifth Symphony.  

I've certainly heard it before (and have long loved the PDQ Bach version with sports-style commentary) -- but some reason, the Fifth really got into my brain this time.  

For nearly three weeks afterward, I kept remembering particular segments or phrases, especially the inflection points or transitions between keys and themes.  

Now that I've gone back to look at Lincoln Center's page about the concert, I see that the NYT called Fischer “A dynamic, idiosyncratic Beethoven conductor.”  That assessment may help explain my own experience.

In retrospect, I'm sorry I didn't go see them the following night too, for their second all-Beethoven program (featuring the 8th & 9th symphonies).  The NYT wrote up both concerts, as "An Orchestra Triumphs Over Trump’s Travel Ban" by Michael Cooper (2/8/2017):
The Budapest Festival Orchestra and its conductor, Ivan Fischer, gave two of the freshest, least conventional Beethoven performances of the season at Lincoln Center this week. Music students [from Julliard and Bard] unexpectedly rushed the stage to join them in a soaring section of the Fifth Symphony, and incognito choristers popped up among the audience members to sing the Ninth’s “Ode to Joy.”
But apparently, Trump's executive order threw the orchestra's planned five-city U.S. tour into doubt:
As the orchestra prepared to leave Hungary last week, it was informed that one of its cellists, a longtime Hungarian citizen, would not be allowed to enter the United States because he also held citizenship in Iraq [...] 
Mr. Fischer did not take this lying down.  Instead, he called a State Department official and 
argued that his cellist [...] was as Hungarian as anyone in the orchestra, and that he did not believe that the executive order, which he read, applied to dual-passport holders.  The next day, after pressure from diplomats in Britain, Canada and elsewhere, Trump administration officials announced that dual citizens would be allowed to enter the country.
My own sad secret is that the second Beethoven concert conflicted with the chocolate tasting event -- and I made the wrong choice.  Alas!  I'll definitely have to catch Mr. Fischer again at the Mostly Mozart Festival this summer.

Post-Publication Irregular Round-Up

Here is a round-up of my lousy smartphone pictures...

Jacques Torres and Leonard Lopate at WNYC
In early February, I went to a chocolate and wine tasting at a local radio station's performance space.  Torres was quite personable and a good raconteur; I could see how he made the jump from pastry chef to celebrity chocolatier.  (Although not everyone knows him.  Indeed, I first learned of him through a guy's very cute first date survival package - it included a small box of Jacques Torres chocolates, plus exact change for a payphone, which he explained was so I could either call a friend and say how great the date was or call a cab to make my getaway.)

Torres talked a little bit about his family.  His first-born child is almost 6 months old now, which apparently means monthly visits to the pediatrician for vaccinations etc.  Torres says he keeps asking the doctor "When can I give my son chocolate?"  To which the doctor will only reply, "Not yet!"  Torres expressed self-deprecating optimism that the upcoming appointment will be the turning point.   Surely six months is old enough for chocolate!!
Cthulhu and the MTA
I also had the occasion to see a performance of Twelfth Night recently.  The audience's favorite scene, by far, was the one where Sir Toby and his fellow conspirators lurk around to watch Malvolio find their letter and fall into their trap.  Young kids and others unfamiliar with Shakespeare could very much get the physical humor in the way this scene was staged: the conspirators are so badly hidden that anyone but a self-obsessed gullible fool would have noticed them.  They pop up to react in outrage to Malvolio's reactions, and their fellow conspirators have to pull them back down into hiding again.  (It is the same broadly comic approach to a merry conspiracy as seen in Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing.)

Malvolio is slow to find the letter initially

(The boy in the homburg - Fabian? - had remarkable
comic timing throughout the play.)

Sir Toby is outraged by Malvolio's arrogance

Now Sir Andrew Aguecheek is exercised...

... and immediately suppressed. 
Lewis Carroll has a good explanation of the general concept in his well-known treatise, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court. (As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done. They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig, head first, and then sat upon it.)"
The conspirators follow Malvolio and prepare to read over his shoulder

Olivia and her true love, Cesario (nee Viola)

Olivia and her other true love, Sebastian (Viola's twin)

The clown role was split and played by two actors, both of whom wore red noses.

