Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hump Day Funnies

I was walking down the road today and saw my Afghan neighbor, Abdul, standing on his fifth floor apartment balcony shaking a carpet. I shouted up to him, "What's up Abdul, won't it start?"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Red Carpet Pet Party

Check out this video from my friend and fellow dog lover Kellee Katillac. Go to and comment on the video there. Each positive comment will earn $1 for the Northland Pet Pantry and help abandoned dogs and cats who are the unseen victims of the economic turmoil.

A further reason to watch is for the cameo of Her Majesty at about 8:05 into the video!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kansas City Symphony: Bronfman Plays Brahms

Passion, rapture and love; three emotions that have inspired musicians to create some of their greatest works. Such was the overall theme of the first series of concerts by the Kansas City Symphony in the 2009-2010 season. Haydn's Symphony # 49 in f "La Passione" began the evening followed by Christopher Rouse's "Rapture" from 2000. To conclude the opening concert Music Director and Conductor for the evening Michael Stern, chose the autumnal Piano Concerto # 2 by Brahms, with Yefrim Bronfman as solo.

Haydn's "La Passione" is a bit of a curiosity among his symphonies. It is in a minor key whereas most of them are major key works and it begins with a slow sonata form movement instead of a sonata allegro. Since the work was allegedly inspired by the passion of Christ and Good Friday, the sonata da chiesa form of slow fast slow fast lends itself to the alternately reflective and dramatic mood of the work.

Stern and the KC Symphony have developed a reputation as excellent interpreters of Haydn; clear, crisp, bouncy, energetic and always elegant. This La Passione was certainly all of that, even keeping the long opening Adagio. The following Allegro was dramatic enough, full of the period Sturm und Drang. A sunny and bouncy, a bright spot in this sacred passion, but alas the trio section was spoiled by horn bobbles...sigh. The final allegro brought the work to a dramatic conclusion. Haydn was to abandon the sinfonia da chiesa form after this, perfecting the symphonic form that, with some minor alterations, lasts until today.

Haydn's more subtle and formal "Passion" was followed by a more overt and visceral incarnation, the "Rapture" by Christopher Rouse. Not "The Rapture" as celebrated by evangelical Christians, "Rapture" is a musical realization of "spiritual bliss, not necessarily religious in nature" or as his notes explained "a progression to an ever more blinding ecstasy". The work is unabashedly tonal for the most part and, as in Ravel's Bolero, slowly increases in tempo and volume to the rousing conclusion. The performance was dramatic, certainly noisy yet effective; marred only by some uncertain brass intonation and entrances in the slower opening section. There were the usual fine wind contributions from the flutes and clarinet sections and the symphony's able, but never overwhelming percussion got quite a work out.

It was interesting to compare the Bronfman Brahms 2nd with that of Marc-André Hamelin's a couple seasons ago. Bronfman turned in a more leisurely, introspective, but hardly less technically brilliant performance. This time, Principal Horn Alberto Suarez opened the work with a tonally beautiful and spot on solo, the important horn part was almost perfect through out the movement. Bronfman was certainly in top form and propelled the work forward, maybe a little less forcefully than Hamelin, but never let it get as weighty or turgid as a big German dinner.

Special note is given to Principal cellist Mark Gibbs for his gorgeous opening solo in the adagio for which he received an appropriate ovation and sincere greetings from Mr. Bronfman at the conclusion of the work. Although Bronfman's and Stern's finale was a bit more leisurely and lighter than Hamelin's more muscular and staccato reading, it carried sufficient weight to conclude this mighty concerto and not serve as just another scherzo as can happen with some performances.

The orchestra sounded richer and fuller than ever before, thanks to some tinkering with the seating. Stern has separated the 1st and 2nd violins left and right, with the basses and celli on the left (as one looks from the audience) rear and the violas in the center. This has given the orchestra the aforementioned fuller and deeper sound with more prominent (but not overwhelming) bass. The acoustics in the lovely Lyric Theatre (to be replaced in 2011 by the spectacular new Kauffman Center) are challenging to be kind. This new arrangement alleviated some of the muddiness of the strings and the feeling that the section was undermanned.

