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Stewart/Cramer

Heh. I think it's fair to say that Jim Cramer got utterly sonned by Jon Stewart last night. The culmination of what was billed as the "weeklong feud of the century" turned out to be a groundbreaking interview of real journalistic importance and quality....maybe it's a paradigm shift in financial journalism. Let's hope.

Everyone should watch this; it's a good look at how much the media has exacerbated an already dangerous financial meltdown. Why? To generate ratings...or, maybe...to hang the most pressing financial crisis in eighty years around the neck of a Democratic President by whom Wall Street is terrified of actually being held to accountable standards.

I like Jim Cramer, and I think he's uproariously entertaining. If I happen to be channel-surfing and land on his show, the chances are that I'm not going to change the channel. The key is that I recognize his schtick as entertainment; there are many, many people who don't. There's a reason Mad Money is far and away the highest-rated show on CNBC: because unfortunate, unsophisticated investors have subscribed to the Gospel of Cramer, enthralled by his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of Wall Street and his over-the-top antic. Jim Cramer and many others have turned the world of finance into a freak-show of buy buy buy/sell sell sell NOW!!! instant-gratification bullshit.

But Jon Stewart is right: "it's not a fucking game." I work in a securities litigation firm; I've sat across the conference table while eighty-year old women break down in tears, their entire life savings depleted through the malfeasance of crooked brokers and the poor performance of the markets. I've met people who simply have nothing left. It's heartbreaking.

I can only hope that Cramer and his cadre are truly chastened by this drubbing by Stewart, and go back to merely reporting the news as it occurs--please, stop filling the minds of inexperienced investors with purely speculative crap.

PART I:
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Dudamel Rehearsing Mahler 5 in London

The incomparable, young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, classical music's biggest new star, leading the London Philharmonia in a rehearsal of Mahler's Fifth, perhaps my favorite piece. He also leads a master class in conducting.

Simply fantastic. He's only six years older than me, and he's already basically the second coming of Bernstein--an incredible musician and excellent educator and pedagogue. Not to mention the fact that he's the best Mahler conductor since Bernstein--particularly in the Fifth. I can hardly wait for him to record the Second, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth; his Third with the La Scala Orchestra in Milan was revelatory.


Why not have another fun little Dudamel video while we're at it? Here's Dudamel at the 2007 BBC Proms in London with his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, conducting Arturo Marquez's Danzon No. 2.





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Ohhhh Hell Yes


This totally makes my day....and stimulates the West Wing fanboy in me unlike anything I've seen.

Major Barack Obama love. I LOVE this country. We've got some serious problems, and some true hang ups, but we're finally starting to work through them. Obama was a big step for us.

I think I'll go off and start a West Wing marathon.



Haha yeah, so...why did I do this?

So, I originally created this blog to focus on music. But I've already decided to just write about whatever. It's not like I'm suddenly going to attract dozens of people to watch me or friend me because they're drooling over my witty and trenchant music criticism.

Anyways.....pretty much the center of my life is choosing what law school to go to. Right now, I'm pretty much a lock for Seattle University. Still waiting to hear back from six schools, but only two or three of those schools are going to take me away from Seattle next year. And, really, that's not a likely scenario. I'm beginning to feel as if my mind, and perhaps more importantly, my heart, is made up.

So yeah....I need to decide where I'm going to live next year, quickly. Going to Seattle in a couple of weeks will help.

Why I love Simon Rattle

Simon Rattle is without doubt my favorite conductor working today, even though I frequently disagree with his interpretive choices. He's just so damn entertaining to watch, and few conductors give the orchestra a better idea of what they're looking for through body language.

