Between the Covers, 2016 | Van kaft tot kaft, 2016

chinese primary sources from zhonghua shuju

The Green Wall of Standard Histories, and other primary sources

It’s that time of year again. Or rather, I am slightly behind the times: it has been that time of the past year again, when people make lists of everything related to 2016.

Continuing my habit from 2015, I tracked all the books I read cover-to-cover and finished during 2016 (some were started much earlier). I am happy to report that the total number has gone up! There are twelve books that can be classified as fiction, and some real classics in my list. Only two in Dutch, a few in translation from Chinese (modern and pre-modern), Japanese, and I read one entire book in French (there’s a first!). Titles are linked to NF = non-fiction; F = fiction.

Het is die tijd van het jaar weer. Of meer precies: ik loop een beetje achter op die tijd van vorig jaar: eindejaarslijstjes voor 2016.

Ik ging lustig verder met mijn gewoonte van 2015 om bij te houden welke boeken ik van kaft-tot-kaft las, en meer bepaald bij welke ik in de loop van 2016 eindelijke helemaal uitlas (een aantal heeft veel langer geduurd, een paar pagina’s per keer). Ik kan met veel vreugde aankondigen dat het er meer zijn dan vorig jaar! Twaalf boeken fictie, en enkele echte klassiekers staan ook op de lijst. Slechts twee in het Nederlands, een aantal vertaald uit het Japans of (modern en pre-modern) Chinees, en ik las zelfs één boek helemaal in het Frans. Klik op de titels voor volledige details via NF = non-fictie; F = fictie. Helaas geen tijd om ook nog na te gaan welke werken er ook in Nederlandse versie te verkrijgen zijn. Mail me, of laat iets weten in de opmerkingen en ik kan aanvullen op basis van jullie hulp.

Very good read, but had to take it in small doses. I highly recommend you try and read this. Sterne plays around with the format and conventions of the novel, before it is really established as a genre. It felt remarkably (post?-)modern in many ways, and that for an 18th century book!

Bundled in the same volume. Perhaps not as playful with the format, but a fun read!

I felt this could have been a lot shorter and more to the point. I couldn’t get away from the name dropping and there is lots of repetition of the main points (they do stick, I guess.) It was a quick read, as the main ideas are straightforward to grasp, and it gives some nice ideas about how to deal with stereotype/identity threat.

History of the Khitan up to the death of Abaoji. My main bug bear would be that it is selectively critical of the sources- sometimes very keen insights, followed by just accepting whatever is in the Chinese materials. Nice to see that I can read an entire French book and understand it!

Read this for the graduate seminar I taught, and we had good discussion about what would be a good history book (or use of this book) for teaching grads and undergrads. Quick read, but we settled on the idea of assigning single chapters as the best option to use this for teaching purposes.

Quick read, not entirely sure what to make of the story (and I can’t remember how it ended up on my reading list, either), but I guess it’s an interesting take on mental illness in an unexpected way? As I said: not sure what I am supposed to make of it!

Quick read about the development of Western music, both popular and classical. Requires some basic knowledge of music to really get all the details, but even without that still a good read. Interesting ideas about the divergence of “popular” and “classical”, and the importance of recording for our 20th and 21st century experience. Does not shy away from some of the more controversial issues (Wagner, appropriation of “native” music by “western” composers etc).

Great book about a topic that is hot now (Friendship, or how did people deal with life before Facebook), but Anna assured me the research started well before the rise of social media. Lots of translations and analysis, needless to say a must-read for anybody in Tang studies.

Collection of short stories by a writer I have grown to like. His descriptions are always drawing very strongly on smells and tastes, and work well with the semi-autobiographical aspect. I start reading these things to find course materials, yet am always drawn in by the little snapshots of daily life, often with a magical-realism twist to them.

A great little novella about what happens when the Queen wanders into the mobile library parked around the back from the Palace…

Picked this one up from my daily Bookbub e-mail, so it must have been free (or near enough). Could have done with a stricter editor to tighten the story and prevent some of the predictable elements of the plot, although the build-up to the big reveal has potential. I’m not sure if I will bother with the other two volumes in the series. Now I know what the basic premise is, it no longer intrigues me and the characters are a bit too flat to engage me sufficiently. I don’t care if Isla is alive or dead, or if Anton makes it safely back home…

Pretty quick read of “alt history fiction” around Roman Alexandria. Not the greatest fiction- again, missing development in characters, and it could have benefitted from some more editing. But nice to see a “barbarian” cast in a witty, intelligent and educated role, breaking down a few stereotypes.

