New music

These are troubled and troubling times but one distraction for me is music.  Last week I went to three concerts:  two young musicians at the Yellow Barn; the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and our local Windham Orchestra.  Three distinct venues and three kinds of players.

The Windham Orchestra is a community enterprise that has been going for 65 years.  I’ve been attending their concerts for many years and have seen them get better and play more challenging music.  Made up of a mix of music teachers, retired professionals, and talented amateurs they have really made progress under their relatively new director, Hugh Keelan.  (I should note that my sister has been principle flute for a number of years.)  Last Sunday they did a stunning Scheherazade. 

I was privileged to hear two works making their premieres.  There is something magical about knowing that you are listening to a piece of music that no one has ever heard before.  The first was a Yellow Barn residency concert; the second, a BSO commissioned work.

The Yellow Barn in Putney, VT is primarily a summer music festival but in the last few years they have expanded to occasional winter residency concerts.  Musicians come for a week to develop a new work or to polish working as an ensemble.  In this case a pianist and violinist, Lee Dionne and Brigid Coleridge put together a new work consisting of music and recitation.    Based on an interpretation of Homer’s Iliad by poet Christopher Logue titled War Music, Dionne and Coleridge recited excerpts and then matched them to music.  The music included works by Bach, Gyorgy Kurtag, John Cage, Manuel de Falla, and Richard Strauss.  What we saw and heard was a first performance, not without flaws, but fascinating.  They had to play music, do dramatic recitation and sing – quite a stretch for classical musicians!  I had never heard of War Music and immediately ordered a copy.

The BSO work, Express Abstractionism, by Sean Shepherd is a work in four movements.  Each expresses emotions illustrated by an artist or artists.  My husband loved it, but I was taken only with the first and last movements.  That might be because I was familiar with the artists.  Movement I is titled “dense bubbles, or: Calder, or: the origin of life on earth.  Movement IV. the sun, or: the moon, or: Mondrian.

I’d like to hear both of the new works again.  I love hearing music no one has heard before.  Listening intensely takes me away from the troubles for just a little while.


The World Series: beards and music

Superstitious, I guess.  I didn’t want to write about the Red Sox in the World Series for fear of jinxing them.  Not that I have any such power, but with the baseball gods one never knows.  But now each team has had one horrid game – the Cardinals were worse than the Sox – and the Series is tied.  The Sox need to win at least one game in St. Louis to get back home team advantage.  This is beginning to feel like the games with Detroit that got them where they are.  That turned out OK, so we can still have hope.  All we need is for Jake Peavy to live up to his hype and for some combination of Clay Buchholtz/Felix Dubrount to pitch well and there is a chance for two wins.  And then we get Lester again.  So I’m feeling OK about the situation.  I feel badly for John Lackey who has had a great pitching year, but can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to run support and wins.

The player who did his job last night was Koji Uehara the accidental closer.  Once more.  3 outs on 10 pitches.  The beardless one.  I think we all assumed he didn’t have a beard because he couldn’t grow one.  We were wrong.  A few days ago, this story was in the New York Times.

Long, bushy beards have become the unifying trademark of the 2013 Boston Red Sox, but the most valuable player of their American League Championship Series victory stands out for more than his pitching.

The series M.V.P., the cleanshaven closer Koji Uehara, was given a pass on the team’s unofficial pro-beard policy because most of his teammates thought he was incapable of growing one.

But that is hardly the case. Well before the Red Sox’ shaggy faces entered the national consciousness, Uehara was a longstanding member of the antirazor brigade.

Until January, when he shaved it off on Japanese national television, Uehara had one of the most famous beards in Japan: light, Fu Manchu-style scruff with a wraparound beard connecting to his sideburns. It was considered ugly and brutish by many of his friends and countrymen, but he wore it defiantly for several years after coming to the United States in 2009.

Koji in Baltimore

People must have known.  I watched him pitch when he was with Baltimore, but I guess the beard never registered.  He also had a beard with the Rangers.

“I just didn’t know where I was going with that beard,” Uehara, 38, said through an interpreter Saturday afternoon before the final game of the A.L.C.S. “So I thought it was best to shave it off. It was a good time to do it, and I think many people were happy. They said I looked younger.”

Without facial hair, Uehara posted a career-low 1.09 E.R.A. in the regular season and had 21 saves after taking over as Boston’s full-time closer June 26. In the playoffs, he has been just as good, allowing one run in nine innings over eight games. He has five saves this postseason: two in a division series against the Tampa Bay Rays and three in the A.L.C.S. against the Detroit Tigers, including the save that clinched the pennant Saturday night.

But has shaving made him a better postseason pitcher?

“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “I am not sure about that.”

Whatever.  If being beardless got him MVP for the ALCS, then it is good for him and for us.

In one way, it makes sense that Uehara is now clean shaven in the midst of players who look like desert-island castaways. He originally grew his beard to stand apart from his teammates in Japan and from Japanese players in the majors, many of whom did not have facial hair.

Now that he is with a rowdy band of bearded Red Sox, he is distinguished in a different way.

“If I had a beard now,” he said, “I would not stand out.”

Meanwhile the symphony orchestras in Boston and St. Louis are getting in the act.  Even if you don’t root for either team this clip is wonderful.  I have to concede that the brass from St. Louis are better trash talkers, but the BSO has Seiji Ozawa.

By the way, Boston in six.  With ZZ Top on our side, how can we lose?

Photograph: Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Can we send David Ortiz to the budget negotiations?

