Tuesday, January 10, 2017

DG's (almost) complete Pollini box

Deutsche Grammophon has reissued the bulk of their recordings with pianist Maurizio Pollini.  Click here to find out what's missing and more in my review.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Alexis Weissenberg on RCA (with a dash of Columbia)

Sony has reissued their complete RCA Red Seal recordings featuring the late Alexis Weissenberg.  Click here to read my review

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Cleveland Orchestra Brahms cycle on DVD

A new cycle of Brahms Symphonies and Concertos (not including the Double Concerto, unfortunately) played by The Cleveland Orchestra has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Click here to read my review.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Roosevelt’s challenge – Hitler’s blunder

On January 6, 1942 – less than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor devastated America’s Pacific fleet, Franklin D. Roosevelt slowly approached the rostrum to deliver his State of the Union address. The United States was at war with not only the Empire of Japan, but with Italy and Germany. The news for the Allies was bad on nearly every front, but one would never believe it based on the confidence in Roosevelt’s demeanor. Roosevelt believed, just as Churchill did, that with America in the war victory come down to the “proper application of overwhelming force”. That meant not just the conscription of the highest number of able bodied soldiers, sailors, marines, and pilots; it meant out-producing the Axis powers – by orders of magnitude – in creating the weapons of war.


Hitler, when informed of the contents of this speech, derisively laughed at the numbers Roosevelt outlined, referring to them as the fantasies of a man he described as “mentally unsound, just was Wilson was.” Some have tried to paint Hitler as a kind of diabolical genius - but outside of diabolical matters, Hitler was nothing of the sort. He was neither well educated nor well-traveled. In his entire life, Hitler never traveled more than a few hundred miles beyond Germany’s borders. (Roosevelt had seen more of the world by the time he was ten years old.) Hitler’s knowledge of the United States was based on a series of Old West novels by Karl May which he’d read - in translation of course. In Hitler’s view, there was no way a nation “contaminated” by Negros, Jews, and racial mongrels could unite to meet Roosevelt’s production goals – let alone beat the Master Race in a war. Further, Hitler believed Americans of German, Italian, and Japanese descent would undermine their adopted country at every turn. Hitler was, of course, very wrong. Roosevelt’s production goals were not only met but exceeded. And American men of German, Italian, and Japanese descent served with distinction in the fighting forces – even though many of them, particularly Japanese-Americans, were treated shabbily by their fellow Americans. 

Roosevelt’s experience and temperament were the opposite of Hitler’s. Roosevelt was publicly modest about his intelligence – remarking that “I’m not the smartest man in the world, but I sure know how to pick smart people.” He self-deprecatingly remarked that he received “Gentleman C’s” while a student at Harvard, tactfully omitting that he passed the four year program in only three years. (What a contrast to the incoming President, who feels the need to boast of his intelligence on Twitter.) FDR was naturally shocked upon hearing the initial reports that Pearl Harbor was been attacked – at one point, during a phone conversation with an officer in Hawaii, the President exclaimed to an aide, “My God, there’s squadron of Jap planes flying overhead right now!” Unlike Hitler, FDR did not engage in temper tantrums, blame his Generals/Admirals for all his problems, and feel sorry for himself. The dark lessons of polio had taught him patience. This Roosevelt became, as his wife observed, “an iceberg” - the calm at the center of the storm. American needed calm, steady hands at the tiller in 1942. I fear for America in 2017, given the small and unsteady hands, jittering to send out the latest offensive Tweet, which will take the helm in two short weeks.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Review

No doubt about it.  For me 2016 was, by and large, a rotten year.

The United States witnessed the nastiest, bitterest, muddiest election campaign in generations – recalling the tone of 1968, minus the assassinations.  Unsurprisingly, Americans were overwhelmingly turned off, resulting in low voter turnout – which invariably favors conservatives.  The increasing divisiveness in our nation was capped off by Donald Trump’s surprise Electoral victory, despite losing the popular vote by a wide margin – followed by a series of hate crimes committed by his more extremist followers, which sounded a portentous note for things to come.  Now there are allegations that Russia hacked the election, which I have long suspected.  For that matter, I believe there was Russian influence behind Brexit as well.  Occam’s Razor applies here.  Dividing Europe and installing a pro-Putin U. S. President align with Putin’s desire for an Imperial Russian resurgence. 

Amidst the divisiveness, Omar Mateen gunned down innocent patrons at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and injuring 53 others.  Although most Americans awakened to the news on a Sunday morning, I was working a late-night shift at my job as the initial news reports began to trickle in.   When I arrived home that morning, I awakened Dan and told him the news.  Most of the victims were Latino – many Puerto Rican – and one was a friend of a friend. 

