Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Cleveland Orchestra - not an anomalous blip.

I don’t especially care to give Norman Lebrecht publicity.  Given his penchant for self-promotion he seems to garner enough for himself.  I know quite a few musicians who hold him in low regard, but either find it useful to cultivate him as a promoter, or fear retributions from him – and thus tolerate his antics.  For those who don’t depend on his favor, he’s something of a laughingstock.  Despite seeing factual errors on his site nearly as often as I view it, more often than not I decline to leave a comment there - or to mention it here.  Lebrecht often presents opinions as facts, cherry-picks actual facts and places them out of context, and uses sensationalistic and vulgar headlines as click-baitHe also posts information from other sources without attribution.  His posts run the gamut from the Chicken Little “sky is falling” variety – foretelling the imminent demise of Classical music, to stories of musicians as abuse victims from airlines and bureaucrats, to stories of musicians as perverts and pedophiles.  One seldom encounters in his posting any actual discussion of music.  Indeed, reading Lebrecht’s “journalism” has left me with the impression he doesn’t know much about music.  But this tidbit from Lebrecht’s recent posting on the “Makers and Breakers of 2015” made my blood boil.  


As for Lebrecht’s statement that the Cleveland Orchestra is America’s finest, I’ll accept that with good graces as a proud local.  Some will disagree, and that’s alright.  What makes one great orchestra stand above another is largely a matter of opinion.  The basics are a given: An orchestra must play the right notes, must plan in tune, and must play together.  The Chicago Symphony is known for its great brass section (or at least the loudest), the Philadelphia Orchestra is known for its lush string sound, the Berlin Philharmonic for its depth of sonority, the Vienna Philharmonic for transparency.  The Cleveland Orchestra, at its best, has all these.  Not that the orchestra always plays at its best.  There was a period, roughly from 1990 until about a decade ago, when standards seemed to be slipping.  I’m not basing this on any critic’s opinion, because I’ve learned they often have their own agendas – but what I’ve heard with my own ears: a number a splattery entrances, fluffed notes (particularly in the brass), and balances that were off.  But in recent years the orchestra has been back on form in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Scriabin.  I would also say that Franz Welser-Möst, about whom I had a great many reservations in 2002, has really grown into the job.  (Nor would I say that the Cleveland Orchestra’s rise to greatness was the sole result of George Szell’s tenure, as they were already a Top Four orchestra under Artur Rodzinski.  But it’s true that standards fell in the three years preceding Szell’s tenure, when orchestras world-wide lost players during World War II, and Cleveland had a part-time and inexperienced Music Director.  But I’ll save further discussion on that subject for another post.)

But look at Lebrecht’s qualifier for his praise of Cleveland.  “Severe social blight”.  Excuse me?  Is Lebrecht stuck in 1978, when Cleveland went into default?  Does Lebrecht still imagine the Cuyahoga River catching fire?  Is the Hough neighborhood in flames like it was in the 1960s?  Cleveland has come a long way since the bad old days of 30 years ago, and this is especially so in University Circle – which has been extensively redeveloped.  I’m aware that Lebrecht paid Cleveland a visit earlier this year, but I wonder how much of Cleveland he saw beyond Severance Hall and Hopkins airport.  So, I will assume he didn’t see the revived areas downtown, or Playhouse Square, Ohio City, or Gordon Square.  Or, that he’d never experienced the bad old days in Cleveland, so he had no reference point to see how far we’ve come.

Then there’s this – which Americans will grasp but Europeans may not: the majority of people who attend Cleveland Orchestra concerts at Severance Hall do not live within the City of Cleveland.  They live in the surrounding suburbs.  I cite this obvious fact because an earlier post from Lebrecht crowed about what a miracle it was that a city of less than 400,000 could support such an orchestra – as if Cleveland was Smallville, Kansas!  This is an example of how Lebrecht carefully selects facts and presents them out of context, distorting the truth.  In fact, Cuyahoga County alone has nearly 1.3 million residents – and many who come to the orchestra’s concerts come from beyond the county line.  This is even more the case for those who go to summer concerts at Blossom Music Center which is way down in Cuyahoga Falls. 

True, Cleveland’s not perfect, and neither is the region.  There are gross disparities of income, as is the case everywhere in the US.  There are neighborhoods which suffer from neglect, which can be found in nearly any major city, in and outside the US.  That the Cleveland Police Department is an embarrassment is known internationally.  The Lakefront is poorly utilized.  These and more are issues which need to be addressed – to paraphrase President Kennedy: they are human made problems which can be solved by humans.

But what’s interesting to me is that the orchestra has  mostly thrived even during our region’s darkest eras.  Could it be because the Cleveland Orchestra, along with other cultural institutions and the Cleveland Metroparks are some of the few things in our region which have never let the people down?  Think about it.  Have the Cleveland Indians, Cavaliers, or Browns consistently brought as much fulfillment to so many as the aforementioned institutions?  Residents of Cuyahoga County have long recognized this and generously subsidized these institutions, by supporting property tax levies, and – just this year – renewing a small tax on cigarettes and alcohol which goes a long way toward supporting the orchestra. 

The success of the Cleveland Orchestra is not some anomalous blip in an urban ghetto, as Norman Lebrecht would have you believe.  It’s the result of the people who’ve supported it – both in the orchestra and out.  Both those who live within Cleveland’s borders and those who live beyond.

I’d also point out that Norman Lebrecht’s home base, London, is far from perfect.  I saw my share of panhandlers during our recent trip there, one harassing a women so aggressively that I had to intervene.  This took place a posh area near Piccadilly Circus.  Sometimes blight occurs where one least expects it.   And London’s main orchestra pales in comparison with Cleveland’s.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Myth of Colorblind Canines

Daniel and I have one of those electronic picture frames, to which one can upload photos for display.  Recently, I was selecting photos for the frame and found a photo of our dog Mason with me, dating to Christmas 2010.  Mason has changed a bit since then: his snout is starting to turn white and there are flecks of white hair around his eyes.  But he’s still our rambunctious, hyper-affectionate canine companion. 
 
