Thursday, August 15, 2019

My review of Space: 1999

My latest review, of the 1970s science fiction show Space: 1999 has been published.  In retrospect, the show was not that great, but the presentation here is first rate.  Click here to read my review

Monday, July 22, 2019

A New Kitchen for an Old House

Even before we purchased our home eleven years ago, Daniel and I knew the kitchen would eventually have to be renovated.  It lacked a dishwasher.  The refrigerator, while functional, was small – fitting the latest Costco purchases into the freezer was a challenge in space utilization.  Then there were the counters: one was laminated wood; the other a weird plastic-like laminate in an indescribable color.  Over the years, we made small changes.  We added a dishwasher in 2013, and replaced the range in 2016.  Time and experience allowed us to determine exactly what the kitchen needed to be brought up to its potential – within the limitations that our 1942 house would allow.  First, space needed to be allocated more efficiently as expansion was not an option.  As it was, the kitchen lacked a logical flow.  The food preparation area was on the opposite side from the stove – not optimal for getting food from place to place.  Previous owners had installed a bulky faux antique phone which prevented us from being able to open one of the cabinet doors.  Above the stove was a tacky looking fluorescent light fixture that wasn’t a good fit for any era. 

The food-prep station, opposite the stove. 
Note the bulky phone and small fridge.

The stove area.

Our goals were: configure the new cabinets so a modern fridge could be installed; open up counter space so we could fit our coffee maker, toaster, and other small appliances as needed; improve the flow by placing the preparation area nearer the stove.  Plus there was the “look” we were after: as the kitchen sits between the vibrantly colored dining and family rooms, we wanted as neutral a look as possible, and quickly settled on greyscale. 

As friends had warned me about how they tend to show fingerprints, we decided against a trendy stainless-steel fridge.  Plus, as our cabinets were going to be grey, we wanted a white fridge, which would not only provide a nice contrast, but match the other appliances. 

After shopping around, we decided to go with Northeast Factory Direct for the cabinets. Their designer, Alicia Kondrich, was able to translate my ramblings into a mockup that allowed us to visualize the kitchen’s ultimate state.  The quote for the cabinets was very reasonable – far less than the cost at a standard retail outfit would be, yet with the features expected in a modern kitchen: soft close drawers and cabinets, solid wood construction. 

With the cabinets decided, the next step was countertops.  We knew we wanted granite, so Alicia referred us to Bradley Stone.  Their representative showed me a generous selection of stone, and we settled on steel grey. 

Deconstructing the kitchen turned up some interesting things: the faux antique phone was covering a nook on the wall (there are several of these in our home, including in each bedroom); the cabinets were directly connected to the wall and most likely original to the house; behind the backsplash were the remains of the original plumbing – at one point the kitchen had a farmer’s sink.  The crew also made an alarming discovery: a hastily patched electrical fix in which a line was run over a wall to make room for another outlet, the cord attached to the wall with a nail – thus our kitchen renovation revealed an existing potential fire hazard and the reason that running the dishwasher and microwave caused the circuit breaker to trip.  Within one workday, the old cabinets had been removed and the new cabinets installed.  

The demoed kitchen…

…and discovered cubby

The next morning, a representative from Bradley stone came to do the final measure and very thoroughly went over the options and what would need to be completed before the installers came.  That evening, our new fridge was delivered and installed.

New kitchen sans countertops.

There followed two weeks in which we had limited use of our kitchen – no countertops, no sink, no use of the dishwasher.  We made do by using plastic plates and cutlery, eating easy to prepare foods, and going out to eat.  This did not help with my diet.  But once the countertops and sink were installed and the plumbing hooked back up, we now had a fully useable kitchen. 

The Bradley Stone installers.

The final phase was painting and replacement of the flooring.  Certa-Pro’s crew, who did an excellent job on our living room, hallway, and 2nd bedroom in 2016, took care of our kitchen.  

The vinyl flooring had held up fairly well for the 30 or so years it had been there, but the base was creaky and the look was dated.  We went with Shaw Flooring through our local Costco and decided on Markarian Pine vinyl to replace it – both durable and in sync with our color scheme.  Once the installers arrived, there was yet another archaeological discovery: underneath the vinyl was a linoleum floor – probably from the 1960s.  The new floor is not merely attractive, but quiet and has a soft feel that’s welcoming to bare feet. 

The new floor.

Our now complete kitchen is a pleasure to cook in – and we’re already becoming more adventurous in our cuisine.  This was the most complex and – aside from the garage – our most expensive renovation.  It’s unlikely it will ever pay for itself in terms of overall home value.  But the cost and the disruption were entirely worth it.  We love our new kitchen.  

The completed kitchen.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Pepe Romero at Severance

For those of us who don’t care to make the trek to Blossom Music Centre, the Cleveland Orchestra’s Summers@Severance series, with short concerts at 7pm Friday’s followed by an outdoor mixer, is a blessing.  Fortuitously, Severance Hall was one of the first concert halls built with central air conditioning, much appreciated during this heat wave.

