Friday, September 30, 2011

The Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra

From 1952 until 1962, the U.S. Seventh Army maintained a full-time professional orchestra based in Stuttgart. James Dixon, Kenneth Schermerhorn and Henry Lewis were among the orchestra’s principal conductors.

The photograph below depicts Henry Lewis rehearsing the orchestra in Stuttgart’s then-new Liederhalle in 1956.


The Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra gave a regular concert series in Stuttgart, toured the continent annually (giving approximately 100 tour performances each year), appeared regularly on European radio and television, and participated in music festivals throughout the continent, often appearing in the pit for festival opera performances.

The orchestra befriended and attracted the patronage of Dimitri Mitropoulos, and engaged notable guest conductors such as Antal Dorati. The Seventh Army Symphony, in its brief lifespan, operated as a major institution.

On November 22, 1957, a bus carrying members of the orchestra, then on tour, overturned outside Phillipsburg, Germany (near Heidelberg). Five players were injured in the accident and numerous musical instruments were damaged or destroyed.

The remarkable color photograph below captures the immediate aftermath of that accident.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Family Issues

On Friday night, Joshua and I, along with my parents and my middle brother, went to Bloomington to attend Bloomington Civic Theatre’s recently-opened production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”.

Bloomington Civic Theatre now has a second stage, the Black Box Theater. The Black Box Theater is reserved for drama productions while the main auditorium continues to be placed into exclusive service for musical productions.

Friday night was the first visit, for all of us, to the new Black Box Theater, which is more than serviceable for drama productions. Is there another civic theater company in the United States that employs the use of two new, state-of-the-art theater facilities year-round?

I have always thought that “Brighton Beach Memoirs” was Simon’s finest play. “Biloxi Blues”, by comparison, is boring, and “Lost In Yonkers” is irretrievably marred by the character of the crime-minded son, more dramatic device than genuine character.

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” successfully fuses comedy and drama, not an easy thing to do, and it presents well-formed characters caught up in serious family issues. I suspect “Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be the only Simon play still to be presented a century from now.

The Bloomington production was notable because the actors portraying brothers Eugene and Stanley are brothers in real life—and their father, an actor, portrayed Eugene in an early production of the play and went on to portray Stanley in a later production of the play. Portraying the Jerome brothers apparently has become the family industry.

We enjoyed the production of what must be acknowledged is a very over-produced play, perhaps the most over-produced play of our time. However, at no point were we suffering from the illusion that the production we were watching was a distinguished one.

My parents saw “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in its initial Broadway run (although my parents caught the production a couple of years into the run and did not see the original cast). They recall that production with fondness.

Friday night’s performance was a sign-language-interpreted performance. When we had purchased our tickets online, the calendar had specified that a different performance would be the sign-language-interpreted performance. As things turned out, the theater had changed the schedule for interpreted performances after we had purchased our tickets—and without informing patrons. It was only when we arrived at the theater that we learned that we would be sitting through a sign-language-interpreted performance.

We were slightly peeved, since we had attempted deliberately to avoid the sign-language-interpreted performance. The theater being so small, it was virtually impossible for us—or anyone else—to ignore the interpreter. The interpreter was so intrusive that the interpreter became an integral character in the drama. At times, it became difficult not to giggle.

Before the performance, we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in Bloomington, but we did not order Italian food. Our waiter recommended the Chilean sea bass, and we accepted his recommendation. We were assured that the sea bass was “certifiable sustainable”—but we did not ask for an affidavit or other written certification. It is time for restaurants to cease providing such meaningless and unverifiable information on menus.

On Saturday, Minnesota played its third consecutive home football game—but Saturday’s game was an early evening game, so my father and my brothers were able to spend most of the day at home, playing with the kids, before it was time for them to head to the stadium.

Minnesota played lowly North Dakota State on Saturday—and Minnesota lost, 37-24. My father and my brothers returned home disgusted. In fact, I think everyone in the State Of Minnesota was disgusted after the game.

The announced crowd was 48,000, but my father and my brothers said there were 35,000 persons at the game, if that, at least one-quarter of which were North Dakota State fans.

