Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Amazing Salt Mines of Wieliczka

A few miles south of Krakow lies the site of one of the wonders of the world – the amazing Salt Mines of Wieliczka. I had an opportunity to visit there yesterday, and was blown away by the scope of the site and the beauty of the works of art that have been carved into the heart of the earth. Within the picturesque town of Wieliczka a salt mine operated for over 800 years. Ten years ago, the mine was converted into a place that tourists could visit. During the centuries that the mine produced salt for commercial purposes, the workers excavated hundreds of miles of tunnels and thousands of underground caverns. Artists working in the mines added their own special touch by carving statues of saints and historic figures, as well as a series of chapels – the most spectacular of which is breath-taking in its size and beauty. It is decorated with chandeliers fashioned from salt crystals, and boasts a bas relief of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” carved into the salt rock. It is a work of art in its own right.

During the tour, we walked down towards the center of the earth the equivalent of 45 stories – almost the height of Boston’s Prudential Center building! Fortunately, the return trip to the surface was accomplished in elevators.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Krakow, the salt mines of Wieliczka are not to be missed!

Happy New Year!


Fabrika Schindlera Amelia

I had no idea how much of 20th Century history found its epicenter in Krakow.

One of Europe’s oldest universities was founded here in 1364 by King Casimir III. Among the school’s graduates were Copernicus and Pope John Paul II. Because of the welcoming policies of King Casimir, many Jews made their way to Krakow and they became a significant force in the city’s commercial, artistic and intellectual life over the course of over 500 years. Their vibrant community was centered on the Kazimiercz District, named in honor of King Casimir. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, most of the 68,000 Jews living in Krakow were forced to leave their homes and settle into a walled ghetto comprised of 320 homes. Less than 5% of those individuals survived the end of the war.

Of the 3,500 who did survive the Holocaust, over 1,100 of them owed their lives to Oskar Schindler, whose list was memorialized in Stephen Spielberg’s epic film. Schindler had bought the large enamel factory across the Vistula from the Kazimiriercz District, and I was able to hire many of the Jews who were living only a few hundred meters away in the new walled ghetto. Schindler’s humane treatment of his workers and his courageous actions during the war saved the lives of those whose release he purchased.

On Friday, my son Tim took me and my sister with him to the site of Schindler’s factory. The building is being renovated and turned into a proper museum. It is due to open to the public next week. Tim was able to persuade the watchman to let us get a sneak peek inside the museum. We were the first persons to view a short documentary film about Schindler and the making of the movie, “Schindler’s List.” We climbed the stairs and spent time in the Schindler’s office, where his life-saving list was compiled.

The story of what Schindler accomplished in sparing the lives of the 1,100 workers is one of the few “feel good” stories to come out of the horrors of the Holocaust.

As we returned to the Kazimiercz District, Tim brought us to see the Jewish cemetery there. A wall has been constructed using broken pieces of gravestones that had been desecrated during the Nazi occupation. We also visited a museum dedicated to tell the stories of the Jews of Galacia – now part of Southern Poland and Western Ukraine. Most of the Jews of Galacia were annihilated during the Holocaust, many of them dying in the death camps surrounding Krakow.

As you can imagine, this visit to Krakow has been full of learning and of deep emotional responses to the sad history that occurred in and around this beautiful city.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Report from Krakow

I have arrived safely in Poland, and am having a memorable visit with my son Tim, my son, Ti and his family, my sister, Di and many of Tim’s Polish and ex-patriot friends who live here in Krakow. My trip by way of London offered a bit of adventure, since British Air managed to misplace one of my two checked bags – the one that contained a Dell laptop computer and an HP printer I was delivering to my sons. The missing bag was eventually located, and delivered to Tim’s flat in Krakow – much to my relief!

Krakow is a gorgeous city – the artistic center of Poland. It survived WWII virtually intact, so many of the ancient churches, castles and historic buildings lend it a medieval air that no longer exists in much of the rest of Middle Europe. As I was walking along the street, I encountered my very first street musician bassoonist!

We spent much of yesterday touring the museums at Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Several images will remain indelibly imprinted in my memory – the iconic sign over the main entrance: Arbeit Macht Frei. The room full of human hair – taken from recently executed prisoners and intended for use in textile mills. The train track running through the main gate at Birkenau – branching into three tracks from which arriving prisoners were separated into groups that would be immediately executed in the gas chambers or those who would join the work teams living in subhuman conditions. Few survived those conditions for more than a few months.

The scale of the atrocities carried out at Auschwitz and the dozen of other camps is beyond my comprehension. Over the years, I have read extensively about the Holocaust, but no amount of reading or viewing films or even visiting the physical sites where the killings took place is enough to help me grasp the enormity of the suffering that was visited upon the victims of the Holocaust – and their survivors. I have a friend whose father survived Auschwitz, so I wrote a note in a book of remembrance in memory of Otto Goldschmitt.

Tomorrow, we will visit the site of the Krakow Ghetto and the location of Oscar Schindler’s factory.

Let us never forget!


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Reindeer Games on I-95 - A Wake-Up Call

Last night, as I was driving home, I turned on WBZ radio, and was pleasantly surprised to hear the voice of my friend, the Rev. Bruce Wall of Dorchester. Bruce and veteran Boston broadcaster, Sarah-Ann Shaw, were among a group discussing the state of the Black Community in Boston at the end of 2006. Bruce made a remark that stood out in my mind. In talking about the highs and lows of the holiday season, he reminded the listeners that Christmas often brings a floodtide of memories - positive and negative - that can often lead people into depression and acts of despair during this season. He recounted his many years as Clerk Magistrate of Boston Juvenile Court and the increase in the number of cases that the court would inevitably see each holiday season. It took me only a few hours to see an example of the kind of behavior in extremis that Bruce had alluded to in his radio remarks.