Loved it- What have Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” and Montaigne’s cat in common? Here they both function as entry points into a deep study of cooperation, where it has gone wrong, and how we can repair it. Can’t wait for part 3 of the Homo Faber project, on city planning and urban spaces. A must read in these times of talk about echo-chambers and silos: cooperation is never easy and it can be painful but we MUST overcome those hang-ups and rebuild our society.

Well, the title says it all. It’s a cross-over between a memoir of a trip the author made in 1973 as a young and somewhat naïve adult, and a repeat of that trip in 1990. The description of Belgium catches some of the peculiarities of our country. Overall, I felt the book was hopelessly dated. Not because Europe has moved on or changed so much, but because I doubt that any editor these days would let their writers get away with the sheer amount of sexism found in this book. I could get past the hyperbole that drips of every page, the personal vendetta against the travel companion (mildly amusing at times) and the back-and-forth between past and present, if only it were done without constant reference to the women’s bodies and how they would or would not fulfill his fantasies of well…. whatever. Sorry, Bill. Loved your Notes from a Small Island back in the day, and Mother Tongue, and that’s why I picked up this one when it was on sale, but I was disappointed.

Turned out to be the perfect bedtime reading: no chapter divisions (so you can’t read till the end of the chapter), pretty sedate pace of narration, and nothing too exciting to stop you from dropping off to sleep, except here and there sprinkled throughout the 990 pages in this edition, there are those little gems of conversation and wit. A long read (took me years to get through it at this pace!), but a good read. Yes, I enjoyed it. And in response to the question “Why are you reading that?!”, which I got occasionally from friends: because this is one of those classics that shaped a genre.

Great read- why did I not read this ages ago? Hard to put down, plot was nicely constructed with a few twists and turns, and despite all the misery the main character goes through, it’s not a downer. Highly recommended.

Jeugdboek over de politieke situatie in Duitsland in het jaar 1933, gebaseerd op historische feiten en de gaten gevuld met de fantasie van de schrijvers. Verteld vanuit het standpunt van de dochter van een helderziende, wiens relatie met Hitler nooit helemaal duidelijk was. Zeer vlotte lectuur, spannend!

Een collectie essays over de Boerenkrijg (wat het nu eigenlijk was) en hoe deze in de latere historiografie en verbeelding veranderde naargelang de noden en overtuigingen van de schrijvers die zich erover bogen. Leest nogal stroef. Best wel nuttig om eens alles op een rijtje te hebben maar de auteurs gaan uit van nogal wat voorkennis voor de lezer omtrent de Franse Tijd in de geschiedenis van de Nederlanden/ België.

A decent read, which uses the Atlantic and it’s history (and in particular the human interaction with this ocean) as a neat way to weave together all sorts of different stories. I found the writing at times a bit unnecessarily complex, but I guess it compensates for a lot of interesting tidbits I picked up along the way.

The book is aimed at a more general reader, and does a great job of introducing the Tang dynasty and Zhou interregnum to the non-specialist. Yet there are some issues: the introducion and conclusion point out the problematic bias of all surviving source material, and how we should not accept everything in these sources. But then in body chapters some of these anecdotes surface, not always critically examined and that may leave those not trained in “reading Chinese history against the grain” with an image of a rather weird and wonderful medieval Far East. It contains a very handy overview of secondary sources, mainly in western languages, and that may prove very useful for teaching purposes.

Slow-paced novel about a couple in early twentieth century Japan, as they drift towards a divorce. No cathartic ending, but goes into quite a lot of psychological detail of the main characters. I liked it a lot!

I read this in search for teaching materials (that worked alright), and the stories were entertaining. Perhaps not to everybody’s taste with the repetition and the moralizing aspects. But then reading western opera librettos without the staging or the music does not give you the full experience either, so use your imagination…

A fun little collection of stories set in early 20th century Japan (during the Russian-Japanese war), narrated by a stray cat who gets adopted into the house of a Japanese teacher of English. The stories explore the tensions of modernization through satirical narration of everyday mini-dramas.

This should be my cup of tea, and it was in part. But like all books that try to give sweeping, generalizing overviews of history, my knowledge of history gets in the way of the experience for the intended reader. I keep getting hung up on exceptions, and on alternative ideas. Still, a good read if you’re not sure how to make sense of what separates us now from what came before. The pre-modern experience was diverse, but the differences with the modern world give it some distinct sense of unity from our present vantage point. I think this will be useful for teaching purposes.

A memoir of life under an increasingly authoritarian regime, structured around some of the key texts the author taught while in Tehran. Dr. Nafisi began to invite students she taught at university in Tehran, to a “secret book-club” at her home. The power of literature to fight back against (or rather “think against”) authoritarian states is clearly demonstrated here, and the book shows why such regimes are so keen to censor arts and literature. And if, like me, you’re behind on reading the classics, this may well whet your appetite for further exploration.

