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Wednesday: April 20, 2005


Filed under: — site admin @ 7:42 PM GMT-0500

Someone’s been watching too much television. Cut on the Bias refers to “John Cardinal Ratzinger”. Pope Benedict XVI is — or was — Joseph Ratzinger. John Ratzenberger played Cliff Claven on Cheers. I wonder how many others have made the same mistake this week.

How Long Is This Pope Good For?

Filed under: — site admin @ 3:30 PM GMT-0500

Various sites have suggested that a 78-year-old pope is unlikely to be in office for more than 5-6 years, and one hostile comment somewhere gave an “over and under” of 4 years. This U.S. government life tables site (PDF) gives the average remaining life expectancy of a 78-year-old American male as 7.99 years, and the numbers for Germans can’t be much different. Since the data are from 1989-91 and life expectancies have increased in the intervening years, since the Pope has access to the very best medical care, and since this particular pope seems to be in better-than-average physical condition for his age, I would imagine his estimated remaining life-span would be around 10 years, perhaps even 11 or 12. (Even for 78-year-olds, life tables must include a certain percentage of chronic alcoholics, drug addicts, and heavy smokers who haven’t quite succeeded in killing themselves, as well as some already diagnosed with terminal illnesses. These will tend to lower the average.) Of course, nothing is certain, and Benedict XVI could — absit omen! — drop dead next week or still be in office in twenty years. But he is likely to last longer than some of the more pessimistic estimates. (More optimistic, I guess, when they come from Ratzingerphobes.)

Is This Supposed To Be Funny?

Filed under: — site admin @ 2:09 PM GMT-0500

The Classics Today website has useful reviews of classical CDs, but one seems to be entirely fraudulent. I suspect it may soon disappear, so I will reproduce it here — it should be short enough to come under fair use:

The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises (complete)
Hu F’lhong Dong (piano)
Naxos- 8.414104(CD)
Reference Recording – Reference: Keene (Protone); Mayer (Monarch)

Just when you thought Naxos had left no style or genre of classical piano music unexplored, out comes the first in an ambitious series devoted to “The great Piano Methods, Studies, and Exercises”. What better way to start than with C. L. Hanon’s time-honored five-finger exercises? Hanon is to piano methods as the “Moonlight” Sonata or “Heart and Soul” are to piano literature. Piano students are assigned Hanon from day one, and usually hate it. At first I feared that hearing just one Hanon exercise might trigger a Pavlovian response that causes innocent listeners to slam down the piano lid and refuse to practice ever again. On the other hand, 18-year-old Cambodian pianist Hu F’long Dong’s amazingly even, accent-free, and rock steady finger work should inspire lapsed keyboard practitioners to give the piano another shot. If there’s no particular sense of joy in Dong’s playing, neither is there any drudgery. Constance Keene’s 1959 premiere recording, recently reissued on CD, stresses sheer virtuosity and dynamism, but the dry acoustics of her Manhattan School of Music teaching studio hardly match Naxos’ warm, alluring engineering. And purists still wrinkle their noses at Keene’s concluding each exercise on a prolonged major chord, rather than the single-note unison indicated in the score.

Hanon buffs looking for a more overtly “performance oriented” traversal, as opposed to pedagogical, might try to hunt down a remarkable live recording from the 1999 Mannes College Summer Piano Institute, where Steven Mayer’s whirlwind sprint through the 60 boasts brilliant pedal effects, extreme tempo changes, and thrilling, attention-getting accents. For sonic splendor and “Urtext” accuracy, though, Dong rules alone. With the promise of Idil Biret playing the entire Oscar Berringer Daily Exercises, Konstantin Scherbakov manning Czerny’s complete pedagogical output, and Jeno Jando in Kullak’s The School of Octave Playing Op. 48, Naxos has got the “technique aficionado” market in its proverbial back pocket.

&#151Jed Distler

A Chinese named “Hu Flung Dung” was a character in a very offensive joke I once heard and have since forgotten except for the name. Supposed Cambodian pianist Hu F’long [or F’lhong] Dong seems to be the same person, very lightly disguised. The rest of the names, from the composer Hanon and publisher Naxos through the lists of schools and artists to the reviewer, seem to be real, but who can be sure? I wonder what they think of being included in this little squib. I also wonder whether Naxos has gotten any orders for this disc.

The Two-Year Itch?

Filed under: — site admin @ 1:27 PM GMT-0500

In National Review Online, Michael Ledeen plausibly argues that the regimes of Iran, North Korea, and China are near collapse. I certainly hope he’s right. Along the way, he notes that China has encouraged its citizens to blow off steam rioting against foreign governments “May, 1999, after the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, April, 2001, after the collision with a U.S. reconnaissance plane with a Chinese fighter, and March, 2003, against the liberation of Iraq”, and of course right now, ostensibly against Japanese historical revisionism. The dates are interesting: it almost looks like these riots are scheduled for every other Spring. As I recall, ancient Greek cities had Bacchic revels at similar intervals: every two years the women would run off into the hills and run berserk for a few days performing the secret rites of Dionysus. Is two years as long as an oppressed nation or gender can go without at least temporary release? If the rulers of China make it through the next few months, are they safe until 2007?