Happily, Minnesota will be on the road the next two weekends, signifying that my father and my brothers will not have to waste seven hours each of the next two Saturdays driving to the stadium, sitting through a game, and driving home, all for the purpose of supporting an historically-bad football program.

On Saturday night, while my father and my brothers were at the game, Josh and I went downtown because there was a play we wanted to see.

We waited until the very last minute to leave home, both because we wanted to make sure that football traffic had died down and because we wanted to eat dinner with my mother, my sister-in-law and the kids.

We went to Minneapolis Theatre Garage to catch Torch Theater Company’s production of Sam Shepard’s “True West”.

Thirty years ago, Shepard’s plays were apparently performed with some frequency, but productions of Shepard plays are uncommon now, probably because the plays more or less reek of the 1970s. There is something vaguely and unpleasantly counter-cultural, even decadent, about Shepard’s work, and I suspect that his plays may be deemed “Carter-Era Plays”, rendered largely irrelevant by The Reagan Revolution. Shepard’s plays began falling from view in the early 1980s, just as the national attitude and national outlook brightened, and Shepard’s work has never subsequently returned to favor.

“True West” is not a bad play. Another tale of brothers dealing with assorted family issues, “True West” is an oddball play about oddball characters, but the play holds up in a good production—and the Torch Theater Company production was better than anyone had a right to expect, especially given the company’s budgetary limitations as well as the significant shortcomings of its performance space.

I thought the production was faultless, and the cast superb. In my limited exposure to the work of Torch Theater Company, “True West” was by far the best thing I had ever witnessed at the company. The production was fully worthy of the New York or London stage. It is regrettable that the production was seen by relatively few people in its one-month run and it is regrettable that the production will not live on. Saturday night’s performance was the final performance of the run, and the production will not tour or transfer.

Sunday was to be a family day, but we received distressing news early Sunday morning from my grandmother’s care facility: my grandmother had been unable to walk when she rose that morning.

My parents immediately went to the care facility, while I telephoned my brothers to give them the news. After consultation, we decided to gather at my older brother’s house to await communication from my parents.

When my parents arrived at the care facility, they found that a physician had already been called in and was in the process of examining my grandmother. Something had happened to my grandmother’s left knee, and she was unable to use it.

The physician and my parents decided that my grandmother needed to be transferred to the hospital, with the result that my grandmother was immediately transported by ambulance, with my parents in tow. My grandmother has been in the hospital ever since.

My parents stayed at the hospital all day Sunday. My brothers and I visited the hospital for an hour Sunday afternoon. It was very sad. My grandmother was completely disoriented—she suffers from dementia—and she had no clue why her environment had been changed.

My grandmother kept asking my mother questions, which almost suggested that my grandmother recognized my mother (very unusual, as my grandmother generally no longer recognizes anyone). However, twice my grandmother called my mother “Momma”.

Tests were administered on Monday, and the results suggested that my grandmother had somehow suffered a severe knee twist or sprain. Her knee is swollen, and apparently causes great pain. Medications have been issued to reduce swelling and to ease the pain.

It is our hope that medication and moderate physical therapy will allow my grandmother to regain use of her knee. My grandmother is 96 years old—and, if it became necessary, knee-replacement surgery would probably not be advisable.

My mother went to the hospital yesterday and again today in order to be with my grandmother, who remains greatly disoriented and greatly distressed.

We hope that my grandmother will be able to return to the care facility before the week is out, both for her sake and for my mother’s sake (as well as for my uncle’s sake and for my aunts’ sakes—they, too, have been loyal visitors to the hospital).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Steady


I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.

Dwight David Eisenhower, 10 January 1946


I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.

Dwight David Eisenhower, 11 November 1963

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Composer Has Something Intelligent To Say!

Professor William A. Jacobson of Cornell Law School deemed Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech today at the United Nations a “masterpiece”, and I suspect that Professor Jacobson is right: the speech was a model of clarity and directness, purpose and resoluteness. Netanyahu’s address was a hallmark of what an address by a head of state should be. The world may not have encountered such a landmark address since the days of Ronald Reagan.

In vivid contrast to today’s elevated words from Netanyahu has been the vile anti-Semitic ranting of London’s press and music establishment the last couple of weeks, all in response to a public protest against a concert in London by the Israel Philharmonic, a protest in support of which numerous persons had issued public statements calling for a British boycott of the Israeli orchestra.

