Saturday, January 31, 2015

Leaving Time

My book club chose Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult for its January selection.  Picoult can usually be relied upon for an entertaining read (my book club has also read My Sister's Keeper and House Rules) and this novel is more of the same.  Jenna Metcalf is a 13-year old girl searching for her mother Alice, a renowned elephant researcher who disappeared ten years ago in the wake of a tragic accident on the elephant sanctuary where she worked.  Jenna enlists the help of Serenity Jones, a psychic who has lost her gift, and Virgil Stanhope, the police officer who first responded to the accident and is tormented by his inability to solve the case.  The story is told from multiple perspectives, including Alice's journals detailing her research on elephants, as the three main characters search for clues about that fateful night.  There is an epic plot twist at the end, of the I-can't-believe-I-didn't-see-that-coming variety, which, if you can suspend your disbelief,  brings about a satisfying resolution.  My favorite element of the story is the juxtaposition of Jenna's experiences with that of elephants (my very favorite animal).  Much is made of Jenna's inability to remember the accident while elephants never forget.  Jenna is distraught over the fact that her mother may have willingly left her behind while elephants are devoted mothers who often refuse to leave a calf who has died.  I think the elephants are my favorite characters in the novel, although Jenna is endearing and the duo of misfits who help her are wonderfully quirky.  I did feel that the multiple perspectives were sometimes confusing (Serenity was my favorite narrator) and there were definitely some holes in the plot, but I enjoyed the compelling mother-daughter story and I loved the elephants!  If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult (and elephants), I recommend this book.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Boyhood

I am now actually able to say that I have seen all of the nominees for Best Picture (see my reviews of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, Birdman, Selma, and American Sniper) because Boyhood was re-released in theaters and I saw a screening Saturday night.  I had many preconceived notions about this film because I knew so much about it.  The story centers around Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his experiences growing up from the age of six until he graduates from high school and leaves for college.  Director Richard Linklater, essentially, filmed the same group of actors for a few days each year over a span of twelve years.  While he did have the outline of the story he wanted to tell, he let the script evolve and it was informed by what Ellar Coltrane was actually going through in his own life.  I thought this movie would come across as a documentary and I thought that it had become the darling of the critics because filming for such a long period of time was an interesting gimmick.  In spite of my determination to hate it, I was completely drawn into Mason's story.  He has a very difficult life living with a single mother (played brilliantly by Patricia Arquette), who continually makes poor choices in her personal life which have devastating consequences for her children, and a ne'er-do-well father (the equally brilliant Ethan Hawke), who swoops in periodically (in a sweet GTO) with presents and demands for a meaningful relationship.  It definitely has a narrative arc and it doesn't seem like a documentary at all.  Nor does it seem like a gimmick;  rather, it feels like a masterpiece.  I am still not entirely sure why, but this movie grabbed hold of me and it hasn't let me go yet!  Maybe it is because Mason reminds me so much of my students.  Coltrane is absolutely magnetic and he portrays Mason so sympathetically, especially as he gets older and begins to question his place in the world.  There is such a great scene between Mason and his girlfriend in a coffee shop at 3:00 in the morning (I have had many epic philosophical conversations at 3:00 in the morning) where they discuss the meaning of life.  Ultimately, Mason is able to survive the mistakes of his parents and, as he is about to start college, he realizes that life is all about the moments.  I have always believed that and I highly recommend this movie

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Snowshoeing in Mill Creek Canyon

Saturday morning I drove up to Mill Creek Canyon for another snowshoeing adventure.  The conditions were not as great as I would have hoped (I need some new powder) but I really enjoyed being out in the fresh mountain air.
Even though there were lots of people skiing and sledding all around me, it was so peaceful.  I love that I can get away from everything in less than 30 minutes.  I live in a really beautiful place!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wild

