Sabrina: In the World and of the World

by Glenn on September 17, 2017

I like to think of old movies as a kind of refuge for the Christian. When they were produced, there were standards of decency which, in comparison to what is commonplace today, are not overtly inconsistent with the life of faith.

Overtly.

Still, it’s remarkable how you cannot always accept the tenets even of older films. Though they may not indulge in the coarse language, nudity, and overt sexuality that have been culturally normalized in my lifetime, they are not presentations of the gospel and in subtle ways are not consistent with a Christian life.

A few weeks ago, we watched Sabrina, the original, classic one with Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden. I’ve watched this a number of times over the years.

Read the rest of this entry »

SS No. 62 | Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8

by Glenn on September 8, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

Symphony No. 8 in c minor, Op. 65
Adagio
Allegretto
Allegro non troppo
Largo
Allegretto

first performance: 3 November 1943
Yevgeny Mravinsky | State Symphony Orchestra Read the rest of this entry »

The Death of Meredith Kercher and the Trials of Amanda Knox

by Glenn on September 4, 2017

I’ve spent some time this summer considering a criminal event from nearly ten years ago, the murder of Meredith Kercher.

The journey began when I listened to Amanda Knox’s Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir Read by the Author. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013).

Cover artwork of Amanda Knox's Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, Read by the Author

Read the rest of this entry »

Just for Fun: Allan Sherman

by Glenn on September 1, 2017

Earlier this week I was between audio books in the car. I needed a palate cleanser and turned to an artist from my childhood, Allan Sherman. Not sure how many times I played Sherman’s My Son, the Celebrity on the record player as a kid.

Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in Classical Programming

by Glenn on August 24, 2017

When you program a concert of classical music, it’s tough to be creative. As an audience, we generally don’t like the unfamiliar—surprises can be dicey.

A typical evening might be a short and upbeat piece to start out the evening, a concerto of some type heading into the intermission, and a major symphonic work to close it all out. That’s seems to be the expectation or at least the common practice.

You can experiment with “new music,” which could be either music that is literally new or music that hasn’t become part of the mainstream canon, yet, but these tend not to be the works that get people to show up to concerts. Assuming limits of time and money, you go to hear things you like to hear. The unfamiliar is may be a delightful epiphany or a moment that leaves you wondering, “What was that?”

Recently, I heard some inventive and enjoyable programming from one of the BBC Proms. It took a couple of sittings (up to and then after the intermission), but I caught a replay of Prom 37, an all-Rachmaninov program. I think the announcer referred to it as an immersion.

The program I heard featured two familiar and wonderful works by Rachmaninoff, the Third Piano Concerto in d minor before the intermission and the haunting Second Symphony after. (These were the works that I imagine got people in the door.)

That program would be pretty traditional, except that both of these big orchestral works were preceded by a small choral work which then rolled seamlessly and immediately into the orchestral performance.

The choral group was the Latvian Radio Choir. According to the announcer, the program opened with the lights in the auditorium dimmed. The choir began singing in the foyer and then processed forward through the audience. They sang a chant that was part of Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers).  The chant had an uncanny resemblance to the opening of the piano concerto.

There was a basic point being made, which was that Rachmaninov has a connection to the chant of the Russian Orthodox Church.

I tend to think of Rachmaninoff as a part of “Western” music history, but his music has ties to the Russian Orthodox Church and has an “Eastern”/“Byzantine” quality about it, including especially melodies which follow small intervallic patterns. It was wonderful to hear that direct connection.

I hadn’t listened to the piano concerto for ages. It was gloriously played here by Alexander Gavrylyuk accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. Gavrylyuk was called upon to play an encore, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise.”

Following intermission, the Latvian Radio Choir started things off again, this time with an Easter Chant which rolled into the symphony.

This was remarkable programming. It would have been just fine listening to the concerto and the symphony by themselves, but the choir added an other-worldly dimension to the proceedings. I’ve only come to be exposed to the music of the Orthodox Church late in life. It’s a remarkable experience.

I don’t know if I will have the time for it before it disappears, but the Latvian Radio Choir was presenting the All-Night Vespers in their entirety later that night for Prom No. 38.

