Panning for Gold: Hits in and beyond Trinidad

In the last entry I found myself (unavoidably?) making a reference to Beetlejuice (1988), which (unavoidably!) got me thinking about, yes, the score by Danny Elfman (b. 1953), and also the film’s two moments of spirit-possessed dancing, both accompanied by classic Harry Belafonte recordings: “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora).” maxresdefault.jpgPart of me wants to write this entry on an album by Harry Belafonte (b. 1927): musician, actor, activist. After all, his album Calypso (1956), which opens with that unforgettable “Day-O,” was the first LP to sell a million copies and was #1 on the U. S. charts for 31 weeks. But that’s not the album I pulled from the shelf.

A thorny, troublesome something—an interpretive Demogorgon—lives at the intersection of Caribbean music, spirit possession, and “strangeness” in postwar Euro-American culture. To limit this to the present topic, maybe it goes something like this: The makers of Beetlejuice had seen examples of the Terrifying Dangers of Caribbean Music in movies and TV shows growing up, and the terror thrilled them.

Dr._No_(soundtrack).jpgThink of the use of calypso in the 1962 film Dr. No, the first Bond movie featuring Sean Connery as 007. In the opening sequence, a trio of (Chinese-Jamaican) assassins, feigning blindness, gun down the British agent assigned to the Kingston office in broad daylight and then melt back into the cityscape. Their soundtrack is a calypso rendition of “Three Blind Mice,” realized by Monty Norman (who penned the Bond theme, etc., John Barry, etc., legal action, etc.). This sounds ironic, menacingly so, and given Monty Norman’s fascination with Caribbean music and his work with Jamaican musicians, the composer probably meant it that way. But I’m not so sure that the children who would grow up to make Beetlejuice would have. Here was musical otherness paired with racial otherness, all supporting a delight in violence. What child could ferret out the ambiguity, even with the words of a children’s song there to drive it home in a sort of calypso echo of the slow movement of Mahler’s First Symphony? Instead, there’s the simultaneity of horror at and liberation from conventional mores, precisely the heady mixture characterizing the possessed dance sequences in the Tim Burton film. There’s nothing particularly unusual about this idea: It’s exoticism, simply put. What makes the phenomenon so memorable in Beetlejuice is that exoticism undergoes a kind of emptying of its original foothold in reality because of the disembodied nature of recording and the imprecision of nostalgia for a remembered childhood.

51FB-tmvWBL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis reminds me of the opening of Simon Winder’s The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond (2006), where the writer recalls seeing the Bond film Live and Let Die at the local cinema as a ten-year-old. He makes himself sick with a rum-and-raisin-flavored candy bar called an Old Jamaican while watching “voodoo worshippers. . .screaming and convulsing” in a “loosely West Indian setting.” Gross. As Winder realizes of his adolescent self. Of course, there is an irony in that Jamaica was the very place that Ian Fleming wrote most of the Bond novels; it was his second home, and he clearly loved being there. And yet. . .empire, colonialism, racism: the ugly, inescapable past that anyone with a conscience must perpetually face down.

And now for something (sort of) completely different. (Nexus entry.)

There’s much to love about Nonesuch Records. Nonesuch commissioned—yes, commissioned—Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon (1967). (That’s enough, isn’t it?) Under the visionary leadership of Teresa Sterne (1927-2000), Nonesuch released recordings by a number of important young composers and also an Explorer Series, featuring music of stunning variety recorded on site around the world. Sterne and her team at Nonesuch in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s seem to have appreciated that, in the spirit of the times, expanding minds meant expanding sonic experience into realms of the unfamiliar.

One record in Nonesuch’s Explorer Series—the one I did pull from the shelf—is The Sound of the Sun (1967), an album comprised entirely of music for steel band (as in steel pans) played by the Westland Steel Band. A brief essay by Jane Sarnoff on the back cover sketches a history of the steel band, an ensemble born of extraordinary resourceful in the wake of repeated attempts by colonial authority figures to clamp down on aspects of Carnival. Drums in the nineteenth century? Banned. Bamboo sticks thumped on the ground? Banned. Pots and pans, discarded brakes and other metal bits were promising, but then. . . As Sarnoff puts it, “There are countless rumours, calypsos, and stories telling of the One man, the thousand One men who first discovered that dents in the tops of steel drums made notes.” She continues delicately, “The large oil industry on the island gave a ready source of basic instruments.” Helen Myers (ethnomusicologist alert!) is less conciliatory in her 2001 article for Grove: “After World War II, bandsmen developed a technique whereby the discarded American 55-gallon oil drums littering the island could be fashioned into a tuned idiophone whose tempered steel extended the range of musical versatility of their groups.” So Americans leave massive amounts of toxic waste on an island in the Caribbean, wash their hands of it, and the people of Trinidad give the world the steel band.

