Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Off To Houston

Today I go to Houston on business for two weeks. I will be assisting two senior attorneys from my firm on an important matter, and I am pleased and honored that I have been asked to accompany them.

Today, after work, Joshua will go to my parents' house and stay there for the next two weeks. He will have company, and people to take care of him, and I think he will be much happier than staying by himself for two weeks in a lonely apartment.

I have been very, very busy at work. I worked during much of this past weekend. Nevertheless, Josh and I did make it to a concert of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra on Saturday night, and we did spend Monday afternoon and evening at my parents' house, eating and talking and laughing and playing with the dog--even outside, in the cold.

I will miss everybody very, very much during the next two weeks, but at least I will be busy, which is good.

During my absence, my middle brother will celebrate his 29th birthday. Josh and I already mailed our gift, and my brother promised not to open it when it arrives, but to save it for his birthday. I will call him that day, and tell him how much I love him, and wish him the best on this very, very special day.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dufay, Charpentier, Mozart And Others

Last evening, during dinner at my parents' house, Joshua decided that he would stay with my parents' while I am in Texas on business.

I am glad, because I did not want him to be alone, all by himself, in our apartment for two weeks. Staying with my parents, at least Josh will be able to see my mother in the morning before he goes to work, and he will be able to see both of my parents in the evening and on the weekend.

My parents will be pleased as punch to have him there--and so will the dog. It will work out better for everyone, I believe.

Josh and I have been listening to a new set of discs this week.

Dufay's Mass For Saint Anthony Of Padua, performed by Pomerium under Alexander Blachly, on the Archiv label

Charpentier's one-act opera, "Acteon", performed by Les Arts Florrisants under William Christie, on the Harmonia Mundi label

Mozart's Serenade Number 6 ("Serenata Notturna") and Serenade No. 7 ("Haffner"), performed by the Prague Chamber Orchestra under Charles Mackerras, on the Telarc label

"The American Virtuoso", a disc of 19th-Century American piano music, performed by Alan Feinberg, on the Argo label

A disc of 20th-Century wind concertos, performed by the Deutsches-Sinfonie-Orchester-Berlin under Hans Zimmer and Stefan Soltesz, on the Capriccio label

The Original Broadway Cast recording of "Hairspray", on the Sony label

I listened to the Mass For Saint Anthony Of Padua on this same disc two or three years ago, and I did not especially like it then, even after half-a-dozen listenings. I decided to give it another try this week, because Josh was curious to hear some Medieval music.

I still do not care for it, at least in this performance. I like, very much, Guillaume Dufay's motets and his Missa L'Homme Arme, but this particular mass does not strike me as an inspired one, which very well may be the fault of the performers. I own several Pomerium discs, and I have listened to them all, and it always seems to me that there is something missing in a Pomerium performance--and I think that what is missing is musical imagination. The singers seem to be intent on singing the notes as written, without investing the music with color or drama or expression. Knowing the Missa L'Homme Arme, as I do, I cannot believe that Dufay wrote anything as colorless and expressionless and lacking in drama as the composition Pomerium performs here. According to the disc notes, fifteen singers are used in the recording.

For some reason, British musicians seem to be able to perform early music at a much higher level than American musicians, probably because British music conservatories devote more attention to training musicians in original-instrument performance than their American counterparts.

"Acteon" is a charming opera, and I am surprised that American opera companies so assiduously avoid staging works from the French Baroque, which produced so very many masterpieces. "Acteon", it seems to me, would make an ideal introduction to opera of the French Baroque for American opera companies and for American audiences, and Rameau's one-act "Anacreon" would seem to be the ideal companion piece. Both "Acteon" and "Anacreon" are at least as stageworthy as anything Handel wrote for the stage, if not more so.

I like the Christie performance, which does not try to layer Italian expression onto the "objective" French music, always the greatest danger in performing French operatic music from any era. How many performances of "Carmen" have been destroyed by treating it as an Italian opera? Probably every single performance ever given outside of France, from 1875 to the present day.

I also like the individuality of the French singers on the Charpentier disc--they are not afraid to color their voices, and they all realize the importance of reciting the text so that the words may be heard. This is an enjoyable disc, and Josh likes it very much.

I love Mozart serenades, and I especially love the "Serenta Notturna" and the "Haffner", along with the "Posthorn". The Telarc performances are quite good without being magical. Mackerras is a competent but limited conductor of Mozart, as his Mozart lacks the subtext of great sadness that always lies just beneath the surface of almost everything Mozart wrote. A million different emotions flow through both of these compositions, especially the "Haffner", but, listening to Mackerras, one would never know it. Still, the playing is energetic, and the disc provides much pleasure, even if it represents what is essentially a very limited view of Mozart.