Early this morning, I hit the road and headed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to join my son, Scott, for a Christmas Eve breakfast. Just as dawn was breaking, I was rolling merrily along on I-95 in Byfield - only a few miles per hour over the posted speed limit - when I was startled by two vehicles roaring past me in the right hand lane. The lead vehicle was a pick-up truck that appeared to have many hundreds of thousands of miles on it. In hot pursuit was a Massachusetts State Police cruiser - flashing blue lights emblazoning the rosy-fingered sky. That stretch of the interstate is very straight - offering sightlines for several miles ahead. So, I was able to watch in wonder as the driver of the pick-up truck not only failed to pull over, but accelerated and tried to out-run the cruiser. Even though their speed seemed to be approaching 100 miles an hour, I was able to observe them in the distance passing the other bemused holiday travellers who weree heading north. The chase continued across the state border and to the Hampton Toll Plaza, where the first cruiser had now been joined by a growing parade of law enforcement vehicles from several jurisdictions. As I neared the town line that separates North Hampton from Greenland, I could see that the police had formed a road block up ahead. The traffic slowed to a crawl. All of a sudden, my attention was arrested by the sight of two police vehicles racing across the fairways of the golf course that abuts the highway. I could not figure out at first what they were doing, until I realized that they were trying to intercept the truck. The driver, sensing that he would not be able to make it past the roadblock, had veered off the highway, vaulted over the ditch that borders the road, and was heading across the golf course for the woods to the east. I continued driving north, and as the scene faded away behind me, I saw six cruisers convergng on the fugitive Ford. I did not get to see the denouement of the drama, but I am certain that it contained little holiday cheer - either for the law breaker or for the enforcers.

As I drove towards my rendez-vous with my son, I pondered what must have been going through the mind of the driver of the pick-up as he jeopardized his holiday, his freedom and his life to try to evade the police and avoid being stopped for what I assume would have been a minor speeding violation. What foul demons inside his head were driving him to go on this bizarre quixotic romp across the fairways? Was he one of the people that Bruce Wall had talked about last night? Was he one whose memories of Christmases past caused him to become unhinged? I will probably never know, but I will continue to wonder.

At the risk over over-moralizing this morning's signal event, I will be more aware for the rest of this day and tomorrow of strangers I meet - at the mall, at the airport, on the street, at a restaurant. I will be on the alert for signs of someone who may be teetering on the edge of despair, and for whom a warm smile or a sincere Christmas greeting could make a small contribution towards making his or her holiday a more pleasant one. In fact, This morning's strange encounter has already helped me to put this day in perspective. I assume that I am like most urban dwellers who begin to relegate the frequent requests for "spare change" to the category of pesky background noise. I wrestle with keeping a balance between becoming too jaded on the one hand - ignoring all requests lest one become overwhelmed, and giving a small amount to each mendicant, on the other hand. This morning, shortly after arriving in Boston following my breakfast with my son, I encountered a homeless person I see several times each week. His routine is always the same. He looks at me plaintively, and blurts out a single syllable: "Hungry!" I often give him some change to help him along his way. This morning I was pleased to give him a bit more to ensure that he could buy himself a hearty breakfast. I wished him God's blessing and a Merry Christmas. I am not sure it would have dawned on me to make that gesture without this morning's wake-up call of observing the police chasing an errant driver whose life was clearly out of control and heading for the breakdown lane.

God bless us, everyone!


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mini-Review: "Sons of Fortune" by Jeffrey Archer

There are myriad reasons behind my choosing to read a book. It may be because I am returning to a proven author to read or re-read a masterpiece. If may be because the book has been recommended to me by someone who feels I would would enjoy it. It may be because I read a review that intrigued me. In the case of Jeffrey Archer´s novel, "Sons of Fortune," the reasons are more obscure. I had a chance to meet Jeffrey Archer shortly before he went to prison, and I was curious to see what kind of writing he would produce.

Most of you are aware that Archer is the UK´s bad boy former candidate for Prime Minister on the Tory ticket. He got himself into a bit of a bind, and spent some time as a guest of one Her Majesty´s gaols. I met Archer when he was appearing on stage in London in a play that he had penned. Co-starring in that play was my friend, Edward Petherbridge of the Royal Shakespeare Company. After the evening´s performance, Edward invited me back to his dressing room for a drink, and he introdiced me to Mr. Archer.

The story of the novel is boilerplate "twins separataed at birth" fodder. What struck me was Sir Jeffrey´s sloppy writing and the apparent absence of any serious editing. I will cite the most egregious example. Early in the book, the reader is treated to the phrase: "a former alumni"! This phrase is a double affront to the Queen´s English! Once one has graduated from a school, one cannot reverse the process and "ungraduate," so there do not exist any creatures called "former alumni." Anyone with Archer´s Oxford education (not to mention any editor not asleep at the switch) should be aware that "alumni" is the plural form of "alumnus." So, it is not possible for a single person to be an "alumni" -whether current or former. This kind of lazy writing is simply inexcusable. I will chalk it up to the distraction of Archer being detained as a guest of the Queen when he wrote this novel.

Archer gets a mulligan this time around, but if I read another of his novels with similar lapses, he will have lost me as a reader.


