Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who in the world is Christy Erb?

Isn’t it odd how often some of the most accomplished of people can be so unassuming compared to the more boring folks? Being a boring folk, I probably should quit elaborating on that before I even start to... Let me just say that there is a bit more to Christy Erb than meet the eye, and that is definitely a plus.

Having spent too much of my teenage years hanging around the golf course meant that I have long since been overexposed to colorful duffers whose mythical ‘shot of a life time he hit during the last round’ keeps growing (more than) a few yards longer every time he retells the story. I’ll just say that I am no longer easily impressed by story of questionable glories on the well manicured green grass. So, it is most refreshing to once in a while getting to listen to smiling golfing assassins like Christy Erb downplaying her latest conquest of the dimply little white ball with an annoying lack of pretentiousness. Heck! She didn’t even remember how memorable a particular professional victory I had witness was when I recalled the episode out loud during a conversation a little while ago (I was not pleased... After all, she took so long to win that thing that I was ready to just lay down and die from exhaustion after walking all the 5 extra play off holes after having done my own final round a few hours prior. The gal was in a 5 way play-off and beat off her last competition by holing out a 30 footer cross-downhill putt for an eagle on the par-5 5th hole to win the Players West Tour event in San Bernardino in 1994. I’ll never forget (nor forgive) it even if my legs ever quit grumbling to me about such abuse).

I guess it is understandable from her point of view... After all, Christy has been golfing competitively since age 9 and had a stellar junior and collegiate career with the UCLA Bruins. I suppose she had forgotten more golf victories than I can remember entering tournaments. We met golfing in California in the mid 90's and went our separate ways when I gave the little white ball the finger (well, it was a mutual gesture, or so I prefer to think) and headed back to college. We have caught up a few times since I moved to the Pacific Coast, however. She had retired from the LPGA Tour in 1999 and is now busy teaching at Bonita Golf Club southeast of San Diego city while also working as an AFAA (Aerobic & Fitness Association of America) certified personal trainer. In sort, the gal is on a crusade to turn the flappy duffers population of San Diego into a bunch of lean and mean acing machines no self-respecting golf ball would dare to misbehave against.

And she had even written a book!

If you want to know more about this industrious lass with a bagful of big sticks, you’ll have to go look her up at her website and blogs. In the meanwhile, though, here is a little interview she granted me not so long ago:

Smorg: You started playing golf when you were just 8 yrs old and had played competitively from that point on until your retirement from the LPGA Tour 10 yrs ago and got into teaching. Do you miss the competition? Or are you enjoying life more now that you don't have to deal with the traveling and the competitive pressure all the time?
I don't really miss the competition, but I do miss the craftsmanship, attention to detail, specificity and purposefulness of the game. I miss being out in nature and creating at a high level. Life is easier and less stressful without the constant competition and the need to always do better.

Smorg: Does having traveled all around the USA and to different countries during your career make you appreciate your hometown of San Diego more? Do you sometimes think back about the different places you've been when they get mentioned in the news?
Yes, my travels all over the country and world make me even more appreciative of my hometown of San Diego. I do think back on my travels sometimes, and they were some nice, memorable times. Every now and then while I'm watching the news, I will recognize freeway signs that they show back east or in the Midwest. I feel I'm connected to the country and am a part of it, having seen many nooks and crannies, and having met all sorts of different people.

Smorg: What was the hardest thing about life on the professional golf tours? And what did you enjoy the most about the experience?
The hardest part of competitive golf for me was consistency, and never knowing if I was good enough. So I suppose you could call that a lack of confidence. It was very hard for me with my fluctuating emotions to be robot-like as the Asian and European players are. I was too reactive to my emotions, when I needed to be tougher mentally and to be more stoic or unaffected.

What I liked best about my golf experience was the hope it gave me with a dream to shoot for. That defined my life, giving me structure and a purpose.

Smorg:Do you still keep in touch with the people you met at various places?
I keep in touch with only a couple of them at this point, 9 years later. They all hold a special place in my heart, I will remember all of them always. I was pretty lucky to be taken in by families across the country and treated like family, very special experiences.

Smorg: You are writing a book about your competitive golfing years now. Any sneak peek insight into the main theme of it? Will it be a compilation of lessons for other golfers? or will it be more of a reflection on what you had learned over those years?
The theme of the book will be to show people what competitive and professional golf are like. It will expose the things we go through out there, what I learned, what is not seen to the public, and what it is like to have grown up in that competitive world of golf.

