Archive for August, 2009

Mr. Ehnes, the Bow Man of Aug. 18th at the Hollywood Bowl

August 20, 2009

Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009 –James Ehnes, Violin. Conductor: Bramwell Tovey, that rare Brit with a genuine American sense of humor and the ability to share composition history from a personal perspective.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide: Overture,” touched on the Oompa, liveliness, and hurried pace. It echoed soft footsteps picking up pace with the timpan drums.

Then, Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto, Op. 14,” Allegro, Andante, Presto in moto petuo. And Mr. Ehnes. Upon the very first note played, the music of James Ehnes, bow man, violinist, and the LA Philharmonic Orchestra was symphonic. Lively, quirky, albeit accompanied by short bleats of a hapless automobile anti-theft alarm quickly extinguished.

Mr. Ehnes, a thirty-something reminds me of my dentist, strides on stage in his formal white jacket, black pants, shoes, and black bow tie looking all the world like he should be stooped over a drafting table somewhere in Iowa. Testing his strings, consternation flickers. He has forgotten to unbutton his jacket. Snap. Quickly he is lost in the tentative bowing and act of listening known as warming up.

From his first strings, sweetness flows. We of the audience don’t yet know how lucky we are to have our Section H seats located just under the soft white flood-lit cross that beams over head.. There are no bad views.

His music slips forth playing with us, our ears. Violin tucked so one half the bow tie sticks out, he is impish. Serious. Earnest. Ardor of youth brightens his face, magnifies his aura. The Orchestra surges. Then again Mr. Ehnes has his say. Gliding, pouncing, bowing. He saws sweet sounds out of nothing. A long slow draw. Lightness. Strings made to sing for us. The Orchestra follows bravely, made to follow a genius Mover of Strings, the Bow Man.

Questions for audience: How do we describe beauty? Musical odes to passion? Why is that we, the lucky Bowl-ers, hear these questions, ruminate in key seeking answers. How full our ears and spectacular the sounds. Chords and notes written decades ago prick our senses. We sit, the lot of us, spellbound.

Post-Intermission, Barber’s short bridge to the next piece. Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront” Symphonic Suite. In fairness, it was not the best compliment to rapturous violin and Mr. Ehnes. In fact, there probably was not right choice. Leonard Bernstein’s compositions have become familiar to us all in musical scores for film and TV. Decided strains from “West Side Story” masked the ears ability to “hear” the rumble on the docks.
That said, the Orchestra played Bernstein’s composition well. Strapping music. Brando at 20. Heaviness simmers. If you lick your lips, you taste from the harbour. I thought I saw Karl Malden standing on the grassy promontory behind the Bowl. Head held high, back erect. The music was fussy, agitated, shaken, and twice stirred. An after dinner drink to Mr. Ehnes, Tovey, Brando, and Malden.
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Sharing Thoughts of Cleo and Me

August 7, 2009

What I’ve come to realize is that Cleo is in such a better place… doggie heaven. She, at least in my mind, received the greatest gift I could give her. Me at her side for her last morning on earth. Is that too presumptuous of me? I hope she took it in the spirit meant — that as her human companion, I would have my hand on her back, lean down and whisper that I loved her in her ear as the vet shaved the front of her paw for the big injection. She was my big, oversized, double-coated blond Golden Retriever best friend for six years. I would have liked to have had the first five years of her life, too. Selfishly, I think she would have preferred to have had my company for those first five, too.

I hope this doesn’t sound morose but I found a sense of personal albeit stoic comfort and satisfaction from (once I made up my mind that it had to be done), taking her next door to Paul and Pandora’s backyard for a last romp in the grass she loved. There she quickly found a prickly dwarf lemon tree to “hide” under. And from which it would have been a thorny time getting her out, had she not come out from under when I asked. That’s how much she trusted me. Of course, she probably would have been perfectly happy to die there as it was cool against the cinderblock wall with the smell of Meyer lemons and Pandora’s beefsteak tomato plants. Note: Paul and Pandora are thankfully out of town, but would have approved of this use of their big backyard.

When I led Cleo home from next door, I did not put the leash on her. I wanted her to move under her own steam without the old “rudder” than typically connected us on our outside walks.

Her coat looked a little mussed. I brushed her beautiful fur one last time — as I didn’t want the vet to think we had not been taking good care of her. But, of course, also because I wanted to remember the moment, the feel of her fur, how thin it had become, how so “not” like her body she had become. When I pulled her fur out of the brush and placed it in the trash can, I knew that it would be for the last time — and remembered all the “good times” we done “brushin'” as we called it. She loved to be brushed. And brushed. And brushed. She would lean into as if to say “You can just brush me forever and ever.” This last time she could have cared less. She was tolerating my whim — making me whole right to the end.

I checked inside her ears and saw they needed cleaning. So I wiped them out — so, I guess when she went to “meet her maker” she would have clean ears. By then, a piece of “schmutz” as we called it had formed in her left eye. As if (yes, I know this is anthropomorphizing. Who cares?) she had cried. As if she knew this would be the last of everything and that she had to start memorizing everything about her life with us to carry it with her to doggie heaven.

Often I have thought that dogs don’t like to go to the vets because they can “sniff” the death of one of their kin.

So I made up my mind that I wanted her to be able to smell “me” in her last moments. I put on a bit of the lavender scent that I’ve worn the whole time we shared her life, and dabbed a bit on her, too. I made sure that I put it on my legs and arms so that when I sat on the vet’s cold linoleum office floor next to her, she would be sure to smell the lavender. And not the antiseptic, other sick dogs, the other stuff.

I think she knew that I would have done anything for her — to make her passing more comfortable for her As I had made her life as whole and well and healthy as it could be.

This memory reminds me somewhat of what I did for my father.
In his last hours, I washed his face, tried to clean his hands and fingernails (the hospital certainly didn’t do it), and bought a small bottle of his favorite long-time after shave (Mennen’s) and dabbed some on his cheeks. He loved that manly scent. I don’t know if he was able to smell it, but maybe he did. It was as if this act of Mennen After Shave would create some bond between us, which, of course, it had long, long ago. As if I knew this would be the last of everything that I saw of him. That I had to start memorizing everything about my father as he lay dying in his sweaty hospital gown. That I would have to carry all the memories like logs, including these, to remember him by. I wanted to remember it all. The good. The bad. Everything in between.

So I guess we all create some kind of rituals for death and dying.

Having just realized the similarity between Cleo’s passing and that of my father’s, I guess these acts of goodbye are what we create for ourselves to carry on. Memories we will hold on to like perfect nuggets of gold or ice. They are what make our final interactions meaningful to us… the living.
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