Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Baker's Dozen of the Best Recordings 2007

A poster at forums challenged us to come up with our 13 best recordings for 2007. Not necessarily newly issued this year, but also recordings that were new to us in 2007. Here is my list of the recordings I found to be the best of 2007.

1) Jon Leifs: "Edda: Part 1 Creation of the World" Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Schola Cantorum Reykjavík, Hermann Baumer conductor BIS 1350

2) Leifs Three String Quartets, Yggdrasil Quartet BIS 691

Leifs' music has been my major discovery this year. "Edda" is simply stunning. The Quartets are powerful and evocative.

3) Grechaninov Passion Week op 58 Kansas City Chorale/Phoenix Bach Choir, Charles Bruffy Conductor Chandos

4) Gordon Chin Double Concerto & Formosa Seasons Lin Cho-Liang, Violin, Felix Fan, Cello, Kansas City Symphony, Stern Naxos

Two homegrown favorites. The Grechaninov garnered 5 Grammy nominations and the Chin introduces a fine Taiwanese composer in the KCS' first recording in years.

5) Beethoven Triple Concerto & Septet Bronfman, Shaham, Mork, Zinman Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra Arte Nova

On Arte Nova, cheap as all get out and stellar soloists and performances

6) Stravinsky, Works Stravinsky/Craft et al Sony

22 discs of indispensable and in most cases definitive performances at less than $40

7) Roussel Symphony # 3 & Bacchus et Ariane, Deneve, Royal Scottish Orchestra Naxos

8 ) Myaskovsky Symphony # 15 & 27 Russian Federation Academic SO, Svetlanov Alto ALC 1021

So thrilled this former Olympia series is continuing on Alto records

9) Bach Viola daGamba Sonatas, Daniel Muller-Schott Cello, Angela Hewitt, Piano Orfeo

Purists may want a harpsichord accompaniment but Hewett is superb on the piano

10) K. A. Hartmann Sinfonia Tragica & Concerto for Viola, Piano and Wind Orchestra Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marek Janowski Conductor Capriccio 71112

11) Bruckner Symphony # 7 Chicago SO Haitink CSO Resound 90704

The Chicago SO strikes out on its own in house recording venture. This is the second issue after a Mahler 3rd from last year. Great sound and performance. The CSO brass still have it!

12) Beethoven Symphony # 1 & 6 Vanska Minnesota Orch BIS 1716

13) Tveitt Prillar & Sun God Symphony Stavenger SO, Ole Kristian Ruud , Conductor BIS 1017

Much of Geirr Tveitt's music was destroyed in a tragic fire. These powerful and engaging works survived.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's That Time

Well, December 23rd. Holiday weekend is here. It snowed, it is cold, my sister is up to visit (and I have not killed her yet, being the spirit of the season and all), we saw the wonderful Magic of Christmas concert from the Kansas City Symphony, eating like horses.... you get the drift.

Must be Christmas, or close there of. Thus, Pato is taking a break. See you soon!

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

50th Anniversaries

50 years ago today, I was awaiting my first Christmas. At 10 mos old, I was probably more interested in the boxes and lights than anything else. Across the country in Seattle, on a wet and gloomy Friday December 20, 1957, Tex Johnston Chief Test Pilot for Boeing Aircraft and his crew readied the first production Boeing 707 for its first flight.

The 707 was not the first jet powered airliner, that honor belongs to the De Havilland Comet. The 707 was however, the most successful of the first generation of jet powered airliners, revolutionizing air travel and cutting the world down to size. Europe was just a few hours away, not a day or two as in a slow propeller airliner or a week in an ocean liner. The orient was in reach, Australia opened up. Travel was no longer for the very rich. Richard Nixon wowed the Chinese in his polished 707 Air Force One, Lyndon Johnson became president in one. Over a thousand were built for both civilian and military use.

We who travel by air owe a lot to the 707 and all its sisters up to the new 787. We can see the world, visit family far away and close the gaps between the continents.

50 years later, many are still in service, mostly for military and freight. 50 years later, I am still in service too, and still fascinated by lights and the promise of a box under a tree.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Brazilian or Two

This is just too good, and sadly very likely true....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Eric Volz Saga Continues

Typical of the screwed up, banana republic mentality of Nicaragua, an appeals court in Granada has overturned Eric Volz's murder conviction. Unfortunately he remains illegally detained because of the passive agressive arrogance of judge who, due to fear and stupidity, convicted him in the first place.

