Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Benjamin Linus blogging

This week's picture is from the searing kitchen scene in One of Us, where Ben and Juliet verbally spar about her leaving The Island. Love Ben's glasses!

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Joyeux anniversaire, Pierre Boulez

(awesome scan courtesy of Tears of a Clownsilly)

Today, March 26th, marks the birthday of one of my true musical heroes, Pierre Boulez, still active at the age of 83 (hat tip to the redoubtable Pliable for the reminder). Boulez is easily one of the most polarizing figures in 20th century (and beyond) classical music: blamed by some for everything from the death of classical music as an art form to the reason that musicians working in the classical field don't make the cover of national newsweeklies anymore to being the Anti-Christ, beloved by others (i.e. me) for his fierce musical intellect, challenging-but-often-sensuous music, radical musical polemics and being a conductor who can untangle the knottiest of contemporary scores and have you thinking "Well, of course that's how it should be done!". His conducting of his chosen core repertory --Berg, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel, Schönberg, Stravinsky, Webern and Varese, say— is well nigh definitive in some cases and always probing and interesting.

Two of my greatest experiences in a concert hall involved the conducting of Pierre Boulez. The first was a routine subscription program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic that ended with a performance of Debussy's glorious La Mer that had the hairs on the back of my neck at full attention. The other was Maestro Boulez conducting a concert of his own pieces, the four orchestrated Notations (there's since been a fifth added to the piece) ending the concert in such a manner that I was in a daze for days (NOTE: sound starts upon clicking link).

Now, while I'm an unabashed fanboy, I'm not a unconditional one. As much as I adore Le marteau sans maître, Le visage nuptial, Rituel: In Memoriam Bruno Maderna, Sur Incises and what I believe is his masterpiece, Repons, I find most of the other music either too rigidly serialist or it features instruments I'm not a fan of (see: clarinet, for example). As a conductor, his readings of the standard 19th century repertoire can be a bit cold and overly-manicured for my tastes and the less said about his conducting on the Bayreuth Parsifal recording, the better.

I just wish Mr. Boulez had composed more original music instead of constantly revisiting and revising existing pieces; there was long talk of an opera but, alas. I also wish he would have spent the time he used to make make multiple recordings of early 20th century pieces to conduct more outside his normal fach.

Finally, I'm proud that I can count Pierre Boulez amongst the long list of gay men who have contributed so much to world culture.

Monday, March 24, 2008

School is hell

Growing up, I grew to hate --yes, that's the correct word-- the social aspects of being in junior high (i.e. middle school) and high school. The cliques, the weird rules that we were supposed to abide by to get along but which changed without notice etc. As I knew I was homosexual, "different", around the age of six, I was always on guard about people finding that out because I knew other boys were bullied for being effeminate. It helped that I loved sports from an early age, that provided an easy smokescreen.

So, when I read stories like this one from the New York Times (via Towleroad), I want to hit things. This poor lad --straight, it seems-- has become the object of bullying in his school and there doesn't seem any way out of it, short of his parents moving 2,000 miles away. What's especially galling is the attitude of school administrators and their subtle "blame the victim" mentality: their job is to ensure a safe space for all students, full stop, even if the object of the bullying is difficult or has learning challenges.

When I was in 8th grade, my family moved --again-- in the middle of the school year, due to my dad being transferred to a new Air Force base. I dreaded these moments: being paraded in front of the class as "the new boy", having to start all over socially, getting the feeling that it was pointless to develop strong friendships because one would just leave in a few years anyway.

As is typical in bullying cases, my mere existence seemed to infuriate one kid in particular. We had an art class together and he would punch me when the teacher wasn't looking, trip me if I walked too close to his working area etc. I was painfully shy, had glasses and braces, just hated being around other people other than to play sports. One day, this kid threw a piece of clay at me. It hit my glasses, driving the metal bridge in to the bridge of my nose. I snapped: I went over to him, pushed him against the wall (I was taller than he was, fortunately) and started to choke him. Seriously choke him, as in: cause him to die by asphyxiation choke him. I'll never forget as long as I live the look of utter panic in his eyes as I squeezed his throat harder. I was pulled off of him by some other classmates and I caused a near heart-attack in the lovely lady who taught us; I have no doubt that if I hadn't been stopped, I would have killed him. Guess what?

I was never bullied again at that school.

Is that what it's going to take for the bullying of Billy Wolfe to stop, for him to snap like I did and, given this is 2008 and not 1975, put a bullet in the head of a tormentor?

