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In the Top That Department, I offer the following touching story that combines foreign travel, colored sticks and amazing generosity.

It’s been several months since I accompanied a few dozen KUSC listeners to Austria.  We visited Vienna and Salzburg.   Great trip and great company.  One of the participants was Benla Bennett.   Benla, who has enjoyed a wildly fascinating life, isn’t big on taking photos to remember a trip.  No.  Instead she likes to take a few snapshots of someone she encounters and then go to her pastels and create a real souvenir – an original artwork.  Luckily for me and my wife Marcia, Benla found a worthy subject in Marcia.

A few weeks ago Benla sent an email just to let us know that she had come up with something she’d titled “Contemplating Vienna.”     She accompanied the email with this JPEG. It’s worth noting that she prefers using her fingers over a brush.  If you click here it’ll take you to a larger JPEG that comes closer to doing this piece justice.

Long story short:  the original now hangs in our home.  Wow.  Thank you Benla.  Now, as for the rest of our fellow travelers, we’re waiting.  Top that.

You can see more of Benla’s art (including a pastel of another member of our group) at her blogspot gallery.

– Rich Capparela

7 years ago |
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My very first KUSC blog addressed the issue of off hours activities. Well, I’m still spending Tuesday nights with three other guys as we plow our way through the Beatles catalog and whatever else catches our ears. And sometimes the connections with my KUSC job are – how shall I say it – imaginative. Take next Wednesday night (June 15).

Some months I hosted an event for the San Fernando Valley Symphony. Before the evening started I started swapping tall tales with the orchestra’s music director James Domine. It turns out that both of us like to play rock ‘n roll in our spare time. It also turns out that the orchestra hosts a music night every Wednesday – at the bar of a bowling alley. No, really. Anyhoo, Jim asked if my band would like to play there sometime and I checked with the guys. They said sure.  We arranged for an evening in March, and it all went swimmingly – so much so that the maestro invited us back as soon as possible. As soon as possible turned out to be next Wednesday.

I’ve described my rock ‘n roll efforts as being akin to a dog walking on its hind legs. It may not do it well, but the fact that it even tries is at least worth noting. The others in the band (Rob, Barry and Juse) are actually quite talented and they indulge me playing lead on Roll Over Beethoven. Throughout our gigs I also play rhythm guitar and keyboards. I also sing lead because, well, someone has to.

If you’re at all interested in the idea of a dog walking on its hind legs (while singing Lennon and McCartney), you are invited to join us on the 15th at the Canoga Park Bowl in Winnetka between 8 and 10 pm. It is a very, very small room,  so don’t expect to dance (or hear yourself think) but do prepare to be mildly amused.  We keep out a tip jar and I’ve been told the proceeds go to support the San Fernando Valley Symphony.  Having said that, admission is quite free.

All of the info is on the band’s web site –

See you then, if you dare, dude.

– Rich Capparela

7 years ago |
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Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I present to you these photos from the Festival.

A section of the corridor of stalls along Trousdale Parkway, the Festival's main drag.

Nothing says "Festival of Books" like someone dressed as bag of instant rice.

Skylight Book is usually located on Vermont in Los Feliz, but today, they are also on this shady corner of USC.

I'm thinking about changing my name to "Hungry Bookworm."

Ben and Jerry's is giving away ice cream to many hungry bookworms.

This year's panels seem very popular. Everywhere I look, there are people in Stand-By lines hoping to get a seat.

I followed one especially long line to the start. What are people waiting for? A glimpse of Hilary Duff, of course.

You can fight for a parking spot on Sunset Blvd. to visit Book Soup's brick and mortar, or you can leisurely amble over to their stall.

7 years ago |
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11:30 AM

Greetings, Resident Bookworm here. It’s a beautiful day on the busy USC campus and I have touched down at the Festival of Books.

It looks like Jennifer Egan can add another award to her, presumably sagging, shelf of accolades; last night Egan’s novel won the LA Times Book Prize for fiction. A full list of winners is available at

It’s the Festival’s first year here at USC, after a long run across town at UCLA. Why the change in venue? The literature I was given leaves it at a rather vague “The Times believes this change in venue will provide a foundation for continued success.”