Weaving together the stories of six defectors from North Korea, this book gives an insight in life in the DPRK before 2000. Well-crafted, a smooth read even if the contents is harrowing at times.

Handy starter guide for those who want to get beyond just the surface of a story. Not much new in here for me, but I am actively considering where I can insert this in my reading recommendations for students, when we are dealing with literature and want to get beyond that basic plot line rehashing in discussions.

Ah! We’re back into the list of “things I was recommended ages ago and should have read way back when”. Lengthy but highly informative alternative history of the “civilized versus barbarian” boundaries. Scott focuses on the reasons and strategies employed by peoples who do not want to be encased in a state. There were a few “Aha-Erlebnisse”, suddenly a lot of premodern Chinese history makes a whole lot more sense to me.

And that was 2016 in bookform for me! What did 2016 look like in books for you? Leave a note in the comments!

En dat was 2016 in boekvorm voor mij. Hoe zag 2016 er uit voor jou in in dit formaat? Laat iets weten in de opmerkingen!


Detail of a Chinese book box (Princeton University, Gest Library)


The 2015-16 concert season

Since we all love little (and possibly big) lists, I thought I’d give you a list of the concerts I attended this 2015-16 season. After a slow start, things picked up in the second semester as I realized I need a regular shot of live music to keep me mentally sane.

It looks like I’m not attending anything else anymore this season. Fortunately I have the Digital Concert Hall to keep me company over the next few months. It’s not the same as hearing my beloved Berliners live, but the quality of sound and image is amazing and enough to tide me over until the next concert season starts.

The dates in the list are a link to the webpage for the concert when available. At 22 concerts for the season, I think I did pretty well and I’m not sure I can repeat that for the 2016-17 season, but I will try. I can’t wait to see what DePauw has to offer!

4 October 2015
The Golden Age Revived:
Emma Kirby (soprano), Jakob Linberg (lute)
Taplin Auditorium, Princeton University

18 November 2015
Berliner Philarmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)
Beethoven: Leonore Ouverture No. 2; Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 5
Carnegie Hall, New York

19 November 2015
Around the World:
Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Christian Rivet (guitar)
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

19 November 2015
Berliner Philarmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 7
Carnegie Hall, New York

10 December 2015
Princeton University Orchestra, Michael Pratt (conductor)
Schubert: Symphony No. 8, D. 759, “Unfinished”
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
with Barbara Rearick (mezzo-soprano) and Daniel Weeks (tenor)
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

12 December
New York Philharmonic, James Gaffigan (conductor)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4
Andrew Norman: Split (World premiere, NYPhil commission, with Jeffrey Kahane, piano)
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York

16 December 2015
The Concert before Christmas
Princeton University Wind Ensemble
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

8 January 2016
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman (conductor/violin)
Elgar: Serenade for Strings
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5
Brahms: Symphony No. 1
NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center), Newark, NJ

22 January 2016
Grand Harmonie, Geoff Andrew McDonald (conductor); Julia Mintzer (director)
Full cast here
Beethoven: Fidelio (US premiere on period instruments)
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

10 19 February 2016
Shakuhachi concert (traditional Japanese bamboo flute)
Riley Lee (shakuhachi)
Taplin Auditorium, Princeton University

21 February 2016
“Invitation to the Dance”
Richardson Chamber Players
Boccherini: Guitar Quintet in D Major, G. 448
Ravel: La Valse (for two pianos)
J. Strauss, arr. Schoenberg: Emperor Waltzes
M. de Falla: 7 Canciones populares españoles for Voice and Guitar
D. Milhaud: Scaramouche, op. 165b for two pianos
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

25 February 2016
“A Musical Preview”
Princeton Girl Choir Ensemble, Lynnel Joy Jenkins (conductor)

Tetzlaff Trio
Schumann: Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80
Dvorák: Trio No. 4 in e minor, Op. 90, “Dumky”
Brahms: Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

6 March 2016
Alexander Melnikov (piano)
Shostakovich: The Complete Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

24 March 2016
“Composer’s Last Words”
Escher String Quartet
Britten: String Quartet No. 3
Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in d minor, “Death and the Maiden”
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

15 April 2016
New York Philharmonic, Bernard Haitink (conductor)
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York

23 April 2016
Princeton University Orchestra, Michael Pratt (conductor)
Strauss: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5, Op. 47
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

