Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NY Philharmonic: Gustav Holst's The Planets Suite-Venus

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra performs by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Coates in Queen's Hall, London, on November 15, 1920.

Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky; and his philosophical and spiritual ones astrology and theosophy
Gustav Holst seemed to consider The Planets a progression of life. "Mars" perhaps serves as a rocky and tormenting beginning. In fact, some have called this movement the most devastating piece of music ever written! "Venus" seems to provide an answer to "Mars," it's title as "the bringer of peace," helps aid that claim. "Mercury" can be thought of as the messenger between our world and the other worlds. Perhaps "Jupiter" represents the "prime" of life, even with the overplayed central melody, which was later arranged to the words of "I vow to thee, my country." "Saturn" can be viewed as indicative of Holst's later mature style, and indeed it is recorded that Holst preferred this movement to all others in the suite. Through "Saturn" it can be said that old age is not always peaceful and happy. The movement may display the ongoing struggle for life against the odd supernatural forces. This notion mat be somewhat outlandish, but the music seems to lend credence to this. "Saturn" is followed by "Uranus, the Magician," a quirky scherzo displaying a robust musical climax before the tranquility of the female choir in "Neptune" enchants the audience.

Add this to Holst's passionately felt socialism and his profound understanding of Hinduism, and The Planets begins to make sense: not as an astrological chart à la Mystic Meg, but as a pilgrim's progress from the ferocity of industrialised capitalism (Mars) towards a karma of enlightenment (Neptune). Holst called the work Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra; the names of the planets were added later

Gustav Holst [1874-1934]: "If nobody likes your work, you have to go on just for the sake of the work. And you're in no danger of letting the public make you repeat yourself. Every artist ought to pray that he may not be 'a succes'. If he's a failure he stands a good chance of concentrating upon the best work of which he's capable."
Artist Credit:  Herbert Lambert; 1921 [© National Portrait Gallery, London]
Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Many Faces Of Humanity: Part II

Guest Voice

We welcome back Sheldon Levy, with another photo essay on faces, "The Many Faces Of Humanity, Part II." This forms a continuation of the posting "The Many Faces of Humanity," which was posted earlier in 2011. Today, seven new faces have been added to this publication's record of humanity. All the photos were taken in Montreal.

by Sheldon Levy

Consider this as an extended family photo album. Whose family you might ask? Why yours and mine. 

Humanity's Face no. 7
Photo Credit: © Sheldon Levy, 2011

Humanity's Face no. 8
Photo Credit: © Sheldon Levy, 2011

However distant the relation, however different the faces, welcome them into your family. 

Humanity's Face no. 9
Photo Credit:© Sheldon Levy, 2011

Humanity's Face no. 10
Photo Credit:© Sheldon Levy, 2011

Have you seen that smile before? Perhaps on the street, perhaps in the mirror.

Humanity's Face no. 11
Photo Credit: © Sheldon Levy, 2011

Humanity's Face no. 12
Photo Credit: © Sheldon Levy, 2011

Ralph Ellison wrote, "The understanding of art depends finally upon one's willingness to extend one's humanity and one's knowledge of human life."

Humanity's Face no. 13
Photo Credit: © Sheldon Levy, 2011


Sheldon Levy resides in Montreal. He can be contacted at You can view more of his work here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Alison Balsom: Haydn Trumpet Concerto

Alison Balsom of Britain performs the  Haydn Trumpet Concerto  in E-flat, at the BBC Proms in September 2009 during its last evening performance on Saturday. Franz Joseph Haydn wrote the trumpet concerto in 1796, when he was 64 years old, for his long time friend Anton Weidinger, a Viennese court trumpeter and inventor of the keyed trumpet.

The trumpet has had a long noble history, and has been considered an important instrument of the royal court since about 1400 BCE. But its limitations eventually became apparent when compared to the violin, flute and oboe, which had more of a dynamic range. What was needed was to make a trumpet that could play all the notes on a scale. That happened in the late eighteenth century, says an article by David Roden, "Anton Weidinger’s Keyed Trumpet":
Enter Anton Weidinger (1767–1852). Weidinger was a Viennese court trumpeter. Around 1793, he began experimenting with some of these keyed trumpets, refining them and practicing with them. By 1796 he was making enough progress that he convinced Haydn to write a concerto for his Klappentrompette (keyed trumpet). He took that concerto on the road in 1803, playing it in France, Germany, and England. Weidinger caught the interest of composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who composed yet another concerto for him and his curious keyed trumpet.

The critics had good things to say about Weidinger’s trumpet and his playing. But it was too late. By 1820 the valved trumpet had appeared in Vienna and was rapidly taking over. Weidinger’s keyed trumpet hung on for a little longer; some musicians and composers preferred its tone to the valved trumpet’s. But by 1840 the Klappentrompette was forgotten – obsolete.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Gummy Bear Song


Composed by: Christian Schneider
Title: I Am A Gummy Bear (The Gummy Bear Song)
Album: I Am Your Gummy Bear (2007)
Released: October 13, 2007
Artist: Gummibär

As the character's creators have noted:
Gummibär, a funny and lovable cartoon character, is a green animated gummy bear with a multitude of talents. Whether he is singing, break dancing, or playing his tuba, both children and adults can't get enough of his funny gummy antics. His multi-lingual abilities have led to a huge International following and allow him to sing in 20 different languages including English, Hungarian, French, German, Spanish, Swedish, Portuguese, Czech, Slovak, Russian, and Hebrew with more to follow.
The song was written by German composer Christian Schneider and released by Gummybear Worldwide. It is based on a brand of candy called gummy bears, or gummibär in German ("rubber bear" in English), where the candy originated in the 1920s. Since the character's creation in 2006, it has attained international success that many artists would love to achieve, including branding and marketing opportunities. The song itself has also been released in at least twenty five languages and has spread worldwide with more than one billion plays on YouTube and MySpace.

Fans include my two young boys, aged three and nine, for whom I am posting this clip. I do not wish to belabor the point or over-analyse a song of this genre, but I can say this. The popularity of this song is its simple, repetitive lyrics, and accompanying visual dance and body movements, which appeal to many young people. And perhaps some older folks, as well.

Some might conclude that our culture is in trouble. I am not sure if this is the case, since it is only a catchy playful song and nothing more. A final note: a culture that can laugh at itself is a healthy culture. The opposite is also true.

