Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Tonight was the 13th Rockies game I attended this year, rounding out my mini-plan, and it was a lucky 13, in the 11th inning anyway. The Rockies took a 5-2 lead into the 9th, only to see Huston Street blow the save against the Brewers. Jason Marquis had his troubles early on, loading the bases in two innings, but managed to make it through 6 innings with only 2 runs given up. With Atlanta losing, this broadens their lead to 3 games in wild card race.

Chris Ianetta was the hero in the 11th, hitting a walk-off pinch-hit homer.

The crowd was for a playoff run game at 39,000, but was quite loud at times.

I hope to see more games in post-season!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


It's been a while since I recorded ACROSS THE UNIVERSE on my DVR, and even longer since it came out, so I'm way behind on reviewing this, but it's pretty much a complete mess. I love Julie Taymor, especially TITUS and FRIDA (maybe she should stick to five-letter titles), but this is a misfire.

One could argue that this should have been easy with all the Beatles music, but the truth is that Beatles covers are very hard to pull off, and this movie supports that. A much bigger problem than the music is the story itself, which is maudlin and portentous. The dialogue scenes are so bad, it's like they cut the dialogue scenes out of a porno and stuck them in here. The musical sequences are better, but the best ones happen in the second half of the film, long after I had lost interest in anything going on.

Early on the visual design is not very creative, but again it gets better later on. Perhaps the most inspired sequence turns "I Want You" into an army recruiting song with robot-like automatons dancing in army uniforms.

I can't recommend this.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thiele Mandolin Concerto

A few days ago I went to an open rehearsal of the Colorado Symphony for their performance of the new Chris Thiele Mandolin Concerto. I was going to write a review based on the rehearsal, but decided to wait in case I went to a performance over the weekend. I'm glad I waited, and I'm glad I went to the performance, as it was much better than the rehearsal.

I do have a bit of a problem with the whole concept, though. The mandolin is an incredibly intimate instrument, and a large orchestra in a large hall, especially Boettcher, seems like a match made in hell. It certainly seemed that way in rehearsal. You could only hear the highest, sharpest notes on the soloist, and almost everything else was lost. The orchestra seemed to overpower, even without brass. It seemed that a chamber piece would be more appropriate, performed in a smaller hall. And, based on comments I heard about Thursday's performance, the problem was still there.

Tonight sounded different, although my seats were in a different place. I has high on the side, directly in front of the side-facing speakers. It seems like they solved the problem by over-amplifying the mandolin to the point where it was very unnatural. However, the piece itself, except for the over-orchestration, was fascinating. The composer/performer is essentially untrained as a composer, and played his instrument for a decade before learning to read music. He's a very popular bluegrass musician who took a big chance writing this piece.

He's also a marvelous performer, very engaging on stage, and an absolute virtuoso on the instrument. He's the kind of person who was meant to be on stage, he's an absolute natural who makes the virtuosic look simple.

The piece was essentially atonal, and very complex, not at all what you would expect based on his background. He also did three encores, one by Bach, one with fiddle, and one with piano (presumably Kahane playing, but they performed under our seats, so we couldn't see).

This was a long concert, perhaps the longest I've been to at the hall. For me it started with a backstage tour for some of my students, which was fascinating, as they are recording the concert in surround for their archives.

The concert itself began with a big piece, the Aaron Copland piece Suite from Billy the Kid. Copland is one of my favorite composers, but I do not know this piece that well. The rehearsal had some problems with the percussion section staying together, but tonight's performance went very well (although from our seats, the timpani and brass were very muddy).

One has to wonder about the programming of the night. In addition to being a very long concert (plus encores), it seems that such a big work would have been better later in the program. The second half opened with a nice piece by the orchestra's principal percussionist, William Hill's Four Moments Musical. This seems like it would have been a better opener for the concert; in addition to being a fanfare (literally) it is brief, features brass and percussion, and would have made a nice transition into the Copland. I liked this piece a lot, especially the third movement, featuring a beautiful melody for trombone, and the rhythmic nature of the second and fourth movements.

The first half concluded with the Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue in the original small orchestration for jazz band. To me, this was the highlight of the evening. Last year I raved about Kahane's performance of the Concerto in F, and this year I was just as happy to hear another of my favorite composer's pieces performed. This is the first time I've heard this version live. It was very interesting. I'd love to hear someone do a new orchestration for contemporary jazz band - there are a few dated elements in this version (banjo that is inaudible) but otherwise it's more interesting that the more famous orchestral version. Kahane's playing was a tiny bit sloppier on the runs than I expected - he sounded better in rehearsal, technically. And the piano was very bright where we were sitting, probably due to the necessary amplification in the hall. Kahane is a phenomenal interpreter; it was exciting to hear someone play sections of this piece differently than anyone else (although some tempi did seem rushed).

The clarinetist was amazing, and Kahane very graciously invited him to encore in the Preludes, re-arranged for clarinet and piano. I've always liked these pieces, and the idea to put them on clarinet was quite brilliant.

