Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to help those affected by hurricane Sandy

You've probably heard of Hurricane Sandy, that icky nasty supersized storm that hit the US northeast earlier today. 

HMS Bounty replica was no match for the giant hurricane (Photo: US Coast Guard)
If you'd like to help in the relief effort, please consider donating blood at the blood bank near you and perhaps a little money to any of these worthy aid organizations, too:   

American Red Cross: Operating emergency shelters, providing medical care, supplies and clean up supplies to emergency areas.

Americares: This organization distributes emergency medical and clean up supplies.

Humanist Crisis Response: Funds emergency rescue and medical operations.

The Salvation Army: Provides food and emergency shelters to those displaced by the storm.

Feeding America: Provides food to local food banks.

The Humane Society: Rescues and shelters displaced pets. 

You never know when a freak disaster might strike your town instead of others'. Let's pay it forward and spread some good karma around!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guest Announcement: Rossini's La cambiale di matrimonio live streaming via Sonostream.tv

Sono Artists' management in Vienna, Austria, had came up with another delightful treat for opera fans this opera season: Free live streaming of opera performances from various Viennese theaters via Sonostream.tv platform. Below is the official press release.

Global audiences will soon be treated to free, full-length, world-class opera productions live from the home of classical music, the city of Vienna.

Sonostream.tv launches next week and is the first internet platform in Austria to offer live-stream opera and classical music free to global audiences. Sonostream.tv, founded by Samantha Farber, Managing Director of Vienna-based artist management company Sono Artists, has partnered with the Vienna Tourist Board and Theater an der Wien in the Vienna Chamber Opera (Kammeroper) to present the first in an ongoing series of live-streamed opera productions broadcast directly from prestigious Viennese venues and more intimate settings. “It’s fantastic and exciting to open the curtains and take opera in Vienna to the world. Opera has such a rich cultural and artistic history, and we’re taking advantage of new technology to allow people everywhere to participate as audience members,” said Samantha Farber.

The premiere of Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio at Vienna’s Kammeroper will be broadcast on Monday, 21 October at 7:30pm (GMT+2). The production features an exciting cast: the newly founded young ensemble (JET) of Theater an der Wien, an international cast of singers including Lithuanian bassbaritone Igor Bakan, American tenor Andrew Owens, Australian baritone Ben Connor, and Italian soprano Anna Maria Sarra and mezzosoprano Gaia Petrone. The production is conducted and directed by up-and coming young talents Konstantin Chudovsky and Jacopo Spirei. “Many people think of opera as a rarefied and slightly exclusive art form,” said sono artist Igor Bakan, who is performing the role of Tobia Mill in the Kammeroper production. “Sonostream.tv will allow both avid fans and newcomers to experience the thrill of live opera, and I’m really excited about it.” 

Audiences can watch the premiere of Rossinis’s La cambiale di matrimonio on www.sonostream.tv on 21 October at 7:30pm (GMT+2).

More information: Alexander Löffler, al@sonoartists.com, +43 699 11700739

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

San Diego Symphony Does Respighi, Haydn and Tchaikovsky 2nd Piano Concerto (with Garrick Ohlsson) [12 Oct 2012]

It had been a long while since I last dropped in on the San Diego Symphony, but Garrick Ohlsson was in town last weekend to do Tchaikovsky's 2nd piano concerto. Since when can a smorg resist a temptation like that?
Copley Symphony Hall box office
I couldn't resist the concert line up, but plenty other people apparently could as the main orchestra level of the auditorium was only about 70% occupied on Friday. Not that that didn't have its upside. Many of us who started out in the cheaper section got quite an upgrade into better (more centrally located) seats after the intermission. I don't think the ushers minded it much.

