Simon + Rhapsody In Blue @ 100

AMEN! by Carlos Simon; Simon Says by Paul Frerer

On February 12, my wife and I attended an Albany Symphony Orchestra concert entitled Simon + Rhapsody In Blue @ 100, under the direction of David Alan Miller. It took place at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady and was the first time we had seen the Grammy Award-winning orchestra at the Electric City venue.  Usually, we listen to the group at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall or Albany’s Palace Theatre.

Why Simon? Two reasons, the second of which I’ll note in due time.  The first is that the initial piece was AMEN! by Carlos Simon. He “is a GRAMMY-nominated composer, curator, and activist. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, his compositions range from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism. Simon is the Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.”

My wife thought the piece was Gershwinesque, and I don’t think she’s wrong, but judge for yourself. Listen to the UMich Symphony Band (2017) and the Gateways Music Festival (2019).

Next was An American In Paris by George Gershwin. I traveled to France last year so I could write a blog post with that title. Here’s hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada (2020).


After the intermission  came the second Simon. It was the world premiere of Simon Says, a concerto for Trombone and Orchestra by Jack Frerer (b. 1995). The music, as described by the composer, was a conversation between the music teacher (the trombone played by ASO’s Greg Spiridopolous) and the sometimes unwilling music students (the orchestra). That foreknowledge made the piece quite humorous, especially at the outset.

The grand piano was moved to center stage. Kevin Cole played a couple of medleys of Gershwin tunes, including Swanee, Fascinating Rhythm, But Not For Me, ‘S Wonderful, and Nice Work If You Can Get It, among others.


The week before the concert, my wife had heard on the radio that George Gershwin had “forgotten” that he had agreed to write a piece for band leader Paul Whiteman. George’s brother Ira saw Whiteman’s January 1924 announcement in a newspaper of a new jazz concerto.

That latter part is genuine: the January 4 edition of the New York Tribune. But per both the ASO program and the Wikipedia piece, George had declined Whiteman’s request for such work because the Gershwin brothers were busy working on a new musical.

In a telephone conversation the following day, Whiteman informed George Gershwin, “Whiteman’s arch-rival Vincent Lopez planned to steal the idea of his experimental concert, and there was no time to lose. Whiteman thus finally persuaded Gershwin to compose the piece.” He did, but he improvised the various piano solos, writing them down afterward.

Here’s a tease of the Cole/ASO concert recorded a week before the show.

Rhapsody In Blue: Gershwin on piano; 1st RECORDING -Paul Whiteman Orch. & George Gershwin piano (1924 version); Columbia Symphony Orchestra · Leonard Bernstein (1959). Ira’s contribution to the work.

One last thing: we also went to the concert to see our churchmate Tom in his ASO debut, playing banjo.

Albany Symphony: two Russian composers

Hannah Kendall

Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev, c. 1918

The Albany Symphony held a concert at the Palace Theatre in the city on February 12, featuring two Russian composers. My friend Lee was supposed to go, but he and his spouse were out of town. He gave us their tickets, and my wife and I went in their stead. We attended the pre-concert talk with conductor David Alan Miller and piano soloist Wei Luo.

The first piece was the 10-minute piece The Spark Catchers by the non-Russian Hannah Kendall (b. 1984). It was inspired by Lemn Sissay’s poem of the same name. It concerned the Bow Matchwomen’s Strike in East London of the late 1880s. Kendall was struck by the linguistic parallel of striking a match and a worker cessation.

The Spark Catchers as performed by Chineke! Orchestra c. 2020

This was followed by the Concerto for Piano No. 3 by Sergei  (1891-1953) from 1921. In the notes, the initial section shows “everything a pianist is done: cross-handed work… crashing chords, reaches to both ends of the keyboard and staccato playing.” No wonder Wei Luo, dressed in a very shiny red outfit, presumably for Valentine’s Day weekend, got an ovation after only the first movement.

Prokofiev died the same day as Joseph Stalin, two days before I was born. Thus the news of the composer’s death was somewhat muted in the Soviet press. Or maybe it was that the Communist Party had censured his work in 1948, seeking a “new style,” whatever that means. Possibly they thought it was his beautiful melodies that had “become distorted, and conventional tonality gives way to harmonic dissonance.”

Piano Concerto No. 3. Martha Argerich at the Singapore International Piano Festival 2018

And tell Tchaikovsky the news

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was one of the first composers whose work I could identify, first the 1812 overture, then the Nutcracker. I’m sure I have at least one recording of his Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique.” I did not know that he died nine days after the symphony’s debut, which the composer conducted.

His brother Modest blamed Pytor’s death on the composer drinking unboiled water during a cholera epidemic. But David Alan Miller doesn’t buy it. Was it suicide? The man was old before his time.

The second movement is in the unusual 5/4 meter. The theme of the third movement appears very early and it is very familiar to me. But doesn’t reach its full vigor until relatively near the end. It sounds like the end of the piece, and many patrons at ASO applauded. No, there is a fourth, slow movement that “fades away into nothingness.”

