Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Their Wedding Day

“ . . . on their wedding day, to signify something fine and grand.”

Magda Behrend Rietschel Quandt (who was illegitimate) and Joseph Goebbels, on their wedding day in 1931, with Adolf Hitler a member of the bridal party.

The wedding was held at the estate of Magda’s first husband, who had divorced Magda in 1929 on account of her numerous infidelities.

Magda’s son from that previous marriage, the ten-year-old Harald, accompanies the newlyweds.

Harald served in the Luftwaffe during the war. Miraculously, Harald survived the war, the only one of Magda’s offspring to do so.

Harald died in a plane crash in 1967. At the time of his death, Harald, a 46-year-old industrialist, was one of the wealthiest men in West Germany.

Summer Travel Plans

Joshua is dealing with final exams and graduation plans and bar exam preparations, I am dealing with work and movers, my parents are dealing with a gravely ill relative—and all of us are itching to take an interesting trip.

My parents had planned to spend two weeks in Provence during late March/early April, but the illness of one of my mother’s siblings caused my parents to cancel such plans. My parents may attempt to travel to Provence in September or October of this year—but, they say, it is far more likely that they will wait until March/April 2012 before scheduling a trip to the South Of France (my parents particularly want to visit Provence in early Spring).

In the meantime, my parents want to take an interesting trip—and so does my middle brother, and so do Josh and I.

We have decided that late summer will be a particularly good time for a trip. It suits the schedules of my parents, it suits the schedule of my middle brother, and it suits Josh’s schedule and my schedule.

Josh and I cannot go anywhere in June or July, as Josh will be studying for and taking the Minnesota Bar Examination during those months. For Josh and me, our only window for a trip will be from Thursday, July 28 (the day after the final day of the Minnesota Bar Examination) through Monday, September 5 (on the following day, Josh will start a new job and I will return to my old firm in Minneapolis).

In the last few days, we have made some tentative plans.

Our intent is to undertake a short trip to Great Britain, departing Minneapolis on Friday, August 5, and returning on Sunday, August 14. We plan to spend three days/four nights in London, and afterward spend five days/four nights visiting a few attractions in Southern England: Portsmouth, The Isle Of Wight, Brighton, Leeds Castle, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Chartwell.

Despite countless trips to Britain, and despite an eighteen-day jaunt through Southern England as recently as 2008, none of us has ever visited the above-mentioned attractions in Southern England. We particularly look forward to The Isle Of Wight and a visit to Osborne House.

The last time we went on a trip was March of last year, when we toured Greece.

We were, alas, disappointed with Greece—but we know that we will not be disappointed with a return to Britain.

We would like to extend our trip by adding a week in a continental city, but August is not a good month for visiting Europe. The weather should be mild in Britain, but the continent is fraught with problems in August, hot weather and crowds being the most serious difficulties to endure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Iowa's Sally Mason

The photograph below is not a joke, and it has not been altered in any way.

The photograph depicts Sally Mason, President of the University Of Iowa, opening a jewelry store in Iowa City, Iowa, on April 2, 2011.

In the photograph, Mason presents herself in a manner totally inapt for a professional educator, let alone a university president. Her attire is more appropriate for attending a livestock auction than presiding over the affairs of a large state university—and it looks as if her entire ensemble were picked up for $5.00 at Goodwill Industries.

The photograph reveals a woman that is pure hillbilly.

Examine closely her hair. Examine closely her teeth. Examine those squinty eyes. Examine those hardened facial muscles.

The woman in the photograph is appalling: unknowingly, she represents both tragedy and farce, and in equal measure. I gawk in amazement.

I would think that people affiliated with the University Of Iowa, or any resident of the State Of Iowa, would be appalled over the spectacle Mason presents.

I would also think, given the vast array of critical problems facing the University Of Iowa, that opening an incredibly crummy, down-market jewelry store is not a productive use of the President’s time.

However, I suspect this woman is incapable of embarrassment.

I must echo what former Senator Robert Dole was wont to say: Where is the outrage?

This foolish woman should have been fired within months of her 2007 appointment.

Iowa Board Of Regents: Do your job!

(And thank you, Joel, for the photograph. I am getting lots of Iowa visitors in recent days.)

Update at 7:35 p.m. on 28 April 2011:

I knew Sally Mason was unpopular, but I did not know how truly unpopular she was until I published this post. This post has generated an enormous number of visitors, about half of which are from the University Of Iowa and about half of which are from other universities.

This post was published 42 hours ago. Its search result ranking already is in the stratosphere.

If one googles "Sally Mason Iowa", this post is, as of this moment, the number six search result among 9,770,000 search results for "Sally Mason Iowa".

If one googles "Sally Mason Iowa", the image appearing on this post is, as of this moment, the number three image search result among 118,000 image search results for "Sally Mason Iowa".

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Another Sign That Iowa Is On A Downward Trend"

The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

John W. Gardner (1912-2002)


My father is a native of Pella, Iowa, and he keeps up with all things related to the flagship educational institution of his native state, the University Of Iowa—and this is so despite the fact that he obtained his B.A. at Yale University and his J.D. at the University Of Chicago.

There have been so many scandals recently at the University Of Iowa that it has become impossible for my father to keep up with them.

My weblog entry two days ago poking fun at one of the University’s recent press releases—a press release so acutely embarrassing that I marvel that persons have not been fired—has attracted an unusually large number of readers.

One reader visited my weblog via a “Marcella David” search—Marcella David, one of the persons mentioned in the cringe-inducing press release, is on the University Of Iowa Law School faculty—and this particular reader brought to my attention a website that discusses, quite candidly, the University Of Iowa Law School, unmistakably in as much of a long-term “downward trend” as the University itself.

An entry on that website, from June 17, 2009, particularly caught my eye, and I reproduce it here in full.

(I have corrected a few spelling errors, but I have not corrected errors in grammar or punctuation or usage.)


There is no such thing as "international law." I'll say it again, there is no such thing as "international law." This so-called area of academic focus is nothing but a smoke and mirrors (shock and awe?) marketing tool designed to rope in students who think they'll be using their law degrees to save people in Darfur.

With regard to the law school at Iowa, the school tries to market itself as a law school with an "international focus," whatever that means, but there is positively no mentoring or guidance provided for those wanting to pursue real, viable avenues of legal practice where dealing with cross-border legal issues/interaction (say, M&A work, FDI, intellectual property rights, international trade) is a prime component.

