Marc-Andre Hamelin Makes His Mostly Mozart Debut

August 8, 2007

Tuesday night Avery Fisher Hall was again packed as Marc-Andre Hamelin made his belated Mostly Mozart debut.  Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K.330, was the pre-concert offering and from a first-row seat I marveled at Hamelin’s interpretation and passionate playing.

Louis Langree led the orchestra in Ravel’s [i]Pavane pour une infante defunte[/i].  Enough already with this short chestnut.  Like I’m sorry she died but this pops up far too often.

Hamelin, Langree and the orchestra collaborated beautifully in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major.  Hamelin has a well-deserved reputation for performing and recording the music of lesser known composers – his Alkan CDs are wonderful – but he proved himself a passionate Mozartean here.

The Swedish Radio Choir brought their impressive talents to Faure’s Requiem, my absolute favorite of this genre.  Why?  Because Faure’s God doesn’t hurl thunderbolts and consign the questionably faithful and the clearly astray to a musical hell of an afterlife.  This is a lyrical, soft, inviting requiem that suggests that, maybe, death might be more fun than say, how Ingmar Bergman portrayed that state.

A very nice concert.


Those Darn, Nettlesome Presidential Signing Statements

August 6, 2007

The conflict between Congress and the President, begun actually in the first months of George Washington’s less than harmonious relationship with those political foes childhood histories ignore, has never abated. Usually resolved in the political sphere, one way or another, occasional clashes are of constitutional magnitude and must be ended by the Judicial Branch, that being almost always the final interpreter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court.

Like a high stakes player at a Las Vegas casino catering to “whales,” presidents occasionally up the ante without really knowing the odds. They invite confrontation, eschew cooperation. Certainly President Bush is no bush league <groan> player in this unfolding game.

When I entered the Army in 1965, one of the military’s cherished maxims that I quickly learned, and adopted forever, was “Let’s fly it up the flag pole and see who salutes.” The meaning is clear – one prime example when the American public – liberal and conservative – declined to salute was the administration’s ill-advised, and clearly unconstitutional proposal to try Taliban (or Al Quaeda) linked American citizens before a military commission. That’s the kind of tribunal that got Lincoln a lot of criticism and it hasn’t been used since Ex parte Quirin, the World War II case involving German saboteurs landed on our shores by U-boat (and there remain troubling issues about the use of that trial modality for at least two of the captured, hapless saboteurs who were U.S. citizens).

To test the waters, President Bush has been employing “Signing Statements,” a formal expression of what he (really his attorneys) think a bill passed by Congress actually means as his signature makes it the Law of the Land. Signing Statements aren’t mentioned in the Constitution – under Article II the President either signs or vetoes a bill (or in some instances indulges in the “pocket veto” which means he forgot to take the bill out of his suede jacket).

Notwithstanding that, there’s nothing inherently wrong or even sinister about a President announcing what he thinks a law means. If nothing else it’s ammunition for those who may well challenge how he puts the new law into effect, either through litigation or political action. And it can affirmatively guide those charged with heuristic application of the law.

What IS troubling with President Bush’s use of signing statements is that he clearly intends them to establish parameters of executive power that are neither delegated or authorized by the particular legislation or generally viewed as being within the sole province of the Chief Executive under Article II. And, of course, most of these signing statements have dealt with crucial issues of civil liberties and the rights of both citizens and non-citizens. The President’s advisors aren’t surreptitiously, with these statements, avoiding reaction and confrontation – it’s being invited when, perhaps, simply allowing the law to go into effect would afford ample opportunity to determine both its constitutionality and effectiveness, the former an issue for the courts, the latter for the political process.

It isn’t good that President Bush is taking this course – the national mood remains tense after 9/11 and with even staunch Republicans using the word “debacle” to refer to “Mission Accomplished” Iraq. Of course the Supreme Court will, sooner or later, resolve any issues or ambiguities with regard to presidential interpretation of bills passed bicamerally. But do we really need a President, this President to ratchet up inter-branch conflict now?

What do you think?

“Home Movies From the Lower Ninth Ward”

August 6, 2007

Is “conspiracy” too strong a charge to level at those federal and state satraps who have very effectively prevented the rebuilding of New Orleans’ most devastated neighborhoods? See Jonathan Demme and Daniel Wolff’s disturbing “Home Movies From the Lower Ninth Ward” when and if you can – you can be sure the local popcorn palaces won’t book this documentary.

The filmmakers spent a lot of time in the all-black neighborhood on a number of trips, each sequentially recording the awesome lack of government involvement to say nothing of progress in trying to get people back into homes – not their original homes, they’re mostly gone and the blocks look like a nascent suburban subdivision barely reached by builders.

Shot with a handheld camera with built-in mike (low, low production values by intention), the very brave and determined Ninth Ward denizens are interviewed. Sadness at irreparable loss of chattel mixes with a strong optimism, for many rooted in religion. Several of the strongest community activists are survivors of drug and alcohol addiction – now they’re wholly committed to not letting their once thriving working class neighborhood succumb to those developers, in league with city, state and federal officials who foresee a soulless conglomeration of tourist attractions and high-rise condos. And are willing to see if they can outwait and outwit those who want to bring the Ninth Ward back to vibrancy. Sadly, the betting money is on them.

