About howard

Wine, Physics and Song is my blog. Roughly speaking, I'm a quantum physicist, working mostly in the foundations of quantum theory, and in quantum computation and quantum information processing. My main focus recently has been understanding the nature of quantum theory by understanding how the possibilities it gives us for processing information compare to what might have been, by studying information processing in abstract mathematical frameworks, using tools like ordered linear spaces and category theory, in which not only quantum and classical theories, but all sorts of "foil" theories that don't seem to be realized in our physical world, but are illuminating to contrast with quantum theory, can be formulated. Sometimes I like to call this pursuit "mathematical science fiction".

Restaurant Zur Herrenmuehle, Heidelberg

While visiting Markus Müller at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Heidelberg to work on on our paper with Cozmin Ududec, I strolled all the way through the old town from my hotel on Bismarckplatz, past the Holy Ghost church on the market square, throught the Karslplatz with the illuminated castle ruins looming on the hillside above, and on down the less frequented end of the Hauptstrasse to the Restaurant Zur Herrenmuehle.  It was well worth the walk.  In a former mill, from the 17th century (hence the name "at the old mill", or maybe "at Old Man Mill").  I had the four course version of the Landhausmenu.  I tend toward vegetarianism with some fish, but am not completely strict about it, and suspended it here:  there was a little bit of salted beef in the soup course, and the main course was venison.  I suppose I rationalized it a bit by thinking that the deer at least run around free for most of their lives, rather than being cooped up in feedlots for a good chunk of them.  The first course, if I recall correctly, was marinated salmon (essentially lox) with anise and pepper, pickled mango, and asparagus; the second was a smooth foamed pearl-onion soup with whole pearl onions and a few salt-cured beef slices; excellent, concentrated flavor (would have been excellent even without the beef).  These went very well with a "Trocken" Riesling, Kabinett I believe, but I've forgotten the producer.  (One of the Rhine regions, I think.)   "Trocken" means dry, and refers to a more typically international method of winemaking that foregoes the traditional German süssreserve (sweet reserve) of unfermented wine added to end fermentation.  This wine, however, tasted closer to a traditional German style than your usual West Coast US or Alsatian Riesling.  The main course involved rare roasted or grilled venison and brussels sprouts flavored with real vanilla bean (a stroke of genius), as well as other delicious stuff.  The final course was semolina pudding slices with pistachios, etc...  When I ordered a glass of red wine to go with the venison, I mentioned two of the wines by the glass--neither German---that I was considering.  The one I didn't mention was a Spätburgunder, a German pinot noir.  The waiter recommended I have the Spätburgunder with the venison, and he was absolutely right.  While still recognizably a little bit sweet and fruity (a style that can be annoying in Spätburgunder if done clumsily, which is why I was not considering it initially), it was balanced, rather velvety and refined, with a kind of graham-cracker-like texture to the somewhat softened tannins, and a little bit of minerality and complexity in addition to beautiful strawberry-ish fruit.  Perfect complement, in the echoing-with-subtle-differences mode, to the venison.  I love it when a restaurant knows what wines go with their dishes, and isn't afraid to tell you.  I asked about the producer, and recall that it was fairly local, somewhat to the south of Heidelberg, I believe.  But I didn't jot down the name, unfortunately.  Probably one of those superb small local producers whose output is all spoken for by the local restaurants, wineshops, and customers, and not to be found in the US anyway (plus Spätburgunder may not be the best-traveling wine, freshness being a big part of its appeal).  I ordered a brandy rather than a coffee as an after-dinner-drink, and ended up with a surprise, a Spanish brandy (wish I could recall the producer!) that was a glorious end to the meal, and turned out to be complimentary.  The interior, as you can see by some of the pictures on the website, is elegant but still retains some of the rusticity of the old mill, for instance the wooden beams, and the bench seating around the edge of the room, even if not part of the original mill, lends a slightly rustic touch too.  Service was perfect, friendly and not obtrusive, and everyone there obviously loves good food and is happy to be providing it at a really high level.  I don't know if this restaurant has a Michelin star but I would definitely give it one (at least).  This is one of those places that should be known to all in the international fraternity (sorority, egalité) of lovers of fine food matched with equally fine wines... it is obviously owned, run, and staffed by members of the same.

Probable signature of gravitational waves from early-universe inflation found in cosmic microwave background by BICEP2 collaboration.

Some quick links about the measurement, announced today, by the BICEP2 collaboration using a telescope at the South Pole equipped with transition edge sensors (TESs) read out with superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), of B-modes (or "curl") in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, considered to be an imprint on the CMB of primordial graviational waves stirred up by the period of rapid expansion of the universe (probably from around 10-35--10-33 sec).  BICEP2 estimates the tensor-to-scalar ratio "r", an important parameter constraining models of inflation, to be 0.2 (+0.7 / -0.5).

