Monday, March 30, 2009

Kansas City Symphony: Tavener (US Premiere) and Griffes Too

John Tavener has rarely been away from the center of the music world since his auspicious debut with the dramatic cantata "The Whale" recorded soon after its debut and released on the Beatles Apple Records label, making it interesting for both classical and rock fans. Even today his music seems to appeal to a less traditional classical audience. Immersed in the sounds, rhythms and mysticism of many of the world's religions, it is frequently beautiful, melismatic and trance like. Much has been written comparing him to "new age" composers, Arvo Part, Rautavaara, Kanchelli, Messiaen and other composers devoted spiritually/mystically inspired music.

One of his more recent pieces, the violin concerto "Lalishri", (for violin, string orchestra and a quartet separate from the main body of the orchestra) written for and played wonderfully by the Scottish-Italian violinist Nicola Benedetti, received its US premiere this weekend with the Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern conducting.

"Lalishri" is inspired by the 14th-century Hindu saint and poet, Lalla Yogishwari. According to the composer, the violin represents the song of Lalla as she discovered her true self and danced naked throughout Kashmir. Thankfully, no one got naked for this performance, but I would not be surprised if that happens some day. In 5 continuous movements (actually and introduction and 4 cycles, also inspired by the form of the Indian Raga) the piece moves from trance to dance to enlightenment and maybe beyond. Frequently beautiful, tonally centered but with free use of dissonance and modal elements and almost vocal in concept, "Lalishri" is aurally interesting but tends to be a bit static. The frequently contrasting sections seemed to be totally disjunct and just as often repetitious. Benedetti, Stern and the strings played the heck out of the piece, the solo well balanced with the sizeable string ensemble and each player deftly handling everything from long ostinati to devilish pizzicato and col legno passages.

Seemingly light years away from "Lalishri" was the closing work, Schumann's Second Symphony. But, looking closer, Schumann's Symphony is also a journey, as the mentally and physically ill and disillusioned composer poured his thoughts into this dramatic and moving work, a portrait of the triumph of human will over adversity. Stern led the orchestra in a brisk yet never rushed performance. The orchestra seemed to relish Schumann's more orthodox rhythms and moods.

Ah but the best for last, even though it opened the evening's concert. Charles Tomlinson Griffes should have been a household name among American composers. Born in 1884 he became enamored with French impressionism and the early works of Schoenberg. Unfortunately, he died young of influenza and pneumonia at 35 in 1920. His handful of works are finely crafted, colorful and, as Tavener, often inspired by Eastern stories and sounds. Thus Stern elected to open this concert of journey and spiritually inspired music with Griffes' best known work, "The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Kahn". Inspired by the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge known by many,

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Kubla Khan is much more than impressionism, Debussy style. It is an engaging study in musical color and story telling as secure as any tone poem by Strauss and as deeply psychological and expressionistic as Schoenberg's early works (think "Verklarte Nacht", or "Pelleas and Melisande"). Stern and the orchestra turned in a colorful, atmospheric and sensitive performance of this not often heard masterpiece. Combined, they succeeded in evoking a dreamy veil over the work albeit briefly and viscerally interrupted by flashes of reality from the large orchestra. Griffes' command of his subject, his sensitivity and ear for orchestral color makes the Tavener seem needlessly monochromatic and static, while attempting to create the same sound world. A sheer joy.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Coupl'a Things XV

1) Et Expecto: We are waiting for a snow storm... or not. All the forecasts yesterday were warning of mounds of snow and maybe ice. It was headed our way, giving Colorado and Kansas a decidedly Arctic look. I did little yesterday, nothing more than I had to, I just knew that if the snow hit I'd be shoveling, de-icing, and hearing the Palace denizens bitch. Barb and I were resigned to miss the Symphony concert on Saturday if the weather turned nasty. I went to bed early too... getting all prepared.

Woke up at 5AM.. trudged to the window, expecting to see the world covered in white. It just looked wet. Bed beckoned and I returned. Now awake, full of coffee and functioning a bit, I see that perhaps the worst of the storm is heading south of us. We may get 1-2 in of it, but not the 8-12 they were taking about. Since it is supposed to be in 40s tomorrow, it won't last long. I am over snow.

