Friday, December 23, 2005

On The Sleep Of Plants, Animals, And Humans In Winter ...

The Armenian Church, Virmenskij Sabor, in Lviv, Ukraine. The Church was first completed in the 14th Century, and this belltower was built in 1571. It is very impressive and its four corners are formed like colonnas and each has a small tower. The entrance to the Church itself is located in a yard with ancient tombstones, which can be entered from two of the oldest streets of Lviv's Old Town Center.

With deep thanks to my faithful readers these past six months, and with best wishes for the Holiday Seasons and the New Year. I hope to return to posting after the New Year -- which began with the Winter Solstice -- has completed one lunar cycle.

Photo credit:


Please also consider patronizing the services of my friend Vladyslav (Slav) Tsarynnyk at Lviv Ecotour

LVIV ECOTOUR IS NOW IN THE NEW 2005 Lonely Planet Ukraine Guidebook

PAGE 85: "Lviv Ecotour Owner Vladyslav "Slav" Tsarynnyk knows the region very well, has plenty of experience guiding foreigners and speaks English like a native. Highly recommended."

...AND AGAIN ON PAGE 208: "... Above all, special thanks have to go to Slav at Lviv Ecotour for guiding, proofreading and general helpfulness above and beyond the call of duty."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Peace And Poverty On Earth

Kathe Kollwitz, Poverty, 1893

Image credit: Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum Berlin

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Winter Solstice 2005!

Moon Solstice.

The precise moment of the 2005 solstice will be December 21, 2005 at 1:35 P.M. EST (18:35 UT).

With thanks to Ann-Marie Imbornoni and FactMonster.

It Looks Like New Year's Eve 2006 In Minsk, Belarus After All

Self-Portrait with N., 2005

(The self-portrait is by the Dutch contemporary artist Philip Akkerman.)

I think that it is healthful that at least one person in every relationship likes to have their picture taken.


Also, I have learned that Europeans treat the New Years Eve and New Years Day holidays much more seriously than do Americans. (In the Orthodox Christian world, the solemnity of Orthodox Christmas follows upon the New Years Celebrations.)

In Eastern Europe, it is very important, first thing on New Years Day, to wish members of one's own family strong health and long life.

We celebrated last New Year's Eve solemnly, due to the Tsunami, first in a small restaurant and then in a small cafe in Prague-Vinohrady, the Czech Republic. We skipped the fireworks, and before midnight, we returned to our small hotel so that we could listen to the Czech President and the First Lady address (and toast) the Czech nation, and all other member Nations of the E.U., on the solemnity of that year's New Year's occasion. (We celebrated New Years Day, last year, in Warsaw, Poland; a country that I hadn't visited in eleven years.)

Photo credit: (c) garth trinkl 2005. All rights reserved. Not to be electronically copied, stored, or reproduced elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lviv, Ukraine's First Real Winter Snowfall

Lviv, Ukraine has received its first real snowfall of the Winter season.

On the left, in the picture, is one of the entrances to Lviv's 14th Century Armenian Cathedral Complex.

Unlike its sister UNESCO World Heritage Site, Krakow, Poland, where the Jewish European population of the City was forced to live outside the Royal City's Walls, in a separate walled "suburb" (Kazimierz); in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Leopolis/Lemberg/Lwow/Lvov/Lviv, the various European ethnic and cultural groups and religious faiths (Armenians, Russians, Jews, Serbians, Poles, Greeks, Scots) lived side-by-side on their own separate, but interdependent, streets and communities.

From the UNESCO World Heritage Citation:

Brief Description

The city of L'viv, founded in the late Middle Ages [1256], was a flourishing administrative, religious and commercial centre for several centuries. The medieval urban topography has been preserved virtually intact (in particular, there is evidence of the different ethnic communities who lived there), along with many fine Baroque and later buildings.

Justification for Inscription

Criterion ii: In its urban fabric and its architecture, L’viv is an outstanding example of the fusion of the architectural and artistic traditions of eastern Europe with those of Italy and Germany.

Criterion v: The political and commercial role of L’viv attracted to it a number of ethnic groups with different cultural and religious traditions, who established separate yet interdependent communities within the city, evidence for which is still discernible in the modern townscape.


Photo credit: Jagiellonian University in Krakow Centre for European Studies

"Poland's future will be largely determined by its standards in education and the sciences.

Our mission is to increase understanding of the changes in European civilisation as a whole for Polish and foreign students. The EU, especially its expansion to include Poland and its neighbours, is a topic of particular interest."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Eve Music (Western Christendom) From King’s College, Cambridge, England

"Since [Stephen] Cleobury took charge in 1982, the [King's College] choir has been commissioning composers for its Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Here they all are: 22 carols in a kaleidoscope of styles, but with something inalienably “carol-ish” in common. Between the austerity of Birtwistle’s The Gleam and Dove’s sweet-natured The Three Kings is less to choose than you might think. The mini-drama of Goehr’s Carol for St Steven and the broad scale of Swayne’s Winter Solstice Carol strike out into new territory. Highlights include Weir’s Illuminare, Jerusalem and Adès’s svelte Fayrfax Carol.

Paul Driver "Classical: New Releases: Various Composers: On Christmas Day [sic]" The Sunday Times December 18, 2005.


The ceiling of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, England.

Photo credit:

The Economic Costs Of Healing the 20th Century Destruction And Division Of Europe

[British Prime Minister] Tony Blair defended the deal over the European Union budget by telling the House of Commons on Monday that if there had not been extra money for the [ten] newer member states in the East it would have been a "betrayal of everything Britain has rightly stood for".

Despite claims by David Cameron, the new Tory leader, that Mr Blair had failed in all of his objectives in the negotiations, the prime minister sought to put the deal in the wider context of Europe’s development.

“The fact is that if we support and indeed drive through a policy of ending the postwar division of Europe, we have to be ready to accept our fair share of the cost of that policy,” he said.

The deal is likely to leave the UK up to £2bn [$3.54 billion] worse off each year by the end of this decade." ...

James Blitz, Political Editor and FT reporters "Blair fights off backlash over EU rebate deal" Financial Times Updated December 19, 2005.


The Economist Magazine (December 17, 2005) estimates the cost of the E.U.- eastward expansion to include ten new E.U. nations (toward, but for now excluding, Croatia, the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, and Ukraine) at 14 billion Euros ($16.8 billion) over the 2007-2013 E.U. budget-cycle years. Of that amount, Germany will contribute 2 billion Euros ($2.4 billion), while Britain will contribute 1.2 billion Euros ($1.44 billion).

Main Synagogue, Minsk, Russia (Belarus), 1917.

Image credit: Old, historic postcard.

Islands Of Nationalism And Workers' Rights In Times Of Globalization And Destroyed Pension Benefits

"[In Belarus] models who appear in public advertisements - whether on billboards, on television, in newspapers or magazines - must now be Belarussian.

"Photograph ours there and let them advertise the watches of our factories and imported watches, too," [Belarus President Alexandr] Lukashenko said. "Let them pay our girls." ...