I’ve heard a couple other reasons: better parking situation and the ability to attract a more diverse crowd. The Festival attendees at UCLA always seemed diverse to me, so I can’t really comment on the second point, but I will say parking sure didn’t seem easier here. Perhaps this is a good time to admit that as a graduate of UCLA, I am not wholly unbiased in this comparison.

For a more impartial opinion, I’ll turn to the young girl I heard say to her mom, as they strolled through campus en route to the joyful noise of patrons visiting a line of white tents: “Mom, do you like it here? Because I like it here.”

It’s time for this Bookworm to do some exploring!

2:30 PM

Can you hear that? The Festival is certainly in full swing. There is a main line of tents and stalls bisecting the campus at Trousdale Parkway, with a seemingly endless number of smaller tent fingers reaching through a great deal more of USC’s plazas, quads and open areas. I got into the sold-out panel with author Daniel Hernandez that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post. One reason I like the Festival of books is that it gets me into an academic setting without requiring any of those pesky student loans. I was always a zealous student, but while you, of course, keep learning outside of school, it’s not often in a formal setting. So I enjoy that the Festival gets me back in a seat with a swivel-arm desk, under lines of bright florescent lights, looking up at platforms and podiums and an expanse of blackboard.

I also enjoy that the Festival corrals many of my favorite bookstores from across LA into a single location. I’ve already tracked down a few of these favorites, namely Skylight Books (Los Feliz) and Book Soup (Sunset Strip). I still want to hunt down Vroman’s (Pasadena), Getty Publications (a great stop for anyone who likes beautiful books), Huntington Library Press, Traveler’s Bookcase and Angel City Press (the perfect place to find books about aspects of Los Angeles you’ve either never thought about or always wondered about). Clearly, I have my work cut out for me!

7 years ago |
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Hello! It is I, KUSC’s Resident Bookworm. It may not surprise you to learn that many of us (probably most of us) here at KUSC are big readers. But only one of us is blogging about the Festival of Books (i.e. me)! So, I have taken the liberty of christening myself the “Resident Bookworm.”

Perhaps it seems surprising that Los Angeles, the iconic movie town, would make a big place at the table for books, but I’ve been going to the Festival for years and am only surprised by two things: the masses of people in attendance and the amount of excitement in the air.  If print is dead, no one told us.

For the past several days I’ve been reading about the Festival and making lists of what to do and who to see. One list bound to get some attention is the list of LA Times Book Prizes.  Winners will be announced at a ceremony taking place tonight, although one winning author has already been announced. The woman who introduced us to Ramona, Ralph S. Mouse, Henry Huggins and Mr. Henshaw, Beverly Cleary, is being honored with the Robert Kirsch Award.

I don’t think I’ve read every single Beverly Cleary book ever published, but I bet I’ve come close.  I can still picture the covers of so many of her works; they are like old friends and not just to me, to my mom–who read them all as a kid–and probably to many of you as well. Plus, Beverly Cleary and I were both born in Oregon, so we’re practically related.

Cleary is now 95 years old and resides in California. There is a nice interview with her in the LA Times here.

If you’ve read or listened to anything about the Festival, I’m sure you know Patti Smith will be there.  She’s sharing the stage with Author/Publisher Dave Eggers. Thinking about getting tickets? Forget about it!  A fellow KUSCer found out the hard way that they’ve all been snapped up (conversely, if you happen to have an extra, I just might know someone who’ll take it).  I am a Patti Smith fan and I saw her read from her inspiring memoir Just Kids at Skylight Books a while back. The word “icon” gets thrown around a lot (especially in my own head as I see who will be appearing at the Festival), but Patti Smith is that. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to hear her in person, but there are a lot of other amazing, and, well, iconic, people appearing this weekend as well.

A few other things I’m looking forward to tomorrow:

  • Jennifer Egan, fresh off several very major award wins for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, appears at 10:00 AM on a panel called “Fiction: Breaking Boundaries.”

Megacities do not pretend to be pretty or picturesque, do not pretend to deny that ours is now a planet overrun by humans, and that humans are filthy and destructive creatures but are also prone to romancing one another. The megacity is the perfect place for romance. Romance between two people, between strangers exchanging quick looks on a platform. Romance for the entire tenuous proposal that is a global society.

