Archive for March, 2010

Miami vs. Michigan

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s that time of year again: the NCAA men’s college hockey championships are underway. We’ve been saturated with coverage of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, both of which have been in the round of 16 this weekend, so you might have missed the fact that this is also round-of-16 weekend in men’s hockey. And as I write, an amazing game is taking place, the last of the four regional finals, Miami University versus the University of Michigan. The second overtime has just begun. I’m typing in one screen while watching it on another.

[Well, it just ended, in the second minute of second overtime.]

Last April, I wrote a long post about college hockey in the aftermath of the championship matchup between Miami and BU. You may recall that Miami had a 3-1 lead in that game with 59 seconds left. BU proceeded to score two goals, 42 seconds apart, forcing an overtime in which they won. I have a special attachment to Miami hockey, thanks to my friendship with the university’s president. I also have an attachment to Boston hockey and an affection for all four of the major Boston college teams (Harvard, BU, BC, Northeastern), having spent so many years there and watched so many of their games. But I suffered with Miami after their loss, and looked forward to greater success this year.

So far so good. Miami has been ranked #1 for much of the season, occasionally slipping to #2 after a loss and then regaining the top ranking. In their conference tournament two weeks ago, they were upset by Michigan in the semi-finals, but despite that loss, they were given the #1 seed overall for the NCAA tournament.

Let me explain how the tournament works. Sixteen teams are invited, sent in foursomes to four sites for the four regional tournaments. The four top-ranked teams are split up, each one sent to a different regional site and given that regional’s #1 seed. The other three teams in each region are given seeds #2 through #4 for that region, with the #1 seed playing #4 and #2 playing #3. It’s single elimination — the losers go home, the winners face off in the regional final to determine who goes on to the frozen four. (Yes, that’s right, in hockey the semi-final and final rounds are called the frozen four, not the final four.)

The tournament committee ranked the top four teams, in order, as follows: Miami, Denver, Wisconsin, BC. In the East Regional, fourth seed Rochester Institute of Technology shocked Denver 2-1 in the first round two nights ago, then beat third seed New Hampshire 6-2 yesterday to advance to the frozen four. The West Regional held to form, with first and second seeds Wisconsin and St. Cloud State winning their opening games, and Wisconsin then beating St. Cloud in a close game to earn its spot in the frozen four. (I watched the end of this one, thanks to Joel. The regional games are all on ESPNU, but ESPNU is not part of our cable package. Joel, however, showed me how to get catch the ESPNU broadcast online.)

The Northeast Regional was exciting. Third seeded Yale beat traditional power and second seed North Dakota 3-2 in a thriller, while first seed BC beat Alaska. Today, in a wild one, BC beat Yale 9-7 to advance to the frozen four. BC was the national champion two years ago, but didn’t make the field last year.

That leaves the Midwest Regional, the one I most cared about. Yesterday, Miami beat fourth seed Alabama-Huntsville 2-1 in an unexpectedly close game, while third seed Michigan wiped out second seed Bemidji State 5-1, setting up tonight’s final between Miami and Michigan. I wasn’t able to start watching until midway through the third period, at which point the game was tied 2-2. Miami had a shot off the post with 3:00 left in regulation time that looked like it was going in, but somehow it didn’t. Early in the first overtime, play was stopped by the ref’s whistle just as Michigan scored. The ref had lost sight of the puck, which it appeared might have been smothered by the Miami goalie, so the whistle was blown. But the puck was free and, just as the whistle blew, a Michigan player put the puck in the net. It didn’t count. Michigan dominated the rest of the first overtime, but couldn’t score. As the second overtime began, I started writing this post. And then it was over. In the second minute, Miami scored and the game was over.

A painful loss for Michigan, but a well-deserved victory for Miami. I was exchanging messages with David (the Miami president) late in the game, which added to the excitement, hearing from someone watching the game in person. On to Detroit for the frozen four.

As the #1 overall seed, Miami will face BC, #4, in one of the semi-final games. Wisconsin, at #3, plays the surprising R.I.T. team, which took the place of #2 Denver. These games will be on ESPN2, so we’ll be able to watch them on TV rather than through a web stream. I recommend you watch them too. There will be some great hockey.

And remember, root for Miami. They deserve your support. Go Redhawks!

Categories: Hockey, Sports

Big Is Better

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Alfred Jensen, Cheops Testament

Gail and I made it over to the Wright Exhibition Space this afternoon just in time to see the exhibit BIG IS BETTER (or so some claim) in its final day. The Wright Exhibition Space mounts small shows from time to time, each of which draws largely or entirely from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. The galleries are open for limited hours (usually Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 to 2:00) and entry is free.

