Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rossini's "Tancredi"

This afternoon, Joshua and I attended the matinee performance of Rossini’s opera seria, “Tancredi”, presented by Opera Boston.

“Tancredi” is a noble work, with a noble score, and I did not want to miss a rare opportunity to attend a stage presentation of the work.

Ewa Podles sang the role of Tancredi, and she provided the only enjoyment of the afternoon.

Podles has a remarkable contralto voice, a voice of great power, depth and range (three octaves). Podles is not a particularly subtle artist, but she is a unique one.

Josh and I last heard Podles precisely three years ago, when she appeared in Rossini’s “La Donna Del Lago” presented by Minnesota Opera. Her voice has lost some of its gleam over the last three years, but she still possesses a remarkable instrument.

The performance itself was a trial to endure.

We do not live in an age of Rossini conductors, but Opera Boston should have engaged a conductor more suited to Rossini than Gil Rose, Music Director of Opera Boston, who clearly found nothing of interest in the score. The music did not come alive for a single moment in what proved to be a very long afternoon.

Opera Boston utilizes a pick-up orchestra, and the results were about what one might expect. Since Rossini’s orchestra is smaller than the orchestra of Weber, and Rossini’s orchestral writing much less complicated than Weber’s, today’s playing was not as shockingly bad as the playing in last year’s “Der Freischutz”, which had to be heard to be believed. Nonetheless, the orchestra’s work today provided no pleasure whatsoever.

None of the other singers was at Podles’s level. Podles overpowered every other singer on stage, including the poor young woman who sang Amenaide (who was blown away by Podles in their duets).

Opera Boston apparently has very little money. The “Tancredi” production was bare-boned, the stage direction elementary if not amateur (and entirely lame). It was all very listless. I was surprised that the company did not make more of an effort to provide a suitable setting for one of Rossini’s most inspired works.

The costumes were particularly unflattering as well as cheap-looking to an extraordinary degree. They looked off-the-rack from J.C. Penney.

The company should have settled for a concert presentation of the score.

Opera Boston needs to reduce its ticket prices. The public is not getting its money’s worth.

Ticket prices for “Tancredi” ranged from $29.00 to $132.00 per seat, five times more than the quality of the company’s presentation warranted. More irritating still was a $7.00 per ticket transaction fee and $2.00 order fee tacked on to each purchase.

Today’s performance was not well-attended—we observed lots of empty seats—and I suspect a good portion of the opera patrons that were present this afternoon had been issued complimentary tickets.

I am told that the Boston Symphony and The Handel And Haydn Society are papering their halls like crazy these days.

I suspect Opera Boston has been reduced to the same practice.

Ticket sales for “Tancredi” have been so poor that this coming Tuesday night’s performance, the final night of the “Tancredi” run, will play to a near-empty house if paying patrons—and only paying patrons—are in attendance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Iowa 15, Michigan State 13

Since Joshua and I do not have a television, my boss and his wife invited Josh and me over for dinner tonight so that we might watch the Iowa-Michigan State game from East Lansing.

I suffered twenty near-fatal heart attacks during the final two minutes of play.

It was an unbelievable finish.

I am still screaming—and anyone who watched the game tonight will know why.

This year’s Hawkeye team is a team of destiny. I have never seen a team play with so much heart—and such sheer guts.

My father is ecstatic beyond description. He would be screaming, too, if my mother would allow it.

Screaming is the order of the night for Hawkeye fans everywhere.

This just in from a friend in Iowa City:

I ran out onto the balcony when it was over. Literally everyone in Iowa City was outside, screaming at the top of their lungs. It was bizarre, and eerie, and cool. So I joined them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Embarking Upon The Thatcher Memoirs

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.”—The Baroness Thatcher

I have embarked upon reading Margaret Thatcher’s memoirs, which shall take several months, as the memoirs involve thousands upon thousands of pages, in three volumes.

I decided to read the volumes in chronological order. Consequently, I have begun with “The Path To Power”, although most persons choose to begin with “The Downing Street Years”.

It should be a luxurious reading experience, a welcome antidote to living in a period of pygmy politicians and leadership more suited to banana republics than world powers.

Thatcher’s memoirs are much the most important since Churchill’s. Everyone that has studied them has raved.

They are also the best-selling memoirs since Churchill’s, worldwide, in numerous languages, and have enjoyed a very durable shelf life (it is seldom that politician memoirs remain in print for any period).

My father read the volumes as they were first published. He said at the time that the memoirs were fifty times better than he had expected, the first memoirs since Churchill’s written at the most exalted level—and written not to settle scores.

Thatcher’s memoirs are considered to represent a template of the leader’s art, and will be read for the next thousand years, in admiration and awe. According to a highly-regarded history professor I know, they are destined, over time, to supplant Machiavelli as primary source of the politician’s craft.

It is apparent, from the first few chapters, that the memoirs have been painstakingly assembled. Thatcher is a fine, even elegant writer, and she possesses more than a little eloquence.

It is also apparent, from the first few chapters, that Thatcher possesses a mind of startling clarity.

While Thatcher’s eloquence does not quite match Churchill’s, Thatcher’s clarity of thought exceeds that of the great lion that preceded her.

Upon reflection, this should not be surprising. Thatcher accomplished at least as much as her great predecessor.

Churchill is remembered today as a wartime leader. He was instrumental in winning a great conflagration, but he did so by reacting to international events, not by shaping them according to his own initiative. Churchill’s domestic accomplishments were mostly non-existent.

Thatcher is remembered as a peacetime leader who completely transformed her nation’s economy and ethos—and who did so NOT in response to external events but entirely upon her own initiative. Further, Thatcher is remembered as a leader of vast foreign policy accomplishment, including a seminal role in winning a lengthy Cold War.

As such, Thatcher enjoys two trumps over Churchill.

There is another quality Thatcher shared with Churchill: both leaders were wont to drive their fellow politicians mad.

In a career lasting four decades, Thatcher was renowned for driving her opposition into a tizzy.

Her opponents in the Labour Party were always in a tizzy. Her opponents in the Liberal Party were always in a tizzy. Even opponents within her own Conservative Party were always in a tizzy.

Leaders on the continent were generally in a tizzy, too—and, amazingly, they were in a tizzy from the time of her first cabinet post, years before she became leader first of her party and then of her nation. Europeans must have foreseen, earlier than the British themselves, that Thatcher would one day become Prime Minister—and cause them all sorts of grief.

She was a formidable woman.

No one ever took on Thatcher face-to-face and emerged the winner. She could only be attacked from behind, under cover of darkness.

“Margaret Thatcher always gave me headaches.”—Helmut Kohl in his “Memoirs: 1982-1990”

“What does she want, this housewife? My [****] on a tray?”—Jacques Chirac, during the February 1988 Brussels Summit

Thatcher was an extraordinary woman. She was sui generis.

Not surprisingly, Thatcher was a great political and personal friend of the other great leader of her era, Ronald Reagan.

In less than a decade, the two leaders shaped a comprehensive reorientation of the world’s politics and economies. A revolution in all but name, it was an achievement on the most extravagant scale, the magnitude of which is generally accomplished only through warfare.

Thatcher and Reagan were to remain close until Reagan’s mind was lost to dementia a full decade before his body gave out and he was called home at last.

I remember vividly Thatcher’s appearance at Reagan’s 2004 funeral.

Her eulogy, the best of the eulogies that day, began: “We have lost a great President, a great American, and a great man—and I have lost a dear friend.”

I recall how fragile Thatcher looked at the end of what, for her, surely had been a very long and very tiring day. After The State Funeral at The National Cathedral, Thatcher, along with Reagan family members and a handful of Reagan intimates, made the long journey from Washington to California in order to lay Reagan to rest, at sunset, on a spot overlooking The Pacific Ocean.

Though visibly frail, The Iron Lady still displayed the dignity and composure for which she had been greatly admired during her prime.

