Greenwich Gossip

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Betty Sternberg For Editor!

Something has got to be done about the shameful state of the local rag, aka Yellowwich Time. Today's banner headline says that work on the bridge at Exit 4 in Cos Cob will "effect" the Town for some time to come.

What are we to make of this cryptic statement? Your scribe's dictionary says that "effect" ( means "to bring about, accomplish, make happen." So this bridge work is going to "bring about" our Town? Will it "accomplish" Greenwich? Perhaps it will "make" Greenwich into a more "happening" place?

Clearly this kind of gibberish has no place in our community. We need to take our highest-paid and highest-ranking so-called "educator", and immediately put her to work as editor-in-chief of the local rag. Think of the beauty of this solution, my friends: we take a walking disaster out of our school system, and we put her in charge of the dying disaster known as Yellowwich Time. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! When the Hearst people finally put the local rag out of its misery, they can cart Betty off at the same time. It's a clear win-win situation for the Town of Greenwich.

So write your congressman, email the governor, call Town Hall, and help to organize another picket march at the Havemeyer Building, home to our ever-popular Board of Ed. Let's hear it, folks! Betty Sternberg for editor!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vermont Dodges a Bullet...

...after Greenwich shoots itself in the foot. The ineffable Betty Sternberg, past master at destroying teacher and parent morale, not to mention repeatedly fibbing to the Representative Town Meeting, somehow made it onto a short list of three candidates for a position overseeing the educational system of the State of Vermont. But, unlike the Town of Greenwich, the State of Vermont wisely promoted from within, and left Betty out in the cold.

Well, that's if you define the cold as a salary and benefits package bordering on $300,000 per annum - by far the highest in Town. As our local economy takes hit after hit from the reeling misfortunes of Wall Street, we still have to keep paying Betty her obscene paycheck, just as we will undoubtedly have to pay her obscene pension benefits for the rest of her natural life. All in all, the walking disaster known as Betty Sternberg will wind up costing the taxpayers of Greenwich somewhere well into the millions of dollars.

Lucky - or rather, smart - Vermont. Unlucky - or rather, stupid - Greenwich.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Rafters Ring at Christ Church

Last evening was a feast of French organ music at Christ Church as part of the "Second Friday" recital series. Scott Turkington, organist at one of the three St. John's churches in Stamford (the RC one) was the artist; as usual, it was a treat for both eye and ear thanks to the video projection on the large movie screen on the chancel steps that enabled us all to watch as well as hear his outstanding performance.

The ever-popular "Allegro", the opening movement of Widor's "Symphonie VI", led off the program in rousing fashion. As readers of these pages may recall, this is the track that your scribe has worn out on many CDs by listening to it time and time again. It appears that he is in good company: according to what Scott told us, Widor himself tinkered with this piece for many years, constantly improving it and ultimately scoring it for organ and symphony orchestra. Scott's rendition was a little slower than what one often hears, as though he wanted to make us listen to the individual notes as well as the huge waves of sound. Your scribe wanted to shout "Bravo!" at the end, but thought it might be a little premature, as the program was only beginning.

The only non-French piece was one of the versions of the chorale "Herzlich Thut Mich Verlangen", the well-known "Passion Chorale" so often used by Bach in his "St. Matthew Passion", with which Johannes Brahms amused himself on his deathbed. Well, perhaps "amused" is not quite the right word, but it does seem as though Brahms kept on writing new versions of his farewell to the world, each no doubt billed as his "last piece" until its successor was written. Scott characterized the mood as Brahms "looking inwardly...his youth and bravura finished." And that was indeed the mood in which he ably performed it.

A very different musical farewell followed: Jehan Alain's "Litanies", written after the death of his sister at age 23. The constantly-repeated and embroidered theme becomes a mantra, like the repetitive phrases in the Roman Catholic liturgy for the departed. Brilliant, technically challenging, and acoustically thrilling, Alain's piece became, in effect, his own eulogy when he himself was killed at the age of 28 in World War II.

The musical mystic Charles Tournmire provided a bridge from death back to life in his Introit for Holy Saturday, which incorporates hints of the great Easter "Alleluia". Tournmire's music often seems muddy to your scribe's ear, but Scott played this piece with great sensitivity and clarity.

Then it was all merriment with Jean Langlais' "Pasticcio", which as Scott explained is "a pastiche of ideas, light and fun-filled." The catchy, rhythmic theme shows a playful side of Langlais not often heard.