There was a so-called information meeting with faculty members who have an "international" orientation, and the head of the "international program" told students, flat-out, that "there are firms out there that engage in international work, but you won't get those jobs. (Iowa students, regardless of how well they may do, being told to forget about employment opportunities). But you can still be involved in international work on your own."

Here’s a tip for you, instead of telling your students that they aren’t competitive for the jobs they want, how about getting off your rear-end and making the necessary connections with the firms out there and touting your students so that they have viable career opportunities. The faculty members who have a so-called "international" orientation have no interest in mentoring or guiding those students who want to pursue legal careers with such a focus. They either tell students that they should forget about pursuing such employment options (after all, they won’t get those jobs, anyway), or they give students the brush-off (while thinking that such students are too stupid to see that they’re being rebuffed) because they have more important things to do (like directing their efforts toward moving up the law school food chain to obtain a teaching position at a better school) than to spend time with someone who didn't get into Harvard.

As far as faculty members mentioned, here's a current update:

Patricia N. Acton - Iowa graduate; not a real professor - is a clinical professor; virtually no experience outside of the state.

John Allen - not a real professor - is a clinical professor; no discernable experience dealing with real world cross-border legal practice/issues.

David C. Baldus - very smart, but very close to retirement.

Willard L. Boyd - near retirement age, and virtually no discernible experience dealing with real world cross-border legal practice/issues or any having to do with real world legal practice.

Steven J. Burton - very smart, has a bit of an odd teaching style; very knowledgeable about international arbitration/mediation.

William G. Buss -one of the, if not the, smartest faculty members at Iowa. Very sharp mind, and very empathetic towards intelligent motivated students. Knows his stuff inside and out. Also near retirement.

Jonathan Carlson - smart guy, not too much real world experience and not too interested in dealing with students.

Enrique R. Carrasco - smart, good teacher. actually has some real world experience with cross-border legal practice/issues.

Marcella David - is a University/Law School administrator. Focuses on diversity issues. Enough said.

Alexander Domrin - smart, good teacher. knows his stuff. should be on the faculty rather than just an adjunct.

Mark Janis - very smart, very good teacher. knows his stuff inside and out. But, is leaving Iowa to go to Indiana. His departure is another sign that Iowa is on a downward trend.

Nicholas Johnson -smart, knows his stuff, but his stuff is outdated by decades. He is not a real professor/faculty member - he is a lecturer/adjunct. Hasn't done much of anything of professional or academic note in almost forty years. Expects students to treat him like he's a legal god, but hasn't done anything in decades to justify this expectation; infantile, vindictive towards students/people who fail to recognize his greatness; has a history -dating back to his last real job in 1973 - of stabbing people in the back.

John C. Reitz - see above note about the head of the "international program" at Iowa.

Christopher Rossi - smart, knows his stuff. Should be a full faculty member instead of some of those do-nothing adjuncts.

Wendie Schneider - no longer there. The word is that she decided not to stay at Iowa and left after one year because she found the environment somewhat hostile.

Mark Sidel - smart, accomplished, and wants nothing whatsoever to do with students in any way, shape or form. He went to Princeton, Yale and Columbia and you didn't. Won't even talk to you about anything having anything to do with anything. Doesn't want to have anything to do with tuition paying students. Only interested in his own career advancement.

Alexander Somek - serious communication difficulties. out there.

Lea VanderVelde - hostile toward students and has been said to be in some other space.

Burns H. Weston - gone; retired.

Adrien Katherine Wing - her entire focus is on diversity topics; enough said.

Tung Yin - smart, empathetic teacher. One of the few people at Iowa who is genuinely interested in speaking with and advising students. But, is leaving Iowa to go to Lewis & Clark, I believe. His departure is another sign that Iowa is on a downward trend.


This former Iowa Law School student hit the nail on the head: the University Of Iowa Law School is a big zero in the field of international law.

Anyone outside the State Of Iowa would find it bizarre that the University Of Iowa Law School pretends that it possesses some sort of stature in the field of international law. The very notion is absurd on its face.

Iowa is not a national law school, let alone an international law school. Iowa law graduates do not receive employment offers from elite national law firms, let alone elite international law firms. Iowa does not enjoy a law faculty of national standing, let alone a faculty of international standing.

Iowa’s is a local law school—nothing more and nothing less.

It is, consequently, a complete waste of Iowa taxpayer money for the State Of Iowa to fund, at the state’s only public law school, legal programs geared toward international law. It is difficult to imagine anything more inherently inefficient—if not outright ridiculous.

The situation needs to be rectified.

The Iowa Board Of Regents, if were doing its job, would long ago have required Iowa’s law school to eliminate its “international” pretensions. However, the State Of Iowa has a very bad Board Of Regents, which has not been minding the store for years.

The Iowa legislature needs to step in and eliminate funding for the law school’s “international” projects. Such “international” projects enjoy no prestige beyond the borders of Johnson County, Iowa; they serve only to massage the egos of Iowa’s very undistinguished law faculty.

Cleaning up Iowa’s law school will require the assertion of some external power. It certainly will not and cannot be done in-house.

Iowa’s law school hired a new Dean sometime in the last year or so—and the choice, a head-shaking one, aroused much comment at the time, none of it positive. Iowa selected a person of such staggering lack of distinction that my father asked, sarcastically, “Was Donald Duck unavailable?”

In an ideal world, the University Of Iowa central administration would assert its authority, and install adequate persons in leadership positions at Iowa’s law school—and require that the new law school leadership upgrade considerably the law school’s faculty, which is in need of a major overhaul.

However, that will not happen, either, as the University Of Iowa itself urgently is in need of new leadership. Iowa’s current President, the hapless Sally Mason, who should never have been hired, has shown herself utterly incapable of providing the University Of Iowa with the strong and disciplined leadership it so vitally needs.

The “downward trends”, both at the law school and at the university itself, are destined to continue, probably for decades to come.

And my father mourns.

As do many of his long-time friends with roots in Iowa.

Over the years, most of my father’s friends with Iowa roots have expressed their unhappiness over the University’s nonstop downward slide by ending annual contributions to The University Of Iowa Foundation.

Yesterday morning, my father, who stopped sending checks to the University Of Iowa once Hunter Rawlings, a former President, departed for Cornell back in the 1990s, did something significant: he altered one of his estate documents. Via codicil, my father eliminated the provision in his will that called for a not inconsiderable sum of money to be left to the University Of Iowa upon his death.