24 April 2016
Senior Recital
Paul von Autenried (piano)
Bach: Toccata in g minor, BWV 915
Prelude and Fugue in g minor from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1, BWV 861
English Suite No. 3 in g minor, BWV 808
Beethoven: Sonata in A-flat Major, Op. 110
Franck: Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue, M. 21
Taplin Auditorium, Princeton University

30 April
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano (conductor)
Jessica Rivera (soprano), Nmon Ford (baritone)
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Norman Mackenzie (director)

Jonathan Leshnoff: Zohar (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem
Carnegie Hall, New York

3 May
“Scott Burnham, A Celebration”
Paul von Autenried and Dasha Koltunyuk (piano):
Schubert: Three Military Marches, D. 733

Gabriel Crouch (bariton), Paul von Autenried (piano)
Schubert: Nacht und Träume, D. 827
Der Musensohn, D. 764

Bretano String Quartet:
Beethoven String Quartet, Op. 135

Princeton University Orchestra, Michael Pratt (conductor), with soloists from the Brentano String Quartet
Mozart: Allegro Maestoso Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364
Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

3 May
“It takes a village”
John Witherspoon Middle School Symphonic Band, Joseph B. Downey (conductor)
Princeton High School Performing Arts Center

7 May
Yefim Bronfmann (piano)Prokofiev Piano Sonata No 6 in A Major
Piano Sonata No 7 in B-flat Major
Piano Sonata No 8 in B-flat Major
Encore: Schumann: Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18

15 May
Flute studio recital

My first performance with the flute! At the end of the semester, all the students working under the same teacher show off what they’ve learned in the past few months with a short solo piece. I played a piece from J.S. Bach adapted for flute, from his English Suite No. 3 in g minor, BWV 808 (Apple Music link)

New job, new hobby, new me | Nieuwe baan, nieuwe hobby, nieuwe ik

Voor Nederlands, gelieve verder naar beneden te rollen!

It’s been quiet on the blog, I know. This final semester at Princeton has been extremely demanding in different ways. Jobhunting and teaching are the most obvious ones, but there was also some travel (for fun and for work) and then the simple need every now and then to hide under a rock and listen to lots of good music to keep me human.

So here’s a bit of a catch-up.

New job!

My fellowship at Princeton is a three-year gig, and that is now coming to an end. The coming academic year you can find me at DePauw University, in Greencastle, IN. It’s a small liberal arts college, and a very friendly place. I’ll have lots of fun teaching small classes of undergraduates. Does anybody want to sign up for my new course “Chinese magical creatures and where to find them”?

They also have a very good music school, so I’ll have access to lots of high quality live music.


DePauw University

New hobby!

(With a big thank you to the chap at the supermarket check-out who encouraged me. You never know where random chit-chat may lead you!) Remember that concert with Emmanuel Pahud and Christian Rivet in between the two Berliner concerts? I went for the guitar, but the flute took my breath away (half-baked pun intended). In hindsight, it’s just as well that it was a flute. Like a religious calling, I realized that all my life I had wanted to play flute. That’s not too far-fetched: I did in fact want to learn Chinese bamboo flute during my year out in China, and in a distant past even took one semester of Korean danso flute. But right at the time of this concert, less than two weeks after dad passed away, it seems I was so receptive to music that I might equally have ended up with a burning passion for piano, cello, or sousaphone, if it had been any other concert. Fortunately it was a flute, which is much more portable and less screechy in the early phases of learning than most other instruments.

On 6 January, I got my rental flute. By the end of the month I had found a teacher. And I thought this was the ideal moment to put that 10,000 hours theory to the test by keeping track of my practice time. 40 hours was a breakthrough in getting more often than not a nice tone for both higher and lower notes. Even at 90 hours right now there are days when it just doesn’t click, but I keep working at posture, breathing, and relaxing. It will also get better when I get my own, decent, flute- I know because I just tried a bunch of them at the Flute Center in New York. To be continued…

rental flute

Flute (Selmer FL302)

New me!

Fitness took a bit of a hit this winter, but I’m making a come-back. I’m bodybuilding. Sort of. Before my mate at The Fit Writer gets all excited about having found a new soulmate, I’d like to clarify: I’m in physiotherapy to deal with a very old injury that came back. On leap day I made a wrong move and dislocated my shoulder- first time in 15 years. I did not need surgery, but it was clear the muscles around the joint need to get better at keeping everything zipped in place. I am in the most literal sense (re)building my body under the guidance of a Physiotherapist.

I hope that soon I will be able to return to running for more than 30 minutes (more shakes the shoulder too much), and swimming beyond 600m breast stroke. I’m making good progress, and have nearly regained normal range of motion. Now I just need to build up strength and some confidence doing the T-s. Normal move for most people, still terrifying to me, but I keep plugging away at it. Definitely no mountain marathon this summer, so all the more time to spend with my flute!


