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Friday, February 29, 2008

My Little Contribution to the English Language

As some of you may know, I do a good deal of professional writing and speaking as relates to my job at the radio and as a reviewer. I have noticed a plethora of bad English habits that are becoming more and more common, so here's my meager attempt to stamp them out.

1. An apostrophe shows possession, not plurality. Correct: This is Kevin's diatribe. Incorrect: There are lots of nail's in my toolbox.

2. Nauseous means that you make someone sick. Nauseated means that you yourself are sick.

3. Many people use the reflexive pronoun myself incorrectly. Correct: If you have a question, please contact John, Max or me. Incorrect: If you need help you may contact myself at any time.

4. The phrase 'a lot' consists of two words.

5. Partner, access and impact are nouns, not verbs.

6. ATM is the abbreviation for Automated Teller Machine. To say ATM machine, is redundant. The same applies to PIN, which is the abbreviation for Personal Identification Number. To say PIN number is redundant. There are many more examples, but you get the idea.

7. A question should be punctuated with a question mark.

8. When reading copy on the air, or when announcing web sites in public, please note that this symbol, / , is a FORWARD slash. Not a back slash as it is most commonly identified.

9. Classical musicians do not play "on" their instruments.

10. Your is possessive. You're is the contraction for you are.

11. Its is possessive, it's is the contraction for it is.

12. The common phrase "close proximity" is redundant. To be in proximity means to be close to something.

13. The word important has a t in the middle, not a d. The word hundred ends in the letter d, not t. Ask is a verb meaning to seek information or to inquire. Ax is a tool for chopping wood. February is pronounced Feb-ru- ar-y, not Feb-ewe-ar-y.

14. The word forte has two origins, two meanings and two pronunciations. Forte, meaning a strong point in one's character, is derived from the French, meaning strong. It is a one syllable word pronounced like the word fort in English. The other origin, spelled the same way, is a musical term, is Italian and is pronounced for-tay. It means "loud."

15. Although since 1905 it has become common usage, the word for being fastidious or nit picking is PERNICKETY, not PerSnickety.

16. One who shows empathy is empathic, not empathetic.

17. The word myriad means ten thousand. If you are using it to mean a generic large number, then it does not take a definite article, but rather stands alone. Example: There are myriad good reasons to attend BPI in the summer.

18. It's amusing to hear amateur singers describe themselves as "real high sopranos." Are there any real low ones?

19. Ultimate means "the last." Penultimate means "the next to the last." Neither word means "the best."

20 Epitome means "typical" or possessing most of the traits common to a particular class or group. It does not mean the very best. That would be "apex." Example: The Honda Accord is the epitome of middle class automobiles.

21. Dominant is an adjective. Dominate is a verb. (Those of you who need to get that one will!)

22. Unique means "one of a kind" so there can be no degrees of uniqueness. Being very unique is akin to being a little pregnant.

That's enough for now. This isn't meant to be snarky, rather to help folk who have to speak and write sound as intelligent and well read as they certainly are, and to preserve the language in its correct form.

Happy reading,


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An Evening with some Amazing Musicians

Last night was a musical mountaintop experience as I listened to David Finckel and Wu Han play an amazing program on masterworks for cello and piano. Opening with Schubert's tuneful Arpeggione Sonata, a work written for a now defunct hybrid between the cello and the guitar, I was quite taken by David's careful attention to Schubert's melodies, and how he took great care in his bowings to make the phrases sound as if they were sung and not played on an instrument.

Next came a youthful Beethoven sonata, one that was obviously written more to show off his own skill at the piano than the cellists' prowess. Wu Han tore it up to put it somewhat bluntly. She fired off Beethoven's clusters of notes with apparent ease. More remarkable still was the delightful rapport between this husband and wife duo.

In the second half we were treated to music of Anton Webern. Wu Han set the mood for the audience with a humorous chat about the music, deftly dispelling any fears that the audience may have had about the brief but sometimes pungent music.

Finally a gorgeous and autumnal Brahms sonata finished out the program. Two encores followed, a little melody by Borodin and a fierce scherzo by Shostakovich. This was an amazing evening of music making. I encourage you to check out David and Wu Han's recordings at

There was a lovely reception afterwards in a private home, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the artists around an intimate table for several hours of conversation and bantering about music and musicians. What a night!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

You Tube Debate

Recently, I posted comments on a You Tube video of renowned Canadian tenor Jon Vicker's portayal of Peter Grimes. I remarked that Vickers was a fundamentalist and that he was quite homophobic. I recently received this response. I thought you might enjoy reading it and my response to the writer.

