New Year’s Eve Discovery

Classical music has been the background track for most of my adult life, so how could I have missed hearing the group Europa Galante under Fabio Biondi’s direction? My guess is they are so different from the norm the gatekeepers at classical music outlets find them too “pop-ish” to add to their curation. For whatever reason I missed them over all these years, I was delighted to hear Minnesota Public Media’s play their Concerto for Two Mandolins by Vivaldi this morning.

Here was the first piece of recorded classical music I purchased when I was a teen. It is safe to say that I have heard this Vivaldi work hundreds of times. I put down my coffee cup and took my eyes from my computer screen to listen with new ears to this familiar and overplayed music.

Here was a group breathing new life and excitement into the works of a composer who, through overexposure, has lost much of his ability to captivate me. Biondi and his musicians revitalize the work with unexpected phrasing, surprising tempo, unusual arrangement, and “licks” that are at once familiar as rock or jazz-inspired.

I could not find a recording of the mandolin concerto to attach here, but just as moving is Europa Galante’s recording of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons. (Below) An old chestnut, so commercialized, it is hard not to visualize some product usually sold around the holidays. However, it is much easier to put that aside when I hear Biondi’s interpretation, animating the snow and ice storm and the sweet warmth of escaping to a cozy indoor fire while the storm rages outside.

Climate change keeps Kentucky winters on the mild side, but a cold front swept through last evening, bringing us temperatures in the low 30’s and a wintry mix of precipitation. Not nearly the tempest Vivaldi might be suggesting, but it will do.

The last day of 2020 leaves me with the hope of discoveries that lie ahead in the New Year.


Quote Of The Day – provided by Thomas Brown,

“Now is where love breathes.”
— Rumi

Art: “A Winter’s Evening” – ”En vinteraften” – painted in 1886 by Anders Andersen-Lundby (1841 – 1923). Oil on canvas; dimensions: 75.5 x 105.4 cm or 29.72 x 41.50 in. Private Collection.

The Black Stallion Revisited

The Black Stallion is an enduring movie that is so re-watchable I bet that most have already seen it a few times. There is a particular pleasure in watching one of your favorite movies with someone who has never seen it, as I did with my wife over the holidays on a beautiful Blu-Ray release.

1979’s The Black Stallion is almost two distinct movies. The first half is the story of a boy and a horse shipwrecked on a deserted island. The second half is their return to civilization. 

The animal star is the Arabian stallion Cass Ole. The boy is 11-year-old Kelly Reno, who’s naturalness gave the role an endearing non-actor quality. I have read that Reno personally performed most of his stunts and learned to swim for the film.

Francis Ford Coppola produced, and Coppola’s father, Carmine, provided the rich, moving musical score. The Black Stallion is based on a 1941 children’s book by the same name, adapted to the screen by a writing team led by Melissa Mathison, an expert at pushing our emotional buttons as she did in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

The standout in this movie is the cinematography of Caleb Deschanel (The Right Stuff, The Natural, father of Zooey) along with director Carroll Ballard (Fly Away Home) and editor Robert Dalava (October Sky). This visual team’s deserted island scenes evoke powerful emotion without a word of dialogue. Their poignant constructions of light perfectly depict the heartfelt connection between human and animal. (A brief interview with Deschanel is below.)

The Black Stallion is a perfect example of film-making before technology slid into the forefront. The film’s grain is an integral part of its character, nothing is computer-generated, and the reality of location filming is distinctive.

Fire up the big screen and turn up the sound system to remember the time before movies started looking like video games. The Black Stallion always stirs me to tears – and that’s fine with me. 

Quote Of The Day provided by Tom Brown,

“It is of no consequence what others think of you. What matters is what you think of them.”

— Gore Vidal