Saturday, December 12, 2009

After the Flood

Google takes a bite out of Florida ...

So there I was, just fiddling around in my Google Analytics reports to see where my latest hits were coming from. Suddenly I did a doubletake, because there was something funny about the familiar South Florida coastline.

Apparently Google has flashed forward in time and redrawn the map to reflect rising sea levels. That's the only reason I can think of to explain why Marjorie Stoneman Douglas's "River of Grass," AKA the Everglades, is now a river of water with the cities of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Beach clinging to a narrow isthmus sticking out into the Gulf Stream.

Well, this should silence the skeptics once and for all. No global warming? How about no snows on Kilamanjaro? How about an ocean instead of an ice sheet at the north pole? These things are normal? Maybe when their favorite golf course submerges they'll catch on. Or when Sara Palin can't find any polar bears to shoot near her balmy beachfront property in Alaska.

Hm, on second glance it's even worse than I thought, because the island city of Miami Beach doesn't appear on the map at all. Guess we'll have to knock down all the buildings once the lower floors are flooded out. Maybe it will make a nice artificial reef.

Got a better explanation? Let me know, because I need to find out if I have to sell my house ... quick!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Handel's Gift

The music that keeps on giving ...

Miami used to be a provincial town when I was growing up here, with precious little in the way of big city cultural events. Times have changed since we've become a multicultural hub of the Americas, though, and sometimes we get performances here that are better than anything we have have a right to expect.

So it was on Friday evening when James Judd, former conductor of the Florida Philharmonic, returned to conduct a splendid ensemble and chorus in a world class rendition of the complete Messiah at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Only five years old, the Boca Raton Symphonia played with grace and clear intonation, as well as a good deal of oomph when it was called for, including a thunderous timpani and clarion clear trumpet (more on that later). The Master Chorale of South Florida, in existence for seven years, draws its talent from all three of our local counties. Under Artistic Director Joshua Habermann, they exhibit a mature and refined sound with many textures and a large dynamic range.

And then there were the guest vocal soloists. These kids can sing. And I have to call them kids, because the eldest of them were only 22 -- a very cultured mezzo-soprano, J'nai Bridges, and a striking tenor, Joshua Stuart. But then there was soprano Sarah Shafer, only 20, already with the resume of a 30-something, whose bio mentions that, by the way, she has also appeared as a piano soloist with two regional orchestras. I wonder what she does with all her spare time? And bass Thomas Shivone, with a stronger voice than any 19 year old has any right to possess, who began studying voice at the age of 13. So let's see ... six years, and for how many of them has his voice changed?

With such a cast, Maestro Judd could be counted on to wring every last drop of emotional content from Handel's enduring oratorio -- the Christmas gift that just keeps on giving. A couple of years ago I wrote about listening to a recording of this work, especially the chorus For Unto Us A Child Is Born. But good live performances always beat even the best recordings. There is a texture in the air, a complex of physical vibrations, that is far more subtle and expressive than what comes out of a pair of speakers -- even my very nice set by Bose. And of course seeing the performers, and getting the full resonance of the acoustic space in which they work, add even more.

One thing I noticed about this rendition of "Unto Us" was the way the words were first sung gently, as if to a babe in a cradle (or manger), and then with progressive gusto and emphasis. Naturally, the Halleluiah chorus was equally splendid and jubilant, and audiences can always be excused if they feel the performance could end right there. But Handel had more to say, to complete the story, and the rewards are there for keeping your seat.

"The Trumpet Shall Sound," for example, in which the first trumpet -- in this case, Jeff Kaye -- gets to show what he can do. They had him deliver this solo from the lectern where the lay reader stands during a mass, while the aforementioned bass vocalist, front and center, had to keep up with him and project over him. Talking of textures, you could practically see the brass notes in the air; if they'd been any closer you might have been able to reach up and grab them as they went by, each one perfect and buffed to a high sheen.

The work ends with "Worthy Is The Lamb That Was Slain," and one of the most rousing Amens ever rendered outside of a gospel meeting. I asked my wife on the way home, "How did he get them to hold that last note so long?" She replied that of course they were professionals.

Of course. Don't try this at home, kids. These were professional drivers on a closed course. Just say Amen.