But a few moments of free-association brought my thoughts to a subject I’ve long meant to raise on this blog: the common misconception that dogs are completely colorblind.  You’ve doubtless heard this statement many times, as have I: "Dogs can only see in black & white".  Whenever popular entertainment shows the world as seen through a dog’s eyes, that world is invariably shown as black & white – I vividly recall an episode of The Simpsons which made this error. 
 
While dogs cannot see the range of colors humans can, they do have some color perception.  More precisely, the type of color impairment dogs have is Dichromacy – commonly known as Red-Green Color Blindness.   (Also, while nearsighted by human standards, dogs have a superior perception of motion and better night vision than humans.)  There’s a wonderful site called DogVision which allows users to upload their own photos and adjust them for canine vision.  I’ve done this with the two photos below, and also included the full color versions below for comparison.
 
 




Thursday, December 10, 2015

June 1919

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, putting into motion the internment of Americans of Japanese descent - one of the grossest human rights violations in U. S. history.  It was an egregiously out of character action for the man who was the only world leader to speak out against Kristallnacht in 1938, and who exhorted Americans to be “particularly vigilant against racial discrimination in any of its ugly forms”.
 
I will not spend time detailing the humiliation the Japanese-American community was put through, or the degrading conditions they endured.  The fact that, four decades later, President Reagan apologized for the policy, and reparations were paid to the survivors, speaks volumes of history’s verdict.  Today, few but lonely bigots and Internet trolls dare to defend such a ludicrous policy – which did nothing to protect “national security”.  At one point, Roosevelt tried to rationalize the policy to J. Edgar Hoover (who opposed internment) by arguing that separating Japanese-Americans from the rest of the population was for their own protection against what today are called “hate crimes”.  Fear of espionage and sabotage were foremost in Roosevelt’s mind, and he was hardly alone - either in his concerns or his prejudice against the Japanese - regardless of whether they were born in the United States or elsewhere.  Even Eleanor Roosevelt - who was skeptical of her husband's policy - openly referred to the Japanese as "Japs", although she never called Germans "Krauts" or Italians "Dagos."  Indeed, while some German-Americans and Italian-Americans were under increased scrutiny during the war, their treatment does not compare to that of Japanese-Americans.
 
Franklin Roosevelt was a very private man.  He seldom revealed his innermost thoughts to anyone – even his family.  But one event, seldom mentioned by historians, may provide some context for Roosevelt’s actions.
 
In 1919, Roosevelt was a junior member of Woodrow Wilson’s Cabinet: Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  On the evening of June 2, Franklin and his wife Eleanor were walking home from a dinner party (this was two years before FDR lost the use of his legs).  As they turned onto "R" street, they observed a large explosion directly across from their townhouse.  Franklin broke into a sprint toward their home, where he spotted a severed limb on the doorstep.  Seeing that the windows had been shattered, he burst through the front doors and up the stairs to his son James’ room.  He immediately spotted his eleven year old son, dazed but unharmed looking out the window - shattered glass on the floor.  Franklin grabbed his son into an embrace so tight, James later recalled “I thought my ribs would crack.”  It was the only time Franklin’s family saw him in a state of near panic. 
 
It was revealed the bomb was an attempt by anarchists to assassinate Attorney General Mitchell Palmer – who lived in the home where the bomb exploded, as part of a coordinated series of attacks across the country.  The severed limb on FDR's doorstep belonged to Carlo Valdinoci, one of the anarchists – killed when the bomb exploded prematurely.  The events of that evening would haunt Franklin Roosevelt for the rest of his life – which is saying something for a man who survived a February 1933 assassination attempt with remarkable stoicism.   
 
Recently, Donald Trump praised Roosevelt’s policy of Japanese internment and cited it as a model for his plan in dealing with Muslims.  With the many ridiculous statements Trump has made in recent months, it’s astonishing to me that he remains the leader in the GOP Presidential race.  But his bluster and wealth allow him to stand out, even in the current field of buffoons and loons presented as part of the GOP’s race to the intellectual bottom.
 
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  We will not make our nation safer by stooping to our enemy’s level.  Indeed, Trump's own words play right into ISIL's blood-soaked hands. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Two Dozen Roses

My parents were married on November 22, 1956. 

On their seventh anniversary, my father left work early to celebrate the day with my mother.  On his way home, he stopped at a florist and purchased a dozen roses.  After leaving the florist, he switched on the radio of his 1963 Ford Galaxie and shortly thereafter heard a news flash from Dallas announcing that President Kennedy had been shot and seriously wounded.  He hit the gas pedal and raced home.  Though my parents were Republicans, my mother nevertheless met my father with a tearful embrace as Walter Cronkite announced that the President had died.  My parents and my sisters sat in front of the television for much of that weekend – never leaving the house.  The flowers my father bought had been left in the passenger seat  where they withered and died over the course of the weekend.       

A thousand miles away, a dozen blood drenched roses lay on the floor of a Lincoln Continental – forgotten in the chaos of the moment.


In later years, my parents would observe their anniversary one day early, as November 22 would forever more be remembered as a day of mourning.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Dangers of Weak Government

One week ago, the world was shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Paris.  Relatively few took notice of similar attacks in Syria, Iraq, and Beirut.  Such attacks have become, sadly de-riguer in the Middle East.  But we Americans respond more readily to attacks in Europe because, frankly, they are seen as more “like us.”

Most knew, even before it was officially announced, that Islamic extremists were behind the attacks in Paris.  As the details about the terrorists began to emerge, it became clear that most had become radicalized while residents of the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium – France’s next door neighbor.  More about Belgium in a moment.