The Alan Feinberg disc offers compositions by Edward MacDowell, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Amy Beach and George Gershwin, as well as several arrangements by Percy Grainger, a native of Australia but long a resident in the U.S.

Much of the music on this disc is not very good--the Amy Beach pieces, for instance, are pure muck--but it is a very intriguing disc to listen to. The Gottschalk pieces are all barnstormers, and the Grainger arrangements are fascinating (but not very faithful--and, ultimately, not very good) reworkings of the music of other composers.

There are two tracks on the disc that are stunning. One is the first track, a Concert Etude by Edward MacDowell. The piece is of frightening difficulty, and the music is dramatic, wistful, noble and sentimental by turn. It receives a performance of commanding bravura by Feinberg, and Josh and I had to listen to it over and over. The piece should be in the active repertory.

The other truly striking track is Gottschalk's "The Union--A Concert Paraphrase On The National Airs Star-Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle and Hail Columbia". This pot-pourri is as good as any of the similar pieces Liszt cranked out, and I can fully understand why "The Union" drove 19th-Century American audiences wild both before and during the Civil War. It is quite a show-stopper!

The disc of 20th-Century wind concertos also is a very intriguing disc, even though many of these pieces, too, are not particularly good.

Frank Martin's "Ballade For Flute And Orchestra", Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Ciranda Des Sete Notas For Bassoon And Strings", Jean Francaix's "Quadruple Concerto For Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, Clarinet And Orchestra" and Walter Piston's "Fantasy For English Horn, Harp And Strings" are all fun pieces, but all four compositions lack a distinctive melodic profile, a genuinely interesting musical argument and, most of all, individuality and personality. Martin and Villa-Lobos showed themselves capable of individuality and personality elsewhere, but not here.

The "Tuba Concerto" of Ralph Vaughan Williams is a fine piece, but the performance on this disc, by German musicians, lacks jollity and "Englishness".

That leaves the two best works on the disc, both of which are for trumpet, Josh's instrument in high school.

One is Franz Waxman's "Athanel The Trumpeter", a concise, effective, even brilliant concert overture, written in the 1960's. It is a marvelous piece, and I am surprised that it is never programmed. The Waxman work for trumpet and orchestra opens the disc beautifully.

The other is the "Trumpet Concerto" of Alexander Arutiunian, a 1949 work that closes the disc. The Arutiunian is a marvelous concerto of great beauty, drama and bravura, despite the fact that it is a fully derivative work. The composer, truly, should be listed in the published score as Arutiunian/Shostakovich.

Nonetheless, it is a great piece to listen to, and I cannot understand why this piece, too, is never programmed. Philip Smith, principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic, apparently keeps the work in his active repertory, but I have never heard the concerto programmed. I hope to some day.

The cast recording of "Hairspray" was a Christmas gift from my middle brother to Josh. We all saw the show in New York in May, and we all enjoyed it very much. It is not an enduring masterpiece, of course, but it is a fun show.

The cast album is fun, too. The score is not especially distinguished--in fact, it is not distinguished in the least--but it captures the pop flavor of the time in which the show is set, and it has sort of a pink-bubble-gum quality to it. The singing of the original cast is not good, except for the young lady who portrayed the lead. HER singing is quite joyous, and quite committed, too. She obviously had a lot of fun playing her role, and I wish that I could have seen her in the part instead of the young lady we saw in the show, who did not seem to have quite the same spunk and elan.

Proceeding from Dufay to "Hairspray" is quite an unusual musical journey!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hard Time

This week has not been a normal week for Joshua and me, schedule-wise.

Unlike our normal practice, Josh and I did not have my parents over for dinner on Monday night, and Josh and I did not go over to my parents' house for dinner tonight, Wednesday. However, tomorrow night, Thursday, a night Josh and I always spend at home by ourselves, we WILL be going over to my parents' house for dinner.

On Saturday, Josh and I will not be going over to my parents' house, as we usually do, because I have work to do at the office that day and, on Saturday night, Josh and I will attend a concert by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The concert will feature music of Haydn, Rossini, Schoenberg and Ligeti, and it is one of only two programs by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, all season, that Josh and I want to hear. The conductor will be Roberto Abbado.

On Sunday, Josh and I will see my parents at church, but after church my parents will be spending the rest of the day with my mother's relatives. However, on Monday, a federal holiday, we WILL be spending the day with my parents. Then, two days later, on next Wednesday, I must go to Texas on business until the end of the month, during which time Josh will be home alone for two weeks.

Josh and I have never been apart, so those two weeks will be hard time.

I think that Josh should go stay with my parents during those two weeks, so that he will not be alone, all by himself, in our apartment.

