instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

"Amazing Grace," Mackenzie Melemed, and MLB Musings: Thoughts on Music and Movies and Baseball On The Cusp of May

Spring has come to the Big Apple with flowers blooming and increased daylight. The bummer is that temperatures are below normal - there have been more clouds and dampness than sun. Though I yearn to pack away my warm sweaters and mufflers. can't do it yet.  

 

I know you can't always get what you want.  But aha! the phrase is a nice lead-in to the wonderful church concert film "Amazing Grace" I saw the other day. You see, Mick Jagger is shown a couple of times looking awed at the renditions of Aretha Franklin who is backed by a gospel choir in the Rev. James Cleveland's LA Baptist church.

 

At 29 in January 1972, Aretha was at the peak of her powers. "Amazing Grace" was supposed to be released along with Aretha's album of the same name but technical problems prevented it.  Young director Sydney Pollack - years before his success with "Tootsie" - did not yet know how to coordinate spoken words with the sound of music.  

 

Thanks to 21st century technology we now can see as well as hear the precocious Queen of Soul. She is fascinating to watch, a picture of deep intensity and quiet confidence. One touching moment shows her father the famed Detroit Reverend C. L. Franklin wiping his daughter's brow after he delivers an impromptu sermon. 

 

I also enjoyed recently a sublime classical music experience. Young pianist Mackenzie Melemed gave a memorable recital at the Juilliard School in Lincoln Center where he has studied for the last six years. 

 

I first heard the 24-year-old from Worcester Mass. last fall in the Greene Space in Soho. He knocked me out with a rendition of one of my favorite pieces of classical music, Sergei Rachmaninoff's  haunting "Moments Musicaux." I was impressed when he told the WQXR audience that it took him eight years before he felt ready to perform that piece.

 

Last week at Juilliard he played the Rachmaninoff B-minor prelude Op. 32 #10 and an encore of "Moment Musicaux #5".  But the bulk of his ambitious program was devoted to brilliant and well-thought-out interpretations of varied masters of the classical repertoire. 

 

I was impressed by Melemed's choice of his opening piece, Beethoven's powerful and unusual two-movement Sonata in F major, op 54. It was followed by Scriabin's short but delicate Five Preludes. The Rachmaninoff prelude followed and the first half of program ended with the dissonant difficult Sonata #2 by the contemporary Israeli-American composer Avner Dorman. Though the piece was not as jazzy as Melemed claimed, the technical challenges were handled adroitly. 

 

After intermission Melemed performed the rarely heard "Trois Pieces" by Francis Poulenc (he said that maestro Vladimir Horowitz never played he last two). He concluded with Schumann's early masterpiece "Symphonic Etudes, Op 13. 

 

Do remember the mellifluous name of Mackenzie Melemed.  After performances in Finland and China, he'll appear again in Our Town on Thursday August 1 at the DiMenna Arts Center on West 37th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenue).  He'll make his Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall on Fri night December 13.   

 

Before I end this blog, I must put in my two cents of evaluation of MLB a month into the 2019 season. There are no surprises that woeful teams are woeful and will never glimpse the good side of .500 in 2019.  I mean the Orioles, Royals, Marlins, and the Giants. 

 

I hate to say "never" about the wonderfully capricious sport of baseball but I fear a permanent underclass is emerging in MLB.   The lack of productive farm systems with Baltimore and San Francisco could mean years in the wilderness.

 

The Royals and Marlins have better farm systems but it says here they lack the veteran core and the financial resources to compete. Kansas City is a good baseball town and fans will return if the team improves.  I really have doubts that Miami will ever support that team.

 

 

On the plus side in baseball, Tampa Bay is already 10 games over .500 and they could be for real. Sadly, they will play before sparse crowds in indoor Tropicana Field whose upper deck was just closed for lack of fan interest. 

 

The San Diego Padres are another surprise team so far.  They are fighting the loaded heavily favored Dodgers for first place in the AL West. 