Originally, last night’s concert was supposed to feature guest conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, but he had to cancel due to illness and was replaced by Thierry Fischer.  This also resulted in a change of program, as Iberia from Debussy’s Images was replaced by La Mer, and Bizet’s Carmen Suite was added.  This had the practical effect of increasing the concert’s length, to which I certainly had no objection. 

The Carmen Suite (version No. 2) was a picture of orchestral splendor with vibrant primary colors and bracing rhythms, with the poetic phrasing in the Nocturne. 

Pepe Romero then came onstage, guitar in hand, for Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.  The concerto is hardly a new work, composed in 1939 (the American premiere was given in Cleveland two decades later), although it’s entirely traditional in harmony and structure.  Romero’s playing was highly distinctive, and neither time nor age (he’s 75) have dimmed his technique or enthusiasm – I never knew a guitar could be played with such variety of colors and attacks.  The performance was warmly received and Romero graced the audience with an encore, which was composed by his father. 

Fischer’s interpretation of Debussy’s La Mer was none too subtle.  Tempos were largely within the norm, but balance choices were bizarre: percussion and woodwinds were often brought to the fore, and the sheen of color one expects to hear in this work was largely absent.  There were moments of excitement, and Peter Otto’s violin solos were gorgeous, but the overall effect was of an orchestral showpiece lacking in the picturesque qualities one expects. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Tedd Joselson - Complete RCA Recordings

Tedd Joselson recorded six albums with RCA Red Seal during the 1970s.  Sony has reissued those recordings, with an additional previously unreleased recording.  Click here to read my review.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Faith healing, anti-vaxxers, and the real miracle: Western Medicine

I have no memory of my grandfathers. My mother's father died in 1954 at age 47 after decades of alcohol abuse. 

My mother with her father.  He was in his mid-30s and already a wrecked man.

My father's father died at age 64 when I was only 15 months old. He, along with his second wife, practiced a religious faith that eschewed the use of doctors. He allowed numerous health problems to continue unchecked until, by the time he was 60, he had part of a leg amputated. It was downhill from there. My grandfather's death, in 1968, was followed in 1971 by the death of his wife. My grandfather's mother outlived her son by four years. I have vague memories of meeting her.

My paternal grandfather, left; his wife, standing.  A few years before he died aged 64.

My father rarely discussed his religious beliefs (the few comments he made stand out in my memory because they were so rarely spoken), but he had some pointed things to say about faith healers, and I've no doubt those comments stemmed from observing his father's decline. It has occurred to me that, if my grandfather had lived as long as my father, he would have lived to see Christmas of 1990.

This is one of many reasons I am appalled by the increasing prevalence of anti-vaxxers and others who rail against Western Medicine. To be sure, I feel criticism of Big Pharma and our for-profit medical system is valid. But some of these people go overboard.

Let me share some of what Western Medicine has helped me accomplish over the past two years:

A hernia has been surgically corrected and I can use the elliptical, treadmill, take long walks, and lift 
objects without discomfort.

My sleep apnea, which was slowly killing me, has been brought under control with the use of an oral appliance.

On my doctor's advice, I joined a program at Cleveland Clinic that has helped me lose 15 pounds since January (30 more to go), without the use of drugs, surgery, or fad diets. My belt is two notches tighter, my blood pressure has dropped dramatically, and I feel better than I have in years.

I will also add, that in my 52 years, I have never suffered from Small Pox, Measles, Polio, Mumps, Rubella, or a host of other diseases that have been virtually wiped out, and I'm grateful to my parents who made sure I received my vaccinations.

My situation is hardly unique.  Of course, people live longer.  Life expectancy has more than doubled over the last 120 years, and a primary driver of that, like it or not, is the worldwide acceptance of vaccination.  Catchy hash-tags and clinging to wacky conspiracy theories and pseudoscience will do nothing to alter that fact.  But abandoning sound medical practice in the name of parental rights is not merely a danger to public health, but may eventually reverse the progress that was made in the 20th Century. 

If I live as long as my father, I will live to see Thanksgiving of 2053. Although I'm wary of the condition our nation and planet may be in by then, I intend to soldier on - with my doctor's help.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Haydn, Deutsch, and Tchaikovsky with Welser-Möst and Jacobs

Saturday night’s Cleveland Orchestra concert was a mix of the familiar, the largely unfamiliar, and the brand new.  It provided food for thought, debate, and enlightenment. 

Frank Joseph Haydn composed 104 Symphonies.  I am hardly alone among enthusiasts of Classical Music in only being familiar with about 20 – mostly from Haydn’s later period.  This concert began with the Symphony No. 34 in C minor,  the first time it was presented in the Cleveland Orchestra’s 101-year history – thus a largely unfamiliar work by a well-known composer.  The symphony features a structural innovation that was later employed in Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata: the opening movement is a somber adagio, rather than the usual allegro.  One can only wonder how the audience of Haydn’s day reacted when hearing this opening.  The following movements  an Allegro, a Menuet, and Presto – created a sense of rising tension that kept the 21st Century audience’s attention from beginning to end.  Franz Welser-Möst’s interpretation was a model of precision, transparency, and taste.   

