November 12th, 2012

The Klezmatics

On Saturday the 3rd of November, we went to the Zelazo Center at UWM for a concert by the Klezmatics. The Klezmatics are to klezmer music--Jewish music heavily influenced by Eastern European styles--what The Chieftains are to Irish music: so known and respected that other artists come to you to help them in their work.

We got samples showing that during this excellent concert. The band opened with two fast and sprightly klezmer numbers. There was no program or set list, so I didn't get names. Then we got a piece the group had composed and performed for Pilobolus Dance Theater, "Davening," which was a more contemplative piece, almost symphonic in its arrangment. Another such collaboration for a New York theatre group's adaptation of the folk tale "The Dybbuk," yeilded an eerie tune called "Die Geister" (The Ghosts) which was very seasonal.

Pushing the season just a bit, the group also gave us a couple of Woody Guthrie's Hannukah tunes, such as "Happy Joyous Hanukka."

The Klezmatics are a New York-based group and had jus come back from a European tour in time for Storm Sandy. After having spent four days without power, they were glad to be in Milwaukee, and played songs about the New York area such as "Manhattan Man," and "Mermaid Avenue" with special feeling. Frank London joked that the dressing rooms in the Zelazo Center were designated as "hurricane shelter" (tornado shelter), which was a great idea and they could use that in New York--.

Current members include composers Matt Darriau, alto saxophone, clarinet, and kaval (a type of flute), and Frank London, on trumpet and keys, Paul Morrissett playing bass and tsimbl cimbalom, vocalist Lorin Sklamberg on accordion and piano, Lisa Gutkin on violin and vocals, and David Licht on drums. All the group members are virtuosic in ability and played with great energy and joy. (And sometimes amazing speed. Most Klezmer music is fast and happy, except when it is slow and pensive.) I was pleased to see that, in these days of beat-boxes, the Klezmatics travel with a classic drum kit: bass, snare, two tom-toms, basic cymbals, wood block and cowbell. In a drum solo, however, Licht did some extraordinary things with them using unusual techniques.

It's always a particular privlege to have a performance by those who are the best in the world at what they do, and this is true of the Klezmatics. The close of the concert drew a standing ovation, and their encore, "Ale Brider" (All Are Brothers) had audience members dancing in the aisles.

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Tolkien Lectures at Marquette University

I realize that, being occupied with the run-up to "Arsenic and Old Lace," I forgot to write about the first of a series of lectures the Marquette University Archives are giving in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the publication of "The Hobbit." This was Wednesday afternoon the 4th of October, and was given by our friend, Dr. John Rateliff, author of "The History of 'The Hobbit,'" which has become THE reference on Tolkien's first novel. John gave a very entetaining talk entitled "How 'The Hobbit' Came to Milwaukee," which set out the personalities and negotiations involved in Marquette's acquisition of the manuscripts of "The Lord of the Rings," which deal ended up having "The Hobbit," "Farmer Giles of Ham," and "Mr. Bliss" added in as sweeteners. John's history also exposed some fascinating what-ifs. Tolkien was actually invited to Marquette to give a series of guest lectures shortly after the papers arrived. Unfortunately, Tolkien never followed up on the invitation due to the press of other work at the time, and his wife's failing health. What topics Professor Tolkien might have addressed can only be speculated upon, since he left no notes of any plans.

Thursday, November 8th, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull gave an illustrated talk on "The Art of the Hobbit." Hammond and Scull are authors of "J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator," and the new "The Art of 'The Hobbit,'" and are the recognized experts on Tolkien's drawings and paintings. Their lecture included Tolkien's works prior to "The Hobbit," showing development of his style, and went through drawings created specifically for the publication of the novel. This was a fascinating presentation and well worth seeing and hearing.

There will be one final presentation February 21 (Thursday), 2013
“A Roundtable Discussion on Peter Jackson’s 'The Hobbit'.” Members will be: Dr. Robin Reid, Texas A&M University, Dr. Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Dr. Edward L. Risden, St. Norbert College, and Richard C. West, UW-Madison, and they will be deconstructing the first installment of the new movie trilogy. These events are free and open to the public. It is necessary to call the Archives and reserve a seat however, as space is limited.

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Saturday afternoon the 10th, we went to see the new James Bond movie, "Skyfall," and enjoyed it very much.

The film's opening action sequence, as usual, is almost a short feature in itself, and once again succeeds in bringing soemthing something new and different to the chase and fight scenes.

This a a very dark movie for MI-6. With Bond (Daniel Craig) missing and presumed dead, M (Dame Judi Dench) finds that her organization is literally under attack both by the machinations of master villian Siva (Javier Bardiem) and a government oversight committee whose chair believes that M and her 00 agents have outlived their usefulness.

Craig and Dench are up to their usual fine standard, with Dame Judi getting still more of an "action" role than she has had in the past. Bardiem is spendidly creepy. His portrayal has been compared to both Lex Luthor (for evil genius) and Heath Ledger's Joker (as much for his inappropriate faux intimacies as for his willingness to create indiscriminately deadly chaos in pursuit of his goals).

There were also very strong performances by Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw in what are likely to be recurring roles, Albert Finney as the gamekeeper of Bond's ancestral home, and Bérénice Marlohe as the "Bond Girl" du jour.

There was much that was old an much that was new in this film. There were both musical and visual homages to early Bond, such as the "Bond in Action" guitar solo, and the appearance of a certain iconic "spy car." (And, it must be admitted, the plot of a former top agent seeking revenge is not exactly new, either--.)

Things that were new and good were in the cinematography. We believe this to be the most atmospherically lit and lushly photographed Bond film ever, in a series that has mostly concentrated on seeing that the stunts were clearly shown. The film made the most of both exotic locations like Istanbul, Shanghai, and Macau, and the desolate moors of Scotland.

Also new to the Bond franchise, or, if not new, back after a long absence, was genuine suspense. The sequence of Bond stalking an assassin through a darkened skyscraper had me on the edge of my seat, and the build up to the final battle at Skyfall built tension nicely. We also saw Bond at his most ruthless: more than once he allows someone else to be killed while waiting for a more auspicious time to act.

Perversely enough, the one thing that annoys me about the movie is the title. Why a lonely house in the hinterlands of Scotland would be called "Skyfall" is beyond me. I'm guessing that some brainstorming session came up with a dramatic title and they wrote the script to fit it in.

All in all, this was a fine addition to the Bond canon. And, as the credits say: "James Bond Will Return!"

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