Iolanthe

Snow last night, first time it’s stuck in quite a while. But only a few inches, not like the East Coast.

This year the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Co., a nonprofit based in Hyde Park that does performances one weekend of the year at the University of Chicago’s handsome Mandell Hall, produced Iolanthe. I have fond memories of the company’s Yeomen of the Guard, which Lilly and I saw two years ago, so we all went on Friday (except Lilly, whose spring break hasn’t started yet).

img462Like last time, we ate at Salonica’s first. The face on the telephone pole is still down the street, on the way to the theater.

The show was just as much fun as Yeomen. More, since I knew some of the songs better, including everyone’s favorite lord-marching-trumpets-braying number, which saw a mellifluous chorus of lords spill out from the stage and into the aisles and back, and the renowned patter song about insomnia and the weird dreams of shallow and disturbed sleep.

According to The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian C. Bradley, parts of which are online, “[Gilbert] had, in fact, experimented with the metre later used for the nightmare song in a poem entitled ‘Sixty-Three and Sixty-Four,’ which appeared in Fun in 1864 and which began:

Oh, you who complain that the drawing’s insane, or too much for your noodles have found it.
But listen a minute, I’ll tell you what’s in it — completely explain and expound it.

An earlier poem by Gilbert, ‘The Return from My Berth,’ which appeared in Punch in October 1864, gives a more lurid account of a Channel crossing:

The big Channel steamer is rolling,
Frenchmen around me are bilious and fat
And prone on the floor are behaving unheedingly,
It’s a ‘sick transit,’ but never mind that!

Matthan Ring Black was in fine form with the patter, and the rest of his Lord Chancellor part. Everyone else did very well, but I was especially taken with Claire DiVizio, who did the Fairy Queen, and David Govertsen, who not only amused everyone with Private Willis’ single song, but stood perfectly still in the lobby in his bright red guard uniform as the audience filed in. Perhaps that’s a G&S tradition I don’t know about, but in any case he was there.

Private Willis also got the biggest laugh of the evening:

That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!

Of course, there’s Victorian context to that, but a modern one as well.

Yuriko liked it, and Ann, who’s developing a taste for musical theater, said she enjoyed the show a lot. I never had such a taste as a teenager, though I did (mostly) enjoy the successive senior plays put on at my high school toward the end of each school year, all of which happened to be musicals: Bye Bye Birdie, The Mikado, Fiddler on the Roof, and West Side Story.

One more thing, which if I knew, I’d forgotten: Iolanthe apparently inspired Chief Justice William Rehnquist to add gold stripes to his robe in 1995. Guess he decided that a powdered wig as well would be a bit much.

Ravinia Circular ’16

The annual circular advertising this summer’s shows at Ravinia Festival arrived in the mail recently. Wonder how long printed circulars of this kind will be mailed at all, but for now they are.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the venue, but I’ve enjoyed all of my visits, such as the long-ago August night in 1989 when a lunar eclipse was visible high over the concert. Or our attendance of a children’s concert in July 2002.

Ravinia 2002Ravinia, in Highland Park, Ill., on the North Shore, is the Midwest’s Wolf Trap. Or rather, since Ravinia’s a lot older than Wolf Trap, with outdoor music performances held there for more than 100 years — Wolf Trap is the Ravinia of the East Coast, open only since 1970.

In any case, Ravinia gets some A-list acts, and charges accordingly. Prices are for seats in the pavilion or for lawn seating, and they’re printed on the circular. Some of the concerts, especially lawn seating for some classical musicians, charge a reasonable $10, and I’d seriously consider paying $25 to hear the CSO play the entirety of The Planets while I relax on the lawn. (And ponder whether that should be “The Planets” or The Planets.)

On the other hand, I was curious to see who commands the highest pavilion seating ticket prices. Is it Bob Dylan? No. Paul Simon? No. Don Henley? Dolly Parton? Diana Ross? Nope. Those are all close, but Duran Duran tops the list at $160 a pavilion seat, and a steep $55 for a lawn ticket. Moreover, they’re playing two nights in a row, which is fairly rare at Ravinia.

Am I missing something? I remember Duran Duran as a tolerable early ’80s band that had a handful of hits. Must be their fan base is larger than I realize. Even so, here’s something I’m sure I’m missing: Duran Duran at Ravinia for $160 a pop.