Then there was Syria’s indiscriminate bombardment of Aleppo, with the help of the Russian Air Force – avenged in December by the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey.

2016 will also be remembered as a year which many notable humans left us: John Glenn, Janet Reno, Antonin Scalia (I confess I didn’t particularly mourn that one), Nancy Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Gwen Ifill, Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Anton Yelchin, Carrie Fisher – and one day later, her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

But for me, the defining event of 2016 will be a more personal loss: the death of my father in April.  We had a complicated relationship and periods of estrangement, but were in a good place by the time he passed.  If not for my patient husband, it may have taken me a good deal longer to emerge from the depression and heartbreak that follow the death of a loved one.   Once I could gain distance and perspective, I was struck by the realization that I am now the family patriarch.

Not all was sadness and misery in 2016. 

Dan & I enjoyed a lovely vacation in Toronto, where we witnessed the Cavaliers’ victory from a local bar packed with Cleveland fans.  It was also in Toronto where we saw a moving and heartfelt memorial to the victims of the Orlando massacre.

Speaking of Cleveland, following the Cavs Victory Parade, our city was host to the Republican National Convention.  While the GOP is not my party of choice, I was happy to see them spend their money here, and proud that the overwhelming majority of locals – whatever their preferences – rolled out the proverbial welcome mat – as we did during 2014’s Gay Games.  Such was also the case, this Autumn, when Chicago Cubs fans visited our town – and it seemed the Indians might win their first World Series since 1948.  But the Curse of Chief Wahoo lives on.

Dan & I made a good chunk of progress on our home: vinyl siding on the exterior, interior paint, new blinds for most of the windows, a new range for the kitchen, and bookcases for the office – so now we’re able to work in an organized space.  The last twelve months represented, on the whole, the largest amount of work we’ve put into the house since buying it in 2008.  All that remains, aside from periodic maintenance, is a kitchen remodel and finishing out the basement – along with the possible addition of a small mudroom.  Our 75-year-old house is shaping up quite well and it’s more of a pleasure to come home after work than ever before. 

We receive frequent inquiries from friends and family about our dog, Mason.  Now over eight years old, Mason is officially a “senior” dog.  But there are remarkably few signs of advancing age: his snout is turning from brown to grey and there are flecks of white hair around his eyes.  His vision and hearing remain excellent, and while he enjoys naps as much as ever, he will leap from the bed and bound down the stairs at warp speed upon hearing the word “walk”. 

I do not know what 2017 will bring for me personally, for America, or for the world.  But, as Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seat belts”.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Jackie and Rogue One

Dan & I saw two films over the weekend, Jackie and Rogue One

Jackie was a searing look at Jacqueline Kennedy's experience of dealing with the aftermath of her husband's murder, from returning to Washington with his body, planning his funeral, and ensuring his legacy was remembered - partly through an interview which has now become legendary. Like one's own memories, the film moves back and forth through time in a stream of consciousness fashion, but holds together well - mostly due to Natalie Portman's brilliant performance. She's come a long way from playing Queen Amidala. 

Rogue One was probably the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes back. Without being too spoilery, it deals with the events immediately preceding 1977's A New Hope. The battle scenes were spectacular. But the limitations of CGI were shown in the doll-like recreations of the young Carrie Fisher and the late Peter Cushing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cleveland Orchestra's deficit in perspective

As noted in the Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Orchestra has acknowledged a deficit of $2.4 million against operating costs of $52.2 million.  If only our Federal government had a deficit that was proportionally this small.

I note that music blogger Norman Lebrecht has posted this story with a typically sensationalist and misleading headline: "NEW BOSS PUTS CLEVEAND IN THE RED".  But the decisions which led to this deficit were likely made years before Andre Gremillet took over. As with any unhappy news, it's important to maintain perspective.  A one year deficit after years of surplus is hardly reason for the Chicken Littles to scream that the sky is falling.  I'm not a subscriber, but I attend at least a dozen concerts a year: Severance is usually at or near capacity.

However, I believe that orchestra management needs to rethink priorities, particularly when it comes to the Miami residency.  Miami-Dade County has more than twice the population of Cuyahoga County.  Miami should be able to support its own orchestra.  Commenters on the Plain Dealer link have noted that the Opera and Ballet companies have left the region and should be enticed to return.  But I doubt if Northeast Ohio could also support a Ballet or Opera company.  With the second largest theatre district in the United States and a continually shrinking population, there's only so much support for the arts here.  

In the final analysis, the lesson to be learned for the orchestra is the same as in life in general: Adapt or Die.