Nederlandse versie:

Het is stilletjes geweest op het blog, ik weet het. Afgelopen semester heb ik het druk gehad. Lesgeven, een nieuwe baan zoeken voor het komende academiejaar, maar ook reizen (voor eigen plezier en voor het werk) en af en toe gewoon me wegstoppen en naar muziek luisteren om me weer een beetje menselijk te voelen.

Dus hier is een bericht met het belangrijkste nieuws:

Nieuwe baan!

Mijn contract hier in Princeton was voor drie jaar, en dat loopt ten einde. Verlengen kan niet, maar geen nood: in het komende academiejaar vind je me in DePauw University, Greencastle (Indiana). Het is een kleine universiteit, sterk gericht op lesgeven aan BA studenten (geen master- of doctoraatsstudenten te vinden), en het is een heel vriendelijke plek. Ik kijk er alvast naar uit om kleine groepen studenten vanalles over Oost-Azië aan te leren. Iemand interesse in een college “Chinese magische wezens en waar ze te vinden”?

Ze hebben er ook een geweldig goede afdeling muziek, dus ik krijg ook kansen genoeg om te genieten van hele goede live muziek.


DePauw University

Nieuwe hobby!

(Ook met dank aan de man aan de kassa van de supermarkt die me aanmoedigde. Je weet nooit waar een lukrake conversatie heen gaat!) Herinner je je nog dat concert met Emmanel Pahud en Christian Rivet, tussen de twee Berliner Philharmoniker concerten door in November? Ik ging om naar de gitaar te luisteren, maar de fluit vond ik adembenemend (sorry, ik kon het niet laten). Nu ik terugblik denk ik dat het maar goed was ook dat het een fluit was. Net alsof het een religieuze roeping betrof, voelde ik plots dat ik eigenlijk al mijn hele leven wou leren fluit spelen. Dat is er nog niet te ver naast ook: tijdens mijn jaar in China wou ik graag bamboe fluit leren, en in een ver verleden heb ik nog een semester Koreaanse danso fluit gevolgd. Maar net ten tijde van dit concert, minder dan twee weken nadat papa overleden was, bleek dat ik enorm open stond voor muziek, met het gevaar dat ik een passie voor piano, viool of sousafoon zou opgelopen hebben als het een ander concert was. Gelukkig was het fluit: handig te transporteren en opvallend minder krijsend dan menig ander instrument voor een beginner.

Op 6 januari had ik een gehuurde fluit in huis. Tegen het einde van januari had ik een lerares gevonden. En ik dacht dat dit meteen ook de perfecte gelegenheid was om die theorie van de 10.000 uren uit te testen, en heb mijn oefentijd keurig bijgehouden. Na 40 uur slaagde ik er eindelijk in om vaker wel dan niet een mooie volle toon te krijgen voor hoge èn lage noten. Zelfs nu met 90 uren achter de rug zijn er dagen dat het niet helemaal klikt, maar ik blijf werken aan houding, ademhaling en ontspannen. Het zal ook beteren als ik mijn eigen (goeie) fluit heb. Dat weet ik omdat ik er net een resem getest heb in het Flute Center in New York. Wordt vervolgd…

rental flute

Flute (Selmer FL302)

Nieuwe ik!

Sport en fitness hebben deze winter hier afgezien, maar ik ben aan de wederopbouw bezig. Letterlijk- body-building, als je het goed bekijkt. Vóór mijn maatje bij The Fit Writer helemaal opgewonden is over een nieuwe zielsverwante, even verduidelijken: ik zit midden in een kinesitherapie programma om een hele oude blessure aan te pakken. Op schrikkeldag maakte ik een verkeerde beweging en ging mijn schouder uit de kom, voor de eerste keer in 15 jaar. Een operatie was niet nodig, maar het was duidelijk dat de spieren sterker moeten worden om alles beter op zijn plaats te houden. Ik ben dus in de meest letterlijke zin mijn lichaam aan het (her)bouwen, onder leiding van een kinesitherapeut.

Ik hoop dat ik gauw weer meer dan 30 min. kan hardlopen (het schokt nog steeds), en verder dan 600m schoolslag geraak. Er is vooruitgang, en ik kan bijna weer alle kanten uit met mijn arm. Maar nu moet er nog extra kracht bijkomen, en wat zelfvertrouwen ook, om bv. de T-s te doen. Dat is een hele gewone beweging voor de meeste mensen, ik vind het verschrikkelijk, maar ik blijf eraan werken. Geen mountain marathon dus deze zomer, wel zoveel meer tijd om op die fluit te blazen!