2)In terra: The garden will appreciate the lack of heavy snow and bitter cold. Several people have early plants going (onions, cauliflower, beets, etc) and most have staked out their claim. I'll post a new picture soon, it looks more like a garden now.

3)Requiescat in pace: Delores "Dee" Christiansen of Elmhurst,IL. died Thursday due to complications from Alzheimer's at 81. She was the mother-in-law of my faithful friend and reader David.

4) For some reason I am in a Latin mood this AM. Thus: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum. mea culpa. Amor, Agnus Dei

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Titles for HM, The Queen

The Citizens of Caddo Parish, LA, home to Shreveport and other fine and progressive municipalities has asked HM, the Queen to accept the honor of the title:


Further, Millie, Goddess of Washington DC and her staff have bestowed the title of


HM has gratefully accepted these honors and has now advised the Palace and all subjects that she is to be henceforth Styled and Titled:

Her Majesty Puggles Duchess Windsor, Queen of Pugs, Supreme Ruler of Alaska, Princess Royal of Baltimore Place, Lady Regent of The District of Columbia, Grand Duchess of Missouri, Grand Duchess of Kansas City and St Louis, Duchess of Illinois, Duchess of Clinton, Duchess of Caddo Parish, Baroness Pugtona, Royal Order of the Greenie and Treat, Grand Order of the Scrunchie, Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kibble, Patroness of the Royal Pugharmonic Orchestra

...and thus entitled to all the status and privileges therein.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

HM, A Candid Picture

A spur of the moment picture of Her Majesty Puggles Duchess Windsor, Queen of Pugs, Lady Regent of The District of Columbia, Princess Royal of Baltimore Place, Grand Duchess of Missouri, Grand Duchess of Kansas City and St Louis, Duchess of Illinois, Duchess of Clinton, Baroness Pugtona, Royal Order of the Greenie and Treat, Grand Order of the Scrunchie, Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kibble, Patroness of the Royal Pugharmonic Orchestra.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jesus Had a Dick

"For God so loved the world that God gave God's only Child, so that everyone who believes in the Child may not perish, but have eternal life."

Yes, that is the well known John 3:16 line, one we see at every sporting event and heard every year if one is a church goer. And yes, that ponderously sanitized, gender neutral version is how it was read yesterday AM in my UCC church.

The Child in question is Jesus Christ. Or so I always thought. Jesus, as described in the Bible and throughout history has been described as a "he", "him", "son"... etc. I don't think Jesus had a gender identity issue, and if he did that is no big deal, who am I to question? Besides that, a Bible passage (Luke 2;21) indicates that Jesus, as were all good Jewish boys in the day, was circumcised. But damn it, those terms and rituals imply something: Jesus had a dick. Whether he used it or not... that is immaterial.

As an aside, I have no trouble with a gender neutral God. God, in whatever shape that concept holds for you, usually transcends human concepts. As Kurt Vonnegut's character Kilgore Trout uttered, God could be an intelligent gas from Pluto as far as he knew.

Yes, I know it is quite correct to say that Jesus was a child. But it seems the "only Child of God" was a male child with a penis, two testicles, maybe hair on his chest, a distinct lack of breasts and likely sang baritone in his choir.

The idea that Jesus as a male can not be a savior or relevance to women is just plain sexist garbage wrapped in PC feminism. Even the dour old John Calvin dispenses with this issue with a curt, "Why, even children know that women are included under the term 'men'!"

Many others have ranted about this, much more eloquently and solidly theological than I... so I will let me little rant rest. In my own mind and voice, Jesus was a guy. He had a dick. Get over it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Marvin Parker Memorial Garden I

It is officially spring now. Sometime yesterday AM, March 20th, the sun started to slide northward of the equator, thus we have rid ourselves of winter, sending it down to our friends in the Antipodes. Signs of spring (remember those silly exercises in grade school?? "Class... bring in or describe a sign of spring tomorrow.") are everywhere. One sure sign that we are climbing out of the depths is the activity around the community garden.