Arlo Guthrie ’86

Here’s one thing about Arlo Guthrie, at least as he was 30 years ago: his distinctive, sometimes squeaky voice was exactly the same in person as on his recordings, as you might hear on “Alice’s Restaurant.” Other than that, I don’t remember a lot about the concert, not even whether he sing-spoke that particular song. He probably did. It’s also likely he did “City of New Orleans” and some of his father’s songs.

Guthrie86He also went on a short tirade about the metric system after telling a possibly true story about encountering a Canadian who didn’t understand the line in “The Garden Song” that goes, “Inch by inch, row by row, I’m going to make this garden grow.” Remarkably, there’s an ’80s clip of him in Austin singing that song, and sure enough, he tells the story about the Canadian (a border guard). In the show I saw, I remember him proclaiming, “There’s no poetry to the metric system!”

I’ll go along with that, but he needn’t have worried too much; the customary system still abides in the U.S. some 30 years later. Americans aren’t sophisticated about some things, but we are sophisticated enough to use and understand two systems of measurement at the same time.

Portland Ramble

I didn’t care how good Voodoo Doughnut in Portland was supposed to be, I wasn’t going to wait in this kind of line to buy any.

Voodoo DoughnutsDowntown Portland on a summer Saturday teems with people, more than most mid-sized U.S. cities I’ve encountered. The obvious tourists were a minority. So were the obviously homeless, though they seemed more numerous than in most cities this size (and statistically, it’s a sad fact). Mostly, I think conventionally housed Portlanders were downtown because it’s an interesting place to be on the weekend. Good for Portland.

One reason is because of the food trucks, which cluster in various places. I had a falafel at one. Not the best falafel I’ve ever had, but good enough for a walkabout in a new city.

food trucks, PortlandOne place I was determined not to miss was Powell’s Books. Otherwise known as Powell’s City of Books, an apt nickname.
Powell's Books, Aug 22, 2015The place is enormous: a full city block with 68,000 square feet of floor space on four floors, divided thematically into color-coded rooms (the Blue Room, the Green Room, and so on). The store says it has more than a million new and used books, and I believe it. I went in without a plan, and I stuck to it, just wandering from room to room and floor to floor, looking at titles and opening books and enjoying myself. I was there about an hour, and could have spent longer. (This article captures the joy well; the writer might have even been there at the same time as me.)

I couldn’t leave without buying something — that would be wrong, since it’s important to support an independent bookstore against the Amazon tide, besides being good to have another book. So I bought Why Orwell Matters (2002) by Christopher Hitchens, which I read almost all of on the return plane ride. I also bought a clutch of postcards. As you’d expect, Powell’s had more than the usual Portland-themed tourist cards.

I’ve never seen more tattooed people in one place than in Portland, including Brooklyn (admittedly, it was October) or Camden Town in London (admittedly, it was 20+ years ago) or any warm-weather mass event I’ve been to recently, such as the Wisconsin State Fair. Summertime clothing was no doubt a factor, but I also think being in Portland was too. Mostly the ink was visible on arms and legs and backs, as you’d except, but not always.
TattoosBefore going, I’d read about the Portland Saturday Market, which has been a local event since the early ’70s. By the time I was walking around in the city, I’d forgotten about it. I happened across it anyway. Besides a wealth of vendors, there were some excellent musicians.

Saturday Market, PortlandAccompanied by a dancer.
Dance!At Pioneer Square, the fellow in the yellow was doing a bit of street preaching. Screaming, that is.
Screaming for JesusHis theology sounded like pure Jack Chick, though he might not agree with him in all the particulars. The fellow in black facing him (not the one with the Turn or Burn in Hell shirt) was not amused by the man’s preaching, and was screaming back. Before long, the cops showed up.
Portland copsI didn’t hear the discussion, but I suspect all parties concerned were being told not to take things to the next level, i.e., a fistfight. I passed by the same intersection about 30 minutes later, and the preacher was still there (with a different set of detractors), so I guess no physical violence broke out. Seemed like a near thing, though.

