I have a great fondness for artists and musicians. For me their approach to work is very similar to some of the most enjoyable aspects of science. Engineering and the natural sciences may be tied by a common mathematical language, but the approaches to the two sports are quite different - again for me, but I know others who share this view. It is neither here nor there and variety in approaches to disciplines is important. Others may find different kindred spirits and approaches - it is a fun area to ponder...
It turns out I’m a terrible musician. The cello is my favorite instrument, so my gift to the world is refraining from playing. I content myself with a bit of theremin building and fooling around with a strumstick - one is obscure enough that no one cares and the other simple enough that even I can achieve a bit of music.
But I love being around real musicians - from serious students to the masters. Stony Brook, where I did my Ph.D., had a good music program. They were particularly strong in the stringed instruments and the flute. The Beaux Arts Trio was resident there creating some wonderful concerts and it was possible to find good music several times a week.
There are lot of fond memories from the music at that place. As a grad student I co-founded a classical music series at Stony Brook that still exists to this day. We were able to book the Beaux Arts Trio. They offered a good price (I think it was about $4,000) as the trio was in residence at the school. I had a friend who was a cello grad student and Professor Greenhouse used to let me sit in on classes and master classes - he said it was critically important to connect with the audience, so why not.
The D Major Suite
There was an amazing night when he was showing something to Amy (my friend) - something out of the Bach 6th suite.1 He played it a few ways, had her play it, play it another way and sighed - "this won't do" .. then he performed the entire suite from beginning to end. Sublime is not an adequate description. Time simply ceased to exist for me and I think everyone else in the room.
He was still performing at the highest levels and teaching well into his 90s and only stopped playing about three weeks before he died.
Such an amazing person.
His favorite cello was the Paganini Cello - more properly known as the Countess of Stainlein Cello. One of the few Stradivarius cellos and considered the best example of the breed.2 He started playing and time stopped until the last note had faded and we were all jarred back to Earth.
He was not a young man at the time. He died last year at 95 - still playing almost until the end. I have been lucky enough to have broken bread with Yo-Yo Ma a few times and he maintained a good cellist lacks the chops to do a really great job on the Bach Suites until he has the perspective of age. He said he felt he could seriously attempt them for real when he is about 70. Bernard was probably near the height of his powers when I heard him play.
I know this cello well. It surprised me to see an article in about it appear in this week's NY Times Magazine. A great instrument is looking for a great caretaker for several more generations before it will be passed down through time.
Greenhouse died at 95 early last May - here is the NPR remembrance. I feel lucky to have known him. Such an incredible sense of humor and playfulness. Cellists tell me he was a natural teacher - he was certainly a natural performer.
Time is such a funny thing. My world line has wandered through time and space and somehow managed to intersect with his world line on several occasions. Those intersections became wonderfully colorful bits of thread for me. You live for those colorful and lyrical threads that make up your path and they can even bring life to the fabric of spacetime. I often feel my life is charmed and special.
Imagine the 305 year old world line of that cello as it embarks upon yet another segment.
Recipe time. Several people have encouraged me to continue with recipes. This is something I have been doing for breakfasts for the past few weeks. Basically whole wheat with scallions and a bit of olive oil and soy sauce. It is really excellent and holds me well until lunch. Use whatever ratios you like - I prepared a batch and measured for a guide. I also like to use khorasan wheat which has a large kernel. Kamut is the variety I like - mine is from Montana although it also grows in Alberta. You can use any good olive oil, but I find rosemary infused oils add quite a bit - you can make your own, but start with a good olive oil. I like Sciabica’s as I know where it is coming from in California and it is excellent - as good as any fine oil I’ve tried. You pay a lot for good olive oils, but they are worth it is you care about your food. Here is their rosemary evoo. We've been using them for about 15 years now and find them to be very friendly with great service.
° 150 grams of whole wheat kernels
° 4 scallions - chopped
° 25 grams of rosemary infused olive oil
° 30 grams pecans - chopped
° soy sauce to taste
° a finishing salt like Maldon (optional)
° Simmer the whole wheat for about 90 minutes in “enough” water. I use a crock pot and enough water is something like 350 grams. It should still have some texture when finished.
° Drain the wheat and mix in the pecans and scallions. Mix in the olive oil and add soy sauce to taste. I like to get it almost salty enough and then add a bit of Maldon salt at the end.
This makes about two servings. Scale it as you like
1 I can't make a recommendation for a single best set of Bach Cello Suites. I just did the survey and find I have seven on vinyl, one reel to reel tape and four CDs .... It is important, when you really love a piece of music like this, to hear as many great interpretations as you can.
2 Yes - I realize that new great instruments may be as good as the old greats even to the performer - although I was not terribly impressed by the methodology of the paper. Even if it is true, there is a real magic of sorts being in the presence of musical history.