Companies with well-planned promotional campaigns also had to scramble to comply, often by significantly revising their ads. "We have had difficulties in getting models for shoots," said Raman Lapchuk, an account manager for Hepta Group Publicis, an advertising agency here that represents such international companies as Renault, L'Oréal and Hewlett-Packard.

In some cases, he said, "We just used images without humans." ...

Not long ago, [the Belarussian President] decreed that at least 75 percent of songs played on radio stations must be Belarussian. It was an autocratic whim, perhaps, but one that was popular among musicians who received more exposure on the air.

"Each system has its own logic," said Pavel Daneyko, director of the Institution for Privatization and Management, a private consulting agency....

Mr. Lukashenko's decree on models has support.

Olga V. Seryozhnikova, director of the National School of Beauty, said the law had brought order to a chaotic, at times exploitive, industry. Instead of using foreign models on ads typically prepared abroad, companies must now hire locals, at $25 to $50 a shoot.

More importantly, said Ms. Seryozhnikova, who is a former model, those in the business now have a formal title in the country's Soviet-like labor classifications. They are now called "models (clothing demonstrators)," with what was and is again known as a labor record, a necessity to receive a pension later in life."

Steven Lee Myers "Minsk Journal - French Faces, Farewell: Belarus Has Beauties of Its Own" New York Times December 19, 2005.

Main Post Office, Minsk, Belarus. Completed during the reconstruction of Minsk, in the 1950s, following near total destruction of the city by the Nazis in 1941-1944.

Photo credit:

Waiting For Next Saturday Afternoon's Date With The Radio

..."Between 1950 and 1990, the Met presented a grand total of three world premières. Volpe and Levine have made partial amends for that wretched record by bringing forth four new operas in the past fifteen years, with Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor” on deck for next season. Unfortunately, premières are still so infrequent that crushing expectations attend them, and disappointment inevitably ensues when a new work fails to astound Diaghilev out of his grave. Picker’s “An American Tragedy,” which had its first performance on December 2nd and plays through December 28th, has had a predictably mixed reception. Opera fans have acclaimed its solid construction and singable lines; critics, by and large, have scoffed. After two viewings, I find myself siding with the fans. The opera is a fitfully inspired creation, wavering along the fine line between tragedy and turgidity, but, on a primal, Pucciniesque level, it hits the mark.

... The first act lacks dramatic situations, and only in the second do we get to the raw meat: Roberta, pregnant and enraged, confronting Clyde in church; the death in the lake; the trial; the walk to the chair. Funny how this Gilded Age melodrama, in which obscene wealth warps the morals of all, anti-abortion laws drive young people to desperation, and capital punishment is handed down without clear physical evidence, is not quite as dated as it should be.

Picker works largely within the lingua franca that has defined mainstream American opera since Gian Carlo Menotti found a popular audience for the form after the Second World War, with “The Medium” and “The Consul.” There are vernacular songs and religious hymns to establish the all-American scene, lush verismo textures for the lovemaking, suave Gershwinesque tunes to convey the upper classes at play, distorted genre pieces à la Shostakovich and Britten for public confrontations, and, at moments of maximum fright, bursts of Berg. There’s also much that’s individual; Picker’s harmony flirts with traditional tonality without falling prey to cliché, his orchestration achieves both transparency and power, and his crowd scenes skillfully set solo voices against a booming chorus and a churning orchestra...."

Alex Ross "OPERA HOT: The Met’s fall season" The New Yorker Online December 19, 2005.

Henry Moore, Bronze Sculpture, Lincoln Center, 1962-64. (Hopefully, it is securely attached to the base of its reflecting pool.)

Photo credit:

In Memorium, James Ingo Freed

..."The most memorable aspects of [James Ingo Freed's] Holocaust Museum are not the polite facades. Rather, they include the brick towers stretching between Wallenberg Place and 14th Street on the building's north side -- in keeping with the red brick of the building next door but also starkly reminiscent of guard towers in prisons or concentration camps.

Whenever I think of this building's architecture, however, I almost always think first of the twisted steel beams just below the interior skylight. Or of the upper interior bridges, supported by steel but with glass walls engraved with names of particular people who were killed.

Steel, twisted by the fire of hatred. Glass walls that profoundly speak to you of the dead and yet remind you, too, of the constant watchfulness of prisons -- and concentration camps. Freed here demonstrated his love and talent for expressive, architectural metaphor....

He also designed a complex yet elegant opera house for the former Woodward & Lothrop site downtown, but, basically, an opera with all its spatial demands just didn't fit the site....

Freed also designed the classic revival Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue. The revival style wasn't to his taste, but he did make sure that, with its long diagonal wall, it did shape an important public space and that its interiors were spectacularly up-to-date."

Benjamin Forgey "The Architect of Steel and Glass: James Freed Was a Study in Contrasts Whose Buildings Stood Solid and Clear" Washington Post December 17, 2005.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.

Photo credit: James Ingo Freed/Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

Friday, December 16, 2005

Night's Black Bird II

"The H5N1 strain of bird flu, potentially dangerous to humans, has spread to birds in more villages in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, the government said on Friday.

The Emergencies Ministry said 15 villages were affected, based on results from tests at Russian laboratories. Officials are awaiting final confirmation from a specialist British laboratory on the nature of the virus found in dead birds.

The ministry said mass deaths among domestic birds had been noted in 27 villages in Crimea, a peninsula jutting into the Black Sea and a a major stopping point on migratory routes.

It said about 60,000 birds had been seized and destroyed in affected villages. A bulletin on Wednesday reported deaths in 25 villages, including 11 with the H5N1 virus confirmed.

Cases of H5N1 have also been found in birds in neighboring Romania and Russia.

President Viktor Yushchenko invoked a state of emergency in several villages after bird flu was detected, with birds seized and slaughtered and police patrolling exclusion zones."

Reuters UK "More Ukrainian villages hit by bird flu" Fri Dec 16, 2005 4:25 PM GMT

Photo credit:
Фото © 1998 А.И. Дидуленко

The Unbearable Lightness Of Having Your Visa Application To Visit A Certain Eastern European Country Tentatively Accepted

"When we stood our turn in the exit queue of the border station, I sometimes used to bend down and raise the hem of the Iron Curtain, just to peek out at the [other] side where I was going; nobody was very strict in those days, and obviously I wasn't trying to "escape." (p. 536)

William T. Vollmann "Europe Central" Viking

2005 National Book Awards Winner for Fiction

Judges citation:

"Europe Central is a half-continent of fictions —- sketches, stories, novellas, a full-length novel--reimagining a World War II where Americans are a distant presence. Like an all-hearing intelligence agent, Vollmann occupies the minds of Germans and Russians, artists and generals, victims and torturers in impossible ethical quandaries. Scrupulously researched, rigorously designed, scarifingly voiced, this omnibus is heroic art, the writer’s courageous immersion in totalitarian ugliness to retrieve forgotten moral heroes. Full of terror and pity, Vollmann’s narratives go back beyond tragedy to the historical mastery of epic."


