Thursday, July 29, 2010


I worked with Branford Marsalis on a couple of TV projects, and I learned that he is a very driven man, one who wants to prove that he can do anything. Tonight he stretched boundaries by performing two orchestral pieces for alto saxophone. Tenor is his normal horn; I'd never heard him play alto before. The two pieces were the Glazunov concerto and a rarely-heard Sonata by Schulhoff.

Branford's playing from a technical standpoint was impeccable. He really learned these pieces perfectly, which is a necessity for a crossover artist who wishes to prove that he is capable in a different idiom. His tone quality was perfect, like a fine aged wine.

However, both pieces lack drama, and neither inspired the emotional playing that makes Branford such a good musician. The Glazunov in particular is a very dry piece that is more intellectual than emotional. The Schulhoff is a jazzy piece, but the orchestra had problems. The orchestration is weird enough; a small brass section, drum kit, two(?) basses, and a large woodwind section do not really blend well.

To make things worse, this small orchestra stayed in the basic large orchestra seating, which put the brass about 75' from the soloist. They never seemed together. They also never really got into the swing very well. The drummer did not help. Neither did the acoustics. Yesterday we sat quite close, but today we were further back, and the orchestra was still quite dry. The tent is open behind the orchestra, and of course there is no back to the tent either (so that people on the lawn can see and hear). There is a simple fix for this; the Boston Symphony has done this for at least three decades at the Esplanade: add reverb. It might seem like an odd idea, but without it, an orchestra does not seem like an orchestra. There is amplification, although I think it is underutilized, so it would be easy to add some concert hall to the sound of the orchestra.

Nonetheless, Branford sounded great, and the crowd very much enjoyed his playing.

Things changed drastically after the intermission. Conductor Andrey Boreyko led the orchestra quite well in the two suites from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. The entire performance was fantastic. Boreyko is a very emotional conductor and drew the best out of the orchestra. The encore, from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, was just as good, and a highlight of the evening.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


To continue our anniversary celebration, my wife and I saw the New York Phil conducted by Bram Tovey tonight, whom I have reviewed twice before, conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. He was much better tonight. I'm not sure if he was simply in a better mood (he was quite funny) or if he likes Vail, or the NY Phil better, or if he's more comfortable with a smaller crowd, but he seemed much more at ease and more emotionally connected with the operatic excerpts performed tonight.

The star of the night though was lyric soprano Nicole Cabell (originally from Panorama City, CA), whose voice was delicious. She sang numerous arias, including Mozart, Donizetti and Puccini, all with perfect tone and pitch and a gorgeous fluidity. She also used a nice dynamic range that went from the intimate to the back of the hall.

The orchestra played nicely, particularly on the finale from Massenet's LE CID. Much of this music was new to me, as was the venue. The tent is not as good as Aspen's acoustically, but we were seated quite close and it felt very personal.

Last night we went to a chamber music concert that was equally appealing. It was a trio with Zuill Bailey on cello, Orion Weiss on piano, and Anne Akiko Meyers on violin. The cellist was very emotional, although he had pitch problems on his high string in some of the songs he played by Brahms and Mendlessohn. But overall he played very well.

They also played a ragtime piece by Paul Schoenfield that I had never heard before. It was quite a nice piece. The major piece of the evening was a trio by Tchaikovsky that I had never heard before. It was longer than I expected but everyone played quite well on it, particularly the pianist.

So far the trip has been great. Tomorrow we will see one more concert, then head home.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Thanks to Netflix instant, I could see the original Swedish film before the American remake screws things up.

I have not read the book (my wife has) but I've heard a lot of good things about it. Even with a 2 1/2 hour movie, it's pretty clear that there is a lot left out in the film. For the most part, it flows well, but it's also clear that the many members of the family are not very well fleshed out in the film and that there are things missing. However there is only one ellipse near the end of the film that is disturbing, but I can overlook that in the long run. It's hard to say much more without blowing any surprises.

The cast is excellent, and the characters are complex and clearly there is more to come in the sequels. I would recommend the film for fans of the genre.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I don't get it.

I went to look at the reviews of Vicky Cristina Barcelona after finally seeing it, trying to figure out what I missed. Apparently what I missed is that the film is a comedy.

Where's the funny?

The script is really weak (I don't understand all the nominations and awards it got). The acting is quite good, and it's beautifully shot, but that's about all I can say for it. The characters do not at all seem real and seem to have no motivations for doing anything they choose to do in the movie. It also has perhaps the least satisfying ending of any Woody Allen film, although to be honest the film lost me long before that point.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rockies Win 6th in a Row!

The Colorado Rockies won their 6th straight game tonight against the San Diego Padres, who are in 1st place, but now only by a game, with one more game against the Rox tomorrow before the All-Star break.