I moved on to the Best Actress nominees last night with a screening of Wild to see Reese Witherspoon (see my commentaries on Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones).   My book club read the popular memoir by Cheryl Strayed several years ago and I really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to the movie.  I think it is a great adaptation of the book and it vividly captures Strayed's humor and insight.  After the death of her mother, the break-up of her marriage, a heroin addiction, and years of promiscuous behavior, Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) decides to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself as a way to get back to being the woman her mother raised.  She has very little outdoor experience and an overweight backpack (nicknamed "The Monster") but she makes it on sheer force of will.  It is a non-linear narrative showing the progression of her hike in chronological order with flashbacks to specific points in her life as she deals with and makes peace with her demons.  Reese Witherspoon is excellent in this physically demanding role and the scene where she finally acknowledges the pain of her mother's death is most affecting.  I also found the scene where she thinks about giving up just a few yards from the trailhead to be quite amusing.  This may be Witherspoon's best performance since Walk The Line and, at this point (I haven't seen Julianne Moore's performance in Still Alice), she has my vote for the Academy Award.  I was not so impressed with Laura Dern (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) as Cheryl's mother.  I think that Dern plays the same character over and over again and I've grown a bit weary of her hysterical-optimism-in-the-face-of-adversity characterization (I thought she was more believable as the mother in The Fault In Our Stars).  The scenery is absolutely spectacular, especially along the Oregon-Washington border, and I thought the use of Simon and Garfunkel's song "El Condor Pasa" throughout the movie was brilliant.  I've always loved that song!  Wild is very entertaining and I would definitely recommend it.

Note:  Several of my friends who have seen the movie have asked to borrow my copy of the book.  Anything that encourages people to read is worthy of my praise!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Foxcatcher

I have been having a lot of fun viewing the Best Picture nominees so I decided to expand into the Best Actor category.  The only nominee I hadn't yet seen was Steve Carell (read my commentaries on Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Michael Keaton, and Bradley Cooper) so I went to Foxcatcher last night.  Wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic gold medalist trying to train for the next Olympics and step out from under the shadow of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also a gold medalist and a popular coach.  Mark is so destitute that he speaks at elementary schools for a pittance and eats Ramen noodles.  When eccentric millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites Mark to train with other wrestlers at the world class facility he built on his property, Foxcatcher Farm, he jumps at the chance.  Mark soon discovers that du Pont wants the reflected glory of "training" a world class athlete in order to win the approval his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) who is an accomplished equestrienne and, moreover, that most of the wrestlers are mere sycophants who will do anything to keep the checks coming.  Mark is further dismayed when du Pont invites Dave to coach Team Foxcatcher.  Relationships deteriorate, ultimately ending in tragedy.  All three main actors give stellar performances, particularly Carell, who is literally and figuratively unrecognizable in this against-type role.  However, I didn't especially like this film.  There is not a lot of dialogue, even when the characters are talking to each other, so it is difficult to discern the motivation for any of the events taking place.  I also found the final confrontation to be incredibly abrupt with almost no resolution.  The movie is based on a true story so I knew the ultimate outcome before watching it and, therefore, spent the whole time waiting for a big emotional reckoning which never came.  Again, all three actors are, admittedly, very good but I don't think I would recommend this movie just for the performances.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

American Sniper

Tuesday night I went to see American Sniper which is the final Best Picture nominee currently in theaters (see my reviews of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, Birdman, and Selma).  This movie follows Chris Kyle from his enlistment after the bombing of American embassies in 1998, his training to be a Navy SEAL, his marriage, and his four tours of duty in Iraq.  Kyle is the most lethal sniper in American history with 160 kills confirmed by the Department of Defense (some put the number much higher) saving countless lives in battle.  The battle scenes in Iraq are unbelievably intense and are very disturbing to watch, especially his last firefight with armed insurgents (I felt like I was in the middle of the sandstorm with bullets firing all around me).  In my opinion, the depiction of battle in this movie is one of the most realistic I've ever seen (including the liberal use of profanity which might bother some) and I am absolutely in awe of what members of the military willingly sacrifice for our freedom.  I also liked the fact that this movie discusses the difficulties that servicemen face in transitioning back to life at home and the sacrifices made by their families.  I have never been a big fan of Bradley Cooper but he is phenomenal as Kyle.  The scene where Kyle is visibly overcome after a young boy puts down an RPG so that he doesn't have to shoot him is absolutely gut-wrenching as is the scene where Kyle calls his wife and tells her he is ready to come home.  His performance is gripping and his Best Actor nomination is well-deserved!  This movie is not easy to watch.  In fact, I was quite upset when I walked out of the theater but it is incredibly powerful and I guarantee that you will be thinking about it for days.