Update:

The All-Night Vespers is pretty glorious listening. It’s in Russian, which goes right past me, but the music itself is gorgeous, the effect of which is like holding a sleeping puppy. It goes to work on you. You have to slow down. This is not great music to approach with anything like impatience—you simply won’t make it through. It’s well worth listening to. The Latvian Radio Choir features a rather straight choral tone—nothing operatic about the singing—which adds a kind of minimalist approach to the aesthetic. There’s nothing extra going on, just the pure sound of the Vespers.

The announcer describes this as “one of the most profound and transporting pieces of choral music in the repertoire.” It was the last major work Rachmaninoff wrote following the Russian Revolution and before he fled Russia to the West. The announcer said Rachmaninoff had stopped going to church by this time but he hadn’t lost his love for the music of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some of the music Rachmaninoff appropriates from the 11th century. Others he creates as “conscious counterfeits.”

A City Is A Magnifying Glass

by Glenn on August 15, 2017

I didn’t know life here in Portland was so bleak that it warranted an actual road sign. This can be seen headed Eastbound on Burnside coming up to 32nd, near Music Millennium, whose owner, Terry, was leaving the office as I was heading back to the car. (Had to stop and take a picture.) We know each other from commercial activities and as we chatted I asked him about the sign. He had had to do some detective work and told me his theory, which has been reported in Willamette Weekly: http://www.wweek.com/music/2017/07/11/the-city-of-portland-made-a-sign-reading-heartbreak-dead-ahead/

A post shared by Glenn Austin (@glenneaustin) on


Someone from a small Midwest city (population c. 215,000) once told me they thought there was a lot of sin here in Portland (population c. 640,000). I didn’t have a great response. Mostly, it was silence as I tried to process the statement. Read the rest of this entry »

Prom 2 | Elgar’s Symphony No. 1

by Glenn on July 29, 2017

It won’t be available to listen to much longer, but the performance of Elgar’s First Symphony by the Staatskapelle Berlin with Daniel Barenboim at the Second BBC Prom is fabulous.

My embarrassingly and unjustifiably large collection of recordings of Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 consists of nearly 80% performances by English/British orchestras. It’s remarkable when a German orchestra, say, chooses to play/record this symphony, even more so when they take it on the road and play in England.

In a review of the performance, Andrew Clements wrote,

“Much more than most of his British contemporaries, Elgar has always seemed a thoroughly European composer, whose stylistic roots delve so deeply into the Austro-German tradition, and hearing his music played by an orchestra at the very heart of that tradition reinforces those affiliations.”

The Staatskapelle Berlin with Mr. Barenboim released a recording of this symphony not too long ago. My memory is that it was quite good, but I’m wishing they were going to make the recording now. What I heard in this performance was striking in its color and concept. The Berlin players bring out the operatic quality of this music nicely. The string players use a tasteful amount of portamento, which adds a kind of nostalgia to the recording. The playing is clean and tight. It feels like they own the work better than they did.

The two inner movements are connected in the music. In this performance, Barenboim tied them to the last movement by not taking any sort of pause. It was a lovely effect.

I agree with Mr. Clements’ conclusion that on both the recording and this performance “The return of the motto theme in the closing pages of the First Symphony didn’t quite sweep everything before it as it can in some performances.”

Still, the playing is phenomenal. A great way to begin a Saturday morning.

Postscript [16 August 2017]:

Postscript:

Yesterday, I checked out SymphonyCast for the first time in a long time and I saw that their 31 July 2017 program featured this performance of Elgar’s First Symphony by the Staatskapelle Berlin. I thought I would listen one last time before this performance went away.

I didn’t like it as well as I remembered. Balances were strange. There was a monotonous quality to the performance. There was a moment at the end of the first movement where it sounded like the musicians got out of sync with each other for a moment. As I listened, I wondered if this was the same performance? Were my initial, positive impressions about this performance unwarranted?

I don’t think so.

My hypothesis: The producers of SymphonyCast have applied a generous amount of compression to this performance so that the highs and lows are effectively gone.

