30 April 2010

Haiku 2010/120

grass bends in the wind,
or is crushed beneath my feet:
fragrances of spring

29 April 2010

28 April 2010

Haiku 2010/118

Theatrically blue
Skies and a closing curtain
Of turbulent clouds

27 April 2010

Haiku 2010/117

strange god of good luck,
smile your golden smile on my
chicken with cashews

Haiku 2010/116

This is from yesterday. I had a complete and I hope temporary Internet failure at home.

Troubadors were right:
Love songs come more easily
To someone unknown

25 April 2010

Haiku 2010/115

In winter I wished
For this first hot day: and now
I find it too hot

24 April 2010

Haiku 2010/114

skies washed clear by rain
over grass still green and fresh,
over grass still young

23 April 2010

we ask and ask: thou smilest and art still

23 April 1564-23 April 1616
This is the statue of Shakespeare in Central Park, New York. A nearby plaque, which is otherwise mostly about the funding of the statue, helpfully identifies him as a "celebrated poet and playwright."

Haiku 2010/113

Little victories,
Inevitable defeats:
Our war against dust

22 April 2010

Haiku 2010/112

emptied by night-fall
lit windows confront the stars
pointlessly shining

21 April 2010

Haiku 2010/111

how dear the moments --
why did I think that, seeing
them, mother and son

20 April 2010

Haiku 2010/110

indoors hours later,
my cuffs damp and heavy from
April's sobbing skies

19 April 2010

Haiku 2010/109

last night lingering
in those exhausted eyes, those
blank defeated stares

good news/bad news

The other day I received an e-mail from the Boston Symphony regarding two new releases on their BSO classics label. The first celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus but it was the second, Celebrating Carter’s Century, that excited me.

Until I saw that it was download only.

I knew this day was coming, but I treated it the way most people treat such days: as something I didn’t need to think about just yet. I’m not exactly – how shall I put this? – a gadget/tech guy. I have no car (and no driver’s license), no microwave, no cell phone, no i-anything . . . I’m not exactly a Luddite – I bought a digital camera last year, I love (love!) my big screen TV, and I was an early adopter of both DVDs (hence the big-screen TV) and CDs (back when those were shiny and new, and not the equivalent of listening to wax cylinders), and I’ve shopped on-line for years. But I’m really only going to bother to learn about technology that I think I need. And will enjoy. And I already spend enough time cursing at my slow computer and AT&T's lousy service.

I understand the concept of downloading, and I understand how it works (more or less). I can even see some advantages, mostly in storage space. (Though I think one reason I’ve been resistant to downloading is that it’s part of a whole move by corporations to cut their production costs and dump them on the consumer and then call it “empowerment” or “anytime access” or some nonsense like that.) But with a CD, I have something semi-permanent and transportable, something not dependent on any particular system. Do I have that with a download? We’re only a few decades into computerland and already I’ve been hearing for years about data that can no longer be retrieved because the systems that held them are so outmoded. And like everyone who uses computers, I’ve lost documents through crashes or through switching systems.

So if I download music to my computer, won’t I lose it if the computer crashes or I buy a new machine? Can I copy downloaded music to a CD and if so will that CD be compatible with normal CD players? In other words, how do I keep the things I want to keep? Does anyone know? (And I will consider any answers starting off with “it depends on your system” to be proving my point about the downside of downloading.)

Here’s what’s on the disc, by the way. I hope I get to hear these performances some day:

Texts by John Ashbery and an aggregate of ancient Greek authors
Conductor: Stefan Asbury
Kirsten Hoff, mezzo-soprano
Evan Hughes, bass-baritone
Ensemble: Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center and guest artists*
Mimi Tachouet, alto flute, Henry Ward, English horn, Ryan Yure, clarinet/bass clarinet, David Becker, trombone, Joseph Becker, percussion, Nolan Pearson, piano, Ruby Chen, violin, Melissa Reardon, viola, Hugh LeSure, cello, Kevin Jablonski, double bass, Oren Fader,* guitar