Next up, Kodaly's charming Galánta Dances, Rachamaninov's Symphonic Dances and the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

Friday, September 25, 2009

RIP Alicia de Larrocha

Alicia de Larrocha, a diminutive Spanish pianist esteemed for her elegant Mozart performances and regarded as an incomparable interpreter of Albéniz, Granados, Mompou and other Spanish composers, died this evening in a hospital in Barcelona; she had been in declining health since breaking her hip two years ago. She was 86.

Ms. de Larrocha specialized, yea owned, music that demanded focus, compactness and a subtle coloristic touch. Her Mozart, Bach and Scarlatti were so carefully detailed and light in texture that even as public taste shifted toward more period-instrument style, her performances remained popular and even definitive. She was closely associated with the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, where she first performed in 1971. Her appearances remained among the festival’s hottest tickets until her final performance there in 2003.

Ms. de Larrocha’s most enduring contribution, however, was her championship of Spanish composers. She made enduring recordings of Albéniz’s “Iberia” and Granados’ “Goyescas,” and helped ease those works into the standard piano repertoire. She almost single-handedly built a following for Federico Mompou, a Catalan composer of quiet, poetic works.

Although she was often regarded as partial to Granados — her mother and an aunt were among his piano students, but he died before Ms. de Larrocha was born — she refused to cite a favorite.

Thankfully, her recordings survive as monuments to the art of the piano.

On a personal note, I did a bad thing as a college student, but 33 years later I still remember every bit of it. It involved Ms. de Larrocha.

I volunteered as a tour guide at the University of Illinois Krannert Center while attending school there. After conducting a tour I noted on the board that the Great Hall was reserved from 3-4 pm for Ms de Larrocha who was performing that evening. Knowing all the entrances and exits, I snuck quietly into the hall and sure enough, she came out to test the piano and warm up. Her assistant or whoever left, not noticing me up in the darkened balcony. Ms de Larrocha warmed up and then played Alborada del Gracioso, plus "Triana" and the "Rondeña" from Albeniz's "Iberia" just for me. I chickened out and left after that. Totally stupid on my part, but since then I have been an ardent fan of this diminutive lady with a big smile and passion for her art. I attended the concert that night which consisted of the Ravel, Mozart "Turkish" Sonata and selections from Iberia. It was amazing.

Where is my copy of Iberia, I must listen to it!

RIP great lady. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coupl'a Things XXIII

1) I am pleased to announce that the Queen Mary is out of prison and is now owned by a nice fellow in Independence. She was sprung yesterday and through a fortuitous situation, she is now in a garage waiting to be licensed and a new battery.

It was hard to let her go, but it was best for me, as I did not have the $ to pay off the horrible city of KCMO. How she got out is a story that I will not tell in public. Suffice to say it skirted legality or violation of this idiot city rules and I want no further trouble from them.

Go forth QM, go on to your new home, actually in the state of your birth... and ride in style.

2) Bigger news is that the QM will be replaced by a 1990 Buick Century from my late aunt Pauline. My Uncle Howard (her brother) has it and does not need it. I am going to Galesburg, Il on 10/2 to pick it up. Only 61,000 miles and a new paint job. Should be a good car. I am still going to bike and walk locally as it is good for me. But will be nice to have wheels to go longer distances.

3) Scotch has reappeared in my liquor cabinet. I am enjoying an early but deserved glass of Bowmore, a fine, mid range Islay scotch. Smooth but with the peat smoke and tang-of-the-sea flavor that makes Islay scotch so damn fine.

4) The garden is still producing, but I will not take pictures as it looks like hell. I got some tomatoes, my beans are going fine, the peppers are plentiful and I got another eggplant.

5) HM's Palace News Report: She is most highly NOT AMUSED. She got a bath (second in 5 days due to her skin allergy) and the evil vacuum cleaner paid a visit. If you see a fluffy fawn pug walking along with a bag containing her food bowl and food bag, please return her.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Morrocan Spiced Olives

For a Moroccan themed party I am preparing this dish I found on . It is quite good, really easy and different.