Mini-Review: "The Afghan" by Frederick Forsyth

Up until now, I have been aware of the work of Frederick Forsyth from the thriller movies that have been adapted from his novels - mostly notably "The Day of the Jackal." "The Afghan" is the first of his works that I have read. It won´t be the last! Forsyth paints a frighteningly plausible picture of a brilliant Al Qaeda plot to wipe out the leaders of the world´s top economic powers attending a floating meeting of the G8 aboard the luxury liner, The Queen Mary II. I am certain that this book, too , will find its way into a cinematic adaption, but the book itself was a very engaging read. Forsyth knows his stuff, and his research is impressive - drawing the reader into the settings of the action and into the minds and hearts of the main characters.

Forsyth is masterful in weaving together several threads of subplots until they come together into a tapestry of intrigue and marytdom - by players on both sides of the West-Al Qaeda ideological chasm.



Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Quick Report from the Yucatan

I am spending a few days in Mexico in Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera. I have been pursuing getting my Open Water SCUBA PADI Certification. I completed my fourth dive this afternoon, and all that remains is a pro forma written exam tomorrow. Swimming with the tortugas was the delight of the dive this afternoon. The giant turtles feed in abundance a few miles south of Playa del Carmen, near the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum.

As I sat and read a book after a relaxing meal of "fish soup," I remarked how healing is the slow pace of life here in this sleepy Yucatan town. I like it better than Cancun. Given the recent rush to close up my office at Sales Consultants of Wellesely, to begin moving into my new space in Kendall Square and then dealing with the after effects of the tragic fire, the last two weeks were quite stressful. This brief respite in the sun is just what the doctor ordered.

My SCUBA instructor is a very patient and knoweldgeable man who easily walked me through all of the exercises that must be covered before certification can be granted. He laughed at my bout of sea sickness between dives - an occupational hazard that most divers face at some point.

Last evening, as I sat and watched the tourists walk by on "5th Avenue," I had a ringside seat to observe a group of break dancers who were entertaining the passersby. They were performing breathtaking feats on the course and rough concrete of the street - spinning, twirling, vaulting, somersaulting and dancing with a grace and energy that left me thinking of the Olympics. In 1988, I was privileged to spend two weeks in Seoul, Korea. Among the events I was able to attend was the Finals of the Men´s Gymnastics competition. The Russians were still dominant in the sport that year and swept Gold, Silver ands Bronze medals in Seoul. The athleticism I saw on the streets of Playa last evening were as impressive as anything I recall seeing on that Olympic stage.

That´s all for now. I fly back to Boston on Friday.

Enjoy the last few days of preparation for the Chritmas holidays.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Hanukkah

I am blessed to have friends who practice a wide variety of religions. I do, indeed, have many friends of the Jewish faith. To them on this special day I offer my wishes for a Happy Hanukkah.

There is a special poignancy to this year’s holiday wishes, since I will soon be traveling to Poland to visit with family. As part of our time in Krakow, we plan to make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz to pay tribute to the memory of those who died there during the horrors of the Holocaust. I have plans to place a note in the book of remembrance in memory of the father of a friend of mine.

May we never forget - as we light candles this holiday season to remember the many forms that man’s cruelty and God’s intervention have taken over the centuries.

God bless.


Boston’s New Crown Jewel – the ICA

I am not a huge fan of contemporary art, so it was with some hesitation that I agreed to accompany a friend to the newly-opened Institute for Contemporary Art on Boston’s waterfront. Am I glad I accepted! I was very pleasantly surprised – both by the architecture of the new space and by the works on display inside the gleaming cube.

The building interacts beautifully with its surroundings – using wide expanses of glass walls and over-sized glass elevators to bring the artistry and beauty of the outdoors into the building to enhance the visual experience of the man-made works of art. The space surrounding the building, which is open to the public, includes seating for outdoor concerts and events. The stadium-style benches are built of beautifully designed natural wood. The views of Boston Harbor and of nearby Logan International Airport across the water are spectacular. The smells wafting from ICA's next door neighbor, Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant, add to the overall experience, as well.

The third floor includes a media library where one can sit and use any one of dozens of iMacs to watch many of the digital works of art in the ICA’s collections. The room slopes down at a steep angle to a spacious picture window that creates a delightful and whimsical visual effect – both from inside the room from and outside the building.

I browsed with delight through the myriad of eclectic galleries. My favorite works of art included an installation by artist Cornelia Parker entitled “Hanging Fire,” the artist’s response to an arson attack. The result is spectacularly moving and evocative. Another favorite was an installation of metallic bottles and decanters set in a box that created the effect of infinite reflection – arcing gently towards infinity. I kept coming back to view the piece from different angles.

Even if you are someone whose tastes are as traditional as mine, I think you will find a trip to Boston’s newest landmark worthwhile. Target Stores are sponsoring a program that makes access to the museum free on Thursdays after 5:00 PM.



Sharing Some of My Son's Recent Work

Regular readers of The White Rhino Report have been introduced to some of the projects that my son, Tim (he now spells it "Thymn"), has been involved with as an ex-patriot living in Krakow, Poland. Two of his recent endeavors I believe are worth sharing with you. Below his his recent interview with members of the renowned Kronos Quartet.

