Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm breaking my own law tomorrow

It's been ten wonderful years since I last went home for Thanksgiving.  For Thanksgiving 2000, my then-wife and I rented a car (which turned out to be a minivan when it was the last car they had) and drove from Greenwich Village to Johnstown after work on the night before the holiday.  The drive home only took six hours, even with a long wait to get through the Holland Tunnel, and we arrived at my mom's house around 1 AM.  I don't remember much of the holiday itself, though I think we ate well, watched football, saw a movie, and I occasionally dialed into my office network to check e-mail as there was a massive rollout going on in Brussels that weekend.

The return trip was another story.  We left Johnstown around noon on Sunday, expecting to be back in New York for dinner.  We got stuck in traffic on the Pennsylvania turnpike, and then in a long traffic jam of post-game traffic near the Meadowlands.  I think we returned the car around 9 or 10 PM, just before the office closed.  After that experience, we vowed never to travel for a four-day holiday weekend again.  Over the next decade, we had Thanksgiving dinner at home or at restaurants with friends or by ourselves, then after my divorce, I had dinner with friends at various locations.  It's been a delicious run.

This year, I'm going home again.  I'm putting my faith in Amtrak and taking a train to Maryland at 9 AM tomorrow morning, which will hopefully get me to my dad's house in time for an early-afternoon feast.  May God have mercy on the rail system if there's another Penn Station power outage or other mishap tomorrow morning.  I'm coming back to the city on Saturday afternoon to avoid the crush of people returning on Sunday.  It all feels a bit like a fool's errand, but it will be great to be home for dinner.  I'll miss the Macy's parade, but I think I'll live.  There's only so much inane banter I can take from my morning show hosts.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Safe travels to everyone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My weekend in classical music

I was back at Avery Fisher Hall on Saturday night for the New York Philharmonic's performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah, featuring bass-baritone Gerald Finley in the title role.  The New York Times had given this week's concerts a middling review, saying that the performance lacked energy and that the chorus and soloists needed to enunciate more clearly to be heard over the orchestra.  Maybe Alan Gilbert tweaked the dynamics between Wednesday night and Saturday, because I didn't notice any of those problems.  It's a fast-moving oratorio; Mendelssohn doesn't waste time with long, repetitve arias, something that I appreciate after sitting through performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and Handel's Messiah.  (I love both works, but 3+ hours of music with no action is hard on the ear and the brain.)  Elijah came in at just under 2 1/2 hours and it never lacked for drama.  Finley was captivating in the title role, and the scene where he challenged the chorus (playing the role of the priests of Baal in the scene) to implore their god to light a fire under a sacrifice, was especially exciting.

On Sunday evening I went to Barbes for a recital by violist Jennifer Stumm.  I heard about the recital when she mentioned it on Twitter last week.  I found her through her friend Susie Park, a violinist who performed with NYRO last February.  It's the power of Twitter!  Anyway, Jennifer played a challenging program of music by modern Hungarian and Polish composers before some more conventional works by Britten and Bach.  In particular, I enjoyed her first work, a sonata by Georgy Ligeti played entirely on the C string.  The piece had some impossibly high harmonics on that string.  Notes on that string that are close to the bridge can be difficult to reach because of the viola's size, but she had no trouble hitting any of them.  Jennifer's last piece was Bach's Cello Suite No. 5 in E flat, one of my favorites.  I liked her interpretations of the different movements, a few of which I've attempted to play (poorly) over the years.  Listening to her play made me want to run home and practice more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I was back in Ohio last weekend to see my girlfriend (who lives in Kent) and she suggested that we spend part of my visit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shore of Lake Erie near downtown Cleveland.  We drove up on a gray, snowy Saturday morning, a cold wind whipping off the lake and making the Hall the only destination we'd want to visit in Cleveland proper that day.

From the outside, the Hall reminded me of the pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris, which makes sense as I.M. Pei designed both.  I've been to the Experience Music Project in Seattle, so I had an idea of how a museum might present the history of rock.  Many exhibits showed off guitars donated by legendary musicians, and I enjoyed playing "I recognize that one!" based on my limited knowledge of guitars from my friend James.  Our visit to the Hall began on the lower level, with a display of Elvis Presley costumes and memorabilia.  There was a temporary exhibit of Elvis photos by Alfred Wertheimer, a few of which I saw in the Brooklyn Museum's "I Shot Rock and Roll" show in January. Other displays on this floor featured the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and rock musicians and bands from Ohio.  Another exhibit showed costumes and instruments from bands such as U2, The Band, and The Who.  I may or may not have bowed in an "I'm not worthy!" fashion in front of The Who's display, which included Roger Daltrey's fringed suit from The Rolling Stones' Rock & Roll Circus and one of John Entwistle's bass guitars.  Another display had Michael Jackson's zombie costume from the "Thriller" video.  The Hall has a strict "no photos" policy, so the images of these artifacts will have to live on in my memory alone.

Another part of the Hall presented the history of sound recording, starting with Thomas Edison's wax cylinders and early phonographs through wire recorders, tape decks, and finally the iPod.  Guitar innovator and legend Les Paul had his own display as well, with examples of his initial attempts at electric guitars.  The centerpiece of the Hall was the inductee gallery.  Video screens at the entrance showed highlights from induction ceremonies in years past.  The gallery itself is a large theater where three giant screens played songs and videos from each inductee.  A circular walkway leading up to the next level featured an honor wall with names and signatures of each inductee in alphabetical order.  The hour-long inductee video looked like it would be fun to watch in its entirety if you wanted to take a break from walking around, but we only watched about a minute of it.  At the end of the walkway, outside of the theater, were several touchscreen computer terminals with access to nearly every song ever recorded by each inductee.  I enjoyed looking at all of the inductees' names on the wall, and I think eventually the best presentation of the inductees might be a combination of the wall, the video, and the computer terminals.  Let visitors choose which artists they want to learn more about by touching the name on the wall and listening to music by that artist.  It's not technically practical right now, but that's the way I imagine the exhibit might work in the future.

At the uppermost level of the museum was the temporary gallery, currently featuring an exhibit on Bruce Springsteen.  I'm not a huge Bruce fan, but I was excited to see the Fender Esquire guitar from the covers of Born to Run and Born in the USA just hanging on the wall.  The gallery also held his outfit from the cover of Born in the USA and notebooks with lyrics and song notes.  This part of the museum would be worth the price of admission for any and all Springsteen fans.  It's only there through the end of the year, so if you're looking for an excuse to go to Cleveland, go forth and rock.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

In the aftermath of Tuesday's elections, I'm keeping in mind what I wrote six years ago when George W. Bush won re-election.  I'm not married anymore, but I do have two cats who don't care who's in power in Washington.  They need to be fed every day no matter who's making policy.  Their lives (and mine) won't change as a result of a power shift.

Also, I'm so apathetic about politics now that I doubt much will get accomplished with a divided Congress and an antagonistic Republican party running the House.  Hooray for more of the same.