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"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. 

 

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The 2016 Baseball Season Has Unofficially Begun!

On Friday January 29 the New York Pro Baseball Scouts Hot Stove League held their 51st annual dinner. Usually this event occurs on a bitterly cold or snowy evening - just the Saturday before the baseball writers dinner was canceled because of Blizzard Jonas.

Happily, the scouts’ shindig this year was held on almost a balmy night. As usual Leonard’s of Great Neck, the well-known Long Island mecca for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other happy occasions, provided the setting.

A recurring theme in the lively speeches was pride in the New York-area player who can hold his own with the more highly coveted prospects from Texas-California-Florida.

Main speaker J.P.Ricciardi, longtime assistant to the Mets gm Sandy Alderson and a former Blue Jays gm, praised passionately the work and commitment of the Northeast area scout. He lamented the increasing power of the national cross-checker in most organizations.

Yankees scout Matt Hyde, winner of the Bennie Borgmann Good Guy Award, noted a piece of good advice he received early in his career from former Met and Yankee Lee Mazzilli: “Remember that every player has a heartbeat.” (BTW Borgmann was a great basketball player, too, and he is honored at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.)

WFAN’s Ed Coleman, winner of the Dick Young award as media Person of the Year,
brought back some great memories of early television when he referenced George Gobel’s self-effacing remark that in the world he felt like brown shoes at a gathering of tuxedos.

Coleman’s modesty was not necessary because in this age of loud-mouthed media screamers his informative and measured work on WFAN is one of the treasures we older folks enjoy hearing.

Columbia’s baseball coach Brett Boretti won the Ralph DiLullo Metro Coach of the Year award for his remarkable run of three straight Ivy League championships. In 2015 the Lions won three games in the Miami regional of the NCAA tournament.

Boretti paid tribute to the leadership qualities of his players and his own willingness to hire people smarter than himself.

Mets rookie lefty Steven Matz won the Herb Stein “Star of the Future” award. He was already working out in Florida, but Matz’s father accepted the award gratefully.

Mets’ scout Larry Izzo, who signed Matz, received the night’s biggest ovation as the winner of the Turk Karam Scout of the Year. Izzo assured the audience that as promising as Matz looms on the mound, he’s even a better person.

Izzo quipped that he will forgo his expense account money to help the Mets pay returning outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. He said that in 200 years he then might get paid again.

Turning serious, Izzo said that he considers his biggest thrill when he can help a local player win a scholarship to college.

All in all, the scouts dinner as usual provided a wonderful evening. With February now having begun we can lovingly anticipate the sounds of bat on ball and ball in glove before the year's shortest month is even over.

So now more than ever remember: Take it easy but take it!
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