We are thinking about it.

Post-Christmas Quiet

Since Christmas, things have been very quiet.

Other than going to work, Joshua and I have just been staying home.

We stayed home for the rest of last week, and we were still eating my mother's holiday food on Saturday. Finally, late on Saturday afternoon, we went out to play racquetball, and on our way home we stopped at a food store, and we bought our first food for our apartment in almost a month!

On Sunday, Josh and I went to church. During service, we sat with my parents, and it was the first time we had seen them since the previous Tuesday night. When my parents, after church, asked us whether we wanted to do anything that afternoon, we suggested that they come over to our apartment to have lunch and to spend the afternoon, and to have dinner with us, too. My parents have not been over to our apartment for almost a month, and we thought we might extend some hospitality to them, given how much they had extended to us over the holidays.

My parents must not have had a better offer, because they accepted our invitation. On our way back to the apartment, we stopped at my parents' house to pick up their dog, so that he would not have to spend the entire day by himself, and we all returned to our place, dog in hand, for the rest of the day.

Josh and I prepared a very nice garden salad and some pasta--Fettucini Alfredo, our favorite pasta--for a quick and easy lunch, and then we all spent a very quiet and a very restful afternoon, playing scrabble, talking about the world situation, and talking to my brothers on the telephone. It was a very nice and a very peaceful afternoon.

For dinner, Josh and I cooked a pot roast for my parents, served with all the trimmings: mashed potatoes, lima beans, stewed tomatoes (made from scratch, and one of my favorite things to make and to eat, and one of my Dad's favorites, too), sweet corn and a salad made with apples and nuts and celery and a couple of other ingredients. For dessert, we had homemade tapioca, served while still warm, another of my Dad's favorites. My parents enjoyed the food--and so did the dog--and they enjoyed their day with us and they did not go home until shortly after 9:00 p.m.

It was a very nice Sunday.

Now, of course, Josh and I are back at work this week, and work seems to be drudgery, given that the holidays are over and given that nothing new or exciting is on the horizon short-term.

However, the nights are nice.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bach, Beethoven, The Early Romantics, R. Strauss, Schoenberg And Choral Music

Joshua and I have just been staying home since we left my parents' house on Tuesday night after dinner. Josh and I thought about going to see Minnesota open its Big Ten season against Purdue on Wednesday night, but we decided to stay in. It is nice to be home alone, and we do not even need to worry about food for a few days, given how much food my mother sent home with us.

We have been reading, and listening to music, mostly.

We put six discs on the disc player Wednesday night. It has been almost two weeks since we have listened to any music.

Bach harpsichord music, performed by Trevor Pinnock, on the Archiv label

Beethoven piano trios, performed by Jeno Jando, Takako Nishizaki and Csaba Onczay, on the Naxos label

Orchestral music of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under Nikolaus Harnoncourt, on the Teldec label

Songs of Richard Strauss, performed by Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson, on the ASV label

Schoenberg's transcription for orchestra of Brahms' Piano Quartet In G Minor, Opus 25, performed by the Baltimore Symphony under Sergiu Commissiona, on the Vox Cum Laude label

"Harvest Home", a disc of a capella choral music, performed by The Dale Warland Singers under Dale Warland, on the Gothic label

The Bach disc is not bad. Normally, I cannot listen to a complete disc of harpsichord music at one sitting without suffering fatigue, but this disc holds my attention for the full hour, probably because Pinnock offers a varied selection of Bach's works. The disc contains the English Suite No. 3, BWV 808; the Prelude And Fugue No. 1, BWV 846; the Prelude And Fugue No. 7, BWV 876; the Prelude And Fugue No. 12, BWV 881; the Chromatic Fantasia And Fugue, BWV 903; and the French Suite No. 5, BWV 816.

Pinnock is a good Bach player, but I prefer Bach on the piano--the harpsichord has no dynamic range, and no coloristic range, and it therefore limits the expressive possibilities available to a great musician. Nevertheless, this disc contains great, great music, and it is a joy to hear. Josh picked the disc. He loved the Bach organ disc we recently listened to, and he wanted to hear more Bach keyboard music. He loves this disc, too.

The Beethoven disc includes the Opus 70, No. 1, the "Ghost", and the Opus 97, the "Archduke", two of Beethoven's most popular piano trios. I don't remember why I bought this disc, but it must have been because it offered both of the "named" trios.

The performances are merely OK. Violinist Nishizaki is the weak link, and she no doubt was engaged for the recording because her husband, Klaus Heymann, is the CEO of Naxos. How many recordings has Nishizaki made for Naxos? Her Naxos recordings must number in the hundreds--a scandalous number, whatever the total--as she has, for posterity, skimmed over practically the entire violin repertory.