This film, which will be edited for extensive and lengthy PBS broadcasts, isn’t about why a Category 3 hurricane, hardly the long expected “Big One,” decimated a great city. The evidence of lack of preparedness borders on the criminal and the people speaking in this film look to their future, not the past.

What really is at stake here is America’s commitment to its own to invest whatever it takes so that New Orleans doesn’t become an urban theme park for conventioneers and holidaymakers. Truly revolting in the documentary is the short shot of airconditioned tour buses full of white tourists driving through the Ninth Ward, looking out as if they were on an African safari.

See this film-tell others to do so too AND help make the rebuilding of New Orleans for ITS native citizens a real 2008 presidential campaign issue.

Off to Northwestern in September

August 6, 2007

Well, my friends tell me that it’s really okay to use my new blog to brag (”kvell” uttered one Yiddish-addicted gal) about my son, Ted. He’s off to Northwestern in September. According to a recent New York Times article, Northwestern is now on everyone’s “radar screen,” the same piece suggesting that those who can’t realistically aim for Northwestern try for Chicago (that’s the University of Chicago, not the Chicago College of Taxidermy). Who’d a thunk it! Apparently Evanston has charms (academic, I hope) that many find lacking in Cambridge and New Haven these days. That said, I’m really unready emotionally to be an empty nester no matter how busy and rewarding my professional and cultural life.

Sympathetic responses gratefully accepted.

Beethoven Marathon at Mostly Mozart

August 6, 2007

On a cold 22 December, 1808, in a previous life as an officer in the Coldstream Guards on detached service, I attended a very long concert of works by Beethoven, conducted by the composer, in a freezing hall in Vienna.  On Saturday night the Mostly Mozart Festival orchestra reprised this historic concert, breaking it, fortunately, into two parts.

At 4PM, Maestro Louis Langree led the orchestra in a fine reading of Beethoven’s Sixth (“Pastoral”) Symphony.  Never my favorite symphony by LvB, I nonetheless enjoyed it very much, especially as for the first time in years I had a stage seat immediately next to the orchestra and I enjoyed watching Langree’s expressive and enthusiastic conducting.

Then followed “Ah! perfido” sung by the talented soprano, Anja Kampf, making her New York debut.  I hope to hear her again and soon.

The Swedish Radio Choir sang the “Gloria” from the Mass in C major.  Anyone familiar with this stellar group doesn’t have to be told that they meshed beautifully with the orchestra.

And then the wonderful pianist, Jeffrey Kahane, performed Piano Concerto No. 4, earning a standing ovation.

After an uncivilized forty-five minutes to wolf down some food I was back at 6PM for the second half of the concert which began with Beethoven’s rousing hymm to the vagaries of Fate, the Fifth Symphony.  It could have been the New York Philharmonic performing – an outstanding, vivid reading.

Back came the Swedish Radio Choir for the “Sanctus” and “Benedictus” of that great C major mass.

Re-enter Jeffrey Kahane for the solo Fantasia in G minor, a Beethoven gem I haven’t heard performed in quite a while (but more recently than 1808 I hasten to add).

The concert closed with the run-up to the Ninth Symphony, the Fantasia in C minor (“Choral Fantasy”), not Beethoven’s greatest work but one that admirably united orchestra, soloist Kahane and the Swedes.

Avery Fisher Hall was packed for both concerts with a fair representation of younger people.  Louis Langree proved again that he’s an impressive podium presence and I’d love to see him conduct a few Philharmonic subscription concerts.

Before the first concert, Duke professor Brian Gilliam, whom some may know here as a specialist in the life and works of Richard Strauss, gave an amusing and spirited background lecture which added to my enjoyment of otherwise familiar pieces.

This season’s Mostly Mozart Festival is a little low on interest for me but Saturday night was a special treat on an awfully hot and miserable day.


August 5, 2007

You probably wouldn’t eat popcorn at a Broadway theatre but it’s okay here as Steve Buscemi’s latest film unfolds, a true theatrical play on celluloid.  Buscemi is a jaded political reporter who may have gotten into some hot water with his editor for cushioning his research with fantasy.  Demoted to interviewing starlets, he’s sent to to do a story on a Grade B wannabe superstar played by the outstanding (beauty AND ability) Siena Miller.

Virtually the whole story takes place in the actress’s apartment as late night stretches into early morning.   Are they forging a relationship built on the slow, painful bestowal of trust or are they playing a sick game neither can fully control?  To find out, see “Interview” which, I guarantee you, won’t be in theatres long despite the strong initial reviews.

“Feast of Love”

August 5, 2007

I’ve seen Robert Benton’s newest film, “Feast of Love,” and you haven’t.  It was screened for donors (I’m a small one) at the wonderful Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY, near my law school.