As I was listening, I noticed I never thought about changing the volume. Quiet moments weren’t so quiet that I needed to bump up the volume, loud moments weren’t so loud that I wondered if I should turn it down. The whole thing was one level, which basically wrecks the performance because it eliminates dynamics. You get this strange effect of a full orchestra playing fff sounding as loud as a few musicians playing as quietly as possible.

At the end of the adagio, there is supposed to be a quiet stillness as the strings and a few woodwinds play and muted horns offer a quiet, “off in the distance” fanfare. In a concert hall, you are carefully listening, not wanting to miss anything. On this recording you couldn’t miss anything. In fact, the coughs from the audience were generously amplified well beyond what I remembered with the BBC recording.

The original performance I heard through the BBC Proms website, which may have had some compression, but I believe had a wider dynamic range than this performance. That out of sync moment at the end of the first movement I heard last night I probably missed when I listened through the BBC player because it was so quiet. If it was out of sync, perhaps the players in that moment couldn’t quite hear each other because they were playing so quietly.

I assume SymphonyCast is trying to make this performance ideal for listening in places where even volumes are helpful—in a car, through headphones on a subway, at work. But if you are at home with reasonably good headphones, you don’t need this kind of amplification and attenuation of the playing levels.

If my assumptions are correct, I am struck by how different I felt about this performance based on how the NPR engineers have changed it. If I am wrong about the manipulation of the sound, then I don’t know what to think.

NPR did a nice piece some years back, “The Loudness Wars,” on the two forms of compression that get applied to recordings. It can be seen and heard here.

Epic Mahlerthon

by Glenn on July 17, 2017

A long July 4 holiday weekend provided an opportunity for an epic first—an attempt to listen to all the symphonies of Gustav Mahler in a short period of time. A Mahlerthon.

And to celebrate the freedom of our country, I thought I would consult one-off performances that were free from the traditional presentations of the work.

In some cases of these one-offs, you inevitably ask Why? The easy answer is perhaps the devil’s doctrine (“Because we can, we must.”) is at work. But while each of these arrangements is a compromise of Mahler’s artistic achievement, each have virtues of their own. Read the rest of this entry »

Symphony Study No. 61 | Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in c minor, “Resurrection”

by Glenn on June 3, 2017

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Symphony No. 2 in c minor, “Resurrection”
Allegro maestoso
Andante moderato
In quietly flowing motion
Urlicht (Primal Light): Very Solemn, but simple
In the tempo of the scherzo—Allegro energico—slow, misterioso

first complete performance:
4 March 1895 | Berlin Philharmonic | conducted by the composer

I intended to save the Mahler symphonies for the end of this study, but when the Oregon Symphony presented Mahler’s Third last year and his Second last week, these seemed like appropriate opportunities to reflect on this glorious music. Read the rest of this entry »

Frederick Buechner: “Vocation”

by Glenn on May 10, 2017

A longtime favorite quote. One I think about a lot as I attempt to meet both (a) and (b). From:
Frederick Buechner. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. Revised and Expanded. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1973, 1993.

A Big Year for Stanford WVB

by Glenn on May 8, 2017

i

I begin with the end. For 16 years, John Dunning was the head coach of the Stanford Cardinal Women’s Volleyball Team. In December his team won the NCAA Division I National Championship. In January, he announced his retirement.

I don’t know Coach Dunning, but as I’ve watched him and his team the last several years, I’ve felt he’s the kind of person I’d want to know. He appears to be a “what you see is what you get” person and what you see seems thoughtful and genuine. He was enormously successful as a coach, but a common theme in reading what Stanford players say about him is that he is a better person than a coach, which is how you would want it to be.

What has impressed me as long as I’ve watched him is his demeanor from the sidelines. There are those who admire a “that which does not kill me makes me stronger” style of coaching, but that is not Dunning’s way. And yet his teams perform well. And while I’ve got to believe there’s some intensity there at times, he’s not screaming at his players. The most heated I’ve ever seen him get was toward officials.