Here in America, there is constant talk of reducing the size of Local, State, and especially Federal governments – most of it coming from self-acknowledged members of the “tea party”.  Much of this is presented under the guise of efficiency and getting the most bang out of every taxpayer dollar – certainly laudable goals.  But what the tea-partiers really want is weak government, because of their 18th Century view that the best government is that which governs least – a view which, at best, must be taken with many grains of salt.  Franklin Roosevelt turned the idea on its head when he pointed out that the conservative mantra really meant “that government is best which is most indifferent to mankind”.  The tea party views government of all kinds as part of the “beast.”  Hence their phrase “starve the beast.”

Contrary to popular belief, the march toward deregulation did not begin with President Reagan, but with President Carter, who signed legislation deregulating theairline industry.  How has that worked out for airlines and airports in the United States?  One need only travel through London’sHeathrow and fly on British Airways and then compare Chicago’s O’Hare airportand service on any domestic carrier for an answer.  The deregulation of the financial sector – in particular the repeal of Glass-Steagall, constituted the primary cause of theMortgage Meltdown of 2007 and Great Recession that followed. 

But the biggest danger of weak government is not that the trains might not run on time, or even terrorism.  It is the inevitable backlash when weak government fails.  History is replete with examples of how weak, ineffective government led to disaster, and, ultimately, tyranny.  

In the 1920s, Germany’s Weimar government was so ineffective it couldn’t control the value of its currency, resulting in hyper-inflation.  I vividly recall how my piano teacher recounted how his teacher, Artur Schnabel, would only accept cash-payment after performances in Germany during this period.  If he’d accepted a check, he would have had to wait until the banks were open the next day to cash it – by which point the value his payment would be halved.  So, Schnabel took the cash and spent most of it immediately.  It was the economic situation in Germany, which made America’s Great Depression look like a country picnic, that led to the German public giving the Nazi party a ruling majority in 1933. 

More recently, following the Soviet Union’s collapse in late 1991, a power vacuum left Boris Yeltsin’s Russian government unable to enforce its own laws - resulting in a combination of oligarchs holding the real power, and a massive crime wave ranging from financial fraud, to drug trafficking, to child pornography.  And, of course, the government was unable to deal with food shortages or even provide most basic services.  Small wonder, then, that Vladimir Putin has been able to hold onto power since 1999 by promising “a dictatorship of the law”, which was seen as a balm to many Russians whose new freedoms merely constituted a lack of law & order.  While Putin is no Hitler, it’s also clear that he’s an oppressive tyrant, easily willing to “eliminate” pesky journalists and others who question his power.


Which brings us back to Molenbeek.  Reports indicate that the Belgian government knew that Molenbeek was becoming a hotbed of Islamic radicalism, but was unwilling or unable to do anything about it.  Whether by design, neglect, or intention, weak government was a contributing factor in the attacks in Paris.  While the primary cause was Islamic extremism, we should bear last week’s events in mind when we hear politicians and protesters propose the neutering of the government which is charged with, among other things, protecting us.
  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My review of Horowitz in Chicago

Deutsche Grammophon has released a recording of Vladimir Horowitz's October, 1986 recital in Chicago. This was his final appearance in that city, and took place one week after I met him in
Boston. Click here to read my review.



Thursday, November 5, 2015

Two Decisions

Harry Truman once said that the main job of being President is to make decisions. 
 
History judges Presidents primarily on the decisions they make.  Relatively few remember that President Kennedy was not spectacularly successful legislatively.  But nearly everyone knows he almost single-handedly prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from devolving into a nuclear war; simultaneously facing down Khrushchev, his most hawkish advisors, and a nearly mutinous military.
 
No President in history had to make more decisions than Franklin Roosevelt.  It wasn’t merely the extraordinary length of his tenure: 12 years, one month, eight days.  It was also the nature of the times he lived in: The Great Depression; World War II.
 
Historical revisionists engage Monday morning quarterbacking of Presidential decisions, and FDR is hardly immune from their wrath.  One economist has claimed that Roosevelt’s jobs programs and other attempts to stimulate the collapsed economy made the Depression worse, and amounted to FDR’s Folly.  Other economists counter that FDR didn’t do enough to turn the economy around and should have been bolder – citing as their evidence the 1937-38 recession that was brought on when FDR, antsy about deficits,  throttled back on spending.  Then there was his decision to intern Japanese-Americans, which no one who grasps the concept of civil rights and Constitutional justice can defend (I will address that decision in a future post).
 
Today, I will address two decisions – one famous, the other well-known but seldom discussed, that saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of American Servicemen – which collectively ensured the births of many of the baby-boom generation.
 
In August 1939 – one month before war broke out in Europe, President Roosevelt was presented with a letter from Albert Einstein, advising that German scientists were experimenting with Uranium and that such experiments could result in the creation of a bomb far more devastating than any made before.  Roosevelt, no scientist, nevertheless immediately grasped the implications of Einstein’s letter and told “Pa” Watson, his military advisor, “This requires action.”  Thus, the Manhattan project was born, the United States developed atomic weapons, making an armed invasion of Japan unnecessary, and shortening the war by months – perhaps years.  For those who would turn this decision on its head, and blame FDR for the development of nuclear weapons, I would respond by pointing out that the Germans and Soviets were working on atomic programs of their own, and without our nuclear deterrent, the U.S. may well have been cooked.  As stated in a previous post, FDR fully understood the potential power of the atomic bomb, remarking to an aide that such a bomb, if dropped in Times Square, “would lay New York low”.  FDR would certainly have used it to end the war.
 