Note:  I found the absolute silence during the final credits to be chilling.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Pearl Fishers

Last year on MLK Day, I attended Utah Opera's wonderful production of La Traviata.  I loved the opera and it ended up being such a lovely evening.  This year on MLK Day I did the same thing with the same person, but this time the opera was The Pearl Fishers.  It was also amazing and, once again, I had a lovely time.  Ironically, I didn't know much about this opera and I was really on the fence about seeing it.  However, I was convinced otherwise and I am certainly glad that I was because I would have hated to miss this!  Zurga is the leader of a village in Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and his childhood friend, Nadir, has come to visit.  They were both once in love with the same woman, Leila, but they gave her up for the sake of their friendship.  A veiled priestess comes to the village to pray for the superstitious fisherman who are diving for pearls.  When she sings to banish the evil spirits, Nadir recognizes her voice and knows it is Leila.  They declare their love for each other but the villagers are afraid because this means that Leila has broken her vows.  When Zurga realizes that the priestess is Leila, he sentences them both to death.  Will Zurga be ruled by vengeance or friendship?  Georges Bizet (you may be more familiar with his other opera, Carmen) is the composer and the music is incredibly beautiful!  The duet "a fond du temple saint" sung by Zurga (Craig Irvin) and Nadir (Brian Stucki) where they renounce their love of Leila for the sake of their friendship is nothing short of exquisite and I had goosebumps through the whole thing.  Their voices (Irvin's baritone and Stucki's tenor) complimented each other so well.  (I realized during the opening notes that this duet is actually featured in the movie Gallipoli which is one of my very favorites).  The passionate duet between Leila (Andrea Carroll) and Nadir is also absolutely incredible.  There was quite a bit of choreography in this opera and I thought it was quite dramatic, especially when they danced with fire.  The costumes were beautiful and exotic.  I loved everything about this production and I am so glad I didn't miss it!  The Pearl Fishers will run until Jan. 25.  Go here for more information and tickets.

Note:  I frequently attend the opera with one or more of my cousins and we always have such a good time.  Over the years we have seen Fidelio, Rigoletto, The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, La Traviata, Madame Butterfly, and now, The Pearl Fishers.  A while back I was talking about our experiences at a family gathering and I referred to our group as a sort of "Opera Club."  My aunt thought that I said "Awkward Club" and agreed with me! What?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Snowshoeing at Soldier Hollow

Last winter I discovered a passion for snowshoeing and I went just about every weekend in January and February.  I have been sick for the past few weeks, so I haven't had a chance to go this year. Since yesterday was a day off from school, I decided to go and it felt so great to be outside and moving!
Snowshoeing is all about finding a rhythm and I picked it up again just like that!  I loved every minute!
I decided to go to Soldier Hollow, which is about an hour's drive up in the mountains, because it has lots of groomed trails to follow.  I wanted to test myself a little bit before going in the back country (Also, my favorite hole-in-the-wall diner, Chick's, is nearby in Heber City).  Soldier Hollow was the cross-country skiing venue for the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics and it is a wonderful facility.  You can cross-country ski and snowshoe on lots of different trails and there are some great tubing hills with tow-ropes.
Last year I did the Olympic 5k trail all the time without difficulty.  This year I barely made it on the Little Buckaroo trail.  Apparently having a serious respiratory illness can affect your lung capacity!  Who knew?  Hopefully I will be back to normal soon!
It was a really fun day and it wasn't too cold or too crowded (especially since it was a holiday).  I'm looking forward to more snowshoeing excursions in the coming weeks.  If you would like to snowshoe at Soldier Hollow, go here for more information.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Selma