R-1662607-1383419160-6661.jpeg.jpgThe gift of The Sound of the Sun, though, is that it reveals an ensemble in transition. Not too long ago someone shared with me a YouTube video of a steel band playing the opening of Rite of Spring. It was meant to impress, and it did, as if to say, “Anything an orchestra on a concert stage can do, we can do.” That claim could not have been made when the Nonesuch record was made. In 1967, steel bands were closer to their origin as the creative expression of urban youth seeking music to articulate movement (march, dance) during Carnival. That gives the twelve tracks on The Sound of the Sun a certain self-similarity: a walking pace, an unvarying ensemble of ping pong, guitar pan, cello pan, boom, and shak-shak. (By the time Myers was publishing her Grove article, she explains that this terminology had shifted toward the less colloquial tenor pan for ping pong and bass pan for boom.)

But where variety exists on the album, it fascinates. A track like “High Life” has an unrelenting groove with an isorhythmic figure that reminds me of the sanjuanes described by John Schechter (ethnomusicologist alert!) in his work on Andean music. Compare this with “Maria,” where the tenor pan has all the rhythmic and melodic interest of a solo vocal line, with the ensemble breaking their groove to join the melody for certain hits. This also happens in “Mambo Lake,” the ensemble coordination seeming to beg for paired movement: What would the Westland Steel Band have done if they were playing this on the move?

On this listen I was especially drawn to “Linstead Market,” originally a folk song about a mother who can’t sell enough fruit in the market to feed her children, adapted simply here for the steel band. But the song itself spirals out into the nexus. It is Jamaican in origin and had been printed and recorded many times before the Westland Steel Band gave it a go. For example, the mento band the Wrigglers (sometimes “The Wigglers”) recorded it as a single, blending it with. . .ready?. . .“Day Oh” (“Day-O”), around the same year that Belafonte released his album Calypso. FW06846.jpgLouise Bennett-Coverley (1919-2006) also recorded “Linstead Market” for the 1954 Folkways Records release Jamaican Folk Songs. Bennett, lifelong champion of Jamaican folklore, was the person who introduced Belafonte to “The Banana Boat Song,” though it had been “Hill and Gully Rider” as she knew it. And she recorded “Linstead Market” on at least one other occasion, that time with the Caribbean Serenaders featuring Leslie Hutchinson on trumpet (Melodisc 1139) in what the 78 label describes as a “Jamaican Rhumba.” Steel band, calypso, folksong, mento, rhumba, Jamaica, Trinidad, the U. S.—the fluidity of genre, the quick movement of repertory between islands and across oceans, the surge of popular and ethnomusicological interest—all points to kind of vibrancy, a being on the leading edge of a musical revolution, a postcolonial achievement of voice. The Sound of the Sun is a brightly shining page from that story in motion.

(Nexus exit.)

Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Colin Matthews

It’s probably not surprising that listening to the OST for The Empire Strikes Back (for the last entry) would put me in the mood for Gustav Holst. There’s The Planets, after all, which John Williams has referenced (mined?) in a variety of ways throughout the Star Wars saga.

117042209.jpgBut the record I pulled off the shelf this week was not The Planets, but Holst’s Sāvitri (1908), a stunning one-act opera clocking in at about 30 minutes, with a B-side that I’d never heard: The Dream-City, a ten-song cycle that composer-conductor Colin Matthews arranged and orchestrated from Holst’s Twelve Songs, Op. 48 (1929), on poems by Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940). Matthews’s The Dream-City (1983), like Holst’s Op. 48, is by no means well known, but it’s frequently attractive and occasionally fascinating. Matthews organized the ten Holst songs into three “parts” and, in addition to having orchestrated them “more elaborately, perhaps, than Holst might have allowed himself,” he contributed some “linking material” to weld certain songs together. The third part, for example, connects three songs in one unbroken set: “Rhyme,” “Journey’s End,” and. . .wait for it. . .“Betelgeuse.”