The following is a compendium of links related to Coach Dunning’s retirement:
ESPN short
ESPN long
Flo Volleyball 1
Flo Volleyball 2 (Interesting with its background of how Dunning got into coaching)
Flo Volleyball 3 (An interview with Dunning)
Stanford University (Official Announcement)
Stanford University (Photo Essay)
Volleyball Magazine 1 (An interview from May 2016)
Volleyball Magazine 2
NCAA Announcement
VolleyMob

You hate to see someone who is, apparently, at the top of his game end his career, especially when so many pieces that contributed to his team’s recent win will be returning in the fall, but how few people get to end their career this way? It’s wonderful to see someone find and live their calling in such an excellent way and finish on the mountaintop.

An interview with Kathryn Plummer following the National Championship win tells you a lot about Dunning as a coach.

ii

You never know when you are watching something extraordinary happen. My schedule last fall precluded me from watching as much volleyball as I would like, but this was a great year to cheer on Stanford Women’s Volleyball.

There was little, though, in the start of Stanford’s season to indicate they would finish the way they did. Three six-rotation players from the previous (2015) season—setter, Madi Bugg and outside hitters, Jordan Burgess and Brittany Howard—had graduated and wouldn’t be on the floor, meaning big changes in the line-up.

Inky Ajanaku, who would have been part of that graduating class but had sat out the 2015 season following a knee injury, would return as a red-shirt senior. The question was, how well would she play. She certainly worked hard in therapy.

Stanford did bring in the number one recruiting class, which made you think the future was bright if you didn’t know exactly how imminent and ultimate that success would be. Stanford’s freshman class consisted of:
Audriana Fitzmorris, a 6’6″ Middle Blocker
Jenna Gray, a 6’1″ Setter
Morgan Hentz, a 5’9″ Libero
Caitlin Keefe, a 5’11” Defensive Specialist
Michaela Keefe, a 6’2″ Outside Hitter
Kathryn Plummer, a 6’6″ Setter and Outside Hitter

Returning to the team were:

Kelsey Humphreys (S, Senior), Tami Alade (MB, Sophomore), Ivana Vanjak (OH, Redshirt Junior), Payton Chang (DS, Sophomore), Halland McKenna (DS, Sophomore), Merete Lutz (MB, Redshirt Junior), Alexis Froistad (MB, Sophomore), Courtney Bowen (MB, Redshirt Freshman), and the 2015 NCAA freshman player of the year, Hayley Hodson (OH, Sophomore).

The dynamics this past season were fascinating. Dunning refers to the question of how to get new and returning players to mesh as putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

The solution to the puzzle meant that no one played in the position they had played the previous year. With Inky returning to the line-up and a new freshman middle blocker, Audriana Fitzmorris, joining the team, middle blocker Merete Lutz was moved to the right side. Hayley Hodson played opposite in 2015 and was now on the left. Ivana Vanjak, who had been a middle blocker in 2015 was now hitting on the outside. Halland McKenna moved from libero to defensive specialist. Everyone else was a freshman.

It also meant that Dunning tried something new—at least new in the time since I’ve been watching Stanford volleyball. He employed a 6-2 offense, which I hadn’t seen him run before. The “2” refers to the two setters employed. The advantage of two setters is that you always have three hitters/blockers in the front row. And you don’t have to have as well-rounded players, i.e. “six rotation players.” Each plays in the area of their strength and then subs out.

The disadvantage, from what I’ve observed, is that you have many more moving parts during a match. It can, for example, get confusing with substitutions and rotations. And you lose time and the pressure of necessity between the setter and her hitters to develop a connection. One setter means it largely depends on her to develop the connection with hitters. Two setters means each is on the court half the time and neither are learning to connect with all of the hitters because they don’t absolutely need to.

For four years, we  watched Madi Bugg run the offense as the sole setter. This year, Kelsey Humphreys, who had lived in Madi’s shadow for three years was going to start, but so would Jenna Gray, one of those highly-touted freshman.

So with all these new players on the floor and many more substitutions than we had seen, Stanford looked very different. Having become used to seeing Madi set Jordan—who were all these interlopers? There was a lot to get used to when you watched those early games of the 2016 season.