That day, as always, she wore a great hat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Vienna Court Opera 1902

Now, of course, known as The Vienna State Opera.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Pinter Play

This past weekend, Joshua and I attended a performance of Harold Pinter’s “The Caretaker” at Central Square Theater in Cambridge.

It was a last-minute diversion on our part, prompted by the fact that Josh had studied all day Saturday and wanted to get out of the apartment for a few hours on Saturday night.

Over the course of the previous two weekends, we had already seen every other play in Boston we had judged to be worth seeing, leaving “The Caretaker” our only remaining option.

Two weekends ago, we had taken my brother to performances of “Mister Roberts” and “Kiss Me, Kate”. One weekend ago, we had taken my parents to a performance of “The Savannah Disputation”. Over both weekends, we had tried to match guests with plays we believed they might enjoy—and, had the production not been so poor, we might have attended “Kiss Me, Kate” a second time in order that my parents could see it.

My brother had no interest in “The Caretaker”. My parents had seen the play a couple of times and did not want to attend the Boston production. Consequently, “The Caretaker” had not been on our list of events for out-of-town guests the previous two weekends.

Neither Josh nor I had seen the play until Saturday night.

“The Caretaker”, published and first performed in 1960, was the play that made Pinter’s reputation. A menacing tale of two brothers that take in a vagrant, “The Caretaker” is full of the devices that came to typify Pinter’s work: silences, non sequiturs, interruptions, abrupt changes of subject, characters talking past each other, veiled menace constantly lurking beneath the surface. Over time, such devices became clichés.

Some of the dialogue in “The Caretaker” is very, very good—but much of it is not. The text should have been subjected to three or four more revisions in order to eliminate the dead spots, of which there is more than one in each of the three acts.

The play tries to maintain a fine line between tragedy and comedy, but Pinter was unable to find the right balance. The seams show.

Much of “The Caretaker” is borrowed from Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee, playwrights that had mastered “absurdist” theater of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s much more effectively than Pinter.

There are pages and pages of early Albee in “The Caretaker”. I would bet my life that Pinter was studying Albee’s early works in excruciating detail at the time he wrote “The Caretaker”, obtaining copies of Albee’s plays straight from the printer even before the ink had dried. Pinter, clearly, had memorized “The Zoo Story”—and Albee should have sued for plagiarism.

“The Caretaker” is stale today, a relic of the 1960’s.

All too obviously, the play is the work of an embittered outsider railing against the establishment—Pinter’s background was decidedly lower-class, and he was a Jew in anti-Semitic Britain, never a good thing—and Pinter mined much the same dull ground John Osborne trod at the very same time (although Pinter camouflaged the dreariness of his dramas in new dressings).

Can “The Caretaker” be successfully revived today? I am not confident it is possible, although I would not use the Boston production as a guide in order to answer that question. The Boston production was not good. A better production might have revealed the play in a better light.

“The Caretaker” must be very hard for actors to perform because much of the dialogue inhibits an actor’s ability to create a rhythm onstage. The Boston actors had a lot of trouble creating and sustaining a rhythm. One of the consequences was that the play did not come off—it did not “play”.

Further, only one of the Boston actors was up to the demands of his role. That particular actor was indeed quite good, but he completely overshadowed the other players.

Over the last thirty years, Pinter’s plays have fallen by the wayside. His final major play, “Betrayal”, was written in 1978, three decades before his death. After “Betrayal”, Pinter was never again to enjoy commercial or critical success.

Pinter’s work is not often revived today—and, when it is, the runs are always of very limited durations. His plays have never caught on with the public.

Moreover, Pinter’s plays have never carried much resonance beyond the times in which they were written. The plays are peculiar artifacts from The Pre-Thatcher Age, the 1960’s and 1970’s, a period during which Britain was quite literally falling apart.

Pinter’s plays are emblematic of, as well as remnants from, those unhappy times. A splash of cold, bracing water—the Thatcher reforms—was to place those two miserable decades into perspective. Similarly, a splash of cold, bracing water reveals self-pity to be at the root of Pinter’s work. Pinter as playwright is, fundamentally, juvenile—and very unpleasant.

In addition to his work as a playwright, Pinter pursued three other lines of work.

One was acting.

Pinter appeared with some frequency, but without much distinction, on stage, on the screen, and on British television.

A second was screenwriting.

Pinter’s work as a screenwriter is impossible to assess at present, as more and more information now arises establishing that screenplays for which Pinter was credited as author had to be rewritten by other hands. There may be little or none of Pinter’s work in the finished screenplays for the films by which Pinter is best known.

Pinter never addressed this particular issue during his lifetime—Pinter was not the most honest or honorable of men—but the authorship of the “Pinter” screenplays is now a wide-open question. Much additional information on this subject is certain to come to light over the next ten and twenty years.

A third was directing for the stage.

With the right material (and within a very narrow range), Pinter was an exceptionally fine stage director. I have attended three plays directed by Pinter, and all three plays received faultless productions. Pinter was a born theater director, perhaps the equal of Peter Hall.

Directing for the stage was Pinter’s true métier. Pinter was a much finer director than playwright.

My brother and I saw Pinter once. We saw him in London in 2004 as we passed the stage door of the Comedy Theatre in the West End. At the time, Pinter had been directing Simon Gray’s “The Old Masters” at the Comedy Theatre, which my brother and I attended during that 2004 trip.

At the time, Pinter was dying of cancer, although he looked perfectly fine (for Pinter) from a distance of eight feet.

I recognized him at once. As soon as we had walked a few yards out of earshot, I turned to my brother and said, “That was Harold Pinter.” My brother was skeptical until he saw Pinter’s photograph in the program booklet a short time later.

In life, Pinter was a loathsome individual. A man utterly without scruples, he was incapable of uttering a truthful word.

He was ungenerous and unkind, even cruel, to those closest to him. He betrayed virtually everyone with whom he came into contact. He was the supreme nihilist, standing against everything but standing for nothing, living life only to please his own base instincts.

Pinter was not an educated or a scholarly or a sophisticated man. He did not possess a first-class mind.

Pinter had received virtually no schooling, and was never offered a place at university. He spent his life attempting to mask those shortcomings, always trying to pass himself off as a public intellectual.

The British fell for it.

His only offspring, a son, did not. The son broke off contact with Pinter in the early 1980’s—and altered his surname. The son explained that he did not want to go through life bearing the same surname as his odious father.

Pinter was never to see his son again.

Pinter died last Christmas Eve.

The son did not attend Pinter’s funeral.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The literature produced about World War II continues without end.

Occasionally a new study will reveal new information, fresh insights, or the detailed examination of some aspect of the war and its aftermath previously not addressed by scholars.

Such is the case with “Endkampf: Soldiers, Civilians And The Death Of The Third Reich”, Stephen G. Fritz’s study of the last days of the war in Franconia, a stronghold of the National Socialism movement.

Although The Allied Army had crossed the Rhine in early 1945 and the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt, General Eisenhower took very seriously intelligence reports detailing Germany’s last-ditch “Werwulf” strategy: concentrating resistance to the Allies in Franconia, where remnants of The German Army, aided by local and imported guerilla groups, were to establish an Alpine stronghold, a stronghold difficult if not impossible for an occupying army to conquer.

Eisenhower’s fears of an “Alpine Redoubt” proved to be well-founded. Having dispatched an army to intercept the German retreat toward Franconia, Eisenhower began receiving reports that the Allies were encountering ferocious fighting from a variety of German defenders: Wehrmacht, SS, Hitler Youth and Volkssturm forces, all offering such tenacious resistance that Eisenhower feared that Germany’s last-ditch effort would hamper the successful post-war occupation of Germany itself.

In the early months of 1945, Eisenhower was worried about post-war considerations in places besides Franconia.