My Best Picture marathon (see my reviews of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, and Birdman) continued last night with a screening of Selma.  This movie is an incredibly powerful and moving account of the Civil Rights marches from Selma to the Alabama state capitol of Montgomery to protest against voter registration discrimination.  It is 1964 and Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) has just received the Nobel Peace Prize and LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) has just pushed the Civil Rights Act ending segregation through Congress.  MLK wants more because millions of African Americans are being prevented from voting in the South because of prohibitive poll taxes, unrealistic sponsorship requirements, and elaborate civics tests.  (The scene where Oprah Winfrey's character, Annie Mae Cooper, quietly tries to register to vote is one of the most poignant in the film).  LBJ feels that he has done enough for the time being and wants to push through his War on Poverty agenda but MLK can't wait (There is another great scene between the two leaders in the Oval Office).  The city of Selma is selected for the protest because its Sheriff, Jim Clark, is a bit of a hothead and his reaction to their peaceful protest will get the SCLC the national coverage it needs to convince LBJ.  After the violent confrontation between peaceful marchers and the police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge (Bloody Sunday), the epic march is allowed to proceed, culminating in an incredible speech on the Montgomery capitol steps (and, ultimately, the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965).  This is an emotionally charged film and I had tears in my eyes during the montage of actual footage from the march.  David Oyelowo gives an amazing, and humanizing, portrayal of MLK and the supporting cast is equally good.  Some notable stand-outs are Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King (the scene where Coretta confronts MLK about his infidelity gave me goosebumps), Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White (an adviser to LBJ), and Tim Roth as Governor George Wallace.   I loved the middle-of-the-action camera angles in the sequences on the bridge.  I felt like I was on the bridge with the marchers, breathing in the tear gas and feeling the sting of the whips and the blows from the clubs. It was highly effective.  You read accounts of these historical events in textbooks but seeing the images on the big screen makes the struggle so much more powerful and I felt so many things while watching.  The theme of this movie is particularly salient during these troubling times and I highly recommend it!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Birdman

Last night I continued my quest to see all of the Best Picture nominees (see my reviews of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash) by going to Birdman. This movie pretty much blew me away and left me reeling long after I left the theater.  However, I still can't make up my mind about whether I liked it or not.  Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a Hollywood actor best known for playing the Birdman in a series of superhero movies several years ago, is attempting to revive his career by mounting an ambitious Broadway play.  The production is fraught with difficulties for Thomson including the last-minute addition of an attention stealing Method actor (Edward Norton), an insecure leading lady (Naomi Watts), a love interest (Andrea Riseborough) who may or may not be pregnant with his baby, a daughter (Emma Stone) who has just returned from rehab, the threat of a bad review from a jaded theater critic (Lindsay Duncan) who hates Hollywood actors, and the insistent voice of his alter-ego, the Birdman, criticizing and tormenting him throughout.  There are many themes explored in this movie (Broadway vs. Hollywood, talent vs. celebrity, creating art vs. critiquing it, etc.) but, ultimately, all of the characters are searching for acceptance and relevance.  Michael Keaton is absolutely brilliant in this art-imitating-life role of a lifetime (he may have thrown a wrench in my philosophical musings about the Best Actor category).  The same could be said of Edward Norton (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), who is notoriously difficult to work with, as the arrogant actor who feels more real on stage than he does inhabiting his own skin.  Emma Stone delivers a powerful speech about the fact that nobody is special (hence her nomination for Best Supporting Actress).  Really, every actor shines in this movie, including, rather surprisingly, Zach Galifianakis.  However, I feel like several characters became irrelevant as the movie progressed.  The action is depicted as one continuous take, which is brilliant in my opinion, and I especially loved all of the tracking shots as the actors walked the long corridors and tight staircases in the theater.  I found the constant staccato drumming in the background to be very jarring but I suppose it added to the overall effect of chaos.  Hmmm.  I still don't know how I feel about this movie, although it did prompt quite the discussion until the wee hours of the morning (in fact, everyone was talking about it in the theater lobby).  I suggest you see it and decide for yourself!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Whiplash