Dear Maestro 214: I take strong objection to your off color remark about Jon Vickers being a "fundie Christian". I'm sure you can agree that this expression is classless and slightly ridicules fundamental Christians, whose numbers are huge and growing everyday. I believe it would be prudent of you to not make such a remark which downgrades individual's religious beliefs regardless of how you feel about it. How would you feel if someone referred to a black man as a "blackie" or a Jewish man as a "Jewy". I'm not sure why you believe that Vickers is a homophobe. If one's views of homosexuality conflicts with his religious beliefs, then he has every right to stick with his guns and be consistent with his philosophy as long as he is not destructive of such groups of individuals. Kudos to Mr. Vickers who is a man of principle and should not be ridiculed just because his beliefe may not consistent with yours. Because one does not believe in the secular "progressive's" view of sexuality, does not make one a homophobe. Canned lingo such as the ones to which you have referred only divides and leans to the notion that tolerance and diversity only apply to the politically correct which is the worst sort of exclusion, bigotry and therefore hypocrisy.

Dear sqnmath1234,

If you assumed that my remark was intended to ridicule fundamentalist Christians, you were dead on. I make no apologies whatsoever for ridiculing a group whose political influence in the United States has been utterly disastrous, and thank God, is noticably waning.

Considering that many of the Fundamentalist movement's leaders have made disgustingly disparaging remarks about homosexuals, I see no reason that I as a homosexual, need show them any more civility than they have shown me. May I remind you that such outstanding "moralists" as the Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed the September 11 terrorist attacks on an acceptance of homosexuality in the United States, and that other such paragons of virtue like Fred Phelps have made careers out of hateful anti-gay rhetoric.

Jon Vickers all but detested Benjamin Britten, and the feeling was pretty mutual. He even went so far as to change texts in the libretto of Peter Grimes to remove what he perceived as gay overtones. His homophobia is rather well documented, and I would refer you to Humphrey Carpenter's excellent biography on Britten if you would care to research it further.

Vickers made a fortune off the work of one of the twentieth century's most prominent gay composers. Funny that he had the moral hutzpah to decline singing Tannhauser and Parsifal on the grounds of his faith, grounds that were blatantly anti-Catholic, but he had no issue with altering a living composer's art to great fame and financial success. Here, sir (or madam as your screen name makes your gender unclear) lies Mr. Vickers' hypocrisy.

Further, you've really no right to call me on using canned lingo when you yourself have used terms such as "social progressives" and even gone so far as to put them in quotation marks as to dilute the impact that such people have had on the improvement of universal human rights.

As for my rhetoric being an agent of intolerance, I would simply say to you that at no time have gays and lesbians attempted to ban the teaching of proven science, nor have we tried to enact legislation which forbids two consenting adults from entering into a legal and loving partnership, nor have we attempted to keep heterosexual persons from bearing and raising children, nor have we thrown our own children into the streets at ages as young as thirteen simply because they didn't conform to our uninformed and illiterate conceptions of the Bible. These are all hallmarks of fundamentalist behavior.

I do believe that if you compare the statistics, that fundamentalist Christians have made far more attempts to divide people, to sow hatred and to legislate a minority's narrow view of morality than any group of homosexuals has ever attempted.

If you're offended by being called a "fundie" so be it. The very concept of fundamentalism and its divisive political agenda offends me to the core. Especially given that more often than not, as was clearly the case with the current administration, greedy politicians have used the usually genuine faith of Christian believers as a stepping stone to very secular power, and then laughed at said believers' gullibility behind closed doors.

Kevin Sutton
By the way, you should have had the guts to sign your name to your post

Friday, February 01, 2008

Some Weekend Listening for the first of February

Here are some tasty new releases that I recommend for your weekend enjoyment.

Wu Han, piano
Russian Recital, music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Wu is the wife of cellist David Finckel, of Emerson String Quartet fame. She gives us a spiffy recital of Russian music. ArtistLed Records No. 10701.