Jacqueline du Pré: Mendelssohn's Song Without Words

Jacqueline du Pré performs Felix Mendelssohn’s last work for cello and piano, the poetic Song without Words, opus 109, which he dedicated to Lisa Cristiani, one of the few women cellists of the time. A young Jacqueline du Pré is accompanied here on piano by her mother, Iris du Pré. 


Jacqueline du Pré, born in Oxford, England, was one of the most gifted musicians to play the cello. Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim married on June 15, 1967, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. She was a convert to Judaism.

In the fall of 1973, at age 28, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but she stopped performing before then:
Her last public concerts were in New York in February 1973: four performances of the Brahms Double Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman, and Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic were scheduled. Du Pré recalled that she had problems judging the weight of the bow, and just opening the cello case had become difficult. As she had lost sensation in her fingers, she had to coordinate her fingering visually. She performed three of the concerts and cancelled the last. Isaac Stern stepped in for her, performing Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.
Du Pré continued to teach on occasion, but her health worsened, and she died in London, England, on October 19, 1987. She was 42. Jacqueline du Pré is buried in Golders Green Jewish Cemetery in London.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NY Philharmonic: Gershwin's An American In Paris

The New York Philharmonic plays George Gershwin's "An American in Paris" (1928), under the baton of Lorin Maazel during the orchestra's appearance in Pyongyang, North Korea, at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater on February 26, 2008. (You can view the rest of the Gershwin performance here and here.)


One could say with a high degree of certainty that this was the first time that most North Koreans had heard such music, optimistic and energetic without the heaviness of state pomp laden with ideology. In The New York Times, Daniel J. Wakin reported the day after the concert similar sentiments:
It was the first time an American cultural organization had appeared here, and the largest contingent of United States citizens to appear since the Korean War. The trip has been suffused with political importance since North Korea’s invitation came to light last year. It was seen by some as an opening for warmer relations with the United States, which North Korea has long reviled.

The concert brought a “whole new dimension from what we expected,” Mr. Maazel told reporters afterward. “We just went out and did our thing, and we began to feel this warmth coming back.
As for the Gershwin piece, it was well-picked, no doubt inspired by both its theme and its international significance. Again, The New York Times said:
Then Mr. Maazel introduced the next work, “American in Paris” by Gershwin. “Someday a composer may write a work titled ‘Americans in Pyongyang,’ ” he said. In Korean, he added, “Enjoy!” The audience, mostly stone-faced until then, grew slightly more animated.
One day it might be so. Who 25 years ago would have predicted the Soviet Union's collapse or the opening that resulted with increased trade with China? Not many. Musicians can always go to places where politicians cannot, acting as envoys of beauty and peace. Their language is international.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Reading Parent

Parenting & Society

No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.
Charles W. Eliot

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.
Harry S. Truman
Cat in the Hat: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go," says Dr. Seuss' chief creation, Cat in the Hat, in I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
: Tower Books

Parenting is a difficult job, a great responsibility. More than anyone, including teachers, parents influence how children develop and view themselves. Although we are finding out more how genetics plays a great role in human development, and can give valuable information on possible statistical outcomes in terms of health, career and personality traits (the old "nature versus nurture" debate), reams of studies have shown, supported by many personal memoirs and biographies, that parents have a great, if not the greatest, influence on how a child will develop.

What about gentics? This is a valid question, since many current studies seem to point or at least raise the issue that genetics and neuroscience show that our brains are pre-programmed at birth. Some will argue that we humans are more like machines than we wish to admit, but the evidence that genetics or neuroscience plays a more central role in explaining humans remains unreliable, if not unconvincing and lacking in drama. We are more free agents than such scientists say. The issue is whether everything that happens in the brain is measurable; I suspect not. And that's a current problem or limit for science. (I have always believed that great literature, for one, offers a more reliable explanation of humans.)

I am a firm believer in science, but I also know the boundary of its limitations. We can become intoxicated with it as much as with religion, looking to it for answers on everything and anything. But some things, such as raising children and parenting, are within our own understanding. Sometimes, there's too much analysis and not enough love and patience. That means parents have a great responsibility, something not all parents take seriously. It's true that children of neglectful, distracted or poor parents can overcome such negative early influences—and many have—but it means starting on a bad foot, since lack of opportunity and socio-economic factors cannot be easily ignored.

The home and the environment that parents create are central to how children learn to view and cope with the world. It's where children spend their time and generate many of their ideas of the world, whether at the kitchen table, in front of the TV, or more so today in front of an electronic device such as a computer, game or other entertainment-inspired distractions. 

There is one simple thing that parents can do to help their children develop, and it doesn't take lots of money or time—reading, and particularly in the early years to instill a love of books, learning and knowledge. The reasons are clear: reading, whether via traditional (books) or modern (electronic devices) means is the chief way to gain information and knowledge. When one reads, one learns, and one becomes excited about learning. Reading is the gateway to knowledge, and that explains why many cultures teach reading at a young age.

Nations and cultures that encourage reading do well in international standardized testing, such as the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.  Every three years, it tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations (now numbering 65) on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems. In an article in The New York Times ("How About Better Parents?"), Thomas Friedman writes:
The kind of parental involvement matters, as well. “For example,” the PISA study noted, “on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children.” The score point difference is smallest when parental involvement takes the form of simply playing with their children.
It makes sense, and it does not require a doctorate in child psychology or genetics or neuroscience to understand. Nor does it require lots of money on tutors. But it does require commitment to your child's development, a library card, and also doing something that is becoming harder to do in our age of distraction—listening with full attention. Play involves little communication; parental involvement is a learning experience, where the child learns that he or she is important, valued and loved. 

Such ideas cannot be dismissed so easily. Computers and other electronic devices, although important in their own way, cannot replace parental involvement, which is one of the fundamentals of human to human contact—contributing to happy well-adjusted children. Parents want children to succeed and be happy, which is possible but might require changing the way one views children.

Speaking plainly and directly, it might mean remembering what you wanted most from your parents when you were a small child.  Thinking about such things, even briefly, can provide  benefits to your children which can last a lifetime.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Boston Symphony: Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5

The Boston Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, opus 64, under the majestic and energetic baton of Leonard Bernstein, at Tanglewood, the symphony's summer home in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, in 1974. This is the full symphony, running at more than 50 minutes. If you want to view only the triumphant finale from the same concert, you can view it here. It's more than wonderful, it's pure inspiration.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky completed the four-movement symphony in August 1888; it was first performed in St Petersburg, Russia, at the Hall of Nobility on November 6, 1888. Tchaikovsky was the conductor. It is dedicated to Theodore Avé-Lallemant, a German musician and music teacher. The symphony follows a trajectory, common to many who have successfully overcome adversity, of tragedy to triumph. The composition was played during the Second World War, on October 20, 1941, during the beginning of the Siege of Leningrad (today's Saint-Petersburg), a dark and difficult period that lasted 900 days.

