Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gerald Finzi - English Composer

As long as I've been listening to classical music, I'm delighted that I can still hear something new (to me) that hits like a breath of fresh air. At 7AM on weekend mornings, Boston's "NPR Arts and Culture" radio station WGBH plays a nature soundtrack. The nature sounds then fade out as a musical selection, usually gentle and blooming fades in. Today the music was a piece by Gerald Finzi, his Romance for Strings, Op. 11, performed by William Boughton and the English String Orchestra. Finzi has been described as a "pastoralist" style composer.

There is so much newness and richness around us. Today, I may have been more receptive because I'm considering myself "on vacation". Oh, summer is sweet.

Brian McCreath is the Producer and Host of the "Classical Weekend". His musical selections for the program are inspired. He hosts the show in a friendly and informative yet unobtrusive style, putting the music first. I often wish I could just sit and listen to the program start to finish - occasionally I do! He also responded personally to my email inquiry about the exact title of this Finzi piece, which I appreciate.

Gerald Finzi, English Composer

Born: 14 July 1901, London (England)
Died: 27 September 1956, Oxford (England)

The works of the English composer Gerald Finzi do not add up to any great number. So why is it that his compositions demand such attention? The main reason is the sheer quality of the music. His settings of Hardy and Shakespeare have never yet been equalled in their tunefulness, colour and skill of word-setting. His anthems guide the listener along an epic spiritual journey, for example, the moving ‘Lo the Full, Final Sacrifice’ which shows Finzi at his most intensely, profound, leading to surely the most beautiful ‘Amen’ coda in all music. His instrumental compositions are lyrical and at times have a distinctly English melancholy, as seen in his vast Cello Concerto (the last work he wrote) which takes the listener through the whole gamut of emotions which a composer, with his life literally hanging in the balance (from leukaemia), experienced. He was deeply influenced by the composers and other artists working around him, notable examples including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Edmund Blunden, Gustav Holst, and his wife, the artist Joy Finzi (nee Black). Other than music, he was also an experienced apple farmer, and saved many English apples from obscurity in his orchard at Ashmansworth, Hampshire. An extremely well-read man, his knowledge of English literature was perhaps one of the deepest at the time, as seen by his extensive library now housed at Reading University. Perhaps it was through this living ‘in’ the poetry of his homeland that his music naturally pervades each text, breathing life into it and sounding completely at one with the words. As an introduction to Finzi’s skill as a songwriter look no further than his masterpiece of the Shakespeare setting, ‘Let us Garlands Bring.' Gerald Finzi may have left us few works, but they are have such polish and complete mastery, that one wonders why they are not more popular.

Above paragraph from:

Of course, see also:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Beringer Winetasting at Prudential Observatory, Boston Back Bay

Wow what luck I had this past Friday evening.

I poked around online to see what was going on, and I came across a notice for a Meals on Wheels benefit winetasting at the top of the Prudential tower in Boston's Back Bay, hosted by Beringer at 6:30. Requested donation, $5.

This just sounded too good to be true but I thought I'd go over. I fully expected to either not get in or find out that some deep pocket $$ commitment was required, or ???. The Meals on Wheels people couldn't have been nicer. I paid my $5 for entry. Despite the rainy cloudy conditions the view was stunning, looking over the Esplanade, bridges, Cambridge at twilight. There was cheese and crackers and an "intro" glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Delicious.

I arrived a bit late and most folks were seated at round tables covered with white tablecloths, with five wineglasses at each setting. Doug Frost hosted the tasting, taking us through the B Chardonnay and Private Reserve Chardonnay, the Pinot, and the Knights Valley and Private Reserve Cabernet. Doug was lively, funny and knowledgeable. He is a real wine professional, one distinction being that he is one of three poeple in the world to be both a Master Sommolier and Master of Wine.
Doug showed slides of the CA Napa Valley Wine Country, the history of Beringer, the famous Beringer Rhein House.

I enjoyed all the wines. The chardonnays reminded me how much I've liked both of these bottlings from Beringer over the years. The reserve was full of so much flavor, unusually multi-dimensional for a white wine. The Pinot was made in a lighter style but elegant and balanced. The cabs showed that you can get a tasty structured cab with balanced fruit for less than $20 (Knights Valley), and also why the Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet at $100+ is such a popular collectible.

The setting was really beautiful. While sipping the wines and listening to the presentation, I was drawn to the view out the window.

