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August 25, 2007

Why Claudio Abbado conducts every concert as if it could be his last

Because it's true.

Daniel J. Wakin's elegiac article in the August 21, 2007 New York Times featured his visit with the 74-year-old master (above, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1997 in a scintillating performance of the Prelude of Bizet's Carmen) in Lucerne, Switzerland, where he led the Lucerne Festival Orchestra's performance of Mahler's Third Symphony last weekend.

Here's the story.

    For a Maestro, Energy Is the Only Limitation

    His baton kept a tight but flowing beat as his left hand, at the end of a thin wrist, went its own way, deftly sculpturing phrases and so often asking for less, less, less.

    Claudio Abbado sat before the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, rehearsing Mahler’s Third Symphony last Wednesday, speaking softly in German, English and Italian to the collection of international musicians in the resident ensemble. They were closely attentive. He had only to lower his baton for them to stop playing — no calls for quiet.

    And at the concert on Sunday evening, the usually staid Swiss greeted the performance with a roar. His most devoted fans, the “Abbadiani,” rained flowers down from the balcony. Clapping rhythmically, the audience summoned him back for a solo bow after the orchestra had left the stage.

    When this maestro conducts these days, it is a choice occasion. At 74, his schedule reduced after his recovery from stomach cancer six years ago, Mr. Abbado has mostly turned away from the kind of grand institutions he once led — La Scala, the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic — and now pours his limited energies mainly into a few bursts of concerts.

    He has distilled away the distractions of modern conductorhood, like administration, dealing with unions and constant travel. He plays the music he wants with the musicians he chooses.

    “I try to do less and less; the doctor says so,” Mr. Abbado said during an interview in the elegant lakeside villa lent to him for his two-week stay at the Lucerne Festival. It was the first in a series of conversations during the week of rehearsals and performances for the Mahler Third. “But always it is a passion, a love for music — for me.”

    Talking about it, though, is not a passion. Mr. Abbado seems to prefer discussing environmental issues (he praises California’s effort to reduce highway emissions and mentions his new hybrid car) and the beloved garden at his villa in Sardinia, where he said he had put in 9,000 plants.

    In October Mr. Abbado has a much-anticipated appointment in the United States. He travels to New York with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, founded at his suggestion in 2003, after a stop at the London Proms festival on Wednesday. At Carnegie Hall he will lead three concerts, twice playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (programmed, he said, at Carnegie’s request) and the Mahler.

    Mr. Abbado has not conducted in the United States since he performed at Carnegie Hall with the Berlin Philharmonic shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    Except for several weeks with the festival orchestra in the summer, he confines his activities to the itinerant Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which grew out of a youth orchestra he founded; the Mozart Orchestra, another small ensemble, based in Bologna, Italy, of which he is the artistic director; and a week with the Berlin Philharmonic. Altogether he conducts about 30 to 35 concerts a season, dividing his time between homes in Bologna and Sardinia.

    Otherwise he studies unfamiliar works and spends time with family and friends (including the Italian actor Roberto Benigni, who was on hand for the Lucerne performances, one of the first on his feet Sunday night). He also reads. Right now he is taken with the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer.

    “He is a great, great writer,” Mr. Abbado said. “Not so famous, like he should be.”

    He refuses to quantify his musical activity.

    “I’m not working,” he said. “I’m carrying out a passion.”

    “It was always like this, since I was 7 years old,” he said in a later conversation. “It was a dream, to make magic things with sounds. I never thought about career, or to find important positions. I was always very lucky to have the best orchestras in America or Europe.”

    He expresses the same optimism about his illness. Doctors removed much of his stomach, and he must now eat only small amounts at a time.

    “I found a new life, without a stomach,” he said. “I think differently. My senses are different.”

    His musical sense is different too.

    “I hear more lines now,” he said. “I hear sounds I never heard before.”

    The phrase that often comes to his lips is “no limits,” in the sense of what can be accomplished musically.