The German occupation of Holland had turned Holland into a virtual fortress, impregnable to attack. Once on European soil, The Allied Army had deliberately sidestepped Holland, not expecting Holland to fall until Germany itself surrendered. One Eisenhower concern was that a defeated Germany would not give up Holland without a fight, or at least without concessions.

Another Eisenhower concern was Norway. Germany’s occupation of Norway was expected to be difficult to bring to a conclusion. The Allies believed that German forces would continue to occupy and control vast portions of the country long after war’s end, and do so by establishing an impenetrable German stronghold in Norway’s mountains.

With growing alarm, Eisenhower feared that his occupying forces, at great cost, would be required to deal with resistance on three separate fronts—and he decided to nip Franconian resistance in the bud even before the war ended. Accordingly, more than two months before cessation of hostilities, Eisenhower sent troops to occupy Franconia, an area otherwise without strategic or military significance.

For civilians living in Franconia in the last weeks of the war, March, April and May of 1945 brought living hell.

Civilians, by and large, were eager for the war to end. Their chief concerns were preserving their property, preserving their way of life—and, most of all, preserving their lives and the lives of their families.

Local officials, however, often had a different view. Many officials wanted to defend the towns and cities to the point of total destruction rather than surrender them to the Allies. Toward this end, they were often joined by hardened, battle-tested soldiers of the Wehrmacht, transferred to Franconia from The Eastern Front in order to create havoc for the Allies.

The situation was highly volatile, and varied significantly village-by-village, town-by-town, city-by-city.

Throughout Franconia, local officials fought with Nazi officials who fought with military officials who fought with the local militia who fought with the civilian populace over what course of action to take as the war wound down.

Each of these constituencies had a different outlook. Each had a different motive. Each had a different plan of action.

The result was that each jurisdiction became unique, largely controlling its own fate. Such fates were dependent upon the vagaries of local politicians, local party officials and local citizens of prominence—as well as upon the actions of whatever Wehrmacht personnel happened to be passing through town, some of which were resolved to fight unto death and others of which wanted nothing more than to lay down arms.

A hodgepodge of different methods for dealing with the advancing Allies was adopted, a scattershot approach that the Allies had trouble predicting (and controlling).

Some towns willingly surrendered to the Allies. Others did not.

Some towns were virtually undefended. Others were virtual fortresses.

Some towns welcomed the Americans with relief and open arms. Others became death traps for American combatants.

In the changing circumstances of battle, some towns that had surrendered to the Allies found themselves once again under German control, and the leaderships of those towns were regarded as traitors (and were treated as such).

The womenfolk in many towns insisted upon raising white flags of surrender. In some towns, their efforts were successful. In other towns, their efforts were not, and the women were hung like common criminals.

One of the causes of fierce German resistance in Franconia was the fear—probably justified at the time—of an Anglo-American sell-out to vengeful Soviets. The people of Franconia had heard reports of the inhuman actions of The Russian Army in the East, and many were prepared to die rather than subject themselves to similar horrors.

Another cause of resistance, held by committed Nazi ideologues, was the belief that The German Reich would rise again. This faction wanted to see a spirited resistance that would result in the total destruction of Germany, followed by a foreign occupation so brutal and so miserable that the population would look back on the period of National Socialism as a golden age and seek its return.

American forces were lucky in that they enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in firepower at this late stage of the war. Franconian towns and cities that offered resistance instantly became the targets of artillery shells and air strikes. The Americans intended to show that they meant business, and German resistance was quickly pummeled into submission by American superiority in armaments.

Resistance, however, did not end with Germany’s final defeat. Well into the late 1940’s, American soldiers were attacked, maimed and murdered by small but organized factions of resisters, most of which were believed to have been formed by Nazi loyalists and sympathizers.

Many top officials in the American occupying force were of the opinion that, were it not for the fact that the Germans had been so utterly worn down by war, a successful insurgency might have developed and threatened the success of the occupation.

The years 1946 and 1947 proved to be particularly hazardous for Americans. Germany had not yet begun to recover economically from the war’s devastation, and local populaces were unhappy with the American policy of permitting economic development only in the agricultural sector (a policy not to be abandoned until late 1947).

Tensions between Germans and occupying forces became acute that year, when attacks against American soldiers became frequent and sabotage became widespread. Such actions were attributed to a small band of diehard zealots as well as frustration over a deteriorating economy and unhappiness with growing fraternization between German women and American GIs. The frequency of attacks was to wither the following year, coincident with changes in economic policy and the goodwill engendered by announcement of The Marshall Plan.

Nevertheless, throughout the late 1940’s, occupation authorities (and American politicians) despaired of success, always calling for more troops and more personnel trained in civic affairs. The U.S. Army and President Truman were repeatedly accused of poor planning for the occupation phase of the war.

The press and public alike became convinced that eventual success was highly unlikely. Predictions of ultimate disaster became commonplace. A widespread perception was that the occupation had been botched from the beginning, that the devastation of Germany was too great ever to be repaired, and that the German people were obstinately resistant to a democratic form of government. These perceptions were not to begin to change until the successful Berlin Airlift of 1948.

Despite resistance efforts, relations between the German people and the American occupying forces were, on the whole, reasonably good. Germans realized—with profound thanks—that the Americans were more civilized occupiers than the Russians, British or French. Americans recognized that the Germans, alone among Western Europeans, were as orderly, industrious and advanced as themselves.

By 1949, resistance had largely come to an end—and, of greater importance, the German populace no longer supported small bands of resisters. Like thieves and murderers, the resisters had become outcasts.

The resistance had come to an end—and so, before much longer, would the occupation.

Fritz tells this story well. His sources are deep and widespread, and include personal interviews as well as police reports, intelligence reports, U.S. Army records, and German newspapers and periodicals from the period. Indeed, almost one-third of the book is devoted to documenting primary and secondary sources, probably a good thing (other than for the general reader) since Fritz is treading unbroken ground.

“Endkampf” was widely (and positively) reviewed in American and European historical journals at the time of its publication in 2004. The book, however, was totally ignored by the mainstream press, a very odd state of affairs given the book’s unique timeliness. The publishers of The New York Times and The Washington Post presumably did not want to alert their readers to the existence of a new, scholarly publication addressing the perils involved in a post-war occupation, especially a publication that would allow readers to draw parallels between the post-war occupation of Germany—ultimately successful—and the post-war occupation of Iraq.

Despite the mainstream press ignoring “Endkampf”, someone was paying attention: the book remains in print, and is widely known to scholars of the period.

All wars end in a post-war period of insurgency. Such circumstance is entirely unremarkable, known to all but the obtuse. Fritz’s book on the history of the American occupation of Franconia is an invaluable study, full of lessons applicable to our own time.

It is my understanding that “Endkampf” has been read and studied—and admired—by key U.S. military personnel, in Washington and in Baghdad.

As for those who ignored the book on its initial publication: Whoever could have imagined that a study of Germany in the aftermath of World War II might shed light on the current situation in Iraq?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Peace And Plenty

John Whetten Ehninger (1827-1889)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington

Oil On Canvas
32 1/4 Inches By 54 1/8 Inches

"And The Year Smiles As It Draws Near Its Death"

Deep inside, we're still the boys of autumn, that magic time of year that once swept us onto America's fields.

Archie Manning

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Columbus Day Weekend

For years, it has been the custom of my parents to travel to New York to spend Columbus Day Weekend with my older brother and his family—and my middle brother and I have generally joined them.

Since my older brother and his family no longer reside in New York, long holiday weekends in New York are a thing of the past, mostly.

Columbus Day Weekend has always been a good weekend for my parents to undertake a visit, situated—as it is—six weeks after the end of summer and a few weeks before the major, labor-intensive holidays of November and December.

Last year, my parents spent ten days on the East Coast in conjunction with Columbus Day. They spent Columbus Day Weekend and the ensuing week in New York, and they spent the following weekend in Boston visiting Joshua and me.