 

I saw newcomer Manny Machado on TV Sunday afternoon make one of his patented astounding defensive plays to keep San Diego in a close game they ultimately did lose in extra innings.  With reportedly one of the best farm systems in baseball the Padres could stay up there for a while.  Again too early to say for sure. 

 

On the college front, Columbia and Harvard just completed a three-game series for the ages that Harvard won Sunday afternoon in a 9-8 14 inning classic in Cambridge.  The Crimson  are becoming masters of the comeback, winning this battle after falling behind 6-0 early and 8-3 entering bottom of the 7th.  

 

The two teams are tied for first place with Columbia at Penn this coming weekend and Harvard traveling to Brown in Providence.  Harvard owns the tie-breaker because of their series win.  The best-of-three championship series will take place on Sat May 18 with a doubleheader.  If split, there will be a championship winner-take-all game on Sun May 19.

 

Back in New York, St. Johns in the Big East and Rutgers in the Big Ten still harbor hopes for post-season play.  More on those developments in the next blog.

 

 

That's all for now - always remember: take it easy but take it. 

 

1 Comments
Post a comment

My Awards for 2015: Coping with the No-Baseball Blues #5

Winter has arrived though New Yorkers are disbelieving. Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day will set record highs in the high 60s-even low 70s.
Unfortunately, it is rainy and we may miss out on both a white Christmas and
a sunny golden Christmas.

But be of good cheer – the days will slowly get longer and longer. Come mid-February “pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training,” still the greatest sentence in the English language. Even with the insane amount of money being thrown at players of fair-to-middling talent.

The Orioles are getting resigned to lose streaky slugger/good athlete Chris Davis to free agency. The team took off the table a reported offer of over $150 million for six or seven years. No other team has stepped forward in the bidding, but agent Scott Boras is rightly convinced that some panicked owner will step forward to up the ante for Davis. Without a salary cap or some kind of legal collusion, the salaries will keep going up in the off-season paradise (for players and agents) of free agency.

I was recently asked by Robin Valetutto, personable host of the Saturday noontime “Sports Angel” talk show on KVCE 1160 AM Radio in Dallas, Texas, for my sports highs and lows of calendar 2015.

Let me begin by disagreeing with Sports Illustrated’s choice of Serena Williams as Sports Person of the Year. Not that the tennis star didn’t have a fine year but it ended with a loss in the U.S. Open semi-finals. That would blemish her year for me.

If I had a vote on the matter, I would have given the nod to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Not only did the Oakland-based basketball juggernaut win the NBA title in June over Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Warriors started this 2015-16 season with an unprecedented 24 game winning streak.

My close second would have been golfer Jordan Spieth, who at age 23 won the Masters and the U.S. Open in sequence in 2015. He also came very close to winning the British Open. He is from an athletic and so far happily grounded family that includes his younger brother Steven, a guard-forward starter for Brown University’s basketball team in Providence, Rhode Island.

I also tip my cap to the Kansas City Royals for their aggressive style of baseball that resulted in their first World Series title since 1985 and the second overall in their history dating back only to 1969.

I don’t think many teams can duplicate their combination of speed and opportunism – honed by a patient intelligent farm system - but it is fun to watch a team hustling all the time and ready to pounce on an opponent’s weakness.

As for lows, I think Seattle's Russell Wilson trying a pass on second down near New England's goal line at the end of February's Super Bowl has to be the biggest boner.

I am happy though that Wilson, the former college QB for North Carolina State's Wolfpack and the Wisconsin Badgers, has the Seahawks ready to make it a run at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

A runner-up for gaffe has to be Michigan's punting rugby-style when even a no-gain run would have virtually assured a Wolverines victory over arch-rival Michigan State.

But kudos to the Spartans who are enjoying great years in football and basketball and former Spartan QB Kirk Cousins has the Redskins on the verge of the NFL playoffs.

Meanwhile Bo Ryan's abrupt resignation as Badger basketball coach has left Wisconsin faithful wondering about the future of the program. More on this subject next month as we'll see if under Ryan's desired successor Greg Gard the Badgers can remain respectable in the Big Ten race.

That’s all for now – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and back to you by the second week of January.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
 Read More 
Be the first to comment