    “Understand, in life there are always limits,” he said. “I try to find a way to avoid limits, to do something new.”

    Mr. Abbado has always been a master builder of orchestras: with young, enthusiastic, moldable members, and no union restrictions.

    At La Scala he created a philharmonic version of the pit orchestra. He founded the European Union Youth Orchestra in 1978, and then the Mahler Youth Orchestra in 1986 because, he said, the youth orchestra’s organizers refused to allow members from outside the European Union.

    And he suggested the establishment of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which has the Mahler Chamber Orchestra as its core, joined by several score other top musicians who have worked with Mr. Abbado through the years. The musicians seem to have an immense affection for him.

    When he speaks of avoiding limits, Mr. Abbado also means breaking out of narrow thinking, offering several anecdotes to explain. As a child in Milan during World War II, he prompted a visit from Gestapo officers by writing the graffito “Viva Bartok” on a wall. They thought it might be a reference to a partisan, he said. He proved otherwise by showing them a score by the composer.

    But why, he was asked in the interview, did he write it? “Because I love Bartok!” he answered.

    Years later the Italian tax police searched his home, convinced he had foreign bank accounts, Mr. Abbado recounted. An official triumphantly produced an incriminating letter, listing a series of mysterious numbers beginning with the letter K. Mr. Abbado spoiled his victory by producing a recording of Mozart’s pieces, with the titles followed by Köchel catalog numbers.

    “I gave him the disc,” Mr. Abbado said. “The mentality is always this: closed.”

    He is usually immersed in one big project; next year it will be Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” He plans to give 11 performances of it with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in Reggio Emilia, Ferrara and Modena in Italy; Madrid; and Baden-Baden, Germany. The German filmmaker Chris Kraus will provide the stage direction.

    Asked why he chose the work, Mr. Abbado said simply, “It’s a masterpiece I haven’t done yet.”

    “I found the ideal of a singspiel with text and music in between,” he said later. “I adore, always, great composers who work and work and work, and are never happy until they can find something new.”

    Mr. Abbado moves with the deliberateness of someone conserving his strength and ended one rehearsal an hour early, apparently out of fatigue. His comments to the orchestra were brief and often focused on balance.

    “He’s extremely clear, very analytical,” said Kolja Blacher, the concertmaster.

    After the dress rehearsal for the Mahler performances Mr. Abbado sat in his dressing room, appearing drained while discussing a few spots in the score with his assistants. A respectful hush filled the room. He waved away a toasted ham sandwich and ate half a banana.

    Mr. Abbado is perceived as a Mahler specialist, but he objects to being labeled and will not be drawn out on his conception of a work.

    “Every time I’m doing one piece — it could be the First or Second or the Ninth — I’m in love,” he said. “When you are in love with somebody, it’s something.”

    And if the Mahler Third were a woman, he was asked, how would he describe her? Mr. Abbado laughed.

    “You mean I should say which actress I love?” he said. “I don’t know any woman in six movements.”

August 25, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sudoku Pen


No one whose job requires meeting attendance should be without one.

    Sudoku Game Pen

    This amazing ballpoint pen is also an electronic game featuring over 27,000 challenging Sudoku puzzles!

    With 2 modes and 3 difficulty levels you'll have plenty of Sudoku to enjoy — at home or on the go.

    Features automatic turnoff.

    Includes AG 13 battery.

    Plastic and metal.

    6"L x 1-1/4"W.


Don't come crying to me when you decide in a month or two that you want one only to learn they're sold out — because they will be.


August 25, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Preroll — Michael Dukakis* visits the world of advertising


Preroll advertising — forcing you to watch some spiel before the video you want comes on — is the equivalent of making you do 10 situps before you're allowed to sit down to eat.

A terrible concept that can only end in tears.

Google's smart enough to realize that, what with its decision to place an ad (top) on the bottom fifth of selected YouTube videos that comes on 15 seconds into the video, then goes away on its own in 10 seconds without you doing anything.

If you click on the ad then the video stops and you see the ad; the video resumes once the ad's done.