Memorial "Bresckaia Krepasc", built after WWII in the Fortress of Brest, Belarus.

Photo credit: Virtual Guide to Belarus - a collaborative project of Belarusian scientists and professionals abroad.

"Seek Him Above The Starry Canopy" ... Or Music To That Effect

Beethoven's grave in the Zentralfriedhof, Vienna, Austria.

Beethoven was baptised on December 17, 1770; and until recently December 16, 1770 has been the assumed date of birth of one of mankind's supreme musical creators.

In 2003, the European Union chose Beethoven's music for the poem as the EU anthem, without German lyrics, because of the many different languages used within the European Union. Therefore, the EU anthem is in effect the Beethoven theme (or melody) rather than Schiller's poem, although its connection with the ideal of human brotherhood in the text is understood. This ideal is stated in much more universal terms in Beethoven's adaptation ("All men become brothers") than in Schiller's original, which states that "beggars become the brothers of princes."

Less famous musical settings of the poem were written by Franz Schubert (for voice and piano, 1815) and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (for solo singers, choir and orchestra in a Russian translation, 1865).

Photo and text credit:

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Small Steps Of Renaissance From The Ruins Of Global Warfare

"A Nazi archive of 60,000 digital colour images of wall and ceiling paintings in German buildings has been put online by the Central Institute for Art History in Munich in collaboration with the Photographic Image Archive in Marburg. The pictures were taken for the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda and the Department of Buildings and Monuments between 1943 and 1945.

The photographs show the interiors of 480 buildings—churches, monasteries, castles and palaces, dating from the 10th to the end of the 19th centuries—in what was the “Greater German Reich”: what are now Germany, Austria, Poland, Russia (East and West Prussia), and the Czech Republic (Bohemia and Moravia). Each photographer was paid 35 Reichmarks for each frame and was required to take six of each work. Many of the works photographed were destroyed or damaged during World War II so the archive provides an unparalleled resource for restorers. ...

The Nazi authorities intended to record the works in order to publicise the destructive barbarities of the Allies and to provide the means of restoration when the war was over."

Donald Lee "Nazi photo archive goes online: Some 60,000 images of art inside German palaces and churches are now publicly available" The Art Newspaper (London) December 15, 2005 via

Link to Image Archive:

Saint Michael's Church, Zhytomyr, site of major fresco restoration project.

Old, pre-Great Patriotic War, postcard of Zhytomyr, Ukraine.

Zhytomyr's Russian Orthodox Churches, Polish Catholic Churches, and a Jewish Synagogue, have now largely been restored after suffering heavy damage following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. [One major Russian Orthodox Church -- near the ruins of the 10th century Castle -- is currently still being used as the Regional Museum of Anthropology.] Restoration of the frescos and interior design works of these religious buildings is ongoing. Zhytomyr is one of the oldest Slavonic Kievian Rus cities. It's name means "Peaceful Ryefields".


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In Memorium, Citizen-Artist Sandor Gyorgy

"The Juilliard School is deeply saddened by the death of Gyorgy Sandor, one of the great pianists and teachers of our time. A member of The Juilliard School faculty since 1982, he championed contemporary composers and was a major figure in the profession as a teacher and a judge in various international piano competitions. His artistry and personal sophistication made him a respected colleague and good friend to all who knew him."

Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi, quoted in the New York Times, December 14, 2005.

A student of Bartok’s at the Lizst Academy in Budapest, Sandor premiered Bartok's "Third Piano Concerto." Sandor's recordings on CD include the entire solo piano repertoire of Bartok, of Prokofiev, and of Kodaly , as well as numerous works by Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Schuman, Liszt, Rachmaninoff's 2nd Concerto and Bartok's Piano Concertos.

Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum Concert Hall, Budapest, Hungary

" The huge candelabra and wall lamps in the style of the time are the work of Imre Tatar."

For Events of the Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum, please see:

Photo credit: (c) Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum and Research Centre, Budapest, Hungary

Mr Cogito Notes The Smallest, But Most Life-Giving, News Item From The Morning Newspaper

"Washington National Cathedral is getting an unusual gift: a seedling from the oldest known tree on Earth, a bristlecone pine said to be 4,770 years old. The seedling will be planted in a grove popular with students."
[Complete news item.]

Other News Washington Post December 14, 2005. Page C-14

Watering down the site of an Iraqi car bomb incident.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Kennedy Center's Apollo-Saal

"The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with the Royal Norwegian Embassy, presents Edvard Grieg--Art and Identity, as part of the centennial celebration of Norway's independence.

Based on the life and music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), the exhibition explores the contributions he made to strengthen his native country's identity through his work. It tells his life story in great depth through his music, diaries, articles, speeches and letters using text, images, notes, installations, multimedia displays and audio zones. The exhibit features works of art from the "Golden Age" of Norwegian painting, including works by J.C. Dahl, Adolf Tideman, and Erik Werenskiold, which create a historic and artistic backdrop. In addition, the exhibit includes some of the composer's personal belongings including his mute piano, concert dress, conductor's baton, and Gustav Vigeland's bust of Grieg, among many other items.

Grieg found his inspiration in the Norwegian landscape and the paintings in the exhibit illustrate the period in the 19th century when Norway experienced a budding cultural life and a growing sense of national identity. When Norway gained its independence from Sweden in 1905, Grieg wrote in his diary, "The long life's struggle for the individual, as for the nation, has been the greatest joy. Freedom--it is the fight for freedom!"

The exhibition has previously been shown in Prague, Karlovy Vary, Leipzig, Berlin, Caen, Münster, Brussels, Liège, [St.] Petersburg and Klin."

Kennedy Center, North Gallery, Roof Terrace Level
Closes December 16, 2005.


"Der Apollo-Saal in der Staatsoper Unter den Linden mit seinen korinthischen Säulenpaaren und dem ornamentreichen Marmorfußboden bietet ein exklusives Ambiente für Kammerkonzerte, Liederabende und Einführungsveranstaltungen."

Berlin Staatsoper - Apollo-Saal
Unter Den Linden 7
10117 Berlin [Mitte]

Photo and text credit:

Birtwistle Edges Out Nyman And Tavener As England's Greatest Living Composer

"Harrison Birtwistle took home two prizes at the third British Composer Awards last week in London. [Michael Nyman and John Tavener had also made the final round.]

The awards are presented by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters and sponsored by the Performing Right Society. The winners were announced at a ceremony at Ironmongers’ Hall on December 9.

Birtwistle won in the choral category for The Ring Dance of the Fragments and in the orchestral category for Night's Black Bird, a work commissioned by the Roche corporation and performed by the Cleveland Orchestra at the Lucerne Festival and Carnegie Hall." ...