Sir Simon Rattle/Berliner Philharmoniker
Ravel: La valse
taped during the Berlin Philharmonic's 2005 tour of Japan and Asia
From the glory that is YouTube:
 
 
 
I think it would be good to start collecting my thoughts on various classical CDs I've collected, now that I'm approaching 1,000 CDs. I'll start with a staple in any music lover's collection and a reliable favorite of mine, Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in A minor, popularly subtitled the "Tragic" Symphony. Reviews will be organized in alphabetical order by conductor, and the rating system will be out of a possible 5 stars for artistic quality of performance, and 5 for quality of recorded sound. Obviously, ratings are entirely subjective, particularly in the artistic quality. I figure I'll include some of the best and worst recordings--there's really no need to review the pedestrian, middle-of-the-road recordings.

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Claudio Abbado/Berliner Philharmoniker
A sentimental favorite, Abbado deservingly won the Grammophone award for this inspired reading of the Sixth in 2005. Perhaps no active conductor today nails Mahler's idiosyncratic shifts of mood and tone like Abbado. The sound quality is quite good as well, particularly in the finale. Moreover, the hammerblows at the climax of the finale have never sounder more powerful or menacing as they have here. The adagio movement is the most achingly beautiful interpretation I've heard, brisk but far from rushed.
Artistic Quality: 5
Sound Quality: 5




Leonard Bernstein/Wiener Philharmoniker
Bernstein's second Mahler cycle is legendary; his recordings of the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth with the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic are considered some of the finest interpretations of Mahler ever performed. The thing that shines about this performance of the Sixth is that Bernstein is determined to highlight the smallest details of Mahler's intricate scoring; this is especially apparent in the chilling introduction to the finale movement, perhaps the most atmospheric on disc.
Artistic Quality: 5
Sound Quality: 4




Valery Gergiev/London Symphony Orchestra
Gergiev begins both his recording career as the Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra as well has the LSO's first complete Mahler cycle with this harrowing performance. Tempos of all four movements are taken at a brisk pace; the LSO's pulsating low strings evoke menace unlike any other performance. Gergiev could perhaps slow down a bit in the finale, and the slow movement isn't nearly as well-controlled and beautifully phrased as Abbado's performance with Berlin. Overall, one of the finest Mahler Sixths available, and certainly the best of the 21st Century besides Abbado/Berlin. The recorded sound is excellent; I have the Hybrid SACD version.
Artistic Quality: 4.5
Sound Quality: 5



Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
I love Michael Tilson Thomas. I love his Mahler; his Mahler Seventh with the LSO in the 70s was utterly revelatory, the finest reading of the work ever committed to disc, and his Fifth with the SFSO is particularly fine. But this recording of the Sixth is, in my opinion, an overrated misfire. This Sixth won the Grammy a few years back, and is arguably the most successful release in the Thomas/SFSO cycle, which is a wonder considering its halting phrasing and odd tempo shifts. On the plus side, the recording values are quite good, but far from the standard of Gergiev/LSO. I also bought the Hybrid SACD version of this CD, but even in multi-channel, the sound quality failed to live up to the Londoners.
Artistic Quality: 2.5
Sound Quality: 3.5



Pierre Boulez/Wiener Philharmoniker
A disappointment, especially after reading several reviews calling this "the" Mahler Sixth. Boulez's Mahler cycle has been described as "cool" Mahler, a departure from the norm. But, honestly, if you're going to buy a High Romantic period recording of what is undoubtedly Mahler's most hyper-emotional symphony, do you want it any other way than "hot?" I think not. The finale becomes a snooze-fest...which bodes terribly for the rest of the work. Moreover, I thought the sound production values were rather terrible.
Artistic Quality: 1.5
Sound Quality: 2


Here's a fun video of the beginning of the finale, Christoph Eschenbach and l'Orchestre de Paris.






Sarasota Orchestra, conducted by Leif Bjaland
with Lara St. John, violin
Van Wezel Performing Arts Center

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Lara St. John, violin solo)
Holst: The Planets


Leif Bjaland led the Sarasota Orchestra in a program featuring the evolution of programmatic music, from its beginnings in Vivaldi's four seasonal violin concerti, to its pinnacle, Gustav Holst's beloved Planets suite. An HD projector provided an interesting backdrop for the performance; excerpts from Vivaldi's poetry which inspired the Four Seasons appeared with its corresponding passages in music. Images of desolate craters and canyons taken by NASA mission to our solar system neighbors accompanied The Planets.