Pacific Northwest ’15

I left for the Pacific Northwest on August 21 and returned home late yesterday. Imagine an axis that connects Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver, which are all linked by I-5 (British Columbia 99 north of the border). That axis was the focus of the trip. I went to all of those cities and some points in between, some for a matter of hours, others for a few days. I spent time away from those cities as well, in hilly territory lorded over by towering pines and enchantingly quiet at night.

I drove a lot but also managed to spend a solid chunk of time walking and riding buses and light rail. The visit involved attending a conference, touring an exceptional building and seeing other fine ones, experiencing two large public markets, wandering through one of the largest book stores anywhere and a few other excellent ones, and seeing two museums and a Chinese garden very much like some of the wonderful ones in Suzhou. I ate food both awful and extraordinary, including things I’d never heard of before.

Going to another part of the country means doing new things, too. Or it should. Not necessarily life-changing experiences, but the sort of petite novelties that add up over time to make the fabric of one’s life better. Even before I got there, this was the first time I’d ever booked a rental car through Costco or a room through Airbnb. I attribute a less expensive trip, and a better one, to both. I visited a new city (Portland) in a new state (Oregon) and visited new parts of places I’d been (Vancouver in British Columbia, the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle). I witnessed a major forest fire from the air and smelled the result on the ground as the wind wafted west. Unexpectedly, according to the residents. I stood inside a building designed by Frank Gehry, rather than looking at its curious outside.

I saw a number of odd and interesting things, such as the street musician who’d modified a bagpipe and played it on stilts (Vancouver, just outside the Pacific Central Station). What to call it? Steampunk bagpiping?
Vancouver, August 25, 2015Or the Gum Wall (Seattle, next to the Pike Place Market). Each of the those bits of color is ABC gum, often used to attach cards and small posters to an alley wall. Why? As near as I can tell, just because.

Gum Wall, Seattle, AugOr the echo of a celebrity event I’d missed when it happened, the Bill Murray Party Crashing Tour of 2012 (this sign was in Portland).

Portland, August 22, 2015I can think of a lot worse people to show up at one’s party uninvited; maybe he’s still doing it occasionally.

Most importantly, I reconnected with two dear old friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in 18 years, another I hadn’t seen in 30 years, since my last visit to Seattle. Our friendships have been maintained over the years mostly through paper correspondence, with a more recent electronic component. But there’s no substitute for being there.

Dire Straits 1985

Thirty years ago Dire Straits played at TPAC in Nashville, and I was there. By a lucky chance. I went to a record store on Elliston Place in Nashville (gone now, certainly) that was selling their tickets, later than I probably should have, and when I got to the desk they had exactly one left. I think a few people ahead of me had declined to buy it, because they were looking for two. So I got it.

I’m pretty sure “Sultans of Swing” introduced me to the band in early 1979, as it did many North Americans. Though overplayed, I still can listen to the song and imagine a dark, rainy South London of 40-odd years ago. Not many popular songs evoke place as well as it does. Dire Straits was one of the few records I paid money for in high school. There’s no filler on that album, and by the time you get to “Wild West End” and “Lions,” talk about evoking a place and (in retrospect) time.

DireStraits85Later, I grew especially fond of the long, melancholic tracks on Love Over Gold. Maybe it helps to be not particularly melancholic to appreciate such things.

“I want my — I want my MTV…” the 1985 concert started, with a single spotlight flitting around the stage, not pointing at anyone, I think, as the intro to that song crescendoed. With the loud guitar solo, the stage lit up, revealing the band, who took it from there. I’m glad I got to see them.

Philip Glass 1985

Thirty years ago this evening, I went with some friends to see Philip Glass conduct some of his music in Nashville. At least I think that’s what he did. I have an image in my head of him standing in front of musicians, waving his hands, and them playing. But maybe he sat down at a keyboard. It’s a been a long time.

Glass85I can’t remember why I went, but I’m sure it was worth $2. At some point, I owned Glassworks on CD, which is considered his most popular recording, but I don’t remember when I got it. Since I didn’t own a CD player until ca. 1988, I didn’t have it when I saw the concert. One of my housemates during my senior year in college might have had it on vinyl, or possibly even reel-to-reel. A lot of odd things were floating around that house.

Also, I saw Koyaanisqatsi sometime in the mid-80s. That might have been before this concert. Or after. Things get jumbled over the decades.