Ben Mattison "Harrison Birtwistle Wins Two British Composer Awards" December 12, 2005.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Monday, December 12, 2005

On The Economic Destructiveness And Cost Of Warfare Over Time

"The [Polish political party, the] League of Polish Families filed a draft resolution Monday with parliament calling for the government to have "experts come up with an estimate" of material losses that Poland sustained between 1939-45, Mateusz Kotas, a party official said.

He said the intention is to ''settle accounts between Polish and German governments and close that chapter in history,'' Kotas told The Associated Press.

It was unclear when parliament might consider the resolution or if all of Poland's main right-leaning parties, who triumphed in recent elections, would support it.

In October, Warsaw city officials released a report estimating the capital's wartime damages at US$54 billion (euro45 billion). Then-mayor Lech Kaczynski, who ordered the report, has since become Poland's president-elect." ...

Associted Press "Polish Party Wants Tally of WWII Damage" December 12, 2005. via

Downtown Warsaw, Poland 1945

"According to a report published in 1947, "Report on Poland's losses and war damages in the years 1939-1945" as many as 6.028.000 Polish citizens died as a consequence of the war. Only 644.000 of them lost their lives directly as a result of combat actions (of which the losses of the army amounted to 123.000 (in fact they exceeded 160.000) - the remaining deaths were due to the German occupier's terror)."

Photo and text credit: Swiat Polonii

About Those 27,000 Nuclear Warheads In Various Hands Around The World ...

"The world should stop treating the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea as isolated cases and instead deal with them in a common effort to eliminate poverty, organized crime and armed conflict, the director general of the United Nations' nuclear monitoring agency said Saturday in accepting the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

The director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, said a "good start" would be for the United States and other nuclear powers to cut nuclear weapon stockpiles sharply and redirect spending toward international development.

"More than 15 years after the end of the cold war, it is incomprehensible to many that the major nuclear weapon states operate with their arsenals on hair-trigger alert," Dr. ElBaradei, 63, said.

Despite some disarmament, he continued, the existence of 27,000 nuclear warheads in various hands around the world still hold the prospect of "the devastation of entire nations in a matter of minutes."

Feelings of insecurity and humiliation, exaggerated by today's nuclear imbalance, are behind the spread of bomb-development programs at the national level, said Dr. ElBaradei, who has led the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1997." ...

Walter Gibbs "Accepting Nobel, ElBaradei Urges a Rethinking of Nuclear Strategy" New York Times December 11, 2005.

Scene [colorized] from Shohei Imamura's film version of Masuji Ibuse's novel, Black Rain.

"This film received the award of the Commission of High Techniques at the 24th Cannes International Film Festival. "Black Rain" is a story about a young lady who went to Hiroshima after the atomic bomb had been dropped. Her marriage arrangements failed one after another because it was suspected that she had radiation sickness caused by the atomic bomb. Her uncle and his wife with whom she lived made efforts to dispel the suspicion. However, the young lady, who had been exposed to "Black Rain", showed the symptoms of the sickness caused by secondary exposure to atomic bomb radiation."

Image and text credit: Fukuyama (Japan) Auto & Clock Museum

Spielberg's Munich v. Goodman, Adams, And Sellars's Death Of Klinghoffer

... "[Steven] Spielberg is at his best in visualizing a world he believes to be more menacing than it has ever been. That is more than a matter of noirish shadows. It is the hint of suspicious movement in the back of the frame, a pan that goes on a few frames longer than necessary, suggesting the possibility of a menace that may be present. Near the movie's end, a casual pan along the Manhattan skyline reveals the World Trade Center buildings. Had to show them, the director says. They existed at a historical moment in the mid-'70s. But there is more than historical veracity at work in that shot. The Twin Towers are the symbols of our new age of high (and endless) anxiety. Maybe there is, as Spielberg insists, no resonance between the fate of the Towers' victims and the fate of a few athletes in long-ago, faraway Munich. But inevitably the destiny of those Towers tinctures our thoughts, however much we wish to deny them. Dutiful men like [Israeli Mossad lead agent]Avner Kauffman will be sent forth to improvise a response to terrorism, whatever its source. And to live with the unintended consequences of their actions. Any movie that subtly, yet insistently reminds us of this blunt truth about the world we have inherited is worth seeing. And pondering."

Richard Schickel "Spielberg Takes On Terror -
Munich adroitly blends high-pressure action and humanity in a historical story that's all about our times" Time Magazine December 12, 2005.

The "Führerbau" -- the Nazi Party Headquarters -- is now used by the Munich Music Conservatory.

"Georg Elser tried to kill Hitler with a bomb on November 8th 1939. The bomb exploded in Munich in the Bürgerbräukeller, the place where the "Beerhall Putsch" had been started from. Unfortunately Hitler had already left the building and was not injured at all.

Georg Elser was arrested and kept in Nazi concentration camps until April 9th, 1945. He was executed in the Dachau concentration camp on that day. On April 9th 2005, a play commemorating his death is shown in Berlin by Lou Favorite and Dietmar Elflein, see the website of the play."

"Johann Georg Elser, a carpenter and worker in factories and quarries, had connections to several socialist and communist organisations, but did not act for them nor with their knowledge or support. He knew that the conditions for regular people were getting worse despite the Nazi Propaganda telling stories about growing wealth. Also, he knew from his work place that preparations for a war were being made, and that it would be inevitable unless Hitler himself were killed.

Taking advantage of the tools and materials he had access to, he built and carefully planted a bomb. It took one year of preparation, including a visit to the annual Nazi meeting the year before the attempt. He worked secretly for more than 30 nights inside the beer hall, hollowing the pillar near Hitler's traditional position to place a bomb with a self-made time ignition mechanism. The mechanism worked accurately and the explosion happened at 21:20. The ceiling came down and killed eight of Hitler's "old comrades" - but not Hitler himself, who had left early to catch a train back to Berlin, because fog over Berlin prevented an airplane flight. All other high-ranking Nazis left with him."

München im "Dritten Reich" - Pictures from Munich's dark past during the 'Third Reich'

Photo and first text credit: © 2005 by Tamiko Thiel and Peter Graf.

El Niño Turns Five

I listened again yesterday morning to John Adams And Peter Sellars's El Niño, which received its world premiere five years ago this week in Paris. (I heard the work, live, the following year in Berlin in a performance under Kent Nagano which included Willard White, but unfortunately did not include Dawn Upshaw or Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.)

Nonesuch Recordings is to be highly commended for including music writer Michael Steinberg's brilliant and substantial interpretive essay on the new nativity oratorio. (It is an essay which didn't quite make the deadline for the last of Mr Steinberg's trilogy of listening guide studies on the symphony, the concerto, and the oratorio -- Choral Masterworks. A Listener's Guide, Oxford University Press, 2005.)

Yesterday, I also enjoyed reading Mr Steinberg's essay, from his latest collection, on Charles Wuorinen's Genesis oratorio, commissioned by Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Orchestra and Chorus. I do not believe that I have ever heard this choral work, and I would very much like to.

I was sorry to see that the late Donald Martino's Paradiso Choruses did not make Mr Steinberg's study. Perhaps it will be included in a revised edition.