The pianist, Jeno Jando, has also recorded just about everything, it seems, for Naxos. He is a good pianist, and a serious musician, but I have never experienced any special insight in any of the repertory he has recorded. According to the Naxos website, Jando is thinking about re-recording all of the Beethoven piano sonatas for Naxos. I cannot imagine the need for a second Beethoven cycle from him.

I hate to buy Naxos recordings. Naxos does not pay its artists reasonable fees, and it pays no royalties to artists at all, no matter how well a recording sells. I think this is a poor policy. However, I seem to own quite a few Naxos recordings, mostly because they are inexpensive and offer interesting music.

I never buy any of the Naxos historical issues. These discs are taken, unlicensed, from the back catalogs of other recording companies--a reprehensible practice, I believe--and, once again, Naxos pays no royalties to the artists or to their heirs (or to the original recording companies). Naxos is able to get away with this because of misguided European copyright laws, which allow old recordings to enter the public domain after fifty years.

The Harnoncourt disc contains Mendelssohn's "The Fair Melusina" Overture, Schubert's Symphony No. 4 and Schumann's Symphony No. 4 in its final, 1851 version. The disc was recorded during live performance in the Philharmonie in January 1995.

Frankly, I cannot believe how bad this disc is, if for no other reason than that the Berlin Philharmonic is capable of giving profound performances of all three of these works.

The Mendelssohn is nice, but the Schumann stubbornly refuses to come to life and the Schubert is indescribably bad.

The problem here is Harnoncourt. The orchestra is constantly on the verge of playing all out in the Schumann (and a couple of times the orchestra even succeeds in letting loose) but Harnoncourt keeps reining in the orchestra. The result is a dry, dessicated performance of one of the most stirring of all symphonies.

The Schubert completely falls apart. Harnoncourt does not conduct the Schubert in phrases, or in paragraphs--he conducts each individual note! This approach fails to allow the music to flow and, further, it also fails to give the music any shape or form. I must conclude that Harnoncourt's objective was to allow the audience members to transcribe the score during the performance, as there is no other plausible explanation for his handling of the score, draining Schubert of all songfulness, all sweetness, all melancholy and all soul, as he does.

The Schubert Symphony No. 4 is not an easy work to bring off--I think it is the most difficult of all Schubert symphonies to perform well, as Schubert was in the process of breaking out of the Haydnesque model but he had not yet solved the problem of how to give a symphony greater expressive weight while still achieving a coherent symphonic form--but it can be done, as Bruno Walter and Karl Bohm and Claudio Abbado have demonstrated.

Personally, I have always found Nikolaus Harnoncourt to be an unsatisfactory conductor, and I have not regretted the fact that Harnoncourt has never had an American career. Many musicians believe that Harnoncourt is out of his element outside the original-instrument world, but I have never found Harnoncourt's performances within the original-instrument world to be very impressive, either.

I heard Harnoncourt conduct live only once. That was a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, in Washington. I was an undergraduate, and I had taken the train down to Washington from Princeton, and I stayed with friends of my parents, for the very purpose of hearing the Vienna Philharmonic. The orchestra performed Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 and, after intermission, several selections by Johann Strauss, Jr. It was a peculiar program, and it was a peculiar performance.

The Beethoven was very bad. It was not expressive, it was not well-played, and Harnoncourt seemed to have set aside, in advance, about 100 different, unrelated tempos to display throughout the course of the work. The members of the audience kept looking at each other throughout the Beethoven, as if to inquire "are you hating this as much as I am?"

The second half of the program was even worse. First, the Washington audience was in a foul mood, having just heard the Beethoven and, further, viewing it as insulting that the Vienna Philharmonic, on its first appearance in Washington in over a decade, was offering half a program of Strauss waltzes and polkas. Second, the Strauss selections, as played, lacked charm, and Viennese sweetness and lilt, and Viennese melancholy. The waltz rhythms were rigid and inflexible, very un-dancelike, there was no hesitancy in the second beat, and there was nothing intoxicating in the least about these performances of Strauss bon-bons.

The audience was very unsettled, and my recollection is that there was so little applause at the conclusion of the Strauss selections that the orchestra performed no encores, practically unprecedented for the Vienna Philharmonic on an American tour. In fact, the greatest applause, during the entire concert, was at the very beginning, before the orchestra had played a note. Applause-wise, it was all downhill from there. It was an entirely disspiriting event.

The disc of Richard Strauss songs includes a large number of the composer's most popular songs, which is probably why I bought this disc. "Standchen", "Schlechtes Wetter", "Ruhe, Meine Seele", "Wiegenlied", "Zueignung", "Cacilie" and "Morgen" are all included in the recital.