Update (3/26/08): Here's a video of Billy Wolfe and his mom's appearance on the Today Show.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday Sunday Benjamin Linus blogging

A bit late this week --NCAA basketball has eaten up all my spare time-- but I love this shot of Ben/Michael from The Other Woman, it highlights those sharp features that I love so much. Mmmmm....chest hair.....mmmmmm.

Damn, a month's hiatus for LOST now.

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Benjamin Linus Blogging

I love the play of shadows on Ben's face here, from the episode One of Us. I'll never get tired of hearing him say "So, I guess I'm out of the book club".

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Guilty pleasures

Ah, one of my favorite music topics: guilty pleasures.

Composer Alan Theisen, looking smokin' hot in that jacket / shirt / tie combo, comes out of the metaphorical closet and proudly declares: Guilty pleasures? I don't need no stinkin' guilty pleasures!

I like the cut of his jib. I'm a prog rock geek, so it's somewhat assumed in that fandom that I'm a foe of disco and punk. Not so! I'm also a staunch advocate of hyper-complex serialism, so I'm not supposed to enjoy Puccini. Absolutely not true!

Now, to be fair, when I was a teenager and early 20-something, I was a horrible music snob. However, I was also a hypocrite: while railing against the 4/4 thump of disco --if it wasn't in 7/8 or 5/4 or 13/8, it was barely music to me, I'd loudly proclaim -- I secretly loved to bits songs like Stayin' Alive and I Feel Love and the glorious Dancing Queen, because, you know, they're brilliant pop records. Luckily, as I grew older, I realized that it wasn't the music so much as the tribal aspects of that snobbery that I was engaging in. Sometime in my late twenties, I started to categorize music simply along a bad > great continuum.

I still have some old aspects of that snobbery lingering around: I simply refuse to say that Billy Joel is as great a composer (he is a fine songwriter, however) as Beethoven as some silly pomo ironicists do, or that they even should be considered using the same critical parameters. However, I'm such a music slut that I'll listen to almost anything that isn't reggae (OK, I love a few Bob Marley songs) or minimalism and find something to latch on to.

I do have to disagree with Mr. Theisen on his choice of the Air Supply song he mentioned. It's obvious, duh, that Making Love Out Of Nothing At All is superior to
Even the Nights are Better. I mean, MLOONAA mentions sports!

Friday Benjamin Linus blogging

This week's screencap (click to enlarge) is from the awesome episode The Man From Tallahassee. "I *know* you, John Locke" indeed. Love Ben's jammies and that chest hair......mmmmm....chest hair......mmmm.

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jarrett / Peacock / DeJohnette at Royce Hall

Wow, what a gig at UCLA's Royce Hall by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, celebrating their 25th Anniversary as a trio. My friend and I had seats in the balcony, with a perfect view of Jarrett's hands on the keyboard. Two sets, about an hour each, with two encores. I know squat about jazz standards, but I was told that the tune to end the first set was Monk's Straight, No Chaser. Monk as filtered through the Second Viennese School, that is. Stunning.

Mr. Jarrett in particular was in fine form, spinning out perfectly executed skeins of 16th note runs over three octaves, more angular motifs and a subtle use of left-hand comping. Mr. Peacock, whether soloing or as part of the ensemble, was terrific, something special to watch and hear for this dabbler on bass guitar. His intonation was superb and his tone muscular and full, no matter where on the neck (or above it!) he was playing. Mr. DeJohnette is not the fiery "what? play a straight pulse? HAHAHAHA" drummer I know so well from his days as Miles Davis' drummer in the great Lost Quintet, but what he lacked in blatant displays of virtuosity, he more than made up for that in subtlety and nuance. What a night of straight-ahead jazz playing!

Just to confirm that scumbags are not limited to ruining the atmosphere at symphony concerts, despite a clearly stated warning, which I know the guy heard because he was a row down and about 10 seats over from me, some paramecium waited until Mr. Jarrett looked up in our direction during the applause after the second set was over to take a flash photograph. Ruh roh! This prompted two stern admonishments (admonishment > go to piano to begin to play > return to mic for second admonishment) from Mr. Jarrett after the group came back out. I wouldn't have blamed him if he hadn't come back for the encores. What the hell is wrong with people?

For a more profanity laced version of a Keith Jarrett admonishment, check out this clip on YouTube (NOTE: sound starts as soon as you click the link) from Umbria Jazz in 1997. Wow.