The Academy Award nominations for Best Picture were announced yesterday.  Since I usually try to see all  of the nominees (see my reviews for The Grand Budapest HotelThe Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything), I went to Whiplash last night.  I knew that this film had generated a lot of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival last year but I didn't expect to love it as much as I did.  It is amazing!  J.K. Simmons gives a tour de force performance and he currently has my non-existent vote for Best Supporting Actor!  Andrew Neiman (the equally amazing Miles Teller) is a first year student at the Shaffer Conservatory, the best music school in the country, as a jazz drummer.  As he is practicing one night, Terrence Fletcher (Simmons), who conducts the most prestigious jazz group on campus, hears him and invites him to join the group as the alternate drummer.  Fletcher is unbelievably harsh and repeatedly berates him, throws things at him, slaps him, forces him to play for hours on end, and brings in a less talented drummer to replace him in an attempt to push him to be great.  When Fletcher pushes him too far, Neiman attacks him and is expelled from Shaffer.  Eventually, Neiman is asked by the parents of a former student of Fletcher's who committed suicide to formally complain about his treatment and Fletcher is fired.  Later, Neiman happens to see Fletcher playing in a jazz club and they have a conversation wherein Fletcher tries to justify his behavior.  He then asks Neiman to play the drums for a performance he is conducting at Carnegie Hall, telling him that the group will be playing the same songs he played at Shaffer.  However, in retribution for getting him fired, Fletcher has the group perform a song Neiman doesn't know which causes him to play poorly.  Humiliated, Neiman plays an epic drum solo which finally gains the approval of Fletcher (and the spontaneous applause of everyone watching the film).   This movie is intense and Simmons is truly monstrous as Fletcher, begging the question: at what cost is greatness achieved?  The music in this film is incredible and I loved all of the close shots of the various drums and cymbals on the drum kit.  It is a great movie and I recommend it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tell Me A Story

Last night I went to the world premiere of Alabama Story by Kenneth Jones at Pioneer Theatre.  The script was very thought-provoking and the production was exceptionally well done.  It is 1959 in Montgomery, Alabama when the State Librarian, Emily Wheelock Reed (Greta Lambert), comes under fire by Senator E. W. Higgins (William Parry) for the children's book The Rabbits' Wedding because a black and white rabbit get married.  Juxtaposed with this is the unexpected reunion between Lily Whitfield (Kate Middleton), the privileged daughter of a cotton plantation owner, and Joshua Moore (Samuel Ray Gates), the African American son of a former servant on the plantation turned civil rights worker.  Lily remembers a sweet childhood romance while Joshua remembers being beaten and driven off the property by Lily's father.  The two stories converge with very powerful discussions about censorship and segregation.  I particularly liked the message that having access to the ideas contained in books is the only way to change the world for the better.  The ensemble cast is excellent, including the aforementioned actors as well as Stephen D'Ambrose as Garth Williams, the author of The Rabbits' Wedding and stage manager for all of the action, and Seth Andrew Bridges as Thomas Franklin, Emily's assistant who has one of the most powerful speeches in the play.  The set design is very striking, almost like a children's pop-up book, and the costumes are fabulous, especially the southern belle dresses worn by Lily.  I think this play is extremely relevant in today's troubled times and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Alabama Story  runs until January 24 at PTC with evening performances and Saturday matinees.  Go here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Theory of Everything

On Sunday night Eddie Redmayne won the Golden Globe for his performance in The Theory of Everything.  I absolutely had to see this movie because, while I actually really love Eddie Redmayne (I went to Les Miserables seven times in the theater just so I could see that tear fall down Redmayne's face as he sang "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"), I did not believe it was possible for an actor to have a better performance than Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.  I saw The Theory of Everything last night and I thought it was an absolutely beautiful film.  It tells the true story of world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) and his relationship with his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones).  It begins when they are both Ph.D. candidates at Cambridge in 1963 and spans nearly 25 years from his diagnosis with a motor neuron disease to the publication of his book, A Brief History of Time.  The cinematography is absolutely luminous and the softly diffused light is used to great advantage against backdrops in and around St. John's College, Cambridge.  I particularly loved the lighting in the May Ball scenes, especially the spectacular fireworks.  Eddie Redmayne does give an amazing performance!  I was very impressed with his physicality in this role, especially when Hawking's muscles first begin to deteriorate.  The way he holds his head, writes on a chalkboard, and walks, almost pigeon-toed, are all incredibly effective at portraying his diminishing capacity.  My attention never wavered from him whenever he was on screen.  Felicity Jones also gives an incredible performance as do the other supporting actors.  I loved the movie and I would highly recommend it.  