Oddly enough, I heard a little of a Philip Glass interview last week on the radio. He must be making the rounds to talk up his memoirs, which have just come out. The NYT reviewer of the book asserts that “enough time has passed for him to sell his own distinct musical language, developed through a blending of Western and Indian traditions, in which repeated musical cells form patterns to hypnotic effect. To many listeners it remains perplexing and even infuriating, but the influence of Mr. Glass’s music, called Minimalist despite his protests, is pervasive in all genres of music.”

Sure. If you say so. I like the idea of his music better than the music itself, though I haven’t spent much time with the likes of “Satyagraha” or “Einstein on the Beach” in the last 30 years. Philip Glass composes the kind of music that you start playing, listen to for a few minutes, and then realize 30 minutes later that it’s been in the background for nearly 30 minutes.

I didn’t fall asleep during the concert — like I dozed off at a Pat Metheny concert once — but I vaguely remember being tired. After the concert, it being a Friday night, we repaired to a nearby Italian restaurant. Who then showed up for dinner, a few tables away? Philip Glass and a small entourage. We noticed his presence, but didn’t approach him. Just as well not to pester publicly known people in public — can’t say he was exactly famous in this case, but still.

Rachmaninoff & Tchaikovsky on a March Evening

Here’s an argument that not everything of historic or archaeological significance should stay in its place of origin: “ISIS destroys ancient site of Khorsabad in northeastern Iraq.” Had the University of Chicago left everything in place, some of the artifacts you can see at the Oriental Museum would be rubble about now, thanks to barbarians.

ESO3.15Yuriko and I made it to far suburban Elgin on Saturday for the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, which offers high-quality performances. The ESO, besides being good at what they do, has a number of other advantages for people who have the temerity to live in the suburbs. It isn’t that far to drive; it’s easy to park there; and tickets don’t cost as much, say, as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. All reasons the ESO sells most of its seats.

On tap this time: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, and “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet” by Tchaikovsky. A Russian-born American, Natasha Paremski, was the guest pianist, displaying an astonishing amount of skill and energy at it. Unfortunately, we were sitting on the right side of theater, so it was hard to see her (and the conductor) during the performance, because of the bulk of the piano. I have a hard time warming up to Rachmaninoff — I can’t really say I try that much, though — but her rendition kept my attention.

A casual search doesn’t show Paremski playing any Rachmaninoff, but this is her having a go at Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, displaying a similar intensity at the keyboard.

Speaking of Tchaikovsky (sort of), this early TV clip also has a lot of (maniacal) energy to it. Such was Spike Jones. Stay to the end for an appearance by Jim Backus and an impersonation of a certain well-known figure on the world stage at the time.

Al Stewart ’14

I went to St. Charles on Sunday to see live music at the Arcada Theater, which is on Main St.

Arcada Theater Oct 5, 2014Al Stewart again, with right-hand man Dave Nachmanoff. I hope Al has more years as a touring musician, but he’s 69, so there’s no guarantee. I won’t drive to, say, Saskatoon to see him, but if he plays nearby, I’ll make the effort. No one else in the house was interested, so I went by myself.

The Arcada Theater is a mid-sized venue, seating about 900 and dating from the 1920s when it was built as a movie house and vaudeville stage. Lester Norris – that’s the husband of Dellora Norris – developed the place. According to Wiki at least (I’m not going to chase down another source), the act at the grand opening in 1926 was Fibber McGee and Molly, which would have been when they were known locally in Chicago as radio players.

These days, a fellow named Ron Onesti, president of the Onesti Entertainment Corp., owns the theater. He’s a hands-on kind of impresario, to judge by his talkative, enthusiastic introduction of the act, and the give-away of tickets by random drawing during the intermission that he presided over, asking the audience questions such as who came here from the furthest? (Someone claimed to be from England.)

He’s got a niche: shows for people roughly my age (10 years either side, I’d say). Note some of the upcoming acts: Asia, Gary Wright, the Fifth Dimension, Tommy James and the Shondells, Kansas, BJ Thomas, America, Little River Band. Onesti was also out in the lobby after the show, talking to patrons. “Good show,” I told him.

I talked for a moment to Dave Nachmanoff, for that matter, before the show. He was standing next to a table of his CDs, and another table of Al Stewart merchandise. I told him I’d seen him a number of times, and enjoyed the shows. He seemed to appreciate the sentiment.

