Friday, November 27, 2009

ABC GMA presents band "Flame" comprising disabled musicians

ABC Good Morning America presented a music band from upstate New York, “Flame”. The news story by Mary Pflum and Suzan Clarke is “Flame's Members Say Disabilities Won't Stop Band From Making Music: N.Y. Band Members Live With Blindness, Autism, Down Syndrome”, link here. There is a video in which the band plays, here (ABC doesn’t seem to give out embed code). The website for the group is “Flametheband” here ( is a band in Russia). The main website has a link on the right to its promotional video as a WMV file that will bring up Windows Media Player.

Flame is said to be the only touring band in the world to consist entirely of disabled members.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Adam Lambert: "I'm a performer" (not ...)

Adam Lambert is not apologizing for his “performance” on the American Music Awards (AMA) ceremony (link). Is he judged by a different standard because he is a gay male? People made a lot of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson (the “wardrobe malfunction”) in the 2004 Superbowl halftime (resulting in a fine). Rebecca Hagelin made a lot of the Timberlake-Jackson thing in her book (see my books page) about our “culture gone wild”.
Here’s the AP story, as reprinted in the Chicago Sun Times (link).

CNN has an interesting video (hard to get the Embed to work), link.

Here is Seth Goldman’s account on MSNBC

As for the AMA performance, people said, “kids might be watching.” Lambert said, “I’m not a baby sitter, I’m a performer.” Good Morning America on ABC cancelled him out, but the CBS Early Show (which needs the ratings) put him on. Rocktar has a report that Lambert could cost Abc A $500000 fine here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eigenharp videos demonstrate an instrument for "new music"

A trio group playing an electronic instrument called Eigenharp Alpha showed up yesterday (Nov. 24) as a YouTube “video of the day” "The Future of Music"). The trio plays instruments that are partly string partly wind, posted by Bohlal. The trio members were (according to the related video as best I could tell) Thad Kemp, Mark Wilson, Sydney Carter . The Eigenharp (link; also here on Facebook here) instrument is a long thin stick with 120 keys on the top, and 12 larger keys below; the keys are sensitive to pressure and axial orientation of the finger. It’s ironic that this video is popular at the same time that the film “(Untitled)” plays (reviewed Nov. 14 on the movies blog). Besides the “Alpha” there is an Eigenharp Pico. Will this show up on Jeopardy or Millionaire as a question?

The basic YouTube link is here; check the related videos.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some standard piano music accompanies Thanksgiving celebration at FBCDC

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held a “dinner concert” during its Thanksgiving celebration today at 12 Noon.

The highlights of the event consisted of two short pieces by Carter-award winner David Hughes: The Intermezzo #2 in A, Op 118 #2 by Brahms, and the Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 #2 by Chopin. This is the most popular of the Chopin nocturnes (I like the G minor one). I had an Istomin Columbia mono recording of the Nocturnes in high school that got worn out with heavy tracking tone arms and sapphire needles of the 1950s (before then, there were wood needles!). Mr. Hughes also played John Rutter’s “For the Beauty of the Earth” sung by Lee Ellen Carter. Nancy Griswold played a piano transcription of the fanfare from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, the original orchestral version of which used to introduce the evening Symphony Hall on WGMS in the late 1950s.

The service was billed as “Christ the King Sunday” and the new senior pastor, Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, gave a sermon “Accusation, Inquiry, or Confession” spoke about religious bullying: one religious group insisting on prevailing over another, and abusing the law or political process to do so. The sermon was constructed in general terms over the First Amendment Freedom of Religion (and from a state religion). He spoke of religious leaders who gave up “searching for truth” for political manipulations. However, it seemed as though the sermon had been well motivated by the recent “Manhattan Declaration” in which conservative Christians plan to defy legal authority, and particularly DC politics: another pastor from Maryland trying to bully the DC City Council into a referendum over same-sex marriage, and the Catholic Archdiocese’s use of the poor as chattel in fighting gay marriage in DC.

Of course, any sermon or media presentation can be interpreted in terms of recent political debates, as with the ABC show “V” which is seen as capitalizing on the health care debate in Congress.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"This Is It": auditions and dress rehearsals for Michael Jackson's intended concert

This Is It”, Kenny Ortega’s homage to Michael Jackson, as a compilation of his last dress rehearsals and some documentary style interviews, sometimes does rise to the challenge of concert film, although it seems lower key than other films of this nature, sometimes made in 3-D. Here, the technique is a straightforward 1.85:1 aspect, with a lot of rehearsal footage shown as embedded hi-def video.

The film actually starts with some auditions, and gradually moves into showing us Michael Jackson’s style in directing his own art. At one point he tells his crew he wants the electronic instrumentation performance to be “simpler” and a little slower. Gradually, the experience gains some steam, as the film shows the pyrotechnics associated with Jackson’s stagecraft, and then there occurs some stirring environmentally-motivate footage, particularly regarding the cutting and burning of the Amazon rain forest. There is also a dress rehearsal, with complete make-up application shown, of the October-like “Thriller”.

Most of Jackson’s major hits (“Beat It” etc) get performed, and the film produces the emotional effect of one reliving the past three decades of one’s own life experiences. Remember Jackson’s performance at the Super Bowl in 1993, just as the debate on the military gay ban started?

By the way, “This is it!” is a famous, if notorious line uttered by Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic just as he and “kate” are about to sink.

This film is distributed by Columbia, under its full label (not as Sony Pictures Classics). The production company is simply "The Michael Jackson Company LLC".

Guests at a Regal Cinema in Arlington VA received a Michael Jackson necklace and badge. The small auditorium was about half full today.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

National Aquarium in Baltimore offers dolphin show

They call him Flipper, maybe. Actually, many or most of the bottlenose dolphins at the show at the National Aquarium in Baltimore are female, as are all the trainers who swim with them in the half-hour show.