Four of the persons calling for a boycott—and even an outright ban—of the Israel Philharmonic were themselves members of one of London’s major orchestras, the London Philharmonic. Alas, the four persons were stupid enough to include the name of the London Philharmonic in their diatribe calling for the Israel Philharmonic to be banned from concertizing in Britain. The four London Philharmonic players were, quite naturally, disciplined—it was perfectly acceptable for them to have uttered publicly whatever foolishness they wished, but it was not acceptable for them to have publicly invoked the name of their orchestra (a player-administered body) in espousing such foolishness.

The self-governing orchestra suspended the players for nine months, and then reduced the suspensions to six months—with the result that the virulently anti-Semitic British press is in an uproar, claiming that “a certain faction” of financial guarantors of the orchestra (i.e., persons of the Jewish faith) is behind the “retribution”.

To Americans, the rampant anti-Semitism in today’s Britain is simply incomprehensible. Even taking into account the fact that Britain is now a Third-World country with a Third-World education system, the swiftness of Britain’s descent into anti-Semitism has been chilling. The descent began in the mid-1990s, and has snowballed into widespread madness, with the Guardian newspaper—now frequently referred to as the Guardian/Der Sturmer—proudly at the forefront of Britain’s deplorable anti-Semitic wave.

Winston Churchill would be appalled at what his country has become—but Julius Streicher would be pleased.


Happily, not everyone in Britain has been susceptible to the lunacy—and intelligent words were offered this week from an unexpected source: a composer, member of a profession not often known for acuity and temperance.

Scottish composer James MacMillan, perhaps best known for “The Confession Of Isobel Gowdie” and “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”, two works founded upon MacMillan’s devout Roman Catholicism, had the following to say:

The Israeli/Arab controversy is too complex for self-advertising dilettantes to weigh in with an unintelligent contribution. Nuance and subtlety go out the window when bullies barge in, bawling about boycotts and bans.

The "artistic community" is out of its depth and beyond its comfort zone on this one, and they have previous experience in getting it wrong, tending to follow fashionable trends that will gain them brownie points with the liberal and power elites. There is nothing challenging or brave about their herd instinct.


In the past the “artistic community", alongside many other privileged middle-class “rebels”, disgraced themselves with ready apologias for Stalinism and the evils of Soviet Communism. I would hate to see history repeat itself with artists offering succor to the Islamo-fascists of Hamas and Hezbollah.

You don't have to agree with everything Israel does, but it is a beacon and oasis of democracy in a desert of authoritarian viciousness and anti-Semitism. We need a bit of proportion in reacting to this situation.

While the week featured an all-too-rare occurrence of a composer having something intelligent to say, the week also featured an all-too-common occurrence of a weblog proprietor making an “unintelligent contribution”, trying to attract attention to himself by “bawling about boycotts and bans”.

A leading rabble-rouser fanning the flames has been Mark Berry, instructor at Royal Holloway, University Of London. For the last week or more, Berry has been leading a charge all over the internet criticizing the London Philharmonic for its “suppression of free speech”—and writing that he has heard “whispers” about the “motives” of that “certain faction” of financial guarantors of the London Philharmonic (i.e., persons of the Jewish faith).

Berry was also co-signer of a letter published this week in the Guardian/Der Sturmer, a letter that—quite naturally—portrayed the London Philharmonic as chief villain of the entire affair.

For years, I have been keeping a jaundiced eye on Berry’s relentlessly anti-Semitic weblog, Boulezian, which is rather a trial to wade through. Berry needs to take a series of remedial writing courses—his writing is appalling muck—and he needs to take a series of courses in elementary logic. Berry also needs to choose a subject for his weblog about which he has some knowledge. An avowed Marxist, Berry should probably confine himself to writing about the life of Vladimir Lenin, or the glories of Joseph Stalin, or some such. As it stands now, whoever reads Boulezian does so, like myself, not because Berry has anything intelligent or original or worthwhile to say, but because Berry’s weblog reflects the mind of a troubled, half-educated weirdo.

