Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Vienna of the Mind

In 2011, Vienna, Austria, ranked first in the world for its quality of living.  I have no idea about the veracity of the report.  Its purpose seems to be to guide companies in deployment of their “expatriate employees,” and the categories used are understandably mundane.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Holiday, the Remix

I have a confession to make:  before this year, I had no idea what a “remix” was.  Thank goodness for Wikipedia, which advised, “A remix is an alternative version of a recorded song, made from an original version.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blessed Be The Music Makers

When I ventured into the world of contemporary classical/new music last year, I wasn’t at all sure how to proceed.  I followed every lead suggested by composer John Metcalf, reached for book after book (notably Alex Ross’s indispensable The Rest is Noise), searched the internet, and read reviews.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tranströmer’s haydnpockets

Tomas Tranströmer’s Allegro begins:
After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready.  Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dreaming in Swedish

My poems are meeting places.  Their intent is to make a sudden connection 
between aspects of reality that conventional languages and outlooks ordinarily keep apart.
—Tomas Tranströmer

On a bitter winter evening this past February, I left the bustling warmth of New York City’s Grand Central Station and headed to Scandinavia House.  The wind blew frigid air at me in a sideways slant, the sort of weather that usually keeps me pinned to my chair at home.  But there was a concert on, and I’d arranged to meet a fellow named Michael Douglas Jones.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Finnegan's Hat

When Dylan Mattingly first introduced me to violinist Finnegan Shanahan, Shanahan was wearing a hat.  He and Mattingly conferred about whether he should wear it during the Contemporaneous concert that night, and they decided:  no hat.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fall, Interrupted

In October, we like to look out at the hills and watch the color coming on.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In the Beginning, Cracked Duck Eggs

After a far-too-early blast of winter here and a power outage that wouldn’t quit, it’s not surprising that the re-dawn of electrical power might call to mind the beginning of the world.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Innisfree in October

In autumn, Innisfree Garden, so lush with blooms in spring and summer, begins to reveal its bones.  The stands of yellow flag have been cut down, the bed from which peonies once spilled out has been returned to bare ground.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Birds Have Their Seasons

Birds have their seasons in the Hudson Valley, as everywhere else.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Halo of Sound

When I began my exploration of contemporary classical music, I didn’t have the least idea what to expect.  For the most part, I suspected I’d find it hard to grasp and impossible to enjoy, but I was determined to give it a try.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goodbye September, Month of Mosquitoes

September wasn't the best of months in the Hudson Valley.  We were grateful to have been spared the ravages Hurricane Irene and heavy rains wrought on nearby communities, but the weather has been sodden, bringing with it, as the proprietress of our local bakery is wont to say, “Mosquitoes the size of American bald eagles.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011


And every word written shall lift off
letter by letter, the backward text
read ever briefer, even more antic
in its effort to insist that nothing
shall be lost.
—Kay Ryan

The first time I read Edmund White’s comment on Rimbaud’s Antique, I wondered what he was on about:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Contemporaneous Rising!

Last night at the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Bard College, the ensemble Contemporaneous reached a thrilling new milestone in the annals of contemporary music.  The concert, entitled The Roots Run Deep, featured the work of three young composers:  Gabriella Smith and Dylan Mattingly (both b. 1991), and Shawn Jaeger, the elder statesman of the group (b. 1985).  The composers were all on hand to introduce their works.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dylan Mattingly’s American Vernacular

During intermission at a recital, Dylan Mattingly bounded over to his red and black-trimmed bag and pulled out a huge manuscript.  Its spiral-bound cover mimicked an atlas, and within it was a score-in-progress for the composition he’s been working on for most of the last two years.

Monday, September 12, 2011

“Verlaine? He’s hidden in the grass, Verlaine”

Verlaine ? Il est caché parmi l'herbe, Verlaine
—Stéphane Mallarmé

Long ago, I sat in a circle of fifteen girls as Madame __, her hair brittle with red-orange dye, put us through French conjugations.  I hadn’t much patience for the grammar, but I loved the sound of French words, the epitome of which seemed, at the time, to be Paul Verlaine’s Chanson d’Automne:
Les sanglots longs
Des violons
      De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Friday, September 9, 2011

Judd Greenstein’s Le Tombeau de Ravel

Ravel wrote most of Le Tombeau de Couperin in 1914, before the outbreak of World War I.  His initial intention had been “a set of dances modeled on French baroque dance suites,” most notably the Ordres of François Couperin.  Time caught hold of Ravel’s intention, and he ultimately offered each of the six pieces that comprise Le Tombeau in remembrance of friends and colleagues who died in World War I.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