The program began with the Vivaldi, featuring soloist Lara St. John, a Canadian-born, Curtis Institute graduate. St. John's idiosyncratic interpretation of the Vivaldi was wild and quite exciting, if not technically polished. Many times, St. John's improvised and spontaneous playing of the solo part would give it the character of a 20th century concerto; several times after slightly missing pitches and improvising, the Vivaldi reminded me of passages from both the Schoenberg and Stravinsky violin concerti. What St. John lacked in precision she certainly made up for in stage presence and passion. Stray horse-hairs from her bow needed to be removed several times, and there were moments when she bowed her beautiful 1779 Guadagnini so earnestly that I feared she would break a string. Overall, the orchestra proved a fine accompaniment, besides the too-quiet basso continuo harpsichord played with timid but predicable steadiness by Sarasota Orchestra principal keyboardist Jonathan Spivey and the playing of the concertmaster, who was clearly out-classed by St. John in the many call and response passages between the soloist and first chair.

The Planets was a surprise triumph by the Sarasota Orchestra. Often in the past, I've questioned conductor Leif Bjaland's judgment in 20th century pieces, particularly in tempo-choice. But besides a rather lethargic "Mercury, the Winged Messenger" and a bit rushed "Saturn, Bringer of Death," the tempi were for the most part satisfying. "Mars, Bringer of War" opened the piece with truly glowing malevolence, bolstered by the fine work of the percussion and low-brass. The orchestra obviously relished the intensity of the movement, which was even more clear after they fell over themselves in "Venus, Bringer of Peace," the only true weak point of the night. Granted, achieving a sense of dream-like stillness while preventing the music from becoming saccharine or even boring makes "Venus" easily the most difficult movement, the Orchestra clearly didn't feel the emotions needed to carry the movement off. It felt mailed in, and I found myself to be rather relieved when it was finished, even in spite of the beautiful playing of the horn section throughout.

I like my "Mercury" fleet-footed and sprightly, but this "Mercury" merely succeeded in being jaunty. The strings clearly struggled with some of the runs, but as in so many other Sarasota Orchestra concerts, the truly remarkable woodwind battery saved the movement--especially Adam de Sorgo and Bharat Chandra's masterful oboe and clarinet, respectively. Here, Bjaland made perhaps his biggest artistic mistake of the night by failing to imbue the climactic build-up in "Mercury" with the sense of a great release or exhalation of energy before the movement bustled to a close.

"Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity" whisked by with no real quibbles, and with some rather inspired playing by the brass. The trio section was appropriately wistful and nostalgic, not too slow, and rather dry-eyed. "Saturn, Bringer of Death" was marred by an unfortunate tempo choice by Maestro Bjaland that turned the central funeral-march into something of a funeral-dash. The ponderous and slow crescendo into the "ticking-clocks" motif was simply too swift to convey the proper sense of brooding and inevitability that the movement calls for.

"Uranus, the Magician" was the high-point of the night. The musicians clearly put everything they had into the gallumphing, mock-serious dance--a sort of Sorcerer's Apprentice à la Holst, culminating in a truly earth-shattering finale. "Neptune, the Mystic" as ethereal and distant, although rather forgettable. The Women of the Key Chorale were completely drown out by the orchestra until about two minutes after their entrance, which is a shame because the entrance of the angelic, disembodied voices can be one of the truly remarkable moments in the piece.

Considering Maestro Bjaland's special affinity with Impressionist music, I would have expected "Mercury" to be executed in a bit more playful and spirited manner, but overall the concert was one of the best I have ever heard the Sarasota Orchestra play; the highlights of the performance were absolutely the woodwinds and low brass.

Rating:
Vivaldi: 3 out of 5 stars
Holst: 4 out of 5 stars

OVERALL: 3.5/5