Miss Lott is known as a Strauss singer, and this recording is a very serious and a very commendable effort.

However, Miss Lott has two shortcomings: first, her voice is not a rich one and it offers a very limited range of color and, second, she is "too English" in her treatment of the songs. Her performances of the Strauss are neat, considered, well-thought out and dignified. They do not, however, encompass any personality or passion or deep feeling, all of which are kept well at bay.

Ultimately, that makes the disc a disappointment.

The Schoenberg disc is anything but a disappointment. This is THE great disc of Schoenberg's transcription, and it is disappointing that this disc is virtually unknown. It is a scorcher of a performance, and probably the finest recording the Baltimore Symphony ever made.

The recording was made in the very early 1980's, by which time Sergiu Commissiona had transformed the Baltimore Symphony into a great, but unknown orchestra.

At that time, the Baltimore orchestra had a very cultured sound, and a very cultured way of musicmaking, which may be heard in the small number of Vox recordings that the orchestra made in the final Commissiona years.

This particular disc is stunningly well-recorded, as the producers were Joanna Nickrenz and Marc Aubort, just about the best producers working anywhere in the world at that time. The sound is clear, rich and natural, one of the very best orchestral recordings anyone could ever hope to hear.

The performance is dazzling. Ensemble is immaculate, the orchestra's sound is urbane, and the musicians were clearly inspired from the very first bar during the recording sessions.

Why is this performance so unknown? It must be because the Vox label never was viewed as a prestige label, and because neither the orchestra nor the conductor were major commercial presences in the classical-music field at the time. This performance puts to shame the Jarvi, the Tilson Thomas, the Eschenbach or either of the Craft recordings of the work, and yet no one has ever heard it.

The Dale Warland Singers disc was a Christmas present from my mother to Josh. It is a disc of Americana--hymns, folk songs, spirituals, Shaker tunes, ballads, songs of faith--that The Dale Warland Singers recorded in 2004 right before the group was disbanded upon Mr. Warland's retirement.

The Twin Cities had something special in The Dale Warland Singers, and that 40-singer group is now very much missed. It was one of the best choirs in America, and set the standard for choral singing in the Upper Midwest for 31 years.

The arrangements on this disc are excellent--all are from leaders in the field of choral arrangements. I especially like Stephen Paulus' arrangement of "We Gather Together", one of my very favorite American songs.

Prospective purchasers of this disc might look at the selection of compositions--"Deep River", "Shall We Gather At The River", "Simple Gifts", "By And By"--and mistakenly assume that this is a "corny" disc. In fact, this is anything but a corny disc, as it offers sophisticated arrangements and sophisticated performances of a wide range of American songs, including compositions of recent vintage.

Both Josh and I like this disc very much. My mother selected well.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Slow Day

Yesterday was a slow day at the office, as a substantial number of persons took the day off, perhaps because of the Gerald Ford state funeral.

After work yesterday, I rode home with my Dad. He told me that he had had a slow day at the office, too.

On the drive home, he reiterated to me how grateful he and my mother were for Josh's and my help, both before and during the holidays. I told my Dad, honestly, that we both were very pleased to have helped, because doing so made our own holidays very special ones, too.

Josh and I ate dinner at my parents' house last night, and then we went home. My mother sent us home with enormous amounts of food, enough to last us through the week and into the weekend.

I think that my parents are sad to have seen the holidays end and to have seen everyone depart, but I also think that they are happy to have the house to themselves for a while. They probably welcome a bit of quiet and a period of rest after having a house full of people for ten days.

When I was in law school, I know that it was very hard on my parents, having all three boys so far away. Now, at least one of us is nearby, and I think that this is a source of comfort to my parents.

Josh and I are going to stay home alone for the rest of the week, and we are going to stay home alone on Saturday, too. We'll see my parents on Sunday.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Examine The Matter Afresh

Whether we will all get together in New York during the long Presidents' Day weekend in February remains unsettled.

We examined the New York theater offerings, and they were pretty depressing. All of us are intrigued by the three-part Tom Stoppard play about 19th-Century Russia, but Saturday, February 17, is not one of the Saturdays on which all three parts of the play will be performed.

We do not think that it would make much sense for us to see only one part of the trilogy. We are also skeptical that an American cast can do the play justice and, further, we are skeptical that the chosen director has the intellectual firepower necessary to bring this particular play to life. Nothing he has directed before suggests that he is a suitable candidate for addressing the complex historical issues raised in this play.