Note:  Clearly the members of the Academy are not asking for my opinion about who should receive an Oscar, but if they did I would have to go with Benedict Cumberbatch.  Full marks to Redmayne for physically inhabiting Hawking but, in my opinion (and many will disagree), Cumberbatch gives a much more emotionally complex, almost visceral, portrayal of Turing.  His character is arrogant, antisocial, eccentric, and much less sympathetic than the endearing Hawking but Cumberbatch moved me to tears.  I haven't been able to stop thinking about The Imitation Game since I saw it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Enigma

When I was in junior high and high school, I had quite a penchant for reading the spy novels of Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre, Frederick Forsythe, Ken Follett, and Jack Higgins. I especially loved spy novels dealing with World War II and my Dad joked that I would read anything that had a swastika on the cover!  When I got to college I became even more interested in spycraft and started reading non-fiction accounts from World War II.  I loved the book Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn and I was fascinated by the enigma machine used by the Germans to encrypt secret messages (I am such a nerd).  Obviously, I have really been looking forward to the film The Imitation Game which depicts the life of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he works against time to create a machine capable of deciphering the enigma code used by the Germans.  I saw the movie yesterday and I thought it was absolutely brilliant!  Not only does it portray the intensity of trying to crack the code against the backdrop of war where every minute results in death, but it also tells the story of Turing's tortured existence.  It flashes back to his unhappy days at boarding school when he realizes that he is gay and chronicles the charge of gross indecency leveled against him after the war.  It is an incredible character study with the overwhelming theme that being different should be celebrated rather than vilified.  I have been a fan of Cumberbatch ever since the PBS series Sherlock began airing several years ago.  In my opinion, he is so skillful at portraying complex and eccentric characters and this may be his most nuanced performance yet (there is a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding him).  Keira Knightley (who is hit or miss with me) also gives a solid performance as Joan Clarke, the only female codebreaker who must contend with prejudices against her own unconventional behavior (it is, of course, indecorous to live and work with a group of men as an unmarried female).  I highly recommend this movie for its interesting and suspenseful plot, compelling message, and outstanding performances.

Note:  On a trip to France, I saw an actual enigma machine at the War Museum in Caen.  I literally hyperventilated when I saw it.  Yep.  Total nerd!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker

It has been a long and difficult week.  It is always hard to go back to school after having two weeks off for winter break but I have also been fighting one of the worst colds I've ever had!  I actually stayed home for two days and I really should have stayed home more but it is the end of the term and I've been trying to finish Hamlet with my seniors and Night with my sophomores.  The only thing that got me through the past couple of days was knowing that I had this lovely Utah Symphony concert featuring the music of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky on Friday night to look forward to!  The first piece was Symphony No. 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich.  Before the orchestra began, guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth (who is adorable) gave the audience some background information saying that it is very autobiographical, chronicling Shostakovich's difficulties living in the Soviet Union under Stalin.  I loved this piece, particularly the second movement which begins with the brass playing a theme that sounded quintessentially Russian to me.  Interspersed with this theme is a solo cello representing Shostakovich's struggle for individuality within the Soviet machine.  It is hauntingly mournful and Rainer Eudeikis, Principal Cellist, played it beautifully.  After the intermission, the orchestra played Act II from The Nutcracker by Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky.  I have seen this ballet many, many times and I've always enjoyed the music.  This was a really nice opportunity to concentrate on the music without the "distraction" of the dancing.  I quite enjoyed watching the orchestra, who are usually hidden in the pit, and I noticed so many things!  I loved watching the woodwinds in the Arabian Dance and the harp in the Waltz of the Flowers.  I also particularly enjoyed the Russian Dance.  I've always been so impressed with the sheer athleticism of the dancers but the orchestra gets quite a workout as well because it is so fast!  I've never really noticed that before because I've always been so enamored with the leaping Russians!   Even without the dancers, I still feel like the music for the Pas de Deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier is one of the most romantic pieces I've ever heard.  Tchaikovsky had to be filled with so much emotion to write something so beautiful.  Mark Wigglesworth conducted this section with so much passion and he isn't even Russian!  Finally, I learned that the instantly recognizable notes in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy are played by a celesta!  Who knew?  It was such a wonderful concert and, luckily, it will be repeated again tonight!  Go here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Is He Dead?