Al Stewart was in fine form, expertly playing his guitar and singing with pretty much the same voice as 40 years ago. I doubt that I’ll have half that much energy, should I survive to his age. The set list was mostly mid-period Al, with numbers from Past, Present and Future, Modern Times, Year of the Cat and Time Passages, but also some later songs, such as the especially good “Night Train to Munich” and “House of Clocks.” Not much this time from his early records, if anything, and nothing from Last Days of the Century.

No “Roads to Moscow” either, which is one I’ve yet to hear him play live, and would like to. Of course, it clocks in at more than eight minutes, so maybe he doesn’t play it often. Truth is, the man has a large opus. He could stitch together three or four entirely different set lists and they’d be just as good.

Essential to his show is the patter between the songs, and he didn’t disappoint, either telling stories about swinging ’60s London or the historical context of a particular song or something autobiographical.

For instance: “I decided when I was 11 or 12 that I wanted to play guitar and write songs. But I realized something when I left school at 17. Although I loved rock ’n’ roll, Little Richard and Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis and Eddie Cochran – I loved Eddie Cochran – I realized when I started trying to do it, I couldn’t do it. I can’t explain how terrible that was. The only thing I loved in the world, and I couldn’t do it. It was a tricky period. Then Bob Dylan came along. He couldn’t play or sing either. [enormous laughter] But he sounded like he’d swallowed a dictionary. [more laughs] That was it. That was my ticket, right there.”

Introducing his song “Warren Harding”: “Pretty much everything went wrong while he was in office, and he followed the cleverest president, Woodrow Wilson, who was fiercely intellectual, and the most idealist president – he believed in world peace, and that he alone could sort out all the troubles in the world after World War I, and it killed him. None of the things he wanted actually happened. Warren Harding: Hey, let’s party! He stayed up drinking with the press corps and playing cards. He was the anti-Wilson. Who was best? Actually, neither of them.”

Al mentioned at point that he was sorry the Bears lost that day. “He follows American football,” Dave said.

“I do, actually,” Al answered.

“He doesn’t care a whit for soccer.”

“I can’t support any game played for 90 minutes, where the score is nothing-nothing. [laughter, applause] That’s not sport, that’s torture.”

Jazz Fest and Big New Head ’14

While I was eating lunch on my deck today — the opportunities for that will be rarer as the weeks ahead pass — the dog took a sudden interest in one of my lower pant legs, sniffing and snorting with gusto. I noticed a small black ant crawling on it. The dog had too. In a moment, she’d eaten the ant.

I’ve seen her chase flies and bees (and lucky for her, never catch any), but this was a first. It didn’t seem to be a biting kind of ant. Ants on the hoof, snack food for dogs.

Did some gadding about in Chicago over Labor Day weekend. On Saturday, Yuriko and Ann and I went to the city and met my nephew Dees, his girlfriend Eden, and an old friend of theirs, and eventually ended up at Millennium Park. Dees and Eden were visiting from Texas, staying with friends here. That reminded me a bit of the Labor Day weekends of my youth, when I usually went out of town — to Chicago (before I lived there), New York, Boston, and Washington DC — though one year (’85) my old friends came to me, and we gadded around Nashville.

There’s a new face near Michigan Ave.

Millennium Park, Aug 2014It’s called “Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda,” by Jaume Plensa, the Spaniard who did Crown Fountain, the twin towers of alternating faces that spit water in the warm months, which isn’t far from the new sculpture. The Tribune says that “Awilda is 39 feet tall, made of marble and resin; the internal frame is fiberglass. She arrived from Spain in 15 pieces, then was bolted together.” It’ll be there until the end of 2015.

The Bean was as popular as ever.

Aug30.14 035We spent a while at the Chicago Jazz Festival at Pritzker Pavilion. The last time I went to the Chicago Jazz Festival was – 1996? Maybe. This time we left fairly early, but were around long enough to hear Ari Brown, Chicago sax man of long standing. At 70, the man can blow.

Ari Brown, August 2014Still hot in the late afternoon, and a bit humid, but it was a good place to sit and listen. It helped not to get rained on, which was a distinct risk over the weekend.

Millennium Park, Aug 2014Behind the stage rise the skyscrapers of the East Loop. I’ve always liked the view.