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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Something for Thursday

As noted the other day, conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy has retired from public performance. Ashkenazy was born in 1937 in Russia, but in the 1960s he emigrated to the West where he has lived ever since, starting with London and then to Reykjavik and then to Switzerland. His output as a pianist and a conductor propel him into thie highest ranks of musicians of the last fifty years. The other day I featured Ashkenazy as a conductor; today I present him as a performer in his natural element.

Thank you for the music, Vladimir Ashkenazy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

I'll have more to say about this later in the week, but for now I learned yesterday that one of my musical heroes, pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, has retired from public performance. Ashkenazy has been a giant of the music world for more than sixty years, and his performances--both at the keyboard and on the podium--always have a good deal of excitement behind them. In my opinion, Ashkenazy's cycle of the three symphonies of Sergei Rachmaninov have never been equaled. (One day I'll write the long paean to the Rachmaninov Second that's been in my head for years.)

While Ashkenazy might well be most closely associated with Russian and Slavic music, he was no one-trick pony. Here he is conducting Debussy, about as spiritually far from the heavy Russian Romanticism of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov you can get and yet still remain in roughly the same time period. Debussy's La Mer is a three-part work, called "symphonic sketches" by the composer, who wanted to avoid the associations of the symphony and the symphonic poem. Debussy often worked to throw off formal constraints in a way that is not unlike his earlier countryman, Hector Berlioz. La Mer is deeply evocative and masterful in its use of orchestral textures to convey Debussy's impressions of the sea.

Here is La Mer by Claude Debussy, performed by the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the great Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Monday, January 20, 2020

I'm progressive!

In more ways than just the political, mind you. My lenses, for one!

The new specs help my Stare Of Withering Intensity! #eyeglasses #spectacles #newglasses #newglasseswhodis

Yes, it was finally time for new glasses. I've been mildly farsighted since my college years, when I found that I was getting headaches when doing heavy reading and computer work, so I've had prescription glasses for those kinds of scenarios ever since then. My prescription has changed a few times in the years since, but never much, and my last pair of glasses (acquired in 2009!) only themselves became necessary when my previous pair (acquired in 2001!) became scratched to the point that they were annoying to wear.

Last time I visited the actual eye doctor for an eye exam, though, he indicated that I had in the course of time and age and all that stuff gone from farsighted to being mildly nearsighted, which explained why I'd been noticing that stuff in the distance was increasingly blurry. The worst effect of this was driving and noticing that street signs and such were much harder for me to read than they had once been. So, enter The Wife's new job with its spiffy vision plan, and off to the optometrist. An hour or so of exam-stuff later ("Which is clearer? 1 or 2? 1 or 2? Read the bottom the next one How about now?"), another hour or so of looking at frames and talking about lens options, and a week for the new lenses to be ground, here I am, with new glasses.

New glasses, friends! And after being farsighted most of my life, my eyes have flipped the other way, so hello, progressive lenses! #eyeglasses #spectacles #newglasses #newglasseswhodis

And let me tell you, the difference for distance sight is amazing. I can see far off stuff with clarity that has been so long gone I didn't realize it, but now that it's back, I can't believe it.

I could have chosen basic glasses for distance sight, and then removed them every time I wanted to read or write, but that seemed a pain in the ass, and anyway, I like the way glasses look. It's much easier to look like your thinking thinkly things if you have a pair of glasses on! So I opted for dual lenses, which brought up the next option: bifocals or progressive lenses. I actually had bifocals for a time when I was in grade school, and while they worked, I really didn't like the constant sharp line across the lower part of my vision, so I decided to get the progressive lenses where there is a transition between the "reading" section at the lower part of the lens and the "distance" part that takes up the upper half. I'm on Day Three of these glasses as I write this, so I'm still working out the kinks. I'm finding that I can't really hold a book and my head at the same angles as before, and that I have to actually move my head slightly as I read if I'm holding the book at my usual closeness. This is kind of irritating on its own, so I'm trying to teach myself to hold books farther away from my eyes, which is also an adjustment. I'll get there, but for now I'm having moments of clarity alternating with moments of wondering why I can't see my book totally clearly, and figuring out why with a bit of finagling and fidgeting.