This year, Josh and I suggested to my parents that they visit Boston over Columbus Day Weekend. The weekend coincided with an interesting Boston Symphony program, an interesting Handel And Haydn Society program, and a run of “Giselle” performances by Boston Ballet.

The bait must have been sufficient, because my parents accepted the invitation.

They flew in Thursday night, taking the very same flight that my brother had flown one week earlier—and, once again, Josh and I were waiting at Logan to retrieve visitors and bring them home.

We had a good dinner Thursday night.

As soon as we arrived home, we prepared sesame chicken and rainbow pasta, a solid starter course that would keep everyone’s appetite in check for a couple of hours.

Our main dinner was roast pork served with cheddar potatoes, succotash, parsnips, homemade stewed tomatoes and homemade applesauce. This is one of my father’s favorite dinners, and we knew he would like it.

The dinner being more than ample, we skipped dessert.

Our main activity for Friday was an early-afternoon Boston Symphony concert. We had purchased tickets to hear Daniele Gatti conduct Brahms’s Third Symphony, Hindemith’s Concert Music For Strings and Brass, and Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosencavalier” Waltz Sequence, but for some reason Gatti had cancelled his appearances in Boston. To our disappointment, the concert featured not only a different conductor but also a different program.

We were not happy about the changes in conductor and program, yet we decided to attend the concert anyway—but only because we had already purchased tickets.

I had to work Friday morning, and Josh had classes, so he and I left my parents to fend for themselves until 1:00 p.m., when we all were to meet at Symphony Hall half an hour before the concert was to begin. Indeed, Josh and I left the apartment before my parents even rose for the day.

My parents were not without plans or transportation. They had a leisurely early morning in the apartment, after which they drove our car downtown and spent a couple of hours before the concert visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which they had not visited for several years.

The concert was not a satisfying one.

The replacement conductor was Vasily Petrenko, a Russian conductor who works with a provincial orchestra in Liverpool. The replacement program was Stravinsky’s Scherzo Fantastique, Rachmaninoff’s The Isle Of The Dead and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10.

We had contemplated skipping the first half of the program and arriving at 2:15 p.m. in order to hear the Shostakovich and only the Shostakovich. Nonetheless, we gamely sat through the whole thing.

The Stravinsky composition was one of the composer’s early works, written during his “Rimsky-Korsakov” period. The piece, mercifully short, has little to recommend it beyond its glittering instrumentation.

The Rachmaninoff tone poem is considered to be among the composer’s finer works, but The Isle Of The Dead has never appealed to me. There are only a handful of works by Rachmaninoff I can tolerate—the Corelli Variations, the Third Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Paganini Variations, Etudes-Tableaux and a small number of isolated piano pieces—and The Isle Of The Dead is not among them.

I used to believe that the Shostakovich Tenth was the composer’s finest symphony, but I am no longer of that opinion.

The extended first movement is expertly crafted, and probably Shostakovich’s finest (and certainly most sophisticated) example of sonata-form writing. It is by far the best thing about the Tenth Symphony, although the musical materials themselves, all built from the six-note motif that begins the symphony, are not distinguished or memorable in the least.

The brief scherzo, a musical portrait of the demented Stalin, speaks for itself.

Things start to go awry in the Allegretto, a typical Shostakovich movement that may be interpreted either as tragedy or as a parody of tragedy. No matter how interpreted—and my assumption has always been that the composer was being deliberately ambiguous—the movement does not work, even in the hands of a Karajan or a Mravinsky, nor does it supply a satisfactory emotional fulcrum for the symphony.

The finale has the very same weakness: it may be taken as a genuine symphonic finale, but it equally may be taken as a parody of a genuine symphonic finale. Irony is everywhere, from the inane doodlings of the clarinet at the beginning of the movement to the repeated hammering of the D-S-C-H theme that serves as the movement’s—and the symphony’s—culmination. Everything may be taken at face value, and yet nothing need be taken at face value—and, in either case, the music is completely hollow (which, again, may very well have been the composer’s intent).

Scholars argue whether the Tenth Symphony was written in response to Stalin’s death or completed two or more years prior to the dictator’s demise. The symphony’s obvious similarities with the Violin Concerto No. 1 support the latter view. Whatever the date of the work’s composition, it was undoubtedly written by a composer with frazzled nerve endings.

I was not sure what to make of the performance we heard.

It was Petrenko’s debut with the Boston Symphony, and one cannot expect much from a conductor in his very first encounter with an orchestra.

The Boston Symphony can play the Shostakovich Tenth in its sleep; the score holds no technical challenges for the orchestra.

Nonetheless, the members of the orchestra did not seem to be fully engaged Friday afternoon. The lack of engagement was most apparent in the long first movement, which frequently slipped out of focus, a clear sign of lack of concentration on the part of the players. Lack of engagement was also evidenced by ensemble lapses and less-than-pure intonation from the winds.

Oddly, five measures into the second movement, things completely fell apart for a few seconds. Portions of the orchestra started playing ahead of the beat, portions of the orchestra started playing on the beat, and portions of the orchestra started playing behind the beat. It took Petrenko seven measures to clear up the mess, a mess that had to have been created by Petrenko’s imprecise baton technique.

Ordinarily, I would place blame for lack of engagement on the conductor, but my instinct tells me that Petrenko and the orchestra simply were not on the same wavelength.

Petrenko is very much a minute-by-minute conductor. Whenever he would ask for something “big”, the orchestra would give it to him, which always seemed to surprise him greatly—and entice him to ask for it again. It was obvious that Petrenko had never worked with an orchestra of Boston’s quality—he had to resort to asking for “big” over and over just to maintain momentum, since he was otherwise unsuccessful in maintaining tension in the musical argument—and it was equally obvious that the musicians of the Boston Symphony could have eaten Petrenko for lunch had they so chosen.

It was a very frustrating performance—as well as a very loud one.

Only the very best of Boston’s guest conductors are able to get the orchestra to observe a wide range of dynamics. Seiji Ozawa was long a proponent of the slogan, “loud is good”, and James Levine has always adhered to a strict policy of “the louder, the better”. Over time, the rule in Boston has become: the worse the conductor, the louder the orchestra (and the more sustained the applause).

I hope Boston chooses its next Music Director more carefully than its last four choices, none of which has worked out. It has been sixty years since Charles Munch was chosen to succeed Serge Koussevitzky, and Boston has made one flub after another in the intervening decades. (I count William Steinberg as a flub because it was widely known at the time Boston offered him the post that Steinberg was ill.)

Not only was I unsure what to make of the performance, I was also unsure what to make of Petrenko.

Petrenko’s management, IMG, has been breaking him in very, very gently with American orchestras. This is wise: he’s probably not yet ready for big-time engagements.

In 2006, Petrenko debuted with the Indianapolis Symphony and the Milwaukee Symphony.

Last season, Petrenko conducted the orchestras in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas and Saint Louis for the first time.

This season, Petrenko is slated to debut with the orchestras in Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco (in addition to the just-occurred short-notice debut in Boston).

Next season, Petrenko will get his first crack at a really good orchestra. In 2011, he is scheduled to conduct a world-class orchestra for the first time when he debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra. (He is also scheduled to appear with the Minnesota Orchestra next season).

As of today, Petrenko is not ready to conduct an orchestra of the caliber of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Even his far more experienced compatriot, Vladimir Jurowski, conducted himself out of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Music Directorship earlier this year when Jurowski failed to impress the Philadelphia Orchestra’s musicians in his third series of engagements with that fabled orchestra—and Jurowski is much more seasoned than Petrenko.

Aside from Philadelphia, no engagements have been extended to Petrenko from any of the other world-class orchestras. Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Cleveland, Dresden, Leipzig and Vienna have been sitting on their hands (and their contracts), no doubt closely watching Petrenko’s development—and waiting.

