Saturday, March 28, 2009


A fine concert by the Minnesota Orchestra Friday evening, March 27. First, we were treated to an excellent performance of Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 2 in A major. William Wolfram was the pianist.
He’s a great stylist and his authority and flexibility were amply displayed handling a piece with a wide range of emotions.

Andrew Litton conducted one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s symphonies, Number 11 in G Minor, designated Opus 103. It’s sometimes called “The Year 1905.” The conductor gave an example-punctuated explanation of the themes and structure of the piece just prior to its full and eminently capable rendition by the orchestra. There are several folk songs layered into the piece, musical themes that would be instantly recognized by the Russian people. The piece, played in one continuous movement, has interesting political baggage.

He wrote it in 1957 to memorialize a bloody massacre in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1905. A peaceful protest by Russian Peasants was torn asunder by Cossack troops. The massacre laid the foundation for the 1917 revolution which led to the overthrow of the rule of the Czar and the brief establishment of a representative democracy and the rise of what the world called Communism in Russia.

The symphony is cinematic in approach and it’s easy to “see” the scenes of unarmed peaceful protesters approaching the palace square, the alarm and the murder of hundreds of people who had gathered simply to plead with the Czar for help from starvation. The symphony was produced in 1957, the year that the USSR launched their Sputnik satellite.

The symphony has not had frequent performances in the US due in part to our perceptions of the Communist threat, to Democracy. Yet there are scholars who believe that Shostakovich was doing more than memorializing the 1905 massacre. 1957 was the year the Soviet tank battalions crushed the abortive Hungarian revolution, and many feel the composer was sending a message of chastisement over that brutal parallel.

In any case, the music is rousing, quiet, lamenting and highly emotionally evocative by turns, full of dynamic images. Not the symphony one would want to frequently hear, but like important historical events, something to be repeated from time to time and savored, both for its implied messages and for the richness of the experience. The orchestra was in full voice, responding as did the audience, to the power of the piece. Nearly every section is required to introduce or develop themes and they all responded to the challenge. It was a thrilling climax to a well-designed evening of music.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Music In The Park continued its fine chamber series Sunday, March 23, with a concert by the Chiara String Quartet. The quartet, currently in residence in Lincoln Nebraska, is made up of Rebecca Fischer, Julie Yoon, Jonah Sirota and Gregory Beaver.

Juilliard trained, the quartet performed works by Mozart, Pierre Jalbert and Erich Korngold. Jalbert’s “Icefield Sonnets,” was inspired by the poetry of Andrew Hawley. He was present and read his work before each of the three performed sonnets.

Korngold, raised in the Viennese school just prior to the Second World War, escaped to Los Angeles where he became an important composer of film scores.

The quartet is known for playing chamber music in any chamber has performed in jazz clubs, bars, galleries, churches and other locations not known for offering chamber music concerts. A most interesting afternoon of small group music.
I just read an interesting piece from the Washington Post about what's really going on at AIG in the dastardly Financial Services division in particular. If true, it's ample evidence why we and the Congress ought to get off their backs. The article also demonstrates that several higher-level executives of AIG were either incompetent or paying no attention to what was happening in the company. It also shows that the current CEO needs some lessons in public diplomacy, what we commonly call Public Relations.

Personally, I think AIG ought to outsource fixing of its problems to a good CPA firm. I can recommend a couple, right here in Minnesota!

Saturday, March 14, 2009


What is ... up ... ?
Lovers of the English language might enjoy this. It is yet another example of why people learning English have trouble with the language. Learning the nuances of English makes it a difficult language. But then, that's probably true of many languages.

There is a two-letter word in English that perhaps has more meanings than any other Two-letter word, and that word is "UP." To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. It is listed in the dictionary
as being used as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It's easy to understand the meaning of UP: toward the sky or at the top of the list. But when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

We call UP our friends and we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has a real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special. And this UP is confusing: a drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning, but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it wets UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now. My time is UP, so time to shut UP!