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SynKRONisity: The Kronos Quartet in Krakow City

On November 11th, 2006 as part of the 2nd Annual Festival of Polish Music, The Kronos Quartet decended upon Krakow in a whirlwind of strings, bows and their trademark disregard for musical convention and high regard for contemporary classical innovation. They are widely considered to be the most accomplished and inventive sString qQuartet in the world. This was the group‘s first concert in Krakow and also the first time that they had performed an entire concert of just exclusively Polish music. They performed Krzysztof Penderecki’s Quartetto Per Archi No.1, Witold Lutosławski’s String Quartet, Henryk Górecki’s 3rd String Quartet: Songs of Singing op. 67 (specifically commissioned for the Kronos Quartet) and debuted Paweł Mykietyn’s 2nd String Quartet. The Kronos Quartet is David Harrington on fFirst vViolin, John Sherba on sSecond vViolin, Hank Dutt on vViola and Jeffrey Zeigler on cCello. Thymn Chase had a chance to speak with the group at their press conference held at Empik the day before the concert:

TC: Which is the most challenging for you as a quartet, the process of creation, the production aspect of recording music, or performing?
DH: For me, I try to play one note beautifully with exactly the right sound, intensity and intonation. Once you make one note that you really like, it means that all the other notes you make have to be as good or you’re going to be very unhappy with yourself. And, well, normally I’m pretty unhappy. [laughs]
HD: I agree with David, that recording has its difficulties and also its incredible joys and performing has its different kinds of difficulties and different kinds of joys. So we’re very fortunate to have this diversity. One of the great things about being in Kronos is that we get to work with the composers very closely and we get to have a dialogue with them and we can really understand what the composer had in mind when writing the piece. You get a direct interpretation that works for you. This is the joy of working in Kronos for me.

TC: I am curious if you guys have ever broken any strings in concert?
DH: Oh Yeah.
TC: So do you restring, how does that work?
DH: At this point, we take extra strings out on the stage with us in case that happens. And when we play a fifty-minute quartet, if a string gets broken we’ll go back to the beginning of the movement and start over and hopefully nobody else will break one or else we’ll just be starting over the whole night.
JS: Actually we were just talking about John Zorn’s music and during one of his pieces Hank actually broke a bow. [everyone laughs]
DH: And since that time Hank has been looking and looking for the right bow and has incidentally become one of the great bow experts in the world and it’s all thanks to John Zorn. [more laughter]

TC: So why did you choose Krakow for your only concert in Poland?
DH: Kronos has never played in Krakow before and we’ve always wanted to. Last night we came here for the very first time.
HD: Also my grandparents come from around here [just outside Krakow]!

The concert took place the next day at the Krakow Philharmonic Hall and as the pictures attest, it was not only musically bold, beautiful and inspiring but was visually spellbinding and revolutionary. For the Penderecki piece, the Kronos Quartet performed while standing in a line in front of the stage while the score was projected on a huge screen that the audience could follow along to. [see picture inset] The Gorecki piece, however, was the showcase of the evening and the final piece the Quartet was to perfrom. Once the deeply moving and eleagiac piece came to its subtle yet emotional end, the packed Philharmonic Hall erupted and rewarded the group with four standing ovations . They eventually returned the favor and came out to play an encore. They performed a gorgeous arrangement of the Icelandic atmospheric rock group Sigur Ros’s Flugufrelsarinn. After the concert Thymn Chase sat down with David Harrington to talk about the concert, the Quartet and the future.

TC: Can I jJust say that that was one of the most amazing concerts I have ever seen. It was really something special. How do you feel?
DH: I feel ecstatic actually. Its really hard to play for a new audience in a new city because you never really know what‘s going to happen. The response was incredible though. And I do have to say that the first time we played that piece (Górecki’s 3rd String Quartet) I wasn’t prepared for the profound emotional response I was going to have.
TC: So this wasn’t the first time you performed the piece.
DH: No, we debuted it a year agon in Bielsko Biała. This time, though, I felt like I could be myself. And actually we just finished recording this piece a few days ago in New York and were actually able to hand Henryk a finished copy yesterday.

TC: Now tell me a bit about Paweł Mykietyn whose piece you did debut tonight. How did you discover Paweł’s music?
DH: Someone from the festival gave me a CD and I found that I couldn’t stop listening to it. Yeah, I really liked it. Then they asked if we would be interested in making a program for this year‘s festival.
TC: So have you had a chance to see much of the city?
DH: Unfortunately, no. We are staying in a hotel outside of the city and we are all recovering from jet lag. It is really too bad because we are not going to have a chance to see Krakow at all this time. I am leaving at 5 in the morning tomorrow to fly to Barcelona to work with the young composer festival. We have the under 30 competition coming up.* All of the composers we have worked with since the first competition in 2003 continue to work with us. We are going to be playing Alexandra‘s [winner of the first under 30 competition] new piece in Vienna, and Phillipe, the winner of the second under 30, is writing a new piece right now, so I’m going to Barcelona to work with him in the studio for a couple days in order to get the piece ready.
TC: Great. I know you work with a lot of composers, but do you do any composing yourself?
DH: Not really… bBut I’m the guy that gets us into all the different stuff we do. [bBoth laugh] When it comes to making an album of music that involves a lot of different viewpoints, I’m the one that takes responsibility for the whole project.