The tasting was about half full. A young couple sitting next to me were visiting the area from Texas. They chanced on the winetasting when they were going to the Prudential Skywalk Observatory. After the tasting I pulled them over to the window and pointed out some local landmarks. After the semi-formal part of the tasting we were offered another glass of wine along with cheese crackers and more of the great views. I stopped at the Meals on Wheels table on the way out, thanked them profusely and made an additional donation to their worthy cause. I had rushed out and forgotten my camera, so I borrow this image from someone in the www community (thanks):

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Baltimore's Street Corner Astronomer

I met Herman M. Heyn, Baltimore's "Street Corner Astronomer" on April 3 2007 at Harborplace. Appropriately, that is the USS "Constellation" behind him.

I was traveling on business and had stopped to stroll around Harborplace for old time's sake (having lived in Bawlmer in the early 80's). Herman invited me, and all other passersby to view Saturn through his excellent telescope. The first time I saw Saturn's rings and its largest moon Titan through a telescope, in Santa Barbara CA in 1988 I was thrilled. Seeing it again, was thrilling again. What a stunning (and perplexing) observation those rings must have been to early astronomers - Galileo in 1610, who thought that Saturn might consist of three closely clustered spheres like "ears", and then Christiaan Huygens who in 1655 saw a ring, using a much improved telescope. In 1675, Giovanni Domenico Cassini realized that Saturn's ring was actually composed of multiple smaller rings with gaps between them; the largest of these gaps was later named the Cassini Division. There's a reason I like the nice toys.

Herman shared with me by email the photo he took below of the "northern lights". He took the photo at ~2AM on November 5 2001 on a farm ~20 miles north of Baltimore. (Photo specs.: 50mm lens, f/1.7, Kodak Gold 200, ~15-sec.exposure). Wow. "What IS" is more varied, vast and beautiful than we can possibly imagine. What we can do is open our senses (eyes, ears, nose, taste, touch, mind), be still and feel our connectedness to it all.

Thank you Herman, for your generous spirit, curiosity and fascination for What Is.

"In celebration of the 17th anniversary of the launch and deployment of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, this, one of the largest panoramic images ever taken with Hubble's cameras, is being released. It is a 50-light-year-wide view of the central region of the Carina Nebula where a maelstrom of star birth - and death - is taking place. "

Image credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Thank you Nathan, UC, Hubble Heritage Team, NASA, American Taxpayers, and all other who made this image possible and have contributed to our understanding of it. Here is Nathan's bio and a bit more about the Nebula:

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Spring Flowers in Arlington

I thought I had better get this up on the blog before the snow predicted later this week.

Snowdrops in my front yard, as they appeared on March 23, 2007, 8AM.

Crocuses, in great abundance, on April 7, 2007

Red maple flowers, in garden between Robbins Library and Arlington Town Hall, on April 7, 2007.

View of more of red maple tree, Arlington Town Hall tower in back.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

James Carroll's Op-Ed on America in the World

I am reluctant to repost copyrighted material but the following Op-Ed essay by James Carroll is too good to let pass. I saw it in the Boston Globe.

Americans Face a Moral Reckoning
By James Carroll March 26, 2007

YOU HAVE been reading "The Sorrow of War" by Bao Ninh, the classic account of what in Vietnam is called the American war. The title of Bao Ninh's novel captures the feeling of grief and loss that always comes in the wake of violent conflict. Allowing room for fear, grief, and loss must define the dominant experience in Iraq today, where the suffering caused by this American war mounts inexorably.

But sorrow has also emerged as a note of life in the Unites States lately. Many comparisons are drawn between this nation's misadventures in Iraq and Vietnam, but what you are most aware of is the return of a clenched feeling in your chest, a knot of distressed sadness that is tied to your country's reiteration of the tragic error. After the chaotic end of the Vietnam War in 1975, you were like many Americans in thinking with relief that the nation would never know -- or cause -- such sorrow again.

The sorrow is back. Everywhere you go, friends greet one another with a choked acknowledgment of a nearly unspeakable frustration at what unfolds in Iraq. This seems true whether people oppose the war absolutely, or only on pragmatic terms; whether they want US troops out at once, or over time. Even about those distinctions, little remains to be said. Bush's contemptuous carelessness, his inner circle's corrupt enabling, the Pentagon's dependable launching of folly after folly, the Democrats' ineffectual kibitzing, even your heartfelt concern for the troops -- these subjects have exhausted themselves. The "surge" of the January escalation was preceded by the surge of public anguish that resulted in Republican losses in November. That election was a stirring rejection of the administration's purposes in Iraq, a rejection promptly seconded by the Iraq Study Group. But so what? Bush's purposes hold steady, and their poison tide now laps at Iran.