Note that I'm not at all expert on any aspect of this!

Caltech press release.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics press release.

Main paper:  BICEP2 I: Detection of B-mode polarization at degree angular scales.

Instrument paper: BICEP2 II: Experiment and three-year data set

BICEP/Keck homepage with the papers and other materials.

Good background blog post (semi-popular level) from Sean Carroll

Carroll's initial reaction.

Richard Easther on inflation, also anticipating the discover (also fairlybroadly accessible)

Very interesting reaction from a particle physicist at Résonaances.

Reaction from Liam McAllister guesting on Lubos Motl's blog.

Reaction from theoretical cosmology postdoc Sesh Nadathur.

NIST Quantum Sensors project homepage.

Besides a microwave telescope to collect and focus the relevant radiation, the experiment used transition-edge sensors (in which photons can trigger a quantum phase transition) read out by superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs).  I don't know the details of how that works, but TE sensors have lots of applications (including in quantum cryptography), as do SQUIDs;  I'm looking forward to learning more about this one.


Some ideas on food and entertainment for those attending SQUINT 2014 in Santa Fe

I'm missing SQUINT 2014 (bummer...) to give a talk at a workshop on Quantum Contextuality, Nonlocality, and the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in Bad Honnef, Germany, followed by collaboration with Markus Mueller at Heidelberg, and a visit to Caslav Brukner's group and the IQOQI at Vienna.  Herewith some ideas for food and entertainment for SQUINTers in Santa Fe.

Cris Moore will of course provide good advice too.  For a high-endish foodie place, I like Ristra.  You can also eat in the bar there, more casual (woodtop tables instead of white tablecloths), a moderate amount of space (but won't fit an enormous group), some smaller plates.  Pretty reasonable prices (for the excellent quality).  Poblano relleno is one of the best vegetarian entrees I've had in a high-end restaurant---I think it is vegan.  Flash-fried calamari were also excellent... I've eaten here a lot with very few misses.  One of the maitres d' sings in a group I'm in, and we're working on tenor-baritone duets, so if Ed is there you can tell him Howard sent you but then you have to behave ;-).  The food should be good regardless.  If Jonathan is tending bar you can ask him for a flaming chartreuse after dinner... fun stuff and tasty too.  (I assume you're not driving.)  Wines by the glass are good, you should get good advice on pairing with food.

Next door to Ristra is Raaga... some of the best Indian food I've had in a restaurant, and reasonably priced for the quality.

I enjoyed a couple of lunches (fish tacos, grilled portobello sandwich, weird dessert creations...) at Restaurant Martin, was less thrilled by my one foray into dinner there.  Expensive for dinner, less so for lunch, a bit of a foodie vibe.

Fish and chips are excellent at Zia Café (best in town I think), so is the green chile pie--massive slice of a deep-dish quiche-like entity, sweet and hot at the same time.

I like the tapas at El Mesón, especially the fried eggplant, any fried seafood like oysters with salmorejo, roasted red peppers with goat cheese (more interesting than it sounds).  I've had better luck with their sherries (especially finos) better than their wines by the glass.  (I'd skip the Manchego with guava or whatever, as it's not that many slices and you can get cheese at a market.)  Tonight they will have a pretty solid jazz rhythm section, the Three Faces of Jazz, and there are often guests on various horn.  Straight-ahead standards and classic jazz, mostly bop to hard bop to cool jazz or whatever you want to call it.  "Funky Caribbean-infused jazz" with Ryan Finn on trombone on Sat. might be worth checking out too... I haven't heard him with this group but I've heard a few pretty solid solos from him with a big band.  Sounds fun.  The jazz is popular so you might want to make reservations (to eat in the bar/music space, there is also a restaurant area I've never eaten in) especially if you're more than a few people.

La Boca and Taverna La Boca are also fun for tapas, maybe less classically Spanish.  La Boca used to have half-price on a limited selection of tapas and $1 off on sherry from 3-5 PM.  Not sure if they still do.

Il Piatto is relatively inexpensive Italian, pretty hearty, and they usually have some pretty good deals in fixed-price 3 course meals where you choose from the menu, or early bird specials and such.

Despite a kind of pretentious name Tanti Luci 221, at 221 Shelby, was really excellent the one time I tried it.  There's a bar menu served only in the bar area, where you can also order off the main menu.  They have a happy hour daily, where drinks are half price.  That makes them kinda reasonable.  The Manhattan I had was excellent, though maybe not all that traditional.

If you've got a car and want some down-home Salvadoran food, the Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreño, in front of a motel on Cerillos, is excellent and cheap.