Still annoying — but far preferable to preroll.



August 25, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's most expensive baseball glove


That's it above and below, the new Rawlings Primo, made from Italian leather.

I wonder when they're gonna bring one out made from fine Corinthian leather... but I digress.

According to an item in the September 3, 2007 issue of Fortune magazine, Rawlings is having a hard time getting major leaguers to drop their existing favorites in favor of the new kid on the glove block.



August 25, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'At least 183 fatalities annually caused by drivers striking pedestrians while backing up'


The headline above is from Jonathan Welsh's depressing August 16, 2007 Wall Street Journal article about the alarming rise in fatalities of children killed by being backed over by vehicles.

Long story short: "From 2002 to 2006, 474 children died after being backed over by a vehicle, compared with 138 from 1997 to 2001."

Why is this so depressing?

Because improving things isn't rocket science — heck, it's not even neurosurgical anesthesiology.

I've noted the existence of a cheap, fast and completely under control tool to decrease the likelihood of backover accidents here on two occasions previously but I'm gonna hope that a third will perhaps save a life.

Buy a Back-Up Alert (below).


$9.98 won't break the bank.

Better yet, buy two and put one on each side of your car's rear end.

It works for me (below).


Here's the Wall Street Journal article.

    A Cause of Child Auto Deaths Draws Increased Attention

    Some Say Tall SUVs Worsen The Problem of 'Backovers'; Regulators Step Up Research

    Many people are familiar with the perils children face in cars, from poorly installed booster seats to a lack of safety features in older vehicles. But they often overlook a significant danger outside the vehicle.

    Sometimes, drivers injure or kill children by accidentally backing over them. And often, the driver is the victim's parent, pulling out of a driveway.
    See safety tests of cars backing up towards small children playing, conducted by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    Such tragedies are getting increased attention, with federal regulators planning more research into prevention, and consumer organizations contending that the problem is on the rise. From 2002 to 2006, 474 children died after being backed over by a vehicle, compared with 138 from 1997 to 2001, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy group. The group, which is funded largely by private donations, says its estimates are based on police reports, media reports and tips from lawyers, as well as discussions with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    So far, the NHTSA, the federal agency that oversees vehicular safety, has few statistics of its own on such accidents, because the incidents occur mostly on private property. However, late last year the agency published a report at the behest of Congress on backovers — and the use of electronic-sensing technologies to possibly prevent them. NHTSA officials say they have combined information from federal crash records with death-certificate reports and other data to develop rough estimates of at least 183 fatalities annually caused by drivers striking pedestrians while backing up. As many as 7,419 injuries, many relatively minor, result from backover crashes per year, the agency says.

    The report said that the NHTSA doesn't have evidence that the problem is on the rise. But it did find that the backup-detection technology available in cars today "is expensive, unreliable and gives drivers a false sense of security," says NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson. The agency is continuing to gather statistics to better track backover accidents. And it plans to work to improve the use of electronic detection systems that can be installed in vehicles to potentially help alert drivers to backovers.

    Many consumer advocates and parents believe the problem of backover accidents is exacerbated by the way vehicles are designed. Taller SUVs and crossovers with big rearward blind spots are increasingly popular. Also, most cars today have high trunks and small rear windows that don't allow drivers to see certain obstacles close behind them. Very young children are simply not tall enough to be seen out of the back window of many of today's vehicles.

    Some advocates, including Janette Fennell, founder of Kids and Cars in Leawood, Kan., have called for the government to mandate the use of backover-detection systems.

    Angela Gridley says her daughter Aliviah would probably be alive today if her uncle's pickup truck had a rear-view camera. The Cedartown, Ga., mother of four says her 2-year-old darted behind the truck as it was backed out of the driveway at a family gathering in late 2005.

    However, she says that while electronics can help drivers avoid accidents, the biggest contributing factor may be parents' denial. "They really think it can't happen to them," says Ms. Gridley. "It's like a syndrome."

