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Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

Time Event
Madison Early Music Festival, Day One, New York Polyphony
This year, we decided to get a Festival Pass for the Madison Early Music festival, which gets us access to six concerts over four days. (We could have had seven, but the Baltimore Consort presentation on Tuesday is the same one I previously reviewed by Early Music Now, so we chose to give that one a pass.) The overall Festival theme is “Shakespeare 400,” with emphasis on English music from Shakespeare’s day.

The program for this Saturday night was New York Polyphony, making their Wisconsin debut and first appearance at MEMF. Their concert of English sacred music was preceded by the lecture “That the Congregation May Be Thereby Edified,” by Professor J. Michael Allsen, which set the context of the religious shifts that took place during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VII, Mary, and Elizabeth I. England had always had its own tradition of sacred music, most of which was lost in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and cleared the way for new works.

New York Polyphony is made up of four male singers: Geoffrey Williams, countertenor; Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone; and Craig Phillips, bass. They are currently one of the most highly regarded classical music vocal groups, and, having heard them, it’s easy to tell why. They have very pure tones, extremely precise elocution, and pitches that are spot-on.

Their concert, called “Tudor City,” after their 2010 album, included two masses. After “Ave Maria Mater Dei,” by Willam Cornysh, they began the Mass for Four Voices by William Byrd, which Professor Allsen called one of the most perfect examples of counterpoint extant. Inserted between the movements of the Mass were other pieces of sacred music from the Tudor and late Plantagenet period, by John Dunstable, Walter Lambe, and Thomas Tallis.

The second half of the program began with “Ave Verum Corpus,” by Byrd, and the Mass for Four Voices by Byrd’s predecessor and mentor, Thomas Tallis. Tallis’ Mass was a simpler and more austere setting, but in its way no less beautiful. Additional pieces came from John Pyamour, John Plummer, and the Worcester Fragments.

After a well-deserved standing ovation, the group favored us with an encore: a do-wop version of “Rosie the Riveter on the Assembly Line,” which showed that their mastery of more modern styles is just as great as that of the ancient music.

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Independence Day: Resurgence
On July 4th, we went to see “Independence Day: Resurgence.” Having read reviews saying it wasn’t as good as the original, largely because of the absence of Will Smith, we didn’t expect much, but found it better than expected. (While I like Will Smith well enough, I think he’s overrated. I had forgotten he was even in the first movie. The performances that stuck with me were Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, both of whom are back for this entry.)

It is twenty years after the events of the first film. Humanity on earth is largely united by fear of the alien threat, and has supposedly* worked out a cooperative world government—or at least a unified world armed force. There has been no major war since 1996. (*I say supposedly, since the United States is still an autonomous country, as apparently is an African state ruled by warlord Deobia Oparei ( Dikembe Umbutu), which is the only country other than the USA that plays a major part in the events of the new movie.)

The reverse-engineered alien technology has given Earth an updated infrastructure, made the restoration of Washington D.C. and other cities possible, and lead to the deployment of a space defense force with a major base on the Moon. Of course, the twenty-year celebration of the alien’s defeat coincides with the aliens’ reappearance, as a bigger, badder threat.

This time, we get to find out what the aliens want, as, after destroying the Moon base (and part of the Moon), the Mother-of-All-Motherships settles over the Atlantic Ocean central rift, and begins boring toward Earth’s “molten core.” (Supposedly they want this for “fuel” and raw materials, which makes very little sense, but this movie doesn’t pretend to hard science. I admit I found the reference to “Cold Fusion” missile warheads amusing--.)

The battle for the planet is on, with expectable setbacks for the good guys initially. Ultimate victory requires both the young and valiant new warriors and the veterans of the last campaign to come together and employ their various talents to improvise a new plan. How it all works out is of course spectacular and, all in all, reasonably satisfying.

Spoileriffic Critiques:
The 3000 mile wide alien space craft is sufficiently massive to have its own significant gravity, as we are shown. Accepting that this film is a science-fantasy one remove from Star Wars, I suppose it was deemed that the disaster effects attendant on the ship’s landing were sufficient, and they didn’t really need to go into adding the tidal effects on the earth’s crust, or the perturbation of the planet’s rotation and possibly orbit by contract with such a massive object. After all, if the Earth is going to be destroyed in less than 24 hours, why worry about long-term effects? (And then there’s the little fact that a sizeable hunk of the Moon got sheared off by the incoming monstrosity--.)

On another front, apparently the laws on Presidential succession have been changed. When the entire National Command Authority gets wiped out by the aliens, General Adams (William Fichtner) is sworn in as President. Now, in the first place, in this situation, there’s no way both the President and the Vice-President would be at the same location, let alone the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and ALL the Cabinet Members. I can see not wanting to add another character to the already large cast, but the Secretary of Defense (Patrick St. Esprit) is already a speaking role, and he could easily have been the one Cabinet member to be at an “undisclosed location.”

And, frankly, Adams isn’t that good a general. Advised that a defense post in the orbit of Saturn has gone off line, he actually has to think about it before ordering red alert. Then, celebrating victory over the supposed alien probe, the Earth forces are taken flat footed when the real threat appears near the Moon. The alien heavy weapons adapted for Earth’s orbital defense have a power-up period similar to “Death Star” weapons, and the order to power up isn’t even given until the alien ship is already inside the Moon’s orbit, and the orbital defenses are in range of the aliens’ much larger weapon. Since the aliens are coming in hot, the defenses are destroyed before getting off a shot.

Tactically, the defense force aerial attack on the mothership was just embarrassing. Satellites are off-line or destroyed, OK, but no attempt at reconnaissance by aircraft was referred to. No electronic countermeasures were mentioned, nor were any of the bombers detailed to suppressing defenses, all tactics that evolved during the Vietnam War, and that are standard now. The low and slow formation flying used by the attack force would have been scorned by any World War II veteran of Schweinfurt or Ploesti, although the carnage inflicted by the defenses would have been all too familiar.

Where were the cruise missiles or combat drones? Plus, the mothership appeared to be totally defenseless from the underside, where an ocean salvage ship remained unmolested while reporting on the aliens’ actions. A submarine could have launched a full salvo into the ship’s underside with no apparent difficulty.

I understand that some of these things were affirmative decisions on the part of the writers to add tension and set the situation, but it’s depressingly sloppy and unoriginal. The same effects could have been achieved with tighter writing, some actual professional military advice, and some more creativity.

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