A few things became clear right from the start:

1. Some phenomenal players had joined the team.

2. Stanford was very tall.

3. The new libero, Morgan Hentz, could cover a lot of ground behind that tall front row. In fact, a play she made early on in the season ended up being in the running for play of the year on ESPN:

4. The team wasn’t exactly dialed in from the outset. If the potential for greatness was there, nothing like the ability to dominate was there in equal measure.

iii

From the outset, things looked both puzzling and promising for Stanford. The Cardinal lost its opening game to the University of San Diego, but then two days later beat Minnesota. They beat Illinois and Penn State, but then lost to Purdue. Five games into the pre-conference schedule, their record was 3-2.

And things got messy:

Hayley Hodson wasn’t herself. You could tell in those early games. Where in 2015 she helped carry the team with powerful kills and solid defense, in 2016 she looked like she was having trouble jumping. She eventually left the school on medical leave to take care of whatever issue she was facing. One hopes she will be back on the court and back to form this fall.

Michaela Keefe came on to replace Hodson. She had a solid presence on court. In the one game we were able to see in person—at Oregon State—she had nine kills in a three-game sweep. But then she, too, got injured and was out for the rest of the season.

If coaching is putting the pieces of the puzzle together, it helps if the pieces don’t break.

Something else became clear. The 6-2 offense wasn’t working that well. The Cardinal won matches, for example beating the Washington Huskies on the road, but then they lost to Washington State. At home they beat #19 Colorado, but then lost to the unranked Utah Utes. At this point they were 10-4.

And then came the Arizona match. Sadly, I missed this one. In the third set, Dunning switched from a 6-2 to a 5-1, featuring Jenna Gray as the sole setter. While the Cardinal ultimately lost that match and their record became 10-5, this was a turning point. With this new offense, the Cardinal would lose only two more matches for the rest of the season. From October 15 on, Stanford went 17-2. And, of course, of the 64 teams to enter the post-season tournament, they were the only team that didn’t finish with a loss.

This is the value of courageous and decisive coaching. It might have been tempting to leave things as they were, knowing that Grey could be the sole setter next year. The decision to make a change could not have been easy for either Dunning or Humphreys. Happily, though, however strained the relationship must have been in the short term, it never ended, which is a credit to both people. And with all the injuries, it wasn’t that Humphreys had no place on the court. She took on a role of defensive specialist, coming in for front row players (usually Merete Lutz, I think) who didn’t have back row capabilities. And she was a great option to set out-of-system balls.

Still, the decision to switch the setting plan didn’t come without a cost and by all accounts it didn’t go well at first as Humphreys would later tell Volleyball Magazine.

In spite of injuries and with a reconfiguration of the offense, something remarkable happened for Stanford, that is from match to match it looked like they were getting better.

And they had an unusually positive team dynamic. On a volleyball team there are a group of players in the limelight and then there are the players “on the bench” (actually standing throughout the match.) The Stanford bench players came up with a name for themselves—”The Machine.” And they gave themselves two roles: Role 1 was to push the playing team as hard as they could during practices to make them as good as they could be. Role 2 was as cheerleaders. They came up with funny cheers for seemingly every player and situation. They were entertaining. No doubt that Stanford was as good as it was because the bench played their roles so well.

iv

For most NCAA Division I volleyball teams, the end of the season is the end of play. Out of the roughly 330 teams in Division I women’s volleyball (more or less depending on eligibility), only 64 continue on to play at least one additional match in the post-season tournament.

There are two ways to earn one of those 64 spots:

First, be the winning team in your conference. There are 32 conferences, so half the teams in the tournament earn an automatic placement this way. Some conference winners are determined by best conference record. (In the Pac-12, for example, the University of Washington was the conference champion with a conference record of 16-4. Stanford tied with UCLA for second place.) Others are determined by an end-of-season tournament (for example, the Colonial Athletic Association, where James Madison won the championship tournament at the end of the season, which put them into the post-season tournament).

Second, be chosen by the tournament selection committee for an “at large” spot in the tournament. This is how Stanford made it into the tournament. To the consternation of some, Stanford was seeded higher than the conference champion Washington.

