Saturday, October 04, 2008

Works Cited

In 1919, [Joseph Schumpeter] agreed to join a commission on the nationalization of industry established by the new socialist German government. A young economist asked him how someone who had so extolled enterprise could take part in a commission whose aim was to nationalize it. "If someone wants to commit suicide," Schumpeter replied, "it is a good thing if a doctor is present."


Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers

Shostakovich

October 3rd, 2008

This evening’s program with the National Symphony was an overture by Beethoven, followed by his fourth piano concerto, and after intermission, Shostakovich’s Fifth. I bought a chorister ticket, because: 1. I’d never been in the chorister, and I was curious, and 2. chorister seats are cheap. You have to go through a box to get to the chorister, and there you are, nestled between organ pipes behind the stage, looking down a cliff at the tops of the musicians’ heads. The conductor faces you the entire time, and you feel as if you’re, if not part of the symphony, liable to be drafted at any moment. Which, for those of us completely bereft of talent, is terrifying.

Oh, and some jackass booed, loudly, after the National Anthem. Who does that? Nobody paid much attention: we all were embarrassed—not by the guy, but for him.

The view from the chorister is good—more on that later. My guess as to the reason for the affordability of the seats is that the sound is rather muddy, which isn’t surprising, as the orchestra’s arranged to project music in the opposite direction of us choristers. So while we get ample percussion, the woodwinds are strangely distant, and even the piano comes out sounding over-pedaled.

But from my perch, I also got to see Hélène Grimaud’s adorable tush every time she bowed. I personally, heroically, kept clapping long after she finished the concerto, bringing her out once, twice, and then the hat trick, to bow again and again.

I came for the piano concerto, which is a piece I’m fond of, but I was most moved by the Shostakovich. The symphony is—and I mean this term as a positive—gruesome. Lonely melodies in the woodwinds, interrupted by snide marches, and now and then a plaintive swell of strings. There’s a disgusting waltz that left me feeling ill, tense. I’m seldom so affected by a performance, much less by a piece by a composer I’m not particularly fond of.

In the chorister, the percussion-heavy finale actually shook the seats.

Shostakovich was the most prominent victim of Stalinist censorship. It’s an open question as to whether Stalin actually disliked his music, or simply needed a whipping boy to keep the rest of the Soviet artists in line. Nowadays people like to read hidden dissent in all his pieces, finding in his sycophantic odes to Communist glory some buried message of protest.

Some of this is a snipe hunt. But, nonetheless, the Fifth Symphony’s finale, entirely hammered out in D minor, ends in a sudden blare of major, timpani notes bouncing, brass unleashed. It’s hard to believe this was anything but kowtowing to the authorities, for ending in minor would be tragic, and what source for sadness could there be in the Soviet state? So a howl of agony ends in a cheerful smirk.

The effect is ridiculous. Even after the major takes over, the composer throws in a few discordant notes (but not too many!) to make us question the authenticity of this sudden joy. And the percussion is too heavy, everything far too loud, and the irony is there, even if kept as ambiguous as safety demands. But sarcastic or not, it still sounds silly and incongruous, and I wish he could have written the ending he’d wanted and the piece deserved.

Leah’s short friend—whose name I don’t know to spell and whom I will thus, in the spirit of political correctness, simply refer to as the Smurf—commented that live performances must be so distracting for the classical music lover, for he can no longer concentrate solely on the music, but rather has his attention continuously drawn by the movements of the performers. I agree—if I want to learn a piece, attending a performance is a lousy method; I prefer finding a score on the IMSLP and following along.

Still, the Shostakovich had my full attention.


I’ve been listening to lectures on economic history. As to the Marx lecture, which I enjoyed: at some time I ceased dividing people and ideas into groupings based on good and evil, and began rather to distinguish things based on what is interesting and what is not. I’m happier for that, though less zealous.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Debate

9:00 EST/ 8:00 Central

JAY:
The VP debate's getting started.

SCOTT: I'll watch, but I'm going to have to drink.

JAY: That's all right. I've got a full bottle of Scotch.


9:15 EST/ 8:15 Central


SCOTT: We're out of Scotch.


...

JAY:
I want to say something, but I don't want it to be gay.

SCOTT:
Go for it.

JAY: You look really good lately. Muscular, and you've lost weight.

SCOTT:
Nothing gay about that... So... you want to make out?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Cultural Sensitivity Fail

SCOTT: Have a happy Rosh Hashanah?