1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Fennel seeds
1 tsp Coriander seeds
1/4 tsp Cardamom, ground
1 pinch Crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch Nutmeg, ground
1 pinch Cinnamon
1 tb Olive oil
1 1/2 c Green olives, brought to room temperature
1 tb Lemon juice
1 tb Orange juice
3 Garlic cloves, minced

Heat first 8 ingredients in a small skillet over medium heat until
fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat & add olives & toss to

Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate in an airtight container
for at least 4 hours or up to 3 weeks. The longer they marinate, the
better they taste. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kansas City Lyric Opera: Tosca

If there is a benefit to the recent economic downturn, it is that some arts institutions have been forced to re-examine their operations and mission. For many, it has resulted in a back to basics movement; for some, that is a welcome development.

For the 2009-2010 season, the Kansas City Lyric Opera has shuffled its performance schedule and programmed operas that are guaranteed to be crowd pleasers. While its been great to see a world premiere (John Brown from a couple seasons ago), a neglected opera or two (Thomas' Hamlet for example), seeing great productions of the core repertoire can have its benefits as well. And of course the crowds fill the coffers, preparing the way for better times and more adventurous performances.

Thus the opening production of the season is Puccini's masterpiece, "Tosca". If there is a work that epitomizes opera it is Tosca. Melodrama galore, young artists, the pageantry of the church, evil, a love triangle, double crossing, everybody dying at the end...what more could one ask of an opera. Of course gorgeous melody and the beloved aria "Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore" definitely helps things along.

The performance Wednesday was uniformly quite excellent. The voices, especially Lisa Daltirus as Tosca and Greer Grimsley as Scarpia, one of the most despicable characters in all opera, were quite good. The only exception, sadly, was Rafael Davila as Tosca's tragic lover Mario Cavaradossi (what he sees in Tosca, I'll never know), whose too light tenor voice was frequently overwhelmed. His acting was a bit leaden overall as well. Daltirus (who is a Tosca veteran and who was featured in the Chicago Lyric "Porgy and Bess") was ever so flexible in her role, going from jealous, almost petty lover, to tragic heroine who brings down the evil Scarpia. Grimsley, who portrayed Wotan in the Seattle "Ring", was superb; oily, shifty, pure evil, never a caricature. The smaller parts were well done, especially noting Kevin Glavin who came close to stealing his scenes as the harried Sacristan.

The sets and lighting were effective, straight forward and assisted in telling the story. Music Director Ward Holmquist was in fine fashion with the orchestra, both in the subtle underpinning of the voices and in the magnificent processional that ends act one.

So what if this production broke no new ground, didn't set the opera in a factory in Communist Romania, or didn't have Tosca dressed as a 70's rock star? It was opera at its best, riveting, colorful, musically powerful without all the gee-gaws that detract from the original masterpiece.

Kind of refreshing actually.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What I am Listening to Today: Part I

Music from 2 divergent threads, one from an artist long passed from the scene and one from the live, local and current world.

On the CD player now is a wonderful recording, one of the few available, sadly, of Liszt and Alkan piano works by the renowned but sadly almost forgotten American pianist Raymond Lewenthal. Lewenthal, born in Texas of Russian parents, burst on the scene in the late 40s, winning major competitions and having the enviable honor of making his orchestral debut as a soloist with Mitropoulos conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto. Lewenthal was on to the road to a remarkable career when he was brutally attacked in New York's Central Park in 1953. The attack left his arms broken and he retreated to Europe to recover phyiscally and mentally.

Lewenthal returned to prominence in 1963 when in a radio broadcast he played and discussed the remarkable works of Charles Valentin Alkan (1813-1889) a great, but reclusive French pianist, composer and teacher. Lewenthal devoted the rest of his career and few recordings to Alkan, Liszt and some of the lesser known Romantic composers such as Moscheles, Scharwenka, Rubinstein, Field and Dussek. Lewenthal died in New York in 1988 while working on a definitive biography and study of his hero Alkan.

