Lux Mundi

I was at the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall Tuesday evening to hear the world premiere of John Allison Campbell's Lux Mundi. I've known John for many, many years. He's American, from the wrong side of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and was living in Friedenau. I was American, from the right side of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) and was living in Friedenau. We met at the little Methodist church in Friedenau.

Composers are kind of crazy. Kind, but crazy at times. We took to celebrating Thanksgiving together - one year at his place, with his tiny oven and the beautiful formal dining room with old china and glassware and linens; one year at my place with the monster oven and the ragtag assortment of chairs, linens, eating utensils, and attendees.

I've tried to attend as many of his concerts as possible, although I am not really a musical person. Those genes all went to my dearest brother, the musician. I couldn't really connect with much of what he wrote. The clarinet stuff was okay (although the double tonguing deal was kind of kinky), but the piece he wrote for 5 bassoons and some other instrument was just awful.

Just the same, we had him compose a piece for WiseKid's baptism as a challenge to dearest brother, who declined on short notice. We managed to get another organist to try it out, and he bravely put it on, although he messed up in the middle, stopped, and restarted the piece. After the baptismal service a professor of music who was attending to hear the presentation went up to the organist and tapped him on the shoulder. "Young man," she said, "this is modern music. If you make a mistake, don't stop, just make up something and get back into it. No one will notice!"

Back to Lux Mundi, the light of the world. Here, someone would notice. I don't know if it is because John is mellowing, but this is quite an enjoyable symphony for orchestra and choir. There was a 50 piece orchestra playing (including a great woman on the tympani) and a 50+ choir of 50+ people, including John. I asked him after the show what it was like to be in the middle of your own music, singing along, while it is being performed around you. "It's what I've been dreaming of for the past seven years," he said.

The piece is built around a five piece Russian icon from the 15th century in Nowgorod. It starts with John 1,1 ("In the beginning was the Word"), although he uses a German translation "Am Anfang war das Wort", I've learned that the translation is "Im Anfang war das Wort", meaning not at the start, but inside the starting moment.

The second part is the Magnificat from the Gospel according to Luke, the third is taken from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and the fourth is a veneration of Mary, closing with the Lux aeterna, the eternal light. During the introduction that was given in the foyer before the concert John explained that the veneration of Mary was the strangest part for him as a Methodist, as we have no truck with the Catholic cult of Mary. But, he said, it is fruitful to go into something foreign and discover important new things.

I had the feeling that the piece was well centered, going out to experiment with something - church bells! a piccolo! Bassoons (luckily, only 2)! But he kept coming back to this point of repose. My mind took me to a kitchen, reading on a rainy day, dancing around a maypole (!) and then off on a whirlwind tour of some of the churches and cathedrals I have visited, dwelling longer at the church in Magdeburg, where I had participated in a Catholic service involving Gregorian chants.

The piece ends very softly, very small, depositing me back in the here and now. Of course, someone had to clap the split second they felt it was over, but hey, you can't have everything.

I enjoyed the Turkish Sufi music that was performed afterwards, but was just too tired for the second half, so I enjoyed my Philharmonie champagne and headed for the bus. I hope this gets made into a CD, I'd like to hear it again!


Seek and ye shall find

I had a strange call on my answering machine. One of my doctors wanted me to please call back when I have time, she had a private thing she wanted to discuss with me about a patient.

Strange. I'm not a doctor. But whatever. She was still in her office when I got out of the dentist's chair this afternoon, and she was happy to see me. She has a patient, dying of a seldom cancer that is not treatable. She remembers, back when she was a resident, that there was a patient with just this kind. And her boss had found a treatment in a journal that was unconventional, but they gave it a try. And their patient had survived for much longer than expected.

She wanted to find the article, since the hospital had just sent her patient home to die. She had tried to look herself, but given up. She had called the local research hospital and asked them if they knew about this. No one had ever heard of it. They pretended to look, but didn't find it. I was her last hope, because I "knew the Internet".

So I fired up my laptop with the stick, and we called up MedLine. We ticked a few boxes, put in the name of the cancer, and there were only 139 papers that came up. We started with the oldest, and sure enough, after a few pages she jumps on a title - that sounds like it!

We pull up the abstract, and she is all excited - right, that's what we used! She is sure she knows what to do just by reading the abstract, but I want to go a step further. We write down the journal name and the issue and page info, and I google the journal. Still in existence, and they have back issues online. And they even have this old stuff available for free!

They have an error on their page - you click on an article and get the next article as a pdf. So I click on the previous article, and the one we are looking for pops up. She remembers the picture and is practically dancing! I download it onto a stick (she is not sure that her computer has a USB, but of course it does) and I show her how to print it from her machine.

It is like I am a magician, materially pulling something out of the foggy corners of a past remembrance, making it appear before her very eyes. I have an invitation to dinner for this ;)

It shows me that research in the age of the Internet is something that has to be taught - and trained.


Copenhagen to Collect Personal Travel Info

The Danish newspaper 24timer reports (http://www.e-pages.dk/24timer/3009/, page 7) on October 14, 2011 that from the first of the year you can only purchase a public transportation pass (Rejsekort) with your social security number, name, address, email, and bank account information. The transportation company is planning on registering individual travel in order to "optimize" their network.

If you must travel anonymously, you can purchase a Rejsekort Anonymt, but this is 60% more expensive and doesn't offer discounts like the normal one does. All the older Klippekort and other tickets will no longer be valid.

It seems the Danes, long used to using their social security number for all sorts of things, have no idea what privacy is. If they just want to know the traffic patterns, they can issue cards with numbers - they don't have to connect this number up to a person. I find this very scary. If the data is there, the police will soon want to know the names of all the people who were in a particular vicinity when something happens.


Margin Call

The German press is panning it, but we gathered the usual gang of suspects and headed out to the Hackische Höfe to see Margin Call in English with subtitles. Or rather, it was in Financialese with a lot of f-words thrown in and some really outstanding German titles that transported the essence of what was being said, not just a word-for-word translation.

Okay, the movie theater is on the top floor and there is no elevator, but I just love the restored Art nouveau style. 

It is a day in the life of some bankers, the ones who rather tried to ruin the world. As the tweet went yesterday, there were no bankers arrested for wrecking the financial system, but 700 people in New York for protesting against them. And we can figure out which bank is meant, even if everything is of course fictious.

There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat.
Ya. I guess that kind of sums it up. It was supposedly shot in a Wall St. high-rise, but when I visited my brother a few years ago in his Wall St. office, all the chairs had fanny packs attached to them with water bottles, masks and band-aids, in case another airplane decides to mow the high-rise down.

Anyway - I really liked the movie, Kevin Spacey is really great, and since Mark Chu-Carroll explained how the banks cheated us (What is tranching - Credit Default Swaps - Shocking Fraud from the Financial Scum), I did actually understand what they were saying, and it seemed correct.