Pathetique, Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Yuri Temirkanov, conductor. Recorded in 1990

Normal-ish: Proctors, ASO, choir

No buffoon bassoon

ProctorsIn the past month, I had several days that I considered normal-ish. Familiar, though with a twist.

Th, 12/9: I went to the Proctors Theatre in nearby Schenectady. I’ve been going there to see for years to see touring musicals. Often I’ve had season tickets for the Thursday matinee because it’s the least expensive option. Indeed, I made that choice way back in the spring of 2019 for the 2019-2020 run. I saw three shows. and then…

I don’t even remember when Summer: The Donna Summer Story was supposed to take place initially, but I think it was rescheduled at least twice because of COVID. FINALLY, I got to take the bus to the old vaudeville venue. First, I was asked for my vaccine card, which I had on my phone. Then I could pick up my ticket at the will call.

As for the show itself, there were actually three women playing the disco queen at various stages of her life. One also played Donna’s mother and another Donna’s daughter. Oddly enough, this was not confusing. And all of them were very good.

I wasn’t a huge disco fan. But as I wrote about her three years ago, I had a lot of respect for Donna Summer: her look and especially her voice.

On The Radio

But as this review in the Chicago Tribune noted of the tour: “It is a very rough book.” Yeah, that was it. The show “carelessly abandon[s] most of its scenes in mid-flow for self-serving monologues. The story veers “back and forth between the personal and the professional” in an uneasy manner. The reviewer thinks those “behind-the-music-with-the-guys-in-suits stuff… so rarely works in these kinds of shows.” I’ve seen some that do work – Beautiful, for one – but this was not one of them.

This I didn’t remember: “Summer, of course, upset a lot of her gay fans with a homophobic remark at a Cleveland concert, at the height of the AIDS crisis to boot.” The story monologue disowning her previous statement was astonishingly clunky.


Sa 12/11: Likewise, it was the first visit to the Albany Symphony Orchestra at the Palace Theatre, under the direction of David Alan Miller, since COVID. A church friend had tickets he could not use. Yes, proof of COVID vaccinations was needed.

The first piece was Don Juan by Richard Strauss. as the show notes suggest: Strauss “makes us see from the get-go the bravado of this libertine.”

The second and third pieces, one before the intermission and one after, were written by Christopher Rouse (1949-2019). The ASO, which Rouse visited frequently, was to record the compositions the following day.

From the composer’s notes about Heimdall’s Trumpet: his “blasts on his trumpet announce the onset of Ragnarok, the Norse equivalent of Armageddon.” He rightly notes “the title… refers properly to the finale… in a very short orchestral fortissimo outburst…” And it was so!  Eric Berlin was the fine soloist.

Rouse’s bassoon concerto, with the virtuoso Peter Kolkay was a lot more fun, with Kolkay sometimes fading out, yet the orchestra’s other bassoons filling in. It was not buffoonish, though. Comedy is difficult to explain.

Finally, excerpts from The Nutcracker, not just the suite but about a third of the whole ballet.


Su 12/12: Our choir has been rehearsing since October, with everyone with at least two shots. But the group, other than the section leaders, haven’t sung. That is until 11/27 when half the choir got to sing, masked. And no forte, because we’ve read that it is the volume of singing, or speaking, that has the greater chance to spread infection.

My half got to sing on 12/12. It was a little difficult because, being spread out, it was hard to hear the others in the bass section, let alone the other parts.

That said, it was GLORIOUS to be in the choir loft again. I’m not saying I got a little verklempt, but…

So normal-ish. Which is good enough for now.

March rambling #2: librocubicularist

They don’t think capitalism will exist by then

Lao Tzu
The invasion of Iraq more than a US “blunder,” or “colossal mistake;” it was a crime

The Return of the Chicken Hawks

John Bolton Paid Cambridge Analytica $1.2 Million to Make Americans ‘More Militaristic’

Scientific American: Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns?

Give Teachers Guns, And More Black Children Will Die

How baby-toting, robed-and-hooded moms paved the way for today’s white hate groups

Surveillance footage shows the Las Vegas gunman’s methodical steps in the days just before the massacre

Obamas to Parkland students: “You’ve helped awaken the conscience of the nation”

I Tried to Befriend Nikolas Cruz; he Still Killed My Friends

Don Blankenship, the worst man in America, is running for Senate

“Death Penalty for Drug Dealers” Proposal Reeks of Eugenics

Non-disclosure agreements for White House staff? Not so fast

Why the Stormy Daniels story matters – it’s not about sex, it’s about the abuse of power

Austin Goolsbee says the tariffs are like his Aunt Trina’s lasagna

After the Storm – post-hurricanes Irma and Maria in the U.S. Virgin Islands last fall, some people showed up and stayed

New York City exporting homeless families to other parts of the state, including my hometown of Binghamton

Some millennials aren’t saving for retirement because they don’t think capitalism will exist by then

Living like I’m dying

NY Mets hitter Rusty Staub dies at 73

Kimmel Produces PSA For Melania’s ‘Cyberbullying’ Campaign

How to Decipher a Sarah Huckabee Sanders Press Conference

Librocubicularist (noun; plural: librocubicularists) (rare) A person who reads in bed