JOSHANA: I did. Matzah ball soup!

SCOTT: So, tell me, do you celebrate the real New Year's too? Or just the fake one?

Empathy

October 1st, 2008

My great aunt had a stroke and is rapidly dying. She’s currently unaware of her surroundings. She was or is—depending on theological niceties—a lovely woman whom we’ll miss terribly.

Death was not something I dealt with frequently as a child. Something about the spacing of the generations. But in the past eight years or so, relatives have fallen off more frequently, as if the crop had ripened and is now ready for harvest.

I am sometimes aware, after a long conversation with someone I love, of a terrible fear. I’ll put down the phone, a smile on my lips over some closing joke between us, and be floored by my own affection for the friend, the family member, and like a cold shower the thought comes: what about when something bad happens to that person?

I don’t mind my own pain when it comes. My old fears and depressions have been with me since puberty threw my brain out of whack, and I’ve pearled them all over so they sit in me, large but smooth. And new pains I can handle—I know how to rationalize away their sharper corners, how to act on them and distract from them. God has yet to strike me with anything that can’t be suffered through and eventually poeticized away.

But sadness in other people, people I love, is different. I have no access to it, no clue how to handle it, how to get a hold on it, how to make it stop. When people I love hurt, and I’m left with nothing but bromides to keep repeating like a white incantation, I understand why people pray.

So, for example, I’ll think after talking to David: “My God, I love that kid.”

And I pause, and realize the gaping vulnerability stuck open in me.

I suppose we all bleed for each other. We play music on a doomed ship.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

An Alito-Scalia Mix Up I Could Understand

SCOTT: In fact, I've met Justice Thomas. I saw him in a restaurant in Delaware and went over and tapped him on the shoulder. I introduced myself and told him it was my birthday. He said, "Well, happy birthday, Scott."

LEAH: I can't believe you tapped Justice Scalia on the shoulder.

SCOTT: Thomas.

LEAH: What did I say?

SCOTT: Scalia. I guess all originalists look alike to you.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Goy of Learning: Multiculturalism with My Favorite Jew

Hanah: he's at day care now

me: And you've nothing to do.

Hanah: are you kidding? I'm cooking rosh hashanah dinner

me:
Of course I was kidding. I would never forget Rosh Hashanah.

Hanah: heh

me:
It doesn't seem fair that you get two New Years. I don't want you celebrating the other one.

Hanah: it's also my Jewish birthday

me:
So you get two birthdays? How does that work?

Hanah:
I'm 27 and 28 at the same time

me: My good friend Hanah turns out to be in a state of quantum superposition.

Hanah:
exciting, isn't it?

me:
I had no idea you were so unstable.
Well, some idea.

Hanah:
for 19 days this year!

me:
So is every Jewish birthday just the normal one plus 19?

Hanah:
i'll explain when i have my other hand back

me: I'm not sure I want to know.

Hanah:
breast pump

me:
I was right.

Hanah:
could be worse

me:
At least the financial sector's doing ok.
Wait a tic.

Hanah:
I forgot about charlie for a few minutes. Am I a bad mom?

me:
No, it's ok, because I happened to be thinking of him for those few minutes.

Hanah:
whew

me: Anytime.



FanoftheSitcom227 (10:48:14 PM):
i'll have to watch

Remy Boncouer (10:48:32 PM): Plus it's a decent movie besides. And Vivien Leigh is gorgeous.

Remy Boncouer (10:48:38 PM): Or was. When she wasn't dead.

Remy Boncouer (10:48:41 PM): Isn't that always the way.

Works Cited

Lockstock
Of course, it wasn't long before the water turned silty, brackish and then disappeared altogether. As cruel as Caldwell B. Cladwell was, his measures effectively regulated water consumption, sparing the town the same fate as the phantom Urinetown. Hope chose to ignore the warning signs, however, preferring to bask in the people's love for as long as it lasted.

Little Sally
What kind of musical is this?! The good guys finally take over and then everything starts falling apart.

Lockstock
Like I said, Little Sally. This isn't a happy musical.

Little Sally
But the music's so happy!

Lockstock
Yes, Little Sally. Yes it is.

Josephine
Such a fever. If only I had a cool, tall glass of water, maybe I'd have a fighting chance.

Hope
But don't you see, Mrs. Strong? The glass of water's inside you, it always has been.

Josephine
It has?

Hope
Of course it has.


Mark Hollmann, Greg Kotis, Urinetown