This past Monday the court ruled 2-1 in favor of Eric's appeal, throwing out his murder conviction and ordering his immediate release from prison. However, when his attorney went to the convicting judge, Ivette Toruno, at the appointed time, he was told that Toruno had not signed the release papers and that Toruno had left earlier and was not expected to return until today. He was probably told "manana" which in Nica time means "not now".

I was in San Juan del Sur Tuesday November 21, 2006 when the murder occurred. Eric was not mentioned as a suspect. No one had seen him around. The murder scene was chaos; I know I saw it about an hour after the body was found. Eric was framed, the court ruling a sham of justice. Now the newspapers are demanding "people's justice". I shake my head in disgust.

So Eric sits in prison, the US Embassy does nothing, the rich gringos who were his friends sit and drink and Nicaragua slowly goes back to being a cold, hostile place.

I am supposed to go back this March in what will likely be our last dental trip. Sadly, I can see it being my last trip ever. I just don't feel welcome there anymore.

Keep track of Eric's ordeal at Friends of Eric Volz

Monday, December 17, 2007

We Three Pugs

As someone who is totally owned and operated by a 25lb (give or take), 4 legged creature, more commonly known as a Pug, this little anonymous lyric sort of sums up the spirit of Pugdom. I don't know who sent it to me now, it was several years ago that it arrived in my email, but I have kept it and trot it out each Christmas to wish all who have been pugged, a Merry Christmas. (We can say Merry Christmas here in MO and not get in trouble, our dear Boy-Gov says it is ok, as is taking health care away from Children).

We Three Pugs (sung to tune of "We Three Kings")

We three Pugs of Orient are,
Snuffling low, we cannot go far.
Bellies dragging,
Tails a'wagging,
Hounding the Milk Bone jar.


We love treats and we love hugs.
We love all 'cause we are pugs.
Licking, sneezing, snoring, wheezing,
Guide us to the warmest rugs.

Friday, December 14, 2007

(another) Night Before Christmas

Christmas theatre.... "A Christmas Carol", song filled stories of family and friends, the story of Jesus' birth, warm good feeling, Santa Claus, children. Formula? Usually.

Leave it to the American Heartland Theatre to come up with something engaging, a little off beat but still sticking to a crowd pleasing formula.

"(another) Night Before Christmas" now playing at the AHT (again as I always mention, a wonderful, intimate theatre that allows you to take your cocktails in with you!) through Dec 30th. The plot is simple, but timely and certainly entertaining. The two character musical involves Karol, a disillusioned, cynical social worker and a homeless man named Guy or (Clement Moore, the man who wrote "The Night Before Christmas) who breaks into her loft, takes over, makes incredible crab cakes and tries to convince her that he's Santa Claus. Karol resists but soon has to admit he sure seems like the jolly old elf. With witty dialog and a few hearty laughs along with a few well placed and well written songs, the show breezes along to its obvious and satisfying conclusion.

Karol is perfectly portrayed by Carey Van Driest and Don Forston as a convincing and always hilarious The Guy (aka Clement Moore, Santa Claus...whatever). Neither performance was of the over the top style that will sometimes mar AHT performances. Since this is another Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto collaboration (as in the whitty "Married Alive" and the best production I have seen at AHT "A Dog's Life") the music and whole pace of the production is spot on.

As I mentioned, a crowd pleaser but still a little off beat, humorous but also enlightening. And certainly better than last year's stinkeroo of a Christmas show from the AHT.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Welcome Home Shaun!

Dang! I have been busy and a bit under the weather with a cough from HELL! Thus Pato News has been a bit dry lately.

I do have to publish this great, breaking news! My friend Shaun Attwood, aka "Jon" of Jon's Jail Journal is back home in the UK, arriving there sometime this AM US time.

He left me this wonderful comment that could be lost in the shuffle otherwise, so it is printed here:

"Dear Don, Thanks for all of your comments and kind words over the past few years.
With love and respect,
Shaun Attwood aka Jon"

Welcome home Shaun!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy 99th Elliott Carter

We are, as everyone likes to quote, an aging society. People are living longer, not necessarily better, but certainly longer. I know several active people in their late 80's and 90's. A lady from my church just reached 101. She is in a nursing home, due to weakness, but she is alert and usually in good spirits. The young still sneer at the old folks, but kids, trust me, you are out numbered.

All that was a prelude to recognizing the 99th birthday of US composer Elliott Carter.

Elliott Carter was born in New York city where he met and was encouraged as a young musician by Charles Ives. As with many US composers of the 20th century, he went to Paris to study under Nadia Boulanger. He was also one of Walter Piston's many students. Carter has also taught music as well as physics and math. His music is greatly influenced by physical sound, rhythmic ratios and even categorizing musical pitches in a mathematical scheme related to set theory.