Don't screw UP.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


By John Klawitter
Double Dragon Publishing
Trade Paper edition
296 pages, October, 2008

Consider Brando Mahr. Badly brain damaged in Viet Nam, he has rehabilitated, mostly by his own efforts, and now is metamorphosed into one of perhaps hundreds doing what he does. He lives in California, where he has a sort of career as a producer/director/talent scout for movie studios and for television. Mahr has developed a number of interesting contacts.

After he was whisked out of that Southeastern jungle, he woke adrift and unable to either talk or think straight for a very long time. Ultimately he found a job in the bowels of the UCLA library where he retaught himself basic communication skills by reading 18th Century English stories. They’re called Penny Dreadnaughts. Hence his language is sometimes difficult and he’s sometimes given to epileptic episodes.

Enter ex-lineman Ripper Brown who wants Brando to produce a film of his, Brown’s, magnificent career in the NFL. Okay but when Brando starts doing research odd happenings occur, including the murder of Ripper’s toothsome wife. Naturally Brando is eyeballed by the LA cops for the killing and the dance is on.

The novel is a treasure of mordant humor, lovely tongue-in-cheek skewering of all manner of icons, obscure language and the introduction of an unusual and interesting protagonist. It starts slowly, and I had a little trouble getting going with it because the character development it possibly a little too long, but trust me, by the time you get to page 50, the momentum picks up, interest zooms and the ride begins.
At the heart if the story is a nifty scam built around a real NFL playoff game between the LA Rams and the Minnesota Vikings. The game was real, but the rest is pure fiction, the very enjoyable product of a sly, inventive mind.

As a final comment, I’ll just note that, given our penchant for categorization and precise labeling of everything, I pity the marketing department. Or, just label FOUL New, Fresh, Unusual.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dining With Devils
by Gordon Aalborg.
Five Star Mystery,
April, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-49414-749-4

Terror reigns supreme in this taut, finely written, novel of extremes. The story continues some of the characters met in “The Specialist.” One is moved to suggest that DwD is probably not apt dinner table conversation. This is a stark and riveting tale of attempted revenge, accidental murder and kidnapping, all entangled with deranged sadism of the worst possible kind. Yet it is written with sympathy and understanding.

Teague Kendall and his friend, Kirsten have come to Tasmania on a triumphant book tour, Kendall finally having made it to the big time. What he doesn’t realize, and why should he, is that his ex-wife Rose believes she deserves part of Kendall’s newly realized wealth. She sets out to somehow coerce her ex into parting with some money. This part of the story is a little unfocused, but that’s in keeping with Rose’s mental state, Rose, the vindictive, morally questionable nurse, hires a drugged up fellow who lives strictly hand to mouth in Tasmania’s bush, to shoot at Kendall. Not to kill him, just to get his attention.

Meanwhile, Kirsten has gone off caving with some local people, leading to a most unsettling discovery.

Aalborg has collected a fine cast of interesting and unusual characters to help him tell this story which at times meanders into interesting but occasionally irrelevant side streets. Not that there is much pavement out in the bush where a lot of the action takes place. The novel is constructed in parallel paths. For the reader there is clear foreshadowing of coming events that begin to take on a irrevocable and terrifying force of their own. We can see what’s coming and we fear mightily for several of the characters.

One of the unusual and appealing aspects of this novel is the absence of a clear hero; even the cops seem from time to time to miss clues that delay their intervention, that make the resolution that much more inevitable. We develop an unwillingness to look away, to stop turning the pages, until the dreaded conclusion is reached. The word is used too often in reviews but compelling is an adjective that comes to mind. And then there’s Bluey, the ultimate cranky Jack Terrier. The imagination of this author is something to behold and his off-beat and sometimes macabre humor adds a rich if mordant texture to the novel, something to be savored, as one would a fine meal or a top quality French wine.