The Big is Better exhibit consisted of thirteen paintings from the Wright collection, dating from 1964 to 1987. The gallery has three rooms, a larger central gallery and smaller rooms on each side. (See a description and photos of the space at the Olson Kundig Architects website.) Each of the side rooms has four walls. One long wall of the central room is divided in two by the entry door, yielding three full walls and two half walls on which to hang paintings. Summing, we come up with thirteen discrete spaces, on each of which hung one of the thirteen exhibited paintings. This arrangement allowed each painting to stand alone, while the intimacy of the space allowed them to converse with each other.

Jen Graves, who writes the Visual Art column at Seattle’s weekly paper The Stranger, has a blog post about the show that contains photos of several of the paintings. (See also Nancy Worssam’s article in the Seattle Times.)

Inevitably, the photos don’t do the paintings justice, for all the usual reasons: scale, color, texture, etc. But in particular, the two-dimensionality of the photos gives no sense of just how important the third dimension is to many of these works. The upper half of Robert Longo’s “Black Palms” juts out several feet. Julian Schnabel’s “End of Alphabet” embeds broken pottery and antlers. Frank Stella’s “Brzozdowce II” is built of layers of different materials; his “Jardim Botanico, II” has painted geometric shapes of different materials that are placed at assorted angles skew to the plane of the wall. Alfred Jensen’s “Cheops Testament” is more traditionally a painting, but the immensity of the scale, the vibrancy of the colors, and the varied textures of each of the small geometric units that make up the painting invite — indeed require — close-up, in-person examination.

A wonderful show. I wish we hadn’t waited until the last day. I would like to reflect further and then return for another look.

Categories: Art


March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night, I got around to reading Alex Ross’s short piece in the last New Yorker on the various orchestral visits to Carnegie Hall between the end of January and the beginning of March. Not just orchestras from across the country and abroad, but even the New York Philharmonic, “on a one-night furlough,” as Ross put it, “from the duller confines of Avery Fisher Hall.”

In the first half of the article, Ross makes a series of stimulating observations about “Carnegie’s informal tournament.” Of greater interest, though, is what he has to say about the Minnesota Orchestra’s appearance. I have rarely read such strong praise of an orchestral performance.

At the end of Carnegie’s marathon came a rather austere program by the Minnesota Orchestra: Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge,” in an arrangement for string orchestra by the late music critic and author Michael Steinberg, and Sibelius’s choral symphony “Kullervo.” Carnegie was barely three-quarters full—perhaps because “Kullervo” is little known, perhaps because New Yorkers were orchestra’d out. If so, they erred: the Minnesotans, with the assistance of the Y. L. Male Voice Choir, from Finland, delivered a performance of uncanny, wrenching power, the kind you hear once or twice a decade.

… The Minnesotans played all this with an uncommon precision of rhythm and beauty of tone; more important, they brought to bear an emotional specificity that conjured the woeful scene with an almost unbearable immediacy. At one point, Vänskä stopped giving a beat and rocked slowly with the music. It was the saddest, loveliest thing I have heard in a long time.

Vänskä has been the music director of the Minnesota since 2003. For some years, it has been evident that he is a conductor of genius, one whom Furtwängler might have recognized as a kindred spirit. The crucial element in his work is unanimity—not unanimity of execution (although that was hardly lacking) but unanimity of feeling. The climaxes were as shattering as on any other night, but the quietest moments registered even more strongly. I hope that Vänskä and his players went home happy, box-office receipts notwithstanding. For the duration of the evening of March 1st, the Minnesota Orchestra sounded, to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world.

First thing this morning, I went to Amazon and ordered a recording of “Kullervo.” If only the Minnesota Orchestra had recorded one under Vänskä. They haven’t. Not yet. The one I chose received an award. It comes Monday. I can’t wait.

Categories: Music

2010 Abel Prize

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

John Tate

Just by chance, I went to the website of the American Mathematical Society tonight and thereby stumbled on the news (which I would have learned soon enough) announced earlier today that John Tate is the 2010 recipient of the Abel Prize. The prize, established in 2001 by the Norwegian government, has been awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters each year since 2003 to one or two outstanding mathematicians. It is named in honor of the great, early-nineteenth-century Norwegian mathematician Niels Abel and may be regarded as the mathematical counterpart of Nobel Prizes.