Duccio di Buoninsegna
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308/1311
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Acquired 1937.

[Click on Image for greater detail.]

"The Nativity, flanked by Old Testament prophets who foretold the birth of Jesus, was on the front of the Maestà, the altarpiece at Siena cathedral. It was one of the scenes from Christ’s childhood painted above and below the central image of Mary enthroned in a crowd of saints and angels. Devotion to the Virgin, who was patron saint of Siena, increased with the new interest in Christ’s humanity and the surge of popular religion that grew around mendicant preachers. By including a large devotional image of the Virgin with a story-telling scene that had traditionally been painted on church walls, the Maestà combined the functions of both icon and narrative art.

A blend of Byzantine and other influences characterizes Duccio’s style. Many of his motifs seem to be based on Byzantine manuscript illuminations. The cave setting, for example, is typically Byzantine. Duccio, however, added a manger roof similar to ones found in the Gothic art of northern Europe. Though he used the gold background of Byzantine painting, he was nevertheless keenly attuned to a specific sense of place, carefully repeating outdoor settings to give continuity from one scene to the next. While the effect of gold and brilliant colors is highly decorative, the elegant lines that define drapery folds and Duccio’s undulating brushstrokes soften the austerity of the Byzantine style."

For further information on this work, please see:

Image and text credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

In Memorium, Donald Martino

Excerpt from Donald Martino's masterpiece Paradiso Choruses, in piano reduction by composer Eric Schwartz.

Image credit: (c) 2003 Donald Martino, Eric Schwartz, and Sigma Alpha Iota.

... And Washington, D.C. Is One Of The Most Ill-Served Cultural Capitals In The World

"When WETA changed formats in February, dropping classical music to become another all-news-and-talk public radio station, music fans, musicians and cultural organizations pummeled station executives with protests. How could the nation's capital have no public classical station? How would young people be exposed to the music?

"People were angry -- still are -- and I understand that," says Dan DeVany, general manager of the station (90.9 FM) and architect of the switch. "But there was an audience in the Washington area that was not being served by public radio, and we wanted to reach out to them." He's talking about breaking out of the traditional public radio audience of affluent, highly educated, older and white listeners.

But after two ratings books, two fund drives and nine months of the new programming -- a mix of news and talk shows from National Public Radio, the BBC and other outside sources, much of it oriented to foreign affairs -- WETA's audience is smaller, no more generous than the classical audience was, and no more reflective of the demographics of the Washington area." ...

Marc Fisher "Beethoven's Revenge: Ratings Drop at Classical Music-less WETA" December 11, 2005.


Despite WETA-FM's act of cultural and musical betrayal, I remain a WETA subscriber. (Have you seen the cultural and musical betrayal of WETA television?)

"...the Lion of Lucerne is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world".

-- Mark Twain

Photo credit: (c) and Cheryl and Durant Imboden

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Reversing The Wasting Away Of Brains?

... "Migration could, however, be made more efficient. Heikki Mattila, of the International Organisation for Migration's Budapest office, highlights “brain waste”: well educated migrants doing menial jobs because their qualifications are not recognised. Despite EU rules, this happens all too often. Tony Venables of European Citizen Action Service, a Brussels think-tank, argues that complex (and often illegal) barriers that such countries as France and Italy put in the way of migrants encourage abuse and bad practice.

For the countries that export brains, there are two big challenges. One is to consider why people are leaving. Low pay in the public sector is one reason; rigid or corrupt institutions may be another....

The second task is to make returning home a case of “when” rather than “if”, by removing bureaucratic obstacles and maintaining ties between diasporas and the homeland. The authorities in Vilnius hope that sponsoring new Lithuanian-language schools in places like Dublin will remove a barrier for émigré families who are considering returning: keeping children's language skills honed makes parents less worried about disrupting their education if they go back.

For money isn't everything. Mantas Adomenas, a star Lithuanian classical scholar, studied at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1990s, writing a doctorate on “Plato's reception of the pre-Socratic philosophers”. But after eight years as a Cambridge don, he went home, taking a 75% pay cut to teach at Vilnius University and campaign against corruption. His friends, he says, chide him as a big fish in a small pond. He responds by quoting Plutarch, who 20 centuries ago refused to join the brain drain to Athens "lest my small city should become even smaller.""

"European migration: The brain-drain cycle" The Economist December 8, 2005.

Lviv Polytechnic University, 2005; one of Lviv, Ukraine's two major universities.

For image of Lviv Polytechnic University, ca. 1905, please see:

Photo credit: FIG International Federation of Surveyors

John Adams, Kaija Saariaho Bake-off In Vienna?

John Adams's new one act opera, to a libretto based upon Krishnaswami Ramanujan, entitled A Flowering Tree -- to be directed by Peter Sellars -- will premiere in Vienna at the New Crowned Hope Festival, on November 14, 2006.

Kaija Saariaho's new opera based upon the life of French philosopher Simone Weil, to a libretto by Amin Maalouf and entitled La Passion de Simone -- also directed by Peter Sellers -- will premiere in Vienna less than two weeks later on November 26, 2006. The new Maalouf - Saariaho opera will feature Dawn Upshaw.

These operas are being co-produced by the Barbican in London, Lincoln Center, in New York City, the Berlin Philharmonie, and other producing organizations.

Source: via the MET's OperaNews Online

Partial Destruction of the Vienna Opera House, 1945

Photo credit:

Sacred Choral Music In Contemporary Culture

Congratulations to living composers William Bolcom, Morten Lauridsen, and Krystof Penderecki; and to conductors Laurence Equilbey, Stephen Layton, Kent Nagano, Leonard Slatkin, and Antoni Wit for receiving Grammy Award nominations for best recorded choral performance of 2005! Congratulations also to the associated choral directors and choral masters who properly share in these Grammy award nominations: Simon Halsey, Kai-Uwe Jirka, Richard Grant, Lynne Morrow, Jerry Blackstone, William Hammer, Jason Harris, Christopher Kiver, Carole Ott, Mary Alice Stollak, and Henryk Wojnarowski.

(And you think about the difficulty of librettists ever seeing their names in print!)

My guess is that it will be a difficult decision for the judges to choose one from these five choral music projects -- perhaps especially from between the Bernstein Mass, under Nagano; the Bolcom Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience, under Slatkin; and the Penderecki Polish Requiem, under Wit.

The Arena Chapel [Scrovegni Chapel] in Padua, Italy. ca. 1305

"The fresco decorations in the Arena Chapel at Padua have long been considered the greatest of Giotto's works, and one of the major turning points in the history of European painting. He was probably about forty years old when he began work on the chapel.

His Paduan patron, Enrico Scrovegni, was a wealthy, politically ambitious merchant who in 1300 had acquired the ruins of the old Roman arena at Padua as a site for his palace and adjoining chapel....