In his sashaying turn around the internet during the last week, one of Berry’s recurrent themes has been that “music is politics”. Such opinion may be widespread among Marxists, but such opinion is not held by intelligent persons—and I believe it may be gainsaid that today no intelligent person can possibly be a Marxist (unless that person has severe psychological problems, which very well may be the source of Berry’s misfortunes, as online photographs of Berry would tend to suggest). If music is politics, then cooking is politics, as is gardening, and walking the dog.

“Music making is by its very nature a political act”—Mark Berry

“It is difficult to think of a more inherently political act than that of music-making”—Mark Berry

“Any claim that music is apolitical should be contested, since such a claim is itself ideological through and through, a typical ploy by those in positions of power to repress those who are not.”—Mark Berry

When I play a Schubert piano sonata, am I engaged in political activity? When I listen to a disc of Beethoven string quartets, am I committing a political deed? When the Minnesota Orchestra plays music of Debussy, are the players involved in political shenanigans?

Is not voting a more inherently political act than making music? And running for public office?

If music is politics, is politics music?

May one assume, in Berry’s warped world, that when American voters go to the polls next November to throw out America’s current president, it will be deemed a musical gesture?

It will certainly be music to some ears.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Would You Buy A Used Car From This Man?


American playwright Tracy Letts.

The Edge Of Camp

On Sunday afternoon, Joshua and I, my mother and our former landlady (who is now my middle brother’s landlady) went to Saint Paul to attend the matinee performance of “August: Osage County” at Park Square Theatre.

Our former landlady, a retired drama instructor (who taught drama at the boys’ school I attended), sees practically every theater production in the Twin Cities, and knows practically everyone in the Minnesota theater community. Word from the local thespian grapevine has been that the Park Square Theatre production of “August: Osage County” was shaping up as something truly extraordinary—and our former landlady convinced us that a return visit to “August: Osage County” would be worth our time.

In February 2008, we had attended a performance of the original Broadway production of “August: Osage County” in New York. At the time, I wrote:

“August: Osage County” is, fundamentally, nothing more than a Carol Burnett comedy skit about a dysfunctional family—but a comedy skit that goes terribly awry, turning incredibly nasty if not absolutely vicious a few minutes into the first act. There was an undeniable fascination in watching members of a seedy and sordid family go after each other tooth and nail, tearing at old wounds and opening new ones. However, the play itself is a formulaic commercial vehicle, created not by a genuine dramatist but by a purveyor of pre-packaged synthetic materials.

The author, Tracy Letts, has obviously spent a lifetime parked in front of his television set. Every single dramatic device, every single character, every single situation, every single line, derived purely from the swamp of present-day television. Indeed, Friday night’s audience instinctively recognized this, reacting to the play as if it were watching the tube at home. The audience chattered during the play, and laughed at inappropriate times and at inappropriate lines, and even interjected jeers and cheers when characters in the play were in discomfort or received a comeuppance.

A patina of seriousness hangs over “August: Osage County” because, lathered into this unpleasant and distasteful vat of television writing, playwright Letts has liberally inserted vast chunks of the family dramas of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, William Inge, Edward Albee, Neil Simon, Paul Zindel and Sam Shepard. It is all startlingly derivative, dismaying in its lack of originality.

Ironically, these deficiencies happen to be the play’s saving grace. Because it is so derivative and so unoriginal, and because it is so heavily-beholden to television, the play is easily laughed off. If the play were more powerful and more true, and the characters more believable, it would be disturbing. As it is, it is just a contemporary commercial vehicle, very much of its time, an entertainment that theatergoers may happily forget as soon as they exit the theater door.

A second viewing of “August: Osage County” causes me to reaffirm my sentiments from 2008: the play is derivative, unoriginal and exceedingly nasty. It is also exceedingly glib, boasting more clich├ęs-per-minute than any play ever written. “August: Osage County” has absolutely nothing to do with art, but a great deal to do with entertainment.

And, in a good production, the play delivers huge helpings of entertainment. There is something morbidly fascinating about watching actors go after each other with hammer and tongs, bile flowing by the gallon.