Fast forward to December, 1941.  Pearl Harbor lay in ruins, with much of America’s Pacific Fleet, following a sneak attack by the Japanese Imperial Navy.  One day after “a date which will live in infamy”, the United States has formally declared war on Japan – yet still tenuously remains at peace with the two other Axis powers: Germany and Italy.  The next evening, December 9th, Roosevelt addresses the nation in a Fireside Chat (see below for an abridged version).  During his speech, Roosevelt summarizes the previous ten years of Axis military aggression – which long predated the “official” outbreak of World War II: Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchukuo; Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia; Germany’s pre-war invasions of Austria and Czechoslovakia.  Roosevelt could have taken the easy way out with rhetorical home runs against the Japanese.  Instead, he spoke plainly, advising his fellow citizens that every man, woman, and child would have to contribute to “the most tremendous undertaking of our American history”, would “share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories” and that so far, “the news has been all bad”.  He sternly warned his fellow Americans that “we shall have to give up many things entirely” and that he expected them to “cheerfully help to pay a large part of its financial cost while it goes on.”
 
This is tough talk – of the kind I can’t imagine any politician having the guts to meter out today.  It’s the very antithesis, in fact, of George W. Bush’s approach in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, where he told American’s to “go about your business” and spend money. 
 
But the bravest part of Roosevelt’s speech was in the closing measures: “We expect to eliminate the danger from Japan, but it would serve us ill if we accomplished that and found that the rest of the world was dominated by Hitler and Mussolini.” 
 
Remember, there had been no declaration of war from Germany or Italy.  But Roosevelt was already hinting toward a Europe first policy that he would put into official action just days later when Hitler addressed the Reichstag, where he referred to President Roosevelt as “the man who is primarily responsible for this war”, whined that Roosevelt, unlike Hitler, “came from an extremely wealthy family” and concluded that “ I regard him, like his predecessor Woodrow Wilson, as mentally unsound.”  Roosevelt anticipated that Hitler would move against the U.S.  FDR could well have held his cards close, said nothing, and watched while Europe continued to fall.  Instead, he was willing to buck the enormous pressure at home demanding immediate blood revenge against Japan.  In addition to cementing an alliance with Soviet Russia, which forced Hitler to continue concentrating his Army on the Eastern Front, FDR relieved the British, and bought the scientists time to complete the Atomic bomb.
 
These two decisions were the most important in FDR’s time in office because hundreds of thousands of American lives were in the balance, and the decisions shortened the war by as much as two years.  Any American born since 1945 should be unceasingly grateful that FDR made the right decisions.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Vladimir Horowitz on Tour - 1966-1983

Sony has released their remaining cache of Vladimir Horowitz's post-1965 recordings (minus two, which were held back at the request of the estate).  Potential purchasers should be aware of the disclosure below.
 
 


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

TeMPO's end, and Telling's new beginning

As was reported by the media several months ago, the Telling Mansion Preservation Organization disbanded early this year.  It has been over a year since I posted about the Telling Mansion, and I was reluctant to reenter the fray.  But after careful consideration, I have decided to speak now and henceforth hold my peace – at least for the foreseeable future.  As one of the founding members of TeMPO, I believe I have earned this right and that my opinions are founded on facts, not suppositions.

Let me make it plain, the disbanding of TeMPO was the direct result of two disruptive members who poisoned the atmosphere and refused to depart gracefully from the group, abetted by a third member who was unwilling to stand up to their inappropriate behavior.  When TeMPO’s bylaws were written, there was no provision for terminating a membership.  It simply never occurred to us that such a provision would be necessary.

When TeMPO was formed in late 2012, there was no notion of who might purchase the Telling site – although it was becoming increasingly clear that it would be sold and the library moved, despite the efforts of the Save the Mansion Library Group.  TeMPO formed to, hopefully, demonstrate that there were those who were concerned about the Telling Mansion and, while not necessarily supporting the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s decision to move, were willing to work with them to ensure the building and property were preserved.  As one member put it, we were the “sane” alternative to the Mansion Library group.  But how well can sanity work when we live in insane times – when a sizeable portion of the country believes the President is an illegal alien, that teachers ought to carry guns, and that Chem-Trails are the cause of many of our troubles? 

Upon the formation of TeMPO, I accepted the position of Vice President.  During that first year, TeMPO formally incorporated, created an action plan, raised initial funds, applied for 501(c)(3) status, and reached out to the library board and, eventually, the prospective owner.  All of us at TeMPO, particularly the board, put our hearts into the effort, but never let our passion devolve into the hyperbole and inappropriate behavior that characterized the Save the Mansion Library group which has, to date, accomplished nothing positive.

Upon the election of new officers in April 2014, I resigned as Vice President of TeMPO.  I did not offer my own name for consideration.  At the time, I announced my decision to scale back my activities in TeMPO due to career and personal considerations.  I did my best to ensure an orderly transition by turning over all materials I had in relation to TeMPO to the new President and Vice President.

Unfortunately, the new President and Vice President were met with hostility by a few other members – despite the lack of alternative candidates.   The new leadership’s efforts to get TeMPO moving, to apply for grants to renovate the gatekeeper’s lodge, to establish a fundraising apparatus, and for public outreach were stymied at every turn.   Between April, 2014 and March, 2015, I did not attend any TeMPO meetings - although I received updates from several group members.  I kept in contact with the group’s new communications director, who had come over from the Save the Mansion Library group, and about whom I felt wary.  Despite my concerns regarding her intentions, I assisted her in putting together a press release – which was never issued.  After receiving conflicting information from multiple parties with differing viewpoints, I was persuaded to attend TeMPO’s March 2015 meeting.  The tension was so thick I could barely stand to remain in the room.  It became obvious that the group’s new secretary did not have the mental stability needed to do the job.  Particularly galling was the demeanor of the very person I assisted with the press release.  Upon the expiration of TeMPO’s webdomain, she purchased it, and in a process known as “cybersquatting”, initially pointed it to her own personal website, then for use by the Save the Mansion library group – a nonsensical idea as the new library was already under construction with no chance the move would be prevented.  As it turned out, my suspicions about this woman, which I had made known to the former President of our group and others, proved exactly correct – she had originated as a leading member of the Save the Mansion Library group and her intentions were anything but benign.  On top of all this, one of TeMPO’s most influential members,  who ran for mayor several years ago, was unwilling or unable to stand up to the misbehaving members.  In my opinion, while a competent CPA, he has all the fortitude of a spineless jellyfish. 