Owing to the small size of the chapel, fit by six windows on the right wall, Giotto had at his disposal a wall-space that was both restricted and asymmetrical. In order to carry out the extensive iconographical scheme, he took as his point of departure the areas between the windows, planning to depict in each of these two scenes one above the other. Using this as the basic unit of measure, he divided up the walls of the chapel into panels of a special arrangement. The stories narrated by the frescoes (Scenes from the Life of Joachim, Scenes from the Life of the Virgin and Scenes from the Life of Christ) are fitted into this arrangement. The location of the frescoes (with the exception of Last Judgement) in the chapel is shown on a schematic map:

Photo and text credit: Emil Kren and Daniel Marx

National Mall Third Century Initiative

"There are a few times in a city's history when a window opens and the fresh breeze of the future blows in. Like 1901, this [2006] is one of those moments."

-- Washington Architect Arthur Cotton Moore

Last night at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, I attended the planning meeting of the National Mall Third Century Initiative, which seeks to build upon, and expand significantly in scope, the two prior planning documents which have governed the development of the civic, monumental, and cultural core of Washington, D.C. over the past more than 200 years -- the 1791 L'Enfant Plan and the 1901-1902 McMillan Plan.

Architect Arthur Moore unveiled a plan reconfiguring the banks of the Potomac River and creating a second North - South Mall. He also envisioned how the current Haines Point Recreation area could be turned into a place for civic forums and cultural institutions. His design concept drew significantly upon Padua, Italy's Prato della Valle civic architecture and watercourse.

My own public comments last night focused on the need properly to conceptualize national museum requirements in Washington's Third Century -- and especially on the role that a major National History and Democracy Museum could play in the reinvigoration of the civic axis running South from the Washington Monument to the poorly developed area South and East of the Jefferson Memorial. (According to the National Capitol Planning Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court has also expressed an historic interest in a future development site due south from the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial -- a design concept of the 1901-1902 McMillan Plan.)

The meeting also addressed the politics of creating a public-private Conservancy -- modeled on those of New York City's Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park -- to integrate the funding and governing of the maintenance and space use of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Besides the plan of Arthur Cotton Moore, I responded strongly to the design concepts and ideas of the experienced Washington architect W. Kent Cooper (a founder of the National Mall Third Century Initiative), the younger Washington architect Richard Schneider whose young firm I thought had most thoroughly thought through Mall expansion issues, and American civic planning historian Richard Longstreth.

National Mall Third Century Initiative

The Renaissance-era Prato della Valle civic monument and watercourse in Padua, Italy.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Chant Wars

"The emperor Charlemagne (d. 814), acutely aware of the decline of liturgical singing and the many competing chant traditions in his wide-ranging empire, expressed a desire to return to the purity of the ‘original source’, the chant of Rome. The subsequent imperial reform of the liturgy and its music arrived in some regions of the vast Carolingian empire as a kind of ‘cultural revolution’, finding in most places an established local liturgy and singing style with which it had to contend. These confrontations between expert singers (as documented by churchman of the period) and the manner in which this dynamic tension led to the creation of the globalized hybrid repertory we call ‘Gregorian Chant’, form the basis for our program....

The ideal of returning to the ‘original source’ has been voiced by various personalities between the 9th century and our own time, throughout the long history of the liturgical song commonly known as ‘Gregorian chant’; used in reference to opposing views of reality, Charlemagne’s phrase continues to witness to the fact that disputes about that mysterious ideal -- the authenticity of liturgical chant -- have never ceased to flourish. Having been in almost continuous usage in the liturgy, Gregorian plainchant has not always enjoyed the privilege (or should we say the bad luck?) to be considered ‘medieval’ music, and thus didn’t necessarily have to conform to the ever-changing aesthetic vogues of the recently created world of ‘historically informed’ performance. As a living music shared today by active religious communities, secular vocalists interested in medieval performance practice, musicologists and liturgists, plainchant continues to arouse opposing approaches to its interpretation....

The creation of ‘Chant Wars’ was made possible by research grants from the Music Department of Harvard University and the Harvard Divinity School’s Center for the Study of World Religions (Music and the Arts Initiative), which provided for two residencies at Harvard in early 2003...


Sample available at

Dome of Emperor Charlemagne's Cathedral in Aachen, Germany

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Mr Cogito Contemplates Peter Gelb's Rumored Plan To Make The MET Opera Jump Head First Into The 21st Century

"Word has it that the Met plans not only to accelerate its commissioning program once Peter Gelb takes over running the company next season, but that it will jump, head first, into the 21st century despite having all but missed three-quarters of the 20th. If that is so, "An American Tragedy" may come to be regarded as the company's final bouquet thrown on the grave of Puccini."

Mark Swed "A Comfortable 'Tragedy'" Los Angeles Times December 5, 2005.

20th Century Art or 21st Century Reality?

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Missing In Action At Pamela Rosenberg's San Francisco Opera: "Animating American Opera" (TM)

"And then there were the tasks left half-finished to enumerate and weigh -- children's opera, her Animating Opera series, more commissions, better communication among departments, more effective marketing.

[Pamela] Rosenberg, who can sound tongue-tied in front of a crowd, was eloquent on the art form that has engaged her for most of her professional life. "I don't consider opera to be some expensive icing on the cake. I find it nourishing and necessary. Art, especially live performing art, is one of the essential ways we have to keep tapping into ourselves and the human spirit and keep moving forward."

Steven Winn "Pamela Rosenberg's time at the Opera was as full of drama as any production. What are people saying about her now?" San Francisco Chronicle December 7, 2005. Via

With best wishes to Ms Rosenberg on her new appointment in Berlin.

SAN FRANCISCO'S OLD CHINATOWN: Photographs by Arnold Genthe

"Wealthy Chinese merchants lived in the backwater Mexican village of Yerba Buena, well before the Gold Rush and railroads transformed it first into an American frontier town, and later the seaport metropolis of San Francisco. As West Coast development picked up in the mid-1800s, a sea of laborers from Taishan, Siyi, Xinhui, and Yanping also arrived, employed as miners and railroad workers. Chinatown was born as a home base for these Chinese dispersed throughout the area; but as racist hostility mounted, it emerged by the 1890s as an ethnic haven where Chinese huddled together for safety.

It is with this backdrop that the highly educated and sophisticated Arnold Genthe arrived in San Francisco in 1895. Having recently received his doctorate in philosophy in Germany, Genthe came to tutor a Baron’s son. Immediately enamored with the city, he was drawn to Chinatown-- a place known by outsiders as exotic, mysterious, and dangerous. Tantalized by the mysterious, Genthe visited this Chinese community at first chance, and fell into a culture in total contrast from his own. Without good post cards to convey the foreign images, or subjects willing to wait long enough for him to sketch, Genthe dove into the then-novel art of photography; and his 200 prints of Chinatown would be the starting point for a long and distinguished career as a photographic artist."