The garden now has a name, "The Marvin Parker Memorial Community Garden", named after a victim of the Kansas City Police department's policy of shoot first and ask questions later. Here is a link to a KC blog with some background on the incident: Marvin Parker. Marvin lived just down the street from the garden. His family has a garden plot next to mine.

This year we are organized. Last weekend we tilled, mulched, got the rain barrels arranged and started a mulch/compost pile.

The garden is organized into 15 individual plots surrounded by community plots for tomatoes, corn, okra, herbs, beans and squash.

I opted for a plot (just my luck plot # 13 which I have quickly renumbered 12 A) and have decided to be the Lord of Onions; 160 of the damn things have been planted: red, yellow and shallots. Later when it is warmer, I am setting out bell peppers. I might do some other things too, maybe a Roma tomato if no one else does. If all goes well, onion soup, onion rings, onion everything will be on the menu.

Stay tuned to watch the progress of the garden over the season. And start a fund to buy me lots of breath mints.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St Pat's Day

March 17th here in KC, MO. That means St Patrick's Day, celebrated here with as much fervor and frivolity as Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This year, the dodos in charge decided the parade would relocate to South Broadway... which for me means 3 blocks away. The parade starts at 11 and lasts 2-3 hours. Then there is an all day and night party in Westport, about 6 blocks from here. At 6:30 AM I could see and hear 3 news helicopters circling above broadcasting the preparations to their audiences. Roads will be blocked shortly. The crowds will start coming in, maybe already are; they are likely to set a record for attendance as the weather will be upper 70s and crystal clear skies.

Our local grocery store had signs posted all week: "we'll be open...but good luck getting here". We have been told anything west of us will be blocked, or heavily controlled all day. Traffic will be a nightmare, police are setting traps to catch drunks, probably on Main to the east of us, further entrapping us in our little enclave. The church next door chained and padlocked its parking lot...the minister is working from home today. I watched the trash collector scratch his head as to how he was going to get to their dumpster, absentmindely left behind the chained entrance.

I ain't moving. I have food products, plenty of coffee and everything I need right here. I'll be happy watching the nonsense, dressed in my customary orange.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lost At Sea

Two Irishmen, Patrick & Michael, were adrift in a lifeboat following adramatic escape from a burning freighter. While rummaging through the boat's provisions,Patrick stumbled across an old lamp. Secretly hoping that a genie would appear, he rubbed the lamp vigorously. To the amazement of Patrick, a genie came forth.

This particular genie, however, stated that he could only deliver one wish,not the standard three. Without giving much thought to the matter,Patrick blurted out:

"Make the entire ocean into Guinness Beer!"

The genie clapped his hands with a deafening crash, and immediately the entire sea turned into the finest brew ever sampled by mortals. Simultaneously, the genie vanished.

Only the gentle lapping of Guinness on the hull
broke the stillness as the two men considered their circumstances. Michael looked disgustedly at Patrick whose wish had been granted.

After a long, tension-filled moment, he spoke:

"Nice going Patrick!
Now we're going to have to pee in the boat!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Fall

In case you have not figured out, this is a series of Irish jokes for St Patrick's Day. Of Irish decent myself (mother's family were named Cloney) I have license to do so:

Murphy was staggering home with a pint of booze
in his back pocket when he slipped and fell heavily.
Struggling to his feet, he felt something wet running down his leg.

"Please Lord," he implored,
"let it be blood!!"

Friday, March 13, 2009

Water to Wine

An Irish priest is driving down to New York
and gets stopped for speeding. The state trooper smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car.

He says, "Father, have you been drinking?"
"Just water," says the priest.

The trooper says, "Then why do I smell wine?"
The priest looks at the bottle and says,
"Good Lord! He's done it again!"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

That's The Way it Was

March 6, 1981. That is when TV news died. What is on now is drivel, entertainment and macabre comedy; full of sound bites, inane arguing, and outright manipulation of facts.

You see, on March 6, 1981, 28 years ago, Walter Cronkite said his final “and that’s the way it is”.

There are a few TV (and print) journalists who can still report the complex issues of today’s events, giving time for arguments from all sides. These professional journalists strive to provide insightful, honest and unbiased facts and let us, the viewer, decide the merits of the case. Unfortunately, they are as scarce as hen’s teeth and are being replaced by a new breed of news/entertainment hack.