Based on the novel of almost the same name (“The Feast of Love”), this is a powerful portrayal of multiple, intersecting relationships with Greg Kinnear in the middle as a sort or Everyschmuck – easy to co-opt, especially by a nubile female, but with an enduring optimism.  Morgan Freeman is a stable anchor for most of the characters, a man tackling the grief of his son’s suicide with his devoted wife while lending comfort, strength and wisdom to those lacking those attributes.  Selma Blair, one of my favorite actresses, has a too brief but effective role as misunderstood housewife (married to Kinnear’s character) who as quickly as ramen noodles become edible discovers her emerging Sapphic side.

But for the strong acting this could have been a trite flick but it’s not.  Radha Mitchell is compelling as Diana, a real estate broker, who doesn’t know herself until almost too late.  Her acting adds much.

Director Benton spoke after the screening and took audience questions.  He’s a somewhat self-effacing but clearly brilliant master of his craft.  “Feast of Love” is way different from his “Bonnie and Clyde” which I didn’t like.

“Feast of Love” opens in September and probably closes soon thereafter-it’s too intelligent for a long run.

Meet the Cats, Ralph and Stein

August 4, 2007

catsralphstein.jpgI have a friend who divided my name between two cats.  They are pictured at left.  Ralph is the black one.  Stein is the tabby.

1.5 Credit Courses

August 4, 2007

Quite a few years ago we experimented for about four semesters with half-semester, 1.5 credit courses.  Most were in the areas of Municipal Law, Torts and Environmental Law. Relatively little coherent thought was put into how to develop and integrate these courses with the established curriculum.  The idea was that students might select two sequential mini-courses.  One selling point was that these half-semester courses could develop skills training while focusing on discrete but complex areas of practice.  As an example, I taught a 1.5 credit course on New York Municipal Tort Litigation which dealt with the special procedural issues of suing the state or local government.

The 1.5 credit courses weren’t a raging success at the time for several reasons.  One was that a few of the courses were taught by adjuncts who, probably, weren’t top teachers during a full semester and made something of a mess when trying to cover significant material in half the time.  Another was that students felt that in fact the 1.5 credit courses were more intensive than the half-semester offerings should have been (mea culpa: I was accused of teaching a three-credit course in half the time by a few students and they had probable cause on their side).

I think we should consider trying half-semester courses again.  The focus should be on subjects taught, at least initially, solely by full-time faculty with a real skills component integrated into the substantive coverage.  The practice of law has changed more since we tried this approach than has our view of teaching.  I can think of a number of subjects where with integration of technology a very worthwhile and challenging addition to our curriculum would come about.

Any comments, thoughts? 

Scott v. Harris and Police Chases

August 4, 2007

The Court’s holding is that such a chase is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment – the opinion does not address whether in particular cases there may well be a common law tort departure from a reasonable standard of care.  I think that’s a good resolution – it doesn’t require police to make almost impossible decisions in split seconds for fear of violating someone’s civil rights but it leaves the civil justice system available for remedying acts of negligence (which, as I’ve clearly stated, are not uncommon at all.

Things have changed since you ventured out with your gal in your spiffy flivver with another couple in the rumble seat.  Highway safety is vital and drivers who do not stop when ordered to by the police generally act that way for reasons other than fear of a ticket.  There is no reason to believe that by discontinuing a chase the errant motorist will then operate lawfully and safely.  That’s even assuming the driver isn’t a seriously bad actor in the first place.

What do you think would be the result in a tort action against the police if they allowed a speeding driver to flee and he had a rape or child abuse victim with him/her and the criminal conduct occurred or continued because the car wasn’t stopped?  Step away from the Supreme Court’s Criminal Procedure cases and look at the kind of liability police now face for NOT acting.  It’s a reality.

I’m not suggesting that dire scenario is common.  But a driver fleeing at high speed is, at the least, committing Reckless Endangerment and that’s a dangerous crime in and of itself.  Most such drivers are drunk or on controlled substances even if they’re not running from (or to) a crime scene.

With regard to the Scott v. Harris issue, people must be responsible for their reckless but nonetheless intentional acts.  The decision to flee a police officer is an intentional one, often committed under conditions showing a wanton disregard for the safety of others.  Police officers have to make an instant decision – and, of course, live with its aftermath.  It’s a balancing test but it’s one, as the Court recognized in Scott v. Harris, that doesn’t permit of long cogitation.

I don’t think the Court’s decision will encourage what you characterize as “similarly dangerous behavior.”  Well aware of both civil liability and community relations issues, many police agencies severely restrict high speed chases so that, as with Tennessee v. Garner, a large swath of law enforcement is pragmatically unimpacted by the decision.  Without doubt there will be accidents where innocent people are hurt and killed – no one questions that.  The issue is BALANCE – whether society is better served by allowing police to make the decision to chase a fleeing driver unencumbered by a constitutional restraint that can not be practically incorporated in decision-making.