I wonder how many other persons have done so over the years. I suspect the number is a substantial one.

My father’s estate attorney, undoubtedly the most prominent wills-and-estates attorney in the State Of Minnesota, remarked to my father yesterday morning that he had had several clients, over the last ten to fifteen years, drop the University Of Iowa from testamentary plans.

It is possible that I may tell the full story of my father’s change of heart sometime soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"A Celebration Of Excellence And Achievement"

Surfing the web while Joshua has been preparing for his final exams (his “final finals”, as Josh calls them), I somehow came across this extravagant bit of foolishness that has had both of us howling and hooting for the last 24 hours.

I emailed it to my father, who roared with laughter, and I emailed it to several friends, who suggested that such conspicuous, screaming cant deserves wider dissemination—if for no other reason than that all persons mentioned in or associated with this ridiculous press release may be mortified, publicly, into perpetuity.

If one were to create a satirical press release, intending to point out how our institutions of higher learning are in grave crisis at present, the press release below would serve as role model. Not a single word would need to be changed.

I reprint the press release in full.

University of Iowa News Release, March 30, 2011

Annual tribute to women at the UI to be held April 5

A Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women, the University of Iowa's annual tribute to the accomplishments of women at the university, will be held Tuesday, April 5, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol. A reception will begin at 3:30 p.m., followed by the awards program at 4 p.m.

[The first paragraph prepares the reader for what will follow: everyone instinctively understands that awards reserved for a particular classification of recipient inherently have nothing whatsoever to do with “excellence” or “achievement”.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that the second use of the word "university" in the paragraph should have been capitalized.]

This annual event recognizes outstanding scholarship, research, service, leadership and activism among UI undergraduate, graduate, staff and faculty women.

[The word “activism” is always a sure tip-off that the awards in question are, prima facie, dubious, and are intended above all to reward ideology.]

Georgina Dodge, chief diversity officer and associate provost, will present the keynote address. Master of ceremonies will be Teresa Mangum, director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and associate professor of English.

[The word “diversity” is always a sure tip-off that the word “merit” will have no place in the award scheme.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that official titles such as "Chief Diversity Officer", "Associate Provost", "Master Of Ceremonies", "Director" and "Associate Professor" must be capitalized.]

The UI Distinguished Achievement Award will be given to Marcella David, associate dean for International and Comparative Programs and professor in the College of Law and Jane Paulsen, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. The Jean Y. Jew Women's Rights Award will be given to Pauline Brine, Elizabeth Pelton and Nancy Thompson.

[The Christian names Marcella, Jane, Lucille and Jean—as well as Pauline, Elizabeth and Nancy—are the same as female characters in the 1925 musical, “No, No, Nanette”.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that a comma was required after "College of Law"; otherwise, it becomes the nonsensical "College of Law and Jane Paulsen".

And, once again, someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be reminded that official titles must be capitalized.]

The Distinguished Achievement Award is presented to staff or faculty members who have significant years of service within the university community, who are pioneers in their work or service; and are role models for women and/or girls.

[The word “pioneer” is always a sure tip-off that the awards are for profoundly mundane and unimaginative deeds. No sane person uses the word “pioneer” in the context set forth in the press release.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised of the inappropriate use of the semi-colon. Have rules of punctuation been outlawed in Iowa? And proof-reading prohibited pursuant to some misguided provision in the University Code Of Conduct?]

David returned to the law school faculty in January 2010 after serving more than five years in central administration, most recently as special assistant to the president for equal opportunity and diversity and associate provost for diversity from 2006-2009.

[The phrase “equal opportunity” is seldom encountered anymore. It has, more or less, disappeared from the lexicon. Everyone now understands the phrase “equal opportunity” to mean “preferential treatment”, just as everyone now understands “diversity” to mean “lower standards”. They are corrupt terms, and are in the process of being abandoned.

Of course, “preferential treatment” and “lower standards” typify both the University Of Iowa Administration and the University Of Iowa Law School, two profoundly troubled enclaves that do not even arise to the level of mediocrity.

The recipient of the award, clearly, has been carefully chosen.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised, once again, that official offices and official titles must be capitalized.]

She joined the law faculty in 1995. From 1991-92, she studied Human Rights and Comparative Law as a Ford Foundation Fellow in Public International Law at the Harvard Law School. Her research interests include the use of economic and other sanctions, international criminal law, and questions related to international organizations. Her research has included impact of economic sanctions in Iraq and South Africa.

[The press release is accompanied by a photograph of this woman, which I am thoughtful enough not to reproduce.

Can anyone be surprised that mention of economic sanctions against Libya, Iran and North Korea, among other rogue nations, is conspicuously absent?

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that there is no "the" preceding references to "Harvard Law School". There is, however, a requirement that the word "the" be inserted before "impact" in the paragraph's last sentence.

Are professional writers, grammarians and proof-readers on strike in Iowa?]

Among her accomplishments at the UI is the development of the Philip G. Hubbard Law School Preparation Program. This summer pre-law program seeks to support diversity in the legal profession by inspiring students from groups historically under-represented in the law to become lawyers and by providing them with the skills and assistance that will strengthen their preparation for law school. More than 200 students from under-represented groups have taken part in the program over nine years.

[The phrase “pre-law program” is always a sure tip-off that what one really is talking about is “remedial training”. Excellent law schools do not admit persons in need of remedial training.

This unfortunate “pre-law program” suggests that the University Of Iowa Law School is admitting unqualified persons, and is producing not lawyers but glorified paralegals.]

Paulsen, professor of psychiatry in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, researches the neuropsychological aspects of Huntington's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease and schizophrenia. She has attracted funding from the National Institutes of Health and the High Q Foundation to support the largest clinical research program ever undertaken in Huntington's Disease, and her findings represent the greatest growth in knowledge about the disease since study of it began. The Huntington's Disease Society of America has given the program its Center of Excellence Award every year since 2000. Paulsen directs the division of psychology within the Department of Psychiatry, and she also directs the department's neuropsychiatry service.

[The press release’s accompanying photograph of this woman, which I am considerate enough not to reproduce, reveals a woman whose countenance I find frightening.

If one glosses over the text, merely skimming the announcement, one might be justified in thinking that the discussion involves a recipient rather than a provider of psychiatric care.]