Ending Tuberculosis

Science & Society

In the first papers concerning the aetiology of tuberculosis I have already indicated the dangers arising from the spread of the bacilli-containing excretions of consumptives, and have urged moreover that prophylactic measures should be taken against the contagious disease. But my words have been unheeded. It was still too early, and because of this they still could not meet with full understanding. It shared the fate of so many similar cases in medicine, where a long time has also been necessary before old prejudices were overcome and the new facts were acknowledged to be correct by the physicians.
Robert Koch,
In "The current state of the struggle against tuberculosis":
Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1905).
In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 169

Infection and illness from tuberculosis occur relatively slowly compared to many other infectious diseases. This allows a longer period of time to trace those who may have been exposed when compared to other diseases (such as measles). Those who have had significant exposure — more than four hours — should be tested and, if found to be infected, treated to prevent illness.
Times of India

We've taken on the major health problems of the poorest — tuberculosis, maternal mortality, AIDS, malaria —in four countries. We've scored some victories in the sense that we've cured or treated thousands and changed the discourse about what is possible.
Paul Farmer

In Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, Edmund Tyrone, twenty-three, the youngest of the two sons of James and Mary Tyrone, has an active case of tuberculosis —called "consumption" at the time of the play's setting in 1912, because it consumed the person, laid him to waste. The disease hovers over him, unsaid, since naming it would be like a sentence of death. Edmund goes to a sanatorium to recuperate, where healthy fresh air and good diet provided him the path to recovery.

Such then was the only known and common cure for tuberculosis, a bacterial infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs.  (Edmund was in fact portraying the stylized story of Eugene O'Neill, who suffered from tuberculosis and recovered at a sanatorium in Wallingford, Connecticut.)

Edmund was one of the fortunate ones in that he lived in more modern times when hygiene and medical practices were improving, and science was considered beneficial to humanity. Governments and society in general placed their hopes in scientific discoveries, and in particular medical advances. Such is common in periods of great optimism.

Tuberculosis, or TB, (short-hand for tubercle bacillus) is a common and in many cases lethal disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, typically Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It was first discovered by Robert Koch, a German physician, in 1882, who received the Nobel Prize in 1905 for this discovery. Before then, TB had caused 20 per cent of all deaths in 17th-century London and 30 per cent of those in 19th-century Paris. During this time, 80 per cent of persons infected with TB perished.

TB's classic symptoms are a chronic cough with blood-tinged sputum, chest pain, fever, night sweats, and weight loss, thus explaining the long used term, "consumption." The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one-third of the world's population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, although in most people there are no symptoms. That is, the bacteria is latent, and such people are primarily carriers of the bacteria. Yet, between 5 and 10 per cent of persons with latent infections eventually get active tuberculosis, says the WHO.

Persons who are at higher risk of getting TB are the chronically underweight, diabetics, IV drug users sharing needles, and those suffering from silicosis, a respiratory disease common to certain professions where fine airborne particles are created, including mining, stone cutting and glass making. Poor living and sanitary conditions, common to the poor, contribute to higher incidences of TB, since it is often those persons at risk who do not seek medical attention.

Treatment is available with antibiotics (see here), but it is extensive, lasting between six months and 18 months. The shorter treatment is for what is called regular TB; the longer treatment is for multidrug-resistant TB, or (MDR-TB). About 40 per cent of MDR-TB occurs in China and India, with about 100,000 new cases reported each year, says Dr. Mario Raviglione, a physician and specialist of infectious diseases and who serves as director of WHO Stop TB Department.

More to the point, such treatment is often unavailable to the poor in nations where tuberculosis is extensive. About 1.3 million people died from TB in 2009, many were persons suffering from HIV/AIDS and already immune-suppressed; the highest number of deaths were in the Africa region. Yet, it is in southeast Asia where TB is greatest, says Bio Ventures for Global Health:
Interestingly, 80% of the global burden is borne by only 22 countries. In fact,  India and China bear one-third of the total TB burden. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 1.3 million people died from tuberculosis in 2009. An estimated 12% of incident cases occurred in patients who were HIV positive.
A vaccine, Bacille Calmette Guérin, or BCG, has been used since 1921. The TB vaccine, which is given as a intradermal injection (a "shot") is an attenuated vaccine that uses live bacteria from the cattle-based tuberculosis pathogen Mycobacterium bovis. It was made by weakening (i.e., attenuating) a strain of bacteria that causes tuberculosis in cows and that genetically is 98 percent identical to the human TB bacteria, or germ. Although the current BCG vaccine's effectiveness varies, the WHO says it is "most effective in protecting children from the disease." More than 100 million doses are given each year to children under five in developing nations.

Even so, the protection is limited, and many studies show that the current vaccine is not as effective as it ought to be (see here, here and here). The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to eradicate tuberculosis (TB) as a public health problem by 2050. That will take better prevention methods, including improving the living standards in nations where TB is now rampant. It will also take producing a modern TB vaccine, a recombinant BCG TB (see here and here), Currently, two potentially new vaccines are undergoing Phase III human clinical trials, The Atlantic Monthly reports. The aim and hope is that these will be more effective, particularly against drug-resistant TB.

It will also take money and commitments from wealthy nations to fund such research, both which seem in short supply at the moment.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Leonard Bernstein: Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue

Leonard Bernstein performs George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue (1924)," at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1976. Here Bernstein shows his virtuosity on the piano, earning his reputation as an modern American renaissance man.  You can view the rest of Bernstein's performance here.


Leonard Bernstein once said in a 1955 Atlantic Monthly article: 
The Rhapsody is not a composition at all. It's a string of separate paragraphs stuck together. The themes are terrific – inspired, God-given. I don't think there has been such an inspired melodist on this earth since Tchaikovsky. But if you want to speak of a composer, that's another matter. Your Rhapsody in Blue is not a real composition in the sense that whatever happens in it must seem inevitable. You can cut parts of it without affecting the whole. You can remove any of these stuck-together sections and the piece still goes on as bravely as before. It can be a five-minute piece or a twelve-minute piece. And in fact, all these things are being done to it every day. And it's still the Rhapsody in Blue. 
Yet, although it defies tight definition as a jazz piece or a technical composition in the purest sense, it endures. One reason is that it tells a series of vignettes or stories, although each are separate, the power is that "the piece still goes on as bravely as before." The result is a sincere piece, thereby expressing the sentiments of the optimistic, if not reckless, 1920s that Gershwin viewed and felt in his native New York City at the time. What prevailed was a positive can-do spirit that many would like to duplicate today.