    The NHTSA notes that backup-technology systems are marketed largely as parking aids and are not an ideal way of detecting small children behind a vehicle. The agency — which plans to continue to research the potential of such technology — conducted a number of tests [video] in which children were placed behind vehicles equipped with a variety of rear-sensing devices. In many instances the equipment failed to detect the children. "It was scary," Mr. Tyson says.

    Last year's NHTSA report was a follow-up to a similar report about 10 years ago. The first one focused more on commercial trucks — and the bulk of available detection equipment came from aftermarket sources and had to be added to a vehicle after purchase. Now, the emphasis of the agency's inquiries has shifted to passenger vehicles, where detection technology is increasingly available on cars and SUVs directly from auto makers.

    Still, the technology has been relatively slow in coming to market and the vast majority of passenger cars lack rear-view cameras. One reason is that, while back-up cameras themselves are relatively inexpensive — costing about $300 to $600 — they are typically available only when buyers also order a much costlier satellite navigation system. That's because navigation systems come with dashboard-mounted screens that also work with the camera. With a satellite system costing as much as $2,000, many shoppers skip both options.

    Toyota Motor Corp. is one manufacturer trying to overcome the sticker shock by offering backup cameras either with or without navigation systems on its recently redesigned Tundra pickup truck and Highlander SUV. But a Toyota spokesman notes that rear-mounted sensors were designed mainly to warn of the proximity of another car's bumper or other large obstacles while parking, rather than to detect small children.

    Nissan Motor Co., too — which installed division installed rear-view cameras on its 2002 model Infiniti Q45 sedan as part of a package with a navigation system — says the cameras and sensors on its vehicles are parking aids and aren't meant to detect children.

    Ford Motor Co. offers a rear-view camera system — bundled with other options — on its 2008 Ford F-Series Super Duty, F-150, Expedition, Lincoln Mark LT and Navigator. Ford spokeswoman Tara Martin says the company doesn't consider its rear-view cameras and rear sensors as safety features, but as conveniences for parking and towing.



The choice is yours.

August 25, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Auto LED: Light at your fingertips — in the dark


Very cool.

From the website:

    Auto LED — It’s always there when you need a light.

    The rechargeable Auto LED gives you clear, bright light at your fingertips.

    Plugs into your 12-volt outlet so you won’t have to search the console or the glovebox to find a flashlight.

    Moonbeam light makes it easy to read a map or find a key.

    Sturdy steel construction, long-lasting LED and three rechargeable batteries ensure years of use.


August 25, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

We have ignition! — Watch (and hear) NASA's new rocket engine

The latest issue of Wired magazine features a story by Erin Biba about NASA's Mojave Desert rocket engine test site.

zoom Zoom ZOOM.

The article follows.

    We Have Ignition! NASA Tests a New Rocket Engine in the Mojave Desert.

    How do you test a new kind of rocket engine? Step 1: Bolt it to a trailer in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Step 2: Vroom! In this case, NASA is firing up the 5M15, which runs on compressed liquid methane. The odorless substance has multiple advantages over conventional rocket propellants: It's cheaper, it requires much less insulation, and it exists on several planets NASA hopes to travel to — Mars, here we come. That means astronauts could collect their own fuel for the trip home. Bonus rocket science: Those glowing figure eights in the blast stream are called Mach disks, after the guy who lent his name to the speed of sound. They're shock waves, created as the expanding fuel hits the higher atmospheric pressure outside the nozzle. If part of this blast weren't obscured, you could take the number of Mach disks (we count seven) and multiply by the speed of sound — about 758 mph at the 1,300-foot altitude of this test — to estimate the speed of fuel exiting the engine. Just don't get too close.


That eerie sound toward the end of the video gives me goosebumps.

August 25, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Collapsible Surfboard


From Pope-Bisect.

Time magazine named it one of the best inventions of 2002.


Back then it cost $1,795.

Now it's a little more than half that.


$995 and up.

[via James Thornburg's insourceoutsource]

August 25, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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