Hammel pitched 6.1 innings and gave up only 2 runs. Belisle, Beimel and Street were all perfect in relief. LeBlanc pitched well for the Padres, but gave up 3 home runs, which accounted for all 4 Rockies runs. CarGo and Mora each had one homer, with the other from Eldred, whom I saw hit a towering homer in spring training, and again tonight left no doubt about his power when he launched the ball into right field.

It was a gorgeous night for a ball game, with 45,000 attending, including a record 10,000 tickets in walk-up sales.

The Rockies seem to be doing very well. Tomorrow if they win, they will go to the All-Star break tied for first place. That would make for a nice break!

Sunday, July 04, 2010


After watching three fairly crappy contemporary comedies (STEP BROTHERS, TROPIC THUNDER, and THE HANGOVER), I decided to cleanse the palette by going to the DVD box set my wife gave me for Christmas, and watch a Preston Sturges film. There are still a few I haven't seen, even though I would rank him as among my favorite writer/directors, and would rank Sullivan's Travels as one of the most important films ever made.

This being July 4th, I could not turn down the opportunity to watch CHRISTMAS IN JULY. I can't believe how good this movie is. It's not even one of his best movies, but it's so much better than anything I've seen in ages. The opening 15 minutes are a textbook example of brilliant writing. Although technically there are scene changes, it's essentially one long scene with a few intercuts. The entire scene is dialogue between two characters, the male and female leads, sitting on a roof.

What's most amazing about this sequence is that it keeps your attention for the full 15 minutes. Even in 1940 it would have been a challenge to keep the audience watching for that long. But Sturges accopmplishes it by having the scene cover three entirely different emotional moods. The plot of the movie is about the hero entering a contest to write a slogan for a coffee company. The opening is a silly explanation from our hero as to his entry in a slogan contest. It's moderately amusing, but the real undertone of the scene is actually quite sad. His slogan is so bad, we know that he has no chance of winning. So what we really learn is that he is a lovable loser.

Then the same scene transitions to a completely different mood; it becomes almost maudlin as he tells his girlfriend that they could never possibly get married on his $22/week salary, and that because they were born into poverty they are doomed to stay in it. This opens an important sub-theme of the film: that you are only as good as people believe that you are. It's a very pessimistic view of society, and it gives a "comedy" an undercurrent of tragedy throughout. Yet somehow Sturges is a brilliant enough writer that he pulls off this mood change.

And in a tour-de-force, he then changes mood yet again in the same scene, when the young lovers' argument turns into a romantic flirtation. By the end of this 15-minute opening, you can't help but be in love with this couple.

The plot of the film is based on frustration comedy. The hero believes that he has won the $25,000 prize for writing a coffee slogan (the equivalent of a lifetime of salary for him) but the audience knows that it is just three of his jerky "friends" pulling a prank on him. Again, it's a very sad undercurrent in what's supposed to be a comedy.

I never thought that I would be crying in the third act of a Sturges comedy, but he really knows how to switch gears emotionally in the film. Only moments later I was literally leaping in the air and cheering the ending.

One of the things I found most interesting is that of the last four comedies I viewed, by far the strongest female character was in this 70-year old film. The female lead has a fantastic monologue at the end of the film that completely turns the film around. She's empowered in a way that no woman in contemporary movies would ever be allowed to be.

I know I'm an old fart, but why can't they make movies like this any more?


It's hard to review a movie that has been out for a long time. The general word of mouth on this film was so good that I could only be let down, and I was. Although it's got a much better story than most of the current comedies out there, this film lacked anything resembling depth. The characters are all one-dimensional and show little growth throughout the film. It's not really that funny, but being told as a mystery in reverse does keep your interest.

Of the four friends that go to Vegas for a bachelor party, three of them are virtually interchangeable, and the one that we think is the main character disappears for most of the movie, so I'm left wondering who I'm supposed to care about. One of them is just plain crazy and has a character that doesn't really make sense. He's a grown geek who doesnt curse, but he takes three Extacy tablets a day? I'm supposed to believe this?

Another is a school teacher who steals his kids money to gamble in Vegas and spends most of the movie talking about how his wife and kid have ruined his life. Finally there's Ed Helm, who creates the most well-fleshed character in the film, even though he allows himself to be abused by his girlfriend, so it's har to care about him either.

And where are the women in this movie? We go to Vegas and we get a sausage-fest! Yeah, Heather Graham is in the movie for about a minute, but this is not at all what I expected. I wonder why women like this movie; they are painted as controlling bitches or prostitutes.

So it may have a few interesting scenes, but the movie really does not stand up very well.