My sister-in-law saw the original production of this play at The National Theatre in London. She said that the play was not well-received by London critics or audiences, but she said that a sufficient rehearsal period had not been set aside by The National. Consequently, she said that she did not want to offer an opinion about the merits of the play itself. She DID say that she thought that Josh and I and my Dad should see it, if for no other reason than that our love of Russian history would make the play more interesting for us.

The only other New York theater offerings that interested any of us, in the least, were the new David Hare play and the new Brian Friel play and "The Drowsy Chaperone". However, we are not especially keen to see any of these plays--they are simply the only ones that we think we could sit through.

In May of last year, in the week between Josh's graduation and my graduation, we all spent four days in New York, and we all saw "Doubt" and "The History Boys" and "The Faith Healer" and "Hairspray". Why did we go see "Hairspray"? Well, none of us had seen it before, and it sort of seemed like a fun show to attend--and so we went, and it WAS sort of fun.

However, in general, we dislike musicals, because the singers are miked and because so much of the orchestral material is now performed by synthesizers. These two developments have succeeded in killing the vitality of the American musical theater.

We checked the Carnegie Hall schedule, and there will be nothing of interest at Carnegie during the weekend in question.

We checked the New York Philharmonic schedule, and the orchestra will be offering performances, under Maazel, coupling the two Brahms serenades with the two Brahms piano concertos. The New York Philharmonic does not have the right sound for Brahms, but I would have been tempted by these concerts if a great Brahms pianist like Zimerman or Kovacevich had been engaged. However, the scheduled pianist is Emanuel Ax, so these concerts hold no interest whatsoever for me or for any of us.

The New York City Ballet will be performing that weekend, but the programs that weekend do not seem particularly interesting. However, Josh very much wants to see the New York City Ballet and he very much wants to see the New York State Theater.

That leaves the Metropolitan Opera, which will perform three of my very favorite operas that weekend: "Jenufa", "Eugene Onegin" and "Simon Boccanegra".

On Saturday, February 17, "Jenufa" will be performed in the afternoon and "Eugene Onegin" will be performed in the evening. On Monday, February 19, "Simon Boccanegra" will be performed.

Further, on Tuesday, February 20, "Eugene Onegin" will be performed again and on Wednesday, February 21, "The Magic Flute" will be performed.

Josh also wants to see the Metropolitan Opera House, and to attend some performances there. We were half-thinking about staying in New York through the Wednesday night "Magic Flute", in order to catch four or five of these Met performances.

Josh and I were talking about this last night, while he and I were washing and drying last evening's dinner dishes, when my Dad said to me, from across the room, quite sharply, "Andrew, I cannot believe what I am hearing. You will be arriving in New York late on a Friday night, and you want to run out the next morning and spend the entire day at the Met? This is not going to be a Dailey-Thorp tour, you know. You will be going to New York to visit with your brothers and to help out around the house--that's all."

I could not believe that my father had said that to me. I have always spent as much time as possible with my brothers, eagerly, and I have always done more than my share of helping out, willingly and happily, no matter what work was involved. I was stung and hurt by my father's words, and I was grateful that my back was to him (and to everyone else, too) because it took all of my strength and all of my concentration to hold back tears.

I did not say anything. I just continued washing dishes, but a few seconds later my father was behind me, and he put both of his arms around my waist and he said to me, very quietly, "I didn't mean it that way".

"I know" I told him.

And I continued washing dishes, and my father continued standing behind me with both of his arms around my waist and, as he stood there behind me, holding me, I could no longer hold back tears.

My father turned and he kissed me on my forehead, and that made me cry even more. The tears were flowing so much that I could not even see clearly enough to continue washing the dishes.

I could not even wipe my eyes because my hands were buried in soap suds.

No one in the room was saying anything--there was TOTAL silence in the room--and I could not turn around because I did not want my brothers to see me crying. I was stuck there, unable to stop tears from flowing, with my hands buried in dishwater, with my Dad holding me from behind, with Josh drying dishes VERY slowly because he was running out of dishes to dry, and I did not know what to do.

Finally, I said "Well, both performances of 'Eugene Onegin' are sold out, anyway, and it really will not be all that much fun to stand for three-and-a-half hours, so what difference does it make? And odds are that Angela Gheorghiu will probably cancel 'Boccanegra', anyway, so what's the point of even thinking about going? And 'Jenufa' can wait for another time, I guess."

Josh came to my aid and he said "It doesn't matter. We don't have to do anything in New York that weekend. I, for one, don't care."

My Dad did not say anything--he just stood there, with his arms around my waist, and in a few minutes I was able to see well enough to resume washing dishes. My Dad stood there, behind me, until I was done.

When all of the dishes were put away, Josh and my Dad and I went over to the other side of the room and we sat down. No one in the room had said a word the entire time we were finishing up the dishes.