I wondered, as I watched the show (sitting in the bleachers high enough to be above the “splash zone” ) about the movie “The Cove”, which I reviewed on my movies blog Aug. 7, 2009.

The dolphins dumped and engaged in some P.E. tumbling, and let the trainers ride dolphinback. The tank asks visitors not to tap, as the dolphins are easily distracted.

The National Aquarium (link) does offer the public many conservation and sustainability tips as part of the show, particularly about water and Chesapeake Bay pollution.

Apart from chimpanzees, dolphins are among the most intelligent of all animals (especially orcas, or killer whales). Their sound system seems to be a whole language which we have not completely decoded. They are actually mammals that returned to water for food supply. They breathe air, and can hold their breath an extremely long time and sleep while doing so.

Here is a fact sheet on dolphins.

Update: April 10, 2014.

There is a lot more concern now about abuse of dolphins.  See my reviews of the films "The Cove" (Aug. 7, 2009) and "Blackfish" (July 29, 2013) on the Movies blog.  

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Dumbarton Concerts presents Left Bank String Quartet: Beethoven, Strauss, Schoenberg

Tonight, Saturday Nov. 7, the Dumbarton Concert Series presented the Left Bank String Quartet (David Salness, Sally McLean, violins; Katherine Murdock, viola; Evelyn Elsing, cello; with Maria Lambrosm viola, and Kenneth Slowick, cello.

The quartet first played Beethoven’s String Quartet #12 in E-flat, Op 127, the first of the “spiritual” quartets. Triple times proliferate in this work. The brief first movement is a telescoped sonatas form; the slow movement in A-flat is a theme and variations; the scherzo is an adventure in itself (meriting a separate applause), and the finale has the famous Mahler-like march theme.

In the intermission, I talked to the cellist, who said that the group does play the ponderous C-sharp minor quartet, Op 131 (opening with that ambiguous fugue), my favorite (Bernstein orchestrated it). A couple years ago the Dumbarton presented Op 133 “The Great Flight” with the Gross Fugue substituted as the finale.

By the way, while I’m on the topic of Beethoven, I recall that the gay flick “Trick” has a scene where the hero “gets it” while playing the opening theme of the last movement (slow ¾) of the Piano Sonata #30 in E; not even the “Arioso” of Sonata 32 would work as well.

After the intermission, the full sextet picked up with the ten minute “Andante con moto” stand alone movement from Richard Strauss’s opera “Capriccio” (the “meta-opera”) reviewed here in July. The piece is not as impressive as some others, and sounds like something written for the movies to me.

Then the sextet performed Arnold Schoenberg’s famous early adventure in chromaticism, “Verklarte Nacht” or “Transfigured Night”. The poem by Richard Dehmel was read first (text). The woman has admitted she is pregnant with another man’s child, and toward the end the man gives up his old sense of ego and says “It will transfigure the strange man’s soul, you will bear a child for me as if it were mine.” That’s enough to please Phillip Longman whose social contract proposes that we are all responsible for OPC, “other people’s children.” The music moves from one delicious mannerism to the next, before settling to a Wagnerian quiet close in D Major.

My favorite Schoenberg is the Gurre-Lieder, which essentially gives us another “Mahler-like symphony”, this time going from E-flat back to C (reversing the scheme of Mahler’s Second); but the closing chorus has to be performed right. And I love the “Dance of the Golden Calf” from Moses and Aaron (try it on the disco floor), and find his Piano Concerto like a romantic warhorse despite the atonality.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Joshua Bell, young performers at White House concert

Media sources, including the AP in a story run on MSNBC, report on a private concert this week at the White House featuring violinist Joshua Bell, classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Awadagin Pratt. Bell played the devil’s Paganini. There were also some young musicians in performance, including Lucy Hattemer, who with Pratt reportedly played the winsome Schubert F Minor Fantasy. I recall that this music was used in the background of the 2000 epic history film “Sunshine” by Istvan Szabo (with the Schubert adapted by Maurice Jarre). Of course, my favorite Schubert piano piece is probably the wild C Major Fantasy, really a one movement Sonata (in sections without pause), which Liszt would transcribe for piano and orchestra.

The MSNBC story link is here.

Joshua Bell has a prospective account of this happening on his own website here.

Here is a Bloomberg YouTube video of an interview with Joshua Bell before he appeared in the soundtrack of “The Red Violin.”

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Michael Tilson Thomas on Berlioz

Maryland Public television, on Nov. 1, 2009, broadcast a discussion by Michael Tilson Thomas of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique with the San Francisco Symphonye, followed by a performance of the work, lasting about 50 minutes.

Thomas’s comments included mention of Berlioz’s unrequited love. In a YouTube video, filmed around a pendulum, in which Thomas explains Berlioz’s feminine self-indulgence, a desire to make public theater of his own feelings. If Descartes said, “I think therefore I am,” Berlioz thought “I feel, therefore I am” (how about “I love, therefore I am”, as in an All Saints Day sermon today.) There is an RCA CD of Thomas performing the work with the SFO, including excerpts from Lelio, as with this link. Lelio is interesting, being a choral piece describing the artist’s visions after taking a drug overdose out of despair, not a healthful concept, perhaps, but great Romantic art now. Columbia had a recording of Lelio in the 1960s.

The concert appears to have been part of Thomas’s “Keeping Score” series on Sept. 30, 2009, link.

I attended a Michael Tilson Thomas youth concert in New York in the fall of 1973, and I think I typed a letter to him from my apartment shortly afterward.

Wikimedia attribution link for drawing of Berlioz choir, in public domain.