She receives the highest evaluations for her teaching and presentations and is known as a caring and effective mentor. She has mentored more than 30 graduate students, and supervision and training to 27 undergraduates, 14 interns and 13 postdoctoral fellows. The vast majority of these trainees have been women, and Paulsen has been an excellent role model for them on how to succeed in an academic career.

[“The vast majority of these trainees have been women”—well, that bone-jarring admission certainly raises one’s antennae (as well as raises serious legal issues). “Role model on how to succeed in an academic career”—well, once again, that unpleasant turn-of-phrase definitely causes one’s eyebrows to arch.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that the word "provided" should have been inserted immediately before "supervision and training", or else "supervision and training" replaced with "supervised and trained".

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that correct usage demands that "the vast majority . . . has been women" replace the incorrect "the vast majority . . . have been women".]

The Jean Y. Jew Women's Rights Award is named for a professor of anatomy who fought an uphill battle for more than a decade to defend herself against slander and sexual harassment from faculty in her department, a struggle that she ultimately won. Given annually by the Council on the Status of Women and the Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC), the award honors a faculty, staff or student member of the university community who has demonstrated outstanding effort or achievement in improving the status of women on campus.

[The name of the award mentioned in this paragraph, as well as the acronyms, were stolen—surely—from back issues of Mad Magazine circa 1973.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be reminded, again, that official titles must be capitalized.]

This year's recipients, Elizabeth Pelton, Pauline Brine, and Nancy Thompson, (pictured left to right, with attorney Kelly McClelland, third from left) were tenured associate professors in the dental hygiene program at the UI College of Dentistry; Brine was the chair of the department. In 1991, UI officials decided to eliminate the dental hygiene program, but Brine, Pelton and Thompson filed suit against the university claiming that the scheduled closing discriminated against the all-female program. They embarked on a five-year struggle to retain the program, pursuing the case through both administrative and legal channels.

[The photograph accompanying this paragraph is too gruesome to contemplate. Accordingly, as a matter of good taste, I shall not reproduce it here.

In fact, I am not entirely certain that the photograph is not some vast put-on.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that a comma is required between the words "university" and "claiming". Otherwise, it is the university itself that becomes the party alleging discrimination. ]

They lost the legal battle after several appeals and the UI ultimately closed the department in 1995, but in nomination materials Sharon M. Lake wrote, "Their loss does not diminish the significance of their fight – nor render their efforts meaningless. They empowered all women by example. Their bold legal strategy made a significant contribution to the history of resistance to sex discrimination, and their struggle remains a vital cultural resource for future women's rights campaigns on this campus in this state and in the U.S."

[The word “empowered” is always a sure tip-off that the persons “empowered” have officially been ruled losers.

Praxiteles is a vital cultural resource. Saint Augustine is a vital cultural resource. Rubens is a vital cultural resource. Beethoven is a vital cultural resource. Dostoyevsky is a vital cultural resource. Carlyle is a vital cultural resource. A “struggle” over a dental hygiene program in Iowa City, Iowa, some twenty years ago, is not “a vital cultural resource”—not even when measured by the floor-level standards used by the University Of Iowa.

And who is Sharon M. Lake (whose grammatical errors the author of the press release presumably felt obliged to preserve)?

Mysteries abound.]

Pelton is associate professor emeritus in the Department of Health and Sport Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Thompson is associate professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health.

[The designations “Department Of Health And Sport Studies” and “Department Of Community And Behavioral Health” reveal all one needs to know—and constitute a timely warning that a university with such-named departments is not, indeed, a Princeton, a Yale or a Harvard. It is, instead, nothing more than an oversized if not bloated community college.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be reminded yet again about the rules of capitalization. Why, for instance, does the press release capitalize departments, and not capitalize titles within departments?]

Student scholarships will include the Margaret P. Benson Memorial Scholarship, which will be presented to two recipients: Conner Spinks, undergraduate majoring in gender, women's and sexuality studies, and political science, and Lamia Zia, graduate student in journalism and mass communication.

[Thirty years ago, “gender, women’s and sexuality studies” were known by different terminology: “no major selected”.

Conner Spinks is, I think, the ideal name for a prospective P.E. teacher. In fact, did not Muriel Spark write Conner Spinks into one of her novels?

Lamia Zia's name bears a striking resemblance to the name of an office/retail building my older brother formerly owned in Trikala, Greece.

Is the initial “a” in Lamia pronounced hard or soft? It makes a significant difference in Lamia's journey through life.

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that a semi-colon is required after "political science".]

This award was created by a designated bequest to the UI Foundation to recognize qualified female applicants who demonstrate financial need and are committed to women's issues, diversity and social activism. WRAC administers the scholarship and selects its recipients.

[“Women’s Issues”, “Diversity”, “Social Activism”: the trifecta of misguided American educational institutions gone ominously awry—and code words, all, for “mediocrity”.]

The Adele Kimm Scholarship will be given to Sumaya Rabee, undergraduate student majoring in anthropology. In 1992, a bequest from Adele Kimm in memory of her brother, S. Conrad Kimm and his wife, Hilda, made it possible for the Women's Studies Program to award the this scholarship to a deserving women's studies student.

[Apparently the main criterion for this award is that the recipient must have the least Iowa-like name imaginable. Such a requirement seems somehow fitting for the field of anthropology.

And what is "the this scholarship"? It sounds vaguely and uncomfortably post-modern.]

The Wynonna G. Hubbard Scholarship will be presented to Samycia Lewis, an undergraduate student majoring in journalism and mass communication. Established by the late UI Vice President Emeritus Philip G. Hubbard in memory of his wife, the award is given each year to an African-American woman with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher who demonstrates an unusual interest in the well being of others.

[“An unusual interest in the well being of others”? That’s the standard? Can this be serious?

And a 3.0 grade average is the astonishingly-high bar to be met?

"A Celebration Of Excellence And Achievement", indeed.

This is some sort of giant put-on, right?

And someone at the University Of Iowa needs to be advised that the term is “well-being”, not “well being”.]

The Ada Johnson/Otilia Maria Fernandez Women's Studies Fellowship will be given to Kenisha Looney, an undergraduate student majoring in interdepartmental studies. The fellowship is named in honor of two Iowa graduates who are among the first African-American and Latina women to be found in University records. Begun in 1993, the award is given alternate years to an undergraduate or a graduate woman.

[At last! A recipient whose name describes precisely the true nature of the award in question!

And yet, once again, I suspect a giant put-on.

I sincerely wonder whether someone inserted this paragraph into the press release as a joke, solely to ascertain whether anyone was paying attention.]

