Sunday, June 29, 2008

Last night before the Caramoor concert, Peter Serkin and I discussed the beauties of meantone temperament tuning. He used 1/7 comma for his performance of J. S. Bach and Mozart.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Water & Ice on a Hot Day—
110° in LA and We See Palm Trees . . .

From “The Lovers of Achilles” by Sophocles

When ice gleams in the open air,
children grab.
Ice-crystal in the hands is
at first a pleasure quite novel.
But there comes a point—
you can’t put the melting mass down,
you can’t keep holding it.
Desire is like that.
Pulling one to act and not to act,
again and again, pulling

"The Glass of Water" by Wallace Stevens

That the glass would melt in heat,
That the water would freeze in cold,
Shows that this object is merely a state,
One of many, between two poles. So,
In the metaphysical, there are these poles.

Here in the centre stands the glass. Light
Is the lion that comes down to drink. There
And in that state, the glass is a pool.
Ruddy are his eyes and ruddy are his claws
When light comes down to wet his frothy jaws

And in the water winding weeds move round.
And there and in another state—the refractions,
The metaphysical, the plastic parts of poems
Crash in the mind—But, fat Jocundus, worrying
About what stands here in the centre, not the glass,

But in the centre of our lives, this time, this day,
It is a state, this spring among the politicians
Playing cards. In a village of the indigenes,
One would have still to discover. Among the dogs and dung,
One would continue to contend with one’s ideas.

. . . at the End of the Mind

Monday, June 09, 2008

Daze and Night

This evening, after rehearsing "new music" in Brooklyn (a combination of words that can strike fear into the hearts of old-fuddy-duddy musicians who still live on the increasingly unaffordable and decidedly Starbucks-ridden Upper West Side), my dear friend Marianne Gythfeldt and I had dinner in one of my favorite restaurants, Olea in Fort Greene (171 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-643-7003). My meals there turn out consistently to be among the finest I've eaten anywhere. (Do not miss the halloumi cheese or the dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon or the roasted eggplant . . . mmm. Or the white mango sangria!)

Eating at Olea means a long trip home to West 106th, but the MTA seemed to be up to the task tonight, and the No. 3 express train sped from Atlantic Avenue through lower Manhattan to West 96th Street in what felt like just a few minutes. There I emerged from the frigid, air-conditioned train onto a hazy, hot platform, strangely crowded for half-past eleven on a Monday night. It was also strange for the mercury to near three digits on an early-June evening. Sometimes New York City is just strange, you accept that.

The No. 3 train didn't budge, and so stalled, it complained, loudly in a constant, monolithic blast of fortissimo white noise, of an ailment I was glad not to share. It was too hot on the platform for the passengers to do anything, too hot to read, move, or even be upset. It was too hot to do anything but sweat. And that we did, profusely.

Suddenly the platform loud speakers erupted in multiple announcements. Utterly indecipherable, overlapping ululations of glossolalia, commanded us, warned us, informed us, of WHAT? Of nothing, because the train noise and the simultaneous blatting from the speakers voided any message. It was too hot to care . . . and then a voice did emerge from the din: "Last stop on this No. 3 express, last stop, last stop, EVERYONE OFF this train."

The train cars hotly coughed out their contents and the platform teamed with people.

We awaited the No. 1 local. We hoped the No. 3 would move on to the train infirmary, making way from its replacement. It was too hot to be rubbing shoulders with dozens of sweat-drenched strap-hangers at a quarter-to-midnight, but it was too hot to walk home.

The No. 3 never moved. It only roared unanswered complaints, doors closed, cars empty, lights ablaze. A No. 1 train finally did roll up, jammed with passengers. When its doors opened, no one got out; not a single person got on. As if having told a joke that falls completely flat, the train sat with doors ajar while hundreds of people stood, motionless, just hoping it will go away. It was a moment of total MTA impotence: an empty train out of service on one side and a full train stalled on the other, with hundreds of people sweltering in between.

I left. It was too hot not to.