Source: Chinese Culture Center 750 Kearny Street, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94108 ex/2000/old-ct.html

Photo credit: (c) Arnold Genthe and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Janacek, Bartok, and Maw: Glimmers Of An Operatic Renaissance Come To Washington

"Washington National Opera will present the North American premiere of Nicholas Maw's "Sophie's Choice," based on the best-selling novel by William Styron, as part of the company's 2006-07 season, it was announced yesterday.

Another highlight will be General Director Placido Domingo's first company appearance in three years in a major role. The tenor will sing Siegmund in seven performances of Wagner's "Die Walkure," the second installment in an ongoing WNO staging of the composer's complete four-opera "Ring" cycle.

Other offerings will include Leos Janacek's "Jenufa"; a double bill of Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle" and Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi," directed by filmmaker William Friedkin ("The Exorcist"); a new production of Verdi's "Macbeth" (to be part of a citywide "Shakespeare in Washington" festival); Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment"; and a revival of the Polish director Mariusz Trelinski's 2001 production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." ...

"Sophie's Choice," a wrenching study of a Holocaust survivor, was a critical and popular success when first performed in London in 2002 by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The cast will include Angelika Kirschlager, Rod Gilfry, Gordon Gietz and Dale Duesing; Marin Alsop, the incoming music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the WNO Orchestra and Chorus."

Tim Page "Opera Sets 'Sophie's Choice' for '06" Washington Post December 6, 2005.

The WNO's production of Sophie's Choice will be a co-production with Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Volksoper Wien (Vienna).

Full details at:

Nazi Crematorium at Oswiecim, Poland. (Auschwitz - Birkenau Death Camps)

"At first, Poles were imprisoned and died in the camp. Afterwards, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, and prisoners of other nationalities were also incarcerated there. Beginning in 1942, the camp became the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity, which was committed against the European Jews as part of Hitler's plan for the complete destruction of that people. The majority of the Jewish men, women and children deported to Auschwitz were sent to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers immediately after arrival. At the end of the war, in an effort to remove the traces of the crimes they had committed, the SS began dismantling and razing the gas chambers, crematoria, and other buildings, as well as burning documents."


Photo credit:

You Call That A Renaissance?

"Tobias Picker thinks it began in earnest with John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991.

"The opera was a huge sell-out. Opera companies realised that producing a new work would give them tremendous attention and bring in an audience. I don't want to take credit away from (John Adams's [and Alice Goodman's] 1987 opera) Nixon in China or other new operas given in Houston. Nixon was a real event. But the resurgence really began with the Met."

George Loomis "How to set America to music" Financial Times December 2, 2005

Image credit: (c) DreamWorks SKG

Monday, December 05, 2005

Ann, dear ...

"Ann, dear, I want you to study Renaissance urban architecture and planning and for you to tame that jungle down there."

Image credit: (c) 2005 Weta Digital/Universal Studios via

Glimmers Of Light As The Days Grow Dark And Snowy

I plan to attend two classical music concerts in the Washington area this week, time permitting. Tomorrow, the Washington Bach Consort will perform, at noon at Church of the Epiphany (13th and G Streets NW), Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist, BWV 45, preceded by Diane Heath performing Bach's Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch", BWV 769. The Washington Bach Consort has performed in Washington throughout the 28 or so years I have lived here. (Michael Harrison's Palestrina Choir also gave a fine noon time program at the Church of the Epiphany that we attended the week before All Souls Day).

This Friday, I plan to attend the Contemporary Music series at the French Embassy on the fringe of Georgetown, where Nicolas Baldeyrou (clarinet) and Alexis Descharmes (cello) will perform works by Henri Dutilleux, Luciano Berio, Kaija Saariaho, Pierre Boulez, Daniel A. d’Adamo, Michael Jarrell and Magnus Lindberg.

Here are the exciting program details:

Henri Dutilleux : Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher for solo cello
Luciano Berio : Sequenza for solo clarinet
Kaija Saariaho : Spins & Spells for solo cello
Pierre Boulez : Domaines for solo clarinet
Daniel A. d’Adamo : Breath for clarinet and cello
Kaija Saariaho : Oi Kuu for clarinet and cello
Michael Jarrell : Aus Bebung for clarinet and cello
Magnus Lindberg : Steamboat Bill Jr. for clarinet and cello

The two works by Ms Saariaho remind me that her and Ms Amin Maloof's opera L'Amour De Loin are still very much on my mind and spirit as I also attempt to locate some of the initial reviews to Tobias Picker's and Gene Scheer's An American Tragedy, premiered at the MET Opera, in New York City, last Friday. The premiere was the fourth world premiere by the MET Opera since James Levine became Artistic Director in 1971.

The New Finnish National Opera House in Helsinki, Finland, was opened in 1993. Much Finnish and international opera is performed here. Home of the September 2004 production of L'Amour De Loin now available on DGG DVD.

Photo credit: Image © Corel via

Friday, December 02, 2005

World Premieres Of Tobias Picker's American Tragedy And Steven Spielberg's Memoirs Of A Geisha

While I unfortunately will not be at this evening's world premiere of Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy", with a libretto by Gene Scheer based upon Theodore Dreiser at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (I plan to catch it later), I did attend, last night, an advance screening of Steven Spielberg's "Memoirs Of A Geisha", based upon Arthur Golden's bestselling novel from early 1999. [I consulted for the research and art departments of DreamWorks SKG in the late 1990s.]

I will only say that I found this latest Spielberg film to be superbly acted by an international Asian cast, sensitively directed by Rob Marshall, and with beautiful art direction and musical values. John Williams was commissioned for the score, which he provided in between his scores for the Spielberg films "War of the Worlds" and "Munich". The score features Western instruments, Japanese instruments such as shakuhachi and koto, and solos by both frequent William's collaborators Yo-Yo Ma, and, to a slightly lesser degree, Itzhak Perlman. The score sounded beautiful over the National Geographic Society's state of the art sound system in its modest sized theater. Film music expert Dan Goldwasser walks the listener through extended excerpts from the new John Williams score at:

One final comment. The audience at the screening largely consisted of representatives of the Japanese and Chinese embassies and staff members of the National Geographic Society. The average age of this highly educated audience was, I would guess, about 30 to 35; or younger than the 35 to 45 age group which is the new target audience for the American Symphony Orchestra League and Opera America classical music outreach efforts.

And in the small world department, I happened to sit next to a young couple who came down from Baltimore for the screening: the Mongolian woman from Ulan Bator was fluent in English, Russian, and Japanese, and her boyfriend was Danish and had studied in Vilnius, Lithuania. They had attended the wedding last Spring of a former house-mate of mine who married a Danish woman (a wedding which I was invited to, but missed having been in Ukraine). This couple were also subscribers to the Baltimore Opera company!

Please also see:


"Talking About Picker’s An American Tragedy" two-CD set:

Dazaifu Tenmangu, a large shrine that is home to a God of learning, in Fukuoka, Japan. (Large parts of Spielberg's film were shot in Northern California.)