My instinct tells me that Petrenko may be the real thing in a few years’ time.

I emphasize, however, that I would need to hear him in Central European repertory in order to make a considered assessment. There is always the danger that Petrenko could turn out to be yet one more among countless Russian conductors (Gergiev, Pletnev, Rostropovich, Spivakov) effective in Russian music but in nothing else.

Petrenko has undeniable “star quality”, and that is his biggest selling point at present. His star quality alone makes him about 100 times more appealing than our current crop of American turkeys. Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, New York, Saint Louis and Seattle—saddled with Robert Spano, Marin Alsop, Leonard Slatkin, Alan Gilbert, David Robertson and Gerard Schwarz, none of whom possesses an ounce of star quality—should be keeping a close watch on Petrenko’s development.

Vasily Petrenko is not to be confused with the vastly-talented Kirill Petrenko, who is no relation to Vasily. Kirill Petrenko, only four years older than Vasily, very definitely is the real thing, and has already made major debuts with, among others, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra.

After the concert, we returned home. We did not go out again for the rest of the day.

Since none of us had eaten lunch, we prepared egg salad sandwiches and radishes and celery and carrot sticks to tide us over until dinnertime.

Then we spent the rest of the afternoon talking—and preparing food.

My mother decided that she wanted to be in charge of dinner, so we allowed her to take command, helping her whenever she requested assistance.

She decided that she wanted to make a French dinner and, after ascertaining that we had on hand the necessary ingredients, she went to work. Her menu was vichyssoise, her personal version of salade nicoise, coq au vin and green beans Julienne, and strawberry-almond-chocolate tarts.

We had a lot of fun getting dinner ready, all the time hearing about what was new with my nephew and niece.

My nephew will soon be four years old, which seems impossible, and my niece will celebrate her first birthday in another two months, which also seems impossible. I miss them both very much.

My nephew counts things now. In fact, I understand he counts everything, from the number of eggs in a carton to the number of cookies on a plate to the number of cars passing on the street.

He knows the letters of his name and he can pick them out of magazines and books. He knows the days of the week. He knows the route to church, and he knows the route to his grandparents’ house, and he knows the routes to the food stores my sister-in-law favors.

He knows how to call 911.

He rides his tricycle through an obstacle course my brother has created for him in the family room. My brother changes the obstacle course every night.

He knows my sister-in-law’s routine down to the minutest detail, and he always questions any departure from routine—and is always ready to tell her when it’s time to have lunch or time to prepare dinner or time for a story or time to check the mail or time for my brother to come home from work.

He’s fascinated by picture books featuring animals. He will sit and examine the books and turn the pages and reiterate the stories once he has memorized them (after having the stories read to him half a dozen times, he has the stories down cold, page by page, and almost word for word).

He’s a whiz at picture puzzles, and puzzle games.

He’ll spend a little time with crayons and coloring books, but coloring does not hold his attention for more than a few minutes.

He continues to love to play with his building blocks—and he always builds upward, not outward. Vertical building fascinates him; horizontal building does not.

He has a couple of compact discs he listens to. My sister-in-law created them for him, and she always shuffles the numbers so that the sequence is different each time he listens.

The discs are a composite of popular songs and instrumental music suitable for children.

Barbra Streisand’s rendition of “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?” is on one of the discs, and he absolutely loves the song. He likes to hear it over and over.

“The Big Time”, a snappy song from the Broadway musical, “The Will Rogers Follies”, sung by adults and children alike, is another one of his favorites—and a very unlikely one, I would think.

The final movements of Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 2 and Horn Concerto No. 4 are on the disc so that he can identify different instruments, as are the first movements of Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 4 and Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto. All of these pieces are immediately appealing to young and old alike.

My nephew finds my niece to be more interesting now that she is somewhat active. They often play alongside each other.

My niece can crawl now, and make lots of noises, and observe what’s going on. She sits on the floor beside my nephew when he’s creating things with his building blocks and watches the proceedings—and even hands him a block now and again.

She has her own assortment of toys. Her favorite is a Ferris Wheel-like toy that rolls on the floor and plays music while it spins. She and my nephew roll the toy back and forth across the kitchen floor for ten minutes at a time.

She’s eating a greater variety of foods now, and she has become less fussy about what she eats compared to only a few weeks ago.

Like her older brother, she likes to go to her grandparents’ house, where she is assured of receiving an abundance of attention. Saturdays and Sundays are family days at her grandparents’ house; she sees her grandparents and her uncle all day Saturday and all day Sunday. On Wednesdays, she sees her grandmother during the day, and the rest of the family in the evening, when everyone gathers for Wednesday night dinner. On these occasions, she is always on someone’s lap, being played with and talked to and fussed over—and she loves it.

I cannot wait until Christmas, which will be the next time we shall be home (Josh and I will spend Thanksgiving with his family this year—but in Dallas, not in Oklahoma).

On Saturday, we had two items on our schedule—a late afternoon theater performance and an evening ballet performance—so we decided to stay home until 2:30 p.m., when we had to head downtown.

We had a long and leisurely breakfast that also served as our lunch. We ate cereal, and a bowl of berries, and ham-and-cheese omelets. I made kuchen, which everyone on the planet would make if they knew how easy it was to prepare the real thing.

Otherwise, we simply talked and monitored the college scoreboard online until it was time to leave.

We had tickets for the 4:00 p.m. performance at Speakeasy Stage Company, a theater company new to all of us. On the bill was “The Savannah Disputation”, a comedy that had premiered earlier this year in New York.

The performance was excellent, which surprised us greatly. Our previous experiences with Boston theater companies had not been positive, but the presentation of “The Savannah Disputation” was at a very high level. We wished we had taken my brother last weekend to see “The Savannah Disputation” instead of “Mister Roberts” and “Kiss Me, Kate”.

The play itself was not strong—it involved a Pentecostal missionary arguing with two devout Roman Catholics (and their parish priest) about religion and salvation—but it had a lot of laugh lines and was largely amusing (and pleasingly short). The playwright, Evan Smith, quite clearly learned his craft from television situation comedies. All afternoon, it seemed as if we were watching the live taping of a 100-minute television episode, with the laugh-lines built in at 30-second intervals.

Because the play was short, we had time to eat a decent dinner before the ballet performance.

Alas, we choose the wrong restaurant.

We went to Jacob Wirth, a Boston restaurant dating back to the 1890’s that serves German food. None of us had visited this Boston institution, and we had long wanted to give Jacob Wirth a try.

Jacob Wirth was deeply disappointing. Most of the items on the menu were not German. Most of the items were American, including—of all things—a lot of Tex-Mex foods.

Because nothing on the menu was appealing, we skipped salad, we skipped soup and we skipped appetizer.

All four of us ordered Wiener schnitzel. We had considered Sauerbraten and we had considered German sausages, but we abandoned those prospective items once we saw plates of those foods delivered to nearby tables. We decided to be safe, and stick with Wiener schnitzel, which is hard to ruin.

The food was minimally acceptable, nothing more. I can make better Wiener schnitzel than what we were served at Jacob Wirth.

For lack of enthusiasm, we skipped dessert.

Jacob Wirth is not worth visiting.

Our evening activity was a performance of “Giselle”, performed by Boston Ballet.

Boston Ballet offered a high-quality presentation of “Giselle”. It was clear that the performance had been very carefully prepared, well-cast down to the smallest role. It is not often that one encounters a meticulously-rehearsed and meticulously-cast “Giselle”, and we were grateful for the opportunity to experience a high-quality performance of the classic.

To me, “Giselle” is the least interesting of all full-length ballets in the central repertory. It has less of sheer dance interest than all other standard full-length works. “Giselle” lacks the sheer appeal of “Coppelia”, “Swan Lake”, “The Sleeping Beauty” or “Romeo And Juliet”. Any and all of the full-length Bournonville ballets are vastly superior to “Giselle”. All Balanchine and most Ashton full-length ballets are superior to “Giselle”. I sometimes wonder how this fragile work has managed to maintain such a tenacious hold upon the active repertory.