TC: I heard that you just finished work on your next soundtrack score.
DH: Yes, its called the Fountain and it comes out worldwide on the 22nd of November [premiers in Poland in January].
TC: Can you talk a little bit about the experience of working on a film score?
DH:Well we were working with Clint Mansell again, who is the composer of the score. We also worked with him on the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream. He’s been working with Darren Arronofsky on all three of Darren’s movies. So there’s a real closeness they have which is really unique. It’s a really inventive score. The group Mogwai also appears.
TC: Did you actually work with Mogwai in the sStudio?
DH: No, they recorded in Scotland and we recorded in California.
TC: So the Composer wrote the music for both of you?
DH: Yeah. There was a lot of amazing experimentation on both of our parts.
TC: Wow! So the Kronos Quartet recorded tracks on top of what Mogwai had previously recorded?
DH: Yeah. We did a lot of exploring and experimenting with different colors and textures and the result is a score which is unlike anything anyone has ever done before.

TC: So tell me about the third piece you played tonight in front of the screen. I believe it was the Penderecki piece. How long have you been performing that piece?.
DH: That was actually only the second time that we’ve ever done that in Europe; that piece, that way. In the US we perform a concert called Visual Music and every piece has a completely different visual environment and that’s one of them. I actually had the idea about thirty years ago, but it took quite a while for the technology to catch up.
TC: It is really quite a fascinating concept because it completely changes the perception of what classical music is supposed to look and sound like. You invite the audience to be part of the experience. What was that notation by the way? It wasn’t like any musical notation I have ever seen.?
DH: Penderecki invented that. Yeah that’s the thing, each of the composers that we played tonight are major innovators and each has a unique style.
TC: Almost a language of their own it seems.
DH: Exactly. Górecki, for me, is extending what Beethoven and Schubert began in terms of form. Ludoslowski, on the other hand, created a whole new way of expressing compositional freedom and giving up control. He created the maximum freedom with the absolute minumum control. He came up with a notation system that insured that a piece would never be played twice the same way.
TC: I am really curious, tThere are a lot of tweaks and chirps and rubs and clicks and scratches in the pieces you played tonight. Are those all in the musical notations?
DH: Yeah, well most of those were very thoroughly notated originally by Penderecki. It’s sort of like a map in a way. Each symbol cannotes a certain sound or technique. And, basically, composers all over the world have used that as sort of the basic building blocks of a vocabulary ever since 1959.

TC: Just out of curiousity, did anyone translate the article for you that was published by the Music Festival and given out before the concert tonight?
DH: No.
TC: Well, it said very boldly that you are the Beatles of classical music… [DH laughs] you didn’t see that?
DH: No, I did not see it.
TC: Well it is pretty amusing. In the beginning of the article, they quite plainly introduce you as the Beatles of cClassical mMusic. Have you heard this before?
DH: Yeah, I think Rolling Stone said something like that before…
TC: My next question for you then is, who is Ringo?
DH: [laughs] That I wouldn’t know. But I do think they were a great quartet so I take it as a complement.

TC: What did you think of the aAcoustics in the Krakow Philharmonic Hall?
DH: I loved it!
TC: Even with the tram rumbling [about every 15 minutes you could hear the rumblings of a tram traveling on ul. Zwyrzienicka]?
DH: That happens at Carnegie Hall as well. [laughs]
TC: So what is your favorite cConcert hHall or performance space that you’ve performed in?
DH: Well, from the standpoint of a really amazing ego experience, I would have to say the concert hall in Beunos Aires. It was about 11 or 12 years ago and there were 4,000 people there. There are like five balconies there and when the audience claps its like God is clapping… you look up and as far as you can see there are just people raining praises on you. So from that standpoint, that’s maybe the coolest place.

TC: One last question, it is clear that the Kronos Quartet has a very significant relationship with several Polish composers and specifically with Henryk Górecki. I am curious ifDo you have any new projects or pieces in the works?.
DH: Actually Henryk and I [points to Górecki who is standing at the other side of the room] were just speaking and he told me that he has just begun writing his first Quintet for Piano and String Quartet.
TC: Wow, now I assume he is writing the piece for the Kronos Quartet, but what about the pianist?.
DH: He is going to perform it himself!
TC: Unbelievable. That is certainly something worth waiting for. Thank you very much David and good luck with all of your musical journeys.

*The Kronos Quartet Under 30 Competition:- This is a project that the Kronos Quartet began on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Quartet in 2003. It is a competosition for, well, composers under 30 to submit compositions to the Quartet. The Quartet collectively decide on a winner each year.

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The following link brings you to a short radio review of Thymn's new magazine,



Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Les Miserables Is Back on Broadway – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I was pleasantly surprised during my most recent trip to New York City to see that Les Miserables has returned to Broadway for a limited run of six months. I was able to bring with me a friend who had never seen the show, and we both enjoyed it tremendously. The show is currently running at the Broadhurst Theater on 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue.

Here is a quick overview of this particular production of the Broadway version of Victor Hugo’s classic tale of the struggle between Law and Grace.

The Good – With one egregious exception, which I will mention below, the cast is terrific. Alexander Gemignani as Jean Valjean, Norm Lewis as Javert, Aaron Lazar (of The Light in the Piazza) as Enjolras (the head of the student revolutionaries), and Gary Beach (of The Producers) as the villainous Thenardier all acquit themselves very well and carry the show admirably, as does Celia Keenan-Bolger as Eponine in her signature song, “On My Own.” The ensemble cast playing the roles of Les Miserables - the students, prisoners, workers, prostitutes, street urchins – are a talented lot.

The Bad – The smaller dimensions of the Broadhurst make this production feel somewhat cramped. The show has been cut down from its traditional 3-½ hours to a truncated 2-¾ hours. I missed some of the little touches – like Gavroche singing snippets of “Little People.” The orchestration seems to have been minimalized as well, and did not seem as sumptuous as I have come to expect from this show.

