My new all-consuming project!

So now that I'm done teaching that copyediting class (YAY!), I apparently felt the need to find something new to swallow up every free moment, but at least this time, I'm having some fun with it: scanning our scores of CDs and organizing our hundreds, if not thousands, of digital music files.

Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, Mahler’s Ruckert-Lieder, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, and American opera arias

The MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, January 15.

The clarinet is often described as the instrument closest, in timbre and range, to the human voice. I never gave the idea much thought before this concert, but the juxtaposition put forth by the Metropolitan Opera's exquisite orchestra turned out to be lovely. Alternating between supporting a clarinet soloist and accompanying soprano Renée Fleming highlighted the voice-like qualities of the wind instrument, the agility and virtuosity of Fleming's voice, and the fine musicianship of both. The program itself was a bit quirky, starting with Mozart and ending with several hyper-romantic arias from twentieth-century American operas, but it pulled together beautifully behind its talented soloists.

McCoy Tyner Quartet featuring Gary Bartz

At the Blue Note on Wednesday, January 11.

Jazz is never going to be my thing. I have tried (and tried and tried and tried), but I always feel at sea to some extent. Sometimes I get something out of it, and sometimes I simply don't, but the music never truly speaks to me the way other genres do. I feel bad about that (I feel bad about lots of things), but there it is.

That said, the surest way to pull me out a little bit is to feature a good pianist, and McCoy Tyner happens to be a great one. His résumé—pianist for the John Coltrane Quartet as well as sideman on numerous albums for Blue Note Records and eventual bandleader—is obviously pretty striking (it's generally a good sign if even I recognize the names), but it wasn't just Tyner's credentials that impressed me. He's an incredible pianist, in a way that transcends genre altogether.

A Separation

In theaters.

The most intractable disagreements are those in which each party believes himself to be the true victim, the one most deserving of an apology. A Separation dramatizes that essential truth as well as any film I've ever seen, and it does so by playing fair. The four adults at odds in Asghar Farhadi's moving domestic drama all have legitimate grievances, even as they also have all contributed to the destructive mire in which they find themselves.

It's a lose-lose mess, but although A Separation is poignant and sad, it's not depressing. Farhadi's careful unspooling of his tale keeps the movie from wallowing. In fact, the movie is outright suspenseful, perfectly paced, both tense and thoughtful, and the actors are so talented and quietly expressive that watching them is a joy, even in an unhappy context.

Links of the week, 1/6/2012

I've been immersed in politics this week, and as I try to avoid blogging about that directly (the occasional vitriolic aside is more than enough), I'm straining a bit to come up with some fun links.


New episodes Mondays on Hulu (airs on E4 in the UK). Three episodes into the third season.

The whole "this British TV show could never air in the United States" thing is often kind of overblown, but in the case of Misfits, imported here by Hulu, that's probably a fair assessment. The show's nonchalant treatment of its characters' sex lives is its most obviously un-American trait, but the foreignness goes deeper than that. American TV almost invariably celebrates characters who are wealthy or ambitious or somehow outstanding, the best at whatever they do, and Misfits features characters who, even after they acquire supernatural powers, are doggedly ordinary—underemployed, living in council housing (or a complex so grim and run-down it might as well be), in and out of trouble with the law not because they're outright criminals but because they're aimless and rash and unlucky. And yet the show is as nonchalant about their hapless, mundane existence as it is about the obvious fact that people are sexual creatures.

That breezy freshness spills over into every aspect of the show: the charmingly flippant approach to its supernatural elements, the peculiar plots twists, the engagingly laid-back acting. It's a quirky show that doesn't make a show of its quirkiness. Sometimes the quirks skew wrong (a few plot lines in the first season left a bad taste in my mouth), but they're always compelling: entertaining first and then, once you're finished laughing—whether with humor or in disbelief—oddly thought-provoking. Introducing this brazen oddity to the American audiences is one of the best things Hulu has ever done.