As soon as we sat down, my sister-in-law, the psychiatrist, took command of the situation.

"I think that Andrew and Joshua should go hear 'Jenufa' that Saturday afternoon" she said, to no one in particular. "They have been talking about 'Jenufa' for months, and this will be their only chance to hear it this year. They will be with everyone through lunch that Saturday, and after lunch they can run over to the Met, and still be back in time for dinner."

She looked at my father, and she continued "And, if they are planning to go to City Ballet that Sunday afternoon, I, for one, would like to go with them."

Then she looked directly at me and she said "You are welcome to stay with us through Wednesday night. Since you will already be in New York, you might as well stay for another two nights. You will have your days free, to spend with your brothers, and you SHOULD go over to the Met at night if you really want to."

Then she looked at my Dad again and she said "I think you should ALL stay through Wednesday night. I think you should all stay through Wednesday night, and I think you should ALL go to "The Magic Flute" on that last night. I think you might enjoy it."

Then she looked at my mother and she asked her "Don't you want to come with us to City Ballet that Sunday afternoon?"

My mother answered, "Yes, I think I might".

Then my sister-in-law turned to both of my brothers and she asked "Do you have a problem if Andrew and Joshua go to 'Jenufa' that Saturday afternoon?"

Both of my brothers shook their heads.

"Well, it doesn't seem like there are any problems, then, does it?" And those seemed to be her final words on the matter, and we started to talk about something else. We did not return to the subject for the rest of the evening.

Nevertheless, last night, while Josh and I were getting ready for bed, my mother came into our bedroom and she asked us whether we needed anything, which of course we did not. She sat down on the bed between us, and she told us how much she appreciated all of our help, both before the holidays and during the holidays, and she put her arms around both of us and she kissed us both.

A short while later, my father came into our bedroom and he, too, sat down on the bed, next to me. He put his arm around me, and he kissed me, and he said "We couldn't have done Christmas without you guys here to help us. Your mother and I appreciate, very much, all you guys did."

Then he said "Why don't we figure out what we are going to do in New York the weekend before you leave for Houston?" He was referring to the January three-day weekend, immediately after which I have to travel to Houston on firm business with two other attorneys from my firm.

What he was really saying was that he wanted me to forget about tonight, and to examine the matter, afresh, two weeks hence.

Josh and I said that that was fine with us.

Then my mother said that we should come back for dinner tonight, and tomorrow night, too, if we wanted, because she had so much food that she did not want to go to waste.

My Dad said to her "Yes, let them come for dinner tomorrow tonight after work, but we will send the extra food home with them tomorrow tonight when they leave. They probably want to spend some time in their own home for a while, what with all the time they have spent here with us the last month."

So, tonight, I am going to ride home from work with my Dad, and Josh and I are going to eat dinner at my parents' house, but afterward we are going to go back to our own place, where we have not been for almost two weeks.

Holiday Routine

During the holidays, I had to get up every day at 5:45 a.m. because of the dog.

If I am at my parents' house, the dog jumps on my bed every morning at 5:45 a.m., and if I do not get up within a few minutes, he will start barking and wake everyone else up.

When only my mother and father are at home, he does not do this. He will wait in my parents' room until 6:30 a.m., and only at 6:30 a.m. will he become restless and start making noises. However, when I am at home, he expects me to rise at 5:45 a.m. and to take him to the nearest park and to run with him and to play fetch-ball with him.

Josh joined me in these early-morning adventures every morning except for two days, when he chose to sleep in, and my middle brother joined me (and Josh) every other morning. Of course, it really is sort of fun playing with the dog early in the morning, and the early-morning cold has never bothered me (it must be all that Norwegian blood in me). And since I get up at 5:00 a.m. on weekday work mornings anyway, rising at 5:45 a.m. was not a burden--it was almost a luxury!

The best part about getting up so early was that my brother and Josh and I would have first crack at my nephew every morning.

Once we returned from the park, we would give the dog his breakfast, and then we would go upstairs and retrieve my nephew (who would always be awake and standing in his crib, waiting) and bring him downstairs. We would get him all fixed up--change his diapers, and give him his cereal and orange juice and bananas and pears and such--and then we would play with him until my Dad came downstairs.

At this point, we would turn my nephew over to my Dad's care, and we would go upstairs and get cleaned up for the day.

When we came back downstairs, we would get breakfast for everyone, saving my mother from having to worry about the first meal of the day.

And all of us helped my mother immensely throughout the holiday period. She did not have to do any cleaning, and she did not have to do any laundry, and she did not have to wash a single dish or pot or pan or piece of tableware the entire holiday.