I wrote about the Abel Prize last June, in the wake of an article that week in the NYT reporting on the news that three of the recipients were NYU faculty members. As I noted at the time, according to the history of the Abel Prize given at their site, the idea for a math prize that would parallel the Nobel Prizes and be named after Abel goes back to 1899, when it was championed by that other great Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie.

John Tate spent much of his career at Harvard, later moving to the University of Texas. The award is being given to him “for his vast and lasting impact on the theory of numbers.” You can read more about today’s announcement here and here.

I didn’t take a course from Tate when I was an undergraduate, but I wasn’t so foolish as to miss out on the opportunity altogether. During my third year in graduate school, I made it a point to attend his graduate number theory course, walking down to the Harvard Science Center from my apartment three mornings a week before heading over to MIT. Great course.

Categories: Math

Batter Up

March 24, 2010 1 comment

I’m ready. I know, we’re in the midst of March Madness, the greatest season on the US sporting calendar. And what a four days of basketball we had last week! Plus, my own school (Washington, that is) is right in the hunt. If it weren’t for Cornell’s surprise success, we might be getting all the attention this week.

But — basketball is boring. Really. Okay, underdogs win. Surprises happen. But who wants to watch intentional fouls and timeouts and foul shots and more timeouts? That’s exciting? I happened to turn on one of the first round games with 40 seconds left. Ten minutes later, the game hadn’t ended yet. I’m not exaggerating. I timed it. (In contrast, how about Michigan State-Maryland? Joel and I were stunned that a game could still end that way. In the final 40 seconds or so, Maryland scores to go ahead for the first time since early in the game, Michigan State retakes the lead, Maryland retakes the lead, Michigan State scores to win as time runs out. Forget the time outs and foul shots. Not with one-point margins. But this is the rare exception.)

I mention all this by way of saying: It’s time. Bring on baseball.

And for those of us in Seattle, let’s take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are. We are about to enter our tenth year of getting to watch Ichiro. Not everyone is so lucky. St. Louis is, thanks to Albert Pujols. Who else? Who gets to see one of the great baseball players in history for so long?

How great is Ichiro? Some have argued that his impact is limited, because despite his high batting average, he doesn’t walk much (so his OBP is not so high) and he doesn’t hit for power. I’m certainly not going to argue that his value to a team is equal to Pujols’. But in any case, this isn’t my point. My point is that in his own way, Ichiro is one of the great players in history. And I don’t need to work too hard to make this argument, for Joe Posnanski has done so this afternoon in his latest blog post. A sampling:

I don’t think there has ever been a player in baseball history quite like Ichiro Suzuki.

Or, anyway, there certainly has not been a player quite Ichiro since Deadball, when players like George Sisler and Ty Cobb whacked lots of hits and didn’t walk much and stole bases. Sisler, in many ways, seems like a decent offensive comp to Ichiro — great batting averages (Sisler .340, Ichiro .333), surprisingly low corresponding on-base percentages (Sisler .379, Ichiro .378), good stolen base numbers, some ridiculously high hit seasons (Ichiro, of course, broke Sisler’s hit record when he picked up 262 in 2004. They are the only two players to have two seasons with 240 hits).

But that’s just offense. And while Sisler was a first baseman — and there has been some disagreement about how good — Ichiro is one of the most dynamic defenders of his time. You have already seen, I hope, the catch he made during a spring training game on Tuesday — it’s spectacular. I have watched in about 23 times already today, and I’ll probably watch it at least a few more before dinner. One catch does not define a player, I suppose … but just WATCH THAT CATCH. It tells you an awful lot about the kind of defensive player Ichiro has been for almost a decade now.

And, of course, Ichiro has a fabulous arm, the best of his generation. There will always be those who say no one can compare to Clemente defensively, and I would not argue the point. But Clemente is just a touch before my time … and I think Ichiro is the best defensive right fielder I have ever ever seen.

Batter up!

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Chocolate Tasting

March 24, 2010 1 comment

In January, after a months-long battle, Cadbury agreed to be taken over by Kraft. (See, for instance, here.) Last September, in the early days of the battle, I lamented the decline in quality of Cadbury products available in the US, such as Dairy Milk, owing to the fact that they are produced here not by Cadbury but by Hershey. Fortunately, the real thing is available in Canada. Some go there for drugs. We go for chocolate. But will Cadbury quality remain unchanged in the years to come? We can only hope.

Meanwhile, how does one put into words the difference in taste between real and ersatz Cadbury chocolate? To the rescue comes Clotilde, one of my favorite food bloggers, who wrote a post yesterday on How To Taste Chocolate. She had visited the Valrhona chocolate factory in Tain-l’Hermitage, France, last week and was reporting on what she had learned. I will provide an excerpt in a moment from her account of the lessons provided by Vanessa Lemoine, Valrhona’s expert on sensory analysis.