Still, a great night of jazz at a beautiful venue.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

2008-09 schedule ennui

Starting about ten years ago, coinciding with getting connected to the Internet and having enough disposable income to travel long distances, this part of year meant two things:

1. Baseball was about to start again
2. Opera and symphony schedules for the upcoming season were announced

I'm still excited about baseball starting, especially since the Anaheim Angels are going to be really good again this year. Of the opera and symphony schedules, there's not much excitement generated so far.

The 800-pound gorilla of the American opera scene, the Metropolitan Opera, announced its 2008-09 season yesterday and man, it's boring. Let me qualify that: it's boring to me. Since I have zero interest in most operas written before ca. 1890 not composed by Wagner or Berlioz, it's a big freakin' desert at Broadway & 63rd Street for me. I mean, the one new production of even vague interest is Thaïs, with Renee Fleming, Michael Schade and Thomas Hampson. The less said about the abysmal Doctor Atomic (that's my comment, I forgot to sign the post), the better, I'd say. At least the Met isn't using the awful Peter Sellars production I saw in San Francisco.

As for the revivals, dear oh dear. An average cast for the Ring and Tristan, although the Salome looks kind of interesting. Interesting enough to travel to New York to see? Not likely.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced the contents of Esa-Pekka Salonen's final season as Music Director (PDF) and it's even more disappointing than the Met's season, since the Met is so stodgy and star-singer oriented that nothing very surprising is ever going to happen there anyway. Mr. Salonen, however, took a dispirited orchestra that was clearly bored with André Previn and over the years, turned it in to a critically lauded orchestra specializing in 20th century works. I've had some amazing nights at both The Dot and Disney Hall with the orchestra and so it's sort of a bummer that the final season before Gustavo Dudamel takes over is so....tame.

For me, the highlight is the much delayed appearance of Kaija Saariaho's La Passion de Simone, which has been postponed twice already. Ms. Saariaho's opera L'amour de Loin, which I have three recordings of, including the terrific DVD, is one of my very favorites, though I found her second opera Adriana Mater somewhat disappointing. I'll believe this is happening when I'm in my usual seat in the balcony and Mr. Salonen lifts his baton to begin. There's a lot of Stravinsky, especially in the final concerts of Mr. Salonen's tenure, which will feature *ugh* Peter Sellars *ugh* staging Oedipus Rex, with The Symphony of Psalms also on the bill. Next April will also find Mr. Salonen conducting Ligeti's Clocks and Clouds, which opens a concert containing a new piece of his and the Beethoven Fifth (!!).

The press release makes much of seven world premieres, but that's a fudge, I think. Louis Andriessen's Double Piano Concerto, written for the Labèque's looks intereseting, especially since it's paired with Janáček's wonderful Sinfonietta and that Salonen warhorse, La Sacre du Printemps. Arvo Pärt gets a commission for a piece for strings and then the fudging begins: four of the premieres take place at a single Green Umbrella concert. Still, all in all, Mr. Salonen has had an admirable record of commissioning new works, including one's that *aren't* ten-minute slices of pseudo-film music (aka How Orchestras Normally Avoid New Music But Still Pretend That Music Didn't Die With Brahms).

Mr. Dudamel makes three appearances, one with the Israel Philharmonic in a program of Bernstein and Tchaikovsky and two more substantial programs with the LAP, which include two of my favorite post-war avant-garde pieces, Ligeti's amazing Atmoshpheres and György Kurtág's terrific Stele. Nice to see Mr. Dudamel going non-tonal for a change!

There's simply no excuse for all-Brahms concerts, none.

As I've gone through the ritual of scouring websites to get the scheduels for 2008-09, looking for things that might be worth traveling for, I'm getting a sinking feeling that there's not going to be very much of interest at all this time around. American opera companies are deathly afraid of taking chances and the orchestras aren't much more adventurous. European houses and orchestras at least still have a cushion of public funding to help them schedule the non-standard repertory stuff that I like without fear of the bankruptcy court or subscriber outrage that they've been denied an all-Brahms concert. I think I'd be happy at this point to settle for a single run of a Franz Schreker opera somewhere, even Die Gezeichneten, as long as it's not the production that "seethes with evil" that I've seen in Stuttgart and Amsterdam. The production of Die Tote Stadt in London still looks very promising though and since it's scheduled to play in January 2009, I can hopefully fit in some Everton matches amongst the gin-and-tonics at the Royal Opera House. Damn damn and damn that I can't make it there next month for the premiere of Birtwistle's The Minotaur. Oh well....