Carter's music is a tough nut to crack. Often austere and complex, it belies its complexity with a rhythmic drive that frequently borders on the whimsical. Most agree that his 5 string quartets are, along with those of Shostakovich and Bartok, among the 20th century's most important works in that medium. Actually some of his later works, such as 2002's Boston Concerto and the Cello Concerto, are easier to absorb than some of the major works from the 60's-80's such as the dry Double Concerto and the Piano Concerto.

At 99, Carter is not slowing down. In 2007 alone he wrote 3 works, including a new Horn Concerto. His first and only opera came along at the young age of 89. Not since Havergal Brian of the UK, who wrote 22 Symphonies after age 78, 9 after the age of 90 has a composer written so many important and large scale works as Carter. And there is likely more, at least one new work of Carter's is rumored for his 100th birthday next year.

I have come to his music late, after not enjoying the dry, academic works mentioned earlier. But, as Carter would likely understand, late is ok.. there is plenty of time.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the legendary rock trio of the '70s never left us, they simply expanded and morphed into the "Trans-Siberian Orchestra". I had the chance to catch their performance in the new Sprint Arena here in KCMO, on a very Siberian night.

The TSO blends classical music, heavy metal and a somewhat preachy Christmas theme into a 2 1/2 hour extravaganza of music, lights, fire and narration. I had heard of them before and thought they were somewhat esoteric, but judging from the packed crowd at the second of two shows, many are familiar with this energetic group and came out despite the suddenly Siberian weather.

The first 1/2 of the show is decidedly the weakest. A Christmas-themed rock opera in the style of "Jesus Christ Superstar", featuring a decidedly religious narrative about an angel who comes down on Christmas Eve to rid the Earth of loneliness and makes sure everyone is "home". Soupy, emotional ballads are woven in between the aforementioned narrative. Some of the ballads are so strongly religious that I would not have been surprised to see some of the audience waving their hands in evangelical fervor. The show came alive during their hyper energetic instrumental renditions of popular carols, which served to comment on the story.

The second half dropped most of the references to Christmas and was a tour de force of light, fire and energetic singing and playing. Everything was in the mix from "Carmina Burana", Mozart, Beethoven, to "Proud Mary" and even Vince Guaraldi's immortal "Linus and Lucy" theme from "Peanuts". There's no holding back as the blazing fire, fireworks and lights join the hyper-kinetic players (most notably a violinist that thinks the thing is a guitar, she loves to play it upside down, while running through the audience and flinging it around in the air)to mesmerize the audience.

Certainly enjoyable, a spectacle for all the senses and worth seeing once for sure.

More fun was the chance to see the new arena from the vantage point of one of the VIP suites. My friend Barb's company has one and we were treated to the show and suite. I admit I enjoyed looking down on the "little people" who had no place to hang their coats, a refrigerator full of drinks, chips and salsa and great seats with tons of leg room. If you got bored with the show, there was a TV you could watch or just sit in back and eat and drink. Ah the suite life!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen died this week at 79. His legacy of musical avant-garde is decidedly mixed; one of those composers more talked about than played. Some call him Germany's greatest post-Wagner composer, some call him a sham, dated and obsolete. He supposedly influenced many important musicians since the 60's including the Beatles, Frank Zappa, the minimalists Reich and Riley, Miles Davis and John Taverner.

Early works such as "Gesang der Juenglinge" a mixed media (voices and electronics) retelling of the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace story, "Kontakte" that combined instruments and pre-recorded sounds, and the marvelous "Klavierstuck" series for piano did find an audience and influenced a musical world hungry for new ideas. His later works dissolved into a morass of grandiose theatrics and obtuse philosophies. His magnum opus "Licht" is an opera/theatre piece lasting some 30 hours including a string quartet to be played with each quartet member hovering over the theatre in a separate helicopter. He claimed he was descended from the stars and called the 9/11 attacks "works of art", a statement he claimed was misinterpreted. He became irrelevant.

Whatever side you are on, it is a sure bet he will be talked about for a long time to come. If we ever hear a live Stockhausen performance (I heard Klavierstuck IX years ago), that will be more of a surprise.

Sir Thomas Beecham, British conductor blessed with a sharp wit,inadvertently summed up Stockhausen's legacy best. Beecham was asked whether he had played any Stockhausen. No, he said, but I believe I have trodden in some.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Oh Where, oh Where has my Dreidel Gone??