It has been a discouraging last few days with the only real bright spot being Friday (and then we went back Saturday) at Symphony Hall with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We wanted to hear Thomas Ades, Polaris a second time and Friday night the BSO did not do Franck’s Symphony in D Minor which my husband loves.   But we came home Saturday night to no budget/debt ceiling deal and the Red Sox striking out, also.  I often tune in to some of the Sunday news shows, but couldn’t stand to hear any more Republican Congresspersons who have no clue about what the debt ceiling is much less understand any thing about the economy.  One of my friends posted this on Facebook the other day

Despite their lofty status in managing American affairs, it appears to me that few Congresspersons have any meaningful understanding of how their chronic politicization of economic policies substantially degrades, perhaps permanently, the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency. Evidence of the dollar’s decline to a commodity status is increasingly apparent. In time, every American will feel a crippling pain that no amount of political negotiating can cure.

Given this state of things, I retreated to a game of Civilization V where I could control, more or less, my own universe until after Sunday dinner when the Red Sox could take over.  But, after watching strike out after strike out with Clay Buchholz pitching sooo very slowly while getting slammed around in the sixth, I retreated.  I woke up just before 6 am this morning having just had a dream that I woke up and the Sox had come back.  I turned on the radio, I found that is was true!

Peter Abraham explains

In what has been a season full of memorable late-inning victories at Fenway Park, the Red Sox saved the best for when they needed it the most in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Sunday night.

Trailing by four runs against the Detroit Tigers, the Sox tied the game on a grand slam by David Ortiz in the eighth inning then won it, 6-5, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to drive in Jonny Gomes in the ninth.

The remarkable victory had the players chasing Saltalamacchia across the outfield and the sellout crowd of 38,029 chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” as they left Fenway.

“When you back us into a wall, you either do two things: cave or fight. We’re gonna fight,” Dustin Pedroia said.

That wall was hard to get over. The Sox had scored one run through the 16 innings in the series, going 3 for 51 at the plate with 30 strikeouts. Detroit starter Max Scherzer allowed one run on two hits over seven innings and struck out 13.

And then.

Will Middlebrooks doubled to left field off Jose Veras to start the rally. Then Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk off Drew Smyly.

Al Albuquerque was next out of the Detroit bullpen. He struck out Shane Victorino for the second out, but Pedroia singled to right. Third base coach Brian Butterfield held Middlebrooks, wanting to make sure Ortiz got his chance.

Ortiz swung at the first pitch, a changeup away, and was strong enough to pull it into the Red Sox bullpen in right field for his first career postseason grand slam and the fourth in Red Sox history.

Right fielder Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall trying to make a catch as Boston police officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in joy. Bullpen catcher Mani Martinez, who was warming up Koji Uehara, casually turned and caught the ball.

It was bedlam at Fenway and the crowd kept cheering until Ortiz emerged from the dugout and tipped his helmet to them.

“My idea wasn’t to go out and hit a grand slam,” Ortiz said. “If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I’d be lying to you now.”

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

Gotta love David.

There was still a game to win. After Uehara retired the Tigers in order, Gomes was again the catalyst.

He reached on an infield single off Rick Porcello and took second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, the former Sox player known for his defensive skills.

“No is not an option for this team,” Gomes said. “Once I got on second, I was going to do anything I could to score.”

Gomes advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Saltalamacchia singled to left field.

“I felt good,” Saltalamacchia said. “Trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance.”

It was the 12th walkoff win of the season for the Red Sox.

So now we have something to watch on the highlight reels other than strike out after strike out.  There is joy in Mudville after all.  The Red Sox head for Detroit to face Justin Verlander, still another one of the Tigers’ great pitchers.  Let’s end this with something to ponder.  My husband heard Verlander ask this question:  If a pitch grazes a Red Sox’s beard, did he get hit by the pitch?

Now if only someone would hit a grand slam on the budget and knock out Ted Cruz and his friends.

Photograph:  Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The BSO and the Red Sox

I loved Seiji Ozawa when he was the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and part of what I loved was that he was a regular part of Boston life, including going regularly to Red Sox games.  The new music director, Andris Nelsons has indicated that he would like to see a Bruins game – being from Latvia I would guess that ice hockey would be his thing – but one can’t say he isn’t game.

27namespedro1 Nelsons who said he had only seen a few baseball games threw out the first pitch Tuesday night.

The first pitch at Fenway capped a full day for Nelsons.  The Globe story had the details

As night fell, Nelsons headed into Gate C at Fenway for perhaps his most difficult assignment.

Early in the morning, over breakfast, he told Volpe he had watched some baseball but was concerned. He didn’t know how he was going to throw a pitch past a batter. Volpe explained that nobody would be at the plate except a catcher.

Later, while chatting with BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, Nelsons made two different throwing motions, one sidearm, one more overhand.

“It is this way or this way?” Nelsons asked as he made a pair of throwing motions.

At Fenway, after getting a uniform with number 15, Nelsons ran into Red Sox great Pedro Martinez, who offered advice.

“Just don’t bounce it,” he said, smiling.

Nelsons didn’t. A few minutes later, on the mound and in uniform, the maestro let the ball go hard. It sailed through the air, arcing a good 25 feet over the catcher and into the hands of a photographer.

“At least he didn’t bounce it,” Red Sox executive vice president Charles Steinberg chuckled as fans cheered, another signal the Nelsons era had begun.

I suppose we have strange rituals here in Boston where our symphony music directors are initiated by throwing out the first pitch at Fenway, but Andris Nelsons seems to be adapting.  I haven’t seen him conduct yet, but as a BSO subscriber I’m sure I will soon.  And I love the fact that Pedro is back with the Sox.  I wonder if he can still pitch and fill in for Clay Buchholz.

Photograph: Stu Rosner