As far as entertainment, get a copy of the free Reporter (or look up their online calendar).  John Rangel and Chris Ishee are two of the best jazz pianists in town;  if either is playing, go.  Chris is also in Pollo Frito, a New Orleans funk outfit that's a lot of fun.  If they're playing at the original 2nd street brewery, it should be a fun time... decent pubby food and brews to eat while you listen.  Saxophonist Arlen Asher is one of the deans of the NM jazz scene, trumpeter and flugelhorn player Bobby Shew is also excellent, both quite straight-ahead.  Dave Anderson also recommended.  The one time I heard JQ Whitcomb on trumpet he was solid, but it's only been once.  I especially liked his compositions.  Faith Amour is a nice singer, last time I heard her was at Pranzo where the acoustics were pretty bad.  (Tiny's was better in that respect.)

For trad New Mexican (food that is) I especially like Tia Sophia's on Washington (I think), and The Shed for red chile enchiladas (and margaritas).

Gotta go.  It's Friday night, when all good grad students, faculty, and postdocs anywhere in the worlkd head for the nearest "Irish pub".



¡Que viva el once agudo! Sonora Sanjuanera brings the clave at the Marriott Courtyard

After the FQXI's excellent conference on the Physics of Information in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and a wonderful day in San Juan and the El Yunque rainforest, being shown around by my wife's incredibly hospitable second cousin, we set off from the Howard Johnson's to check out the live music reputed to exist at the Isla Verde resorts.  It was early---just past 8 PM---and the music hadn't started in the huge, over-the-top (oval central bar overhung by enormous gilt-and-glass chandelier, dark wood panelling all round, several more bars on the sides) lobby of the El San Juan.  Something called, as best I can recall, "cuentas retrovistas" was to be on at 9... so we continued to the Ritz-Carlton.  There a perfectly nice-sounding but rather demure female vocalist held forth accompanied by an electronic keyboardist using both his own fingers and some latin-ish presets, and a rather sedate crowd listened sipping drinks in cushiony chairs.  We asked one of the doormen where we could find live music, and after clarifying that we didn't mean what was happening in the lobby bar, but rather a conjunto mas grande playing something like salsa, he directed us to the next hotel down the way, the Marriott Courtyard Isla Verde (actually in Carolina, the next municipality over from San Juan).  After we passed a few restaurants with a promisingly funky appearance (and promising music wafting from a private party above one of them), things seemed to peter out into a darkish road paralleling the freeway, but as it wasn't completely deserted we kept on and eventually arrived at the Marriott. The doorman at the Ritz had not steered us wrong... this turned out to be the place.

The Picante lobby lounge features a square bar with plenty of seating, in the middle of quite a large space with plenty of tables, many empty when we arrived but completely filling up over the next hour or so, open on three sides to a lobby (featuring a mini-casino) and the walkway to the beach, with a happening dance floor between the bar and the stage in one corner, where a no-nonsense, very solid band, La Sonora Sanjuanera, was pumping out straight-ahead salsa, merengue, rumbas, son and such:

Mixed-age crowd, casually well-dressed or better, lots of good dancers keeping the floor full, some of them executing some elegant moves.  Seemingly mostly local, friendly vibe.  Nice big bar, with good mojitos.  Easy to walk out on the beach and contemplate the floodlit surf.  The Sanjuanera is led by pianist and vocalist Victor Garcia Ruiz, and he does a great job in both areas.  To my ears their music skews towards the elemental and folkoric side of Afro-Caribbean Latin musics, especially toward the beginning of a piece when often only congas, or some other subset of the percussion, upright bass, a little piano, are backing the vocal.  As a piece goes on, more drumming comes in with more rhythm, locking in the clave, then the trumpet section riffs are laid on, and things just keep getting more and more complex, the polyrhythmic call-and-response more and more compelling.  Then the latin-jazz side of things hits hard as the pianist solos---he likes to play around with all kinds of dramatic set pieces in his solos---chromatic stuff, playing lines in octaves, interjecting a well-known latin riff or two for a while---inbetween dispensing classic bop-influenced lines, and he likes to hit the dominant seventh sharp elevenths and such hard---fun stuff.  Always in touch with the latin rhythms though. There's nothing quite like getting to listen to some pungent bebop harmonies and licks while dancing to an implacable Latin beat.  Trumpet solos, while shorter, also bring in the bebop sensibiity but fused with a brassier, more Spanish-tinged sound than usual in jazz.  There's enough variation in tempos, rhythms, styles too keep from getting bored in a couple or more hours of dancing.  And the band takes enough time from numbers to give people a little rest... probably strategically timed to last just long enough to get some people off the floor and up to the bar. Some of the tunes were presumably covers of well-known hits---the ones that had a fair number of people at the bar and on the floor singing along.