Why should you not be demoralized and depressed? But the sorrow of war goes deeper than the mistaken policies of a stubborn president. Next to Bao Ninh's book on your shelf stands "The Sorrows of Empire" by Chalmers Johnson. That title suggests how far into the bone of your nation the pins of this problem are sunk. In effect, the disastrous American war in Iraq is the text, while America's militarized way of being in the world is the context. Armed power at the service of US economic sway has made a putative enemy of a vast population around the globe, and that enemy's vanguard are the terrorists. Violent opposition to the American agenda increases with each surge from Washington, whatever its character. Both text and context reveal that every dream of empire brings sorrow, obviously so to the victims of imperial violence, but also to the imperial dreamers, whether or not they consciously associate with what is being done in their name.

But the word sorrow implies more than grief and loss. The palpable sadness of a people reluctantly at war can push toward a fuller moral reckoning with the condition of a nation that has made its own economic supremacy an absolute value. To take on the question of an economy advanced with little regard for its sustainability, much less for its justice, implies a move away from the focus on Bush's venality to a broader responsibility. How do the sorrows of war and empire implicate you?

The simplest truth is that the economic system that so benefits you is steadily eroding democracy by transferring the power to shape the future, both within states and among them, to ever smaller elites. At the same time, wealth multiplies and concentrates itself, while impoverishing more and more human beings. Everything from US oil consumption, to global trade structures, to the iron law of cheap labor, to immigration policies, to the psychology of the gated community, to the gated idea of national sovereignty, to the distractions of celebrity culture -- all of this supports what is called the American way of life. Yours. If finally seen to be the source of multiple sorrows at home and abroad, can this way of life prompt a deeper confrontation with its true costs and consequences? You need not reduce social ills to personal morality -- or let Bush off the hook for his wholly owned war -- to acknowledge the complicity attached to mere citizenship in a war-making, imperial nation. In that case, can you measure your sorrow against the word's other meaning, which is contrition?

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Boston Globe.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Biography of James Carroll at link below. In May 2005, he published House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power, a history of the Pentagon, which the Chicago Tribune called “the first great non-fiction book of the new millennium.”

Monday, March 26, 2007

News Images and Stories

NPR had a story today about a photojournalist Chris Hondros. The first line of the story from the NPR website:

"Chris Hondros has just returned from his ninth tour of Iraq. He's not a soldier. He's an award-winning news photographer for Getty Images."

The NPR story centers on one particularly powerful and painful image that he has brought to the world. War is unimaginably horrible.

The NPR story is at link below. Click on the "Audio Slideshow.

The Getty Images Website, with more photos and blog entries from Chris:

I admire these photos and blog entries - they describe What Is without message, evoking only that which we all carry in every cell in our bodies. Thank you Chris, I am glad you have returned without bodily harm.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge MA

Mount Auburn cemetery was founded in 1831. It was the first large-scale designed landscape open to the public in the United States. Today it is a beautiful place to visit at all times of the year. Great trees and plants, two ponds, rolling landscape, two chapel buildings, a tower with views of the Cambridge and Boston. A quiet place.

On Sunday about noon on March 18 2007 at Mount Auburn cemetery, the snow from Friday's storm was 6-8 inches deep, and glazed with an icy crust. Partly sunny, about 30 degrees with an occasionally brisk and chilly wind. The bare trees showed their forms, such as the corkscrew patterns in this Japanese Fernleaf Maple.
At first I thought it was Forsythia, but my horticulturally savvy partner S set me straight: witch hazel! A splash of yellow against a backdrop of white snow and bare branches. A great native plant that blooms so early.