  • At 2:30 on Saturday, actor and slight-of-handist Ricky Jay talks to Joe Morgenstern.  Both of their voices may be familiar to KCRW listeners.  Morgenstern reviews films for the station and KCRW used to air “Jay’s Journal” (I hope I’ve remembered that name correctly), which gave Jay a platform from which to discuss the history of magic and magicians, circus side shows and whatever else tickled his fancy.  I saw Ricky Jay at the Festival several years ago and he thoroughly blew my mind by turning a book full of blank pages into a book filled with printed pages in one magical moment.
  • I am also looking forward to Festival-staple: frozen lemonade.

So how excited am I for the Festival of Books? See photo. That’s how excited I am about books pretty much all the time (I do have more teeth now). I’ll be blogging about my experience at the Festival throughout the weekend here at the KUSC blog. So please join me, and please join me in crossing my fingers that this weekend is pleasantly sunny, but not too hot.  See you at the Festival of Books!

Oh and if you need more information on who to see, how to get there and where to park, click here.

7 years ago |
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Tuesday April 19, 2011

To LAX, by Way of Munich

On the last full day in Salzburg we were free to explore on our own.  Harry and Matye visited Germany in the morning for a tour of a salt mine.  Some, like Renee, Susan M., Irene and Marcia, spent the day in old town with some serious scarf shopping in mind.  Many, like, Karl and Genevieve, Mark and Susan C., took the funicular trip up to the looming castle that sits right above Old Town.  Jackie and others found time to pay homage to Wolfie by walking through the museum housed in the Mozart Geburthaus (Birth House). Eva went Teddy Bear shopping with Barbara and David Dusing.  Others simply opted to climb every mountain in order to take in the views (or perhaps catch sight of Julie Andrews spinning around while singing). In fact Marlene and Jackie took the enormously popular Sound of Music tour.

Monday evening found us back at the Grosses Festspielhaus for our last music program of the tour:  the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle’s direction in a program with, not one, but two stunning soloists.  Mezzo-Soprano Rinat Shaham (no relation to Gil) sang Maurice Ravel’s exotic song cycle Sheherazade (set to texts by a poet who evidently liked Wagner – his pseudonym was Tristan Klingsor).  Then the orchestra was joined by the young violin phenom Julia Fischer for the seldom if ever heard Glazunov Violin Concerto.

As we left the hall for intermission Marcia squeezed my arm and said “Look there!”  She’d spotted, all by himself, hunched over a bit so as to become as invisible as possible,  Gustavo Dudamel, moving through the crowd.   (At the concert’s end JoAnne and Chuck bumped into him and got to say hi to him a second night in a row).

After intermission Rattle led the mighty Berlin forces in Rachmaninoff’s lush Symphony No.2.   Man, oh man, can that Berlin brass section roar.

Then it was the by-now fashionably late dinner – alas, our last together – at the Restaurant Riedenburg.

This morning we are motoring our way to Munich where we catch our flight home.

I’ve had the pleasure of hosting several European tours with classical music fans.  This one was the best yet.  The attention to detail provided by KUSC’s Minnie Prince and our guides James and Brigitte and the meticulous planning by Peter Strauss – but most of all the great company –  made this the Austrian experience of a lifetime.

Wien und Salzburg, auf wiedersehen.

–         Rich Capparela

7 years ago |
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Monday April 18, 2011

Salzburg, meet Gustavo

Most of Saturday was spent on the bus.  We arrived in Salzburg late in the afternoon and settled into our rooms.  Dinner was on our own, so some chose to eat at our hotel while others ventured into the Old Town on the other side of the placid, meandering Salzach River.

Sunday started with a tour of Old Town:  the inspirational cathedral, ancient churches, quaint shops and – oh yes, by the way – the house where Mozart was born.  And who doesn’t love Mozart?  Well, Salzburg.  Salzburg positively worships its native son.  It’s hard to imagine Salzburg without Mozart.  In fact, without the word Mozart the city would have far fewer streets, alleys, plazas, shops and chocolates.

