Friday, October 13, 2006

Best Couples EVER: The List.

Perhaps Fosco was a bit insensitive in proclaiming Michael and Laurel the "best couple EVER" in his recent post on Canadian Thanksgiving (at least, that's what several of his other coupled friends have suggested in their emails filled with tearful recriminations...)

The problem of course was with my choice of the definite article. What I meant to say (yet did not--I blame the delicious stuffing that Laurel made...) is that Michael and Laurel are one of the best couples EVER.

Which suggests to me that maybe I need to produce the following list of Best Couples EVER (in random order):

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Blomstedtiana, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Joshua Bell.

As you well know, Fosco is a lover of the contemporary classical music. But that doesn't mean that he doesn't enjoy a bit of the more traditional repertoire every so often--especially if that means Mahler, Wagner, or, perhaps, a performance led by one of his favorite conductors.

And one of those conductors would be Herbert Blomstedt (or, judging from the photo to the left, you can just call him George F. Will). I think Herbert Blomstedt is brilliant. I got to know him through his recordings with the San Francisco Symphony in the late 80s and early 90s. I consider three of these discs to be the absolute definitive recording of the work:

Not to mention his excellent Nielsen cycle and his excellent Hindemith. With my love affair with Blomstedt's recordings, imagine how excited I was in 1997 (or was it 98?) to see him conduct the SF Symphony in a Brahms/Berwald program. I loved that concert... and so, of course, I couldn't resist getting tickets to the SFS last weekend to see Blomstedt conduct Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Nielsen Symphony No. 5.

A "Beethoven Violin Concerto" + "Scandinavian Symphony" program actually suggests to me a digression, as I saw essentially the same program last October in Minneapolis. I was in town for a conference and was strolling down the Nicollet Mall (brrr... that city is COLD) when I passed Orchestra Hall and noticed the Minnesota Orchestra program for that evening featured the Beethoven Violin Concerto (with Christian Tetzlaff) and Sibelius Symphony No. 4.

As I had recently read Alex Ross on the Minnesota Orchestra and their hot new conductor, Osmo Vanska, and
as my greatest dream in the world is to someday become Mrs. Alex Ross, and
as Vanska is considered to be an expert on Sibelius, and
as I lurve Sibelius 4...
I had to get a ticket.

Strangely enough, the revelation of the evening was the Beethoven: Tetzlaff was exceptional and, though I had never paid much attention to the piece before, I came away with a strong affection for it. I was a bit disappointed with the Sibelius: Vanska's tempi were too slow and the piece lacked focus. It felt draggy and dull. And Minneapolis's Orchestra Hall is a TERRIBLE space. Do not buy a balcony/tier seat there under any circumstances.

So it strikes me as a bit of an odd coincidence that again this October I saw essentially the same program (but, luckily, someplace warmer and sunnier... and with a better concert hall).

Let's talk about that concert hall: Davies Symphony Hall. I think there are good reasons to like Davies. The first is that it cuts a graceful profile from street level: (Note the chunk of Henry Moore sculpture in the lower lefthand corner.)

The second best reason to like Davies is that, even if (like Fosco) you are a Second Tier ticket holder (yikes! poor people!), the Second Tier hallway actually contains the best features of the building: the two open-air semi-circular balconies. The views of the city (and City Hall) are spectacular: And luckily, Sunday was the perfect day weather-wise to spend some time on the balconies, enjoying the air.

[N.B.: guess who got a camera phone last week...]

As I already mentioned, I was in the Second Tier. And not just any part of the Second Tier, but the... last row.

Here was my view of the stage:

It might look far away, but it wasn't really. For one thing, Fosco is farsighted. For another, it's music for chrissakes. And, for another, Fosco has a neat pair of opera glasses.

Oh yeah, do you want to hear about the concert now?

The soloist for the Beethoven was Joshua Bell who is, as you can see in the photo at right, super hunky. In the past, Fosco has been suspicious of Josh Bell's musical credentials for several reasons: 1) He is super-hunky (which makes one wonder if he is the product of label marketing to middle-aged women, a la Josh Groban) and 2) he occasionally releases CDs with names like "Romance of the Violin." On the other hand, he did record Corigliano's music for The Red Violin and an interesting recording of the Maw Violin Concerto. So I'd been conflicted...

It turns out that Joshua Bell is really good. His tone is lovely, although perhaps a little too sweet. As a special treat, Bell composed his own cadenzas for the piece and they were quite interesting. His cadenzas were extremely allusive, quoting Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 (and probably some other works that Fosco didn't recognize). This was an excellent performance.