Note that Bernstein, despite such critical words, enjoyed performing the piece. Perhaps it could be said that he understood the piece's importance in the canon of American music. (You can listen to the original Gershwin recording of 1924 here.)

George Gershwin [1898-1937]. On March 28, 1937: Less than four months later, on July 11, 1937, George Gershwin would die from a brain tumor. He was 38.
Photo Credit: Carl van Vechten [1880-1964]; Taken on March 28, 1937
Source: US Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong & Co: Now You Has Jazz

Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong introduce jazz to an American audience, bringing it to the mainstream in a CBS TV production called "The Edsel Show," which aired on October 13, 1957.

The show's production and time was paid by the Ford Motor Co. to promote its new car, the 1958 Edsel, which eventually became one of the biggest marketing flops in automobile history. It suffered from too much hype, where public expectation was greater than the actual product the car manufacturer produced and delivered.

In this clip, the jazz ensemble performs the Cole Porter song "Now You Has Jazz," which they had also performed in the 1956 Hollywood film musical, High Society. The film starred Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly.

Vladimir Horowitz: Schubert Impromptu

Vladimir Horowitz performs Schubert's Impromptu  in B-flat Major at the famous concert—Horowitz's long-awaited return—at The Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory in Moscow, Russia, on April 20, 1986. (For more background of this concert, see here; and of Horowitz, "Last of the Romantics," see here.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Compassionate Capitalism & The New Progressives

Ethics & Society

The word tzedakah is untranslatable because it joins together two concepts that in other languages are opposites, namely charity and justice.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,
To Heal a Fractured World (2005)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: "Where tzedakah is a gift or loan of money, hessed is the gift of person. It costs less and more: less because its gestures often cost little or nothing, more becuase it takes time and attention, existential generosity, the gift of self to self. More than anything hessed humanizes the world."
Photo Credit: Cooperniall, December 6, 2006.

For my 54th birthday, my daughter and her husband gave me a book, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, which represents the Orthodox view of Judaism in England. Rabbi Sacks also holds a PhD from King’s College London. I have long found Rabbi Sacks' thinking and approach to the human condition admirable, warm and compassionate. This book is no different. In it, he brings together a number of ancient ideas, Jewish in origin, universal in application, and makes them relevant for humanity today. To heal or repair is part of the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, in which humans work in partnership with God to better the world for everyone.

Although tikkun olam origins are mystical, first attributed to Rabbi Isaac Luria, a 16th century rabbi and kabbalist, today most persons look at its application in a very practical way. In other words, humans have a real responsibility to act in accordance with ethical principles, including tzedekah ("righteousness'), chesed (or hessed, "kindness')  and the ideas (and ideals) of human justice, leading to a better more robust establishment of human dignity and freedom. In Jewish ethics, humans have a responsibility to act, not as robots but as free and thoughtful agents of morality, namely, as noble human beings God intended us to be. Rabbi Sacks writes in To Heal a Fractured World:
Nor is Judaism a religion of pure obedience, submission to the divine will. In the story of Noah the Bible delivers a remarkably candid and unexpected critique of pure obedience. Noah does everything God commands him, but in the meanwhile the world is destroyed. Listening to the Bible with Jewish ears, we hear a more challenging demand, God's call to Abraham: "Walk ahead of Me and be perfect" (Gen. 17:1). Don't wait, in other words, until I command you. Sometimes you need to take the initiative. The story of how the Bible encourages human initiative is little known and needs to be spelled out. (12)
Assuredly,  I find that I agree with much of what Rabbi Sacks argues as essential for a fair and just society, and how to move it forward in that direction. It takes direct action by good and ordinary people. In short, much has to do with our, that is, human actions to make the world better by applying well-established moral principles. One can be either passive or active; the latter is always necessary and preferable for change.

The dissident and refuseniks movements are examples of successful political and social actions that brought an end to an anti-human regime of the former Soviet Union. To a lesser though important extent, the occupy protests are relevant, in that the need for reform is both relevant and necessary. That message is getting through, thanks to the young people who have acted according to their conscience, and whose efforts have changed the discussion and garnered the attention of government leaders. It's the beginning of a new era, after 30 years of harsh Regan-era politics that favored the elites

Jeffrey D. Sachs: "Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated Washington and brought America to a state of unacceptable inequality, instability and corruption. Both times a social and political movement arose to restore democracy and shared prosperity," Sachs said in a recent New York Times article.
Photo Credit
: Sikarin Thanachaiary, World Economic Forum, 2011
Source: Wikipedia
In "The New Progressives," Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City, writes recently in The New York Times:
Following our recent financial calamity, a third progressive era is likely to be in the making. This one should aim for three things. The first is a revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environmental protection. The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes in Washington.
None of this will be easy. Vested interests are deeply entrenched, even as Wall Street titans are jailed and their firms pay megafines for fraud. The progressive era took 20 years to correct abuses of the Gilded Age. The New Deal struggled for a decade to overcome the Great Depression, and the expansion of economic justice lasted through the 1960s. The new wave of reform is but a few months old.
Yet, it looks hopeful. The moral and ethical  ideas and ideals of both Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs share a common belief in compassion, justice and individual dignity.  Moreover, each, using the language of his  vocation, voice similar sentiments: each individual can make a difference in the world if we make the effort and forget any risk attached to the good and ethical deed. We no longer have to be slaves to the old anti-progressive, anti-human  and, in some cases, unethical political ideas. There is some light seeping in.

It took the young to teach us older folks a lesson in democracy and compassionate capitalism. Reform is possible; things don't have to stay the same. Again, I return to the words of Rabbi Sacks from his 2005 book:
I have never been persuaded that a jaundiced view of humanity is more realistic than the alternative. To the contrary, I believe that all of us are made in the image of God and that each culture has a contribution to make to the human heritage. Nor do you have to be religious to be good. This became manifestly clear among those quiet heroes and heroines who saved lived during the Holocaust. . . . They were simply human, doing what human beings are expected to do. (10-11)
And can do today.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Fifth Dimension: Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (1969)


This clip is from a 1969 live telecast.