Nexus entry.

MV5BZDdmNjBlYTctNWU0MC00ODQxLWEzNDQtZGY1NmRhYjNmNDczXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY1200_CR87,0,630,1200_AL_.jpgAnother week, another ‘80s movie reference. Behold, I bring you: Beetlejuice (1988). Granted, the weird nightmare landscapes that Michael Keaton’s poltergeist-purveying title character slinks through in Tim Burton’s film are a far cry from the wisps of dreams in Humbert Wolfe’s poems. But something does tie together that bizarre film, Wolfe’s poetry, Holst’s settings, and Matthews’s orchestration: the strangeness of our fantasies about death.

“Rhyme,” jittery and unsettling, is about the power of that particular characteristic of poetry to disrupt the natural order, to jolt us “out of space and time.” “Journey’s End,” written in a sort of faux naïve father-son dialogue, depicts the afterlife as the cold, dark, and silent “room” of a coffin. Holst’s music (and Matthews’s beautiful orchestration) goes much further, revealing the numinous through its arching lyricism.

By placing “Betelgeuse” last in the cycle, Matthews sustains this meditation on an afterlife “out of space and time”: “On Betelgeuse the gold leaves hang in golden aisles for twice a hundred million miles,/and twice a hundred million years/they golden hang and nothing stirs,/on Betelgeuse.” TheMagiciansNephew(1stEd).jpgThis science-fiction-like vision of death—which reminds me of the terrifying frozen world of the White Witch’s home planet in C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew (1955)—becomes a marvel in Matthews’s rendering. He has forged a sonic Betelgeuse in the environment of his orchestration, with sly references to Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” to ground the autumnal quality of the poetry in the musical language of the Romantic orchestral song cycle. In the recording, soprano Patrizia Kwella barely touches consonants and uses light vibrato or straight tone throughout while perfectly placing every pitch, aiding the sense of the strangely beautiful and otherworldly, her voice attaining the quality of an instrument beyond the human frame. (She sounds like a glass harmonica at times!) Perhaps Kwella and Matthews were thinking of the 1968 recording of Holst’s Op. 48 by Peter Pears and Britten, in which Pears attains a similar diction-light placidity? Or perhaps Matthews heard Britten and Pears perform it live, since shortly after the recording was made he became the composer’s assistant.

Nexus exit.

I admit that it’s a bit perverse to have “gone nexus” on the LP’s B side without lavishing attention on Sāvitri, which is, well, a truly wonderful work. How do I love it? Let me count the ways. Or at least briefly mention a few of the things that I love about it.

It is an opera with only three roles—Death, Sāvitri, and her beloved Satyavan—in which Holst gives Death the first word. (Like Wagner, Holst wrote his own librettos, in this case adapting the story from the Sanskrit epic The Mahābhārata.) 518Pw2aGHgL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgDeath sings the opening section alone, without orchestral accompaniment, which might initially suggest Wagner’s strategy at the beginning of Act I of Tristan und Isolde, but in Holst there’s no prelude to set up the emptiness of the opening song. And then, magic! Sāvitri joins Death in an unaccompanied duet and reveals that his song has been running through her mind. So the first character we hear is actually the thought of another character. The stark tension between the two vocal parts seems to prophecy Peter and Ellen’s bitonal duet in Britten’s Peter Grimes, which is similarly unmoored from orchestral accompaniment. Composer-scholar Raymond Head claims that Sāvitri features Holst’s first use of bitonality (“Holst and India (III)” Tempo 166 [September 1988]: 37), and given that Britten acknowledged his debt to Holst’s harmonic thinking, the Sāvitri-Grimes link seems intriguing.

Another favorite moment is the use of women’s chorus to accompany Sāvitri’s song to death (“Welcome, Lord!”), which sounds like the very best of the Anglican choral tradition, and so glosses the Hindu mythology of the story with the resounding strains of a British paradise. If that seems uncomfortably colonial, well. . .how could it not? Holst was inevitably a tenant of his times.