This was our second “Giselle” in eighteen months. I have now had enough of “Giselle” for the present. Unless Galina Ulanova comes back to life, I do not want to see the ballet again for a very long time.

Saturday night’s performance featured the opening-night Giselle and Albrecht, although Saturday night’s Myrtha was not the opening-night Myrtha. All three principals were quite convincing, dancing roles not easy to bring off.

The stage of the Boston Opera House is smaller than the stage of The Wang Center, which had served as the home of Boston Ballet until the current season. “Giselle” looked cramped on the stage of the Opera House. I cannot imagine how “Swan Lake” might be fitted onto the same stage.

The orchestra, with forty-some players, was alert and offered clean, precise playing.

It was a successful performance.

When we arrived home, all of us were hungry for dessert. We all wanted a REAL dessert, not something makeshift, but we had trouble settling upon what to prepare—and what to prepare that would not take all night.

Black Forest Cake being out of the question, we settled upon peach cobbler. While my mother prepared the pastry, Josh and I prepared the peach filling.

We ate the peach cobbler with ice cream.

It hit the spot.

On Sunday morning, we hung around the apartment until 11:00 a.m.

We ate cereal, and melons, and bananas, after which I prepared apple-walnut pancakes and sausages. My father likes apple-walnut pancakes, and it was a pleasure to prepare them for him.

At 11:00 a.m., we headed for the Museum Of Fine Arts, where we spent a couple of hours viewing the collection of European Painting. The Museum Of Fine Arts has a good—but not great—collection of European Painting, and we enjoyed walking through the rooms.

Because of the museum’s peculiar ticket policy, Josh and I were able to reuse our tickets from the previous Sunday, when we had taken my brother to view the museum’s antiquities collections. The Museum Of Fine Arts allows visitors to make a second visit to the museum within ten days of the first visit if the ticket has been preserved. Quite intentionally, Josh and I had preserved our tickets from the previous Sunday—and we were able to save $34.00.

At 2:00 p.m., we headed for Symphony Hall for a 3:00 p.m. concert by The Handel And Haydn Society, Boston’s period-instrument orchestra. The orchestra was to play music by Vivaldi (with a little Handel thrown in). Andreas Scholl was guest soloist.

I am not an aficionado of the countertenor voice, but Scholl is as fine a countertenor as any active singer in the voice category. Scholl’s voice flows freely and does not sound artificial or manufactured—and such cannot be said of all countertenors before the public today.

It was a fine concert, and we enjoyed it immensely, although two hours of Baroque music is more than I generally prefer at a single sitting (unless Bach is the composer).

The conductor was Corsican Jean-Christophe Spinosi. I had never heard Spinosi, and I thought he was quite good.

Except for two arias from Handel operas, the entire concert was devoted to music of Vivaldi.

Happily, the best piece was saved for last: the Stabat Mater, my favorite of all Vivaldi works. I think the Stabat Mater is the most beautiful and most sustained piece of music Vivaldi ever wrote. The Stabat Mater is so beautiful that it is almost worthy of Bach.

Scholl was more than competent in the Stabat Mater, but I much prefer a mezzo-soprano in the piece. A fine mezzo-soprano can offer a depth of sound simply beyond any countertenor I have heard, including Scholl.

Sunday was our first visit to The Handel And Haydn Society. Josh and I had talked about attending one of the group’s events last season, but we never made it to any of last season’s concerts.

This season’s Handel And Haydn Society programs are more interesting to us than last season’s programs, and I believe Josh and I may try to attend one or two additional concerts.

My parents were especially pleased to hear The Handel And Haydn Society concert. There is no resident period-instrument ensemble in the Twin Cities, and touring period-instrument ensembles no longer appear in the Twin Cities as frequently as they did ten and twenty years ago. My parents found the concert to be a special treat.

We all heartily enjoyed the idiotic and cliché-ridden program notes in the program booklet, written by and for morons. Among other priceless gems, we learned that Handel and Vivaldi were part of the “global economy” of their time and that “each work on today’s program encapsulates a world of musical expression”.

We went home after the concert, and spent the rest of the evening preparing a big dinner.

We stuffed and roasted a chicken. We made an Amish cabbage salad. We made a tomato-cucumber-onion salad. We made my mother’s version of Waldorf salad. We prepared mashed potatoes. We steamed peas, white corn, and carrots. We made lemon pudding cake for dessert.

It was a lot of fun.

And it was a good dinner.

If our apartment were one iota tinier, one of the four of us would have had to spend the entire weekend in the car. However, there was just enough room for everyone to manage comfortably.

My father told Josh and me that our apartment is more colorful now than it was one year ago. Any additional color is the result solely of the additional books on our bookshelves. Nothing else has changed. The book spines must add color to our living room.

There is only a half-wall, and not a full wall, between our kitchen and our living room. When the kitchen lights are turned on, and when the two lamps and the two computers in the living room are turned on, our apartment gives the illusion of light, airy spaciousness.

Nonetheless, it is a very, very small space. With two of us in the kitchen and two of us in the living room, we could have conversations as if we were all jointly gathered around a table. In fact, we could have conversed in whispers back and forth, and not missed a single syllable.

I don’t think my parents minded the tight spaces for a long weekend, especially since we spent about half of our time outside the apartment. Further, when we were home, my parents were comfortable. They were able to rest and relax and enjoy themselves.

On Sunday evening, while we were cooking and eating, we discussed what to do on Monday.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday had been planned in advance, if for no other reason than Josh and I had had to acquire concert, ballet and theater tickets in order to assure seats.

Monday, on the other hand, had been left open.

We explored a few alternatives, and settled upon an excursion to Salem in order to visit the Salem Witch Museum and The House Of The Seven Gables, both of which would be entirely new to all of us.

We rose at 7:00 a.m. Monday morning so that we could have time for breakfast and time for my parents to pack their things before we headed up to Salem.

We had grapefruit, cereal, bacon and eggs, and fried potatoes for breakfast.

We set out at 9:30 a.m.

We visited the Salem Witch Museum first.

The museum is housed in a de-consecrated church. The museum is little more than a glorified audio-visual presentation that lasts half an hour. The presentation tells the story of the witchcraft trials, the suspected causes of the hysteria, and the means by which the trials were brought to an end (the Massachusetts Governor disbanded the Salem court, putting an instant stop to the madness, and turned the matter over to a new court which was to release those awaiting trial and pardon those awaiting execution).

The Salem Witch Museum was not worth visiting.

The House Of The Seven Gables, on the other hand, proved to be a genuine treat.

The mansion itself was far more interesting than we had anticipated, and the property included other attractions, too: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s house; an old counting house; colonial gardens; and a private waterfront looking out upon Salem Harbor. We enjoyed touring The House Of The Seven Gables and its attached properties very much.

After our visit to The House Of The Seven Gables, we spent a couple of hours exploring Salem’s waterfront district. The historic streets, with many notable 18th-Century buildings, were fascinating. In 1790, Salem was America’s sixth-largest city, and the wealthiest city in the United States (and perhaps the world). This was apparent from the many fine buildings that lined the ancient streets. The old part of Salem is a treasure trove of 18th-Century history and architecture, and we loved walking the old core of the town.

In the middle of the afternoon, we had a late lunch at a restaurant overlooking Salem Harbor. The views were marvelous, and the food was excellent. For a starter course, we ordered lobster risotto. For a main course, we ordered baked haddock. Out of sheer dumb luck, we had stumbled upon a first-class establishment, and were able to enjoy a splendid lunch while enjoying splendid views of the waterfront.