And the Nielsen? To tell the truth, Fosco has had a great deal of trouble liking this symphony. As much as he likes Blomstedt's recordings, this is one symphony on disc that leaves him cold. The live performance changed this response only a little. The orchestra was in full force and sounding great, but the symphony still didn't compel me. I am torn between blaming this on the work itself or on Blomstedt. The one exception: the last few minutes were arresting. At the final moment, Blomstedt brought the orchestra to the point (because it's sure not a resolution that is achieved) and it was energizing. I would have loved for this moment to be able to go on for a long time.

Some general thoughts on the orchestra itself. The strings are excellent, the brass is powerful and authoritative, but something is not quite right with the winds. Throughout both works, the winds really stood out from the sound of the rest of the orchestra--there was almost no integration. I found this really distracting and bit puzzling, as the wind performers of the SFS may be the most distinguised group in the orchestra (at least judging them as soloists on recordings). I don't recall this problem the last time I saw the SFS (which was five years ago), so I don't know what to make of it.

On the way out, Fosco couldn't help but notice MTT's assigned parking space was occupied. Was he really there on a Sunday afternoon when he wasn't conducting? And in case you were wondering, it was some kind of Chrysler (though not a current model). If I were MTT, know what my ride would be? A rickshaw pulled by a shirtless Jeremy Bloom.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"I'm thankful for Don Cherry, eh?"

Fosco loves Canada and he's not ashamed to admit it. Five years ago, he and his good buddy Liz went to a conference in Toronto and fell in love with the country: so friendly, so progressive, so calm. Canadians just don't seem to get worked-up over things that Americans do (homosexuals, evolution, etc.) We made a pact then that we would try to get jobs in Canada, a pact on which Liz has made good and Fosco is violating--at least for the next 6-7 years.

Now although Fosco loves Canada, he hasn't always loved Canadians--at least not as friends. Fosco had a Canadian friend once and things ended very badly.

But this time, it's going to be different, because Fosco has met Michael and Laurel and they are absolutely cool and funny and smart and the best couple EVER. And yesterday, Fosco went to their house for his first ever Canadian Thanksgiving!

Michael and Laurel are absolutely wonderful hosts and they put together a truly remarkable spread for the occasion--all vegetarian, even! (Recall that Fosco does enjoy vegetarian food if it's the right kind). I was even a bit surprised to find myself enjoying, of all things, the Tofurky. And have I mentioned that Laurel makes the most remarkable homemade cup of coffee ever? You think she's fetching you an ordinary cup of coffee, but then she returns with something creamy with a head of foam--it's the most luxurious surprise and I recommend it (I wish that I, like my pal John Mackey, remembered to take pictures of the things that I eat and drink...)

Of course, it wouldn't be right to celebrate a holiday from another culture without learning a bit more about that culture and Michael and Laurel were happy to oblige with some interesting Canadiana. I think that the most fascinating thing I learned is that there exists a hockey announcer named Don Cherry. Apparently, he's 1) a Canadian national treasure and 2) totally insane.

You can get a sense of him from this brief commercial for Quiznos:

As you can see, he has this thing for high collars and pimp suits. If you really want to see what kind of suit this guy is capable of wearing, you should check out this clip (Don appears at approx. 2:30).

And it's not just his sartorial sense that is problematic. Apparently, Hockey Night in Canada (for which he announces) had to be put on a seven second tape delay because of his penchant for saying borderline offensive things. Like what? Well, how about this (during the 2002 Winter Olympics):

I've been trying to tell you people for so long about the Russians, what kind of people they are, and you just love them in Canada with your multiculturalism. They're quitters and evidently they take a lot of drugs, too.
I wish I could disagree with Don, but I've been trying to tell American people about the Russians as well--but you love them in American with your multiculturalism.

I'm trying to think of an American equivalent for Don Cherry, but I'm not sure he translates. Sure, John Madden continues his rapid spiral into madness, but, as any close listener can tell, the redneck conservative in the booth is his partner Al Michaels. There was that whole Jimmy the Greek thing, but nobody thought of him as a national treasure. Probably the closest we get is Lee Corso, and that, my friends, is a goddamn shame.

Which reminds me: someday ESPN is going to have to stop having students in the background of their "College Gameday Live" broadcasts...
Unless, of course, ESPN is tacitly agreeing that Lee Corso loves cock.