I’m not sure it counts as a “favorite moment,” but I’m also amazed by the conversation (argument, really) that Sāvitri has with Death, over the course of which she essentially tricks him into not taking the life of her Satyavan. The deliberately archaic language of the libretto echoes Wagner, certainly, but I’m more fascinated by the musical logic of this section of the opera. The succession of tempos, the modal shifts, the way the orchestra supports the drama—all suggest the logic of Wagner while remaining satisfyingly Holstian. But it’s more specific than that. I almost feel that this particular collection of tempos and moods comes from something: Tristan and Isolde’s conversation at the end of Act I, perhaps? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but seeking an answer is a quest well worth taking up sometime. Meanwhile. . .

So. Many. Records.

The Yoda Clause: Yoda Claus

It’s Christmas. Time for Star Wars.

star_wars_yoda_ugly_christmas_sweater_front_S22587920U_SUGAR_RED_01__15820.1447108644.jpgJust how deeply the connection between Xmas and the ultimate space opera, exemplified by an ever-growing corpus of Christmas Yoda memes, has embedded itself in the collective consciousness is difficult to say, but it’s clear that Disney grasps it. Of course they trot out a new Star Wars movie every Christmas for those of us who woke up one CRT-blasted, C-3PO-cereal-sated morning to our very own AT-AT. With extra pack of D batteries. They know what we want for Christmas.

If such thoughts make me fret about being predictable, about consumer bingeing, about overthinking memes, it is immensely restorative to sit and listen to the double album of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), always my favorite single film of the franchise. In the last entry, while listening to the final movement of Hanson’s “Romantic” Symphony, I had exclaimed excitedly at the mere hint of mildly crunchy American neo-romantic brass fanfare, “That’s Star Wars!” And now I lay claim to my Xer birthright and treat myself to a pre-Episode VIII session of OST, John Williams-style.

61ikIF+eP1L._SY300_.jpgJohn Williams (b. 1932) gives so generously—too generously, I’m sure many have said—and so the experience of listening to a soundtrack album by him is like discovering a secret cache of fascinating deleted scenes. Of course there are many brilliant cues that appear more or less unscathed in the film. One is the opening of “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme),” the tune that everyone knows from Star Wars and the one that seems to me most like Wagner, because it both retains its identity in various contexts and suggests multiple powerful referents (the third movement from Chopin’s Second Piano Sonata being the most obvious). Another is the moment when Yoda raises Luke’s X-wing from the swamp on Dagobah, which is given over almost entirely to the music to “narrate.” (Hey, he gives Luke a present—he really is Yoda Claus!)

Another favorite moment is during the chase through the asteroid field, the music for which is so very exhilarating that C-3PO’s scream of terror seems like a natural extension of the climactic brass line. 3341011519_b1981fa824.jpg(How did this little piece of magic happen? Did John Williams hear Anthony Daniels’s scream and think, “Hm, the brass need to do something like that. I’ll write a screaming brass line. C-3PO screams, the brass scream, we all scream. . .for asteroid fields.”) A fraught favorite is the truly beautiful “Love Theme,” which finally gets the orchestral treatment it deserves in the closing scene of the film, as Luke and Leia, his arm around her, stand at the window on the medical frigate, looking out over the sweep of the whole galaxy. Right, so the only time we have the “Love Theme” as we’ve longed for it, it’s for. . .sibling embrace. Granted, they (and we) aren’t supposed to know this yet. But does this use of the “love theme” inject an intentional dose of ambiguity about the Luke/Leia relationship into the saga? Like Harry and Hermione dancing in the tent in The Deathly Hallows? Like Siegmund and Sieglinde in the first act of Die Walküre before the “reveal”? I’m pretty sure that the younger me just heard this moment as the uncomplicated and entirely sufficient love of all things Star Wars. Living in the nexus for a few decades has a way of complicating things.

All the moments just mentioned are easy to hear in the film. But then there are moments that the OST reveals that either didn’t make it into the film or that are obscured in a scene by (possibly) well-meaning foley artists or other sound design wizards. Two that struck me on this listen to the Empire double album were. . .

“Yoda’s Theme.” So this might not have been one of JW’s most impressive creations. It sounds a little like Close Encounters, a little like E.T., so much so that Williams might be accused of extraterrestrial stereotyping. The OST track has at certain moments a surprisingly saccharine quality, and listening to it changes my impression of who Williams thought Yoda was, at least in 1980. Too cloying, too sweet, too easy. The filmmakers knew better, so they cut out the overly sweet bits.

