Les Miserable

lesmisI so much wanted to enjoy this film. However, it ends up being yet another reason why musicals should never be made into movies.

First the good. I enjoyed the last few minutes of the Epilogue where the chorus sings the reprise of “Do You Hear the People Sing.” During the reprise, the camera pans across a large crowd on the “other side” of the wall. It was an effective moment when the visual connected with the emotion and music. This music was likely “recorded” in the studio since it didn’t sound like the crowd of thousands singing along. The crowd, which looked huge, may have even been the result of digital editing.

The things I didn’t like…just a few. The orchestrations had too much of a movie studio feel for my liking. During some of the early numbers, the orchestration was too subdued under the vocals. I prefer the original orchestrations (and vocals for that matter) that are preserved on the complete symphonic recording from 1988/2004.

I am not a movie goer. (I can’t remember the last movie I saw.) But I found the cinematography in the early part of the film to be jarring. Maybe it was because I was sitting too close. (The theater was rather crowded even though I ordered my ticket early and still had to wait in line.)

But the main reasons for not liking this film are the vocals and the stunt casting. Les Miserable is a musical. If the musical aspect of the production does not come off well, the whole form falls apart. Such is the case of turning most musicals into films. (Chicago is an example of a musical that came close to transferring to film, I think.) These are not great singers. Russell Crowe can’t sing three notes without having to take a breath, and Hugh Jackman’s nasal tone and wide vibrato become annoying early in the film. These two guys were not hired for their musical artistry. (OK, Hugh Jackman is a good showman on stage, but I didn’t think he was any good in this film.) They were hired because of the box office draw. As with most musicals that go film, cashing in on the economic scalability of “star” performers takes precedence over artistry. I actually laughed several times during the film when Crowe and Jackman were singing the recitatives back and forth between each other. I couldn’t believe these were real characters – Valjean and Javert. They were Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman tittering back and forth. And it seemed ridiculous.

This film is a disappointment.

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Film

The Barber of Seville

barber_introMy December subscription visit to the Metropolitan Opera was to see Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. This wasn’t your typical opera production since it was shortened in length and translated into English. However, the set, costumes and staging were used from the 2006 Met production directed by Bartlett Sher.

While I described the translated/shortened production at intermission as “opera for the age of distraction,” it was still very enjoyable. I learned that it is possible to translate an opera into English and remain true to it’s character and, in the case of The Barber of Seville, humor. The English translation was effectively done by J. D. McClatchy and provided for a most enjoyable afternoon of opera.

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Opera

The Principal Brass of the New York Philharmonic – Holiday Brass

principalbrassI’ve always been fond of brass quintets since my undergraduate days at Moravian College was as a music major. During those years, I played a lot of brass quintet music myself as a trumpet player. Last year I had the pleasure of attending the annual Holiday Brass performance by The Principal Brass of the New York Philharmonic. I had such a good time, I wanted to return again this year!

Again, the Quintet was accompanied by the Lee Musiker Trio. The concert consisted of lots of fun arrangements, including a solo number for each of the players. The guys in the Quintet and Trio clearly enjoyed bringing the audience into the festive spirit of the season.

What did I learn? I learned that The Principal Brass has a website, a Facebook page and a new CD. Check it out! These guys are terrific.

Eddie Palmieri: A Career Retrospective

eddie_palmieri_crop_0This year I’ve subscribed to a 3-concert series at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Earlier this year, I attended the first concert in the series, Toots Thielemans Celebrating 90 Years at Jazz At Lincoln Center. The second concert featured Eddie Palmieri, the Afro-Caribbean Jazz Octet and the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra in Eddie Palmieri: A Career Perspective.

I learned the appeal that Afro-Caribbean jazz and dance music can have. The first half of the program showcased the Afro-Caribbean Jazz Octet with the second half all Afro-Caribbean dance music. The audience could hardly stay in their seats. Literally. I saw an audience member get out of his seat and dance in a side aisle during one of the tunes. The music is appealing because of highly infectious repetitious rhythms that build to a frenzy. The musicians, particularly trumpeter Brian Lynch and trombonist Conrad Herwig, communicated a musical passion I haven’t seen in quite some time.

The only downside to the evening was the sound design. The first fifteen minutes were rough with the piano overpowering, almost painful to listen to. As I exited the hall, my ears were ringing. Maybe my ears are sensitive, but some of the frenzied music making, while enjoyable, was putting me near my threshold of pain.

Looks like I’ll be heading over to iTunes and downloading some Afro-Caribbean jazz! I enjoyed learning about a new style of music I wasn’t all that familiar with.

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Jazz


Mindfulness11Through the Midcareer Program in Educational Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, I have been attending learning sessions on mindfulness. While I have been interested in learning more about mindfulness for my own health, I am particularly interested in how important the skill of mindfulness has become in a world filled with distractions. It seems that our lives are reaching a fever pitch of activity, much of it mindless and on automatic.

I first started to ponder mindfulness after reading Howard Rheingold‘s book, Net Smart. In his book, Rheingold describes five literacies, the first of which is attention, the foundational literacy. I find it increasingly challenging to get off auto pilot when it comes to checking email and Facebook. I also know this is a concern of our parents and our students. So I wanted to learn more, both professionally and personally.

My biggest takeaway so far is that we have the ability to choose our responses to a situation. In the course we are learning various techniques to become more successful at this. When an event occurs – a stimulus such as the ding of an email, the sight of a sugary sweet or the urge to check Facebook – we have total control of our response. Most often our response is on autopilot, happening outside of our awareness.  These behaviors tend to be more primitive. We do have control over the time and actions we place between the stimulus and response. This is mindfulness.

“Relaxation comes naturally when we stop stirring the pot.”

Mindfulness circumvents the autopilot. In the period of mindfulness, we STOP – BREATH – BE. We realize we have the opportunity to do something else that is not necessarily automatic. This is how patterns and habits are changed.

Stop = physical stillness, the undoing of the auto pilot

Breath = disengage from the stimulus and go to the breath

Be = stop long enough so the next action is chosen, not automatic

New York Philharmonic – Valcuha and Watts

JURAJ-VALCUHAThe big draw to this program was Andre Watts play the Rachmaninoff Piano Concert No 2 in C minor. Watts did not disappoint the audience which rewarded him with quite a rousing standing ovation. The rest of the program for the evening, conducted by Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha, consisted on the Overture to Oberon by Weber and two collections of instrumental music from operas by Richard Strauss – Symphonic Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten and Suite from Der Rosenkavalier.

I attended the pre-concert talk, presented by Victoria Bond, and learned a few interesting facts about the concert selections and their composers:

  • Rachmaninoff’s famous piano concerto was considered rather conservative for the time (1900) considering Stravinsky, Ives and the like were pushing the limits of contemporary classical music.
  • Rachmaninoff lived in Beverly Hills, but never got involved in film music, even though many of his lush melodies have been arranged for film.
  • Oberon has a dull plot and is hardly ever performed. The Overture is probably the most often performed piece from the opera.
  • Richard Strauss was quite the extrovert. I find his music to reflect this sort of personality. It always seems “winded” to me, droning on and on without saying much. I found the Symphonic Fantasy to be as dreary as the story it supports. The waltzes of Der Rosenkavalier were a rousing and pleasant end to the evening.

Link to the New York Times Review: The Familiar Shares the Stage with a Debut