The Jane A. Weiss Memorial Scholarship will be awarded to Cristina Ortiz, a graduate student in anthropology. The scholarship is named in honor of Jane Weiss, an assistant professor of women's studies and sociology at the time of her death in 1981. The award is made to doctoral students whose dissertations promise to expand understanding of important women's issues.

[The noted Brazilian pianist has dropped her concert career in order to study “important women’s issues” at the University Of Iowa? Goodness gracious!

Why did no one try to talk sense into Miss Ortiz? And try to avert such a tragic outcome to what otherwise had been a brilliant career as a gifted virtuoso musician?]

For more information on the Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women see

[By this point, readers surely have seen enough, haven’t they?]

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

[Reuters trembles at such level of competition.]

MEDIA CONTACTS: Judie Hermsen, 319-335-3553 or Laura McLeran, 319-335-5011, Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women committee; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,

[Ladies, I shall be giving you a call—and soon!

And George, too!

And should not the word "committee" have been capitalized?]

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
240 Schaeffer Hall
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242-1409

[This last involves a simple typographical error in the email address. The correct email address is:]


A reading of the above press release creates unmitigated mirth, but it also causes one to grieve for this nation.

Nonetheless, it explains fully, in and of itself, the root cause of the bizarre circumstance that tiny Grinnell College, two hours to the West of Iowa City, has a larger endowment than the endowment of The University Of Iowa Foundation: Grinnell College produces successful and generous alumni, while the University Of Iowa, despite a plethora of professional graduate schools, does not.


And, in closing, a personal message to The Iowa Board Of Regents:


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Furtwangler In Munich

Wilhelm Furtwangler in 1908. In this photograph, Furtwangler is a dead ringer for the young Samuel Clemens.

Furtwangler was 22 years old in 1908, and working as a repetiteur at the Court Opera in Munich.

In two seasons in Munich, Furtwangler was never given a single conducting assignment, despite the fact that he had arrived in Munich with conducting experience elsewhere, having previously conducted performances in several theaters, including the opera house in Zurich.

Furtwangler’s father, the famed archeologist Adolf, had died the previous year in Athens while supervising excavations in Greece. At the time of his death, Adolf had been Director of Munich’s Glyptothek, holder of one of Europe’s most distinguished collections of Greek and Roman antiquities.

Not A Pleasant Admixture

New York City Ballet in George Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

If the decor doesn't scare people off, I don't know what would.

Not My Cup Of Tea

On Saturday night, Joshua and I went downtown to see Boston Ballet’s presentation of George Balanchine’s full-length “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Balanchine’s ballet was first performed in 1962. Balanchine always insisted that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” had had a twenty-year gestation period—it had taken him that long, he said, to find the right music by Mendelssohn to match the composer’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s play (Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play is not long enough to sustain an evening-length ballet).

For the ballet score, Balanchine used all of Mendelssohn’s incidental music, to which he added “Athalie” Overture, the first three movements of the youthful String Symphony No. 9, a couple of brief extracts from other compositions, and Overture: The Fair Melusina. The concocted score works; in performance, it seems of a piece.

The ballet lasts 100 minutes. In Act I, Balanchine tells the story presented in Shakespeare’s play, albeit in pared-down terms. In Act II, Balanchine offers a divertissement celebrating the happy resolution of Act I.

Before Saturday, I had seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” twice. Both times it had been danced by New York City Ballet.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” does not appeal to me. The ballet leaves me cold. I was totally unmoved by the ballet on two occasions in New York, and I was totally unmoved by the ballet Saturday night in Boston.

I have tried to analyze my indifference to the ballet. It is possible that my indifference to the ballet is rooted in my indifference to the Shakespeare play.

It is also possible that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is simply one of those Balanchine ballets I have not yet grown to like, and may never grow to like. There are many works by Balanchine I dislike, including major works, and I am under no obligation to like everything from the master’s hand.

The d├ęcor of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is problematic. New York City Ballet continues to use the original designs: stage designs by David Hays and costume designs by Karinska. The original designs need to be retired—they are unattractive and dated.

The Balanchine Trust must have approved new designs for new productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, because Boston Ballet used designs by Luisa Spinatelli created for Teatro Alla Scala. Spinatelli’s designs were even less attractive than the 1962 designs created by Hays and Karinska, if such may be imagined. They were awesome in their hideousness.

I believe Balanchine made a misjudgment in creating so many dances for children in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Dancing children quickly grow tiresome; seeing thirty of them prance around the stage of the Boston Opera House for prolonged periods tried my patience.

Josh hated the thing—and it was primarily because Josh had not seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that we bothered to go in the first place.

Just Long Enough For A Joke

Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Munich's Alter Hof

Before the Wittelsbach ruling dynasty began the centuries-long project of building Munich’s Residenz, Alter Hof was home of the Wittelsbach court.

Alter Hof is comprised of five main structures built during the Medieval, Gothic and Renaissance periods. The buildings survived until World War II, when most of Alter Hof was destroyed by Allied bombing late in the war. (The Allies could not bomb Munich until it had gained air bases in Italy, which occurred only in 1944—Munich was too far from Great Britain to allow bombers to make successful round trips between Britain and Munich. The same was true of Vienna.)

Below is an engraving of an artist’s drawing from 1850 showing a small portion of Alter Hof.

Below is an engraving of an artist’s drawing from 1869 showing the inner courtyard of the very same building that appears in the 1850 drawing.

Below is a photograph that shows the latter scene today.

Much of Alter Hof was rebuilt after the war, but rebuilding was in greatly-simplified form, as the photograph above amply demonstrates.

The only portion of Alter Hof that survived the war intact was Munzhof, the portion of Alter Hof erected during the Renaissance.

Munzhof is renowned for its beautiful arcaded courtyard.

Munzhof’s courtyard was built to serve as horse stable. It later was to house the Wittelsbach art collection, and lastly was to provide a home for The Bavarian Mint (from which Munzhof ultimately was to derive its lasting name).

The courtyard of Munzhof is the only portion of Alter Hof worth visiting today.

While Munzhof’s courtyard is open to the public, the interiors of all five buildings of Alter Hof are not accessible for public viewing. Alter Hof interiors mostly house various governmental offices—although a few have been turned into Germany’s version of condominiums.

To Americans, it seems odd that portions of a former royal palace might be sold off to the public to serve as private residences.