The Ugly – I shall quote from a review by Martin Denton of “The only way to describe Daphne Rubin-Vega's attempt at Fantine (and the show's signature song "I Dreamed a Dream") is outright failure: her loose, edgy acting style isn't suited to the character at all and her voice is simply not up to the demands of the role.”

I could not agree more! Disaster is too mild a word to describe the desecration that Ms. Rubin-Vega has perpetrated upon this role. I wanted to vault onto the stage and remove her physically from the proceedings. I have nothing against her acting, which was passable. I loved her when I saw her in the role of Mimi in Rent. But her raspy voice and failure to grasp the nuances of phrasing and vocal dynamics makes her performance painful to listen to. I blame the director for allowing such a travesty to occur. “I Dreamed A Dream” should be one of the emotional linchpins of this show. It sets the emotional tone for the rest of the show. Hearing her version of this gorgeous ballad was akin to listening to someone trying to perform Tchaikowsky’ s majestic Violin Concerto on a ukulele. The instrument was the wrong instrument and was not up to the task.

Having gotten that off my chest (Regular readers of The White Rhino Report will remark that I very seldom am negative in my reviews!), let me say that the show is still worth seeing. Just pray that Fantine’s understudy has been called into action on the day that you choose to attend.


My Move To Kendall Square - A Quick Update

Most of the readers of The White Rhino Report are aware that after the first of the year I will be launching my own Executive Search firm – to be known as White Rhino Partners. The official launch will happen on January 16 after I return from several weeks of traveling and visiting family and friends. Last Monday, I began moving files and personal belongings into my new office space within Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square on the edge of the MIT campus in Cambridge. The address is 1 Broadway.

If that address sounds familiar to you, it may be because you have seen it on the news these past few days. The building was the sight of the tragic explosion and fire last Friday that claimed the life of an NStar employee who was doing routine maintenance on a high-voltage transformer. Please join me for praying for the family of Kevin Fidalgo.

I was not in the building at the time of the fire, since I was in New York City for several days of meetings. Several of my friends who also work in the building had to break windows and climb out onto the roof of the garage to escape the black and acrid smoke that hampered the evacuation of over 700 building inhabitants.

As of this morning, the report is that the building may not be ready for re-occupation for another 2 weeks, pending a retrofitting of the duct system to prevent a recurrence of the ventilation problem that caused the stairwells to fill with smoke.

Please keep me and the rest of the building’s tenants in your thoughts and prayers as we all figure out how to work around not having office space nor access to any of our files or personal belongings that remain in the building. While the situation is annoying and temporarily inconvenient, I am thankful that the loss of life was not worse than it was and that my colleagues and fellow tenants were able to escape.

I am fortunate in that I had planned to travel during the few weeks around the holidays, so perhaps by the time I return from my travels, I will be able to finish the process of moving in and launching White Rhino Partners. I appreciate your understanding if you have difficulty trying to reach me over the course of the next several weeks. While traveling, I hope to be able to sporadically access my new e-mail account – So, feel free to use that address if you need to reach me before January 16.

God bless.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Thoughts on Transition from Military Service to a Civilian Career by Marshall N. Carter, Chairman of the NYSE Group

Regular readers of The White Rhino Report are aware that I have many connections at Harvard Business School among alumni, faculty and current students. One of the most gratifying aspects of my professional life is the time I spend mentoring men and women who are part of the Armed Forces Alumni Association at Harvard, as well as at the affiliate organization down the river at MIT’s Sloan Business School. Yesterday, Nate Fick, a member of the AFAA, was kind enough to invite me to attend a special gathering of several members of the club who were meeting with a senior executive who had agreed to come to campus to talk with the group about issues of transitioning from military leadership to a career in the private sector. The executive who gave generously of his time to share his own transition experience was Marshall Carter, a West Point graduate and decorated Viet Nam veteran who served as a Marine Corps officer. Mr. Carter is the former Chairman and CEO of State Street Bank and Trust and currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange Group.

Mr. Carter was kind enough to grant me permission to share with readers of the White Rhino Report some of the insights that he offered yesterday at Harvard. He set the stage by telling the current generation of MBA students that the atmosphere was quite different when he returned from Viet Nam to seek a job in industry. He was turned down by over 80 companies that wanted nothing to do with someone who had fought as an infantry officer in Viet Nam. He was finally given a chance by Chase Manhattan Bank to prove his worth as a leader.

Some of his thoughts on transitioning from the military are encapsulated in this handout that he offered the Harvard students:

Some Thoughts On Transitioning From Military Service to Civilian Careers
Skills You Bring
  • Multi-tasking
  • Ethics and an ethical basis for actions
  • Ability to deal with pressure and stress in you and others
  • Ability to prioritize – to separate critical from non-critical tasks
  • Leadership experiences, building unit accomplishment versus individual
  • Ability to deal with matrix management, i.e. multiple bosses, opcon vs. adcon, task organizations
  • Ability to work long hours without loss of efficiency
  • Quick reaction capability
  • Administrative skills

Summary – you bring a lot to the table, how do you put it forth?

