June 2009


In today’s online edition, BBC News published “Faulty 20p coins ‘worth £50 each’”. A Coin Factfile sidebar to the article notes originally noted that

British coins do not carry the name of the country of issue – neither do those of the USA

Coins of the USA, of course, do carry the name of the country of issue. Instead of sending the BBC feedback (which I did), maybe I should have offered to sell them my collection of “faulty” US coins on which the words United States of America appear. I’d have taken a mere £20 a piece.

At least BBC News attributed their “factfile” facts. They came from the London Mint Office. Despite its august name, the London Mint Office isn’t the Royal Mint. It’s more like a British Franklin Mint, I think. According to their web page, the London Mint Office is

a wholly-owned subsidiary of one of Europe’s most successful direct marketing organisations’, the Samlerhuset Group.

How the London Mint Office qualified for a .org domain beats me. Not to mention how any of this qualifies as news.

What do you call it if someone commits a crime in an attempt to prove they were right that the crime rate is increasing? Last year, Martin Bernheimer wrote about the sorry state of arts criticism in the country:

Many US papers have abandoned thoughtful, detailed reviews altogether. Publishers, editors and, presumably, readers want instant evaluations and newsbites, preferably with flashy pictures. It is Zagat-think, simplicity for the simple-minded.

Today, Martin Bernheimer reviewed the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. You can guess where I’m going with this. (Disclosure: I sang in the chorus.) The Financial Times as an organization may or may not have abandoned thoughtful, detailed reviews, but Bernheimer nonetheless gave them the kind of review he said many US papers want. Nope, I won’t be filing his review under “thoughtful and detailed.” The date of the concert, the names of the soloists, and the row in which Bernheimer unhappily sat unfortunately don’t pass the bar for detail. And nothing in his mostly weasely review fits the thoughtful category. Not to omit detail myself, I’ll mention a couple of things Bernheimer got wrong: Joseph Flummerfelt didn’t prepare all three choirs, and Anthony Dean Griffey wasn’t motley. Admittedly, the hypothesis that Bernheimer is writing bad reviews to support his claim that there are too many bad reviews is hard to support. If that were the point, wouldn’t he write the bad reviews using a pseudonym? So here’s another hypothesis about what’s wrong with the guy. He reported today that Avery Fisher Hall

distorted the inherent complexities virtually beyond recognition. Echoes abounded, balances went awry, attacks blurred. Some voices disappeared in the muddle, others boomed as if electronically amplified. It was ugly.

I think one of the abounding echoes was that of his own voice in his own head, because last month, he had this to say about Boulez’s performance of Mahler’s Eighth in Carnegie:

Balances went askew. Melodic details got buried in textural muddles.

Next time someone pays for Bernheimer to sit in a chair, an audiologist’s office might be the right venue. Welcome to my new sarcastic and bitter category. My excuse for being sarcastic and bitter? None, but I’ll point out that I’m not claiming to be a real critic, nor am I getting paid to write this. I promise to post something warm and fuzzy soon. Related reading: Shut up, Martin Bernheimer (Einstein on the A Train, April 23, 2008) Related hearing (only through July 10, 2009): tonight’s performance of the concert, which was broadcast live. I think you’ll love it.

I wanted an adjectival form of hysteron proteron today, and I decided not to write hysteroproteronic, if you know what I mean (or ass-backwards).  I guess if there were one, there’d only be a single word (like zeugma, though of course it wouldn’t be zeugma) for hysteron proteron, and the idea of printing proteron hysteron on a T-shirt wouldn’t even exist. Which got me thinking. How many other funny things don’t exist for reasons like this?

On a happier note, I’m not a stand-up comic and I have an appropriate blog category for this post.

I’m singing Mahler’s Eighth with the New York Philharmonic this week. It’s a phenomenal experience, not to mention a spectacular piece of music, performed by one of the world’s best orchestras and some amazing soloists. All backed up by 170 adult and 40 children choristers, of which I’m one (of the adults).

On August 25, 2009, the New York Philharmonic will release a recording of our performance through iTunes, Amazon and other retailers. If you don’t have tickets and don’t want to wait until August, you can listen to tomorrow night’s performance live on WQXR 96.3FM in the New York area or on WQXR.com, and possibly on the NY Phil’s web site for a couple of weeks after that.

Shameless subplug: You can also hear me in this Dutoit/Montreal recording of Fauré’s Requiem and Pavane (the version with silly words – of the Pavane, that is), and in this Dessoff recording of choral works (good stuff you probably haven’t heard) by Corigliano, Rorem, Moravec, and Convery.

The Mathematics Genealogy Project now traces my mathematical genealogy back to Galileo, passing through BenkartJacobson, Chrystal, Maxwell, Hopkins, Sedgwick, Jones, CrankePostlethwaite, Whisson, Taylor (Walter, not Brook), Smith, Cotes, Newton, Barrowde Roberval, and Viviani along the way. Cool.