We even helped her cook, to the extent that she would allow our assistance. We were able to wash and trim and cut and tear vegetables for her, peel potatoes, stir things, dice things, shred things, and lift things for her (like the Christmas goose).

We would measure things out for her, and get things lined up for her to use as she worked, and clear things away for her, and do all sorts of other things. Sometimes, she would even allow us to do some of the more complicated cooking, under her direction. If she saw things about to go awry, or during particularly tricky moments, she would gently step in and safely guide the ship into port herself.

She had a lot of fun, and we had a lot of fun, and everyone got to eat stunning food every day.

What more could we have asked for?

The Holidays Are Over

The holidays are over, and I was sorry to see them end.

I am back at work, and this morning my mother will take my brothers and my sister-in-law and my nephew to the airport for their flights home. I was sad to have to say "Good-bye" to them last night (I left the house very early this morning, before anyone else was up).

My nephew is amazing. He is not the same person I last saw over the Labor Day weekend.

Since then, he has been weaned off the bottle, and he eats solid food now, three times a day. He eats baby cereal, and crushed bananas, and pureed pears and pureed peaches and pureed apricots, and applesauce, and mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese, and peas, and butter beans, and cut-up wax beans, and boiled chicken cut up into little tiny pieces for him. He eats unsalted crackers, and butter cookies, and jello, and puddings.

He drinks milk from a baby cup, and he drinks special baby orange juice and special baby apple juice from a baby cup.

He has just learned to walk, and he can easily negotiate around a room by leaning on furniture for support. He can even walk across a room, by himself, if necessary, although he is still a little tentative in that regard.

He loves to have his toys all over the room, on the floor, so that he can go back and forth between them. He looks at us and listens to us as we talk, and he loves to be held and talked to, and he loves it when we sit on the floor and play with him and his toys. He loves having the dog with him, on the floor, too, and he tries to get the dog to play with his toys.

Although this Christmas was, technically, my nephew's second Christmas with us, last Christmas he was only two months old and he slept most of the time. It was exciting having him with us, of course, but all we could do was to hold him and feed him his bottle. This Christmas he was an actual participant in our activities.

He was a lot of fun, and all of us had a lot of fun, watching him and holding him and playing with him.

I will never forget the first time I saw him. It was Thursday night, November 10, 2005, and I had driven up to New York from Washington for the Veterans Day weekend in order to see him and in order to help my brother and my sister-in-law. My nephew was only two weeks old, and I was the first member of my family to see him, other than his parents.

I remember that I was so nervous that I was afraid to hold him without first sitting down. I remember how utterly beautiful he was. I remember how immensely proud my brother was, and how he could not stop himself from smiling. That was one of the greatest moments of my life.

The next day, my parents arrived, and I remember how my mother cried the first time she saw her new grandchild. It was one of the greatest moments of her life, too.

When that weekend was over, I had to return to Washington, but my parents remained behind for a week in order to help my brother and my sister-in-law.

I did not see my nephew again until Christmas, because my brother and his wife did not want to travel to Minneapolis for Thanksgiving with a one-month old baby--they decided to wait until Christmas, when he was two months old.

For the three years I was in law school, I was practically a member of my brother's household, as I would visit on weekends every three or four weeks. I loved going to see my brother and his wife, and my brother and his wife loved having me.

One thing I was able to do for them was to do a major portion of their food shopping for them. The foods stores in New York are not good--selection is poor, quality is variable, prices are high--so before each visit to New York I would drive from Washington to the Virginia suburbs, and visit two or three vast supermarkets, and buy tons of food for my brother's family. I would buy everything from meat to produce to canned goods to frozen goods to dairy products to cleaning products, and I would drive to New York with a trunk-load of provisions for them, enough to keep them going until my next visit. I always kept my sister-in-law's kitchen cupboards fully stocked, so that she had to do very little food shopping in New York.

When she was expecting, and after my nephew was born, I would do the heavy housecleaning for her and for my brother, and I would cook for them, and do laundry, and make myself useful in any way I could, to show my appreciation for their welcoming me so often into their home. I almost wish I was still back in law school, so that I could see them every three or four weeks.

I did not want a car when I went to law school, but my parents insisted on buying one for me anyway. As it turns out, it was a good thing. Without the car, I would not have been able to keep my brother's New York kitchen so well-stocked.

My parents worried about me the entire time I was in law school. I lived on Capitol Hill, and Capitol Hill is not the safest of neighborhoods. It was, however, very conveniently situated to school.

I was always very careful, especially at night, and I never encountered any trouble. However, after I graduated, my mother told me that she and my father had prayed for my safety every single night, for the entire three years I was in Washington, and she told me that often, during the day, she would say another quick prayer, asking for my safekeeping.

I told my mother that her prayers had worked!