The Park Square Theatre production was superb; it was the best thing I have ever encountered at the company. The production was at least as good as the original Broadway production. Park Square Theatre delivered three-and-a-half hours of pure entertainment.

The highest compliment I can pay the Saint Paul production was that it did not devolve into camp. Such was not true of the original Broadway production, which veered on the edge of camp the entire performance. (I have been told that the National Touring Company production of “August: Osage County”, which played the Twin Cities, was nothing but camp.)

However, that a repertory company in the Upper Midwest can offer a faultless production of something as odious as “August: Osage County”—and Park Square Theatre could never present Ibsen or Chekhov at such a high level—says something significant about the state of American theater.

Monday, September 19, 2011

William Inge In The 1950s

Melodramas Drowning In Self-Pity

I have never paid much attention to the work of William Inge.

Inge wrote plot-driven vehicles in which lower-middle-class characters from the Midwest and Southwest find themselves in various personal and family crises. The crises are largely uninteresting and carry no universal message. The appeal of Inge’s characters is limited, which makes the appeal of Inge’s dramas limited.

Inge’s characters are, above all, plainspoken. They speak an earnest, flat, featureless prose, the kind of prose high school math teachers from Western Nebraska must have used in the 1940s. I have always wondered whether Inge deliberately avoided a more poetic, rhetorical writing style because he associated unadorned plainness with truth and honesty.

And the language in Inge’s most-produced plays—“Come Back, Little Sheba”, “Picnic”, “Bus Stop” and “The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs”, to which must be added his famous screenplay for “Splendor In The Grass”—is indeed exceedingly plain. His characters utter mundane thoughts in mundane prose; the playwright has matched the dullness of his characters with language of equal dullness, as if he had set out to become the anti-Tennessee Williams (with whom Inge was on friendly terms).

For years, I assumed it was Inge’s dishwater-dull prose as well as his inability to conceal plot gears that kept his works off the stage.

However, having seen three productions of Inge plays in the last couple of years, I now believe a third strike against Inge’s plays is perhaps even more fatal to their long-term durability than the first two deficiencies I have cited: the plays are melodramas drowning in self-pity.

The slovenly wife and alcoholic husband in “Come Back, Little Sheba”; the spinsters of “Picnic”; the motley assortment of vagrants that inhabit “Bus Stop”; the long-suffering wife and unappreciated husband in “The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs”; the young woman who suffers a nervous breakdown in “Splendor In The Grass”: all are exemplars of an unattractive self-pity that was a recurrent theme of 1950s American drama. The plays of Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets and Williams exhibit the same mawkish self-pity that mars the work of Inge—and, as a result, the plays are insufferable, even flesh-crawling. Only Williams’s work from the period has survived, but only because the poetry that flowed from Williams’s pen helped to offset the maudlin nature of much of his work. Other than one or two plays by Williams, American drama of the 1950s is a wasteland.

And yet a mini-revival of Inge seems to be underway. Performances of his plays are popping up all over the place.

In April 2009, Joshua and I attended a performance of “Picnic” at Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Massachusetts. We had attended the performance largely out of curiosity—we had wanted to know whether “Picnic” was stage-worthy.

In a good production, “Picnic” remains stage-worthy, but barely so. “Picnic” is a faded remnant of American commercial theater of the 1950s, undistinguished, formulaic, withered—and yet enjoyable as historic artifact if staged with vividness and imagination and style.

In September 2010, Josh and I attended a performance of “Bus Stop” at Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. We had, once again, attended the performance largely out of curiosity.

“Bus Stop” is not as fine a play as “Picnic”. “Bus Stop” lacks the sense of community that is one of the most attractive features of “Picnic”. Further, the characters in “Bus Stop” lack the individuality of the characters in “Picnic”. Finally, “Bus Stop” is a more schematic play than “Picnic”. In “Bus Stop”, eight diverse characters are stuck overnight in a snowstorm in Kansas—and the stale device of eight strangers trapped together for a prolonged period is best left to crime melodrama, whether the Agatha Christie or “The Desperate Hours” variety. (Indeed, because of the corrupt crime genre on which Inge based his play, the so-called “captivity” drama, the viewer of “Bus Stop” is almost disappointed that there is no murder to be solved at the play’s conclusion.)