There are probably many such groups that start with high hopes and enthusiasm for the hard work necessary to keep the vision going – only to dissipate due to internal squabbling.  But this is the only case I know of where a group such as ours was deliberately infiltrated by someone with a destructive agenda and sabotaged from within. 

As I have stated before, the notion that Richard Barone’s motive in purchasing the Telling Site is merely a ruse to flip the land is nonsensical on its face.  The very limited return on investment he would receive for the rather small portion of land would simply not be worth the time he’s put into the effort.  As a seasoned investor, Mr. Barone could easily make that money with a few clicks of his computer mouse over the course of a lazy afternoon – and save himself the trouble of dealing with the hysterical ire of a few self-appointed community guardians.  I have no doubt that Mr. Barone’s decision to purchase the Mansion and grounds was made with the best intentions.  This is demonstrated by the work he’s already done to hire a permanent, live-in custodian; the replacement of the failing gutters with historically accurate copper gutters; and his work with the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Historical Society to renovate and expand their space.  It’s true that part of his purchase agreement called for the Library to repave the driveway – and why shouldn’t they?  CCPL’s neglect of the property has led to so many issues with this Library that I stopped using it as such well before they closed.  Mr. Barone recently purchased a New Jersey porcelain art manufacturer, which certainly gives the lie to the ridiculous accusations hurled by the Save the Mansion Library Group – which recently filed another lawsuit in a desperate grasp for relevance.  Indeed, a former member of that very group told me that their “leader”, a Cleveland Heights based activist with a knack for garnering publicity for herself, admitted that she didn’t really care about the Telling Mansion, and was just trying to stick it to the CCPL.


I’m certain Mr. Barone knows that decisions are not made, nor public opinion particularly swayed, by online click-baiting or by comments made at Cleveland.com and other sites – especially when many of the comments obviously come from the same person posting under multiple sock-puppet accounts.  Decisions are made and actions are undertaken by those who show up and do the hard work.  I was and remain proud of my work for TeMPO.  My only regret is that others were more interested in getting themselves publicity than in moving forward with positive action.  

Creators, Re-Creators, and Regurgitators

In Classical Music, there are Creators, Re-Creators, and Regurgitators. 

The Creators are, obviously, the Composers – along with those tangentially involved in the creative process: Librettist if an opera, Choreographer if ballet score, and so on.

Then, there are the performers, who fall into two categories: Re-Creators, and Regurgitators.

Up until the mid-20th Century, most performers (including singers, instrumentalists, and conductors) were Re-Creators.  They often took what are today disdainfully described as “liberties” with the printed text and dared to “impose” their own personality.  This was not only permissible, but expected by the audience – and more importantly, by the composers themselves.  It’s not for nothing that Mozart, for example, submitted the barest writing in the central movements of his piano concertos, and left blank areas for the performer to insert his own – usually – improvised cadenza.  When Beethoven specified in his “Emperor” concerto that the performer ought not play a cadenza but immediately attack the next passage, he did so because such a procedure was unusual.  Beethoven broke precedent – but that didn’t mean he was setting a new precedent, or intended to.

It’s worth pointing out that Rachmaninoff, a noted composer, pianist, and conductor, was both a Creator and Re-Creator.  This is an important distinction because, unlike Mozart and Beethoven – who almost exclusively performed their own music – Rachmaninoff had a wide ranging repertoire, particularly as a pianist.  In his time, he was considered something of a purist in his approach to interpretation.  But by today’s standards, he took “liberties” that few pianists today would dare, including altering the dynamic scheme of Chopin’s Funeral March and inserting his own cadenza in Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody.

When comparing two of the most prominent pianists whose careers strode most of the 20th Century, Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz, it’s customary for some of the “purist” school to opine that Horowitz was the better “pianist”, Rubinstein the better “musician”- a statement so vague that it almost nullifies itself.  I beg to differ with the conventional wisdom.  True, Rubinstein’s playing was more in sync with contemporary standards: he generally played what was written, played reasonably well, and his tone was gorgeous.  But it was Horowitz, who trained as a composer, whose playing was more involved, more involving, and often wrung the most meaning from the much of the music he played.  Compare Horowitz against Rubinstein in Schumann’s Kreisleriana or C major Fantasia, and you’ll hear the difference between someone whose recordings you can play as background music while you’re dusting, and someone who will pin your ears to the wall.  This is not merely a question of recordings either.  Compare Rubinstein’s traversal of Scriabin’s Nocturne for the Left Hand with Horowitz’s rendition of the same composer’s Prelude for the Left Hand: Rubinstein glides over the notes and bathes the audience in pretty, but innocuous colors; Horowitz brings the audience into proximity with Scriabin’s anguish.  It goes without saying that Horowitz’s left-hand technique is infinitely more honest and sophisticated than Rubinstein – with Horowitz cannily separating each line so it sounds at times like he’s playing with three hands, yet scrupulously observing Scriabin’s markings.

 In the second decade of the 21st Century, Rubinstein’s way is closer to what’s being taught in conservatories.  But the Regurgitation route is, in the final analysis, a dead end.  Between the lack of new music that audiences want to hear, and performers who are sounding increasingly alike, it’s no wonder that even the most talented musicians have a hard time sustaining a viable career.  Nor is it a surprise that supposedly “sophisticated” audiences are drawn to the circus act antics of Lang Lang – not because he’s praiseworthy, but because he’s “different.”  The same old, same old, gets old awfully fast.

There was a time, from the early 1980s until about ten years ago, when I listened to Rubinstein incessantly.  That’s not the case anymore.  Beautiful tone only gets one so far – just like a pretty face.