It'll be fine. One thing that makes me a little nervous is only having one pair, now that I'll be wearing these basically all the time. I figure I'll be careful this year, and then next year I'll get another exam and assuming that my prescription doesn't change much between now and then, I'll get a second pair and then either rotate them in and out or use one for work or...well, who knows. That's a year away. Let me just get through the next year without breaking these! Luckily my track record on breaking glasses is...OK. There was the pair that I broke in college when I had them in my backpack and unfortunately landed right on top of them when my feet hit a patch of ice and went right out from under me. And then there was when I was in second grade, and I left my glasses (brown horn-rims, no less!) on the living room floor when I went to get something and then came running back in, having forgotten they were there, and only had time to register my mother screaming "YOUR GLASSES!" before I felt the crunch of eyeglasses under my foot.

Two broken pairs in 48 years isn't bad, is what I'm trying to say.

Reading with the new specs. I'm still trying to figure out the 'sweet spots' for reading purposes.... #eyeglasses #spectacles #newglasses #newglasseswhodis

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Something for Thursday

The 1957 musical Funny Face is kind of an odd duck of a movie. It seems to me a bit underrated, coming as it did when the musical was likely on the decline, but it's still an entertaining film loaded with great songs. Every time I see it I'm struck anew by the lack of...well, chemistry between the leads. I yield to no one in my love and admiration for Fred Astaire, and my feelings on Audrey Hepburn border on worship, but in all honesty, the age difference between the two stands out like a sore thumb in this movie. Astaire was thirty years older than Hepburn, and by 1957 Astaire was nearing 60, so the age difference is very noticeable. I've often wondered how the movie would be seen today if it had starred Gene Kelly instead of Astaire, but of course, we'll never know--and it's not as if this flaw sinks the movie anyway. Astaire at near-60 is still Fred Astaire, after all.

And Audrey Hepburn is still Audrey Hepburn.

Here is Ms. Hepburn with "How Long Has This Been Going On."

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

I am constantly amazed at the sheer output of Antonin Dvorak. Music poured out of the man, and his gift for melodic drama set with wonderful orchestration never, ever fails to delight. Even so, I was unprepared for the degree to which this piece--which, to my knowledge, I had never heard before a couple weeks ago--forced its way into my imagination. It's called The Golden Spinning Wheel, and it is based on a Czech folktale that was gathered into a book by Czech poet K.J. Erben. As folktales go, it's pretty satisfyingly grim, with a young maiden capturing the heart of the king and being murdered by her evil stepmother for her troubles, only to be resurrected by a magician. You can read the entire tale here...but meanwhile, give a listen to Dvorak's tone poem, which is thrilling and adventurous and romantic in all the wonderful meanings of the word. At times this work is so swashbuckling in its sound that you can practically see Errol Flynn, rapier in hand, as he disposes of the evil soldiers as he fights his way to his love's side.

Music like this is what keeps me coming back to classical music, year in and year out. I hope you'll give it a listen. Here is The Golden Spinning Wheel by Antonin Dvorak.

Monday, January 13, 2020

It's toasted!

So I tried a new beer:

This stuff is OK. It's pleasant and nice. I'd put it on the same level as Yuengling Lager, but since it's three bucks more, I don't know if I'll get it again. #beer #yum #bluepointbrewery

Well, it's new to me, anyway. It's not "new". Blue Point Brewing of Long Island has been around since 1998, although now it's a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch. I've seen this label with its pleasant-looking fishing sign look in the beer section at The Store a few times, and this week I decided to give the Toasted Lager a try.

The word "toasted" puts me in mind of the first episode of Mad Men (the only episode I watched), when an ad executive in 1960-something (I think) is trying to come up with an ad campaign for a cigarette company, given that people are starting to suspect that cigarettes are actually very unhealthy. What he comes up with is to focus on the tobacco company's production method of toasting the tobacco: "It's toasted!"

Of course, this has nothing at all to do with the beer, which is so named apparently for the "toasted" nature of the brewery's first kettle. They say there's a blend of six "specialty malts" for a smooth drinking experience, but I don't know about that. I can report that the beer is pleasant and easily quaffed. I'm probably not drinking this stuff in seasonably appropriate fashion; lagers like this should be consumed in the fading light of a summer evening, not a January in Buffalo. But it probably does just fine in washing down a plate of wings, so...yeah.

Anyway, it's toasted!