A second Langlais work followed, a "Trio" modeled after Bach's organ trio sonatas. Light fluid movements in the manual parts interweave with a chorale-like melody played on the pedals using the 4' stops, so that all three voices are heard in the same vocal register. Langlais was part of a long tradition of blind French organists, and as your scribe watched Scott's hands fly from manual to manual, he could not but marvel at the genius and versatility of the composer.

A bonus piece was Paul Hindemith's "Adagio" from his first organ sonata. Hindemith taught at Yale for many years before his death in 1965, and Scott told us that performances of his music seemed to have died off with him. And in truth, it's been about four decades since your scribe last heard Hindemith in performance. Scott characterized his music as "cerebral but accessible," which is a very accurate description.

The grand finale was, appropriately enough, Louis Vierne's "Scherzo" and "Final" from his first organ symphony. The Scherzo is in A-B-A form, the middle section being a canon. Vierne, too, was blind, and reigned at the console of Notre Dame de Paris for many decades, always playing the Sunday afternoon organ recitals himself, and ending them with an improvisation on a theme submitted by someone else. As Scott told us, on the occasion of his 1,750th such recital Vierne keeled over, dead, as he was about to start his final improvisation. At first the noise his body made on the keyboards was taken by the audience as the opening of the piece. He died, Scott told us, as he would have wished to die: at the console of his beloved Cavaille-Coll organ.

But not before he'd written the "Final", of course. Another masterwork of French organ literature, this piece provided a fitting book-end for the Widor piece that began the program. Often used as a showpiece in the organ demonstrations at Washington Cathedral - and no doubt at many other places as well - this fiery, dynamic, driving toccata is one of the signature pieces of the French Romantic movement. Suffice it to say that Scott's bravura playing resulted in the bravos and standing ovation that your scribe had been ready to offer at the beginning of the program.

Afterwards, the usual reception in the Family Room gave us all a chance to meet and talk with Scott. The series will continue on December 12 with Christ Church's new organist and choirmaster, Jamie Hitel. It is good to know that this outstanding program of monthly recitals is continuing unabated under Jamie's leadership, as Christ Church has undoubtely the finest organ in Greenwich, if not perhaps in the whole State of Connecticut. The one at Woolsey Hall at Yale is larger, but your scribe would argue that the acoustics at Christ Church are better, and the organ placement likewise somewhat better than in New Haven, where some of the pipes are buried in chambers deep in the basement of the building. So thanks to the powers that be at Christ Church for continuing to share this incomparable instrument with the community in this way!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

And the Winner is...

The polls in Greenwich will be open for another three hours, but your scribe is already looking forward to the moment when, as Kipling put it, "the tumult and the shouting dies." This has been one of the noisiest campaigns he can remember, as well as the one with the most heat and the least light.

Whoever wins, he will not inherit the country we had eight years ago. Were Edward Gibbon living and writing today, he might have been intrigued by some of the parallels with the Roman Empire about which he was scribbling so furiously away, as Lord Chesterfield put it. We've endured 9/11, an imploding economy, and a burgeoning national debt that can probably never be repaid. Even the debt clock in Times Square had to be shut down so they could add more zeroes.

On the local front, we've had to endure two unspeakable school superintendents, neither of whom was able to speak the English language; the out-of-control and still far-from-completed Hamilton Avenue School boondoggle, a downward-trending real estate market that many brokers still seem to think is a figment of someone else's imagination, declining school test scores, the loss of our local movie theatres, the slow but steady demise of Greenwich Avenue as a shopping venue for anyone but tourists and the uninformed, and so on, and so forth. Are we better off than we were eight years ago? Most people would probably say no, in your scribe's humble opinion.

Can anyone remember a period in American history - other than the Great Depression, of course - during which we've actually gone backwards over an eight-year period? With no end in sight?

Hence the references to Gibbon and Kipling. Kipling wrote his "Recessional" (the closing hymn in a church service during which the clergy recess down the aisle, the candles are put out, the organ falls silent, and darkness takes over) in the waning years of the 19th century. He was basically predicting the demise of the British Empire long before two world wars in the 20th century made that demise a reality:

"Far-called, our armies melt away,
On dune and headland sink the fire;
Lo! All our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre...."

His was not a popular poem at the time. But Gibbon would probably have agreed with him. Kipling also spent a lot of time in the United States, and wrote some of his best-known books here. What do you suppose he might write about the country we live in in Anno Domini 2008?

Well, we'll know the winner of the election in another two and a half hours. But regardless of the voting results, in your scribe's opinion we are all the losers. We are not the same nation we were eight years ago, and if present trends continue unabated, who knows if we will ever again regain all that has been whittled away since the last time a new President moved into the White House?