So, to me, it was Horowitz who was both the greater pianist (in his prime), and the better musician – because he played from within the music looking out – not the other way around.   Rubinstein was, occasionally a Re-Creator.  But most often he was a Regurgitator – although a supremely charismatic one.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Stephen Kovacevich - complete Philips recordings

Universal music has issued a box with pianist Stephen Kovacevich's complete Philips recordings.  Click here to read my review.





Monday, October 5, 2015

2015 Election Endorsements

2015 is an off-year election, meaning there are no Federal or State officials on the ballot.  Turnout in off-year elections tends to be low, so every vote counts.  This is a particularly important election for South Euclid: Not only is the mayor up for reelection, so are two incumbent at-large city councilors – with a third seat open after the retirement of Council President David Miller.  Additionally, there are several important Charter issues which will help determine the direction of South Euclid for the next generation.

For Mayor:

Georgine Welo is running for a fourth term as South Euclid’s mayor.  Her challenger is Ward 1 councilperson Ruth Gray.  Mayor Welo successfully shepherded South Euclid through the Great Recession, the worst economic storm to hit the United States in over 70 years, to safe economic harbor.  Welo’s steady leadership has been noted not just by her fellow mayors and members of the local Democratic Party, but by Ohio’s Republican State Auditor, Dave Yost, who presented South Euclid with an award for accurate and transparent record keeping practices.  South Euclid’s bond rating is currently Aa2 – meaning High Grade – which is another indicator of Welo’s fiscal leadership.

As I have noted elsewhere, my family moved to South Euclid in 1971.  Only someone delusional would deny that South Euclid is a very different community than it was then – as is every inner-ring suburb.  Population has been declining since the 1980s – although South Euclid’s rate of population loss is less than, for example, Cleveland Heights or Cuyahoga County as a whole.  No doubt, South Euclid has endured some tough times, but over the past three years I have noticed improvements.  I walk the streets of my neighborhood every day, and drive many other streets on a regular basis.  I see once distressed housing steadily being rehabbed or removed, fewer for sale signs, greater levels of occupancy – both residential and commercial, the creative rebranding of neighborhoods, and the creation of pocket parks - along with smaller amenities like the new Pump Track at Bexley Park.  South Euclid’s troubles will not be over tomorrow.  There are still important issues which need to be addressed more effectively, such as neglectful out of town residential and commercial landlords.  But the city is headed in the right direction.

Part of Mayor Welo’s leadership has required taking stands which have not been universally popular: the purchase and redevelopment of Cedar Center North; advocating for the Oakwood Commons development; and increasing property taxes to compensate for shortfalls caused by decreasing property values, declining population, and the elimination of State aid to Cities by Governor Kasich – which has been a problem throughout Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs.  It’s very easy for politicians to say “Vote for me and I will lower your taxes”, but it’s not so easy to live with the consequences those tax cuts - which are often geared toward the wealthy - have on urban and inner-run suburban communities like South Euclid.

Some supporters of councilperson Gray have criticized Mayor Welo’s stances on these matters – while failing to note that Gray also favored the aforementioned efforts.  They also conveniently fail to note that councilperson Gray, in her position as Director of Community Life for Bedford Heights, was a co-defendant in a racial discrimination lawsuit which resulted in an award of $1.83 million to the plaintiffs.  The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and if such a suit were to happen in South Euclid it could have catastrophic consequences.

We feel Mayor Welo has performed as well as anyone could have, given the economic and demographic realities of the time.  Further, we see Mayor Welo’s vision and hard work that have gone into developing the city’s new Comprehensive Plan as the best way forward for our community.  We enthusiastically favor Mayor Welo’s reelection.


For City Council, at-large:

South Euclid’s three at-large council seats are up this cycle.  Two incumbents are running for reelection.

Marty Gelfand was elected to city council in 2011.  Marty, a Navy Veteran and former aide to Congressman Dennis Kucinich, has served the city ably over the past four years.  While some of his colleagues have engaged in divisive tactics, Marty has been a calming force in getting council to cooperate on several important issues, including the Safety Forces Levy.  Marty was of great assistance to the Telling Mansion Preservation Organization by drafting our by-laws and giving our group direction.  I am privileged to call Marty Gelfand a friend and I strongly recommend his reelection.

Dennis Fiorelli was appointed at large-councilor in 2010 when Sunny Simon stepped down to take her seat on Cuyahoga County Council, and was elected in his own right the following year.  He has served with distinction.  Fiorelli was the force behind South Euclid’s refuse collection contract with Kimble company.  This contract provided for separate refuse and recycling containers for each household – large enough to accommodate the needs of most residents – who do not have to sort between different types of recyclables (e.g., paper, plastic, cardboard).  The convenience of the Kimble program has resulted in a 40-60% increase in recycling citywide and a savings to the city of $280,000 from 2011-2013.  Recently, several cities, including Highland Heights, have adopted this method based on South Euclid’s success in this matter.  There are numerous candidates who like to boast how “green” they are.  Fiorelli has walked the talk, and deserves to be reelected.

There are four non-incumbent candidates for the council: John Currid, Ron Sabransky, Andre Reynolds, and Jason Russell. 

In 2014, John Currid unsuccessfully contested Sunny Simon’s reelection for County Council representative.  Currid hails from New Jersey and moved to South Euclid several years ago.  He has not served in elected office before.  In fact, I can find nothing Currid has done relating to public service – not even volunteer work.  Even though South Euclid’s local election is non-partisan, it should be noted that Currid is a very conservative Republican and leader of South Euclid’s Republican Club – so he’s already out of step with most voters in South Euclid.  In 2014, he called for removing Ohio from Common Core educational standards, railing against it as “anti-American” and “anti-Israel” – one of the Tea Party’s prime talking points.  But City County council has no jurisdiction over public education, so how does he propose to stop Common Core from within the boundaries of the office he seeks?  Although I’ve endorsed Republicans in the past, there’s no indication Currid is open minded enough to listen to South Euclid’s voters – most of whom do not share his philosophy.  

