Monday, November 8, 2010

ERNEST BLOCH ~ July 24, 1880 ~ July 15, 1959

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A year ago last night I sang in the chorus for a special Ernest Bloch concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I did it as a favor to a Bohemian Club friend, David Conte, a composer, professor of composition and conductor of the chorus at SFCM. Ernest Bloch was the first director of SFCM and last year 2009 was the half-century anniversary of Bloch's death in 1959.

The first half of the concert was a brilliant three-part violin/piano piece --not titled a sonata, but Baaal Shem (Three Pictures of Hassidic Life). The German Axel Strauss, an extraordinary violinist and a faculty member, was soloist, accompanied very expressively by guest artist Solon Gordon. This piece was composed in 1923, the same year he became an American citizen after immigrating from Switzerland. There definitely were hauntingly Jewish qualities to the piece. This was all the more thought provoking when played by a German.

I said above that I sang in the chorus as a favor to a friend. But the favor really was to me. Ernest Bloch's Avodath (Sacred Service), is an extremely powerful and moving concert piece originally composed to be performed in the Reformed Jewish liturgy. That it was copyrighted in 1934 (the year after Hitler assumed power in Germany) premiered in Europe that year and first heard in San Francisco in 1938 (the year of Kristallnacht) at Reform Temple Emanu-el, made it all the more poignant when we sang it two nights before the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht (subject of a separate post tomorrow). I remember going to a special service at Temple Emanu-el commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht. I can hardly believe that that was twenty-one years ago! I was working at Neiman-Marcus at the time and the next day I sold some jewelry to Cantor Roslyn Barak. She was shopping with her mother, and I told her how moved I was by her singing the night before. (Check out my very first blog post on September 4th, 2008.)

Back to the Sacred Service. Bloch's orchestration was distinctive, yet reminiscent at times of Mahler, early Schoenberg, Impressionism, even Wagner in places, and then Miklos Rozsa, composer of the film Ben-Hur. Of course, it was really Miklos Rozsa, who had been influenced by Ernest Bloch. The orchestra and chorus were conducted very capably by Andrew Mogrelia, former principal conductor of the San Francisco Ballet. The impressive baritone soloist Cantor was the Thai bass-baritone Kittanant Chinsamran. It was a genuine privilege for me to be a part of the chorus. Besides it was great fun to sing with conservatory students in their teens, twenties and early thirties.

Some text courtesy of SFCM concert program notes

Sunday, October 10, 2010


This is where Debbie and I had a marvelous dinner in Paris a year ago. The food and presentation were absolutely first rate.

I was so tired though, that I didn't take sufficient advantage of being in Paris. Then after finding an internet cafe following dinner, I forgot that the Left Bank is not on any grid, and instead of showing Deb the Pantheon on the way back to our small hotel, went many blocks out of our way behind the Pantheon -- and not the prettiest part of Paris. I hadn't realized that Deb had spent only a single day in Paris many years ago. We could have at least walked around Notre Dame and Isle de la Cite for the detour we took.

Since then Debbie's been back and spent a week with her niece, who is living there this year.

Friday, July 16, 2010

622 – The Beginning of the Islamic Calendar

The Islamic calendar or Muslim calendar or Hijri calendar (Arabic: التقويم الهجري‎; at-taqwīm al-hijrī; Persian: تقویم هجری قمری ‎ taqwīm-e hejri-ye qamari; Turkish: Hicri Takvim) is a lunar calendar having 12 lunar months in a year of 354 or 355 days, used to date events in many Muslim countries (concurrently with the Gregorian calendar), and used by Muslims everywhere to determine the proper day on which to celebrate Islamic holy days and festivals. Its first year was the year during which the Hijra, the emigration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, occurred. Each numbered year is designated either H for Hijra or AH for the Latin anno Hegirae (in the year of the Hijra). A limited number of years before Hijra (BH) are used to date events related to Islam, such as the birth of Muhammad in 53 BH.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Birthday Geetings from Two of Rob's Nieces ~ Thanks to Mary Ellen

Matt, Sheridan, Meredith, Morgan and Allison with Goggy/Nai Nai about twelve years ago

My good friend, Mary Ellen Blizzard, with whom I went to New Haven last year for the 95th anniversary of the Yale Spizzwinks, arranged a birthday surprise for me. She asked my nieces and nephews to write personal accounts about me for my blog. Below are two unedited results

Two Tributes to Robert Fleming Rich Bell ~~~ April 16, 1949

Allison’s Poem

I remember being in your house
I was ten
with a broken arm
it was the first time I spent quality time
with my Uncle Rob
up until then you were
that voice on the phone
that man in the picture
I was with my mother who is your sister
and my Texan grandmother
You hosted three generations of women
for a week
and you such an excellent host
you were our guide
arranging a car up 101
beautiful coast lined with cliffs
that weaved in and out
the Pacific
went on for miles miles and miles
beautiful weather

And the Hearst Castle
rooms of European furniture
Marin county

On a hill overlooking the ocean
I imagined the golden days of Hollywood
the 20's the 30's

The redwood forest
to a child

And that chilly windy salty ride on the ferry
You showed me a different way of being
you showed me the best of nature
it was a peaceful
wonderful experience

Uncle Rob
you always show me the best of life
whether visiting you in San Francisco
or when traveling with you abroad

Happy Birthday!