Curtain Call

I also had the opportunity to observe an Introduction to Lacross session.  Apparently, girls are expected to play without body-checking their adversaries, and are therefore given much trickier lacrosse sticks (with virtually no basket).  Who knew?

Under the weather, but providing moral support

A few more highlights from Florida:
  • Naples Zoo: primate cruise, where you get to tour around several small islands containing two primates each.  
  • Also, the blind Florida panther, Uno, had memorized its landscape well enough to gracefully leap over the shrubbery to land near the keeper during her talk.  (Uno learned rather quickly that zookeeper = treat-bringer and planned accordingly.)
  • Wildlife Refuge: we spent a lot of time watching an osprey feeding its young.  We had a great view, as the nest was essentially on the main drag, and we had our best binoculars and a scope.  There were four chicks in the nest, and we watched as the parent tore off bits of fish to feed whichever chick happened to be squawking the loudest. (We got distracted a bit with a pileated woodpecker that flew into the general scene, but it was relatively shy and soon fled from sight.)   

  • Games of Cattan and Taboo
  • The traditional bike rides for breakfast and ice cream (although we tried a much closer ice cream shop this time, a new place - I liked their espresso chip ice cream, but they unfortunately did not have the beloved "magic shell" chocolate)

As I was preparing this post, I went to look for some emails I sent to two individuals describing some of my recent activities -- in particular, I had a very clear memory of telling #2 all about the chocolate tasting --  but could not find any such emails.  I looked on all my devices, searching draft folders and sent folders, and started to wonder if this false recollection might be the first sign of insanity...  And then I remembered, I'd sent them e-cards with messages, not regular emails.  I went to the e-card site, and found the messages easily.  Phew!!!

Polka Will Never Die: An Experiment

My theory is that this passage works without any explanation whatsoever.  The readers, or the audience, will make inferences about the circumstances and the characters -- perhaps the wrong ones, but it actually doesn't matter. They will see the important things.*  And I don't think you even need to be a Weird Al fan to appreciate it.
"Butters," Thomas said quietly, "if we stay here we're going to die."

"But if they've destroyed the car—" Butters began.

"We'll die," Thomas said. "But we don't have a choice. Whether or not they've destroyed it, our only chance of getting out of this alive is to get to the Beetle and hope it runs."

The little guy got even paler, and then abruptly doubled over and staggered over to the wall beneath one of my high windows. He threw up. He straightened after a minute and leaned back against the wall, shaking.

"I hate this," he whispered, and wiped his mouth. "I hate this. I want to go home. I want to wake up."

"Get it together, Butters," I said, my voice tight. "This isn't helping."

He let out a wild laugh. "Nothing I can do would help, Harry."

"Butters, you've got to calm down."

"Calm down?" He waved a shaking hand at the door. "They're going to kill us. Just like Phil. They're going to kill us and we're going to die. You, me, Thomas. We're all going to die."

I forgot my bad leg for a second, crossed the room to Butters, and seized him by the front of his shirt. I hauled up until his heels lifted off of the floor. "Listen to me," I snarled. "We are not going to die."

Butters stared up at me, pale, his eyes terrified. "We're not?"

"No. And do you know why?" He shook his head. "Because Thomas is too pretty to die. And because I'm too stubborn to die." I hauled on the shirt even harder. "And most of all because tomorrow is Oktoberfest, Butters, and polka will never die." He blinked. "Polka will never die!" I shouted at him. "Say it!"

He swallowed. "Polka will never die?"


"P-p-polka will never die," he stammered.

I shook him a little. "Louder!"

"Polka will never die!" he shrieked.

"We're going to make it!" I shouted.

"Polka will never die!" Butters screamed.

"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Thomas muttered.

--Jim Butcher, Dead Beat

FN*: In my view, the important things to glean from this passage are: (1) Butters (whoever he may be) is a coward and did not sign up for this particular adventure. (2) His companions are hardier than he, and determined to survive. (3) The narrator is using Butters's apparently overwhelming love of polka to get through to him so he can survive too.