Luckily, the M104 bus was right there. Before me on line was a young man with an immense tuba case. Once he got situated in his seat, I stopped in the aisle beside him. I couldn't resist. Referring to my tiny (especially in this context) oboe case, I quipped:

"Don't you wish you played the oboe?"

"No," he replied, "then I'd have to make reeds!"


"My brother played the bassoon, so I know what it's like."

"Oh, so you shared a fraternal clef."

"Yeah, we kept it all in the family."

"So did we. My brother played the flute, but being the smart one, he started a plumbing business."

"Isn't plumbing sorta like making reeds for the tuba . . . ?"

At this point, we arrived at West 106, so I said goodnight. Some strange things you just have to accept.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Aren't they?

"Some news are actually old."

-Gemzel Hernandez, M.D.

As for the key, we know it must be minor.
B minor, then, as having passed for noble
On one or two occasions.  As for the theme,
There being but the one, with variations,
Let it be spoken outright by the oboe
Without apology of any string,
But as a man speaks, openly, his heart
Among old friends, let this be spoken.

The major resolutions of the minor,
Johann's great signature, would be too noble.
It would do certain violence to our theme.
Therefore see to it that the variations
Keep faith with the plain statement of the oboe.
Entering quietly, let each chastened string
Repeat the lesson she must get by heart,
And without overmuch adornment.

by Donald Justice, from "The Summer Anniversaries" (1960)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Isn't it?

"It's a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get."

American Golfer, Arnold Palmer

Monday, June 02, 2008

Days & Knights

Topping off an amazing week of demanding and rewarding work with The Knights, it was gratifying to read Allan Kozinn aglow over Saturday night's concert. He knighted Eric Jacobsen an "interpretive dynamo"!

Click here to read the review in the New York Times.

Click here to read a blog review by my friend, Gemzel Hernandez, M.D.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka at the Swim-Up Bar

Think of Van Gogh, needled by that ringing in his ear,
of Nijinsky in his straitjacket, of Robert Schumann.
Yes, think of Schumann, whose wedded bliss lasted
only four years before his mind betrayed him.
Not even Clara could save him from madness.
Not even she. If my wife were here, she’d say,

“Honey, don’t forget Dianne Arbus or Plath.”
And what about Virginia Woolf, contemplating
each stone she sewed into her sweater
before she waded into the stream.

Think of them all, I nod to myself,
though there must be other etcetera
to distill into palliatives, every plum
of suffering, every genus of indifference.

Even now, when I listen to my music
I catch myself muttering, “Fool.”
Fool who made the sorrows of all souls count
as nothing even as I squeezed the crystal,
everything vanished into the umlauts of Berlin nights.
Even my scores lightened, rose as cloud.

These days, I no longer need to sleep.
I remember, have always remembered too much.
No matter. The Hermitage, that ridiculous little gusli,
the Bolshoi. Computer problems with the Mir.
Bach’s Brandenburgs as played by six dozen balalaikas.
This is what they want to know about in the Provinces,
I tell Vladimir, the mixer at the swim-up bar,
the Four Seasons in Duesseldorf.

Vladimir looks as though he listens closely, I’ll give him that,
those silver wings tucked tight behind him,
angelic concern spread behind his Cossack moustache,
right finger checking and rechecking
the geography of his saber scar for luck.

There’s one conversation we’ve never had,
and Vlad leans into me, refills my Stoli on the house,
adds some ice—Say I loved Ludmila,
say how Ruslan comes to me speaking
one night with a voice made of cellos,
then next night keening like massed bassoons.

Say I even craved those nightly visitations—
that they awoke in me my Spanish dreams,
hummed a Jota Aragonesa, my Memory
of a Summer Night in Madrid,
though I’ve never been.

Oh, Vlad, you should have heard my dreams.
Like an eight-armed goddess retelling
the lives of czars while peeling oranges
and humming Prince Igor as I bowed.

By Jeffrey Levine from "Mortal, Everlasting" (2000)