The recording I am listening to, Elan 82276 (available from CD Universe, HB Direct, Amazon or Archiv Records to name a few) is a re-release of the acclaimed 1965-1966 RCA recording, which some say in its rare CD iteration is superior in sound to this one, but try to get a copy for under $45.

The cost of this or the RCA CD is worth the price for the stunning Alkan Symphonie For Piano, movements from his !2 Etudes for the Minor Keys OP 39. Far from an academic etude, this is truly a well proportioned and argued symphonic statement. Lewenthal is breathtaking in the stark staccato passage near the end of the 1st movement of the Symphonie, taking them to a shattering climax. The other Alkan selections "Le Festin D'Esope" (from the op 39 Etudes) Barcarolle and "Quasi-Faust" from the Grande Sonata" are stunning in their virtuosity and musical thought. The Liszt piece "Hexameron" (I am not a big fan of Liszt's hyper-romantic music) is technically brilliant and always musical.

I was introduced to these performances from the wonderful Lance G. Hill who is not only the force behind the Classical Music Guide but hosts a weekly radio program featuring an artist of the week on Saturday evenings. You can listen in on WPEL radio Saturday at 7PM EST 6PM CST.

Worth seeking out!

Tomorrow, from the other side of the spectrum, The River Cow Orchestra.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Notes from a Trip: Mayophobia

On board the Lincoln Service/Missouri Mule train from Chicago to Kansas City, one can usually find Pat in the last car manning the cafe. One benefit of train tavel is that you can actually get up and wobble down the aisle to the cafe car and purchase a drink or a snack. The fare is little better than airline food, and catering to a captive audience, it is quite pricey. But the pleasure of getting out of your seat and taking a stroll to get a coffee, microwaved hamburger or packaged deli sandwich is a bit of a pleasure.

Pat handled the cafe car on both days I traveled, so she recognized me from my frequent trips for coffee. Being about 7PM with my diabetic tummy needing some food, a trip to Pat was in order.

A lady was ahead of me and she got one of those awful Asian ramen noodle cups and a turkey and swiss sandwich. As Pat was heating the noodles, the lady opened the packaged sandwich and started to cover it with several packs of mayo...just like I was going to do as I had decided that was to be my choice (minus the noodles).

"OH!! I can't STAND the sight of mayonnaise"!!!!! Pat screamed while turning her head and shading her eyes from the offending condiment.

She handed the lady her change and the hot noodles while not looking at the mayo doused sandwich. "I am sorry, the sight of it makes my skin crawl, I can just imagine being buried in it.OOOOOOHH ahhhhgh!" She shuddered as the poor customer slinked away from the counter, feeling like she had just asked for a shit sandwich.

Needless to say, I slathered my mayo on mine out of sight of Miss Pat.

Mayoitis. That is the formal name for mayonnaise phobia, at least according to my net research. Apparently it is somewhat common; there is even a Facebook page for mayo phobics.

As for me, put mayo on a dead horse ass and I would probably eat it.

I am Don, I am a mayoholic... HI DON!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Notes From a Trip

First of all kudos to Amtrak for a great trip. For years, at least here in Missouri, Amtrak was synonymous with "late". I took Michael to the Independence station years ago for a trip back to Jeff City and the train was 45 min late from Kansas City, where it started! My sister was always late arriving, and two years ago I used it to Jeff City and could have walked there faster.

Some new sidings, allowing the freights to pull over, more double track, a new double track bridge and supposedly better co ordination with the freight trains has eliminated a lot of the delay. I think less freight traffic may contribute as well.

The train was clean, spacious, free of hassle (I carried 5 bottles of wine back in my bag, see if you can do that in a plane) and the passengers friendly and varied. Watching the scenery go by, observing life in the small towns, seeing the back side of the world (not always attractive, but certainly interesting), with the drone of the clack clack clack of the wheels is comforting and somewhat nostalgic.

And besides, it got me there in one piece.. what more could one ask?