Smorg: What is the difference between the average amateur golfers and the competitive amateur golfers and the professional tour player? Is there any specific quality, aside from having a good swing and short game, that can turn a good amateur into a competitive tour player?
The difference is about 25,000 hours of practice and 3 million golf balls struck.

Smorg: Ouch... You had also published a book earlier about your grandfather, A Lifetime of Contradictions. What compelled you to take on that endeavor? And why that title?
Because he had live and endured so long I felt he deserved to have a book written about him. I wanted to do it for myself to understand him better, and try to find out what makes him tick and do what he does. Perhaps that is why I chose that title, because he seemed like an oxymoron to me and I wanted to figure him out. I suppose it was to answer my own curiosities somewhat and to show the affect he had on me as well. I felt I needed to write it at the time, I felt it my duty to myself and the family.

Smorg: Did your perception of grandpa change much as a consequence of writing about his life? Did your perception of yourself change?
I see Grandpa more as a person now. It made me feel more alive and connected to life.

Smorg: Aside from turning duffers into ace golfers at Bonita Golf Course, you are also an AFAA certified personal fitness trainer. Do you do that as a separate parallel career or do you combine that with your coaching method (so not only are the duffers becoming better golfers, but they're also getting leaner, too?)?
Well the personal fitness training is a parallel career but I apply it to my golf students as well. I was spending a lot of my free time at the gym the last 5 years and had begun making workout charts for my golf students, so I figured it would be a good fit all the way around.

Smorg: This one is for those who wish they could quite chasing after that dimpled little white ball.... What's the point of golfing?
There is no point to golfing other than to enjoy it and challenge yourself - as the point of anything is what you make of it.

Christy Erb’s official website, her book ‘A Lifetime of Contradictions’, Golf Instruction Blog, Babbling Brook of Serenity Blog

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Touched by a Bulgarian Soul

I was first attracted to classical music by the waltzes of Johann Strauss the Younger, whose music put such vivid scenes from the Austrian countryside in my head that I could close my eyes and see the deep blue of the Danube River, the lush forest around Imperial Vienna and its resident critters, and even the grandeur of its capital city and ruler. I listened to it so much that I could name any of Strauss’ waltzes after hearing any string of 3 notes. So, it was no wonder why I developed such an affinity to the folk-music-inspired orchestral suites from the Romantic period... Composers like Dvorak, Grieg, and Smetana haunted my stereo long before I discovered Wolfgang Mozart and the bel canto opera composers... or even George Handel.

Vocal music, on the other hand, didn’t have an easy entrance into my listening repertoire... I hated
opera. Hated it! The first one of those I was exposed to was Richard Strauss’ Salome... a shamelessly morbid work about the young Hebrew sociopath whose erotic dancing so pleases her step-dad Herod that he grants her the wish to be presented with the severed head of John the Baptist on a platter... to which bloody thing she proceeds to (at least musically) make love to. All that before ending the spellbindingly repulsive night at the opera with a bloody finale. It is a work of genius... Unappetizing, to be sure, and decidedly impossible to love for me (it is nearly atonal and musically very uncomfortable by design... And when it is done really well, I’m simply both too afraid and repulsed to love it. How do you praise with straight face something that is so gorgeously grotesque?).

After that, I had only heard snippets of operas... usually coloratura arias done by screechy leggierro soprani whose sole ambition in life seemed to lie in squeezing out as many high notes as inhumanly possible in the limited time frame. So, whenever a clip of opera or classical singing recital would show up while I was parked at the Classic Arts Showcase cable program at night, I’d switch the channel to watch something else (hopefully) a little less acoustically offensive.... That was, until one night in 2005 when I got preoccupied with something when I heard this unmistakably operatic music coming out of the television and looked up in horror to see this ‘drag queen’ sitting in front of a mirror on a revolving stage that just screamed ‘OPERA!’ from its every pixel. I dove for the remote controller - you know, that flighty little electronic gadget with the talent for disappearing just when you need it the most, and couldn’t find it before she -SHE! It WAS a girl!- started singing.

Well, if ever I was well-served by my lack of speed... The lady may have looked like a drag queen on first (or second, or, god forbid, even third!) sight, but the moment she opened her mouth and started singing, she was the earth goddess reincarnated. I was arrested by the deep and dark sound of her voice, and transfixed by what that burnish coppery tone was communicating. The music was Rosina’s entrance aria, Una voce poco fa, to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville... and it was charming. I had heard it many times before without really thinking much more of it than as a showy tune for coloratura soprani to show off their vocal pyrotechnic with. But this rendition was different. All of the sudden every single note coming out of this quirky creature in ill-fitted dress actually meant something. Even when she ran through the tricky coloratura passages while deftly handling the liquid-filled test tubes or scaling up to her high B’s, it wasn’t necessary to understand the Italian lyrics, I knew exactly what her opera character was airing just from the voice itself.

