Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sitting in on Greatness

This past Wednesday my wife Betsy and I drove to Atlanta to hear the Atlanta Symphony with guest artist Lang Lang, the internationally popular classical pianist. I have been to many classical music concerts, but this one surpassed them all. Robert Spano led the ASO through Tchaikovsky's magnificent 5th Symphony, a work of full-blown romantic yearning balanced with bustling rhythms and racing tempos. Those who place Tchaikovsky as a second tier composer after the big three--Bach, Beethoven, Brahms--should extend their appreciation to other masters as well. Chopin was the second great romantic on the program. Though not as big or emotionally open as Tchaikovsky's 5th, Chopin's 2nd Piano Concerto (actually written first but published second) displays Chopin's melodic genuis and his brilliant musical designs.

You probably know Lang Lang as the 27 year old Chinese superstar who was the Elton John of the opening night ceremonies of the Chinese-hosted Olympics. His piano virtuosity led 40 million Chinese children to take up lessons. Lang Lang has been criticzed for being too flamboyant with his physical gestures as he plays, but in this performance he balanced showmanship with true feeling. His speed, delicacy, and pianistic fireworks created a performance that had the full house standing and cheering numerous times until he gave an encore. I can honestly say we were witnessing artitic greatness.

For those who have allowed themselves to enjoy true romantic music, my fond congratulations. For those who have not, it's not too late.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


On a visit to sunny but cool California this month, I cajoled my grandsons, 10 and 8, into watching one of my favorite movies, THE PRINCESS BRIDE. At first they were resistant. What could Papa George know about adventure movies? Rob Reiner's loving adaptation of William Goldman's comic fantasy novel (Goldman did the script as well) begins as a grandfather(Peter Falk, never crustier or sweeter) reads THE PRINCESS BRIDE to his sick grandson, played perfectly by Fred Savage. Marvelous one-liners ensue. "Wait, is this a kissing book?" and "Are there any sports in it" are only the tip of a witty script, mostly lifted from the original book.

As we watched the movie, my wife and I kept peeking at the boys, who quickly became enraptured by this most unusual mix of fantasy, comedy, and swordplay. What other movie can boast a cast of characters as surprisingly offbeat and satirical as the prissy Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), the Spanish swordsman Inigo Montoya with the terrible accent (Mandy Patinkin, who nearly steals the movie), or the has-been magician Miracle Max (Billy Crystal resorting to his New York roots). And who can forget the unlikely Wallace Shawn as a brilliant egotist who has the best line in the'll have to go back and listen, folks. With these great characters and dangers like the Fire Swamp and the Cliffs of Insanity, THE PRINCESS BRIDE pays loving homage to the great adventures of the past but with a modern sensibility. Yes, the sets are obviously sets, the clouds don't move, the costumes are too bright and look rented, the music is cheesily emphatic, and the rocks are obviously foam. All of these elements produce a comic masterpiece that had my grandsons chuckling and occasionally yelling. This is one movie that will never be dated and one my grandsons will watch again.