Indigo Road
Original Lute Music by Ronn McFarlane. Dorian 90701. Splendid original compositions by America's master lutenist.

Brahms: The Clarinet Sonatas. Jon Manasse, clarinet and Jon Nakamatsu, piano. Harmonia mundi 907430. Skimpy on the timings, but this recording of Brahms' autumnal clarinet music is simply gorgeous.

Elgar: Violin Concerto, Serenade for Strings. James Ehnes, violin. Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis. Onyx 4025. A major new release from one of the most important and deeply musical violinist at work today.


A Review for Friday. Sorry, I have gotten behind!

George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)

Agrippina (Drama in three acts) (1709-10) [154:00]

Claudius: Günter von Kannen
Agrippina: Barbara Daniels
Nerone: David Kuebler
Poppea: Janice Hall
Ottone: Claudio Nicolai
Pallante: Ulrich Hielscher
Narciso: Eberhard Katz
Lesbo: Carlos Feller

The London Baroque Players
Arnold Östman
Stage Direction by Michael Hampe.

Filmed 1-4 May 1985 at the Rokokotheater Swchetzingen.

EUROARTS DVD 2054538 [154:00]

Because compact discs and DVDS are of such high and lasting quality and are so relatively inexpensive to manufacture, the music world enjoys quite an embarrassment of riches. Record companies continue to mine the depths of recorded performances, and now with the DVD firmly ensconced as the medium of choice for video productions, the market is beginning to see as big a flood of them as it did in the eighties and nineties with compact discs. The result is a seriously mixed bag where quality is concerned, and after having suffered through this production, I wish that the decision makers who let this one out of the can were a bit more discerning.

Handel’s convoluted drama about the behind the scenes machinations of Agrippina, who was the wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius, and mother of Nero, was a tremendous success when it first hit the Italian stages in 1709. And as Handel operas go, this one has some dramatic thrust to it, and some memorable tunes, in spite of the fact that as usual, Handel recycled a good bit of the music from earlier works. In this production, roles that would have been sung by castrati have been replaced with their octave-down male counterparts instead of countertenors, a decision that works well, and frankly makes this nearly unbearable production a few grams more tolerable.

For the life of me, I do not understand why first, opera companies cast singers who are so clueless as to baroque style in productions of baroque operas, and second why, when we have come miles in terms of stylistic and historical performance practice and in the ability to play period instruments well, that the label executives continue to pummel us with productions such as this one that are so severely dated and just plain poorly executed.

Let us begin with the orchestra. Ok, so the London Baroque Players have a bit of a reputation and some recordings to their credit. They play here with nary an ounce of grace and poise, honking and screeching their way through the score with all the enthusiasm that one might expect from a group of moonlighters. This is just plain ugly playing and the close microphones and the boxy acoustic of the Rokokotheater does not help. The sound falls dead at the first row of seats, and it is not enhanced at all when played through a stereo system.

Then there is the singing. Good God! A visit to the local dog pound would result in less barking, woofing, screeching and hacking. David Kuebler sings with a throaty edge to his tone that is maddening, and he puts so much pressure on the voice that there is nowhere for beauty of tone, if he had any, to blossom. Couple that with his forced coloratura and you get some pretty unbearable singing. Barbara Daniels looks regal enough as Agrippina, but she sings Handel with a Verdi voice that overpowers the music. Günter von Kannen is about as kingly as a walrus as he stumbles around the stage looking like and aging out of makeup circus clown, and singing as though he had a sweat sock stuffed down his throat.

The only mildly saving grace here is Janice Hall’s Poppea. This lady can actually sing. Her tone is lovely, she sings Handel with a clue or two about the style and she does not try to overpower us with sheer volume.

The supporting characters are miscast as well. Carlos Feller and Claudio Nicolai were already shall we say, mature, when they appeared in this performance. They are costumed and made up to look even older, and then when you have to listen to their forced, swallowed and tension filled tone, and their mere approximations of the pitches, you wonder from just which home for retired opera singers they were bussed in for this production.

To sum it up, this one should have never made it out of the file cabinet, and were viewers unfortunate enough to have this as their first Baroque opera experience, the cause would be set back a full generation. A request to Euroarts: please don’t do this to us again. No one wants to waste 154 minutes of his life on such third rate product.

Kevin Sutton