We left as the second band, La Mulenze, was arriving---probably a mistake on our part but we did not want to get too exhausted.   We walked past a long line of cars filling the left-turn lane coming into the Marriott., suggesting the Mulenze might be the main draw.  (From the schedule at the Marriott's website, the Sanjuanera seems to play there quite a lot, the Mulenze probably being a rarer attraction.)

We stopped by the El San Juan on the way back, where the band was finally on.  The vast lobby with its multiple bars and armchairs was now full, with a crowd that seemed a little drunker, more international and probably noticeably more touristy, the band was playing something funk/soul/pop-ish, then something classic-rockish.  An interlude of salsa was done pretty well, motivating some dancing, but then it was back to classic rock.  Even Springsteen's "Hold On (To What You Got)" seemed somehow heavy and downbeat and the dance moves it inspired crude compared to the ebullience of the Sanjuanera and the elegance of the good salsa dancing there, so we moved on down the beach and after a short while under the portal of another beachfront hotel sheltering from a brief rain squall (excellent salsa from a private function sounding from the top floor club), back to our hotel to snooze.

As far as I know, the Sanjuanera has made two CDs, the newest of which is from 2011, P'al bailador que guapea!.  A few cuts from Youtube to whet your appetite:

Yembe Iaroco a Cuban rumba written by Rafael Blanco Suazo best known, I guess, in a 1951 recording by Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera) has a strong Afro-Caribbean feel, possibly Iaroco refers to the Mexican coastal area of Veracruz:

Oye el consejo is another hard-hitting rumba:

For some variety, Quiéreme is basically salsified doo-wop:

John Rangel and Michael Anthony play El Mesón tonight

If you like jazz at all and are looking for something to do tonight (Jan. 2, 2014) and in range of Santa Fe New Mexico, don't think twice, go hear John Rangel (piano) and Michael Anthony (guitar) play jazz at El Mesón, from 7-9 PM.  (Call 505 983 6756 for reservations... these guys have a following.)  You can get good to great tapas there, and maybe a nice glass of fino sherry, while listening.  The fried eggplant is not to be missed.

Lost and found Lester Young at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, transcribed by Ethan Iverson

Ethan Iverson's Do the Math (DTM) is the one mainly-music blog that I read every word of.  His work as composer and pianist with The Bad Plus, with Billy Hart in the Billy Hart Quartet, and elsewhere, should not be missed. At DTM, he's given us a  transcription (in concert key) of a fabulous Lester Young solo on Tea for Two, from the Savory Collection, a set of over 1000 recordings, privately made by Bill Savory on 78 rpm discs, of radio performances by great jazz musicians during the years 1935-1940.  The collection was acquired in 2010 by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. The museum is looking into possibilities for publicly releasing the recordings...for now, note that you can listen to them if you visit the museum.

I've transposed to B flat (and slightly edited, based on the sound file linked below) Iverson's transcription, for the benefit of those tenor players who, like myself, don't yet routinely read stuff like this in concert key; you can get the transposed version here, and it's also displayed at the end of this post.

Iverson calls the solo "utterly brilliant"; and I concur.  For those not heavily into jazz, I'll just say that to me the aesthetic and cultural significance of this is comparable to finding the manuscript of a previously unknown Mozart piano concerto...of the caliber of K488 in A, K491 in Cm, or K503 in C.  

You can hear the second chorus of the two-chorus solo, and other excerpts from the collection, at the New York Times website.  The performance is from November 1938, and the group featured "members of the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw bands", along with trumpeter Roy Eldridge. 

About the performance the Times writers say "Top honors go to Young’s long, free-flowing solo, which is capped by a second chorus that Mr. Schoenberg calls “a wild, spontaneous moment of abandon.” "  (Mr. Schoenberg is Lauren Schoenberg, director of the Museum.)  To me, at least, it seems that the "wild, spontaneous moment of abandon" gives a primary emotional impression of relaxed, unselfconscious joy, a feeling perhaps somewhat rare in later jazz, though characteristic, if perhaps to a less intense degree, of much of Young's greatest work, especially of this period (the late 30s).  Intense striving or yearning, intense sensuality especially of a kind remniscent of eroticism, while they are valuable aspects of many great jazz performances, are mostly absent here;  this is not wild abandon in the sense of holy rollin', freejazz freakout or R&B barwalking, but rather in the sense of a spontaneous breaking out into a dance of joy.  This in part reflects Lester's style of the time, which emphasized grace and poise, relaxation and a degree of restraint even in episodes of blues honking.  (It's not an accident that I chose Mozart in the classical comparison above.)  But I think it also reflects the emotional tenor of Tea for Two itself, which despite being a popular hit at the height of the so-called Jazz Age seems almost nineteenth century in its description of a parlor romance over tea and its joyfully anticipated consummation in marriage and children. Louis Armstrong might be the closest parallel for this kind of uncomplicated joy in early jazz, although Armstrong's joy was often tinged with a bit more explicit triumphalism, his blues with just a tad more raunchiness. But there are definite reminders of Armstrong, or perhaps other trumpet influences (Lester, like Armstrong, loved the playing of Bix Beiderbecke), especially in the ripping measure 41-42 reference to the main Tea for Two theme, the measure 35-36 eighth notes jumping up and down a fourth, before peeling off into a classic Lesterian extended line dropping via turns into descending arpeggios that bounce right back up again, and in the measure 49-51 quarter notes, which come off as an inspiration of the moment (this must be part of what Schoenberg meant by "wild abandon"), and which are a striking contrast to the running-eighth note lines abundant in Young's playing.