Between the covers in 2015| Van kaft tot kaft in 2015

It’s a funny thing you hear a lot of academics say these days, especially in Humanities: “But who still reads books cover to cover?” We tend to read chapters, or just the Introduction, or hunt down the small piece of information we need, but indeed: we rarely sit down and just read the entire thing.

Het is een van die rare dingen die je een hele hoop mensen in de geesteswetenschappen hoort zeggen dezer dagen: “Wie leest er nu nog boeken helemaal uit, van begin tot einde?” We lezen hoofdstukken, of inleidingen, of zoeken gewoon tot we het kleine stukje vinden dat we nodig hebben. Maar het klopt: we maken zelden tijd om het hele ding van kaft tot kaft te lezen.

For 2015, I made a point of keeping track of everything I finished reading from cover to cover- printed (hard cover or paperback), e-book or PDF. I fear one or two may have escaped at the beginning of the year. Some were carried over from previous years, but finished in 2015. There are lots of academic books and popular history, and some fiction. I read inside and outside my narrow field of medieval China, for book groups, for fun and based on recommendations, so it makes for a rather eclectic mix.

Ik besloot om in 2015 een lijstje bij de houden van alle boeken die ik van begin tot einde las- harde kaft, paperback, e-boeken en PDF. Eén of twee zijn misschien door de mazen van het net geglipt in het begin van het jaar. Sommige begon ik in 2014 of eerder, maar las ik uit in 2015. Veel academische boeken en geschiedenis voor de geïnteresseerde lezer, en een beetje fictie. Ik lees binnen en buiten mijn eigen kleine vakgebiedje van middeleeuws China, voor boekengroepen en gewoon voor de leute of op basis van aanbevelingen, dus er zit niet echt een lijn in.

I also own plenty of books I never read, and I began to munch my way through them, starting at one end of the bookshelf and hoping some day to get through them. Not all of them will make the cut when the next move comes… In case you’re wondering, yes: I do read and finish bad books. One reason is they’re like a train wreck about to happen, I can’t peel my eyes away, I keep thinking “It surely can’t get any worse than this!?!”. Call it a guilty pleasure. I think reading a bad book is still a better waste of time than watching bad TV. You always learn something from a (bad) book- even if only that you’d better read another, but usually I also find out what doesn’t work in style, argumentation or story, and that there is still space out there for a better book on a certain topic.

Ik koop ook vaak boeken die ik uiteindelijk nooit lees, en ik ben als een echte boekenwurm gewoon begonnen me er doorheen te werken, beginnen linksboven op het schap, en hopen om ooit rechtsonder te eindigen. Niet alle boeken zullen de volgende verhuis meemaken, merk ik… Ja, ik lees ook slechte boeken van begin tot einde. Soms is het gewoon alsof je naar een vertraagde opname van een auto-ongeluk zit te kijken, en je kan de ogen niet afwenden: “Oh nee, het kan toch niet nóg slechter worden!?!”- een onschuldig pleziertje? Een slecht boek lezen is volgens mij nog altijd een betere tijdsbesteding dan slechte TV kijken. Je leert ook altijd wat van een boek, al was het dat je maar beter een ander had gelezen, maar meestal steek ik ook iets op over wat niet werkt qua stijl, argumentatie of verhaal, en stel ik vast dat er nog ruimte is voor een beter boek over dit of dat onderwerp.

I thought you’d enjoy browsing the list of twenty two books I read in full in 2015. (Yes, room for improvement!). Short comments provided, links to where available. Please consider supporting your local bookshop before purchasing through Amazon!

Ik dacht dat het leuk was om de lijst van mijn tweeëntwintig uitgelezen boeken van 2015 even met jullie te delen (Ja, ik weet het, ruimte voor verbetering!). Met korte opmerkingen en waar ik kan bibliografische gegevens gelinkt aan Gelieve je lokale boekenwinkel eerst te bezoeken voor je naar Amazon of holt!

If originally in Dutch, or available in Dutch translation, I put them at the top of the list. (The headaches of a bilingual blog…) Als boeken in het Nederlands waren of in vertaling beschikbaar zijn, staan ze bovenaan het lijstje. (Soms krijg ik een punthoofd van mijn poging om tweetalig te zijn op dit blog…)

Leon Stover, Culturele Ecologie van de Chinese Beschaving / Cultural ecology of Chinese Civilization: Peasants and Elites in the Last of the Agrarian States.
Trying to set up a grand view of Chinese history and society in a similar vein to Elvin’s The Pattern of the Past , but not as successful: cramming everything into a grand structure doesn’t work, but this reflects the approach of its time, I suspect.
Dit werk probeert net als Elvins boek The Pattern of the Past een grootse, brede kijk te ontwikkelen op Chinese geschiedenis en maatschappij, maar het is niet even geslaagd. Alles proberen in een strakke structuur te wringen werkt nu eenmaal niet (meer), maar wellicht was het gewoon mode om toen zo geschiedenis te doen.

Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of The Americas before Columbus/ 1491 : de ontdekking van precolumbiaans Amerika.
Yep, good read to get you up to speed on some fascinating history if you don’t know where to start for this part of the world.
Goedgekeurd. Een goed boek als je niet weet waar te beginnen voor de geschiedenis van dit deel van de wereld. Fascinerend, heel veel dingen bijgeleerd!

Laline Paull, The Bees: A Novel/ De bijen.
Yes, loved this one! Disclosure: I love bumblebees (please support the Bumblebee Conservation Trust!). Honey bees are a bit different, but I still learned a lot from this fictional but entertaining narrative of the life of a bee.
Vond ik geweldig goed. Ik moet bekennen dat ik van hommels hou (steun de Bumblebee Conservation Trust of je plaatselijke vereniging ter bevordering van bijen en andere insekten), maar ik leerde nog heel veel bij over honingbijen uit dit spannende verhaal dat het leven van een honingbijtje volgt.

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet/ De niet verhoorde gebeden van Jacob de Zoet.
Took a long time to get me engaged, but my perseverance paid off. Once the story picked up some pace it was a very enjoyable piece of fiction.
Het duurde een lange tijd eer ik echt mee was, maar de volhouder wint. Eens het verhaal een beetje op gang was, transformeerde dit boek tot een zeer genietbaar verhaal.

J.L. Borges, Labyrinths: Selected Short Stories and Other Writings.
A good introduction to this wonderful writer. Lots of food for thought but in an entertaining format.
Dit is een selectie die ik niet onmiddellijk terugvind in Nederlandse versie, maar er is genoeg van deze schrijver vertaald. Neem gewoon een bloemlezing van hem vast en gooi je erin. Veel stof tot nadenken, maar wel in een aangename verpakking gebracht.

Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz/ Een loflied voor Leibowitz.
Sci-fi from the late fifties but still a very entertaining and engaging read, and the message is not entirely dated. (We’re still going to mess up the planet, just in a more subtle way than they did in this story).
Science-fiction van de late jaren ’50 maar nog steeds een goed boek waar ik me kon in verliezen, en helaas is de boodschap niet helemaal gedateerd. (We gaan nog steeds de planeet om zeep helpen, maar we doen het gewoon op subtielere wijze dan in dit verhaal.)

Helen McDonald, H is for Hawk/ De H is van havik.
Recommended by a friend. Story of a young academic who trains a goshawk as part of the process of grieving for her father’s early death. I read this shortly after dad died, and while it was a good read, it did not have the same impact on me as on my friend. No need to worry about me training birds of prey, in other words.
Op aanraden van een vriend. Het verhaal van een jonge geleerde, die een havik opleidt tot jachtvogel, als deel van het verwerkingsproces na het overlijden van haar vader. Ik las dit kort na het overlijden van papa, en het maakte niet dezelfde diepe indruk als op mijn vriend. In andere woorden: maak je geen zorgen, ik ga me heus niet bezig houden met roofvogeltraining.

Alessandro Baricco, Zijde/ Silk.
Een kort en zeer vlot geschreven boekje, sterk aangeraden!
A short and very fast-paced little book, highly recommended!

Marc Gielens, De Scheldeweg.
Een vriendelijke buur wees me op het bestaan van dit boekje over de lokale geschiedenis. Het is in eigen beheer uitgegeven en dat merk je hier en daar: een goede redacteur zou het verhaal strakker maken met meer structuur. Toch is het de moeite waard omdat je heel veel bijleert over plaatsnamen en figuren uit het verre verleden van onze eigen streek. (Sorry folks, this one’s only available in Dutch!)

Alleen in het Engels: English only:

Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit Culture and Power in Premodern India.
Recommendation from several colleagues. It’s a chunky book, but quite the classic in Asian Studies (East Asia included).

Stephen T. Asma On Monsters: An unnatural history of our worst fears.
Meh- good beginning, could do without the final part where he takes you into the modern period.

Ellen Cong Zhang Transformative Journeys: Travel and Culture in Song China.
Read for a book group. Interesting insights if you ever worried about the practicalities of travelling in medieval China to your new post as an official, and what to write about the experience.