After lunch, we had to return to Boston and take my parents to the airport. My parents’ flight was to depart just before 6:00 p.m. and we wanted to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

It was a very good weekend. We all had a good time. We explored a few things we had never previously bothered to check out, we caught a few decent performances, and we did not run ourselves ragged.

We could not have asked for anything more.

Their weekend in Boston was my parents’ first travel opportunity since their trip to Portugal in April.

It was about time for them to go somewhere and enjoy something different, even if only for a few days.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Welcome Visitor

My brother came to Boston for a visit this past weekend.

The timing of his visit was a result of the Boston College-Florida State football game.

My brother is not a fan of Boston College or Florida State, but he likes to attend college football games at different venues. Until this past weekend, he had never attended a game at Boston College’s Alumni Stadium, and Alumni Stadium had been on his list of stadiums to visit for years.

In late summer, my brother had examined Boston College’s home schedule and he had decided that the Boston College-Florida State match-up would be the only Boston College home game worth attending this season—and he had asked Joshua and me to get tickets for the game.

Alas for my brother, the Boston College-Florida State game was scheduled for the same weekend as the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, to be played in Minneapolis this year. The Minnesota-Wisconsin game is a rivalry game, and has been a rivalry game for over 100 years, and I was surprised that my brother could be tempted to miss a key game for the Golden Gophers.

However, my brother had elected to skip the Minnesota-Wisconsin game. He had decided that he would rather spend the weekend in Boston, and leave the Golden Gophers to fend for themselves against the Badgers, without his presence.

Minnesota has a new football stadium this year, and my father and my brothers have already attended the first two home games in the new facility. They saw the Golden Gophers beat Air Force (rather unimpressively) and lose to California (rather badly). However, those two games may be the only games of the season they will attend.

The new stadium is apparently very handsome and very impressive. As a sporting facility, it has been very well-received by fans and the public alike.

The cost of the stadium (borne by Minnesota taxpayers) was an outrage: $288 million. The cost of the scoreboard—more than $9 million—was particularly an outrage.

No other State in the Union would be so foolish as to throw away $300 million on a college football stadium to be used no more than six times a year by a mediocre college football program whose most recent Big Ten football championship occurred long before I was born and whose brief era as a college football power ended long before my father was born.

Further, a sting has been attached to the new stadium, a sting that makes attending Golden Gophers games much less pleasant for sports fans than past seasons: Saturday afternoon football games have been replaced by Saturday morning football games.

It seems that no one likes the change.

At the new stadium, starting times for all Golden Gophers games (other than two night games) have been advanced to 11:00 a.m., a ridiculously early hour for big-time college football contests. To be assured of getting to the games on time (fighting traffic and dealing with parking bollixes), my father and my brothers must leave Edina by 8:30 a.m., far earlier than they would like.

They are not fans of the early starts. “Going to a Gophers game now is no different than going to work on a regular weekday morning, and the drive to the stadium is no different than a regular weekday commute downtown—except that traffic is far worse on game days than it ever is on a weekday” according to my father.

Most fans, including my father and my brothers, would be much happier with traditional 2:00 p.m. kickoffs. A morning game simply does not have the same appeal.

The Minnesota-California game featured an 11:00 a.m. start, and it seemed awkward to my father and my brothers. They hated it. In fact, they hated it so much that they may not return for another game this season. (The Minnesota-Air Force game had been a night game, and my father and my brothers had enjoyed the night game much more than the morning game.)

Josh and I were delighted to host my brother for a weekend in Boston. If he preferred watching Boston College-Florida State instead of Minnesota-Wisconsin, we were very happy to have him as a guest. He is great company.

My brother flew in Thursday night. He had taken a late-afternoon flight from MSP that arrived in Boston at 7:15 p.m., and Josh and I were waiting at Logan to retrieve him and bring him home.

We did nothing on Thursday night except talk and eat.

Indeed, we started eating practically the very minute we returned home, since I knew my brother would be hungry.

I had prepared my mother’s Dutch Chowder on Wednesday night, which must be chilled for 24 hours before being reheated and served. We heated and ate Dutch Chowder to ward off any immediate hunger pangs before we got genuine dinner preparations underway.

My brother decided that he wanted oven-fried chicken for dinner. While the chicken was cooking, we ate cheeses and crackers. We followed the cheeses and crackers with a garden salad heavy on shredded tomatoes, sliced radishes, chipped cucumbers, diced green peppers, shredded carrots and croutons. We ate the oven-fried chicken with butter noodles (from a package), white corn, lima beans and a cranberry salad. For dessert, we had vanilla pudding and Pepperidge Farm pirouette cookies. It was nothing special for a welcome dinner, but it was what my brother wanted.

We stayed up very late, talking, but we had to end things at 1:00 a.m. because we all had to get up early the next morning.

I had to go to work for much of Friday, and Josh had classes. To occupy Friday morning, my brother had decided, in advance, to spend the morning visiting the Museum Of Science and to arrive at the Museum by 9:00 a.m., when it opened for the day. It is the only Boston museum that opens early, probably because of morning visits by school groups.

Consequently, we all got up at 6:15 a.m. Friday morning, cleaned up, had coffee, grapefruit, cereal and raisin bread toast, and were out the door minutes after 8:00 a.m., each of us going our separate ways, with plans to meet back at our apartment at 2:00 p.m.

My brother was not impressed with the Museum Of Science. He said it was not worth the $20.00 admission fee, and he was offended that separate (and steep) admissions were required to visit the Museum’s most popular exhibits such as the planetarium and IMAX. He said the Museum Of Science reminded him of our visit back in January to the New England Aquarium, which also had involved a hefty admission fee and which also had not been worth the required admission.

When we gathered back at the apartment, we had lunch—and our lunch was breakfast, because breakfast foods were what we most wanted to eat. We had bacon and scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, toast, orange juice and cranberry juice.

When we were done eating, we drove to Watertown and explored Watertown for a couple of hours. Watertown is not a particularly interesting town, but we had theater tickets for New Repertory Theater Company’s evening performance, and we had wanted to be in Watertown long before rush hour began, with plenty of time to walk around, have a leisurely dinner, and arrive at the theater with time to spare.

Dinner was the best part of our trip to Watertown. We dined at an Italian restaurant especially recommended by my boss, who is an expert restaurant guide. The restaurant indeed proved to be truly exceptional. Dinner alone made the trip to Watertown worthwhile.

We all ordered what my boss, in advance, had recommended that we order. He and his wife visit the restaurant every couple of months, and he had identified for us the menu items that were “not to be missed”.

We started with a warm tomato salad, which was heavenly. We continued with fried oysters with lime, which also were exceptional. Our main course was Eggplant Parmesan Lasagna, which was exactly what it sounds like: a hybrid of Eggplant Parmesan and Lasagna. We found the Eggplant Parmesan Lasagna to be slightly disappointing (but it is possible that our expectations were too high to be fulfilled). We were not disappointed in our dessert: chocolate cake with cream, raspberries and whipped cream.

The restaurant was practically empty all during dinner. We were surprised that business was not better on a Friday evening.

The problem must be the weak macro economy (and certainly not the food). The restaurant was sort of expensive—the tomato salads, alone, cost $14.00 each—and many people are no doubt reluctant to toss that kind of money around at present.

For us, it was a one-time event, a special treat for my brother as part of an afternoon and evening out. We enjoyed a good dinner, but I doubt we shall ever return.

Our visit to New Repertory Theater WAS a return visit. We had attended a performance at New Repertory Theater once before, back in January, when Josh and I had taken my brother to see the company’s presentation of the Kander and Ebb musical, “Cabaret”, during his visit at the beginning of the year.

On Friday night, Thomas Heggen’s and Joshua Logan’s “Mister Roberts” was on the bill.

None of us had ever seen a production of this 1948 play, seldom revived now. None of us had ever seen the movie, either. “Mister Roberts” was uncharted territory for us.