However, how many Americans are aware that large portions of Hampton Court Palace outside London are used as “grace and favor” apartments, offered at the pleasure of The Crown? (The apartments are most often occupied by those retired from Royal Service.)

And how many Americans realize that most of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna—everything but the ground floor, in fact—is rented out to apartment-dwellers?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Temirkanov And Saint Petersburg

A week ago today, Joshua and I went to Symphony Hall to hear Yuri Temirkanov lead the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic.

The Saint Petersburg Philharmonic is probably Russia’s finest orchestra. For fifty years (1938-1988), the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic was led by Yevgeny Mravinsky, the man responsible for turning the orchestra into Russia’s most important symphonic ensemble. At Mravinsky’s death, Temirkanov succeeded Mravinsky; Temirkanov has remained conductor of the orchestra ever since.

The Saint Petersburg Philharmonic is not a virtuoso orchestra in the sense that the orchestras in Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia are virtuoso orchestras. The Saint Petersburg Philharmonic is a fine body, but its level of ensemble would be of garden-variety standard among American orchestras.

Further, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic lacks a distinctive sound. The orchestra’s strings are the glory of the ensemble—they produce a deep, rich sound with more than a little color—but the woodwinds are variable in quality and the playing of the brass is not polished. When all 100 musicians play, orchestral balance is not perfect—and sophisticated layering of sound and texture is clearly not one of the orchestra’s goals.

The concert began with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture”. Temirkanov conducted a serious, dignified account of the score—it was more than mere showpiece in his hands. The processional chants that begin the overture were played more slowly than usual, and with more gravitas; one could almost visualize religious icons and smell incense of the Russian Orthodox liturgy. The Allegro that followed was suitably brilliant and exciting, with the climax perfectly placed.

A performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 followed. The soloist was Alisa Weilerstein.

The orchestra gave a magnificent account of the score. Shostakovich’s music must be in the musicians’ blood—they offered the freest and most natural performance of the score I have ever heard.

The Concerto has an unusual instrumentation: double winds, a single horn, strings, timpani and celesta. The horn and timpani are called upon to play virtual duets with the soloist. Full orchestra is used sparingly; the ensemble is asked to weave in and out of the lightly-scored composition, and is seldom required to appear at full strength.

The Concerto is a difficult score for an orchestra to master, what with its many transitions. The members of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic were in total command of the work—their playing displayed ease, confidence and conviction, all in abundance.

Weilerstein was inaudible much of the afternoon. The Concerto is a series of personal utterances for the soloist, tempered with isolated public outbursts, and only the outbursts involve full orchestra. Issues of audibility should not arise in this work.

Yet Weilerstein was barely audible when unaccompanied, even in the lengthy third-movement cadenza. She disappeared completely in passages involving full orchestra. I wonder whether Weilerstein plays an inferior instrument.

Weilerstein must have an Actors’ Equity card. She performed a series of moon faces for the audience while she performed. She also engaged in unnecessary and ostentatious playacting gestures when applying bow to strings.

The disparity between the largeness of Weilerstein’s onstage dramatics and the smallness of her sound was disconcerting.

After intermission came Brahms’s Symphony No. 4.

Last Sunday was the fifth time Josh and I had heard Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in concert since September 2007. In order, we had heard performances by Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Neville Marriner and the Minnesota Orchestra, Fabio Luisi and the Dresden Staatskapelle, and Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Temirkanov conducts the music of Brahms more freely than Central European conductors—he offers a great deal of rubato, most of it convincing, and he invariably slows for transitions, not always successfully—and his Brahms has greater warmth than the Brahms of any other active conductor.

The performance was a good one. The first-movement was a little too expository and a little too lacking in inevitability, with the climax—the syncopated double-statement of the eight-note theme—not overwhelming as it must be. The Andante, on the other hand, was perfection.

The Scherzo might have been more vividly characterized, and the Passacaglia should have been more dramatic. Nonetheless, it was a performance of the Brahms Fourth that I would be happy to encounter again.

The orchestra offered the standard Temirkanov encore: “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”. It was beautifully and movingly done.

Furtwangler In America

Wilhelm Furtwangler’s first appearances in the United States occurred in 1925.

Between January 3 and January 30 of that year, he conducted the New York Philharmonic in ten concerts, nine in Carnegie Hall and one in the Brooklyn Academy Of Music.

The photograph below depicts Furtwangler conducting the New York Philharmonic in Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 during the conductor’s first visit to America.

Furtwangler’s 1925 New York repertory is listed below. If Furtwangler offered more than one performance of a listed work, asterisks note the total number of performances.

Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 7

“Benvenuto Cellini” Overture **

Symphony No. 1 ***

Concerto Grosso, Opus 6, Number 10 ***

Cello Concerto No. 2 **
Symphony No. 94 (“Surprise”)

The Hebrides Overture (“Fingal’s Cave”)

Piano Concerto **
Symphony No. 4 **

R. Strauss
Death And Transfiguration
Don Juan **
Till Eulenspiegel

The Rite Of Spring [complete ballet] **

Symphony No. 5 **

“Die Meistersinger” Prelude
Prelude And Liebestod From “Tristan Und Isolde”

“Der Freischutz” Overture

Furtwangler’s New York concerts were a sensation, more so with the public than with American critics, most of whom were diehard advocates of the streamlined music-making of Arturo Toscanini. At Furtwangler’s final 1925 New York concert, the ovations were the most prolonged of the season—and Furtwangler was immediately reengaged for the following year.

Furtwangler spent no unnecessary time in the United States.

On the morning after his final concert, he returned to Europe on the “Minnetonka”.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Munich's Residenz

Munich's Residenz, former home to the Wittelsbach dynasty, which ruled Bavaria for over 700 years, is the subject of this photograph. Munich's National Theater, now home of The Bavarian State Opera, is barely visible on the right.

The Residenz as it appeared in 1875 may be seen in this photograph. Once again, The National Theater, then home of The Munich Court Opera, may be seen on the right.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Gueden, Jurinac And Della Casa

There are singers of the past I regret I missed.

Three of them—sopranos Hilde Gueden, Sena Jurinac and Lisa Della Casa—appear in the photograph above. The photograph was taken at the Salzburg Festival in 1960.

That year, Salzburg’s new state-of-the-art Festpielhaus was inaugurated with great fanfare amid worldwide interest. Opening night saw a new and elaborate production of Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosencavalier” with Gueden singing Sophie, Jurinac singing Octavian and Della Casa singing the Marschallin. The conductor was Herbert Von Karajan.