If you look at the entire season, this may have been a slight against Washington, but Stanford to my eyes appeared to be the better team at the end of the season. At any rate, the higher you are ranked, the “easier” your competition is in the early matches of post-season. Quotation marks because there are no guarantees. In 2015, Stanford was knocked out of the tournament in the second round by Loyola Marymount. The reality is that to the extent that the selection committee does its job well, the 64 teams in the tournament are all in the top 20% of Division I volleyball teams.

To my mind there was no doubt that Stanford would do well in the early rounds this year. It’s just that with each round the competition gets stiffer and so your prospects are dimmer the farther you go in the tournament. It strikes me that you have to believe you can win, but all but one team are, ultimately, deluded.

Stanford didn’t seem to struggle much against either the University of Denver in the first round or Boise St. in the second. They won both matches in straight sets. Then the Cardinal flew to Wisconsin for the third round, where the intensity would increase. Stanford beat Florida St. who had just defeated 11th seed Florida. This seemed like a good sign. But then they faced Wisconsin, the No. 3 seed team in the tournament who had home court advantage.

As far as I’m concerned, this was the match of the season for the Cardinal.

Vs. Wisconsin

In the first set, after losing the opening three points, Stanford tried to play catch up the rest of the game. They took the lead once and tied once. Otherwise Wisconsin managed to stay ahead the whole way and increased their lead toward the end of the match.

In the second set, Stanford looked stronger. For the first half of the game, Stanford led by at least 2-3 points. Wisconsin was now in catch-up mode and couldn’t quite do it. And then with Stanford leading 15-11, Wisconsin went on a 6-point roll. A block error, a Wisconsin kill, and a Stanford attack error forced Dunning to call a time out. Out of the time out, Stanford made an attack error and Wisconsin scored on two kills forcing Dunning to burn his second and final time out. Now Wisconsin was in the lead. Stanford would tie twice, but Wisconsin went into the locker room up 2-0 and the knowledge that they need only win one more set and they head to the final four.

This easily could have been the end of the road for Stanford and I wish I could have heard what went on in the Stanford team meeting during the intermission. With the exception of the opening of the third set, where Wisconsin was up 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3, once Stanford took the lead 5-4, they would always have the lead for the third and fourth sets. And in the final set, Stanford trailed just once, 1-0, before tying and then continuing to lead until the end. This was a stunning reversal on Wisconsin’s home court.

The third set opened with “a crazy point,” as the amped up University of Wisconsin broadcaster called it.

The start of the fourth set provided something of a moment of redemption for Kelsey Humphreys. On the first play, Wisconsin was out of system and their setter, Lauren Carlini, did what she should have done, which was send the ball over to Stanford’s setter, Jenna Grey, to take her out of the play. Unfortunately for Carlini, she didn’t send it far enough over the net and Jenna Grey pounded it for a kill. This caused a big celebration on the Stanford bench. With Grey rotating back to serve, Humphreys was supposed to come off the court with Merete Lutz subbing back in. In the post-game press conference, we learned that Lutz was so distracted by the celebration, she didn’t know to come back and Kelsey was now in the front row. Carlini took note of this and tried to exploit the 8″ height difference, but couldn’t. Those first two points in the fourth set don’t get old.

There is one other moment worth seeing again. It’s from the final set. It’s Morgan Hentz doing what she does. With the score 8-5, Hentz shows incredible reaction times. Hentz deserves her own highlight reel. I don’t know how you throw yourself on the ground over and over and still get up and move.

The best part of this match against Wisconsin, though, was the play of Kathryn Plummer. Actually, this was not a terrific match for her. For offense, on the season she had an average of 3.34 kills/set at an attack percentage of .258. In this match, she had just 1.4 kills/set at .216. On defense, Plummer appeared to be a serving target. On the season, she averaged a service return error every four sets. In this match, she had four, almost one per set, in addition to some returns that put Stanford out of system. This was an uncharacteristic match for her. You assume the Wisconsin coaching staff surveyed the floor and decided she was the weakest serve receiver, which is good tactics. But if they concluded she was the weakest, at least in that one area on this one particular night, she is in no way weak.