Unlike “Picnic”, “Bus Stop” is unworthy of revival. The play more or less rots on the stage. At the end of “Bus Stop”, the characters are in the very same situation as the characters in “Picnic”—they are left to carry on with their dull, vapid lives—yet, unlike “Picnic”, there is no sense that the characters in “Bus Stop” have experienced events worthy of their time and attention, let alone the audience’s. The characters in “Bus Stop” have been thrust together for a few hours, but nothing comes of the enforced gathering.

When Josh and I attended a performance of “Bus Stop” exactly a year ago, we never expected ever again to sit through the play.

However, one of the Minneapolis repertory companies, Theatre In The Round, recently opened a production of “Bus Stop”—and, on Friday night, Josh and I, along with my middle brother and my parents, caught the Theatre In The Round production.

The only reason my parents were curious to see “Bus Stop” was because Josh and I had described the Boston production to them—and, their interest piqued, my parents had decided that they wanted to see the play if ever a Minneapolis production were mounted.

That my parents were serious about such intention became clear on Wednesday night, when at dinner they had asked my brother and Josh and me whether we wanted to see “Bus Stop” on Friday night.

I don’t think our reactions were very enthusiastic—until my father, offhand, threw in “We were thinking of eating at The Capital Grille”, which suddenly made the prospective evening much more enticing.

My brother looked at me and asked, “Will I be able to sit through it?”

“Yes” I answered. “As long as you don’t expect too much.”

The result: we signed ourselves up for an evening out.

The Minneapolis production of “Bus Stop” was not good. The Boston production had been much finer, with better direction, a superior cast, and exceptional stage design (the Boston “Bus Stop” had featured the finest stage design Josh and I had encountered in three years in Boston). In fact, Friday night’s “Bus Stop” was one of the weaker productions I have encountered at Theatre In The Round. My suspicion is that the local director did not realize what he was getting himself into until it was too late to back out of the project. I base my suspicion upon my observation that none of the cast members appeared to believe in the material; the cast walked through its roles without conviction, as if dutifully carrying out unrewarding assignments.

The Minneapolis production emphasized the comedy inherent in the play more than the Boston production, which had been more intense and more dramatic. The result was that “Bus Stop” came across as a gentler, funnier play—but not a better play—in Minneapolis. (Unsuccessful theater productions often settle for ruthlessly mining the material for potential comedy.)

We were able to sit through the manufactured plot contortions of Inge’s play without too much distress—although the small audience Friday night was uncomfortable throughout the performance, unable to decide whether it was observing a comedy or a drama. (I have been told, accurately or not, that Theatre In The Round’s “Bus Stop” has suffered from poor ticket sales—which in Minneapolis means that the production has suffered from poor word-of-mouth.)

The question remains: why are Inge’s plays now enjoying revival after decades of neglect?

My father contends that the answer is an easy one: audiences have tired of seeing the same handful of Williams plays over and over, and Inge’s inferior yet very-Williams-like plays offer a viable substitute.

My mother has a different answer. Inge plays, she says, are revived only by small theater companies looking for something neglected—and they are revived only for very limited runs. Attempts to revive Inge plays for extended runs at major venues, such as on Broadway or in London, have been artistic and commercial failures.

My mother noted that she was pleased to have seen “Bus Stop”. However, she remarked that Inge’s plays not only were very old-fashioned, even by the standards of the time, but that Inge did not develop as a playwright or as an artist. Inge’s first commercial success, “Come Back, Little Sheba”, and his final commercial success, “The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs”, evidence no artistic development whatsoever. All Inge plays are alike; they do not offer a wide range of incident, character or emotion. With time, my mother says, Inge’s plays are destined to disappear entirely.

My brother insisted that “Bus Stop” was a pure product of early television: everything was very on-the-surface and exceedingly obvious, with no room for subtlety or nuance. “It was like watching an old episode of some long-forgotten television series that was never a hit in the first place” was his final word.

Josh believes that the current spate of Inge revivals reflects current economic difficulties. Inge’s plays feature members of the lower-middle classes aspiring and struggling to move up the socio/economic ladder. What with a constrained economy permeating the short-term national outlook, theatergoers now find resonance in the plight of Inge’s characters. As soon as the economy improves, Josh says, Inge plays will go back into long-forgotten drawers.