By Morgan Bell

Dear Uncle Rob,

Here are a few of my fondest memories of times we’ve shared.

Picking a Bouquet in the Red Wood Forest

On our way back to Beijing, my father, mother and I stopped in SF.

I must have been 12.
You, Dennis and my family went to the Red Woods. It was my first time. It would have been August and the forest was teaming with life, as were the tourists.
In China I had the luxury of being a first class foreigner, which allowed me access to the Ming Tombs with my family where we went for picnics. There were no rules or guidelines. No one to stop us from taking tiles that had fallen off the ancient structures. I mention this because I had no idea that in the US there were rules.

I picked a bouquet of beautiful wild flowers and with a bounce in my step went to give them to Mom.

You saw a park ranger at the same time as you saw me, and quickly assessing the situation and trying to avoid the fine, you grabbed them from me and said “no!” You then very kindly explained that you weren’t really mad at me, but had to pretend to be so that you would not be fined.

I recall that memory with a laugh.

I also remember that I wandered away from you and my parents and Dennis caught up with me and we talked and joked and laughed. It was the first time I really got to know Dennis.

Watching the Parade in Paris

It may have been in the summer of ’85, but I can’t remember. My mother and I met you and Dennis for Bastille Day which is on the 14th of July in Paris.

We may have been near the Champs-Élysées. I do remember sitting on steps and the big grin Dennis had on his face as we watched the incredible parade of soldiers marching through the streets. It felt as if we had gone back in time a hundred years with the costumes in bright red and bayonets. Were there sounds of Cannon Balls? Definitely fireworks.

From our view we could see the parade cross in many different directions in a complex formation, perfectly executed. It simply took our breath away.

Moving to SF

I had dreadlocks and a dog and I was looking for a way home. Home had become an elusive, abstract idea; memories of five or so different homes I had in Paris, DC, Beijing, Geneva, PA, and MA. My family was scattered between Chicago, Beijing and Zurich, and there was not enough room for me to live with them, no life that I could conceive.

So after a fight with my mother I called my father i[n] Beijing and asked him what he thought of me moving to SF and I was very surprised to hear his enthusiasm at the idea.

Buck, who had adopted me only weeks before, and I embarked on our journey.

I remember how welcomed I felt sitting at the dining room table eating asparagus al dente, risotto and chicken. Enjoying a glass of wine, though I was barely twenty.

Dennis commenting on Elizabeth’s chemistry experiments in the kitchen, i.e. “meals in Harrisburg” that had ruined your ability to distinguish between fine cuisine and what Dennis would argue was practically inedible. There was so much laughter as Dennis spoke in an irreverent way, yet at the same time revering our family. Satire made the past that I had never known come alive to me.

I felt like I belonged and that I had always belonged.

I cherish that memory.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

SCHOLA CANTORUM San Francsico Concert in Santa Cruz, California

Photo: Christian Cebrian

Saturday, April 10, 2010
7:30pm - 10:00pm
Holy Cross Church
126 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA


Santa Cruz Baroque Festival ( presents:

Schola Cantorum of San Francisco (Paul Flight, director), Brian Staufenbiel (tenor) and the Santa Cruz Brass Quartet

Witness the birth of the Baroque in the City of Light. Our evening offers opulent choral and brass selections from composers associated with San Marco in the age of Monteverdi and informal melodies popularized by the ever-present gondoliers.

Monday, February 1, 2010


As Shirley MacLaine, playing the character based on Debbie Reynolds in Carrie Fisher's film Postcards from the Edge, sang from Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies: "I'm still here." Let's leave it at that. Though I must extend my gratitude to my therapist MN for his insight, guidance, and tremendous support! Thanks also to David, Adam, Szilard, Josh, Max, Jeffrey, Mary Ellen and Deb!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart January 27, 1756 ~ December 5, 1791

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart -- full baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers.

Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood in
Salzburg. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty; at 17 he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and traveled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and the Requiem. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons.

Mozart learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate—the whole informed by a vision of humanity "redeemed through art, forgiven, and reconciled with nature and the absolute."
His influence on subsequent Western art music is profound. Beethoven wrote his own early compositions in the shadow of Mozart, of whom Joseph Haydn wrote that "posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born to
Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart at 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg, capital of the sovereign Archbishopric of Salzburg, in what is now Austria. Then it was part of the Holy Roman Empire. His only sibling to survive past birth was Maria Anna (1751–1829), called "Nannerl". Wolfgang was baptized the day after his birth at St. Rupert's Cathedral. The baptismal record gives his name in Latinized form as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. He generally called himself "Wolfgang Amadè Mozart" as an adult, but there were many variants.

His father Leopold (1719–1787) was deputy
Kapellmeister to the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, and a minor composer. He was also an experienced teacher. In the year of Mozart's birth, his father published a violin textbook, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, which achieved some success.

When Nannerl was seven she began keyboard lessons with her father, and her three-year-old brother would look on, evidently fascinated. Years later, after his death, she reminisced: "He often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was always striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good. [...] In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier. [...] He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time. [...] At the age of five he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down."

If the word 'genius' has any legitimate meaning, then certainly Mozart is one of the preeminent examples.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)