It was an endlessly fascinating experience to be sitting there actually wishing that an opera clip had lasted longer while feeling both silly and amazed at how much I actually bought the spontaneity of the scene that I just saw and heard - knowing full well t
hat every note was rehearsed and every move was choreographed beforehand.

That... was my first encounter with Vesselina Kasarova, the Bulgarian mezzo-soprano who has, since that day, enjoyed a near monopoly of my stereo system. I’ve listened to many other singers
and many other operas since, of course, and have also realized just how mistaken I was about her ...er... appearance (definitely NOT a drag queen... Just inexplicably made to look like one every time she had to sing a female role at Zurich Opera in the 90's!). All the same, it was a real delight for a folksy-classical music loving critter like me to look up Kasarova’s recordings at Amazon not long after seeing that video clip to find that she had released a full CD of 14 Bulgarian folk songs arranged by the composer Krassimir Kyurkchiyski for a solo mezzo soprano voice and chorus back in 2003.

Bulgarian Soul is its title, and every track on it carries its own scent and sense of Bulgaria on its notes. Granted, the songs are not performed traditionally here, but their long lasting if ever melancholic spirits remain authentically intact, thanks to Kasarova’s ability to remove the middleman-ness from the communication of the stories. You don’t hear someone singing about someone else’s experiences. She simply becomes the originator of the story herself and lets you in on her many secret yearnings and fears... and on what keeps her going, standing firm in the rushing river of life with the same determination that carried Orpheus through the torments of Hades’ most restless furies in his quest to bring Eurydice back to the land of the living. Her incendiary dark mezzo-soprano is also superbly supported by the Cosmic Voices of Bulgaria female chorus under Vania Moneva, the Sofia Soloists Chamber Orchestra under Tzanko Dimitrov Delibozov, and the spotless piano accompaniment by Ermila Schweizer-Sekulinova. It is really a case of acoustic synergy where great musicians successfully work together to create something that transcends themselves. (Click here for my proper review of the CD)

Recorded in July 2002 at Bulgaria Concert Hall in Sofia, Bulgaria, and released in 2003, Bulgarian Soul won the well deserved 2004 ECHO Award for World Music. I almost wish I was born a Bulgarian listening to this thing... but then I wouldn’t really have wanted to grow up behind the Iron Curtain. Everyone you hear in this recording did; however, and survived... and their spiritual endurance emanates in the sound of their folk music. If there is such a thing as a medicinal melancholy, this musical intonation of the smell the local Bulgarian flowers, the girls in soukman dress, the Bulgarian countryside and the history of its people, is it.

Vesselina Kasarova (mezzo soprano soloist), Ermila Schweizer-Sekulinova (piano)
Vania Moneva & The Cosmic Voices of Bulgaria, Tzanko Dimitrov Delibozov & The Sofia Soloists Chamber Orchestra
1. Dilmano, Dilbero
2. Kalimanku, Denku
3. Day mi, Bozhe, krila lebedovi (Give Me, God, Wings of the Swan)
4. Zablyalo mi e agantse (A Little Lamb Was Bleating)
5. Polegnala e Tudora (Fair Tudora is Sleeping)
6. Rofinka bolna lezhi (Rufinka Lies Ill)
7. Melodiya (Melody)
8. Slantse ogreyalo (The Sun is Shining)
9. Se ma yad, mamo (I’m So Angry, Mother)
10. Malkata tsvetarka (The Flower Maiden)
11. Vokaliza (Vocalize)
12. Mama Rada dumashe (Mama Was Telling Roda)
13. Proshetna se Momchilitsa (Momchil’s Young Wife)
14. Ya kazhi mi, oblache le byalo (Tell Me, Little White Cloud)

1 CD. Booklet contains a fascinating note on the history and tradition of Bulgarian folk music in English, German, and French by Vesselina Kasarova, a note on Bulgarian folk music by Krassimir Kyurkchiyski, short motif on each songs and lyrics in Bulgarian (written in phonetic English alphabet) and English translation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The 4th week of June 2009

It seems that the sky was darker than usual on Thursday (June 25th) night. The twinkly firmament was missing 2 very high-wattage stars; Farrah Fawcett (1947 - 2009) and Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009)

Being decidedly unhip when it comes to the Hollywood scene, I don't know much about Farrah Fawcett except that my dad liked watching Charlie's Angels way too much for my mom's liking when she was starring in it and that she had fought a very public battle with cancer this past year. I know a bit more about Michael Jackson, though. He was the biggest thing on the pop music scene when I hit the records-buying age... though I only bought one of his albums (my taste was more toward the music of Simon & Garfunkel and Billy Joel back then). It was quite fascinating seeing the difference in various people's reaction to the two deaths...

