If any­one out there is still read­ing this blog, you may have noticed that it’s been pretty dor­mant lately. Life has been busy, and just haven’t had time for the sort of recre­ational writ­ing that I’ve been able to do in the past. But, I’ve just launched a new pro­fes­sional site for myself at davidawells.com, and I’ll be mov­ing all of my music-related blog­ging activ­i­ties over there. I’ve already got a few posts up, go check ‘em out! I’ll prob­a­bly res­ur­rect this blog at some point as a place for my pho­tographs and book reviews, but I have no idea when that’ll be.

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Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition

Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition Logo

One of the projects that’s keep­ing me busy these days is the Meg Quigley Vivaldi Com­pe­ti­tion. The com­pe­ti­tion, founded in 2004, is for young women bas­soon play­ers who are either from or in school any­where in the Amer­i­cas. The reper­toire changes for every com­pe­ti­tion, but always includes a Vivaldi con­certo, an unac­com­pa­nied work, and a new piece by a liv­ing woman com­poser. The com­pe­ti­tion hap­pens every two years, and since the 2010 com­pe­ti­tion, has been accom­pa­nied by the MQVC Bas­soon Sym­po­sium — three days of mas­ter­classes, recitals, and other activ­i­ties open to all bassoonists.

The 2012 Com­pe­ti­tion and Sym­po­sium are hap­pen­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of the Pacific, where Veron­ica is now the music librar­ian. Nico­lasa Kuster is the bas­soon prof. at Pacific, and also the co-founder of MQVC (along with UT-Austin’s Kristin Wolfe Jensen). She invited me to join the orga­ni­za­tion as Oper­a­tions Coor­di­na­tor, and I will also serve as co-host for the 2012 Com­pe­ti­tion and Symposium.

I cre­ated a brand new web site for MQVC, which launched today. Check it out at mqvc.org. The launch marks the announce­ment of the reper­toire, guide­lines, and dates for the 2012 Com­pe­ti­tion. This year’s new piece is Sor­ti­lege by Margi Griebling-Haigh, which Bar­rick Stees will pre­miere at this summer’s Inter­na­tional Dou­ble Reed Soci­ety Con­fer­ence. Besides the web site, I’m also man­ag­ing MQVC’s mail­ing list, Face­book page and Twit­ter account (@MQVCBassoon).

As Jan­u­ary 2012 approaches, I’ll prob­a­bly post more here about orga­niz­ing the event, who will be serv­ing as judges, etc. But, all that infor­ma­tion will def­i­nitely show up at mqvc.org first.

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Cosmicomics Cos­mi­comics Italo Calvino
Har­court Brace Jovanovich 1968
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Most of the sto­ries in this col­lec­tion are explic­itly tied together by the pres­ence of an appar­ently immor­tal nar­ra­tor named Qfwfq. Many of the sto­ries involve space, but they take place in many times and many set­tings — with Qfwfq in many dif­fer­ent incar­na­tions. In one, he describes life before the Big Bang, with every­one and every­thing coex­ist­ing in a sin­gle point. In another, he and another young friend play games with atoms and fly around on galax­ies. In yet another, he is a third-generation land dweller with an embar­rass­ing still-aquatic great uncle. Even within these fan­tas­ti­cal nar­ra­tives, Calvino often man­ages to add a fur­ther level of sur­re­al­ity: a dinosaur catches the first train and gets lost in the crowd, cos­mic beings trans­mute into ordi­nary humans, play­mates get locked in an end­less spa­tial loop. These sto­ries are quite good, although they’re not my favorites among Calvino’s works. My only real objec­tion is to his use of inten­tion­ally unpro­nounce­able names. Qfwfq is actu­ally a rel­a­tively tame exam­ple; other char­ac­ters have names like (k)yK, Granny Bb’b, and Rwzfs.

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Raptor Red

Raptor Red Rap­tor Red Robert T. Bakker
Tan­dem Library 1999
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Pale­on­tol­o­gist Robert Bakker has writ­ten a num­ber of books, but Rap­tor Red is his first (and so far as I can tell his only) novel. His char­ac­ters are all Cre­ta­ceous dinosaurs, with a female Utahrap­tor (Rap­tor Red) as the pro­tag­o­nist. The story fol­lows Red as she loses one prospec­tive mate and finds another; encoun­ters var­i­ous other species of dinosaurs and other ani­mals, many already known to her but some not; and meets up with her sis­ter and her two chicks. Aside from other ani­mals of var­i­ous sorts, Red and her fel­low rap­tors also must deal with strange new plants, bugs, weather, and nat­ural dis­as­ters as they travel through present-day North Amer­ica in search of food.

Through­out, Bakker pro­vides a wealth of infor­ma­tion about the anatomy and behav­ior of the dinosaurs and other ani­mals in his story. The behav­ior is, of course, edu­cated guess­work. He makes the Utahrap­tors very social crea­tures, which he argues for based on their rel­a­tively large brains and close ties to birds. As Bakker wrote this book in the mid-1990s, I’d be inter­ested to know if any new dis­cov­er­ies have been made in the inter­ven­ing years that might change his characterizations.

One quote from a review printed on the back cover of the paper­back edi­tion pro­claims that “Michael Crich­ton may be a good sto­ry­teller, but even he wouldn’t have the nerve to write a dinosaur novel from the dino’s point of view.” I might counter by say­ing “Robert Bakker may know an awful lot about dinosaurs, but he’s no mas­ter sto­ry­teller.” Not that the novel is the worst I’ve read — far from it. But, it’s far more inter­est­ing for its dinosaur infor­ma­tion than for its nar­ra­tive arc.

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Cemetery Dance

Cemetery Dance Ceme­tery Dance
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Jour­nal­ist Bill Smith­back, a recur­ring Preston/Child char­ac­ter, is killed in a bru­tal attack in his Man­hat­tan apart­ment (this hap­pens on page 7, so it’s not really a spoiler). Eye­wit­nesses and build­ing secu­rity footage make iden­ti­fy­ing his killer easy, but a big­ger prob­lem appears almost imme­di­ately: the man is thought to have com­mit­ted sui­cide ten days ear­lier. There seem to be con­nec­tions between Smithback’s mur­der and a story he’d been work­ing on about a strange reli­gious sect at the north­ern tip of Man­hat­tan that has been accused of prac­tic­ing ani­mal sac­ri­fice. The deeper FBI Agent Pen­der­gast, NYPD Lieu­tenant D’Agosta, and Smithback’s wife Nora Kelly get in their inves­ti­ga­tion, the more it seems that the cult is not only sac­ri­fic­ing ani­mals, but also turn­ing peo­ple into zombiis.

Sigh… yet another Pen­der­gast novel. I was hop­ing that Pre­ston and Child would give their eccen­tric FBI agent a rest after six books in a row, the last four of which were increas­ingly Pendergast-centric. I long for a return to their ear­lier uncon­nected (or at least only ten­u­ously con­nected) nov­els, like Thun­der­head and Rip­tide. But, this book does bear some sim­i­lar­i­ties to the authors’ first col­lab­o­ra­tion, Relic: it takes place in New York, involves the Museum of Nat­ural His­tory (about which Dou­glas Pre­ston knows a great deal), and for the most part doesn’t involve Pendergast’s per­sonal life or fam­ily his­tory. For me, Ceme­tery Dance ranks not among Pre­ston and Child’s top five books, but I liked it bet­ter than that last few they’ve written.

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