The concert started off with Ottorino Respighi's Ancient Airs & Dances Suite# 1. This is a rather neat set of modern rearrangement of late Renaissance music by obscure composers (one of whom was Galileo Galilei's dad!). I had never heard the music before and therefore was much looking forward to a new experience. Alas, I seem forever at odds with maestro Jahja Ling when it comes to delivery of chromatically expressive music. The Raspighi sounded like it could be absolutely delightful - a masterpiece of impressionistic descriptive scenery. The music wants to jump out at you, but its enthusiasm was foiled by excessive restraint and regularity, so much so that it left me feeling left out in the cold. I can't fault the technically impeccable orchestra. The instrumentalists delivered all that was asked of them, alas, they weren't asked to musically live out Count Orlando's march into the village or dance the gaillard or the villanelle or the play out the risque masquerade. It was like listening to Ben Stein dead panning a spicy Italian play, every syllable sounded out with the same weight and rhythm as the others. It took much of the charm out of some of Respighi's best orchestration. After a while I found myself disengaging and starting to pay more attention to the violinists' trouser cut, the paintings on the auditorium walls, the bald spot on the back of an audience member's head, among other things, than to the music I had paid to hear!
'scuse me while I take a little well earned nap...
That said, the Respighi still came out alright compared to what became of Joseph Haydn's witty Bb major Symphony (No. 102). Perhaps opera-fan me demand more emotional commitment in musical performance than warranted. That is possible. But I think even the musicians knew something was really off from the really lukewarm applause they got at the end of what should have been a really infectiously fun symphony. I mean, we're talking about the Copley Hall symphony audience that regularly give rousing applause and standing ovations even to mediocre performances here. The applause they gave after the first half on Friday night was comparable to a no applause at other more demanding halls! I had never been so tempted to walk out in the middle of a performance. The fact that this is such a fine orchestra that can technically do anything made it worse. A spirited performance by a group that could barely cope with technical requirement would have fared better than an indifferent one by a perfectly capable band, I think. Ultimately I think my problem is more with the bandleader (conductor) than the band itself. It was his vision of the music that I had problem with. He is probably too nice and mild-tempered a guy all around while I long for a more volatile musician waving the baton on the podium.

I'm glad I stuck around for Garrick Ohlsson's playing of the not often heard Tchaikovsky's 2nd piano concerto (in G major), however. Mr Ohlsson's vision of the piece was a bit different from mine, but he was both technically splendid and emotionally committed that his conviction not only won the evening, it also resuscitated the orchestra! Suddenly the players started to accentuate their phrases and indulged in tasteful rubato that made the music seemed came alive from series of printed notes on the score. Special notice to concertmaster Jeff Thayer (violin) and Yao Zhao (cello) for their solos and duet/trio bits with the piano. The rousing audience reception at the end was a big contrast to the one at half time. So much so that we were all rewarded when Maestro Ling urged Mr Ohlsson into giving us an encore. A fleeting playing of Chopin's C# minor waltz (Op. 64 No. 2).
Jahja Ling urging Garrick Ohlsson on for an encore during the sustained round of applause at Copley Symphony Hall Friday night.
A good finish can make up for a lot of sins indeed. After the show Jahja Ling, Garrick Ohlsson sat down with Nuvi Mehta (the associate conductor here who does the pre-concert lecture. He had a bit of an off night Friday, but he is usually a delight to listen to) for a little informal talk with the audience. I stuck around for a while, but had to leave before it was over.

There are a few good symphony concerts coming up this winter season. I'm hoping to catch a few, but have to see how my schedule would accommodate them. If you feel like enjoying some symphonic evenings while in San Diego, check out sandiegosymphony.com for their performance schedule.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The cleaning up of doping in professional cycling finally commences (I hope)

USADA finally published its evidence in the Lance Armstrong doping conspiracy case yesterday. For many of us cycling fans, it was a long awaited major punch with a real potential to actually do away with the hideously moral-corrupting omerta that has ruled the sport for far too long. 

First off, my salutations and hats off to the likes of Paul Kimmage, Gilles Delion, Nicolas Aubier, Graeme Obree, Christophe Bassons, Scott Mercier, Andy Hampsten, Greg Lemond and other long suffering clean riders that I had never heard of because most of the fame and news coverage they might have earned were stolen from them by the dopers who, some more understandably than others, chose the ends over the means, results and personal gain over moral integrity. 