The thing that struck me about Mr. Jackson's life and death is actually how similar his story was to that of Maria
Callas, the late great Greek-American soprano. I had just finished reading Arianna Stassinopoulos (Huffington, as it turned out)'s biography of Callas a few weeks ago. She was also a supremely talented artist who revolutionized her art form and whose personality transcended her medium... Even today, when you ask a non opera fan to name a few famous opera singers, chances are good that her name will pop up before any of today's brightest opera stars (perhaps with the exception of Anna Netrebko)... even though she's been dead since 1977. Callas also suffered from her fame and didn't communicate well when she was off the stage, and passed away feeling more alone and unappreciated than she really was.
Before I read Stassinopoulos (Huffington)'s book, I had also read a few other opera singers' memoir that mention La Divina. Eileen Farrell met her while dining in London and was struck by how disproportional Callas' appreciation was of Farrell's simple gesture of stopping at her table to introduce herself. Regine Crespin airs her regret at not having reached out to the down-trodden diva before she died. Considering the last years of Callas and Jackson and one can't help feeling at least a little appalled at the tragedy of how someone can rise so high only to suffer so much at the end.... Even though both were living quite well by normal people's standard.

Perhaps Jackson would have been a little comforted had he read about what happened to Callas after her demise. It is quite amazing how sanctifying death can do for you... While contemporary critics were full of criticism for her unorthodox voice and way of singing, posthumously her singing is now nearly universally considered to be beyond
reproach. Everyone feels for her for being dumped by the 'cad' Aristotle Onassis in favor of Jacqueline Kennedy, though nobody talks about how Callas' affair with Onassis had caused his then wife, Tina, to end their marriage. So.... perhaps a few years from now Michael Jackson's image will be similarly fully rehabilitated the way Callas' was. It's a shame that he wouldn't be around to enjoy it.

There are already posts going up all over the place properly mourning Fawcett and Jackson... so I'll go the other way and spend the weekend appreciating the still living great talents who have made it big without losing their sense of self and place in the world instead. It is not easy to stay in touch with what 'normal' is when one has made it to the top of the mountain only to find that one dislikes the exposure of having nowhere to hide from others' line of sight. Kudos to those who are successful without losing touch with their humanity... and also to those around them, the family and friends, who enable that to happen (we often lavish praise and sympathy on our celebrated idols while neglecting those who actually have to live with them... I'm sure the 'supporting cast' aren't having it any easier than the stars are either). Better show my appreciation for them while they are still around to see it than the other way around... I figure.

(these clips were posted on Youtube by Parsifalito)
And so... my first swig of Crush's finest orange soda of the weekend goes to the comforting knowledge that for every 'tragedy' of Maria Callas or Michael Jackson, there are the well-grounded Birgit Nilsson, Astrid Varnay, Leonie Rysanek, Teresa Stratas, Edita Gruberova, Natalie Dessay, Renee Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Vesselina Kasarova, Joyce DiDonato, Patricia Racette, et.al.; that it is entirely very possible to master the flame without being consumed by it...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The 3rd Week of June 2009

An eventful week this was... elsewhere. Here, we've been having a sleepy little week with a bunch of indecisive clouds that hover around wanting to drop us some rain, but somehow can't seem to find a suitable landing place for their watery cargo.

The dominant news of the week is, of course, the presidential election in Iran... What do you know? Most of the news anchors are actually pronouncing the country's name right (short E-raan rather than Ai-raan). The weird thing, though, is that many of these same anchors are still going on mis-pronouncing Iraq (they say Ai-raak rather than the correct short E-raak)... And we've been stuck there since 2003... What's with that, ay?
Anyhow... There doesn't seem to be a large community of Iranians here in downtown. No demonstration so far (I think a group did show up to demonstrate a little by the Schwarz Federal Courthouse earlier in the week, but there hasn't been anything since). I'm quite impressed with the coolheadedness of Barack Obama... And I'm utterly exasperated by the republican talking heads and politicians who came out calling for a hard-line response to the Iranian government since the day after the election. These big-mouthed neo-con republicans didn't even have the decency (and brain) to wait a few days to allow time to process information properly before drawing their typically invalid conclusions.

