Monday, February 22, 2010

JACK Report: The New Yorker Takes Notice

If you're a subscriber to The New Yorker (and why would anyone not be?) don't miss the article on pages 78 and 79 of this week's issue by Alex Ross entitled "The Singular Iannis Xenakis." (There's no point in posting a link because you have to be a subscriber to read it.) In the course of the article Ross describes the "JACK Quartet's howlingly beautiful rendition of 'Tetras' (1983) at the Morgan Library earlier this month."

The article concludes by saying, "Xenakis once announced that he sought 'a total exaltation in which the individual mingles, losing his consciousness in a truth immediate, rare, enormous, and perfect.' If these performances didn't quite achieve that transcendent goal, they came exhilaratingly close."

As I have stated before on these pages, the importance to my son and his JACK cohorts of being noticed by media like The New Yorker goes far beyond the one million actual subscribers to the magazine and other media like The New York Times. They are cultural arbiters. When they say a group or performance is fine, other critics pick up the refrain and their opinion is amplified. Whether justified or not, that is the way the world works and it is so gratifing to see my son, the grandson of an Amishman who had never heard of The New Yorker, benefit from it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Report: Pat Conroy Has Run Out of Ideas

When Book-of-the-Month Club offered Pat Conroy's latest book, South of Broad, I eagerly ordered it. Conroy has written some great books: Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, Prince of Tides, The Water Is Wide, but he has not had any new books for several years.
It didn't take too many pages to figure out that this book isn't the end of Pat Conroy's dry spell. He is just repeating the same books he has been writing, except now the overbearing father with a fanatical allegiance to an authoritarian organization, the Citadel, is an overbearing mother with a fanatical devotion to the Roman Catholic church. The good guy basketball coach is now the good guy football coach. The token black is back; the narrator is still the wise-cracking hero who goes through harrowing adventures before everything turns out all right in the end.
Conroy has always had a penchant for melodramatic plotting, but this one is so over-the-top that it is not remotely believable. Conroy never met a superlative he didn't like. Everything and everyone is the best, the most beautiful, the smartest, the most talented, the worst criminal in the history of mankind. Average people and ordinary events don't exist in Pat Conroy's world.
Conroy still knows how to turn a good phrase. But his writing talent is wasted in this book. Even if you're a Conroy fan, particularly if you're a Conroy fan, don't bother to see how the mighty have fallen by wasting your time on this book. I gave it two stars out of five.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Excerpt of What the Parents Are Up Against Tonight

Opera Cabal has a video which it calls a trailer, but is actually a seven-minute excerpt of the opera, UW, which we're going to Chicago to see. Although only a small part of the video, there is a great deal of tennis-ball-throwing-against-the-sheet action. Parents will do anything for their children.

The Parents Head Off To See "USW"; "Not Your Parents' Opera"

We've been warned. As parents, we'll go anywhere; listen to anything; see anything, if our children are involved. Son, Chris, and daughter-in-law, Emily, played last night and tonight in an Opera Cabal production of USW, a multi-media opera based on the life of Rosa Luxemburg, the German socialist. The Chicagoist warns that this is "Not your parents' opera." Well, maybe it's not our parents' opera, but no opera is (my father used to refer to soprano opera singers as "sounding like two cats fighting in a bag.") But any opera in which our children are involved is "our" opera. The Chicagoist says last night's performance at Curtiss Hall was sold out. Luckily, we reserved our tickets for tonight several weeks ago.

We're not going totally unprepared. Last fall, we went to Chicago to see a workshop production. I'm hoping they've improved it since then, but never mind if they haven't. The music was fine, and the chance to see Chris and Emily was priceless. The production opened at Oberlin College last weekend and will be in New York City on Monday night.