If you are argumentative, extreme and divisive, you are half way there to landing a slot on the prime news channels. An AM radio hour is yours for the asking. You don’t see both sides, the other side is the enemy, you want them to fail. Thoughtful discourse is boring, name calling, marginalizing and sensationalism make you a ratings star. Hypocritically you bask in their gaffes and downplay, ignore or even deny the gaffes of your chosen leader. Finding common ground??? Challenging conventional wisdom?? Not done. Screaming sound bites, harping, hypocrisy… that is what counts. We are separated into warring camps. We listen only to our own propaganda...and condemn the other camp to hell.

This rant got started because my neighbor is losing his hearing and thus has turned the volume of his damn FUX News crap up so I can hear it in the hall way of the Palace. Good grief…yap, rant, whine, scream, all day. Their biased, or even deliberately misleading and provocative opinions are raised solely to increase ratings, not give us the facts.

Along with the strident pissing and moaning, the screen is filled with these annoying runners, or whatever you call them, inundating the viewer with more information than he/she can ever process.

It makes me crazy.

I think to be fully informed in this age, one needs to get news from a variety of sources, for example the local paper on line or better a print copy, Google,, BBC, St Louis Post Dispatch or maybe even other bloggers. Too many people have become lazy, letting Hannity, Limbaugh, or Obermann form their opinions for them. Politicians used to fear the media because it kept them honest. Now they fear them because they could weaken their poll numbers in their base constituency.

Sadly in this time of unparalleled media access, we do not have a Walter Cronkite to turn to. We have to sort through this myriad of often untrustworthy sources to get at what is really going on, instead of through one trustworthy, concise and blessedly unbiased journalist.

I guess that is the way it was.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Welsh Rarebit

My faithful reader, Callalilly, commented that she lives vicariously through my description of the food I prepare and recipes I post. Should I describe the Asparagus with Crab Hollandaise I made for Mardi Gras, or the Shrimp Creole? How about one of the most misunderstood dishes around... Welsh Rarebit.

Some think it is a rabbit dish and that the word rarebit is an old English or Welsh word for rabbit. And it may be; the Betty Crocker Cookbook claims that Welsh peasants were not allowed to eat any rabbits caught on the nobleman's estate, so they used melted cheese as a substitute. There are many theories about the origins of the name. At any rate, we are most familiar with it from the frozen food section, courtesy of Stoffer's. But have you ever had it?

It is easy to make, and quite fun. Great with a steak, or roast beef... whatever.

So, have some for fun. The otherwise obnoxious Elton Brown on Food Network has a good recipe:

Welsh Rarebit

So, hwylfawr! And of course Cymru am byth!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

777 Down...

223 to go. Then I will hit 1,000 posts in Puggingham Palace. I think then the Palace will shut its doors.

I enjoy blogging, as a long time journal keeper, it is in my blood to set my ramblings, comments, reviews and what-not down on paper, or on screen. But a public journal, like this one, is different than just jotting down what you did during the day or memorializing catty comments about friends and not so friends. First of all, I rarely do anything interesting; if I do you hear about it here. The rare juicy bits of my life are just not for public consumption. If that would be the case, there would be maybe 4-5 entries a year, and that is if I am lucky. I would have more readers if I spiced up the blog with juicy tales, pictures of naked people doing all sorts of imaginable or unimaginable things, but that is not the motive of the Palace. And a public forum means I have to keep some comments and thoughts to myself or I would alienate everyone and attract the attention of too many lawyers.

12,000 some visitors have come to the Palace, according to the site meter. The real number is shrouded in mystery as some can access through RSS feeds and not be detected, and some of those were me before I realized I could block my computer from being registered as a visit. Many are return visits from my small cadre of regulars, David, the NIU gang, Callalilly (who I guess is still around), Zaine and mystery persons from Ohio and KC. I know when I review a KC Symphony performance, several people check in to read my review...including our esteemed Maestro. I think most people stumble in here, although I do find it amazing that some of my posts rocket right to the top of the list when you search Google and other search engines.