This is most ridiculous considering all the lessons they should have learned just by reading the foreign news in the last year. Remember how Thailand had 2 major demonstrations that stemmed from discontent over their election results just last year and how that turned out to be an internal political war between their own intelligentsia class in the cities and the poorer folks
in the countryside? Remember just how exactly we got duped into invading Iraq even though it didn't have anything to do with 9/11 and didn't have any stockpile of WMD? It doesn't pay to jump into other people's business before you've found out what the deal really is. If a riot had broken out in New York City after an election here, would we Americans have been happy to hear the Iranian leader mouthing off about it or offering to 'help'? or even a Brit PM? Of course not! We'd all likely just tell them to, you know, go be fruitful and multiply themselves (joke shamelessly stolen from Michael Shermer)! This battle is for the Iranians to win or lose. Not us.

So... a kudos to you, Mr. Obama... You suck when it comes to protecting basic rights for gay Americans, but on this foreign relation front, you're the man!

And just where the heck are the leaders of the Green Party and the Libertarians? We need a third party here! I'm too disgusted with the fanatic right-winger republicans and I don't want the democrats to have a monopoly. If you slow slugs don't step up to offer a valid and reasoned check to keep the democrats honest now, when the heck will another chance like this come up for you?

Anyway.... people are getting hurt in Tehran at the moment. Hang tough, Iranians. If any folks have the resilience necessary to deal with the current tumult, though, I'll bet on you Persians... You've been around for ages.

(The replica plaque of Cyrus' proclamation above is located in front of the House of Iran in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, USA)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A nocturnal stroll through downtown San Diego

Ever since I made the fateful decision to work night shift at a local nursing home to fund my college education many years ago, my biological clock has never been the same.

So, here is a musical slide-show of what I see when I go out and walk around downtown San Diego this time of year. I'm afraid I use an amateur camera... and kept the flash off (which was quite a pain since I'm not that good at keeping my hands still these days). The photos look brighter than it really is... and the clouds (which is actually what the locals here call 'marine layer') don't look that devilish to the naked eye.

Downtown is pretty heavily patrolled by the local police... And on a week night like this, it is pretty quiet by the time midnight comes around. I took off from home in East Village area and stopped at Albertson's store to pick up some snack before heading west (toward the bay) through the northern part of the Gaslamp Quarter and the Core-Columbia District (along Broadway).

You really don't run into as many homeless folks while walking around town at night... Though I still did manage to run into this wacky dude who seems to find a new camera cellphone in the trash bin every week (I've been running into him walking around town for years now). Broadway west of 4th Avenue is really quite nice at night, though I tend to stay to the south of it (made a brief excursion for the sake of getting a shot of the Civic Theater, home of the San Diego Opera, though).

One thing about walking around the Columbia District (where the tall buildings are) and the Embarcadero (waterfront) at night, though, is that they actually let freight trains thru... And those thing are REALLY long! I had the appropriately bad timing to arrive at Santa Fe Depot as one was passing to the south.... for 15 minutes. I finally got to cross to the Embarcadero side of the track at 11:15PM and was quite surprised to catch 2 planes landing at Lindberg Field (San Diego International Airport) since I thought they have a no-flight between 10PM-6AM policy.

The downtown bank of the San Diego bay doesn't boast any beach, but a long concrete hiking/cycling path called the Embarcadero Promenade. It is lined with artsy modern sculptures... well.. I don't know if I should call them that since they are made of various sorts of materials and some are really pretty flimsy. Most are pretty amusing, though, like that giant octopus you see by Anthony's Fish Grotto in this video. Some are more... serious (?) like that bronze Pele not far from the Maritime Museum (where all those historic tall ships are). During the day it is a busy bay with all sorts of ships (row boats, canoes, fishing boats, water taxi, bay cruisers, sail yacht, cruise ships, navy cutters, etc) roaming about... not to mention the speed boats that patrol North Island Naval Air Station on the opposite bank. During the night, though, it is beautifully still and quiet (I'm sure the Navy speed boats are still doing their patrolling, but they stick pretty close to their shore that you can't really hear them from the downtown side).

Anyhow... if there is anything in this city that can remind me of the sense I get staring out into the grassy plain of eastern Missouri at night it is sitting along the Embarcadero Promenade and gazing over the dark water of the San Diego Bay. After a while you can even see the water birds flying about noiselessly and you wonder why time ever matters at all.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sing it as written (by whom?)!