Witch hazel has a frilly yellow flower with a ruby center. Not captured perfectly in this photo but a delight to see, especially when so little color is evident elsewhere in the landscape. Supposed to be fragrant too, but not on a day as cold as today.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Harvard Square Lanterns and Buds

Below are some scenes from near Harvard Square, March 13-17.
The Chinese New Year celebration began on February 18 in 2007. The 15-day festivities end in a Lantern Festival. Traditionally the Lantern Festival was a time to find love! I photographed this tree decked out in blue lights and hanging lanterns on March 14, in the park known as "Winthrop Park" at the corner of Mt Auburn and JFK Sts (Upstairs On the Square and OM restaurants and Peets Coffee Shop are on this square). Yep, it looked pretty romantic, and after a lavender martini at the funky bar at OM, I expect love could bloom quite readily.

Despite being encased in ice the magnolia blossoms were showing their green for St Patty's day on Saturday March 17. A pre-St Patty's nor'easter storm dumped 5-10 inches of snow on Friday. Signs of Spring were easier to spot before the snow, but I'm keeping a close watch. As I walked down Mass Ave between Harvard and Central Squares the snow didn't seem to dampen enthusiasm for the usual St Patty's day revelry! Lots of funny green clothes and elation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Current Aht at the 1369 and Beyond

My favorite coffee shop: the 1369 Coffee House, at 757 Mass Ave, Central Square, Cambridge MA near the Cambridge City Hall (with the big tower and distinctive Richardsonian Romanesque architecture). The art at 1369 moves in and out frequently, almost too frequently for the displays I enjoy. But I'm fighting back against this swift current of time by toting my camera and taking the time to pull it out. Currently there are some bold paintings by Sean Boyce on display, such as the one below. I love the vibrant colors that remind me of that experiment with LSD that I never actually did. It's a chromatic fantasy and a visual thrill. Another painting of the inside of a Red Line subway train made it look like a cozy living room. Martha was sitting in the corner and she was quite accommodating for my photographic exercise. I commented how the light in the back of the room didn't do justice to the painting, but how the painting uplifted the corner with its surge of color and light. Wanted to take it home!

I met "Allister" out in front of the 1369. What risks I take to provide interesting content for this blog! Check out those teeth, and her comfortable mode of sitting! She was calm as I captured his beauty for all to savor, seeming to be well-acquainted with the camera. Click on the photo to get up-close-and-personal! I met the owner after originally posting this, and he told me that Allister is a very mellow guy.

Then I came across this photo of Saturn. Yes, even so far away from home planet there are stunning shadows - light plays everywhere, without an artistic director, stage manager, conductor, art director or other aesthetic authority. How incredibly cool it is that we are able to make a camera as sophisticated as the Cassini spacecraft and get it in position to take a photo (composite) of What Is at that locus of space. Original and more info at . Compared to $1Billion/week in Iraq, what a good way to spend a bit of our collective resources.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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Monday, March 12, 2007

Central Square, MIT, Harvard Square; March 2007

Some photos from around Central Square, MIT, and Harvard Square, Cambridge MA.
Early March 2007.

You can't say we don't take Saint Patty's day very seriously here in the Boston area. This countdown started well in advance of the big GREEN day, displayed prominently in the window of a liquor store just outside the Central Square T station.

The MIT Prajnapaya (and others) sponsored the creation of the "Wheel of Life" sand mandala in the Simmons residence hall at MIT. The sand mandala can be viewed at
(this page also features some beautiful chanting by Tenzin Priyadarshi).
Surrounding the sand mandala were beautiful flower and natural object arrangements like the one shown above, by Faxon Green
The mandala was created over a period of about a week by Lobsang Samten, and dismantled in a "dissolution ceremony" on March 10 and poured into the Charles River. Talk about an excercise in letting go!

This very cool bike was spotted chained to a gate near Harvard yard. A famous Kronan bike, very cool, very heavy. Design originates with the Swedish army. I do wish all armies would limit their equipment to bicycles, picnic baskets, musical instruments and the like.

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Saturday, March 3, 2007

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Redbones Friday - February 16 2007

Redbones is a place that I can really relax, on a Friday evening. I arrived about 7:30, after staying too late at work to attend the opening at the Nave Gallery that I was curious about attending. As usual the bar was quite jammed, but at Redbones this doesn't bother me. I started out with a Jever Pilsner - wow what a wonderfully light straw color, foamy microbubble head and subtle aroma. The hops taste really comes through because of the generally lighter style of the beer. Checking wiki, I learn that a pilsner is a lager, i.e fermented? and aged cold. The wiki also mentions the Jever Pilsner specifically, citing the bitter character of the hops that I had noticed prominently. Wow, you can count on Redbones to deliver the genuine article, and wiki to understand it!