The medley "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" was written and composed by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot for the 1967 Broadway musical Hair, which was released as a single by The Fifth Dimension in March 1969. The five original members were Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, Marilyn McCoo, Lamonte McLemore, and Ron Townson. The song ranks no. 57 on Billboard's "Greatest Songs of All Time." It has also ranked 33rd on the 2004 American Film Institute's list 100 years, 100 songs.

Disregarding the merits and veracity of the astrological promises of The Age of Aquarius and the new age movements associated with it, one can focus on the music and the song's promise of change, as is "Let the Sun Shine In." That's the chief reason that I am posting it here; we need some positive news or else we can start believing that the world is always a horrible, cold and dark place.

It's also true that how we think and interpret events has a great influence on not only how we view the world, but on how we feel. Science and religion can easily agree on that statement as fact. More so, I don't believe that those who hold a pessimistic view of humanity are more correct, more intelligent, or more insightful than those who hold a more positive view. They are, to put it simply, more pessimistic. I am not. Nor do I see any benefit of holding such dark, unhappy views.

With that in mind, there is some good news to report. We might be entering a new era of Compassionate Capitalism, spelling the end of 30 hard-boiled years of Reaganomics, which primarily benefited the elites, and left too many in misery. [See tomorrow's post on Compassionate Capitalism: The Progressive Age for more details.]

The Fifth Dimension: Cover of the single with Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.
Source: Wikipedia

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Vladimir Horowitz: Chopin Rondo

Vladimir Horowitz plays Chopin's Rondo in E-flat major, opus 16, in New York, 1974. Frédéric Chopin completed the piece, also called Introduction and Rondo, in 1833 when he was twenty-three. It was dedicated to Caroline Hartmann.

Now, back to Horowitz. There is also a wonderful and masterful interview done by Mike Wallace (of CBS's 60 Minutes fame), on December 26, 1977, which reveals something of the man and the musician, and of Vladimir Horowitz and his relationship to his music and his wife, Wanda Toscanini. It can be viewed here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Creators & The Critics

American critics are like American universities. They both have dull and half-dead faculties.
Edward Albee
One cannot review a bad book without showing off.
W. H. Auden
Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
Winston Churchill

The Critic: As the Brooklyn Museum notes: "This figure has been identified as a particular individual—Andor Halasi, a literary critic Tihanyi knew well—yet the sitter’s sharply rendered features almost suggest a physical type for the profession, with a high, intellectual forehead, alert eyes, long nose, and pinched mouth. Tihanyi emphasizes the sitter’s pronounced bone structure with a subtle play of light and shadow indicating sharp protrusions and deep hollows. The angular wings of the subject’s starched collar and the knot of his tie further echo his pointed features."
Artist: Tihanyi Lajos (1885–1938); Painted in 1916. The painting is at The Brooklyn Museum.
Source: Wikipedia
In the world of art, and by art I am here referring to the whole range of artistic expression, there are the creators and the critics, which has always had an uneasy if not necessary relationship. The creator makes art, often a creative expression of his vision, whether that be a musical composition, a visual expression or a performance—and, today, often a combination, called mixed media. The audience might love it, the critics not. There have been many commercial successes without the blessing of the critics. Sometimes a work of art receives both critical and commercial acclaim.

Which begs the question of what value does a critic have in the world of art. Or, to put it more bluntly: Why do we need critics today in the age of social media and the Internet? Aren't we all critics, each forming our own opinion on what we like? If that's the case, why bother with critical reviews?

The short answer is because it's good to have a standard on which to base things, on which to judge against. Otherwise, it becomes one's individual tastes, and the tyranny of the masses. For an example of a world without professional critics, look no further than the comments sections, at least in online versions, of major newspapers, magazines and blogs. Each person's opinion is considered valid, notwithstanding whether it is based on facts; and the goal is to garner enough votes or "recommends" to make such views the majority one, and thus implying its validity.

Truly, all that shows is that people who think alike have bothered to post a comment, whether it is thoughtful or thoughtless. More to the point, a majority opinion on a news site is not necessarily true or valid. In many cases, it seems, it's quite the opposite, based on poor understanding on facts, ideas and the chief arguments put forth by the writer or journalist. In many cases, people bereft of arguments resort to ad hominem attacks, always a poor substitute for facts.

Well-intentioned critics can actually help inform a public on the merits of a play, book, film, painting and other art forms, and explain the reasons why he or she prefers it or does not recommend it. It's more than like or dislike an art form. The critic in this case is performing a public service, and the best critics are recognized for such. Some critics hold a lot of power. It was said that a bad review from The New York Times would be the death knell of a Broadway production (e.g., I am thinking of reviews from Brooks Atkinson & Frank Rich). I am not sure is this continues to be the case.

Another argument made, and it's also true, as some point out, is that critics don't create, and might be jealous of the persons who do create, the creators. Yet, I sense this is far more rare than some think. Bad books are published; horrible plays are staged; and boring operas are mounted. The critic has to suffer through reading, watching and viewing such artistic efforts, and report back to us why he recommends against it. In that regard, we need the critics. The creator and the critic, often an uneasy alliance, but necessary.

The role of the critic is a form of democracy in action, one that is often not appreciated.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nobel Notables 2011

The 2011 Nobel Prizes were awarded this year to the following individuals: ten men and three women, residing in eight nations. Some criticize the Nobel Prizes, but it might be sour grapes (see here and here). In other words, jealously.

No one doubts that there are many other awards and prizes in particular fields, such as The Fields Medal (mathematics), The Priestly Medal (chemistry), and the Man Booker Prize (literature) that carry similar recognition. Yet, the Nobel still carries with it the weight of tradition, and has been the case since the first Nobel was handed out in 1901.

Although two winners have rejected its award (Jean-Paul Sartre for Literature and Lê Ðức Thọ for Peace), itself a statement, most do not. Bravo to this year's winners.