"Dazaifu City is home to several historical sites that attract tourists year-round, including Dazaifu Tenmangu, a large shrine that is home to a God of learning, and the ruins of the ancient seat of government built 1300 years ago. Dazaifu takes on a new identity with every season, thrilling visitors with its verdant summers, red autumns and white winters. The leaves are now turning a brilliant red, a color that fits perfectly with its ancient roots. The leaves blend harmoniously with the ancient buildings that surround Tenmangu Shrine, giving visitors the illusion of entering a different world.

Among these sites, Komyozenji, a temple known for its lichen and stone garden, offers unforgettable autumn scenery. Located near Dazaifu shrine, Komyozenji was founded as a Zen temple in 1273 by Buddhist priest Tetsugyu Enshin of the Rinzaishu Tofuku Sect. Its exquisitely set lichen and stone garden are enveloped in a deep silence. Ittekikainoniwa, a display of lichen and white sand symbolizing the land and sea, and the Fukkosekitei, a stone arrangement of the kanji character for Òlight,Ó will fill you with a deep sense of inner peace before the beautiful stillness of ancient Japan."

Text and photo credit:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

U.N. Envoy Bill Clinton On The AIDS Crisis

"When I left office in 2001, more than 33m people around the world were living with HIV, with 95 per cent of these cases concentrated in developing countries. Since then, despite considerable international effort to combat the problem, that number has grown to more than 40m even as 15m men, women and children have died of Aids. When one takes into account the current HIV/Aids crisis in Africa and the Caribbean, combined with the potential explosion of infections in China, India and eastern Europe and the fact that Aids kills 8,500 people every day, we must redouble our efforts to reverse the tide.

I have reached the point in my life where what matters most to me is that no child or young person should die prematurely from preventable causes. It is the belief that motivates much of the work of my foundation, especially my work through the Clinton HIV/AidsInitiative (CHAI). Every time I meet a child in Lesotho or a mother in rural China or a teenage boy in Kenya – all of whom, once on the brink of death, now glow with the promise of life afforded simply by access to antiretroviral (ARV) medicines – I know we can prevail with will, resources and organised, consistent effort."

Bill Clinton "The fight against a human tragedy has just begun" Financial Times November 30, 2005.

South Africa approved a plan to provide free AIDS treatment by 2005. 5.3 million South Africans, including this malnourished child near Johannesburg, are infected with HIV.

Photo credit: Associated Press via

Music Conservatory of Minsk, Belarus

Photo credit: (c) Oleg Babinets Minsk, Belarus "My favourite writer F.M.Dostoyevsky said once "Beauty will save the world". (With thanks)

Ukraine, The E.U., And The Eastern European Region

"The European Union said on Thursday it would accord Ukraine market economy status, in a move that recognises Ukraine’s reform programme and will improve the country’s trade relations with the 25-nation bloc.

The agreement, which will help Ukraine’s steel producers gain access to European markets without being subjected to anti-dumping measures, was announced at a meeting in Kiev [Kyiv] between Tony Blair, the British prime minister, Jose Manuel Barroso the European commission president, Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine, and other EU and Ukrainian leaders....

The rise to power in Ukraine of Mr Yushchenko, who is striving to bring his country into the EU, has also changed the region’s dynamics.

To drive that point home he is hosting a summit of “Baltic-Black Sea-Caspian” region leaders Friday where presidents from Romania, Georgia and Baltic states, but not Russia and its ally Belarus, will discuss how to strengthen democracy."

Tom Warner in Odessa [Odesa] Ukraine "EU grants Ukraine market economy status" Financial Times December 1, 2005.


The EU is Ukraine's biggest trading partner; annual bilateral trade stands at $22bn (€18.6bn, £12.6bn), ahead of the $20bn trade between Ukraine and Russia.

Minsk, Belarus. Town Council Hall being rebuilt, May 2003.

Photo credit: (c) Oleg Babinets Minsk, Belarus "My favourite writer F.M.Dostoyevsky said once "Beauty will save the world".

Happy Winter Wishes To My Readers in Europe!

Happiest wishes for the New Winter to my readers in Europe, and elsewhere, where Winter officially begins today, December 1. May this, perhaps the most psychologically deepest, dangerous, and creative time of year, be a spiritual and safe time for all!


In yesterday's New York Times, journalist Richard Bernstein offers a "Letter From Lviv, Ukraine", entitled "Modest River, Wide Chasm, With Europe 'Over There'". He notes Lviv's current status in Europe as "beautiful but poor", and as a major city enjoying fantastic historical and cultural sites. He also points out that Lviv, Ukraine's sister city, Krakow, Poland, now has a city administration which is 10 times better funded than that of equal-sized Lviv. He further points out that Lviv officials would like European institutions to consider locating European headquarters in Lviv, as well as in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Five years ago Krakow was granted the E.U. designation "Cultural Capital of Europe", which certainly helped its economic prospects. How about the E.U. quickly designating Lviv, Ukraine, a Cultural Capital of Europe during 2006 -- its 750th anniversary? Lviv's multi-cultural, and multi-faithed history is actually more interesting and complex, in my opinion, than that of Krakow (as recognized when Lviv received its UNESCO World Heritage List designation.) More on this in 2006.

Potocki Palace, Lviv, Ukraine

Aristocratic Polish Palace, built in the 19th c. when Lviv (Lemberg) was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It's restoration now nearing completion, will this Palace (which former Ukrainian President Kuchma wanted as his Western White House) serve as Lviv's National Gallery of Art, or as a regional Headquarters Building for a major European Institution?

Photo credit: www. (India)

Congratulations To Kaija Saariaho And Amin Maalouf On Their Beautiful Opera L'Amour De Loin

Last night, I finally had the opportunity to experience Kaija Saariaho And Amin Maalouf's beautiful, Grawemeyer Prize winning, opera L'Amour De Loin, which premiered at the Salzburg, Austria Festival in August 2000, and which has been available since August, from DGG, in a virtually perfect production staged and filmed at the Finnish National Opera, in Helsinki, in September 2004. The opera is set in Tripoli and Toulouse in the twelfth century, and the three roles are sung (in French) by Gerald Finley, Dawn Upshaw, and Monica Groop. The orchestra and chorus are conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the sensitive direction is by Peter Sellars. The stunning stage design is by George Tsypin, whose brilliant work is often seen in Berlin, Petersburg, Paris, Milan, Salzburg, at the MET, and elsewhere. Mr Tsypin graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute in 1977, and has lived in New York City since 1979. Finnish born Ms Saariaho has lived in Paris since 1982, and her opera includes computer music composed in association with IRCAM.

The fact that the DVD does not include Lebanese-French librettist Amin Maalouf's sensitive libretto is one major drawback of the DVD packaging. A virtue of CD opera packaging was the careful treatment of the work's libretto as a work of art in and of itself.

Port Au Prince, Haiti, slum

Port Au Prince, Haiti, is the center of the worldwide AIDS/HIV epidemic in the Western Hemisphere. This week, UNICEF has called on the worldwide health policy and funding community to do more to prevent the explosive spread of AIDS/HIV from the world adult population to the world child population.

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