If Stones Could Speak

"The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence."
—Maurice Ravel

Near my house in Dutchess County are several old rural cemeteries.  One of the two closest is the Verbank Rural Cemetery, with a quaint covered entrance and gravestones winding upward to views of Verbank and the surrounding hills.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Maine's Great Clepsydra

Clepsydra” is really a meditation on how time feels as it is passing.
—John Ashbery

John Ashbery’s poem, Clepsydra, begins with the phrase “Hasn’t the sky?”  The question, opening out to anywhere, lured me into the poem.
Hasn’t the sky?  Returned from moving the other
Authority recently dropped, wrested as much of
That severe sunshine as you need now on the way
You go. . . .
Clepsydra is the Greek word for water clock.  John Steinbeck used it also, to describe the action of the tides:  "Time is more complex near the sea than in any other place, for in addition to the circling of the sun and the turning of the seasons, the waves beat out the passage of time on the rocks and the tides rise and fall as a great clepsydra."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

High Noon with a Great Blue Heron

Dateline Thursday, July 14, 2011, 12PM.

Just back from the Adirondacks, I set out for Innisfree Garden with my camera, too-short telephoto zoom lens, and binoculars, a bottle of water, floppy hat, and all-important three-legged folding stool ready to be stashed in the pockets of my photog vest.  I figured, with my luck of late, the camera would stay slung over my shoulder and the stool stashed, but I consoled myself that Innisfree is always a nice place for a walk.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Waltzing to Eurydice

You don’t have to review.  Just respond.
—David Bloom

A couple posts back, I asked, “Does Anyone Still Compose a Waltz?’  I feared that, for 21st century composers and performers who (understandably) thrill to the challenge of playing rhythms like 5 against 4 against 3 against 2 (just try clapping that one out!), 
the waltz’s plain old one-two-three, one-two-three might be the exclusive province of those of us who wear our trousers rolled.  I realized, though, that I hadn’t really been listening for that and made a mental note to try.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

But the Danube Isn't Blue

A journey is always a rescue operation, the documentation and harvesting of something that is becoming extinct and will soon disappear, the last landing on an island that is sinking beneath the waves.
—Claudio Magris

I’ve never seen the Danube, yet the notion of it has long appealed to me.  One source for my fascination must surely have been Johann Strauss, Jr.’s eponymous waltz, for in my imagination, the Danube was unalterably blue.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Does Anyone Still Compose a Waltz?

The Danube is not blue, as Karl Isador Beck calls it in the lines which suggested to Strauss the fetching, mendacious title to his waltz.
Claudio Magris 

On television not long ago, a fellow leered out at me, a violin propped under his chin.  The cameras pulled back on grand buildings and lawns, all bathed in lurid blue light.  The print onscreen announced we were about to hear the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss II.  The creator of this catastrophe was André Rieu, who’s made it his business to conduct an orchestra that plays nothing but The Waltz.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Searching for Birds in the Adirondacks

—for Jan & Ann

While at magnificent Elk Lake in the Adirondacks this year, I had cause to think of John, that consummate birder, over at Hedgeland Tales.  I was thinking particularly of a post about butterflies he’d written when “birds were scarce” at Nene Washes (which looks to be a wonderful nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, England).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alice in Ashberyland

His basic attitude toward language is joy.  It amazes me how many people have a problem with that.
—Mark Kerstetter

The poet John Ashbery is considered impenetrable by many.  Yet if the first poem a reader encounters is The Instruction Manual, that’s hard to understand.  The poem begins
As I sit looking out of a window of the building
I wish I did not have to write the instruction manual on the uses
  of a new metal.
Who among us has not had a wish like this?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Doing the Watusi with Rimbaud

I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour
But no more, no more, I gotta move from my mind to the area
(go Rimbaud go Rimbaud go Rimbaud)
And go Johnny go and do the watusi,
Yeah do the watusi, do the watusi ...
—Patti Smith, Land

I had hoped, when I picked up John Ashbery’s translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations, that I’d find a way into it without need of the commentary that swirls about Rimbaud and his work.  I figured, since I’d not read a line of Rimbaud and didn’t know a thing about him, I could come at Illuminations “fresh.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Still Kids

This past Easter, George Wallace, in his own inimitable commemoration of Easter Sunday, tweeted out a video of Patti Smith singing her song Easter.  He ended his tweet, as I remember it, with the cheer, “Go Rimbaud.”
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...