March 9th, 2008


East Side Story

This afternoon we went to a concert by the Boston Youth Symphony in Symphony Hall. The feature of the concert was Mahler's First Symphony. It is a tour de force (it is called the Titan). I love that piece and they did it really quite well. There were a few bits of out-of-tune playing, but overall these 14-18 year olds were fine musicians and the ensemble playing was excellent. The conductor, Federico Cortese, who also leads grownup orchestras did a great job - I think we saw him at a Boston Lyric Opera production several years ago (I could leaf through the pile of programs, but...).

The first piece in the concert was the Dvorák Festival March performed by the Junior Repertory Orchestra - those kids were pretty young. The conductor, Adrian Slywotzky was absolutely beaming as he came in and then out at the end - clearly proud of how good these kids were.

It is quite irregular to see 11-17 year olds dressed neatly these days and we say several hundred of them.

One of the pieces that the Boston Youth Symphony did was an arrangement of music from West Side Story. In the Program notes I read that when Bernstein originally conceived this in 1949 (the debut of West Side Story was 1957) it was going to be called East Side Story. It was to take place on the east side of NYC about conflicts between Jews and Catholics with Juliet Jewish. Street brawls, double death, etc. all fit. Then Bernstein got busy doing other stuff and the next time he considered a modern Romeo and Juliet it was in LA based upon gang violence between Mexican and Anglo's. A bit later it moved back to NYC on the west side to take up the eventual theme.

Olga Coren, may she rest in peace

On Wednesday morning, while we were still in the British Virgin Islands, we learned that Robert's mother, Olga was hospitalized with respiratory distress and then a few minutes later that she died. Robert posted a detailed description. She was 89, and had various health issues during the past few years and wasn't quite herself anymore. She was recovering well from a recent pelvic fracture, but was pretty depressed and was having a hard time being motivated to do more physical therapy so that she could be up and about. Robert's father, Bert, (90) seems to be doing pretty well; we went there right after returning home (to get better clothes). I think Robert's brother was more seriously drained by this - he lives nearby and was trying to deal with many aspects of the aftermath of the fracture.

Olga's career had been as a dictionary editor and taxonomy specialist; her name appears in many dictionaries (not as a definition, but on the staff). She was a killer Scrabble player and everyone remembered various tales, especially her insistence that henwire was a perfectly legitimate word - and who can argue with an expert?

She also was a serious wildflower aficionado and could espy and identify roadside plants while riding in the car. I never experienced that but I do remember wandering through the woods at Kirk Lake, their summer house, where she'd be pointing out plants.

We'll miss her, her intellect and good sense of humor, but perhaps it was time. They had been married for close to 70 years. Living in a retirement community was and is a good thing. There was a large pile of condolence cards and when we walked around people were always coming up to Bert to express sympathy. This will be a lot better than living completely alone.