Skills you May Need

  • Interviewing, hiring, firing
  • Detecting “hidden agendas”
  • Dealing with new corporate cultures

Tips On Job Searches

  • Danger points – job changes every 2-3 years. Also you may be older than your immediate boss (es)
  • The most important thing is to get a job in a company even if it’s not the job you want so that you get experience and can prove your capabilities. Also important to get “line” (revenue, profit) responsibility early.
  • Military people have difficulty selling themselves (they wear their achievements, ribbons on their chest, my experience)
  • You should expect some rejection and expect the people to not value your military experience. Our society now has only approximately 1 in 25 people with military service experience.
  • Military people have difficulty asking for things such as business and career development.
  • On balance the military is not a job, but a way of life, and people in industry and business tend to balance more between family, jobs and outside interests.
  • Success is directly related to your ability to give clear instructions, follow up and take responsibility for your actions. This is no different than early military training.
  • Don’t feel bad about leaving the military “early”: Academy graduates especially may experience guilt or have guilt put upon them.
  • Bigger companies may appreciate your leadership experiences best and these companies have processes (HR, career development, planning, etc.) similar to the military.

* * * * *

Mr. Carter also offered to make available a second document that he had compiled over his forty years of observing leadership and management “best practices.” He wanted to be sure to clarify the origin of the ideas, and he did so in this note that he sent this morning as he transmitted the document:

Dr. Al

These are not original but are techniques that I have used for 40 plus years and they work for me--I'm not claiming authorship--just their effectiveness.

Marsh Carter

* * * * *

A 40 Plus Year View of Leadership and Management



  • Be cautious about applying your own successful leadership traits and techniques to different levels of organizations and/or different cultures.
  • Sometimes, the most effective leadership techniques are the simplest
  • A leader must balance organizational mission accomplishment with responsibility to followers.
  • Leaders must balance between near-term and long-term leadership and management tasks.
  • One of the most important aspects of leading change – get some early wins – this makes change irresistible to those that resist change! Getting these “early wins” may involve changing priorities or sequencing of events.
  • Some problems can’t be “solved” (and, hopefully, made to go away) – they must be managed and may require the leader’s repetitive attention and time.
  • When merging or combining two organizations, it has been estimated that 60% of the people will be relatively indifferent, 20% will be strongly supportive, and 20% will be strongly non-supportive. Focus on the 60% and the 20% that are strongly supportive rather than the 20% that are strongly negative.
  • Merging two organizations gives a leader an opportunity to form a new culture / management/operating style. A common mistake is to adopt one or the other, thereby creating winners and losers.


  • Take the high risk / high reward job (at a minimum HR will “owe you”)
  • Hardest task – changing your leadership and management styles as you go up the ladder
  • Learn from bad leadership examples
  • Balance your life – 3-legged stool analogy
  • Watch for malicious obedience. This phenomenon occurs when people in an organization do exactly as their leader says even though they may know in their hearts that the action is incorrect or not optimal. The phenomenon usually occurs in organizations where there’s no honest exchange of ideas, constructive conflict or openness to question authority for the purpose of determining optimal actions.
  • The key to effective consensus management is knowing when to stop seeking consensus, making a decision and moving forward.

    * * * * *

    Many thank to Mr. Carter for his willingness to share his wisdom and experience with the next generation of business leaders, and for his willingness to allow me to pass along his insights to a broader audience of Blog readers.


    Al Chase

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Soldier's Christmas - A Letter From the Past Speaks to Today

My friend, Matt Carpenter, was kind enough to forward this moving article that just appeared in the weekly devotional publication called Marketplace Moments – Applying Faith to Work. Although set over 60 years ago in the era of WWII, the sentiments expressed by the soldier seem very fitting for this approaching Christmas season when many families will miss sons and daughters who are serving far from home. While written from the perspective of a Christian celebrating the birth of Christ, the message is in many regards a universal message of hope and of the power of love.

* * * * *

The Last Christmas Tale

We hear from many readers serving their country, including those in harm's way. This WWII-era Christmas tale is offered with warmest Christmas greetings-and heartfelt prayers of gratitude- to each man and woman serving something bigger than themselves.

Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13

It's Christmas Eve, 1945, and the tiny church is filled to capacity. Candles cast a soft glow in the dimly lit sanctuary. An elderly man steps to the pulpit and clears his throat slightly, gathering the attention of all in the room. "Our pastor asked me to read you this letter, written by his son last Christmas Eve."

The room grew absolutely still. Quietly, the deacon began to read:

Bastogne, Belgium
24 December, 1944

Dear Dad,

Your letter dated 22 November arrived awhile ago. I'm saving it to open on Christmas. You cannot imagine what a gift it is to get mail here. Some guys who get no mail ask us to read ours out loud, just so they can hear from home, even if it isn't their home.

There are only six of us left now from the old gang. The rest are wounded, missing or buried here on the other side of the world. The new guys seem so young, though most of them are only a year or two under us in age. They'll be old too, soon enough. It's so cold we can't stop shaking; our water freezes almost before we can drink it! Rockport seems so far away to me now. What I wouldn't give to be baking on its summer beaches again!

A stir near the rear of the auditorium caught the deacon's eye, causing him to pause and look up. Near the back of the room, an old man leaned on his cane as he struggled to his feet. Expecting him to leave the pew, a young couple stepped aside to let him out, but he merely nodded and stood in place. Another man one row back also stood. Then another, and another, until eventually every man in the congregation was on his feet. The reader at the pulpit turned to the pastor, who looked across the crowd, deeply moved by this show of respect for his son. Then he continued to read:

All those years you gave sermons on Christmas, I never really understood how a person could love somebody enough to give his life for them. But these guys, Dad! I know it must sound silly, but you don't live and fight with someone without growing to love them. I know there are bigger reasons why we fight wars, but for us here on the ground, it's about protecting each other, simple as that. For the first time in my life, I understand there's something worth dying for, and that's the guy in my foxhole. I've seen men scared beyond belief do amazing things when their buddies are in trouble.