Conductor: Ryan Wigglesworth
Ensemble - Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center and TMC alumni*
Sandy Hughes, Jessica Lizak,* flutes/piccolos, Nicholas Stovall, oboe, Annie Henneke, English horn, Giancarlo Garcia, clarinet/E-flat clarinet, Virgil Blackwell,* bass clarinet/contrabass clarinet, Andrew Cuneo, Ellen Connors, bassoons/contrabassoon, James Robertson, Matthew Oliphant, horns, John Russell,* Michael Martin, trumpets, Jeremy Buckler, Karna Millen,* trombones, Sam Solomon,* Matt Prendergast, Nick Tolle,* percussion, Sadie Turner, harp, Tatiana Vassilieva, piano, Jeanine Markley, Jessica Blackwell, Alissa Cheung, violins, Amelia Clingman, Tiantian Lan, violas, Marie-Michel Beauparlant, Matthew Beckman, cellos, Dylan Palmer, double bass

Mad Regales, for six solo voices
Texts: Poems by John Ashbery
Conductor: John Oliver
Ensemble: Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center
Ashley Logan, soprano, Abby Fisher, Katherine Growdon, mezzo-sopranos, Zachary Wilder, tenor, Matthew Worth, baritone, Alan Dunbar, bass-baritone

Sound Fields, for string orchestra
Conductor: Stefan Asbury
Ensemble: Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center

18 April 2010


It finally dawned on my American mind that in order to reduce my debt level I should maybe stop spending so much money; and though I do have quite a backlog of thoughts on things I’ve already seen, as well as of already-purchased tickets, I’d still like to thank Philharmonia Baroque for offering me a ticket to their recent performances of Handel's wonderful opera Orlando, as otherwise it would have fallen victim to my occasional frugality, and I found the performance, despite some reservations about the staging, absolutely enchanting. I was at the second performance (the first at First Congregational in Berkeley), on a cold and wet Saturday.

Three or four potted orange trees on either side of the altar/stage area, and a bench or two, were the only set, and the only one necessary. The orange trees in their pots were a visual reminder of the classic Italian Renaissance garden, and through the garden to the opera’s source material, Ariosto’s Italian Renaissance epic Orlando Furioso, and a reminder of how central the Arcadian vale is to Handel’s opera; characters frequently compare their state to their bucolic surroundings, or stand there apostrophizing the glades they should be fleeing. Madness and sorrow are central to the plot (Orlando loves Angelica; Angelica loves Medoro, which drives Orlando crazy) but there’s still something so fresh and clean and springlike about the music; it’s the madness and sorrow of young love, so intense until suddenly it’s not. The orchestra was phenomenal, unflagging throughout the opera’s three-and-a-half hours. And a friend pointed out to me that the singers had their backs to the orchestra and to Nicholas McGegan conducting from the harpsichord, yet I didn’t sense any coordination problems.

The odd acoustic of First Congregational is I think less of a problem for higher voices, making it well suited to the stratospheric antics of the baroque, but bass-baritone Wolf Matthias Friedrich as the magician Zoroastro, who has the only really low voice in the cast, had a strange hollow sound in the first act, though he made some vocal adjustments so that the problem disappeared in Acts 2 and 3. I’ve noticed before that singers at First Congo concerts will adjust their vocalizing partway through. As the shepherdess Dorinda, who loves Medoro but discovers he does not love her, Susanne Ryden was very pretty, both in person and voice, but was allowed to mug to a distracting extent. I’ve noticed this before at Philharmonia Baroque performances – someone over there needs to tell the performers to tone it down and keep it natural.

Ryden was at her best in the opening of Act 2, when she has a sad aria about seeing her beloved Medoro personified in the surrounding streams and flowers. Sadness encouraged simplicity. (By the way, there were no surtitles, but the house lights were high enough so we could follow along in the printed libretto, in authentic eighteenth-century style, and in the authentic eighteenth-century translation by Samuel Humphreys.) There were others spots, like the trio ending Act 1, when Angelica and Medoro try to comfort Dorinda, that were played for crude physical laughs rather than for tenderness and some sort of emotional truth. I find this approach puzzling – if you don’t see anything in baroque opera but pretty tunes and slapstick, why would you bother going to all the trouble of reviving them?