If the weather is decent, I would love to take a Segway tour of Chicago. I've always wanted to ride one of those things. George W. Bush's falling off does not deter me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Report: "The Gravedigger's Daughter" by Joyce Carol Oates

I just finished listening to The Gravedigger's Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates. I didn't like Oates's early books; there was too much graphic violence for my tastes. Either Oates has gotten more skillful in her use of violence or I have gotten more inured to it, maybe both, but I really like this book.

The book comes in at nearly 600 pages, but it is not a page too long. It takes those pages to tell the story of a young woman, born in New York harbor in 1936 when her family escapes Nazi Germany. Her family settles in upstate New York, familiar Oates territory, and suffers from the small town prejudices of the era. There is family tragedy, but, somehow, the young woman survives to make it on her own.

Despite the tragedy, the book is not depressing, even in the emotional ending when even this hard-hearted old reporter started almost thinking about getting somewhat choked up. (I didn't actually shed a tear though. Thankfully.)

I have often complained about fine books, spoiled by poorly-written endings. That is not a concern in this book. In fact, the ending, which appeared excerpted in The New Yorker several years ago, may be the strongest part of the book.

The edition to which I listened was read by Bernadette Dunne. If you have ever considered listening to a book, this is one to try. Ms. Dunne does a masterful job with using different voices with different accents to convey an addition dimension to the characters. The book is strong enough to stand on its own as a paper book, but the recorded version is even stronger, in my opinion.

This is one of those rare books that made me say "wow!" at the end. I gave it five plus stars and my rating scale only goes to five.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Roger Ebert: A Wonderful Story

Regulars here know how much I admire Roger Ebert, the movie critic. I never really followed him much on television when he and Gene Siskel would give movie reviews. About 10 years ago, I started attending Ebertfest, his festival of movies that he likes, in our town, and I was soon captivated by his charm, intelligence and knowledge about movies and movie making. I started taking vacation so I could attend all of the Ebertfest movies. I got six good years of Ebert, before he lost his lower jaw and his ability to speak. One of the highlights of my life is being part of a packed audience, listening to Ebert and Werner Herzog talk, after the showing of one of Herzog's movies, until 2 o'clock in the morning. No one was leaving, despite the late hour, because we were entranced by listening as two great minds chatted about their passions. Now, Esquire Magazine has a lengthy but great profile of Ebert, which you can read here. By all means, even if you don't like movies, take the time to read the article. Ebert's face is disfigured, he can't talk and he can't eat or drink, but he can still communicate, and does he ever. Ebert still considers himself a lucky man. And then, go read Roger Ebert's Journal in which he writes about his reaction to the Esquire article. Ebertfest 2010 is coming up in about another two months, and I have my pass, purchased on the first day of sales, because they're always sold out. Roger Ebert plans to be there again this year, inspiring us with his life as well as his words. I can't wait.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

JACK Report: New York Concert Last Night

As anyone knows who has been reading this blog, I have been virtually obsessed with passing on praise of JACK for the last several months. The concert last night at the Morgan Library in New York City was a big deal, hyped by cultural arbiters like the New York Times and The New Yorker. At the left is a copy of the program, posted an hour or two after the program by an anonymous blogger. The first review/report was posted last night here. The author said the auditorium was nearly filled, mostly by young people, but also by traditional concert goers. He/she says this is where classical music should be.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

This Is Not Bragging; It's Just Posting Some Music

I stumbled upon this YouTube video this morning. I am not bragging about my offspring's violin playing. It probably isn't even that good. It might not be. It's just interesting -- to me (and it's my blog, so there.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

JACK Report: This Is Not Bragging; It's Just a Picture

My friend, Catcher in the Wry, blogged yesterday that she doesn't like bloggers who brag too much about their children. I plead guilty, and I will reform. But this picture, composed by Stephen Poff, of Birmingham, AL, where JACK played this past weekend, is an interesting portrait. I'm not bragging about JACK. I'm bragging about Stephen Poff. Oh, and this is not bragging either, it's just information. Check your New Yorker this week under recitals for a description of JACK Quartet and their concert Friday at the Morgan Library in New York City. I found it to be interesting.