I suspect there is merit in all those views.

And I cannot imagine sitting through “Bus Stop” ever again.

Dinner at The Capital Grille certainly added to our enjoyment of the evening. We ordered lobster bisque, followed by steak brushed with crushed black peppercorns and cooked in a Courvoisier cognac cream sauce, served with asparagus with Hollandaise sauce.

The food was excellent.

Monday, September 12, 2011

31 March 1943

The official New York opening for “Oklahoma” occurred on March 31, 1943.

The photograph below presents the principal cast members of the original Broadway production of “Oklahoma”.


The rare color photograph below captures an ensemble number performed by the original Broadway cast of “Oklahoma”.


On the same night of the “Oklahoma” Broadway opening, General George Patton’s troops in North Africa began an all-night march that ended with a successful surprise attack on a German panzer division early the following morning.

That same night, Allied bombers set off from Britain to mount an air attack on the German-occupied harbor of Rotterdam. Owing to heavy fog, the bombers flew off-course, and in error bombed a civilian area of Rotterdam. Hundreds of Rotterdam citizens, already suffering under a repressive German occupation, were killed in the raid.

Crematorium II at Auschwitz went into service on March 31, 1943.

New Mexico State And "Oklahoma"

On Saturday, my father and my brothers attended the Minnesota/New Mexico State game.

Minnesota was expected to win—New Mexico State has one of the very worst Division I football programs—but the Golden Gophers suffered another loss, 28-21.

After almost defeating powerhouse U.S.C. in Los Angeles the previous Saturday, Minnesota laid an egg at home against New Mexico State. It will be another long season for Golden Gopher fans.

At least the game had a reasonable start time. With kickoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m., my father and my brothers were able to spend the morning playing with the kids—and they were able to eat lunch with the kids, too.

They left for the game at 12:00 Noon, and they returned at 7:30 p.m., a significant investment of time for a very dismal athletic contest. Their only reward: my mother had a good dinner waiting for them upon their return.

Yesterday afternoon, the tables were turned: my father and my brothers stayed home with the kids while my mother, my sister-in-law and Josh and I went to Bloomington to attend the matinee performance of Rodgers’s and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” at Bloomington Civic Theatre.

We enjoyed the performance. The stage design and costume design were of a high standard, and the orchestra was very good (Bloomington Civic Theatre always uses a full orchestra for its musical productions).

The cast members were lively and enthusiastic, although mostly too young for their roles. Even the actress portraying Aunt Eller looked as if she should be playing Laurey.

Despite several dead spots, “Oklahoma” remains a great musical. The score is radiantly buoyant; it is perhaps the most buoyant score from the American musical theater. It retains its freshness after a hundred exposures.

That the show was written and first produced in early 1943, barely one year into America’s involvement in World War II and long before the outcome of the war was certain, has always fascinated me.

Nothing should be read into such circumstances, however, as both Rodgers and Hammerstein had contemplated—independently—writing a musical based upon the source material as early as 1940.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

ALAN GILBERT ATTACKED


JOSEF STRANSKY ATTACKED


________________________________________________


German Review Criticizes New Philharmonic Conductor

________________________________________________


Berlin, June 3 (by telegraph to Clifden, Ireland; thence by wireless)—The financial backers of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra will be interested to learn that the German artistic world is filled with astonishment over the engagement of Josef Stransky of Berlin as the successor of the late Gustav Mahler.

The New York Times correspondent has been aware of this situation ever since he made the announcement of Stransky’s appointment several weeks ago, but he refrained from cabling subsequent developments until they had become public.

This has now happened. The current number of Pan, a leading German artistic review, prints a bitterly satirical article which makes piquant hints of the means by which Stransky’s appointment is said to have been brought about. The correspondent is also informed that letters have passed between Dr. Richard Strauss and Oscar H. Fried, the eminent German conductor, with a view to some form of protest against the idea that Stransky is representative of the best school of German conductorship.

Pan’s article, which is entitled “Mahler’s Diadicht”, says:

“The newspapers which have made the simple announcement of Stransky’s engagement do not know how it came about. That shall now be told here. Nobody denies Stransky’s rich resources—at least his cash resources.