Ron Sabransky was a member of South Euclid’s Planning Commission until he was dismissed by Mayor Welo in 2014.  Sabransky threatened legal action in the wake of his termination, but nothing came of it.  He was also the Treasurer for John Currid’s unsuccessful 2014 campaign, which can be taken as an indicator of his political sympathies.  Sabransky doesn’t appear to have distinguished himself during his time on the Planning Commission and has not specified what he’d bring to the table as a member of city council.  His candidacy is a non-starter.

Andre Reynolds was an Accounting major at Howard University - available documentation does not state whether he received a degree.  Much of his career has been split between private sector banking and mid-level public management.  Reynolds advocates for the set-aside of $100,000 in safety levy monies for programs that focus on youth job creation and retention; for further infill housing/condominium development; and greater access to public parking.  I support the first effort – with the qualification that money should not be diverted from the Safety Levy, but rather obtained by aggressively pursuing grants.  Reynold’s other two proposals, however, leave me puzzled.  There is very little developable land remaining in South Euclid.  True, there are scattered single lots which dot the city – leftovers from the Recession.  Those are not candidates for condominiums or townhouses, but would be practical for single family houses.  There are also two larger parcels of land within the area bordered by Monticello, Parkview, Ammon, and Trebisky - which could contain small condo/townhouse communities.  Development of those parcels would be tricky, and previous proposals were unpopular.  Further, whatever was developed would doubtless be tax abated and fail to help fill city coffers in the near term.  Finally, with South Euclid’s population historically on the decline, it makes little sense to add to an already oversupplied housing stock.  Better to provide amenities that will draw more potential residents.  Regarding parking, for the most part South Euclid has a more than adequate supply of spaces.  Indeed, I have seldom seen the parking lot behind Maymore Shopping Plaza filled beyond one-third of its capacity.  While there are occasional storefronts on Mayfield Road which do not offer off-street parking, nearby side streets have plenty of spaces. 

Jason Russell, a native of Hudson, Ohio, also lived in various Ohio communities, including Shaker Heights, before moving to South Euclid.  As someone who has lived as far east as Haverhill, Massachusetts and as far west as Half Moon Bay, California, I consider diversity in life experience to be a positive thing.  Russell also holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from Cleveland State University, a skill which is greatly needed in a community which is trying to reverse decades of decline.  Currently, Russell is a member of the Planning Commission for both South Euclid and Lakewood, which puts him in a unique position to assess the situation and weigh options in two inner-ring, yet very different communities.  Russell advocates for thinking outside the box to incentivize small businesses to rent the empty storefronts along Mayfield Road.  In other words, Russell wishes to bring the amenities that make communities attractive to potential residents.  As I’ve said previously, the Mayfield-Green intersection, despite recent improvements, remains an embarrassment that needs to be addressed – and Russell seems to agree.  He has also stated the need for more rigorous code enforcement and I agree – particularly as it relates to commercial structures. 

For those reasons, we endorse Russell.


Ohio Constitutional Amendments:

Issue 1: Redistricting Reform: Ohio has some of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation, the result of the state’s current laws which allow the Governor, Secretary of State, and State Auditor to draw the district lines.  It will establish a seven member, bipartisan commission, and require public meetings and open display of proposed districts.  We favor passage of this amendment, which will put the needed tools in place to correct this problem.

Issue 2: Anti-Monopoly: This amendment would prevent “a monopoly or a special interest, privilege, benefit, right, or license of a commercial economic nature” from being enshrined in the state Constitution.  It was created in response to Responsible Ohio’s amendment (see Issue 3, below).  If both amendments were passed, the inevitable outcome would be a litany of litigation which would tie up both principles for years.  Whether for the legalization of Marijuana or in more standard business, monopolies are inherently bad for consumers.  One need look no further than the recent airline mergers - resulting in rising prices, declining service, and reduced choice – for an example of how lax and unenforced anti-trust laws have harmed the average American.  Thus, we strongly favor passage of this amendment. 

Issue 3: Marijuana legalization: Marijuana has been illegal under Federal Law since the 1930s.  For decades, advocates have called for legalization – a chorus which has risen over recent years.  On principle we have long agreed that Marijuana ought to be legalized, regulated, and taxed - more or less like alcohol and tobacco.  The fact that Colorado and Washington have legalized cultivation and possession of marijuana, with benefits which have outweighed adverse effects, further bolsters the case for legalization.   The snag with the amendment offered by Responsible Ohio is that it would restrict the cultivation and sale of Marijuana to a small group of investors – effectively giving them a monopoly over all but those who purchase a permit to grow a limited number of plants for strictly personal use.  For this reason, we urge a No vote on Responsible Ohio’s irresponsible amendment.  Then, we advise advocates for legalized marijuana go back to the drawing board and craft a legalization amendment more in the spirit of those from Colorado and Washington.


Cuyahoga County:

Issue 8 - Cuyahoga County Arts tax renewal: The so-called “sin tax” collects money from the sale of cigarettes (30 cents per pack).  Some have complained that this tax is regressive and amounts to “corporate welfare for the Arts.”  No one is being forced to smoke, and smoking cessation programs have never been so available or affordable.  If keeping the tax persuades one smoker that their habit has become too costly and that they should quit, then renewing the tax has merit - with support for the arts a worthy fringe benefit.  Making cigarettes more affordable by eliminating the tax benefits no one, except for tobacco farmers and corporations like Altria and R. J. Reynolds.  So eliminating the tax is its own form of “corporate welfare”.  The levy has raised over $125 million since 2008, which was resulted in over 1,200 grants through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture to more than 300 organizations within the County – not just large organizations like the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Museum of Art, but to smaller entities like the Near West Theatre which has used the funds to engage with low income kids.  With the crucial role the Arts have played in drawing visitors and residents to the county, and the importance of maintaining Cleveland’s status as a cultural center, we strongly favor its renewal.