In the last century, more soprano reputations have been made in “Der Rosencavalier” than any other opera. Such was certainly the case with Gueden, Jurinac and Della Casa, all three of whom found their earliest acclaim in roles from Strauss’s 1911 evocation of The Age Of Maria Theresia.

Gueden (1917-1988), a native of Vienna, sang only one “Rosencavalier” role her entire career, contenting herself with Sophie. Gueden’s first Sophie was sung in Italy during the war, under the baton of Tullio Serafin. The role made her famous. Gueden was to return to Germany after the war carrying the status of a certified international star (Gueden, half-Jewish, had been forced to leave Hitler’s Germany). Gueden retained Sophie in her repertory until late in her career, never “moving up” to the Marschallin, unlike so many other sopranos.

Jurinac (born 1920), of Croatian/Viennese descent, became a member of the Wiener Staatsoper ensemble in 1944. Her debut was to be delayed, considerably, because the Staatsoper was destroyed by Allied bombs on Jurinac’s third day in Vienna. Staatsoper performances were not to resume until the war had concluded.

Jurinac’s first performance in “Rosencavalier” came in 1946, and it came in Vienna. She sang her first Octavian, to unprecedented acclaim, with the Staatsoper while it occupied Theater An Der Wien.

Jurinac kept Octavian in her repertory for almost twenty years. During this period, she also sang a handful of performances of Sophie. Late in her career, Jurinac became a celebrated Marschallin. Jurinac gave her farewell performance in 1982 in Vienna, singing the Marschallin one last time at the Staatsoper.

Della Casa (born 1919), from Switzerland, sang Sophie early in her career. She was soon to add Octavian to her repertory, and later she added the Marschallin, the “Rosencavalier” role for which Della Casa was most celebrated.

A famous film was made of the 1960 Salzburg “Rosencavalier” production, but the filmed performance involved only one of the three sopranos in the photograph: Jurinac. Della Casa was replaced by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf for the filmed performance, and Gueden was replaced by Anneliese Rothenberger.

Della Casa was livid when she learned that Schwarzkopf would replace her for the filmed performance. Della Casa, believing she had been wronged, permanently thereafter struck Salzburg from the list of venues at which she would appear.

Ironically, when Schwarzkopf made a belated Metropolitan Opera debut in 1964 as the Marschallin, Della Casa appeared as Schwarzkopf’s Octavian. Relations between the two artists during rehearsals and performances in New York, it was reported, were amicable.

Gueden and Della Casa were not known as amicable persons during their performing careers.

Gueden, especially, was widely disliked by those with whom she worked. There was a mettlesome quality in Gueden’s personality that made her one part charming and gemutlich, and one part obstreperous and unyielding. Gueden’s odd combination of soft tissue and hard steel apparently worked to her advantage onstage—the two dissimilar qualities lent her performances tension, and helped to make her performances interesting—but such qualities did not make Gueden many friends in private life.

On a personal level, Gueden and Della Casa intensely disliked each other.

During Georg Solti’s first studio recording of a complete opera for Decca, a recording of Strauss’s “Arabella” made in Vienna in May and June 1957, Gueden’s and Della Casa’s childish antics drove Solti to despair. He almost abandoned the project (and was to hate his “Arabella” recording for the rest of his life).

The producer of the recording, John Culshaw, has written how Gueden and Della Casa carried on like third graders during the lengthy recording sessions, bickering with each other over the most trivial matters—the two women actually resorted to shoving each other during the sessions—and relentlessly complaining about the other to anyone who might listen.

Gueden and Della Casa were almost fired from the project on account of their behavior. Neither Solti nor Culshaw worked with either singer ever again—and both singers were soon to find that their services as recording artists were no longer much in demand once the “Arabella” sessions concluded. (According to Culshaw, practically everyone involved in the recording sessions resolved never again to work with Gueden and Della Casa; George London, who sang Mandryka for the recording, was thereafter to refer to Gueden and Della Casa as “a couple of ball-busting bitches”.)

Jurinac, in contrast, was loved on a personal level by almost everyone who worked with her. It is hard to find anyone who offers anything but praise for Jurinac as a person.

Gueden, Jurinac and Della Casa all possessed one common trait: envy over the fact that Schwarzkopf enjoyed a much higher career profile than they (as well as the higher fees that came with that higher profile).

It was quite natural that all three singers regarded Schwarzkopf with suspicion. For them, Schwarzkopf was the elephant in the room—Schwarzkopf's career was of such overwhelming brilliance that it eclipsed the careers of her Central European contemporaries. It was then and it is now hard to assess the careers of any of the three sopranos without bringing Schwarzkopf into the equation.

All three, at one time or another, were to criticize Schwarzkopf publicly, and sometimes brutally—and the criticisms were often directed both at Schwarzkopf as an artist and Schwarzkopf as a person.

Of the three, the most direct rival of Schwarzkopf was Della Casa, whose repertory was most similar to the repertory of Schwarzkopf.

Della Casa’s and Schwarzkopf’s repertories overlapped significantly. Both singers recorded many of the same roles at much the same time, a circumstance made possible because Della Casa recorded for Decca while Schwarzkopf recorded for EMI. A natural rivalry of sorts emerged.

Invariably, Schwarzkopf came out on top.

I cannot think of a single instance in which, in the same role, Della Casa’s recorded version trumps Schwarzkopf’s recorded version. Schwarzkopf always operated on multiple levels, an inherent part of Schwarzkopf’s incomparable genius, while Della Casa was very much a “surface” artist.

Jurinac and Schwarzkopf, on the other hand, were to share a common misfortune that was to trouble both singers for decades: in the very early 1960s, Karajan, without notice and without explanation, coldly and abruptly dropped both singers from the list of artists with whom he would work.

Neither singer ever forgave the slight.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Richard Tucker Costumed For "La Gioconda"

There are singers of the past I am pleased I missed.


On Sunday, Joshua and I plan to hear in concert the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic under Yuri Temirkanov. The program: music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich and Brahms (Temirkanov is a wonderful Brahms conductor, one of the finest Brahms conductors alive).

So far as we know, Temirkanov has not cancelled. The last two times Josh and I planned to hear Temirkanov, he cancelled, leaving us disappointed (and a little bit miffed). Needless to say, we hope he does not cancel on Sunday afternoon.