Now I need to buy a Hershey’s chocolate bar, head up to Vancouver to get a Cadbury bar (or maybe it would be simpler to drive across the lake to Redmond and stop at The British Pantry), and do a taste comparison using Lemoine’s tips. It might also be appropriate to grab some Fran’s chocolate from nearby U Village as a third entry.

Clotilde, channeling Vanessa Lemoine:

So next you’ll place a piece of chocolate in your mouth, chew briefly to accelerate the release of the flavor components, then let the chocolate melt between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, and concentrate on your sensations.

The first component that will manifest itself is acidity: if the chocolate is acidic (which is not a fault, unless it’s overwhelming), it will trigger salivation right away, and you’ll feel it on the sides of your tongue and underneath it. Note the scale of this sensation, and whether it fades quickly or stays with you throughout the tasting.

Breathe out through your nose slowly with your mouth closed, and try to describe the aromas you perceive through retro-olfaction. They will appear in stages: the first ones you’ll get are the fleeting, delicate notes of fruit or flower, followed by warmer notes of spice, roasted nuts, or toasted bread. Woody, malted or earthy notes will appear in the finish. Note the intensity of each aroma. Vanessa Lemoine noted that any smoky or smoked aroma in chocolate was, in her view, a defect.

Try to be as specific as possible in describing the aromas: if you sense something fruity, is it berries, is it stone fruit, is it citrus? Is it a fresh fruit aroma, or a jam-like one? If the chocolate is floral, is it jasmine, rose, orange blossom…? It can be a real brain challenge to put a name on the aroma you’re smelling, but you’ll get better with practice. It’s helpful to conduct tastings with other people, too, so you can share impressions.

Bitterness will make its presence known toward the end, and it will become more and more noticeable and persistent in subsequent bites. Bitterness is perceived by receptors placed at the back of the tongue in a V formation (pointing toward the throat), so be attuned to a sensation in that region of the mouth: is it strong? Does it linger?

You should also note the texture of the chocolate on your tongue: does it feel dry and brittle (not a good thing), or is it lithe and fresh, or is it creamy, so creamy as to coat your tongue and the roof of your mouth?

Categories: Food

Arts on PBS

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal’s drama critic, also writes a bi-weekly arts column in the Saturday paper. In yesterday’s column, he discussed the years-long decline in arts programming at PBS. To illustrate the decline, he reviews the 2009 programming on Great Performances, PBS’s “flagship performing-arts telecast.”

  • The San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker.”
  • A pair of Christmas concerts by Andrea Bocelli and Sting.
  • The Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Day concert.
  • Two Broadway musicals, “In the Heights” and “Passing Strange.”
  • Three Metropolitan Opera performances, two of operas by Puccini and one of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
  • A feature-film version of Puccini’s “La Bohème.”
  • A concert by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  • A documentary about Herbert von Karajan.

  • Teachout observes that this “lineup of shows is both inadequate and unserious, especially when compared to the high-octane arts programming that PBS was airing a quarter-century ago.”

    I agree with his criticism, to which I would add that when Great Performances isn’t on, we have to watch endless replays of rock groups from the 1960s in a compendium of highlights fromThe Ed Sullivan Show, or Celtic Woman, with that fiddler bizarrely dancing all over the place amongst the singers. At least we no longer see Roy Orbison over and over in black and white. (Please understand, I love seeing the Rolling Stones singing Satisfaction; the fiddler is stunningly beautiful; and who doesn’t love Roy Orbison? But must I see them several nights a week?)

    Teachout has a wise suggestion for improvement.

    What should PBS be doing instead? For openers, it should air fine-arts programs that encompass the full range of the performing arts. That means not just “The Nutcracker” but ballet and modern-dance masterpieces of all kinds. It means not just ultrafamiliar operas but solo recitals and chamber music. It means not just Broadway musicals but performances of classic and contemporary plays. And these performances should take place not just in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco but in cities throughout America.

    If I were put in charge of arts programming on PBS and had unlimited funds at my disposal, I’d start by ordering up a monthly series called “Art Across America,” whose raison d’être would be to introduce TV viewers to the full range of fine-arts performances in their own land. None of the episodes would originate in New York, and all would feature works by American artists. Instead of showing a Broadway musical, I’d fly out to Seattle and tape an Intiman Theatre performance of Kate Whoriskey’s staging of “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning 2007 play about life in a Congo brothel. Instead of showing Andrea Bocelli, I’d telecast David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony performing Samuel Barber’s “Prayers of Kierkegaard.” Instead of showing yet another “Nutcracker,” I’d put Carolina Ballet on the air dancing Robert Weiss’s “Messiah.”