The Salzburg Easter Festival started this weekend so, in the evening we headed over to the regal Grosses Festspielhaus for a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic led by Gustavo Dudamel.  The program started with mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn singing Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs, music that is so deliriously emotional that it is like hearing a painting by Gustav Klimt.  Ravishingly beautiful and surprisingly romantic.  And then, believe it or not, we got an encore.  In the seconds between Stotijn and Dudamel making it clear that there would be more music, one just had to think “Will they repeat the last song “Summer Days” or another of Berg’s many songs?  What else can they do?”

Then, as the audience quickly grew still, Stotijn started singing – alone for a poignant moment– the words to Gustav Mahler’s quietly rapturous, spiritually uplifting Ulrichtmusic that made its way into the composer’s Symphony No.2 “Resurrection.”  You could hear a pin drop.

After intermission young master Dudamel returned to conduct Stravinsky’s complete Firebird Ballet.  As the last triumphant note faded away, the reviews started to come in.  I’m guessing you’ve heard that European audiences aren’t as inclined as American audiences to give standing ovations.  Well.  Following a couple of furious rapid foot stomping sessions, the audience finally rose to its feet as one.  Salzburg has heard Dudamel’s Stravinsky – and it’s a very pretty sight to see.

Earlier in the day I gave a pre-concert chat to our group.  At the end of the talk I warned my fellow travelers that I had good news and bad news.  The bad news was that we would be getting back to our hotel a bit late following the concert.  The good news was that the delay was a result of Gustavo Dudamel consenting to greet us in the Patron (Foerderer) Room following his performance.  We had to wait a good part of an hour – by which time some were starting to doubt that he would ever get to us – but get to us he did.  It was just us and Gustavo, who greeted us by exclaiming “My people!”   He spent several precious minutes with us, shaking our hands, posing for pictures and being just as gracious and self-effacing as you’ve heard.

I fear that’s going to be hard to top during the little remaining in this trip.

–         Rich Capparela

7 years ago |
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Saturday April 16, 2011

A Day to Improvise & a Day to Leave to Vienna Behind

For the most part, Friday was a free day, allowing people to follow their Viennese bliss.  Susan, an avid equestrian, had purchased her tickets for the celebrated Lipizzaners back in January.  By the time Friday morning rolled around she would she accompanied by three quarters of our group.  Most of the remaining travelers, including Trudy, Benla, Irene and Chuck took in the Hofburg Schatzkammer (Treasure Chamber) collection of the Hapsburgs and the Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches) Museum.  During the early afternoon many took in a tour of the opulent Schoenbrunn Palace, modeled after Versailles.

The Vienna Philharmonic at Theatre an der Wien – Death and Dinner

Friday night we attended a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Theatre an der Wien, a hall primarily known as a home for opera.  The orchestra, led by Peter Schneider, presented its opening program in the Easter Sound Festival:  Dvorak’s Ten Biblical Songs (with mezzo-soprano  Dagmar Pickova filling in on less than 24 hours notice for Magdalena Koczena) and the orchestral rarity Symphony “Asrael” by Josef Suk.  Named for the angel of death, this symphony is an expression of grief over the loss of Suk’s mentor Dvorak, followed quickly by the passing of Suk’s young wife Otilka – Dvorak’s daughter. This is a powerful, pained yet hopeful work dealing not only with death but with its effect on those left behind.

And it was to be another late night, with dinner at the Restaurant Korso at the fashionable Hotel Bristol following the concert.  We found our way back to our hotel rooms at midnight or so.  The sound and the intensity of the Suk symphony stayed with one during the meal, afterward and in the silence and darkness in bed as sleep approached.

Saturday has been a day of travel.  We motored the 300 kilometers from Vienna to Salzburg with a visit to the church at St. Wolfgang via a private ferry ride on the rustic mountain lake named Wolfgangsee.  Tomorrow night we’ll attend a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic as part of the Salzburg Easter Festival.  The conductor for that concert will be – can you believe it – a young fellow named Gustavo Dudamel.  Sure it’s ironic that we’re journeying several thousand miles to hear the hometown boy at work.  On the other hand, the traffic and parking should be a lot easier here.