Alfred Noble [1833-1896]: The Noble Founder. "I intend to leave after my death a large fund for the promotion of the peace idea, but I am skeptical as to its results."
Artist Credit:  Gösta Florman (1831–1900)/The Royal Library, Sweden
Here are the 2011 winners, all worthy recipients in their respective areas of achievement and life's work:

Medicine or Physiology: Ralph Steinman of Canada, Bruce Beutler of the United States and Jules Hoffmann of France. The scientific trio were honored for discoveries about the body's disease-fighting immune system. "Taken together, the discoveries of Bruce A. Beutler, Jules A. Hoffmann and Ralph M. Steinman have brought us closer to the goal of treating and preventing infections, cancer and inflammatory diseases by mobilizing and regulating innate and adaptive immunity," the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said. Ralph Steinman was awarded the prize on Monday Oct 3, three days after his death on Friday September 30; the Committee was unaware of his death. [NobelPrize]

: Saul Perlmutter of the United States, Brian P. Schmidt of Australia, and  Adam G. Riess of the United States "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae." As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences put it: "The acceleration is thought to be driven by dark energy, but what that dark energy is remains an enigma - perhaps the greatest in physics today. What is known is that dark energy constitutes about three quarters of the Universe. Therefore the findings of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics have helped to unveil a Universe that to a large extent is unknown to science. And everything is possible again." [NobelPrize]

Chemistry: Dan Shechtman of Israel. Schectman has been honored "for the discovery of quasicrystals." As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said: "In quasicrystals, we find the fascinating mosaics of the Arabic world reproduced at the level of atoms: regular patterns that never repeat themselves. However, the configuration found in quasicrystals was considered impossible, and Dan Shechtman had to fight a fierce battle against established science. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 has fundamentally altered how chemists conceive of solid matter." [NobelPrize]

Literature: Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet, "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality, said the Swedish Academy. His sometimes bleak but graceful work, said the New York Times, "explores themes of isolation, emotion and identity while remaining rooted in the commonplace." [NobelPrize]

Peace: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia,  Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." As the Norwegian Committee put it: "It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent." [NobelPrize]

Economic Sciences: Thomas J. Sargent of the United States, and Christopher A. Sims of the United States "for their empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy." As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said about this year's winners of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences: "Although Sargent and Sims carried out their research independently, their contributions are complementary in several ways. The laureates' seminal work during the 1970s and 1980s has been adopted by both researchers and policymakers throughout the world. Today, the methods developed by Sargent and Sims are essential tools in macroeconomic analysis."  [NobelPrize]

Each prize comes with an honorarium of 10 million-krona, or nearly $1.5 million (Cdn), along with a medal and a diploma. The ceremony will take place on the anniversary of Alfred Noble's death— December 10, 2011—in Stockholm, Sweden, with the exception of the Peace Prize ceremony, held in Oslo, Norway.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Simón Bolívar Symphony: Mendelssohn's 'The Italian'

Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela performs Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4, opus 90 ("the Italian"), 1st movement, Felipe Izcaray, guest conductor. Felix Mendelssohn completed the Italian Symphony in Berlin, Germany on March 13, 1833, in response to an invitation for a symphony from the London (now Royal) Philharmonic Society. It was first performed at a London Philharmonic Society concert in London on May 13, 1833. It was a great success.


There is a nice background story behind the formation of this orchestra, named in the original Spanish as Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar. It was founded by an economist, José Antonio Abreu, in 1975, to create opportunities for youth to achieve musical excellence, regardless of social status. Abreu is no average economist, but also an accomplished pianist and conductor. Most of all, Abreu is known for bettering the lives of young people in his native Venezuela through the introduction of El Sistema ("The System"), a national network in which music becomes the primary avenue for social and intellectual improvement.

Needless to say, the system has been a great success. If you want to make a difference in the lives of young people, and also reduce youth crime, often a result of boredom, music is surely the answer. It provides the needed structure, and allows an expression in the creation of beauty. What Abreu brought to Venezuela was good, and he was rewarded and recognized for his efforts decades later, Wikipedia writes:
On May 12, 2009, Abreu was awarded the Polar Music Prize, given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.[11] Abreu and Peter Gabriel, who also won, were presented with their awards by King Carl XVI Gustaf at a gala ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall on 31 August. The Royal Swedish Academy of Music said about Abreu:[12]
The Polar Music Prize 2009 is awarded the Venezuelan conductor, composer and economist José Antonio Abreu. Driven by a vision that the world of classical music can help improve the lives of Venezuela’s children, he created the music network El Sistema, which has given hundreds of thousands the tools to leave poverty. José Antonio Abreu’s successful creation has promoted traditional values, like respect, fellowship and humanity. His achievement shows us what is possible when music is made the common ground and thereby part of people’s everyday lives. Simultaneously, a new hope for the future has been given children and parents, as well as politicians. The vision of José Antonio Abreu serves as a model to us all.
In 2010, Abreu was awarded Erasmus Prize.
It goes without saying that this model ought to be brought over to other nations including my own, Canada. I was fortunate to have played in a high school band, second trombone, for four years, although I had average ability. Even so, I love music and believe it has an edifying effect on people, so it would be better to introduce music to children in a formal educational setting, the sooner the better. In that regard, I have written about music and young people (see My Musical Dream), and about my hopes and aspirations for Canada, starting with my home city of Montreal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Tipping Point

Guest Voices

We welcome back George Jochnowitz on a subject that influences everyone who pays for a service, namely, the practice of tipping. This practice can be carried to unusual situations in some nations, as Prof Jochnowitz elucidates in this essay. It is important to note that in a few nations, like in Japan and South Korea, tipping is uncommon (see here for common tipping practices in many nations.)

As for correspondence between tipping and better service, a number of economists argue that there is none. For more on the subject, you can also read an interesting paper by Yoram Margalioth of Tel Aviv University Law School, "The Case Against Tipping," published in the University of Pennsylvania's Journal of Business Law (Fall 2006).


In 1989, I was teaching in China. While I was there, I made a trip to a city in Shanxi Province in order to visit the parents of a friend of mine — someone who lived in Staten Island but had been born and raised in China. My friend's mother was in the hospital. His father, my host, invited my daughter and me to an elegant restaurant for dinner. He also invited the doctors who were treating his wife. He explained that it was customary to give gifts to one's physician. After all, one wanted the best possible care for a loved one. Tipping a doctor! What a horrible idea. How much do you tip? How do you go about tipping? What if the doctor doesn't enjoy the dinner you've invited him to?

Does tipping improve service? I doubt it; if it did, taxi drivers would be more courteous than flight attendants. Furthermore, tipping is undignified, since blurring the line between a fee and a gift puts both patron and server in a vulnerable position.