    Would I watch all these shows if I had the opportunity? I don’t know. I already noted last April, the day Ruined was awarded a Pulitzer (Teachout appears to err in calling it a 2007 play), that we had a chance to see it in Chicago the previous November, but instead chose to hear Lang Lang in concert. Perhaps that’s forgivable.

    As for Celtic Woman, they’re coming to Seattle in May. Three nights at the Paramount. We better get our tickets.

    Categories: Arts, Television

    What We’re Doing Tonight

    March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

    There was an article in today’s NYT with a reassuring account of the New York Police Department’s recent early morning work on the subway. A young actor/waiter was returning home to Brooklyn from work in Manhattan when he arrived at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue stop and was asked by an NYPD officer to get off the train. He was then issued a summons for “seat hoggery, a violation of part of Section 1050.7 of the Rules of Conduct, which says that no one shall ‘occupy more than one seat on a station, platform or conveyance when to do so would interfere or tend to interfere with the operation of the Authority’s transit system or the comfort of other passengers.’ ”

    Mind you, it was 1:30 AM.

    “I wasn’t drunk or rowdy. I was literally reading my book on an empty train,” Mr. LaMont said. “I didn’t argue with them. I said, ‘I understand what you’re doing, but in what way was I obstructing someone else from sitting down?’ The officer said, ‘Look, man, this is just what we’re doing tonight.’ ”

    Categories: Life

    Countdown to Communism

    March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

    The House vote on health care approaches.

    I’ve been following the Housae proceedings off and on through the NYT live blog and on C-Span. A typical comment (from Representative John Shadegg, Arizona): “This bill will destroy freedom and do damage to the very fabric of our society.”

    Yup. Our bags are packed.

    But where to go? Our favorite countries already have socialized medicine and a lack of freedom!

    Categories: Medicine, Politics

    Sondheim Celebration

    March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

    Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, singing at the Sondheim celebration

    [Sara Krulwich/The New York Times]

    Did you read Stephen Holden’s review in today’s NYT of the concert at Avery Fisher Hall two nights ago in honor of Stephen Sondheim’s upcoming 80th birthday? It sounds glorious. My friend Tina was there, and she wrote a short report about it on her Facebook page last night. (Tina is a talented singer-songwriter who over the last decade has turned to writing/composing songs for musicals. Formerly based in greater Seattle and on Whidbey Island, she now lives in New York.) She called the event “the highest point in my 55 years of show-going. … I kept thinking ‘These are all show-stopping moments. What the hell are they going to do for the finale?’ And then the finale came. Hundreds of performers from shows currently on Broadway streamed down the aisles (all dressed in black), singing the finale from Sunday in the Park with George, they were in every aisle, and even all the boxes, 2, 3 levels up. It was the most beautiful, emotional moment I’ve ever personally experienced in a theatre. Wish everyone who loves Sondheim could have been there.”

    I’m in the class of Sondheim lovers, and I sure wish I could have been there. Gail and I especially love Sunday in the Park with George, which we saw on Broadway in August 1985, near the tail end of our honeymoon. You might say it’s our musical. We didn’t see the original cast — Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters were long gone — but it was magical nonetheless.

    (Looking over the data at this handy site, I see that Sunday in the Park ran from May 2, 1984 to October 13, 1985, so we would have seen it near the end of its run. Patinkin’s successors were Robert Westenberg and Harry Groener; Peter’s were Betsy Joslyn and Maryann Plunkett. Perhaps, then, we saw Groener and Plunkett. I don’t remember. There was a workshop version in July 1983 that included, in smaller roles, Kelsey Grammer and Christine Baranski.)

    A slide show accompanies the NYT review. Have a look. I’ll close with one quote from Holden’s review:

    It remained for Ms. Stritch to deliver the evening’s showstopper, “I’m Still Here.” This great trouper, now 85, used her increasing physical fragility to maximum dramatic effect, building the anthem of show business survival from a dismissive casualness to a peak that was not the usual triumphal assertion of ego. Instead, it became a struggle for the character to break through her own fatigue in little bursts. The final phrases of this daring interpretation ended on a note of ambivalence, as if to say, “I may still be here, but at this point, what does it really matter?” The performance received a standing ovation.

    Categories: Music, Theater