“He ranks as a distinguished dilettante. His endeavors have been supported by the Bluthner Orchestra (an organization which Stransky has conducted in Berlin for the past two years), but the Bluthner Orchestra has been still more strongly supported by him.

“He was, perhaps, a good conductor. He was certainly a conductor who, in the Venetian sense, is ‘good’ for so and so. And so much sacrifice, not only of his person but of his money, has created comprehensibly lenient feelings for him—a man who was so valuable for the founders of the orchestra that he was immune from even the most honorable criticism.

“In consequence of this mistake, the controlling and paying ladies of the New York Philharmonic Society cast their eyes upon the conductor, who is understood to have been recommended by a German-American, August Spanuth, a former New York critic, now resident in Berlin.

“Richard Strauss recommended Kapellmeister Brecher of Hamburg; Mahler had recommended Oscar Fried of Berlin; a third candidate was Bruno Walther, a Viennese.

“These men are all distinguished conductors and genuine musicians, but Stransky got the job.

“Two members of the orchestra crossed the ocean with a power of attorney from the millionaire ladies and, having paid Mahler $30,000 for ninety concerts in six months, they secured the promise of the ‘Diadicht’ to give ninety concerts for $10,000.

“Economy is welcome even in New York, so Europe can continue to call Brecher, Fried and Walther its own.”

Published June 3, 1911
The New York Times

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Exactly one hundred years after it first appeared, this 1911 news story could be rerun in the same newspaper—and it would still be newsworthy. With alterations of a few names and some adjustments for inflation, the story would be as accurate today as it was when originally published in 1911.

(Bruno Walter, a Berliner, was of course not Viennese—but he had worked in Vienna the previous ten years and had taken Austrian citizenship the same year this article was published, which presumably accounts for the error.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cause And Effect

[Zarin Mehta, President and Executive Director of the New York Philharmonic] noted that the Berlin Wall fell 30 years after the Philharmonic, led by Leonard Bernstein, played Moscow in 1959.

“Things don’t happen overnight,” he said.

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No, they do not.

And the Berlin Wall was not ERECTED until 1961.

Conclusion: massive nexus failure.

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Mehta, of course, is the same moron that appointed Alan Gilbert to the post of Music Director of the New York Philharmonic.

Under Gilbert, the NYPO has experienced a significant decline in ticket sales and has suffered its largest-ever single-season deficit, both of which might have been foretold the day Gilbert’s disastrous appointment was announced.

Simply put, serious music-lovers are not going to pay to hear Alan Gilbert.

At least anyone who knows anyone can now get free tickets to all Gilbert-led NYPO concerts: the orchestra has been reduced to papering Avery Fisher Hall for Gilbert concerts.

Indeed, for the bulk of Gilbert’s NYPO concerts, more complimentary tickets have been distributed than tickets sold to paying customers.

Yet despite heavy papering, the hall is seldom even half-full for Gilbert concerts.

I wonder whether Mehta has identified the cause of the NYPO’s attendance woes for Gilbert concerts.

Everyone else already knows the answer—after all, NYPO attendance remains robust for concerts featuring guest conductors of quality—but Mehta very well may be preparing to advance some crackpot cause-and-effect theory akin to his absurd if not idiotic pronouncement about the NYPO and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Central London


Central London, with the spire of All Souls Church, Langham Place, prominent in the background.

We visited All Souls Church this year. My brother and I had explored the church in 2005, but last month’s visit was the first for Joshua and my parents.

All Souls Church, consecrated in 1834, was designed by John Nash, the designer and architect responsible for Regent Street, on which All Souls Church is situated.

Monday, September 05, 2011

A More Structured Existence

Summer is over.

Our summer began in Boston, and involved a move across half the country, three weeks at the lake, a bar exam, a trip to Britain, a trip to Oklahoma (and a most complicated rock project), and a season-ending trip to the lake for Labor Day Weekend.

With the end of summer comes a return to a more structured existence: Joshua and I will return to work tomorrow and resume lives of toil and routine.

In our off-hours, we shall house-hunt. It is time that my parents once again have their house to themselves.