Restaurants should raise their prices and put the words "no tipping" on all checks and menus. If they did, dining would be a more elegant experience. In America we don't tip physicians. If we live in apartment houses, however, we have to tip our supers. Let me tell you two stories I heard from my friend "Mark." I won't use his real name because I don't want his superintendent to learn who he is. Some time ago, his daughter got married. Lots of wedding presents were mailed to Mark's address, and his super put notes in his mailbox to inform him whenever one arrived. One day, however, the super approached Mark saying, "We won't accept any more packages for your daughter. She doesn't live here any more." As Mark tells it, he took two $20 bills from his pocket and handed them over without a word. There was no thank you, but the presents continued to be accepted and Mark continued to be informed. Some years later, a UPS man rang Mark's bell bringing a package for apartment 8G, next door to Mark, who accepted it. He put a note under 8G's door, but then ran into the super's wife and told her about it. "8G don't take care of Tommy, Tommy don't take care of her," said the super's wife.

Some time ago, I visited someone in an elegant Manhattan apartment building that had no doorman. There was a note from FedEx saying a package for a certain tenant had been refused by the super. I remembered Mark's stories and wondered whether there was a pattern. I ran into the UPS man making deliveries on the block and asked him about the note from FedEx, his employers' competitor. The UPS man said that in a building with a super but no doorman, packages were accepted only for those tenants who had given appropriate gifts at Christmas. I asked Mark whether he had tipped his super the Christmas before his daughter's wedding. In response to my question, he told me he always gives his super a big Christmas present. He explained that when the super complained about the flood of gifts after the wedding, he was being helpful to Mark, telling him in effect that extra service required extra pay. On the other hand, when the super's wife refused 8G's package, 8G was punished without being told why. 8G never learned that she was being punished at all. Unlike Mark, she had not paid for the right to be informed.

Punishment may make sense if it is negative reinforcement. We human beings can — sometimes — learn from our experiences. We may decide that the unfortunate consequences of a particular action or inaction should lead us to change our behavior. We can also learn from the experiences of others. We can't learn, however, if we don't know what is causing the unfortunate consequences. The punishment is not a lesson when we don't know that it is in fact punishment. Sometimes residents of apartment buildings ask each other how much to give at Christmas. Unfortunately, there is no criterion to determine just how big a gift should be. It would be better for everyone if the gift were an obvious transaction. There should be a sign in the building saying that if you want the super to accept packages for you, you should pay a specific fee for the service. New York draws residents from out of town and out of the country. How are they to know about the necessity of giving Christmas presents when New Yorkers themselves are not sure? How can you play by the rules if the rules are a secret?

A present is not the same thing as a transaction. It is a simple act of generosity or friendship or love. Giving is not the same thing as trading. Services should be paid for; gifts are gifts, not payment.

Tipping, by its nature, both increases and spreads. I can remember the days, way back in the 1940s, when 10% was a respectable tip in a restaurant. Then it grew to 15%. Now, many people say it is 20%. Nevertheless, increasing rates of tipping are a minor problem compared to the fact that there are always new places where tipping is expected. Why should we have to leave a tip when we stand at a counter and wait to be served a cappuccino? Will stores be next? Or will the day come, in our ever more money-oriented world, when we will have to worry about how much to tip the doctor?


George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at
Copyright ©2011. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay appeared in And Then, Volume 10, 2001.This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the author's permission.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Success Breeds (More) Success

The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant and kind.
W. Somerset Maugham

The most important single ingredient in the formula of success
is knowing how to get along with people.

—Theodore Roosevelt

Almost every person wants to achieve a measure of success in his chosen field. Success comes to some more easier, or so it seems, than to others, which raises the question of why this is so. Some would point at the halo effect, that a person judged favorably in one area is deemed favorable in all respects. But in a field of hard-working talented individuals, why do some achieve greatness, while others don't.

In some cases, it has to do with achieving a rank of recognition in a competition, whether national or international. In exams of science, engineering and mathematics, it is easy to measure whether the result is right or wrong, and thus rank the students or competitors accordingly. Sports offers a similar ranking scheme, as does chess and card games like poker. And so does the greatest of competitions, political campaigns. In all these, there are winners and losers, defined by clear rules.

In the arts, it is more subjective, although the judges of such competitions have a set of standards that they use to arrive at a decision and to rank the performers. When you look at international piano competitions, for example, the top five pianists are wonderfully competent and can perform at a high level, the differences noted only by the best set of ears, eyes and heartfelt sensibilities. But there is likely something more at play here than technicality or virtuosity, as important as these are.

There is that unknown something that cannot really be measured or scored. In some cases it is timing, that is, the world is ready for such a style. Yet, it might be something far more simple to understand yet hard to fake—likeability. The artist has to project himself, an aspect of humanity and vulnerability, to the audience. Arthur Miller's Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman, was not liked and thus failed to succeed.

Being liked is essential for artists, as is liking others and caring for them. Such sensitive artists can connect with the audience and establish a rapport, a conversation if you will. Now, once an artist makes a breakthrough it is easier for him to win another competition, and in some cases an artist or two wins the majority of important awards —the so-called international superstar. Of course, such  individuals have tremendous talent, whether they are a Horowitz, a Rubinstein or today, a Kissin.

Irving Berlin once said, "The toughest thing about success is that you've got to keep on being a success." Perhaps so, but you can't take such a saying seriously, since Berlin remained successful for most of his musical career. Likeability aside, one wonders if success often just breeds more success. Successful people not only have greater confidence, but are also more happy and content, and thus have an open attitude for success. As a group, they actually might be more compassionate and caring, having a strong moral sensibility. In a sense, the successful remain successful because they are, well, successful.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maxim Rysanov: Bartók Viola Concerto

Maxim Rysanov performs Béla Bartók's Viola Concerto, with the Moscow Philharmonic at the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, in November 2009, Yuri Simonov conducting.

Béla Bartók, one of Hungary's most famous composers, worked on this piece between July and August 1945, in Saranac Lake, New York, while he was suffering from the terminal stages of leukemia. The violist William Primrose had commissioned the work. Bartók died in a New York City hospital on September 26, 1945, aged 64, leaving the scoring unfinished.