Speaking of dancing, the rhythm section, in which guitar rather than piano is the primary audible chorded instrument, lays down a rather implacable but solidly swinging chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk of a 4/4 beat, and Lester dances fleetly in and around it, sometimes, especially when referencing the melody of Tea for Two or emphasizing the somewhat heavy-handed half-measure harmonic rhythm of the main strain, almost implying a feeling of 2/4 but always remaining lightfooted. Besides working on playing this solo, I've been analyzing its harmonic implications a bit, but won't discuss that until I've investigated the harmony being played behind Lester beyond merely comparing it with some charts found around the web.

Here's my B flat transposition of Iverson's transcription, done with Iverson's permission but not with his supervision or imprimatur.  I have also edited the second chorus a bit based on what I hear in the sound file from Savory linked at the New York Times site above. Iverson noted that his transcription contains "a couple of tiny wrong notes"; I found almost none in going over the second chorus. The main differences I've noted with Iverson's version are the shake in measure 38, and the fact that I've written out the gliss or rip in measure 41...although the exact notes I've written there should be taken with a grain of salt. (I thought that the parallel with the similar upward jump on the first beat of measure 42, but with a slightly different rhythmic feel compared to the triplet of measure 42 was worth making explicit.) The few places I've put in slurs are more to indicate that those passages are executed almost like a rip or glissando, not that nothing else is slurred.


Christmas wines: Stratus 2007 Cabernet Franc, VQA Niagara Peninsula, and 2005 Chateau Suau update

Stratus is a rather high-end winery in Ontario's Niagara Peninsula area, at least to judge by their prices and modern, fashion-conscious tasting room out on the vine-laden flats between the QEW expressway and Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I picked up a bottle of their 2007 Cabernet Franc while tasting there a few years back, and we had it this Christmas with our traditional vegetarian Christmas dish of Chiles en Nogada --- a vegetarian modification of the Mexican recipe, made of Poblano chiles stuffed with a tofu, tomato, onion, raisin and spice mixture and topped with a cream and ground walnut sauce and pomegranate.

Someplace Hugh Johnson (I think) says that there are two main ways to get a great wine and food pairing:  a brilliant contrast in which each sets the other off, and an echoing in which the two are similar, yet different, for a total experience more complex than either one separately.  This was indeed a great pairing, mostly of the second kind, with the spiciness and slight grassy or vegetal elements characteristic of Cab Franc echoing the Poblano pepper.  Good strong fruit flavors too, and medium-grained tannins.   A very balanced wine, but fairly full-bodied, reminscent of a good Bourgeuil like the Domaine de la Chanteleuserie "Alouette"  but with some aspects more like an excellent Bordeaux:  it seemed a bit on the smooth and elegant side for a Cabernet Franc, but with no lack of flavor.  Tannins seeming to get more pronounced as the meal went on, fairly grippy on the finish, which is fairly long perhaps due to the tannins sticking the flavorsome stuff to the tongue.  Not obnoxiously tannic, though.  Still I'd guess this wine, though delicious and somewhat evolved now, has 3-8 more years of beneficial evolution in store.  Unfortunately I only bought one bottle---I recall it was fairly pricey (retail price was listed as $38 on release but I think it was on sale for less at the winery).

If one has to numerically rate it, perhaps a 8.5 or 9 on my 10 point scale that goes to 11, maybe 89 Parkeresque points.  Great stuff, anyway...an unfortunate example of fairly expensive wine for which I know no cheaper substitute with quite the same qualities, though the Chanteleuserie comes close.  One of quite a few superlative Ontario wines I've had the pleasure of drinking this year... more on the others anon.

Good as this wine was, my wife's Chiles en Nogada were, as usual, the true pièce de résistance of the meal.  Dessert was pampepato, served with the 2005 Sauternes from Chateau Suau.  I've had several 375ml bottles of this, a couple of them somewhat disappointing after an initially fabulous experience...this one seemed back to form, with pineapple, cotton candy, and a little bit of burnt sugar flavors.  The overall format seemed relatively low-acid, not super-crisp, nor super-complex beyond the abovementioned flavors, but nonetheless fairly fresh-tasting.  Quite sweet, but not quite to the point of seeming syrupy.