Issue 9 – Proposed Charter Amendment: This will amend the County charter to require the County Audit committee consist of President of Council (or Council member appointed by the President), four residents with auditing experience – along with the County Executive and Fiscal Officer.  We favor passage of this amendment


South Euclid Levy:

Issue 102 - Road Tax Levy Renewal: Anyone who has driven in South Euclid, a community whose roads receive more use than most other suburbs, knows our roads need continuous maintenance.  The Road Levy Renewal is not a tax increase, merely a renewal of an existing levy and we endorse its passage


South Euclid Charter Amendments:

South Euclid, like most other communities, periodically updates its charter to meet the needs of changing times.  Here are the proposed amendments with our endorsements:

Amendment 103 changes pronouns in South Euclid’s charter from male to gender neutral.  The original language was doubtless drafted by men, and back in the day when women were supposed to confine themselves to birthing, cooking, and housework.  While some may feel this is a trivial matter not worth bothering over, it should be noted that the Founding Fathers strove to use gender neutral language in the American Constitution.  The current verbiage is an embarrassment and needs to change.  We favor passage of this amendment.

Amendment 104 changes the law director’s term from two years to four years.  Some background: for decades, South Euclid's law director has been appointed by the mayor, with council having no say.  In 2012, an amendment requiring council confirmation was drafted by a "committee" of two council people, their spouses, and a friend - placed on the ballot, and greatly trumped.  As the law director is an appointed, not elected position, requiring city council to confirm the appointment every four years is more logical, as it is concurrent with the mayor's term.  Therefore, we support this amendment.

Amendment 105 lowers the signature requirement for charter amendments to be on the ballot, from 10% of the total electorate to 10% of those who participated in the last election.  The proposed change would bring South Euclid in line with the Ohio Constitution, and would also lower barriers to participatory democracy.  We favor its passage.

Amendment 106 would bar elected officials from serving on future charter commissions, except the Mayor and Council President who could serve in an advisory position.  I can see why people feel the passage of this Amendment would encourage private citizen participation.  The sad reality is evidenced by what happened last year, when a very poor selection of private citizens was offered on the ballot – only two of whom I could bring myself to endorse (neither of whom I should have endorsed in retrospect).  Voters should have the freedom to elect anyone they want to the commission – from private citizen to Mayor to County Councilor.  We oppose this amendment.

Amendment 107 would require elected officials to sign a conflict of interest statement each year, and to disclose any potential conflicts of interest.  This is a no-brainer, and we favor its passage.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Matt Damon – both right and wrong on coming out


Daniel and I saw The Martian yesterday.  It’s easily the best science fiction film to be released since last year’s Interstellar.  It’s also the rare example of a film which is neither ascetic nor padded, with the right balance of character moments and action.  Go see it.

 
We would have not seen it had we been paying attention to the activist types who were calling for the film’s boycott after Damon was quoted in a Guardian article opining that LGBT actors who came out of the closet were less likely to have blockbuster careers – citing Rupert Everett as an example.  (I would point out that the less than stellar career Everett has experienced is more likely due to his prickly personality and limited acting chops – has he ever been able to play a heterosexual man convincingly?)  I’m more than willing to pass on a bad film which bastardizes our history, like Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall – particularly since there’s a vastly superior film of the same name from 1996.  I’m less willing to boycott an excellent film like The Martian – particularly when the activists, or more precisely "hacktivists", conveniently forget that Damon has been a stalwart friend to the gay community for decades and has proven his willingness to play gay roles.  How quickly some of us are willing to tar & feather our own friends.
 
I would advise Damon that it’s always risky to give members of another community advice – no matter how well-intended.  I’ve no doubt that Damon was maneuvered into addressing the subject by the Guardian interviewer – in a never ending quest for “click-bait.”  However, no straight man, even an ally, should advise LGBT actors on whether to come out, just as no white person should be telling people of color how to run their community – nor should men be trying to regulate the reproductive rights of women.  But before I digress, let’s return to the subject at hand.
 
Damon was certainly factually correct when he opined that openly LGBT actors are less likely to have the blockbuster careers of their heterosexual or closeted counterparts.  Here’s where his logic breaks down, however.  It took generations of African-American film and television actors, from Hattie McDaniel, to Ossie Davis – often playing thankless roles, before Sidney Poitier could break out as someone with appeal beyond the African-American community, and another generation for mega-stars like Denzel Washington and Will Smith to appear. 
 
Such progress will only be made in the LGBT community as more stars “come out” as openly gay.  It has already happened throughout much of corporate America – as evidenced by Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.  The march toward equality in the work place started with Frank Kameny, who lost his job in 1957 after coming out.  Doubtless, Kameny, an astronomer for the U. S. Army, could have had a lucrative career if he’d kept his nature hidden.  But he chose principle over money, went on to lead the Washington, DC branch of the Mattachine Society, and by his example inspired others to come out.  In the 1970s, Harvey Milk’s example inspired the next generation of lesbians and gays to come out.  Tragically, Milk paid for his activism with his life – but stirred many more to action.  It was people like Milk who inspired me to come out in 1985 – while still in high school.  And openly gay people of that generation spurred on the following generation – which has led to the further mainstreaming of LGBT people in American society.
 
Each generation stands on the shoulders and accomplishments of its predecessors.  The number of openly LGBT actors is increasing so rapidly that news of another actor coming out tends to elicit a collective shoulder shrug and “So?”.  But Hollywood executives don’t think like ordinary Americans, and if given the choice of an openly gay actor and apparently heterosexual one, the executive will bet his money on the hetero.  So, in that sense, Damon is right.  There’s also the legitimate question as to whether movie stars will exist a generation from now: movie theatres are closing left & right, and the most interesting stories are now being told on television – which has entered a new Golden Age thanks to cable and streaming options. 
 
 
But for now, forget the angry activists and go see The Martian – a true epic made for the big screen, and the collective experience of old fashioned film-going.