One of the things that I love about scientists and real scholars is that they know what their assumptions are when they discuss issues and they are generally not prone to having a black and white view on issues that are essentially gray. Many lay folks I interact with don’t even recognize it when they are making an assumption... let alone knowing what the assumption is.

What I’ll address today, though, are the opera enthusiasts who go around condemning anyone who doesn’t perform their part in the opera ‘exactly as written on the music score’... Come scritto-ists, I call them (‘come scritto’ is Italian for ‘as written’). They operate under the mistaken notion that what the opera composers throughout the ages had written down on the score always represent the exact music that they had in mind and are carefully preserved as is from the day they were committed to paper to this... And that any performance deviation from what is written on the score is disrespectful and would be disapproved of by the composer if he were around today. They couldn’t be more wrong...

While it is generally true that today’s composers tend to commit every details of how they would like their opera to be performed on the score, that has not always been the case. The further one looks into the past, the sparser the score becomes. The surviving score of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, for example, only has the basic vocal line accompanied by a bass continuo... And that’s it. The rest of the performance just has to be re-orchestrated and arranged by the conductor. Many different versions of the score for an opera can exist in the periods since then (up to modern time) and not every details is written on the score until Rossini started the practice around 1815 (when he realized that the performance style was changing and he wanted to preserve the style of his days on paper).
When Western music had only entered its development, when nothing had yet been written down, the composer and the performing musician were identical. Music was simply improvised in public, as we would say today. The separation between these two functions, i.e that of the composer and that of the performer, developed gradually as a result of the devising of more elaborate means of notation to describe a composition in a concrete way, and the desire of the composers to give their works a definitive form.

Only recently has the absolute separation been reached. Musicians today ordinarily have no knowledge of the art of composition; they have a downright slavish relationship to the written music they receive from the composer. Their task is simply to perform the compositions of others as perfectly as possible in terms of technique and expression. The precise designation of all the ornaments which were to be played, a compositional practice which began in the late Baroque period was initially regarded by musicians as a degrading insult. During the Middle Ages, composers were performing musicians and almost every musicians was also a composer. In any case, every good musician had to master the rules of composition and improvise, and so it was taken for granted that the latest form of a work would emerge only on the occasion of its current performance.”
- Nikolaus Harnoncourt, The Musical Dialog (translated by Mary O’Neill), P. 9-10
On top of that, the surviving autograph manuscripts often don’t completely agree with the distributed printed score (which can come in many different versions), and one can’t use the same rationale in ones’ articulation of which version is the most ‘authentic’ for different composers (while you can generally trust the Rossini autograph score to represent perhaps his final thought on it - if there was ever such a thing considering his penchant for
music-swapping and fine-tuning to fit specific productions - rather than the printed score since he didn’t have much control over the printing and reproduction process, Puccini was a lot more involved in the printing and proof-reading process so that often time the printed score is more accurate to his last musical intention than the autograph score is).
Copies of the full score and printed orchestral parts were prepared quickly. They had to be, since prompt fulfillment of business contracts depended on it. When gross errors existed in the model from which this material was prepared, *Ricordi’s copyist made marks in the margin. Sometimes corrections were introduced by the composers, but most of the time copyists did their best to interpret the notation, glossing over lacunae or ambiguous signs. In theory, a manuscript score and parts would go off to a theater and come back to Ricordi unchanged; in practice, changes were regularly introduced, often by well-intentioned musicians of a later generation unable to understand or interpret properly what they had in front of them. Some changes were incorporated into later scores and parts, though not into the autograph manuscripts (which could be used for archival reference).

It soon became impossible to tell where a composers’ notation ended and a copyist’s or an orchestral musician’s began.
- Philip Gossett, Divas and Scholars, P. 104
(*Casa Ricordi is the leading publisher of musical scores)
Also, how practical is this notion of always having to absolutely stick to what the score says when the performance conditions today can be so different from those that existed when the music was composed? Richard Wagner orchestrated his post-Ring operas with the precise acoustic of the Bayreuther Festspielhaus in mind (click here to see just how special the acoustic of that particular opera auditorium is). It doesn't make sense to stick to the same instrumental requirement when the opera is performed at a different venue that doesn't boast the same sort of voice-friendly acoustic while expecting to hear the same result!