Hale Theatre always likes to ring in the new year with a comedy and this year they certainly picked a good one!  Is He Dead? is an absolutely hilarious farce and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it last night!  I can't remember when I've laughed so hard!  In the mid-1800s, Jean-Francois Millet is a destitute painter living in Paris.  He, along with his fiancee's father, is in debt to his coniving art dealer, Bastien Andre. Millet tries to sell his paintings to pay the debt but soon realizes that his work isn't worth much because he is still alive. Millet's fellow painters, Agememnon "Chicago" Buckner, Hans "Dutchy" Von Bismarck, and Phelim O'Shaughnessy, convince him to fake his own death and pretend to be his fictitious twin sister, the widow Daisy Tillou. Chaos ensues! All of the characters are completely over-the-top, the dialogue is fast-paced, and the physical comedy is so much fun to watch. I laughed out loud when Dutchy and Phelim try to teach "Daisy" how to sit properly!  I really enjoyed the entire cast (for some reason the performers last night were a mix of the MWF and THS casts) but I had a few favorites. Ben Abbott is brilliant as Jean-Francois Millet/Daisy Tillou! His comedic timing is perfect and I loved all of his facial expressions. David K. Martin is absolutely frenetic as Chicago and there is never a dull moment with him leaping around the stage. I am a huge fan of Brandon Green (he played the sinister Jonathan Brewster in HCT's production of Arsenic and Old Lace) and it is equally fun watching him mince around as Phelim.  I loved all of Daisy's costumes ("Do you know how much equipment I am wearing under here?") and, as usual, the sets (both Millet's garret apartment and Daisy's opulent Parisian drawing room) are spectacular!  I loved this show and I highly recommend it as a fun night out (especially during the long winter months).  Go here for tickets and information.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Quarters for Christmas

This year the HHS student body officers chose KSL's Quarters for Christmas as the recipient of their school-wide holiday service project.  For one week they went around to fourth period classes and sold paper links for 10 cents.  Not only did Hunter High look quite festive with red and green paper chains in every classroom, but the SBOs were able raise $1500 to donate!  I am really proud of that total because it is all from students!  We did not have corporate sponsors or receive large parent donations.  In fact, most of the money came in the form of crumpled dollar bills and coins.  KSL invited us to make an on-air donation on the first day of winter break and it was a great experience!  Here are some pictures of our visit.
In the lobby of KSL Broadcast House.
We got to go right on the floor during a broadcast.
We got a tour of the newsroom.  Whenever we walked through an area, our guide would announce our donation and people would clap for us! Everyone treated us as if we had donated a million dollars!
Getting ready for the broadcast.
It was really fun to go behind the scenes to see what goes into a news broadcast.
During the broadcast.  Vincent and Evelyn did such a great job on the air!
The HHS graphics teacher made us this large check to present to KSL.  It was a big hit. (We gave them a real one, too!)
Posing with Deanie Wimmer!  She was so nice and very genuine.  I was quite impressed with how much time she took with us in the middle of a live broadcast!  KSL is definitely a class act!
I am so proud of my SBOs for all of their hard work in making Quarters for Christmas such a success this year!  You can go here to find out more about KSL's Quarters for Christmas program.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ice Skating Downtown

On Friday I took Sean and Tashena ice skating at Gallivan Plaza.  It has become one of our winter break traditions (but I think they like the hot chocolate more than the skating).

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