The beauty of it was to see Plummer’s resilience. She never signaled defeat.  To be a great player, you need to have some skills, which she certainly does. But you also need to have a short memory. You can’t be thinking about the serve you just shanked as the next one is coming. She didn’t. And it was great to see her score the last point of the match.

Because volleyball is a team sport, though one player (even the 2016 NCAA freshman player of the year) may have a one-off struggle in a particular match, it doesn’t mean everyone has to struggle. Inky Ajanaku, for example, on the season hit 2.88 kills/set on a .407 average with  1.54 blocks/set. In this match, Inky scored 4 kills/set at .447 and had 11 blocks—a rate of more than 2/set.

The team came back and through in spectacular fashion. The only other match this season that Stanford started out in an 0-2 deficit (vs. Arizona) they ended up losing.

v

Heading into the final four matches—Minnesota (2) vs. Stanford (6) | Nebraska (1) vs Texas (4)—Karch Kiraly in pre-match coverage had to correct himself. He almost said that these were the four best teams. But he stopped and said what I think is true, that these were the four teams playing the best volleyball at the moment.

Though a fan, I thought anything could happen in the final four. Each team was full of talent and solidly coached. It turns out, though, that after the long climb back from the abyss that was the Wisconsin match, Stanford’s final two matches against Minnesota and Texas were somewhat anti-climactic. Still it’s exciting to see a team you enjoy watching win it all.

An observation from the Final Four match against Minnesota: Jenna Grey made a play that ended up on ESPN’s Sports Center. Stanford didn’t actually win the point, but her effort showed you the level of commitment and determination Stanford was willing to exert. Ultimately, they weren’t given the championship—they earned it.

In the finals match with Texas, Kathryn Plummer showed why she was the NCAA freshman player of the year. She had 18 kills and no reception errors.

Not only would Inky have a terrific final season on the Stanford team, she would also become an outstanding leader. Kiraly coined an expression for the Stanford quad. He called them “Inky and the Inkettes.”

If Stanford was a collection of pieces at the beginning of the season, they had become greater than the sum of its parts by the end. It all seemed to work quite nicely. And Stanford became the youngest team to win a National Championship.

It didn’t happen by itself, though. Stanford had terrific, matter-of-fact coaching. Here is Coach Dunning describing his team after the semi-final match against Minnesota.

vi

I don’t like to think about the ephemeral quality of sports. I enjoy watching the Stanford Cardinal Women’s Volleyball Team, but what does that mean, exactly, when from year to year and even within a season the composition of the team changes? I find myself a little sad to think that John Dunning won’t be on the sidelines this fall. A fantastic season has ended, but another season has come to its close, too.

I have no connection to Stanford as a school, but think that a lot of my interest in the volleyball team has come out of respect for and pleasure in watching the coaching. When Dunning would call a time out, the coaching staff would meet separately, briefly, and Dunning would listen to what the rest of the coaches had to say before he went to the player huddle and spoke. I thought it was an indication of his humility.

I don’t envy Kevin Hambly as he takes over as head coach. Stanford just won the National Championship. How does he excel this fall?

 

Symphony Study No. 60 | Haydn: No. 86 in D Major

by Glenn on April 19, 2017

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

Symphony No. 86 in D Major

Adagio—Allegro spiritoso
Capriccio: Largo
Menuet: Allegretto
Finale: Allegro con spirito

First performed: 1787 by Joseph Boulogne, for the Concert de la Loge Olympique (Paris) series.

This is one of Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies, a group of six  (Nos. 82–87) he wrote on commission for the Masonic Loge Olympique in Paris, which had an unusually large orchestra for its time (40 violins and ten double basses).

One of the ways Michael Steinberg is helping me as a listener is the way he treats Haydn’s symphonies individualistically. I am tempted to refer to these Haydn symphonies as mere palate cleansers that are basically the same in form (cookie cutter symphonies). For Steinberg, though, each Haydn symphony has its own charms. He included 17 different symphonies of Haydn in his book and he takes pains to differentiate them, showing the differences that make a difference (which is a real thing even if the last time I thought about it was when I saw it in a fortune cookie).