La Donna del Lago, Santa Fe Opera 2013

This year's Santa Fe Opera production of Rossini's La Donna del Lago (based on Sir Walter Scott's 1810 novel The Lady of the Lake) was a treat.  Musically, quite a nice piece.  I don't feel like giving a very definite appraisal of the opera itself without hearing it more, but it has plenty of excellent arias along with some that were less striking, some really nice orchestral parts (the opening scene, for instance), and good choral sections, along with what feels, at times, like more pedestrian sections (hardly unheard-of in Rossini).  Unquestionably worth seeing in a good production like this one.

Joyce DiDonato is a fascinating singer and convincingly characterized the main female role of Elena.  She has a very flexible mezzo with an extended high end, perhaps somewhere between a soprano and mezzo in tone, and great agility in coloratura.  Ornamentation and fancy passagework is all there, not approximated, although very occasionally I felt like this was getting in the way of natural phrasing.  Moreover she can usually do this while remaining relaxed, which probably contributes to her effectiveness as a vocal actress.  There was a lot for her to do in this opera, besides the last-act showstopper Tanti affetti, and she did it all (including Tanti affetti) masterfully.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee, as King James of Scotland (disguised as one "Uberto" during the first act), gave a solid performance but his voice, while clear and reliable, seemed a bit overmatched, in volume and projection, by Ms. DiDonato's at times; indeed, I occasionally  wondered if she was holding back a bit so as not to overpower him.  (On the other hand, she had a lot of singing to do over the course of the evening, so could have been pacing herself.)  His singing came across as slightly reserved, perhaps a little stiff, although this was perhaps not completely out of character for a king.  His voice seemed smooth, refined, his tone a bit burnished.  I will definitely be interested in checking out his work in other settings.  I thought he came into his own a bit more in the final scene, where he is king in his court, rather than disguised to investigate the situation in his realm (and court Elena).

Tenor René Barbera was superb as Rodrigo di Dhu, the leader of another clan, whom Elena's father Duglas (Douglas) intends for Elena to marry.  His voice had a lot of color and texture to it, and projected well into the house.  And he sang with plenty of power and passion.  His voice showed no stress in climactic moments, and he did a good job of musically shaping phrases and whole arias, and of portraying Rodrigo as a vigorous, passionate young leader, not used to being thwarted.  I'd keep on the lookout for opera's he's in---his participation is a reason to go.

Bass-baritone Wayne Tigges was also superb as Elena's father Duglas.  He managed to convey real fatherly affection along with dictatorial control over his daughter's life, including the attempt to impose a marriage on her for reasons in part political and military.  Both his appearance (tall, with tousled dirty-blond hair) and his singing, in a clear, flexible but not soft, somewhat commanding but not bellowing voice, contributed to the picture of a fairly rough-hewn Scottish clan-leader, whose character mixes some nobility with some crudeness and violence.

As Malcolm Groeme, Elena's own choice for a main squeeze, mezzo Marianna Pizzolato sang beautifully, and her somewhat darker mezzo worked well with DiDonato.  She too was very solid in complex passagework.  Their duet cavatina Vivere io non potro was a highlight of the evening, and one of the high points of Rossini's opera.  She perhaps did not match DiDonato in acting skill; her long Act 2, scene 2 aria came off as a bit static.  But she is an excellent singer.

Seeing Maometto II last year, and now La Donna, makes me think that Rossini had a particular interest in the theme of romantic love reaching across the divide of military conflict.  In this opera, it ultimately succeeds in bringing peace.  The quick peacemaking in the court scene at the end is perhaps a little bit unconvincing, but maybe further experience with the opera will clarify that aspect of the plot.

Last season, I began to wonder if Santa Fe plans each season to have a theme running through several operas.  Last season, it would have been the damage caused to people seeking to live lives of love, art, peaceful spirituality, by the alliance of religion with state power.  This year, I'd say it was romantic love and powerful women against patriarchy.  This was the obvious theme of Rossini's opera, and I think the director underlined it by having some of the men behave extra-badly: some pretty aggressive come-ons by King James to Elena in the first act, violent treatment of women by clansmen in some of the choral scenes.

Some of the staging was perhaps a bit static, but the production did well to keep the original setting, and the sets were excellent, emphasizing rusticity and desolation over romantic lochs.  (In fact, the lake seemed to have gone missing.)  The chorus and orchestra were both very strong.

Overall, a good opera with moments of magic, extremely well produced and cast, and with a thought-provoking theme.  Lots of excellent music, though sometimes padded out with lesser music, and with a story providing food for thought, and mostly effective drama, though probably not up with the best operas in the dramatic department.  An opera I'd definitely see again, and hope to see done this well.