And neither does it make sense to impose what today's popular notion of 'stylistic tradition' on performances of opera is on works from a different period where the audience of the days had different expectations than what we do today. I suspect that had Händel been able to expect total attention from the opera audience of the Baroque period (who did not sit quietly in a darkened hushed hall for 5 hrs to hear every note of his music but loitered about socializing and eating in a seatless and well lighted auditorium), then he would have gone for a vastly more concise and dramatic route in his composition... with less room for virtuoso show-off moments (it took spectacular vocal acrobatics from the castrato singers to attract and hold the attention of that distracted an audience). Had the bel canto composers and audience expected to hear their singing actors (after all, opera has ALWAYS been a musical theater art form and never just a concert one) singing in seamlessly beautiful tone through out their vocal range, then they wouldn't have composed music that was clearly meant to exploit not only floridity but also vocal colors, often indulging in leaps and scales that require greater than 2 full octave of singing range from the performers.

One doesn't serve the opera's composer when one blindly cries for a strict adhesion to the score without first asking 'which score and by whom?' and knowing about its' musicological problems. Often time, what a lay opera fan considers to be 'stylistically correct' is really nothing more than his own preference of it (usually based on his first hearing of the piece). Many operas of the Baroque and bel canto periods suffered from such a prolonged lack of performance that we no longer have a sure knowledge of what the applicable performance traditions of the original periods actually were.

This, of course, doesn't mean that any sort of variation or improvisation is fair game when performing non-modern operas. It just means that it is not any more virtuous of one to deify every note that appears on the printed music score than it is to totally corrupt what is on it. Since when has going to an opera became such an exercise in musicology? What is really served when the purpose of an opera is subverted in the name of its pedagogy? Even in the court of law, wise judges are always mindful of the spirit in which a law was written (that cannot always be accurately represented in the letters of it) and allow a room for judicial judgment.

Surely, in a performance art, whose purpose it is to communicate a story to its audience via musical and theatrical media, getting across to the audience the spirit of what the musical notations were put down to describe must be more important than just getting all the instruments (voices included) to sound the notes on the score in the right sequence at the 'right' tempo (even when the score was written before the invention of the metronome). Else, we reduce a creative art into nothing more than bookkeeping (no offense intended for bookkeepers).

"Er staat een huis aan de gracht in oud Amsterdam... There's a house on the canal in Old Amsterdam
Waar ik als jochie van acht bij grootmoeder kwam... where 8 yrs old me used to visit grandma
Nu zit een vreemde meneer in 't kamertje voor... Now there's a stranger in the front room
En ook die heerlijke zolder werd tot kantoor..... and an office where the attic used to be.

Aleen de bomen, de bomen, hoog boven het verkeer... Only the trees, swaying above the traffic
En over het water gaat er een bootje net als weleer... and the boats on the canals remind of the old days.

Aan de Amsterdamse grachten.... On the canals of Amsterdam,
Heb ik heel mijn hart voor altijd verpand... I forever pledge my heart
Amsterdam vult mijn gedachten... Amsterdam, I always regard
Als de mooiste stad in ons land.... as the nicest city in our land.

Al die Amsterdamse mensen.... All the people of Amsterdam,
Al die lichtjes 's avonds laat op het plein... All the evening lights at the squares,
Niemand kan zich beter wensen.... What more can anyone ask,
Dan een Amsterdammer te zijn.... than to be a native of Amsterdam!"
How nice would it be if going to a classical recital in the USA is as natural an event as it is for the Dutch in this snippet of Vesselina Kasarova's recital there in 2004 (Prinzengracht Concert)! She's singing 'Aan de Amsterdamse grachten (On the Amsterdam Canals)' with the Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans... with the enthusiastic crowd singing along with them. Now... THAT's what music is all about! A real two-way street of shared experience.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A lazy June walk through downtown

I like June in San Diego, California. It's comfortably cool. It's cloudy. The tourists aren't here yet and the flowers and trees are still glowing in their not-that-dusty-yet new leaves and flowers. From this, you would rightfully conclude that I'm not a native Californian. Frankly, I find it endlessly irritating how the weathermen here keep talking wistfully about the prospect of a sunny heatwave at the end of the week... You know, the same sort of thoughts that occur to fishermen in the Grand Banks when they hear on the radio the voice of the forecaster gleefully reporting that the malevolent hurricane has now veered 'safely' off to sea...

Anyhow. I got to go out a bit in the comfortably hazy weather earlier in the week and took a few video and photo shots with my little Kodak camera... and putting them together into the video below. The quality is a bit iffy (after all I took it with a photo camera and not a camcorder), but it should give you an idea of what it's like to walk around Downtown San Diego in June.

