Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lunar Eclipse February 20 2008

Photo by Alin Tolea, Baltimore MD, USA

On Wednesday night, February 20th there was a total lunar eclipse, viewable from ~8PM-midnight in the Eastern US. The moon was full and bright as viewed from Arlington MA, temperatures in the 20s (F), clear and cold. Thin wispy clouds veiled the spectacle for short periods, but for the most part the viewing conditions were superb. As shown in the sequence photos below, the shadow started on the lower left, and proceeded across until only a thin crescent of brightness remained. Although not shown in the photos, an interesting pattern of stars flanked the moon, especially visible near the peak of the eclipse. These stars made a kite-like pattern with the moon. I viewed from my house, but did venture out for periods to see it directly (no intervening window) and feel the night air. I bundled up and sat in an Adirondack chair on the front patio. The colors were truly remarkable, Alin Tolea's photo being quite close to what I experienced in Arlington, Massachusetts. Thanks to Alin, and to Herman Heyn, Baltimore's "Street Corner Astronomer" for sending me the stunning photo. This was the most dramatic celestial event visible to the naked eye that I have seen in a long time.

Photo by Jay Hagenbuch, Arlington, Massachusetts USA (Click to see larger image, this clip doesn't do justice to this gorgeous composite that Jay created).

Photo by Stan Honda, Titusville, Florida USA

Photo by AP, Stedman, North Carolina, USA

Pay a visit to MR ECLIPSE at for more info on eclipses.
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Saturday, February 9, 2008

BSO at Symphony Hall

A delightful Boston Symphony Orchestra program at Symphony Hall on Saturday night (2/9/2008):

FRANK MARTIN (Swiss, 1890-1974): Petite symphonie concertante, for harp, piano, harpsichord, and double string orchestra (1946)

SERGE PROKOFIEV (Russian, 1891-1953): Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Opus 19 (1923)

CAMILLE SAINT-SA√čNS (French, 1835-1921): Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Opus 78, "Organ Symphony"

Charles Dutoit conductor

Ann Hobson Pilot harp
Randall Hodgkinson piano
Mark Kroll harpsichord

Viviane Hagner violin

James David Christie organ

The Martin piece opening the program was new to me - an exploration of what can be done with strings: plucked by a harpist, struck by a pianist, plucked by a harpsichordist, bowed by a solo violinist (or viola, cello, bass), or pizzacoto. Some familar lush sounds, but also some unusual interplays, rhythmic effects and tone colors. I would have been hard pressed to guess the year this piece was written - clearly modern in tonality, but at the same time more familiar. All created with strings alone - no woodwinds, percussion or horns.

The Prokofiev violin concerto was also unfamiliar to me, although the program notes tell of frequent BSO performances since the BSO gave the US premier in 1925 with soloist Richard Burgin, Serge Koussevitzky conducting. Gypsy-like at times, now the solo violin has its usual support from orchestral strings and woodwinds, brass, percussion and harp. Some passages where the soloist and harpist played together were reminiscent of the previous (Martin) piece.

Photo from Boston Globe (2/92008): Charles Dutoit conducts violinist Viviane Hagner, making her debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 at Symphony Hall last night. (Michael J. Lutch)

The Saint-Saens Symphony - what a great chance to hear the magnificent Aeolian-Skinner organ, in this unusual two-movement symphony. The organ enters stealthily in the first movement, with some tones so low you feel that you can count the vibrations/second on your fingers. You can certainly feel them come through the air and floor of the hall, even in the far corner of the 2nd balcony. The second movement especially brings some familiar themes. This time the organ has a dramatic entrance with a huge chord. Definately not an organ concerto, rather the organ is presented more like another instrument of the orchestra, although with a huge range of pitch and color.

When I lived near Philadelphia, I remember seeing Charles Dutoit conduct summer concerts at the outdoor "Mann Center" which overlooked the Philly skyline. Some nights were very hot, and he labored in the heat. I always felt he had an exceptionally clear beat, and would be a conductor that musicians would like playing under - clear but poetic and exciting.