And then there’s “The Battle in the Snow,” which must count as one of the great tableaux in all the Star Wars movies. The emergence of the imperial walkers from the mist is one of those unforgettable filmic images. In the film itself the sound effects people go crazy here, adding all sorts of (arguably appropriate) battle noises. But the OST track reveals some shockingly creative music, much of it buried or absent from the film’s final cut. In the double album’s liner notes, John Williams describes this cue’s “unusual orchestration, calling for five piccolos, five oboes, a battery of eight percussion, two grand pianos, two or three harps, in addition to the normal orchestral complement.” He goes on to explain, “This was necessary in order to achieve a bizarre mechanical, brutal sound for the sequence showing Imperial Walkers, which are frightening inventions, advancing across a snowscape.” Five piccolos and oboes playing together?! That really is a frightening invention!! The more stunning thing to me, though, is the presence of piano timbre, which seldom comes through in the film.

Nexus entry.

Unknown.jpegThis reminds me of a recent conversation I had with Bill Gokelman (Chair of the UIW Department of Music), who had played the piano part for some excerpts from Star Wars (as performed by the San Antonio Symphony) some years ago and was stunned by the demands placed on the pianist. With so much piano activity, why is there so little evidence of it in the film? Why hide the piano? Is it too human a sound, suggestive of real people playing real instruments? It’s certainly a sound that never emerges from Wagner’s pit. Or maybe the timbre itself comes across as too American neoclassical? Whatever the filmmakers might have thought when dusting the piano under the sonic rug, when I hear John Williams’s “frightful invention” on the OST, the reference that leaps to mind is George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique (1924), a fitting source of inspiration for the “dance” of AT-ATs on ice. Do you hear that, Disney? “AT-ATs on Ice.” There’s a fertile idea for a post-Episode IX theme park attraction. Yoda Claus can lift an X-wing from the impenetrable muck of Dagobah, so I’m sure he can manage a Star Wars ice show. Just don’t skimp on the lightsabers. Oh. And ask him to bring back C-3PO cereal. At least for the holidays.

Nexus exit.

Into the Dim Periphery: Hanson’s Fourth

In the last entry Howard Hanson was sitting in the audience—one of many notable musical figures—in the Kennedy White House in 1961 for the “return concert” of Pablo Casals.

This got me thinking about Hanson (1896-1981), one of those figures hovering at the dim periphery of my consciousness as the teacher of my own first composition teacher, Martin Mailman1611872.jpg (1932-2000). So I picked a disc—a CD this time—of Hanson’s Second and Fourth Symphonies, along with his Elegy, Op. 44, played by the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra under David Montgomery and released in 1997 on the Arte Nova label.

If anyone has heard a Hanson symphony these days, it’s probably the Second (“Romantic”), which has many attractive qualities to recommend it: the proposal of an American answer to the epic challenge of first-movement form; generous and heartfelt lyricism in the slow second movement; a third movement that seems to me to point toward the film scores of John Williams. (“Did you hear that?! That’s Star Wars!!” I yelled to no one in particular.) But I was more fascinated by a piece on the disc that I’d never heard, the Symphony No. 4, Op. 34 “Requiem.” For what it’s worth, the piece won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1944. It also belongs to an important micro-genre of twentieth-century orchestral music: the war symphony. With a subtitle like “Requiem,” I can’t imagine anyone hearing the work in 1944 wouldn’t have thought of “precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.”

It’s curious, then, that Hanson’s dedication reads, “in memory of my beloved father,” and listening to the work reveals that Hanson mostly eschews the sound and the fury of a world at war in favor of, yes, a more personal and modest grief, a suggestion of ritual (through recourse to lyrical lines that suggest Gregorian chant), and a certain ambiguity about consolation. The closing bars of the fourth movement, where Hanson separates the funereal intonement of the lower strings and timpani from the ethereal upper strings, creating a tonal, timbral, and material gulf between mourning “here on earth” and the accomplishment of “paradise,” is particularly powerful.

Nexus entry.