The totally unfamiliar work was Bernd Richard Deutsch’s Okeanos – a concerto for organ and orchestra being given its American premiere.  By a concerto for organ and orchestra, I mean just about every instrument available – including strings, four flutes, three clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, celeste, harp, a full range of percussion (snare dump, bongos, rute, temple blocks, woodblock, claves, wind machine, triangle, wind chimes, bell tree, crotales, bells, crash cymbals, 12 plate bells, gong, Chinese opera gong, nipple gong, tam-tam, xylophone, anvil, vibraphone, glockenspiel), and of course the organ.  Everything but the veritable kitchen sink.  During the pre-concert talk, the composer spoke of how he was inspired by the Adriatic Sea – and the work's four movements  Water, Air, Earth, and Fire – all refer to elements of nature.  Whatever the programmatic implications, the work’s multiple layers of tonality and orchestration – almost waves in themselves, held the audience’s attention.  Interestingly, the composer stated that while the work was not “tonal”, in the melodic sense, there was often a reference tone.  The question of tonality vs. atonality got me to thinking whether this was the appropriate term for whether music uses a traditional melodic/harmonic scheme.  Any sound one hears, from a bird’s song, to an orchestra, to fingernails on a chalkboard is, by definition, a “tone” – thus all music is tonal.  When one is referring to “atonal” music, one generally means music that does not adhere to a traditional (in Western Music) triadic melodic/harmonic scheme – i.e., based on major and minor thirds.  During the 19th Century, that triadic scheme became increasingly chromatic – most notably in Wagner’s music.  Scriabin expanded that scheme using fourths – altering triadic music to quartal.  Schoenberg, whose early works expanded on Wagner’s chromaticism, eventually shattered the triadic paradigm altogether.  But his music was still tonal, as it consisted of tones.  And so does the music of Elliot Carter, Pierre Boulez, and Deutsch.    

As for the performance, soloist Paul Jacobs was every bit as brilliant as he was during his appearance here in 2017.  The work’s many technical hurdles, including complex footwork, lightning-fast registration changes, finger-twisting passages, glissandi, and dynamic shifts were handled with an unshowy aplomb that belied their difficulties.  Welser-Möst and the orchestra delivered a collaboration that made one feel as if they’d known the concerto all their lives.  One familiar with concerts in Cleveland may take the technical polish of our orchestra for granted, but it’s wise to remember it’s the result of constant dedication and hard work.  In the words of Lebron James, “nothing is given, everything is earned.”

Following intermission was a dive into the familiar: Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.  But here, there was something unfamiliar: Welser-Möst’s interpretation which has already earned criticism from one critic.  Here one of Tchaikovsky’s most well-known works was scrubbed free of the sickly sentimentality to which the Russian composer is all too often subjected.  The noble melody of the andante, which has the distinction of sounding bereaved despite being in a major key, was imparted with a dignity which belies the reputation Tchaikovsky had during the late-2oth Century as a “weak”, “feminine” composer.  (Of course, the conflation of weak and feminine in Tchaikovsky is simply a combination of misogyny and homophobia that one would expect from music scholars who are, as a rule, conservative and unimaginative.)  One interesting note: a few days before the concert, the orchestra published a video of the Tchaikovsky’s rehearsal.  I was struck by the manner in which Welser-Möst’s conducting in rehearsal matches that in performance.  He apparently feels no need to put on a choreographic display for the audience’s entertainment.  The sincerity, both in Welser-Möst’s interpretation and his manner of presenting it, was appreciated by the audience and this listener.   

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Beethoven & Mendelssohn with Blomstedt at Severance

Herbert Blomstedt returned to Severance Hall to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra this weekend.  Everything that was missing from the previous weekend’s concerts under Harry Bicket (which I did not bother to review), was gloriously present.  The program neatly paired two works focused on nature: Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony.

Beethoven in the country. 

The scores for both Symphonies were present on the conductor’s podium.  But Blomstedt, now a sprightly 91, never opened either of them and conducted both works from memory and without baton.  The opening movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral featured brisk tempi that never sounded rushed, with each passage growing organically into the next – a portrait of a Beethoven who was eager to return to his beloved countryside.  The scene by the brook was a beautiful study in subtle dynamics and transparent texturing, with the woodwind birdcalls were beautifully proportioned rather than garishly highlighted.  The gathering of country folk featured a dance that was colorful in its rusticity, contrasted by a storm that never sacrificed balance in favor of volume.  The symphony concluded with a Shepherd’s Song that was more than beautifully conveyed – it was heartfelt.  On a personal note, after a difficult few days, my soul felt refreshed and cleansed.    

The program for Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony is less explicit and more implied than Beethoven’s.  After the work’s Andante introduction, Blomstedt launched into the agitated movement proper, emphasizing the work’s conflict.  The second movement, which is reminiscent of a Scottish folk dance, moved along lithely with various sections tossing the primary theme back and forth - which Blomstedt made sure never got lost in the action.  Despite being labeled as an Adagio, the symphony really has no slow movement - with plucking strings ensuring a sense of motion.  This proceeded directly into the sturm & drang of the finale which, apologies to Otto Klemperer, featured a coda that was just fine as written.