Life after the Palace?? I may go to recording daily events in a non public record again, I may just keep it open to review shows and performances, I may just relieve myself of one more responsibility. But you few, you happy few, (apologies to Shakespeare) who read me can rest assured at my current rate, 17.5 posts a month, the Palace will be up and going for a while.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Hindenburg v. Limbaugh

Time to renew an old joke, since the old joke is still around...

Q: what is the difference between the Hindenburg and Rush Limbaugh?
A: one was a big, flaming Nazi bag of gas.... the other was a passenger Zeppelin that crashed in 1937.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Kansas City Symphony: Alison Balsom and Richard Strauss

Before I get accused of just being a local booster, full of misguided but well intentioned rah rah, read what a couple of other people said about the weekend's Kansas City Symphony concerts. The program featured trumpet solo Alison Balsom performing the Haydn and Tomasi Trumpet Concerti, the "Manfred Overture" by Schumann and Richard Strauss' paean to himself, "Ein Heldenleben", all led my Music Director Michael Stern.

"Just got back from the symphony concert. Absolutely transcendent - and I don't say (or type) that easily. I tried to imagine past KC orchestras playing that work, and my mind had to travel all the way back to 1979 or 1980. It's been a long time coming, but I think the symphony is back at last." ~ Paul, The Musical Mailman

"....the orchestra soared in a fiery and gripping performance of Richard Strauss' tone poem "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero's Life.") Stern displayed an ability to lend clarity and shape to a work that can be sprawling in the hands of other conductors." ~ KC Star Critic Timothy McDonald.

So indeed the concert was quite good, and further indicative of the growth of the orchestra. Almost amazingly, the brass were sharp, focused, powerful without being over bearing, and free of missed notes and weak intonation. The winds were their usual fine selves and the strings sounded larger than their numbers would lead you to believe. Representatives from several orchestra's volunteer organizations were in attendance on Saturday including Boston, Montreal, and Chicago. I hope they return home singing the praises of our local band.

Really the only near miss of the evening was the Schumann Manfred Overture, which sounded tentative and unfocused. Surely not a bad performance, but in comparison with the rest of the program, a weak sister.

Alison Balsom looks to be a college sorority sister, petite and complete with long blond hair. But Miss Balsom, who won 'Young British Classical Performer' at the 2006 Classical BRIT Awards, and was also awarded the 'Classic FM Listeners' Choice Award' at the Classic FM/Grammophone awards, is an accomplished, mature trumpeter and consummate musician. Her tone was bright, clear and ringing, only a couple tiny audible slips in the stratosphere indicated she was really only human. From the Parisian jazz tinged Tomasi, to the more traditional fanfares of the Haydn, Balsom demonstrated her command of the instrument. Her slow movements, especially the sweet almost bluesy Nocturne of the Tomasi, were silken, almost violin like in tone; the brilliant cadenzas a fine example of solid musicianship, combining awesome technique with musical warmth and feeling. Her encore, the wonderful "Libertango" by Astor Piazzolla (what did artists do for encores before discovering Piazzolla?), was superb and brassy.. as it should be.

"Ein Heldenleben", dismissed by some as shameless self-promotion since Strauss depicted himself (and liberally quoted his more famous-to-date works) as the hero and his wife as his faithful companion, is truly one of his most interesting tone poems, and certainly less embarrassing than "Symphonia Domestica". Realistically it is more proper to think that Strauss' self-portrayal was more tongue-in-cheek and amusing parody than pretentious self promotion. As I alluded to in the beginning paragraphs, this was a superb performance. More than once I had to stop and remember I was on home turf, listening to the Kansas City Symhony, not the Chicago or Berlin Philharmonic. The brass were 99% spot on (name a live performance 100% perfect in the brass), the extensive solos from Concertmistress Kanako Ito totally world class and the whole performance brisk but not rushed or frenetic. The opening concert of Music Director Michael Stern's era with the orchestra began with a fine "Don Juan", a couple years later an equally fine "Don Quixote" with Yo Yo Ma, and now an excellent "Heldenleben", this series really does show, as Paul indicated, how far our hometown orchestra has traveled in a few short years.