These guys did the right thing and had to suffer a lot for it for a long time. Most were shunned out of their beloved sport as 'traitors'. Even the successful ones like Greg Lemond; his business was quite destroyed when he voiced his suspicion about Armstrong's doping. I have been riding my bike 200 or more miles a week since the beginning of the year and have made it a point to never run any red light (well, I did run a red light during the Giro di San Diego last month, but only because I was caught in a fast moving peloton that seemed bent on running all the traffic lights along the way. It was a matter of either going with the flow thru that first red light before sneaking my way out of the group or hitting the brake and cause a hideous bunch crash right in the middle of the intersection. I chose the former). It infuriates me when I see other cyclist run a red light and when I hear people generalize all cyclists as 'red light runners'. I imagine it's the same thing (but on a more frustrating scale) for clean pro cyclists when they keep hearing people blithely say that 'oh, they are all dopers anyway, so the field was always level.'

And thanks to the ex-dopers who have reformed themselves and have came or are now coming forward to break the silence. I've read Paul Kimmage's Rough Ride and Tyler Hamilton's The Secret Race and realize that choosing to not dope would have been very costly, perhaps seemingly too costly for them to be a viable option (after all, I've been young once and know how young people often have a hard time looking at things very far into the future). I also understand why a lot of angry cycling fans are now calling for no leniency for those who confess and now tell of theirs and others' doping. I wonder how they (the angry fans calling for life time ban and stripping of all results and prize money and endorsement) think that such a thing would encourage the emergence of any more eyewitness to this doping problem... Real life isn't black and white. A lot of crimes would go unsolved if plea bargaining isn't an option.

With due respect to Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy, and other prominent cyclists who are wishing that we would now all just 'look forward rather than back' at this doping thingy because today's peloton is supposedly clean. I digress... Remember why Frank Schleck didn't finish the tour this year? Honestly. It hasn't even been a month since another pro cyclist, Steve Houanard, got busted with a positive test. I have no doubt that PED abuse is rampant in other sports as well, perhaps even worse than in cycling and that cycling is cleaner today than it was in the 1990's and 2000's, but my brain isn't yet quite addled enough to believe that cycling today is now free of doping problem! Frankly, I'm getting suspicious of people who are trying to get people to look away from this exposé just one day after it came out... Is that how people who really want the sport to get cleaned up would act?

On the other hand... no cheer at all to those who still choose to root for team Lance against the world, including all those triathlon event organizers who keep inviting Lance Armstrong, even after his USADA sanction, to compete in their event in order to reap financial gain from his publicity. I don't care if the money they get out of it is then used for worthy charity work. The message they are sending to young athletes and to their audience - we don't care if you cheat and lie and try to destroy anyone who call you out for it as long as you can make us a lot of money - is still ugly and the very antithesis of what a sport is supposed to instill in people. Winning or losing isn't what matter, but how one plays the game. The end doesn't justify the means.  

Related links:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Meet my new girl friend....

Well, I have moved again, into another apartment within the San Diego city limit. It's a really good move! My new roommate is the walking model of courtesy and consideration. I'm still close to cycling routes... and there's a pretty lady next door who's been making it a point to ambush me as I come out of my door every morning and then hangs around to see me when I come home later in the day.
Here she is... the most affectionate lass I've met yet! I call her Casey, and she seems to respond to the name. Casey really likes to be petted by a cycling gloved hand. And when you really pet her well she'll return the favor and give your arms and legs some good and rough licking (I didn't realize that I'm so ticklish until she did a good number on my knee the first time we met). 

The other day she decided to check out my living quarter and slipped in as I took my bike inside. The living room was rather dimly lit and she just plain disappeared into the many black corners!
I finally found her after a few minutes, hiding in between the books under the coffee table. The cat is a reader. A keeper if there ever is one!