Friday, March 30, 2018

Mets win opener; lose an icon.

The Mets won their season opener, at home, today, beating the Cardinals 9-4. I was at work while they were playing, so all I know is the score and, from their website, that Syndergaard got ten Ks, although giving up all of the Cards' four runs. The bullpen, evidently, was strong.

This happy news was clouded by the loss of a former Mets great, Rusty Staub (photo), a fearsome slugger and generous humanitarian. Adieu, le Grand Orange/

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Repast Baroque Ensemble's "Dresden Fireworks" illuminated little known works and often overlooked instruments.

Some wag -- probably a frustrated clarinet or English horn player -- once defined the oboe as "an ill wind that nobody blows good." That gag was put to rest at the Repast Baroque Ensemble's "Dresden Fireworks" concert at First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights on Friday, March 2, which featured guest oboist Geoffrey Burgess (photo). Mr. Burgess ably demonstrated his mastery of the instrument, as well as its range and versatility. Repast's regular crew --Amelia Roosevelt on violin, Stephanie Corwin on bassoon, Katie Reitman on cello, and Gabe Shuford on harpsichord -- were also on top of their game.

As the title suggests, the playlist was of works by composers who were active at the Dresden court of the electors of Saxony and Polish kings during the baroque era -- the early 18th century -- with one exception. That was Vivaldi, who never visited Dresden, but whose music was greatly admired there. The others were: Johann Friederich Fasch; Francesco Maria Veracini (whose stormy engagement in Dresden ended with his self-defenestration from a third story window, fracturing a leg and hip); Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach; and Jan Dismas Zelenka.

The first piece on the program, Fasch's Sonata in F Major for Violin, Oboe, Bassoon, and Continuo, begins with the bassoon playing solo, then joined by the oboe, violin and continuo (cello and harpsichord) in a lush, romantic series of variations. The second movement features lively interplay among the bassoon, oboe, and violin. The third is contemplative, with the oboe dominant, and the final movement is sprightly.

The Vivaldi Sonata in C Minor for Oboe and Continuo begins with a mournful slow march, begun by the bassoon, then joined by the oboe. By contrast, the second movement is upbeat, with the oboe leading from the start. The third is restful, but gave Mr. Burgess the opportunity to demonstrate the oboe's range, and the frenetic fourth movement allowed him to show his virtuosity to the fullest.

Ms. Roosevelt described Francesco Maria Veracini as "certifiably crazy." The first movement of his Sonata in E Minor for Violin and Continuo begins at a loping pace, then picks up to a fast canter, then back to a slower lope. The second is dreamlike, with Ms. Roosevelt's violin carrying the mood superbly. Her violin is decisive in the third, and final, movement, which is stormy, perhaps reflecting the composer's inner turmoil.

Fasch's Sonata in C Major for bassoon and continuo gave Ms. Corwin and her instrument an opportunity to be in the foreground. The first movement is mellow, a quality associated with the bassoon, but the second is bouncy, allowing Ms. Corwin to demonstrate the instrument's range. The third is reflective, with the lower range dominant. The fourth is playful and rapid, showcasing Ms. Corwin's dexterity.

Just as Ms. Corwin got her star turn thanks to Fasch, Mr. Shuford got his with WF Bach's Fantasia in A Minor for Harpsichord. Each note seemed to race from the keyboard to the string to the sounding board in an effort to beat the one before it. A bravura performance.

Before this concert, I was ignorant of the works of the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. His Trio in B-flat Major No. 3, for Oboe, Violin, Bassoon, and Continuo convinced me that I need to hear more. The first movement is languid, with the instruments seeming to perform a slow dance. In the second, the bassoon picks up the pace, followed by lively interplay between oboe and violin. The third is pensive, giving Mr. Burgess another chance to show the oboe's range. The last movement starts with a duet between violin and bassoon, then the oboe joins in a rollicking finale that had me wanting to dance in the aisle.

Throughout, Ms. Reitman's cello, along with Mr. Shuford's harpsichord, provided a strong and reassuring sonic base over which the other musicians performed.

Repast's next concert is titled "Bohemian Fantasy" and will include compositions by Biber, Schmelzer, Purcell, and an original work by Repast. It will feature guest violist Jessica Troy. Performances will be at 8:00 PM on Friday, May 4 at the McKinney Chapel, First Unitarian Church, 119 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, and at 8:00 PM on Saturday, May 5 at Advent Lutheran Church, 2504 Broadway (at 93rd Street), in Manhattan.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "Finnegan's Wake"

James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, reckoned one of the most difficult books to read, took its title and a tiny bit of its narrtive from an Irish comic ballad, author unknown, first heard in the 1850s. It tells the story of a bricklayer who, having had "a drop of the craythur" before work, falls from his ladder and dies. At his wake, "a row and a ruction" starts, until whiskey spills on his corpse. This revives him.