MS_1719_001.jpg

But another reason for my fascination has to do with another war symphony, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 (1940). Okay, here it is. Britten’s movements: I. Lacrymosa, II. Dies irae, III. Requiem aeternam. Hanson’s movements: I. Kyrie, II. Requiescat, III. Dies irae, IV. Lux aeterna. And Britten’s dedication, whatever the origins of the piece, is “to the memory of my parents.” Britten’s work was given its première in Carnegie Hall in 1941 by the New York Philharmonic under John Barbirolli, but it was soon thereafter performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky, who was so impressed that he engineered the commission of—well, let’s just say it—Peter Grimes. And finally, at least for now, Koussevitzky was a champion of Howard Hanson’s music, and it’s to the conductor’s memory that the composer dedicated his Elegy, Op. 44 (the last work on this disc). A more serious comparison of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Hanson’s Symphony No. 4 “Requiem” would seem to be in order.

Nexus exit.

At the national conference of the American Musicological Society this November (musicology alert!), I attended a concert of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra at Kodak Hall, Eastman Theatre. How many times, I wonder, was Hanson in that hall? How many times did he hear his own music played there? And how many times was my own teacher there? Both places and pieces can remind us of relationships, but they do so in different ways. When I press play, Hanson sings his song again, because I’m listening.

Pablo, Presidents, Puerto Rico

Here we are at the beginning, in media res.

I picked a record off the shelf—that’s all. A completely unscientific way to demonstrate to myself that intuition was worth something. My intuition was that whatever I chose, no matter what it was, would be good enough and would allow for the requisite dipping of the toe into the waters.

R-9578152-1483059708-7980.jpegThe record was A Concert at the White House, November 13, 1961. Do you know this story? The great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, having refused to perform publicly in the United States since 1928 because of American recognition of Franco’s government, accepted President Kennedy’s invitation to perform because, in his words, of “my deep feelings for the American people and the faith and confidence we all have in you as leader of the Free World.”

The choice of pieces will likely seem unsurprising to chamber music regulars: Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D Minor, an arrangement of pieces by Couperin for cello and piano, Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major, and as an encore Casals’s own arrangement of a Spanish melody, “Song of the Birds.”

The concert was a great success, widely seen (and spun) as part of the inauguration of a new age in which the White House would celebrate and encourage the arts and artists. Among the 153 guests in the East Room were Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, Norman Dello Joio, Howard Hanson (my compositional grandfather!), Roy Harris, Alan Hovhaness, Gian Carlo Menotti, Douglas Moore, Walter Piston, William Schuman, Roger Sessions, Virgil Thomson, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski. But here’s my favorite guest reaction: “Leonard Bernstein, who sat with his head buried in his hands during most of the recital, was nearly overcome. ‘I was deeply moved by the entire occasion,’ he admitted, ‘not merely by the music of Casals but by the company in which it was played.’” (Time, November 24, 1961) The folks at Columbia Records were similarly moved, so much so that “in appreciation of [the] opportunity to present this recording,” they donated their portion of proceeds to the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico.

Nexus entry.

How many questions could possibly emerge from the random selection of a record on a shelf? Here are some of my favorites. . .so far. 1) What was Elliott Carter thinking when he looked at the program? Did he roll his eyes at every perfect authentic cadence? 2) Why Mendelssohn? What did Mendelssohn mean to that octogenarian international superstar of a cellist in 1961? 3) Why is this performance recreated in Jackie, the 2016 film starring Natalie Portman? What are contemporary film audiences supposed to do with chamber music at the White House? Jackie_(2016_film)4) How’s the Casals Festival doing, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Maria? 5) Paul Henry Lang (musicologist alert!) was at the concert and wrote a review for the Herald Tribune in which he admires the first family for their “proper appreciation of the relation of art to life.” Was Lang, scholar of French Baroque music, thinking of the ancien régime when he wrote that, or of Bartók and Kodály, with whom he also studied? 6) U.S. Presidents and Puerto Rico. I’m sure there’s a question there, but I’m not sure I want to ask it, at least not in a first blog entry. Maybe it’s enough to say that the first democratically elected governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marín, was the guest of honor at this state dinner and concert.

Nexus exit.

What do we do with these questions? Assemble a portfolio of hastily researched half-answers, labor to develop serious answers before posting an entry, or move on? What’s the responsibility of the blogger?

(So. Many. Records.)

For now we move on and mull over, with the enticing possibility of “return,” a phenomenon that takes many forms in the nexus.