Bill Messner-Loebs, comic book artist worked on Wonder Woman and Thor, now homeless

Every Wes Anderson Movie, Ranked Worst to Best

Lois Weber, early 20th-century filmmaker

Sophia Jex-Blake, part of the Edinburgh Seven who campaigned for the right of women to study medicine

Steven Spielberg Doesn’t Think Netflix Movies Should Qualify for Oscars

Now I Know: How Chairman Mao Turned Freedom into Oppression and How Hitchcock Kept Psycho a Secret and How a Nearly-Perfect Crime Became Perfect Again and When the Driver Walks Away and Why Tennis Balls Are Yellow and Why You Shouldn’t Eat Those “Do Not Eat” Packets

Lois Lane, The Pulitzer Committee Wants Their Prizes Back

A video essay about cartoon sound effects

“73 Questions” video – Christine Pedi as Liza


Three Manhattan Bridges, for Piano and Orchestra: I. George Washington Bridge – Michael Torke, composer; Albany Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller, conductor; Joyce Yang – piano; Torke, Miller, Yang discuss the work

Pluto – King of the Underworld (Hades) – Taimane

Chicken Shack Boogie – Amos Milburn

Snake Farm – Ray Wylie Hubbard

Hendrix doing Hendrix on an acoustic guitar

5 O’Clock World – the Vogues, with more of their songs

Long Time Gone -Tom Jones & Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Coverville 1210: Aerosmith Cover Story II

WKRP in Cincinnati new home recordings and end theme lyrics

TV Theme Song medley – Jimmy Fallon & Will Smith

Stream a 346-Hour Chronological Playlist of Live Grateful Dead Performances (1966-1995)

DJT and I have the same favorite song

The curiously elusive date of Bach’s birthday

47 hours: hearts, symphony, Humans

It was great that the parents got to hear the concert.

Broome and Roger in 2016
The past six weekends have been extremely busy, with Black History Month at church. The last Sunday in February, there was a miscommunication by the guest minister.

We ended up having two different preachers for our two services, the latter showing up five minutes before the latter worship started, and she was great, but it was nerve-wracking. That’s also the day of the luncheon, which my wife is heavily involved in.

March 10 began with cleaning the house in anticipation of having folks over to play the card game hearts. Back in 1987/1988, a rotating cadre of us would go to Broome’s house to play three or four times a week. It has been reduced to once a year, the Saturday nearest my natal day.

But it’s not all card play. There’s a lot of talking among old friends, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in a year or two. There’s also eating, especially Orchid’s lasagna(TM).

At one point, there were six of us left. We could have played two games of three players each. Instead, we pretty much invented, on the spot, a double-deck game, stripping the deck of the pair of 2 of clubs. One CAN get BOTH queens of spades at the same time. It was so bizarre, in a GOOD way.

Pretty much as soon as the last guest left, my wife rushed down to the Palace Theater to attend the Albany Symphony. Early on, the mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan gave brief remarks about how great the ASO is. I had introduced her at my church for her talk on her equity agenda six days earlier.

The concert was conducted, as usual, by the adventurous David Alan Miller: it was the preview of what would be performed at the Kennedy Center in April 2018. The first piece in the second half was Dorothy Chang’s The Mighty Erie Canal, featuring 150 fourth-through-sixth graders from the Troy Public Elementary School All-City Choir.

Of course, their parents were there to see them, bringing along the singers’ younger siblings, who made the noises that toddlers will make, during the first half, Joan Tower’s Still/Rapids featuring pianist Joyce Yang, and Michael Daugherty’s Reflections with tuba virtuoso Benjamin Pierce.

It was great that the parents got to hear the concert. My wife overheard one parent of a small child sigh that they were not able to afford a babysitter. So it was what it was.

Still, as a snobbish symphony goer, it was easier to listen to Michael Torke’s Three Manhattan Bridges, also with the dazzling pianist Yang, after the kids, and their parents, and their sibs departed.

We got to bed about 11 p.m. EST, but woke up about 7 a.m. EDT. My position about the evils of changing the clock is on the record.

We dragged ourselves to church, then the Daughter went to the movies while we went to see the touring production of the Tony-winning play, The Humans, by Stephen Karam, at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. It’s about a family dinner on Thanksgiving.

Instead going to the homestead in Scranton, PA, the folks celebrate at the apartment of younger daughter Brigid (Daisy Eagan), a struggling composer living with her 38-year-old, still a student, boyfriend Richard (Luis Vega) in Lower Manhattan.

The visiting Blakes are the father, Erik (Richard Thomas, yes of The Waltons), the mother, Dierdre (Pamela Reed), older daughter Aimee (Therese Plaehn), with a plethora of problems, and Erik’s dementia-stricken mother (Lauren Klein), who’s having one of her “bad days.”

If you’ve ever had a holiday meal with extended family, you will recognize these people. The play is funny, sometimes uproariously so, and sad, and a little eerie, as disappointments about life bubble up.

The Tony-winning set by David Zinn is recreated here, and it’s brilliantly designed and used. The Humans was sensitively directed by Joe Mantello. Here’s a review.

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