I heard the song first as "New Finnegans Wake" on a now out of print Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem vinyl album "Recorded Live in Ireland." What was "new" about it was Liam Clancy's announcement that, to introduce the song, his brother Tom would read the entire Joyce novel. Tom then read these connected excerpts from the first few pages:
Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen’s mau-rer, lived in the broadest way immarginable in his rushlit toofar — back for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus committed deuteronomy. ... During mighty odd years this man of hod, cement and edi-fices in Toper’s Thorp piled buildung supra buildung pon the banks for the livers by the Soangso. ... A waalworth of a skyerscape ... entowerly, erigenating from next to nothing, ... with a burning bush abob off its baubletop and with larrons o’toolers clittering up and tombles a’buckets clottering down. Of the first was he to bare arms and a name: Wassaily Boos-laeugh of Riesengeborg. ... Hahahaha, Mister Finn, you’re going to be fined again! ... Hohohoho, Mister Funn, you’re going to be Mister Finnagain! ,,, But Dimb! He stot-tered from the latter. Damb! he was dud.
There's no video available of this version of the song, but here are the Clancys doing it without Tom's introduction, but with a preferatory explanation of how the song inspired Joyce:

Monday, March 05, 2018

Roger Bannister, 1929-2018.

On May 6, 1954 I was eight years and not quite two months old. My parents and I were preparing for a European vacation before returning to the U.S., as my father's tour of duty in England was ending. The next day, I looked at a newspaper and saw a photo of man with long, flowing hair running toward a finish line alone. The headline said he was Roger Bannister, and that he was first (since records had been kept) to run a mile in less than four minutes.

I knew roughly how long a mile is; I'd been told that it was a mile from the railroad station to the paper mill in my mother's hometown, Tyrone, Pennsylvania, where she and I had sojourned with my grandmother for several months before joining my father in England. It wasn't a great distance to walk; I'd done it once. It did seem to me a long way to run. Like most kids, I ran a lot, but in short bursts, either playing tag or what we call soccer and my English schoolmates called football.

For some reason that image of Bannister running alone to the finish line remained engraved in my memory. As I grew older, I began running on my own. In my senior year of high school, I would run in the morning before breakfast and in the evening after supper, following a course through our neighborhood that may have been a good half mile. Looking back, I regret not having tried out for my school's track team. At the time, I was shy about pitting myself against competition, fearing I might not be as good as I hoped.

Roger Bannister, since 1975 Sir Roger, died Saturday at the age of 88. His New York Times obituary tells much that I didn't know about his later life. When he broke the record, he was a medical student. Not long after, he left competitive running to devote himself to a successful medical career. He didn't entirely leave the world of sports, serving for three years as chairman of the British Sports Council and for seven as president of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Recreation. For three years, he was head of Pembroke College, Oxford.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Bench, Robert Galinsky's searing play about homelessness, directed by Jay O. Sanders

How could I pass up a play that had as its author and sole performer, and as its director, men I had known since our children had all been in elementary school together? I got to know Jay O. Sanders, the director, and his wife, Maryann Plunkett because my daughter, Liz, and their son, Jamie, became close friends. I didn't know Robert Galinsky well at the time, which was my loss. During conversation after the play, we recalled our connection, which I now wish had been closer.

I saw the play in November, when it was at the Cherry Lane Theater in the West Village. There were only two performances left in its run there, and I hoped to write it up before it ended. Unfortunately, work and other responsibilities prevented that. I'm now delighted that Mr. Galinsky has notified me, by e-mail, that there will be more performances, on Friday evenings January 26 through April 13, in a new venue, the East Village Playhouse.

The play shows Mr. Galinsky to be highly skilled both as a writer and as an actor. Alone on stage, with a backdrop of artworks depicting New York street scenes by Daphne Arthur and a musical score by Deep Singh, he brings to life five distinct characters -- four men and one woman -- and makes us see them as individuals, each with a distinct background and story. We see their bonds and their conflicts, sometimes sharp and loud, but also the love that sustains them. Most of all, we see that the circumstances that put them on the streets are not "bad choices" but simply bad luck.

I cannot recommend this enough. Tickets for for the January 26 and February 2 performances are sold out, but tickets for the remaining performances may be purchased here.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mavis Staples, "We Shall Not Be Moved."

In the clip below, Mavis Staples sings a song that's perhaps more timely now than since the years leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. The music is accompanied by a still photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we celebrate today.

Photo of Mavis Staples by Adam Bielawski.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

2017: remembrances.

2017 was a year of many losses. The Grace Church community suffered the loss of several long standing members. Ann Gaffney was an artist whose paintings of local scenes decorated greeting cards and calendars; her last calendar is shown at the top of this post. Her residence in a Hicks Street brownstone was a salon where she frequently entertained gatherings of friends. On one occasion, we were treated to a recital by a young Danish operatic soprano who was staying in Ann's downstairs apartment during her brief residency in New York. Other congregants who are greatly missed are Patrick Owen Burns, Sr.; Bill Meade; and Bill Newbury.

The music world suffered a great toll. Ones I noted here are: Al Jarreau, Chuck Berry, J. Geils, Gregg Allman, Glen Campbell, Tom Petty, Fats Domino, and Mel Tillis. Others I didn't mention, but should have, include Della Reese, Malcolm Young, and David Cassidy. On happier notes, I posted on the centenary of Ella Fitzgerald's birth, and Van Morrison's 72nd birthday.

From the world of stage and screen, I noted the loss of Brooklyn Heights native Mary Tyler Moore. Among others I should have are Dick Gregory and Don Rickles

Oh, yes, and the Mets had a lousy season.

I'll post some happier reminiscences soon.

Erratum: the deaths of my neighbors Dorothy Azouni and Lillie DeBevoise seemed so fresh in my mind that I mistakenly included them in this year's remembrances. In fact, they died in 2016 and were included in my 2016 Remembrances.