Tonight I heard singing across the fields where the Germans are camped. I didn't know the words, but the music was familiar. It's hard to believe the soldiers over there are singing
"Silent Night" in their language, being the enemy and all. Still it makes me wonder if they aren't doing the same thing we are, fighting not for Hitler and his minions, but for their own buddies next to them. It almost makes me wish we could shake hands and just go home. But we can't, and we know it.

No disrespect, Dad, but I'm not sure anyone can understand the story of Christmas better than the soldier. If he can give up a chance to see life through just because his friends are in trouble, then certainly God can love us that much. Surely that explains how Jesus could give up His place in heaven to come to earth.

As the reader paused to draw a breath, the sniffs and sounds of muffled crying could be heard throughout the room, but little else. He continued:

Not all of us are Christians here, Dad, and I'm sorry for that. Death comes so quickly to some that I just know they didn't have time to prepare to meet their Maker. I know it worries you that I'm here. When I signed up, I was so sure nothing could happen to me! Now what I want most is to be warm again; to be someplace quiet and safe. I want to get married, drive a new car, and all those things it feels like I'll never do now. I don't want to leave this world, nobody here does, but every day it looks more and more like most of us will. I want you to know, Dad, never before has Christmas meant so much to me. The story of the baby Jesus gives me hope in a place where there's very little reason to have hope.

I know if I don't make it, I'll be buried over here, and it makes me sad to think you won't even be able to visit my grave. But what joy we share knowing there will be a day when we all can see each other again in a place where we never will be sad or hurt or sorry again. So that's my Christmas present to you, Dad. Know that this Christmas, I understand better than ever before all those things you tried so hard to teach me. Give my love to Mom. I'll write again when I'm able.

Love, Tommy.

Not a dry eye could be found in the sanctuary that evening, one full year after that letter had been written. The men continued to stand out of respect for the pastor's son, and the ladies bowed their heads, showing their respect as they prayed quietly for the pastor and his family. The pastor continued to sit through this quiet salute, absorbing the love of his people for him, and his son.

After a few moments, a man seated to his left stood and stepped to the podium to lead the congregation in carols. As he did so, the congregation erupted in applause. Perhaps only on the first Christmas night did the appearance of a father's son cause more joy.

--Randy Kilgore

* * * * *

Enjoy – and please pass this along as you feel moved to do so.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

The White Rhino Report Spawns a New Blogger - Tony Lorizio's "Baby Boomer Business Blog"

It was two years ago at this time that I made the plunge into the Blogosphere. I did so very reluctantly and very warily - with lots of questions. "Where would I find the time?" "What would I write about?" "Who would want to read what I posted?" In the intervening two years, I have been very gratified by the feedback that The White Rhino Report has recieved from a loyal group of readers. I have also been encouraged that several readers have told me that I helped to inspire them to create their own Blog. The latest to enter the fray is my friend, Tony Lorizio. I commend him and his new Blog to you. He has an interesting and unique message to Baby Boomers who own their own businesses and are wrestling with issues of retirement and succession.

* * * * *

"Dear Al:

The example of thoughtful engagement with the "cyber world" you provide through your BLOG, "The White Rhino Report," has empowered me to create one.

I discovered that the focus of my business was NOT addressed sussinctly anywhere on the web. My work is to assist "Baby Boomer" private company owners create and execute on exit and refinancing strategies. While I work in the investment banking world, very few of my competition focus in on the needs of the 12,000,000 private business owners who will be retiring within the next five to seven years.

The Baby Boomer Business Blog now provides a forum to engage, in a personal manner, with many of the issues that cannot appear in standardized advertising and web site design.

In only a few days after the creation of I was able to use this informative and attractive site to engage prospects and allow them to examine the details at their leisure.

Thank you for your fine example and good luck in your new venture. If I can help you in anyway just let me know.


Anthony Lorizio

* * * * *

Good luck, Tony.



Mini-Review: “Déjà Vu” Starring Denzel Washington

I happen to think that Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors working in films today. So, I try to see most of the movies in which he appears. It was for that reason that I chose to see the recently released “Déjà Vu.” My expectations were not high, since the film was directed by Tony Scott and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer – a duo not noted for their sensitive artistry! I was pleasantly surprised and found myself both entertained and moved by this action film with a heart.

Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe does a nice job reviewing this film. I agree with his assessment across the board. Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, the movie becomes a love note to The Big Easy and to its recovery. The science fiction aspect of the plot is indeed “ludicrous,” to borrow a word from the Wesley Morris review. But the ludicrousness is forgivable and endearing. Watching Denzel Washington’s character, ATF Agent Doug Carlin, slowly fall in love with a beautiful Cajun woman who has just been murdered is poignant and believable. The storytelling here is of top quality. I was gripped by the suspense of wondering whether agent Carlin would be able to pull off the impossible and reverse a very personal tragedy as well as the mass tragedy of a terrorist attack upon a ferryboat filled with Mardi Gras revelers. I was on the edge of my seat for much of the movie, and enjoyed the complex script, cleverly crafted by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio.

I leave you with these words from Morris’ review:

“Usually a Scott-Bruckheimer production sends you home wanting a shower. But here they've caught the movie's unstoppable bayou spirit and send you home on a high. Come back, the movie says of New Orleans. Live again.”