Monday, November 16, 2009

Shock Doctrine

Surely you remember when you first read a book that stuck out for years to come as one of your favorites; for me, they seem come in spates. For example, in the year from roughly May 2004, my literary horizons were blown open by Quinn's Ishmael, Vonnegut, Calvino, and Gilgamesh. Now, I seem to be in another period of discovery.

I wrote here earlier about Hesse's incomparable Glass Bead Game. Its beauty lies in its intellectual abstraction; it exists above the plane of lowly human troubles. So too, does Ishmael, for years my starting point and guidebook to human history. And yet, for all their insights, their intellectual concerns seem worlds away from the elbow-deep reality of the book I just finished.

It's as though someone took Hesse and Quinn's bright light of understanding and aimed it in the murky recesses of the past thirty years. The result is not always comfortable — it is, in fact, terrifying — but it is more immediate and urgently relevant than I knew a book could be. It is Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

I couldn't overstate how important this book is; non-partisan (Clinton and Lawrence Summers get the same scrutiny as Bush & Co.), impeccably researched, and surprisingly calm given the outrageous subject matter, it deserves to be a classic in the years to come as the definitive people's history of right now.

You may be getting a copy of this from me in the near future. Not as a Christmas present (I know you didn't ask for it), and not because I think you should vote a particular way, but just because I think everyone should be aware of this book. If you want one, tell me. If you don't want it littering your already over-crowded bookshelf, find it at your local library.

In any case, it would mean a lot to me; give it a read; I want to hear what you think.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jurowski at the RCM

As I mentioned earlier, Vladimir Jurowski has been around College this week, preparing for the Schnittke/Prokofiev concert tonight. I just got back from it, and it was absolutely fantastic.

The Schnittke wasn't exactly my bag. It veered too wildly between camp and meandering modernism. I could tell, however, that it was being delivered forcefully; Jurowski clearly had an interpretation and exacted it from the orchestra. The second half brought better music — Prokofiev's Sixth Symphony — and the result was dynamite. It's not just that his interpretations are lucid and musical; it's that he implements them so clearly. Like the best actors who seem to become their character, he completely dissolves into the music, willing to make whatever gesture is necessary to get the sound he wants, regardless of whether that gesture might come from the standard conducting playbook. I might also add that, though I've heard the RCM orchestra several times before, this was by far the most responsive, tight, and professional performance I've heard from it.

He is, I feel safe to say, the best conductor I've ever witnessed in person. True, I've not yet seen Abbado, Barenboim, Gergiev, or a host of others, but thanks to spending a year in London I have seen Salonen (quite regularly), Tilson Thomas, Haitink, Jansons, Fischer, Zinman, and Gustavo 'the Dude' Dudamel. And for my money, Jurowski's the Dude.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Two Reminders

Two reminders of why I love London occurred just within the last week.

On Friday, I went to an open rehearsal of Michael Tilson Thomas (music director of the San Francisco Symphony) with the London Symphony Orchestra, to watch them rehearse Schubert, Mahler (a wonderful short piece I hadn't heard before: Blumine), and Berg's Three Pieces. Besides being a fantastic musical experience, which it was (given the option, I would always rather go to the final rehearsal than the performance itself), I got to see the LSO in true form. The orchestra has a reputation for treating conductors as equals and generally having an ego, but of course one never sees it at a concert. At rehearsal, though, the horn players are constantly fiddling with their iPhones and the percussionists practice Berg while the orchestra is rehearsing Schubert. Best moment of all, though: during one complex point in the Berg, MTT got excited and strayed from his clear 4- or 8-pattern. He stopped to say something, but the timpanist interrupts: "Michael, what are you beating at bar forty?" He says this... to Michael Tilson Thomas... with the entire orchestra sitting there. But of course MTT handles it like a professional: before briskly moving on with whatever he was going to say, he replies, "Well, let's find out."

And last night, after the composition concert (which went quite well, I thought), we headed down to the bar that's underneath the Recital Hall. A few people were already down there, including a few people playing pool, including... no, it can't be... it is! Vladimir Jurowski, the music director of the London Philharmonic. I should explain that he's conducting a concert with the RCM Symphony Orchestra this weekend, and he was obviously there for a rehearsal. But still, I have to admit that I'm a little proud to be studying at a school where one finds the music director of the London Philharmonic playing pool in the student bar.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Prague and Changes

Almost a month ago now, Teriann and I went to Prague with our flatmates Sarah and Bryce. It was a wonderful trip for a number of reasons — good food, good music, good company, beautiful scenery — but it also signaled some of the changes that have come across our life in London lately.

First, a few highlights of the trip. Prague is gorgeous; distinctive and photogenic.

The leaves were changing in the local park,

and the stained glass windows in St. Vitus's Cathedral were spectacular.

For more pics, here's the facebook album.

The changes, though, have been significant. When we moved here, the house consisted of two singles and three other couples. Living with other couples suited us well, as we enjoyed going out with them and generally getting into shenanigans. Over the last month, though, two of the couples have broken up, drastically changing the dynamics of the house.

One of those couples, if you haven't guessed already, is Sarah and Bryce; Prague was still a good time, but Bryce moved out shortly thereafter and I already miss him. Ed moved out as well, and I miss having his legendary craziness around too. And more singles in the house inevitably means more drama.

Don't get me wrong, we still love our house and our flatmates, but as they say, nothing stays the same.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It has taken a long time...

...but my website is finally all-new and updated with my new music from the last year or so. Give it a look! And a listen!

Favorite Hideaways

For this month's installment of the photo series, here are some images of my favorite small town nooks and crannies scattered around the continent.

5. Eze, France

Eze is like nothing I've ever seen. It's less of a village than it is an enormous, rambling castle carved into a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. Shops are carved into nooks wherever they can fit, and the paths that serve as roads roam here and there, up and down stairs, through archways. It is, however, rather two-dimensional. You see it, it's beautiful, but then there's nothing to do. Except take the bus to Monaco or Nice, of course.

4. Colmar, France

The fairy-tale capital of half-timbered buildings, leaning walls, low beams, and narrow lanes. Despite its tiny size, it reputedly has a notable art gallery (which we didn't visit... the scenery was enough for us) and is in a region full of cool stuff to do (Strasbourg, Haut-Koensigsburg, monkey feeding, etc.).

3. Hohenschwangau, Germany

Sandwiched between two castles (including possibly the most famous one of them all, Neuschwanstein), Hohenschwangau is tough to beat. Even without them, though, this little hamlet nestles between craggy mountains, a beautiful gorge, two lakes, and thick, Bavarian forest.

2. Hallstatt, Austria

A very close second: this snowglobe of a town is wedged between a steep mountain (we never saw the top through the mist) and a flat, still lake. When you get bored of being dazzled by the town and the food, there are caves, mines, and the lake to explore.

1. Vernazza, Italy

The last word in slowing one's heart rate. I could stay here for weeks and it would probably still feel like a few minutes. Just big enough to provide modern conveniences (train station, post office, interesting shops) but small enough to immediately comprehend (one main street, a few winding narrow streets) and completely without that annoying 20th century phenomenon known as the car, Vernazza is stunning. No matter how much of the world I see in my life, it's hard to imagine this ever not being one of my favorite places on it.