A thought on resistance to Bayesian statistics

I'm not a statistician, and as a quantum theorist of a relatively abstract sort, I've done little actual data analysis.  But because of my abstract interests, the nature of probability and its use in making inferences from data are of great interest.  I have some relatively ill-informed thoughts on why the "classical statistics" community seems to have been quite resistant to "Bayesian statistics", at least for a while, that may be of interest, or at least worth logging for my own reference. Take this post in the original (?) spirit of the term "web log", rather than as a polished piece of the sort many blogs, functioning more in the spirit of online magazines, seem to aim at nowadays.

The main idea is this.  Suppose doing Bayesian statistics is thought of as actually adopting a prior which specifies, say, one's initial estimate of the probabilities of several hypotheses, and then, on the basis of the data, computing the posterior probability of the hypotheses.  In other words, what is usually called "Bayesian inference". That may be a poor way of presenting the results of an experiment, although it is a good way for individuals to reason about how the results of the experiment should affect their beliefs and decisions.  The problem is that different users of the experimental results, e.g. different readers of a published study, may have different priors.  What one would like is rather to present these users with a statistic, that is, some function of the data, much more succinct than simply publishing the data themselves, but just as useful, or almost as useful, in making the transition from prior probabilities to posterior probabilities, that is, of updating one's beliefs about the hypotheses of interest, to take into account the new data. Of course, for a compressed version of the data (a statistic) to be useful, it is probably necessary that the users share certain basic assumptions about the nature of the experiment.  These assumptions might involve the probabilities of various experimental outcomes, or sets of data, if various hypotheses are true (or if a parameter takes various values), i.e., the likelihood function;  they might also involve a restriction on the class of priors for which numberswiki.com

the statistic is likely to be useful.  These should be spelled out, and, if it is not obvious, how the statistic can be used in computing posterior probabilities should be spelled out as well.

It seems to me likely that many classical or "frequentist" statistics may be used in such a way; but, quite possibly, classical language, like saying that statistical inference leads to "acceptance" or "rejection" of hypotheses, tends to obscure this more desirable use of the statistic as a potential input to the computation of posterior probabilities.  In fact, I think people tend to have a natural tendency to want some notion of what the posterior probability of a hypothesis is; this is one source of the erroneous tendency, still sometimes found among the public, to confuse confidence levels with probabilities.  Sometimes an advocacy of classical statistical tests may go with an ideological resistance to the computation of posterior probabilities, but I suppose not always.  It also seems likely that in many cases, publishing actual Bayesian computations may be a good alternative to classical procedures, particularly if one is able to summarize in a formula what the data imply about posterior probabilities, for a broad enough range of priors that many or most users would find their prior beliefs adequately approximated by them.  But in any case, I think it is essential, in order to properly understand the meaning of reports of classical statistical tests, to understand how they can be used as inputs to Bayesian inference.  There may be other issues as well, e.g. that in some cases classical tests may make suboptimal use of the information available in the data.  In other words, they may not provide a sufficient statistic: a function of the data that contains all the information available in the data, about some random variable of interest (say, whether a particular hypothesis is true or not). Of course whether or not a statistic is sufficient will depend on how one models the situation.

Most of this is old hat, but it is worth keeping in mind, especially as a Bayesian trying to understand what is going on when "frequentist" statisticians get defensive about general Bayesian critiques of their methods.

Poulenc --- Complete Works (EMI)

Over the last few weeks I've been listening to "Francis Poulenc:  Oeuvres Complètes"  on EMI Classics (972165 2).  The short take: if you like classical music, buy it.  Amazing value at $44 for 20CDs  (prices vary but $50ish for the new set seems about par).  These are mostly, perhaps entirely, French performances, in many cases by artists (like pianists Gabriel Tacchino and Jacques Février) long associated with Poulenc.  There's a lot of superb music here and it's fascinating to have all of Poulenc's music in one place, sorted by genre (piano music first, then chamber music, then orchestral works, then sacred music, then dramatic vocal and other choral works, then songs).

Some highlights:  lots of superb piano music.  The "15 Improvisations", on disc 1, is a good place to start.  All of the chamber music is interesting; highlights include the wonderful 1926 Trio for piano, oboe, and bassoon. I was familiar with this from an excellent Deutsche Grammophon recording ("Francis Poulenc: Chamber Music") with the Ensemble Wien-Berlin on winds and James Levine on piano. The French EMI recording, with Robert Casier on oboe, Gérard Faisandier on bassoon, and Jacques Février on piano seems --- I could be influenced by the fact that the performers are French, but I think this is a real musical difference --- to have an earthier, perhaps Gallic, flair to it, with the winds sounding reedier, the phrasing more influenced by popular music.  The piece seems to blend influences from Classical and perhaps also rococo periods in music, with ones from the music-hall and popular traditions, and the more Germanic ensemble on DG seems to give a smoother, more ornamental sound emphasizing the classical connections more; the French one certainly doesn't overemphasize the popular elements (which are subtly infused into the music in any case), but does bring them out more.  Both performances bring out the humorous element that is usually essential to Poulenc, alongside expressiveness and singing beauty, but the French performers seem to fuse these two elements more closely and the result somehow seems a bit more sincerely felt, whereas the humorous aspects of the DG version have a bit more of the feel of parody.  Levine's piano playing is of course excellent, but seems a bit "blocky" at times compared to Février's.  I'm glad that I have both versions.  If I had to have only one, it would be the EMI one.