Overall it was a great concert, although long. But I sure got my money's worth!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Colorado Symphony Orchestra

Tonight was opening weekend for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's 2009 season; the (sadly) final season under conductor Jeffrey Kahane.

It was an excellent and sizable concert. It opened with the John Adams minimalist piece, A Short Trip in a Fast Machine. The piece is now over 20 years old, but still feels fairly new, although it is perhaps the most overplayed minimalist piece. I'm not a huge fan of the movement, and I really dislike Philip Glass. Like John Cage, his music is more interesting to talk about than it is to listen to. Glass's biggest weakness is his lack of orchestration skills, kind of the opposite of Bernard Herrmann, one of my favorite composers, who could be described as minimalist, but was a brilliant orchestrator.

I remember hearing the Adams piece on the radio 20 years ago without knowing what it was and thought "That's the best piece I've heard by Philip Glass." I was not completely surprised to find out it was someone else. I remember thinking that the orchestration was much better than Glass.

Tonight it was interesting to hear it live. I was a little surprised that the orchestration was not as good as I remembered. Last year I wrote about a new piece that sounded too much like this one and that it overused the orchestra. Adams definitely overwrites here; seeing it live I realized there were sections that the entire string section was playing but all I could hear were the horns. I also noticed a contrabassoon playing that was completely inaudible at any point in the piece. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining and brief way to open the season. And the orchestra, as always, sounded wonderful.

This was followed by Ingrid Fliter's performance of the Schumann A Minor Piano Concerto. Schumann is not my favorite composer of the era, but this is certainly his most popular piece. Fliter gave an excellent performance of the piece. She was even better in her solo encore of a Chopin Waltz. The rubato showed off her interpretation skills, yet she played it faster than I've ever heard, even putting Pollini to shame.

However, the highlight of the evening was the second half, two pieces by Respighi. The first was a Denver premiere, the Brazilian Impressions. I had never heard this piece; as the title implies, it is quite impressionistic, and unlike the other more famous Respighi pieces. Parts of it reminded me of Gershwin's Cuban Overture, others reminded me of Debussy. It was a wonderful find.

The finale was the Pines of Rome, with Kahane joking about how overplayed the piece is. The orchestra played the showpiece exceptionally well, especially the ending, with the percussion and brass sounding as good as I have ever heard the piece.

It was an exciting start to the season, and I look forward to our next concert!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

KARAJAN, or "Beauty, as I See It"

I finally got around to something I Tivoed a few weeks ago, an episode of Great Performances about the great conductor Herbert von Karajan. I was surprised at the end to see that it was directed by a man I had worked with on the underrated TV version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS a couple of years ago, Robert Dornhelm. (He had also directed the excellent CBS miniseries on Anne Frank.)

This was a very good examination of von Karajan as a conductor. Parts of it are almost comical in that he takes himself so seriously, but he really was one of the truly great conductors of the 20th century. If you are a fan of orchestral music, it's worth hunting this down and watching it. They did gloss over some of the issues in his life that were important; including barely mentioning his membership in the Nazi party. They did not mention his involvement in popularizing the compact disc, and they barely mentioned the orchestra's problems when he tried to hire a female clarinetist in the group.

But it is still very interesting.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Rockies Win Again

The Rockies won again today, beating the Reds 3-1. Jason Marquis put in a stellar performance, going 7.1 innings and giving up only 4 hits and 1 run. He struck out 7. The Reds could not get their offense going until Marquis tired in the 8th, coming back to the mound having thrown 105 pitches.

The Rockies offense fared better, with Young getting 2 hits, including a home run. The crowd was small at 23,000, but sounded much bigger.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


New Rockies starter Jose Contreras, in his first game as a Rockie, looked like the man who helped the White Sox win the World Series a couple of years ago, with the Rox winning 4-1. This not only keeps the Wild Card lead over the Giants, it helps tremendously to plug a hole in the rotation left by the injured Aaron Cook. The top of the batting order was productive, with CarGo getting a leadoff homer in the 1st, Seth Smith getting 3 hits and an RBI including his homer, and Todd Helton getting 2 RBI.

The crowd of 39,000 enjoyed the beautiful evening.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Erich Kunzel

You can read his obituary at the Washington Post by clicking above.

Kunzel may not have been the best conductor in the world, but he did introduce regular performances of film music to the concert hall, and helped popularize the music through recordings and tours. He will be missed.

We saw him last year conducting music from STAR TREK. You can read that review here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Rockies Beat Mets

The Rockies got a badly needed win tonight against the Mets, winning 8-3 and breaking a 5-game losing streak that had them tied with the Giants for the wild card. With the Giants losing, they regain the WC slot.

De la Rosa threw a lot of balls, and gave up 2 runs in the first, but held it together well enough to go 6 innings and give up only those two runs.

Gonzalez and Helton batted homers to give the Rox a big lead. The Rockies also got two runs forced in with bases-loaded walks in separate innings, including Jason Giambi's first at-bat as a Rockie.

Two more games against the Metropolitans.

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