With the arrival of some snow to blanket the now gray and brown landscape, I have begun to get in a holiday mood. Hanukkah began Wednesday, but unfortunately I have misplaced my dreidel and could not play the traditional games. A dreidel is a toy top, each of its four sides is decorated with a different Hebrew letter: nun, gimel, hey, and shin. They stand for the Hebrew phrase meaning “A great miracle happened there.”

Playing the dreidel is easy. You assemble a pot or "kitty" of treats, and then take turns spinning the top. If you spin a “Nun,” you collect nothing and yield to the next player. If you spin a “Gimel,” you win the entire pot (Gimel stands for “Gesht,” which is Yiddish for “get.”) If you spin a “Hey,” you get half the pot and if you spin a “Shin” you have to put one of your own pieces in the pot. Whoever gets the most wins.

Puggles is not really adept at playing the dreidel, she usually just goes after the treats no matter what letter is spun, or gets bored. So I play against myself. But since it is missing, I guess I have to forgo it this season.

So I am dispensing with being Jewish and turning my attention to my Christmas tree. It is up, a sort of spindly artificial one, but has no decorations. As is the custom, all the little lights that burned so bright last year burnt out in the months of storage. Since it was late and snowy, I will get some new lights tomorrow.

So I am bored, damn it! Where is my dreidel when I need it?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Coupl'a Things II

1)Even I, who pretty much ignores professional and college sports, am aware of the pissing and moaning and calls for change regarding the BCS (everyone else used the acronym BCS so I will too, I had to look up what it stood for)college bowl controversy regarding University of Kansas and the University of Missouri. Missouri claims to have been slighted and Kansas does not deserve a chance at the national title.

Ya know what?? I wish the media and the public in general would get as worked up over the corrupt Missouri governor, the corrupt and out of control persecutor (sic) Phill Kline in Kansas, the coup d'etat that Bush pulled TWICE in getting "elected", the illegal and immoral war he started, the lack of insurance for a growing number of Americans, the rise of inflation, and anything else besides who gets to go to what bowl game.

2)Hang up and drive people. A fool pulled out in front of me and stopped in the lane, prompting a panic stop in the Queen Mary (a sight to behold). He never put down his phone the whole time. Guess the call was more important than his life.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Heartland Men's Chorus: Christmas Down Home

As an erstwhile member of the Kansas City Heartland Men's Chorus, it was a strange, but enjoyable experience being on the other side of the stage for this weekend's performances of their annual Holiday show Christmas Down Home.

In its 22nd successful season, the HMC is one of the nation's premiere Gay men's choruses. With over 100 singing members, frequently sold out performances and a well organized management, the Chorus is, along with the Symphony, Lyric Opera, Herriman Arts Series and the Ballet, a major cultural icon for Kansas City. The chorus is directed by Joseph Nadeau, now in his at least 9-10th season.

Christmas Down Home was a formula HMC Christmas show. Even though I was not singing, I could predict how the show would progress with relative accuracy. The first half is more "serious" and traditional, with a Hanukkah song thrown in for good measure. The highlight as the first act was a suite of Appalachian Carols accompanied by an ensemble of violin, guitar/mandolin, steel guitar, bass and drums. Some familiar, some not, they were charming, expressive and "simple". The second half is the "funny" part, usually rapped around a story narrated or acted (this time a narration of a country/western "Night Before Christmas") and will usually feature someone in drag, dancing and general silliness. Of course this was no exception. The highlight here was a hilarious and well sung "Jalapeño" Chorus set to Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus from "Messiah" and a rousing "Thank God I'm a Jewish Boy" set to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy".

The solos were numerous and usually good, but the opening piece "Joy" was marred by two shrill tenor solos that really did nothing to make the song attractive. The frequency of the solos was one of the drawbacks of the program, and of past HMC programs. Although it is wonderful to highlight the wonderful talent of the chorus, the solos are frequently lengthy (as in "Not in Our Town", a poignant true story of Billings, Montana showing solidarity with its Jewish citizens who were being attacked by the KKK, and somewhat in The Appalachian Carols as well), the full power and majesty of 130 talented male voices ringing out in tune is a wonder to behold and not heard often enough. It is also,(speaking from experience)tedious from a chorus member's perspective to be relegated to background chorus. Really only in the last piece did we really get to hear the chorus in full steam, and it was glorious.

I am proud to have sung with this fine ensemble, and will likely do so again. This past year was just too difficult for me to devote the time needed to prepare for the shows. The HMC is a vital part of Kansas City, a great evening's entertainment, and a truly an experience that lives up to their goal of Enlightening, Inspiring, Healing and Empowering.

Great Job!