The play has not held up. It is very dated—slow-moving and cut from a manufactured pattern, with a particularly gruesome exposition that goes on forever—and not very witty and not very good. It is hard to believe now that audiences thought “Mister Roberts” was a good play sixty years ago.

The New Repertory Theater production did the material no favors. It was a low-quality production, borderline inept. The cast members were shockingly uneven. The stage set—representing the walkways of a ship—made noises all night, sounding like it was going to fall apart any minute.

We had to laugh at the clumsiness of it all—but the clumsiness somehow added to our enjoyment of the evening.

We were hungry again when we got home, so I made a small pan of gingerbread, very easy and very quick to make. We ate warm gingerbread with fresh peaches and cream before we went to bed.

Saturday was game day. The game was not scheduled to start until 3:30 p.m., meaning that we had several free hours before we had to depart for the game.

Josh and I allowed my brother to decide how we would spend the morning and early afternoon. We thought he might like to take a walk through some of Boston’s old neighborhoods, or visit the Harvard campus, or visit the M.I.T. campus, or visit a museum.

He elected to stay home.

Because Saturday morning and early Saturday afternoon were the only portions of the weekend we had not already scheduled, he said he wanted to stay in.

That was fine with Josh and me.

We had a big breakfast that stretched over two hours. We started with cereal, after which I made nut bread. While the nut bread was baking, we ate strawberries and cream. Once the nut bread was done and slightly cooled, we ate bananas and nut bread. We finished things up with ham-and-cheese omelets, hash brown potatoes and fruit juices.

We stayed in the rest of the morning, reading newspapers and catching up on things.

At 1:00 p.m., we heated the Dutch Chowder for a quick lunch, and at 1:45 p.m. we headed out the door. We like to get to football games early in order to watch the pre-game on-field festivities and ceremonies.

Alumni Stadium is not large. It holds only 45,000 fans, making it one of the smallest stadiums in America. It is an old stadium, obviously refurbished and enlarged over the years but still in need of much work. It is not one of the more handsome or notable college football venues. Alumni Stadium pales when compared to the storied stadiums of the Big Ten Conference, against which it measures as small potatoes.

Nevertheless, we were pleased to have experienced a game at Alumni Stadium. We had a very enjoyable afternoon.

Even though we were indifferent about which team won the game, the game turned out to be very close. After Florida State got off to a 3-0 start, Boston College scored the next 21 points and the game appeared to be over. However, Florida State scored the next 18 points to tie the game. With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Boston College scored a touchdown and won the game, 28-21. We got our money’s worth.

(Back in Minneapolis, Minnesota lost to Wisconsin for the sixth consecutive time. The score was 31-28, but the game was not as close as the final score would suggest—Minnesota scored a very late touchdown after the game had already been decided. I think my brother was present at the better of the two games. He had made a good choice.)

After the game, we stopped and had dinner on our way home.

We chose a Legal Sea Foods restaurant since it seemed to Josh and me de rigueur to take my brother to at least one seafood restaurant during his visit to a city known for its seafood.

In January, we had taken him to McCormick And Schmick’s, which in hindsight probably made no sense, since there are McCormick And Schmick’s restaurants in Minneapolis, too.

Legal Sea Foods was a more logical choice. There are no Legal Sea Foods restaurants in the Twin Cities—although I understand that there used to be Legal Sea Foods restaurants in Minneapolis many years ago, before the firm retrenched—and we thought my brother might enjoy a meal at Legal Sea Foods.

The food was good.

We started with New England Fried Clams, and they were very good. We followed the clams with New England Clam Chowder, which was nothing special. Our salad was avocado-apple-goat cheese-peppers, and it was excellent. Our main course was Baked Boston Scrod. The scrod was exceptional. We had Boston Cream Pie for dessert.

Throughout dinner, the waiter kept encouraging us to order liquor. It must be company policy at Legal Sea Foods for firm personnel to push alcohol on diners. Every single time the waiter approached our table, he suggested that we order spirits. He was rather insistent about it, not wanting to take “No” for an answer. We thought, after six or so trips to our table, that the waiter would get the message. He did not.

When we got back to the apartment, we caught up on the day’s scores and talked to my parents on the telephone to let them know that my brother was comfortable and in good hands, enjoying Boston (and being fed). We heard all about the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, which my father had watched on television, and my parents heard all about the Boston College-Florida State game.

We also found time to eat ice cream and raspberries, with chocolate-walnut cookies on the side (from a bakery).

On Sunday morning, we were in no hurry to get the day started. We hung around the apartment until late morning, reading the newspapers and eating a big—and extended—breakfast. We had fruit, and we had Eggs Benedict, and we had buttermilk pancakes and sausages, too. Our breakfast was also to serve as our lunch.

At 11:00 a.m., we left for the Museum Of Fine Arts, where we were to view the antiquities collections.

We examined the Egyptian, Greek, Near East and Etruscan antiquities on the ground floor, and the Egyptian, Greek, Near East and Roman antiquities on the upper floor. The Museum Of Fine Arts has first-class antiquities collections, and we very much enjoyed visiting the collections.

From the Museum Of Fine Arts, we proceeded to The Lyric Stage Company Of Boston to attend the matinee performance of the Cole Porter musical, “Kiss Me, Kate”, another theater work written and first performed in 1948.

Like “Mister Roberts”, none of us had seen either a staging of the musical or the film adaptation.

I wish that still were true. It was a very long afternoon.

I am not confident that “Kiss Me, Kate” warrants revival.

The book is unending, long enough to constitute a full-length play in its own right. The Lyric Stage Company performance was “complete”, not trimming the dialogue as is customary today (on the contrary, the book used on Sunday was longer than the original—jarring “contemporary” references had been inserted into the book).

I do not warm to Cole Porter’s music, and the score for “Kiss Me, Kate” has always struck me as one of Porter’s least interesting efforts, certainly not as fine as “Anything Goes” and probably a step below even “Silk Stockings” and “Can-Can”.

The production was appalling.

The cast members were unattractive and largely untalented, the stage design and costume design and lighting design fully worthy of civic theater in Fargo, North Dakota, and the whole enterprise seedy beyond description. However can The Wall Street Journal have given this production a favorable write-up? We sat, comatose, throughout the entire performance, praying for someone to come onstage and inform the audience of a gas leak and insist that the auditorium be immediately evacuated.

This was our third—and final—visit to The Lyric Stage Company Of Boston.

In January, Josh and I had taken my brother to Lyric Stage Company to see “The Year Of Magical Thinking”, which was pretty awful. We had vowed, after that performance, never to return to the theater.

Against our better judgment, Josh and I had returned to Lyric Stage Company in March to catch a staging of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”. After that performance, Josh and I had promised ourselves that we could never be enticed back to Lyric Stage Company.

Why did we give the company a third chance? We were curious to see a staging of “Kiss Me, Kate”, and The Wall Street Journal notice had given us some hope that the production might be worthwhile.

It was not.

Boston is very definitely NOT a theater town.

After “Kiss Me, Kate”, we returned home, and cooked and talked for the remainder of the evening.

We gave my brother a very good dinner for his last night in Boston.

We started with grilled salmon and seasoned brown rice and steamed broccoli and carrots. A couple of hours later, we continued with grilled steak, seasoned French-fried potatoes, and steamed green beans with almonds. We ended with floating island a la orange, which is fairly easy to make (but does not always turn out, at least when I attempt it).

I think my brother enjoyed the dinner—and I believe he enjoyed his weekend in Boston. He was able to get away for a long weekend, and see and do a few interesting things, all without losing any rest. The weekend accomplished its purpose.

We rose at 3:15 a.m. this morning because we had to deliver my brother to Logan no later than 5:00 a.m. in order for him to catch the first flight of the day to Minneapolis.

The flight was on time and, because of the time difference, my brother was back in his office in Minneapolis only a few minutes past 9:00 a.m. local time.