We start at the little park on the bayfront between the famously sail-roofed San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton Hotel. My favorite haunt, actually... It's nicely quiet there most of the time even when there is a big
convention going on or a fair at the Embarcadero Marina Parks or Seaport Village nearby. I won't be visiting there much once the cloud cover leaves town in summer... No shade anywhere for a smorg to hide in!

From the top of the Convention Center you can see quite a lot of the bay and Coronado 'not an' Island on the opposite shore. Just north of the Convention Center is the curved reflective towers of the Marriott Hotel and its marina, flanked by the Embarcadero Marina Parks (north and south). The blue bridge is, of course, the San Diego-Coronado Bridge... 2 miles long and 200 ft tall at its dogleg bend (to allow battleships to pass under). Coming down the north side of the Convention Center gives you a great view of the Historic Gaslamp Quarter (and a bit of Petco Park baseball stadium, home of the San Diego Padres). This is the part of town where hip young folks come to party and keep the brewery industry in business. They aren't very good at keeping all the brew in for more than a few hours, though. You really have to keep an eye on the sidewalk when you walk around here in the morning hours
to keep from stepping in stains of various degrees of yuckiness (made by man and his best friends ).

The Gaslamp Quarter is where the trendy restaurants and boutique shops are (not as chic as what you'd see in La Jolla or on Coronado, but also not quite as expensive). Anchoring the northwest corner of the area is psychedelic Horton Plaza... the colorful mess of a building where you wouldn't want to be lost in just when you have a real need to use the restroom. Taking the elevator to the top floor (Level 5) and you can have a good rooftop look of the surrounding downtown, too. The angular tall buildings of the Columbia Districts to the north really aren't that tall... The Phillips screwdriver top one is One America Plaza, the tallest building in downtown at 500 ft (which is right at the building limit since Lindberg Field, San Diego's international airport, is really close by).

The last few seconds of the clip takes you southeast of downtown proper to the border of Logan and Sherman Height neighborhoods where you'll find historic Villa Montezuma (Est. 1887) at the southwest corner of 20th Avenue and K Street. It's one of the few historic buildings in the area that the San Diego Historical Society is still taking care of (the lack of funding had caused them to drop Marston House north of Balboa Park a while ago ). It costs $5 to get in for adults and $4 for seniors...I didn't go in there (the shots were taken on Sunday afternoon when the place was closed). It is looking rather worn - with cracks on the stained glass windows and the terracotta exterior is chipped and look ready to fall out. And man, does that yard need some work or what? It is still a magnificent looking Queen Anne house, though, and well worth the entry fee to visit when you are in downtown area. It isn't too long a walk from the Trolley line. You can actually see Petco Park from there, just across I-5.

I'd love to move back to the more leisurely Midwest one day, but man... I'll really miss those windsurfing seagulls... and a few other things.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Watch-ful Post

Vesselina Kasarova watch: The mesmerizing Bulgarian mezzo is spending June in Tokyo, Japan, making her house debut at the New National Theater as the title role in Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella).

Juliette Galstian watch: The gorgeous dark-voiced Armenian mezzo had recently updated her website, changed management rep, and will be singing Cornelia in Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto at the Cour des Hospices in Beaune (France) on 11 July.

Dorothea Röschmann watch: The German soprano with the golden voice is singing Polly in Weill's The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) at Barbican Hall in London and at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Christiane Karg watch: The young German soprano recently granted me a cyber interview and is off to sing Silvia in a performance of Haydn's L'isola disabilita at the Musikverein in Vienna this weekend before coming back to resume performances as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro at Opera Frankfurt.

Gay Penguins watch: Z and Vielpunkt, the gay German Humboldt penguins, had adopted an abandoned penguinette and are having a good time mothering it in their little corner at the Zoo am Meer in Bremerhaven... Who still says that homosexuality is unnatural now?
These two aren't even the only gay birds at the same zoo...

Smorg watch: My friends keep telling me to eat something... Why? I'm not a Wagnerian soprano, I can't hit the high C in triple forte and I sure as heck don't want to look as though I could either.

But, anyhow, after having spent a week having the same noodle soup for dinner (instant noodle is my cooking specialty), this 6" long Vietnamese beef sandwich from Sau Voi Deli at Ranch Market on Clairemont Mesa Blvd
is what I'm having for dinner tonight... Neither cheese nor any sort of sauces are needed on this thing. It's just grilled beef with really crushy fresh vegetables on a chewy bun. I suspect it is quite healthy, but, thankfully, the tastes doesn't betray that quality!