I was fortunate that one of the first operas I saw was the Peter Sellars production of Orlando at ART, the one set at Cape Canaveral on the grounds that space travel was the modern equivalent of the magical stage machinery of the baroque (and indeed in Ariosto's epic there is a trip to the moon involved in restoring Orlando’s sanity). Sellars’s productions are often described by their most superficial aspects, but at least back in that early stage of his career there was an emphasis on the emotional truth of the characters and on re-thinking who they were and what they did – in other words, he took the works at their word, and seriously. I preferred his dreamier, more poetic Dorinda; there wasn’t anything exactly wrong with the conception here, which put the shepherdess in the long line of those pert and knowing servant girls whose coy and shallow flirtations contrast with the tragic depths of our upper-class protagonists; I just think Dorinda deserved a little more dignity.

As for the rest of the cast – William Towers as Orlando, Dominique Labelle as Angelica, and Diana Moore as Medora – I had no reservations about them; they were magnificent throughout. Labelle’s rich and beautiful soprano is well-known to Philharmonia Baroque audiences, and was displayed to fine effect here. The other two were new to me. Towers is a tall, angular countertenor whose gleaming voice was perfect for the hero, and he did a brilliant job in vocally delineating Orlando’s increasing frenzy and fury until the explosion of his mad scene. Medoro can easily be a lightweight, something like Paris in the Greek legends: a youthful prince, he lacks the heroism of Orlando, and as a lover he's also less than noble, since he initially deceives Dorinda, and is fairly passive in his relationship with Angelica. But Diana Moore made the case for him about as well as it can be made, through the authority of sheer vocal beauty. At moments I was reminded of the sound of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. I’d love to hear more of her. I hope this is one of the performances that Philharmonia Baroque has recorded for release – with the sometimes unfortunate staging no longer visible, this performance would provide straight-through musical pleasure.

Haiku 2010/108

on such a fine day
who can resist going out
to arrange Nature

17 April 2010

Haiku 2010/107

between darknesses
some hours of sunshine or clouds,
and a passing breath

16 April 2010

Haiku 2010/106

(Sense and Sensibility on BART)

Reading Jane Austen:
My seatmate on his cellphone:
"Bitches be crazy."

15 April 2010

Haiku 2010/105

looking at landscapes
the eye wanders, longing for
blue pools of water

one for tax day

courtesy of Philip Larkin:


Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
"Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques."

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don't keep it upstairs.
By now they've a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

-- In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can't put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won't in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

14 April 2010

Haiku 2010/104

do the stars look down
hoping they can pity those
who are looking up

13 April 2010

Haiku 2010/103

birds bob the branches
beaks darting at red berries
for a drunken ride

12 April 2010

11 April 2010

Haiku 2010/101

lying half asleep
listening to rain splashing
through the lemon tree

10 April 2010

Haiku 2010/100

tiny green-gray bird
pecking the random grasses --
my yard is his world

09 April 2010

08 April 2010

Haiku 2010/98

(once again, for V)

Angry gardener,
Think about learning to love
Cheerful oxalis

07 April 2010

06 April 2010

Haiku 2010/96

unpeopled houses
arabesqued through last night's dreams
who lives in that land

05 April 2010

Haiku 2010/95

Our lips used to meet
But these days we seldom do
The birds have flown south

02 April 2010

Haiku 2010/92

gray skies chill young buds
the sky is heavy with mist
the streets are empty

Good Friday

on the road to Calvary: a medieval sculpture now in the gardens of the Cloisters, New York City

01 April 2010

Haiku 2010/91

(for TVG, who asked for it)

She gave me a ride
and that was a bumpy road
but thanks anyway