The Sonata for cello and piano is a masterpiece, that for violin and piano probably is also.  Poulenc worked on both over a good portion of the 1940s.   The latter is a bit more agitated in feeling (perhaps relatively chromatic for Poulenc?), the cello sonata more majestic, mellow, and songful.  The 1918 sonata for two clarinets and 1922 sonata for clarinet and bassoon are wonderful; they and the 1922 sonata for horn, trumpet, and trombone handle the unusual instrumentation masterfully.  The 1957 Elegy for horn and piano, dedicated to the memory of English French horn player Dennis Brain, is another masterpiece, with Février on piano and Alain Civil getting wonderful timbres from his horn.

I was less familiar with Poulenc's orchestral music before getting this box set, and it has been fascinating to get to know.  The ballet Les Biches, written for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and premiered in Monte Carlo in 1924, is probably the place to start.  Another wonderful piece, with lighthearted eighteenth-century-influenced pieces alternating with more avant-garde sounds and some very effective, more somber-sounding movements with chorus.  The choral movements are omitted in a later orchestral suite, which I have not heard; to me they are essential to the impact of the work heard here.

The piano-and-orchestra works have so far been a bit harder for me to wholeheartedly commit to... the Aubade starts very interestingly, but becomes rather bombastic-sounding, which even if intended humorously, doesn't quite draw me in.  I liked the earlier Concerto for piano and orchestra better, but will have to do some more listening to develop a real opinion.  Some of the pieces have a lot of music that sounds closely related to lush 1930s movie music, interesting but perhaps a bit too much.  The organ concerto has some really effective parts but I'll have to listen more carefully.  (Listening while cooking or doing dishes, which has been the situation for some of this orchestral music so far, doesn't really count as a fair hearing...).  Much of the orchestral music is conducted by the superb and very idiomatically French Georges Prêtre, and it is hard to imagine it better played.

Of the vocal works with orchestra on these discs, I have so far listened only to the first act of the opera Dialogues des Carmélites, which seems superb as a work of music, and probably of drama, and superbly sung and played; the choir and orchestra are those of the Paris Opera, under the excellent Pierre Dervaux.  (Dervaux' recording of Bizet's Pearl Fishers  with Nicolai Gedda as Nadir is one of the reference recordings of that piece, discussed elsewhere on this blog; it evidences the clarity of texture and line, and the restrained but expressive approach to tempo variation and phrasing, that one might think of as characteristically French, and which are shared by Prêtre's conducting here and elsewhere.)  The musical language seems quite influenced, at times, by the more modal side of Debussy and Ravel (and probably also by centuries of church music), and this language provides a superb vehicle for maintaining musical interest during the kind of dialogue that has often been scored, over the course of operatic history, as stereotyped recitative.  I am moved to go back to Débussy's Pélleas et Mélisande to see if it is a source for this style in opera (I have to admit that I never quite got into Pélleas, as conducted by Boulez, but probably didn't give it enough of a chance.)  Parts of the first act already have a stunning musical and dramatic impact, so I'm looking forward to finishing listening to this work.  I have listened, in other versions, to other vocal works by Poulenc, but it's been a long time, so I'm looking forward to getting familiar with them again.

I haven't yet delved into the five discs of songs, mostly for solo voice and piano but sometimes for vocal ensembles, that cap off the set.  Many involve one of my favorite singers, baritone Gérard Souzay accompanied by Dalton Baldwin (their Débussy songs on DG are sublime), and I suspect the less familiar singers will be wonderful discoveries.

The booklet contains discographic information in French and a valuable essay, discussing Poulenc and general and covering each piece briefly.   It's unfortunate that it doesn't include librettos for the dramatic pieces and lyrics for the songs, although that probably would have made the booklet unmanageably large.  I would guess that for most pieces you can find lyrics on the web, but that is not nearly as nice as having them all in one place stored with the relevant CDs.  The central section of the booklet features wonderful historic photos of Poulenc with friends and colleagues.

This set is an amazing value, of a sort that seems to be increasingly available from major record companies.  It contains many, many works that seem to me essential to any lover of classical music, in performances that it's hard to imagine improving upon.