His death naturally lead to unanswered questions,essentially trying the guess the mind of a composer unable to offer definitive advice. It's true that Bartók did leave documents and a draft, yet it was left to the imagination of another to try to complete the work, in a sincere attempt to keep the composer's autograph. Such is explained in Bartok's Viola Concerto: The Remarkable Story of His Swansong (2004), by Donald Maurice; the publishers of the book, Oxford University Press, write:
After Bartok's death, his family asked the composer's friend Tibor Serly to look over the sketches of the concerto and to prepare it for publication. While a draft was ready, it took Serly years to assemble the sketches into a complete piece. In 1949, Primrose finally unveiled it, at a premiere performance with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.
For almost half a century, the Serly version enjoyed great popularity among the viola community, even while it faced charges of inauthenticity. In the 1990s, several revisions appeared and, in 1995, the composer's son, Peter Bartok, released a revision, opening the way or an intensified debate on the authenticity of the multiple versions. This debate continues as violists and Bartok scholars seek the definitive version of this final work of Hungary's greatest composer.
 As for Maxim Rysanov, here's some background notes on this raising talent from his record label:
Recognised as one of the world’s best and most charismatic viola players, Maxim Rysanov is the winner of the prestigious 2008 Classic FM Gramophone Young Artist of the Year. Additional awards include the Tertis and Geneva competitions as well as the 2007 BBC New Generation artist scheme.
Originally from the Ukraine, Maxim is now based in London. He is regularly invited to perform as a soloist and chamber musician in the UK and abroad and has been a guest of many orchestras, festivals and venues worldwide.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Verdi's La Traviata: 'Un di felice'

In Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, in Act 1, Plácido Domingo (Alfredo) and Teresa Stratas (Violetta)  perform the famous duet and aria,"Un di felice." This video clip is from Franco Zeffirelli's remarkable 1982 film, La Traviata.

Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, an opera in three acts set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, and based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the 1848 novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, son of the famous novelist. The title La Traviata means The Fallen Woman, and it follows the tragic arc of a love affair between a courtesan (Violetta) and a nobleman (Alfredo). The words to the aria speak for themselves: Alfredo professes his love for Violetta; she initially dismisses the advance as an impossible liaison. They do eventually get together, but complications related to class and societal expectations are too strong, tearing them apart, since it really could not be. It all starts, however, with an honest and heartfelt declaration.

Here are the lyrics, as supplied by Wikipedia:


Un dì, felice, eterea,
Mi balenaste innante,
E da quel dì tremante
Vissi d'ignoto amor.
Di quell'amor ch'è palpito
Dell'universo, Dell'universo intero,
Misterioso, altero,
Croce e delizia cor.
Misterioso, Misterioso altero,
Croce e delizia al cor.


Ah, se ciò è ver, fuggitemi,
Solo amistade io v'offro:
Amar non so, nè soffro
Un così eroico amor.
Io sono franca, ingenua;
Altra cercar dovete;
Non arduo troverete
Dimenticarmi allor.

[English Translation]


One day, you, happy, ethereal,
appeared in front of me,
and ever since,trembling,
I lived from unknowed love.
That love that's the
pulse of the universe, of the whole universe,
Mysterious, proud,
torture and delight to the heart.
Mysterious, mysterious and proud,
torture and delight to the heart.


Love, I fear, can never be,
Friendship is all I can offer.
Since love is pain and torment,
I avoid that strange emotion.
Pleasure is all I ask of life,
Freedom and joy forever!
So you must soon forget me
And find another love.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Malaria Vaccine Possible By 2015

Science & Health

AIDS and malaria and TB are national security issues. A worldwide program to get a start on dealing with these issues would cost about $25 billion... It's, what, a few months in Iraq.
Jared Diamond
We would have wished that we could wipe it out, but I think this is going to contribute to the control of malaria rather than wiping it out.
—Tsiri Agbenyega
, a principal investigator
in the RTS.S trials in Ghana,
said about the trial vaccine

There were many ups and downs and moments over the years when we thought can we do it? But today I feel fabulous. This is a dream of any scientist —to see your life's work actually translated into a medicine that can have this great impact on peoples' lives. How lucky am I?
Dr. Joe Cohen, microbiologist, GlaxoSmithKline, and inventor of the RTS.S drug,
after positive results of Phase III clinical trials, Oct 18, 2011

Female Anopheles albimanus mosquito feeds on a human host, becoming engorged with blood. Anopheles adults also generally feed in the evening, or early morning when it is still dark. This species is a vector of malaria, predominantly in Central America.
Photo Credit: James Gathany, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005.
Source: Wikipedia

There is currently no effective vaccine against malaria, a parasite that kills hundreds of thousands of children each year. But there is promising results in clinical trials, and a vaccine (called RTS.S) might be commercially available by 2015 (See here and here). Even so, this vaccine might not become as effective as other long-standing vaccines like the ones to prevent polio or measles, mumps and rubella. The chief reason is that malaria is caused by a parasite and not a virus.

"Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes," explains the World Heath Organization. There are four species of the Plasmodium, with Plasmodium falciparum "the most widespread and dangerous," says a science site dedicated to microbiology.  Alphonse Laveran, a French army surgeon, was the first to notice parasites in the blood of a patient suffering from malaria in 1880. For his work,  Dr. Laveran was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1907.

Even so, malaria persists in all about 100 countries in the world, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest group at risk are children under the age of five. Effective treatment is available with the use of antimalarial drugs, including the use of artemisinin, which are called artemisinin-combination therapies, or ACTs.

Even so, a vaccine will decrease malaria deaths, particularly when used in conjunction with current practices, such as the use of bed nets and controlling the vegetation around waterways where female malaria-carrying mosquitoes breed—all of which are from the genus Anopheles (e.g., see here). Note it is only female mosquitoes that transmit malaria, since males do not bite humans and feed only on the juices of plants.

It`s not all bad news in regions where malaria has long been prevalent, notably Africa. Methods of eradication and vector control have already proven somewhat successful. In a May 2011 article in Time magazine,"Progress Against Malaria in Africa Is Real but Fragile," Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia; and Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, write:
More welcome news: global deaths from malaria have fallen from nearly a million a year in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009. But even while we mark what may be a turning point in our effort to eradicate the disease, we cannot overestimate our progress. It is fragile.

Malaria continues to exact a great toll, killing three-quarters of a million people a year, more than 90% in Africa, which accounts for about one in six child deaths. The consequences of losing our focus now would be deadly. Mosquito bed nets last about three years, and a failure to replace the more than 300 million nets blanketing Africa over the coming three years could lead to resurgent malaria illness and deaths.
That makes the availability of a vaccine more pressing, more urgent. If all goes well, GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company responsible for the malaria drug (RTS.S), says the vaccine could reach the market in 2015.