I listened to this symphony as performed by Tafelmusik, conducted by Bruno Weil. The symphony epitomizes elegance, refinement, and proportion and the players match the music with their playing.

This is a perfectly lovely-sounding ensemble. Their intonation and sense of ensemble are incredible. Sometimes when I listen to practitioners of Historically Informed Performance Practice (HIPP), I am all too aware that the players are using period instruments or cat gut strings. Tafelmusik just plays, with precision and without affectation. I’ve heard some orchestras where HIPP is imposed on them, for example where the strings are not allowed to use vibrato and don’t seem to be quite in tune. I don’t sense that issue here.

The recorded sound has a nice balance between the extremes of close-miking, where the microphones are on top of the instruments and room miking, where a couple of microphones are set up in the back of the room and you get a wash of sound. For me the former is too dry, while the latter, which has the virtue of being most like what a listener is hearing (with the caveat that if the recording is made in a concert hall, the presence/absence of people affects the acoustics and the noise level), is often too mushy.

By way of digression, I listened to a recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli with the Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.

The one thing that strikes you as you listen is that it sounds like there are two recordings going on.

There is the recording of the orchestra, which sounds like it was made with two microphones at the back of a vast hall. Then there is the recording of the piano, which is quite dry, and sounds like the microphones are inside the instrument in a small room.

You really notice (are distracted by? are confused by?) the difference between the two recordings, for example in the transition from the cadenza into the coda at the end of the first movement. You think you are in a confined space listening to the piano and then suddenly you are aware of the fact that you are in a large room as the orchestra joins in. And when the movement ends, you are aware of the presence of people in the room with the typical between-movement coughing and shifting about.

This is a fascinating recording as a study of recording.

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Haydn must certainly have surprised his listeners at times. There are some chords that have a shocking quality to them, if you can hear them without the influence of the history that came after Haydn.

i

The symphony opens with a slow introduction. To begin the symphony this way, Steinberg concludes, “Haydn obviously had confidence in the good manners of the Loge Olympique audience.” The introduction ends with a kind of a fanfare. What follows is a delightful, uptempo contrast—nimble and elegant.

ii

The opening of the second movement features “Three notes, quiet and staccato [which] define a chord of G major.” This three-note figure returns seven times and provides structure for the movement. Technically, it’s a slow movement, but there is plenty of motion on top of the slowly arpeggiated chords. Steinberg calls this second movement “An amazing, amazing movement.” There is a beautiful little gesture that comes across as a mild and comforting sigh.

iii

The A section has great feel. It moves from a dance with a clear impulse on 1 to a beautifully syncopated feel with a counter tune. Wonderful counterpoint. And then the trio comes in with a simple ländler. Steinberg remarks, “The trio, as irresistible a ländler as Haydn—or anyone—ever wrote, is genuinely and delectably naive.” The juxtaposition in this movement between the A and B (trio) themes is magnificent.

The “B” section of this movement is my favorite part of the symphony. I can’t get enough of the lilt of it all. This moment begs for dancers. It’s hard not to think of the scene in The Sound of Music where the Captain and Maria dance the ländler out on the patio.

iv

Steinberg says this movement “is in every way brilliant, and it also feels ‘big,'” because of Haydn’s use of 4/4 meter, which was “exceedingly rare in a Haydn finale.” As Steinberg discusses this movement, he mentions the influence of Mozart:

“The six Loge Olympique symphonies are not, as a whole, notably Mozartian, but here it is as though Haydn, deeply acquainted with and lovingly in awe of his younger contemporary’s work, were mindful of what Mozart had done with his Paris Symphony of 1778 to expand Parisian notions of ‘symphony.'”

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Listening to this symphony on the heels of Easter, this music seems so removed from modern anything in terms of musical practice. I know there were churches on Sunday where strings, winds, and brass accented the worship, but the idea of twenty or so minutes of carefully orchestrated music isn’t something I experience very often anymore.

There are churches that vary the instrumentation from song to song or vary the use of instruments throughout a song. This brings a special delight for my ears because of the changing timbre of the music. It requires (and I admire) the level of leadership and craftsmanship it evidences.