22 August, 2007

Richard Dawkins - The Enemies of Reason (Part 2)

The second video in Richard Dawkins' Enemies of Reason series (The Irrational Health Service), is now online at Google video. Although I haven't yet seen this one, if it's anything like the first it's well worth the click...

HT: Respectful Insolence

17 August, 2007

Emma Kirkby, DBE

Via Goldberg, I see that British soprano Emma Kirkby (website) has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. It's the equivalent of a knighthood and carries with it the right to be known as "Dame". The honor was announced in the Queen's Birthday Honours in July along with knighthoods for such other luminaries as Salman Rushdie, Joe Cocker, and Barry Humphries.

In my not-so-humble opinion, Kirkby is well-deserving of such an honor. By her talent and efforts she has done much to advance the cause of early music, performing in the genre almost exclusively since her debut in the 1970's. For the next two decades, she and Julianne Baird were simply the pre-eminent sopranos singing the Mediaeval to Baroque repertoire. I can recall hearing them and other artists in the 80s (especially attending a masterclass taught by Baird) and the experience absolutely changed the direction of my musical life with early music becoming the focus of my musical education.

I have several recordings that feature Kirkby and the almost perfect, bell-like voice rings clear in every one. I don't think I've ever heard a bad performance and although some are not my favorites, every one is worth owning. I can't think of a better female singer for Purcell (with the possible exception of Baird or perhaps Sylvia McNair) and her renditions of Handel simply shine. Truly a great talent and one of Britain's musical treasures.

16 August, 2007

Phenomenal organist...

Perhaps I've been under a rock or something, but I had not heard of Cameron Carpenter until just a few days ago when, following a link from the Minnesota Public Radio website, I watched a video of a concert he gave at Trinity Church in New York. It was under the auspices of a joint meeting of the AGO (American Guild of Organists) and the ATOS (American Theater Organ Society) and Carpenter played a program of both standard and theater organ repertoire. He opens the concert with a transcription (his own, I'd imagine) of Chopin's "Revolutionary" etude with the left hand part (scalar passages and arpeggios over three octaves ...vivace) played on the pedals. And in one of the three (!) encores, he played a transcription (again, his own) of Sousa's Stars and Strips Forever that included a rendition of the piccolo obbligato on the pedals. Absolutely jaw-droppingly incredible.

Richard Dawkins - The Enemies of Reason (part 1)

I watched this earlier today and it is really quite good. Will it make an impact? Unfortunately, I don't think so...people who are addicted to woo-woo seem all too often to be impervious to reason...

HT: Goosing the Antithesis

04 August, 2007

Simpsons Movie

My wife and I went to see the Simpson's movie this evening and liked it very much indeed. If you're a fan of the TV series, you should find it to your liking as well as it's pretty much more of the same.

In the meantime, you can hop on over to the Movie's website and craft yourself a nifty Simpson's avatar!

02 August, 2007


Neurophilosophy has another interesting post about music and the mind. This time about an article by Oliver Sacks in which he describes a neurological condition called musicophilia wherein the sufferer develops sudden urges to listen to or play music following some type of brain injury (this in an individual who may previously have been generally unmusical).

It falls on the heels of an earlier post about possible causes of tone-deafness and for those of us with an interest in music both stories highlight interesting connections between the brain, the mind, and music in general.

01 August, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918 - 2007

The great Swedish auteur director died yesterday at his home on Faro island, off the coast of Sweden. He was 89 years old.

Bergman was known and revered for the absolute craftsmanship of his films, beginning with the scripts, most of which he wrote himself. He was also known for championing and consistently working with a relatively small group of Swedish actors, who became more or less of a sort of "repertory company" from which he cast his films. Notable in this regard are Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman (with whom he was to father a child in 1966).

He directed over 44 films, mostly for the cinema although several were for television, including a production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte for Swedish television. He also directed hundreds of stage and radio theater productions. Three of his films won Academy awards (Best Foreign Language Film): The Virgin Spring (1961), Through a Glass Darkly (1962), and his last cinematographic work Fanny and Alexander (1984). Five of his other films were nominated for other Oscars including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture (the last was Cries and Whispers in 1974; a film Bergman regarded as one of his best). He received numerous other awards and honors in his lifetime, including an Irving Thalberg award in 1971, and is cited by numerous directors (including Woody Allen & Stanley Kubrick) as having had an influence on their own work.

I'm personally acquainted with three of his films: Wild Strawberries, Fanny and Alexander and The Seventh Seal. This last is supposedly widely regarded as one of Bergman's best and I believe it to be one of the greatest films ever made. As in most of his films, the theme is existential: Man's search for meaning. The theme is therefore a transcendent one and the setting and the manner in which the story plays out are beautifully evocative of such a grand design: a knight (Max von Sydow) and his squire returning home from the crusades finds their homeland ravaged by the plague and Death waiting to take them. Desperate to return home, the knight challenges Death to a game of chess with his life as the stakes. Through this gambit he is able to delay Death long enough to allow him to reunite with his wife and daughter before his inevitable loss. During the course of the game, which takes place along the knight's journey home, the knight and his squire meet several other characters, each struggling through life on their own journeys and each, in their own way, must deal with the reality of Death. In the end, the knight finds meaning in his own life by enabling a young couple and their child to escape Death and continue their journey.

Bergman has long been assured of his place among the great cinematic artists, the auteur directors, and students of cinema will continue to study his works for decades to come. His work, particularly in its focus, represents one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.