–         Rich Capparela

7 years ago |
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Thursday April 14, 2011

Two Days, Two Conductors, One Orchestra

Days three and four of our Austria odyssey have been filled with music, art, architecture and rain – lots of rain.  No matter.  The group’s mood is upbeat and enthusiastic.    At breakfast this morning Renee, who is accompanying her mother Yvonne on this trip, greeted me by saying “So, no blog yesterday?  What’s going on?”  She was kidding me, but in fact I was feeling a little guilty for skipping a day.  So this is two days’ worth of reporting.


Wednesday morning we drove to the famous Hundertwasser House.  Friedensreich Hundertwasser was Austria’s answer to Spain’s better known Gaudi – both artists noteworthy for a shared artistic vision imbued with a sense of color and whimsy.

We later visited the Leopold Museum, where one can get up close and personal with a wealth of Austrian Secessionist art, including Gustav Klimt’s remarkable Death and Life. The museum was also showing a chilling exhibit of works by Egon Schiele, an artist who died in 1918 at the age of 28 – a victim of the Spanish Flu.

Lunch was at the Schwarzen Kameel (The Black Camel), a restaurant that feels as though one has walked into the very heart of the Art Deco era.  And the food wasn’t bad either.

Wednesday ended – both metaphorically and musically – in an enchanted garden, with a concert in the glorious Grosse Halle of the Musikverein.  The Vienna Symphony was conducted by its busy Music Director Fabio Luisi.  In addition to Haydn’s Symphony No.85, the orchestra played all of Felix Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The narrator was the Academy Award winning Swiss/Austrian actor Maximillian Schell.   Through Mendelssohn’s melodrama portions of the score, Schell told the story of Shakespeare’s comedy (auf Deutsch, naturlich).   The 81 year old kept quite busy during the seventy minute performance.  How busy?  During the popular Wedding March, he even took the baton from Fabio Luisi and, for at least a minute or two, led the orchestra himself.  One orchestra, two conductors.

The Musikverein is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.  Its bare wooden floor and austere seats, ornate ceiling and shoebox shape all contribute to a sound that is at once both intimate and lush.  There can be no absolutely perfect concert hall, but the Musikverein is as close as most of us will ever hear and see.


Following a very late night (dinner came AFTER the memorable  Haydn/Mendelssohn concert) we began a second rainy day by boarding our coach (why is not cool to call it what is really is – a bus?) for a trip to the Wachau Valley for a tour of the 900 year old abbey at Melk, followed by a wine tasting cruise on the beautiful blue Danube.    What can one say?  You drive through the Vienna Woods and eventually arrive at the banks of the Danube.  Ruins of castles, steeply terraced vineyards, picturesque villages.  That sort of day.  Life is good.

– Rich Capparela

7 years ago |
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KUSC 2011 Tour – Blog 2

Wednesday April 13, 2011

What great composer was actually BORN in Vienna?

On our second day in Vienna we started at 9am with a walking tour of the old city, led by our guide throughout this two-city adventure, Brigitte.  In addition to two of Vienna’s major churches and the cathedral, we visited several Mozart-related sites (the name Mozart being a powerful marketing tool on the street), but he wasn’t born here.  We traveled to Heiligenstadt, the small village where Beethoven penned his moving Heiligenstadt Testament, attempting to explain the grief his increasing deafness was causing him, but he wasn’t born here either.

Along the way he happened to be walking past the famed Lipizzaner Riding School as several of the noble breed were peering out into the courtyard, but the Lipizzaners didn’t originate in Vienna either – they came from Slovenia.

At day’s end we found ourselves in an area of the city that used to be woodland suburb but is now part of the hubbub that is Vienna.  There we visited the tiny two bedroom apartment where a family with fifteen children once lived.  One of those children died young, but not before giving us symphonies, chamber works, piano music and more than 600 songs.  Yes.  We entered the Schubert Geburtshaus.

And then, oh yes, we walked into a small recital hall that is now part of the apartment complex for a private recital by tenor Wilhelm Spuller and pianist Stephen Delaney.   We were treated to songs by Beethoven, Mahler and several of those 600 gems that are the brilliant body of work known as Schubert Lieder.  Quite the day.  Did I mention that the answer to the question is Schubert?
– Rich Capparela

7 years ago |
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