When I was in law school, I would often drive up to Baltimore to hear Temirkanov lead the Baltimore Symphony. Temirkanov’s Baltimore concerts invariably were excellent. It was during this period that I found out that Temirkanov was much more than a specialist in Russian repertory. I learned firsthand that Temirkanov was especially fine with Brahms and Mahler—as well as Elgar and Britten, something I found surprising at the time.


The following weekend, Josh and I may attend a performance of George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, to be presented by Boston Ballet. The run of performances begins tonight.


Otherwise, we are hunkered down, wrapping things up (and dealing with taxes).

We are still in the midst of making graduation arrangements with everyone from out of town. It has taken us longer than we expected, primarily because everyone is having trouble making final decisions. We hope to have everything completed within another ten days.

Because everyone is coming for Josh’s graduation, we will not attempt to go home for Easter this year.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A Seventh Grader With A Thesaurus

Three weeks ago tomorrow night, Joshua and I went to Jordan Hall to hear the Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin play music of Bach, Handel and Telemann.

The concert was not good.

Intonation was poor. The Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin has been performing for thirty years; there is no excuse for such a long-established original-instrument ensemble to offer impure intonation.

Balance was an issue all evening. Balances were generally odd if not outright peculiar. Both wind instruments and string instruments would often overwhelm the entire instrumental ensemble, then virtually disappear from the orchestral fabric.

Voicing of instrumental lines was absent. Musical phrases would start and stop, without clear notion of how phrases might be tailored to the requirements of instrumentation and maintenance of musical line.

The Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin has always played without a conductor (except for a handful of special performances tied to recording projects). The engagement of a conductor would immediately address the group’s intonation, balance and voicing deficiencies. Remaining conductorless has hampered the group’s level of ensemble—which in turn hampers the level of music-making.

Playing was not neat and sparkling, as we have come to expect from British original-instrument ensembles. The quality of sound was not sweet and beguiling, as we have come to expect from Italian original-instrument ensembles.

Indeed, much of the evening was simply a mess. The group left the impression of a devoted but hapless college faculty ensemble, composed of eager but not-quite-first-class musicians at a small college in Kentucky.

The concert began and ended with Telemann. The Overture (Suite) In F Major got things underway; the Concerto In E Minor For Recorder And Flute concluded the proceedings.

In between were Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Opus 6, Number 2.

To my taste, the group’s music-making was unduly physical—the musicians “acted out” the music as they played, telegraphing the emotions of the music with their bodies and faces.

I do not embrace “dumb show” music-making, but on the evening of March 12 I was in the minority: the Boston audience ate up such antics. The more the musicians mugged, the more the Boston audience responded.

Myself, I wished the quality of music-making had matched the intensity of the elaborate mime show enacted onstage.

An excerpt from Rameau’s “Dardanus” was performed at the conclusion of the scheduled program.


The Boston Globe has become a laughingstock—assuming the newspaper has not always been a laughingstock, which very well may be the case. Globe music coverage grows worse by the day.

The Globe review of the Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin concert had to be seen to be believed. It was the work of a stringer, Matthew Guerrieri, who clearly is the world’s biggest fan of romance novels written for the trailer-park set.

The breathless yet meaningless hokum offered by Guerrieri was incessant, coming in wave after wave of hoary cliche: “the multifariousness of the past”, “historical vectors coalesced”, “Bach in a cutting-edge mood”, “the cutting-edge Handel in an old-fashioned mood”, “the performance stylishly plundered elements from across history”, “an artful imagining of the era’s foreshadowings”, “a cornucopia of approaches”, “a Renaissance-bucolic Passepied”, “an ambient-frozen Plainte”, “populist splendor”, “posited as a plausible forerunner of Romantic virtuosity”, “dexterously mediated between the ensemble’s comping and [the] harpsichordist’s flamboyance”, “furiously buzzing, harpsichord-hero shredding”, “historically informed astringency conjuring modernist bleakness”, “a tight session of traded motives”, “a work that builds entire edifices out of busy, form-following-function passagework”, “limpid, percolating proficiency”, “moved blocks of sound around with frictionless ease”, etc.

One feels the need to vomit after wallowing in such hog-slop.

Does not Guerrieri know the difference between the word “mood” and the word “mode”? And what, precisely, does “an artful imagining of the era’s foreshadowings” signify? And what is the meaning of “harpsichord-hero shredding”?

It is easy to understand why Guerrieri is unemployed (Guerrieri is supported by his wife): anyone who writes so atrociously is bound to have difficulty landing a job.

Guerrieri’s writing is the work of a seventh grader with a Thesaurus.

No Weekend Plans

There being no Hansi Knoteck film festival in Boston this weekend (at least insofar as we know), Joshua and I shall be staying in . . .

Lamenting . . .

Hansi Knoteck, popular German cinema star of the 1930s and 1940s.

A Formulaic Commercial Vehicle

Last weekend, Joshua and I attended a performance of Willy Russell’s “Educating Rita” at Huntington Theatre Company.

“Educating Rita” is a formulaic commercial vehicle—and not a particularly strong one—but the play undoubtedly “works”. I suspect the play “works” because its two characters make evolutions of sorts during the course of the play—and, further, I suspect the play “works” because good actors can make something of its two roles.

I had seen two previous stage productions of “Educating Rita”, and both Josh and I had seen the movie, so there was no uncharted territory for us to explore. We nonetheless enjoyed seeing the actors go through their paces. It was a worthwhile afternoon.

The actor portraying Frank was excellent. He was much better than the actress portraying Rita, who tried a little too hard all afternoon to show Rita’s Pygmalion-like development from hairdresser to woman with intellectual pretensions and middle-class aspirations.

“Educating Rita”, premiered in 1980, resembles nothing so much as a 1970s British television comedy. It is one part earnest, one part pretentious, one part canned laugh lines, one part situation comedy—and one part examination of Britain’s class system, more entrenched in the 1970s than it was to become after the Thatcher reforms.

I am surprised the play has endured—and I am equally surprised that I have bothered to attend a performance three times. The New York Times described “Educating Rita” as “the perfect play about literature for anyone who wouldn’t dream of actually reading books”, and that assessment was spot-on.

“Educating Rita” has never enjoyed a Broadway production, although it has been presented Off-Broadway. Austin Pendleton performed the role of Frank in the original Off-Broadway production, which had a very short run.

The actress who portrayed Rita in the movie, Julie Walters, was the first stage Rita (in London). In fact, the role of Rita was largely responsible for jumpstarting Walters’s career, limited as it has been.