Robert Ciley Could you but find it.
Plain and simple: a very fun piece of fiction, with some literal laugh-out-loud moments (which I rarely get when reading). I tore through it in no time.

Paddi Newlin, Ken Hartley and Jessica Oliver, Hidden Treasures.
Fiction. Only recommended after dental surgery when still woozy from the anaesthetic. Trust me.

Robert Irwin, For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies.
Don’t bother. Srsly. Don’t bother. Even if you want to do some E. Said-bashing, you can do it better, I’m sure.

Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past.
One of those classics of sinology I’d not yet read in full. (Oh the shame!)

Michel-Rolph Trouillot Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History.
Recommended by my office mate, a very accessible read on the topic of power and the writing of history.

Bruce Batten, To the Ends of Japan: Premodern Frontiers, Boundaries and Interactions.
One of those books I should have read years ago- when it was recommended to me by a colleague- but still very useful for me now.

Howard Wechsler, Offerings of Jade and Silk: Ritual and Symbol in the Legitimation of the T’ang Dynasty.
Another classic in my field, I had plundered it for bits and pieces but never sat down to read the thing entirely. Glad I did.

Frederic Jameson The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act.
Another recommendation from a colleague. Useful ideas, but a very hard read. I thought it was me and my inability to cope with literary theory, but I’ve spoken to people more fluent in that lingo who told me it’s the writing, not me. (Phew.)

Clive Gamble, Archaeology: The Basics.
I work a lot with archaeological data, but never received any training as an archaeologist. A very userfriendly entry into the field for the non-specialist.

Jon Lawrence, Speaking for the People: Party, Language and Popular Politics in England, 1877–1914.
Probably the most unexpected book on the list- again tipped off by a friend, years ago, about one of the concepts in the book (Politics of place). To really understand it, my little brain needed the entire book and a lot of time. It’s also interesting to see how political parties formed and how many misconceptions we have about that, and how decent data and analysis can give a different picture.

And that was the list for 2015! Aiming to get a higher total for 2016… En dat was de lijst voor 2015. Ik hoop op een hoger totaal voor 2016!

Just ten moments- Een tiental momenten

Gelieve verder door te rollen naar beneden voor de Nederlandstalige versie.

Just ten of those many moments when I really really miss you, dad-

When I come back from another once-in-a-lifetime concert with the Berlin Phil- and I realize we never compared notes on Beethoven. (We were of course in complete agreement on the fine playing of the Berliners, live and recorded.)

When I cross the finish line of the Philly Half, and get my medal- and I realize I was going to show it to you, and how proud you would have been of all that crazy endurance exercise stuff your children get into.

When I hear Mahler’s second, Bruckner’s ninth, or the local organ CD, and I reminisce how last summer we sat on the sofa and let the music wash over us- like two naughtie kids, while mum was away and with the hifi on full blast so you could feel the bass- and I realize I have to make my own way through this music now. Who will now tell me the unadorned truth about this or that piece, that “actually, that second movement doesn’t really say anything you haven’t got in the first yet”?

When an old e-mail pops up in a search, signed “mum and dad”- and I suddenly realize mum will never sign off like that again.

When I pick my way agonizingly slowly through the notes of Asturias, in an idle attempt to make sense of it on my guitar- and I remember a few years back when I was doing the same, you still recognized the tune and said “That’s a really nice piece, isn’t it?”

When I wind my pocket watch, and for the first time in twenty years I remember how you did that for me when I was in hospital recovering from shoulder surgery, and couldn’t do it myself.

When I am out along the river, and pass that spot where we saw for the first time ever a cormorant in the wild. In fact, every time I see a cormorant…

When I am running and come to a quiet spot in the woods, and I feel you would have made the perfect picture here, capturing the essence of peace and quiet in an image.

When I think of Yellowstone, and how you listened twice to that section of the audio diary I kept for you during my big road trip- and how I would have loved to have made that journey with you: stopping wherever we saw the chance for a great photo, waiting for the cloud to float to the perfect position, or the sunlight to reach perfection, and just drinking in the sheer beauty of the landscape.

When a colleague or friend greets me with a simple “How are you?” and I have to stop and think how I’ll answer. Because most of the time I can truthfully just say “Fine, and how are you?”, but sometimes I’ve just scraped myself together after one of these moments of realization that I just lost my father to cancer, and I don’t know how to say that but I don’t want to hide it either.

Rest in peace, dearest dad…

Dad passed away at home, in peace, on 6 November 2015.

Slechts een tiental van die vele momenten waarop ik je echt heel hard mis, papa-

Als ik weer eens terug kom van een concert-van-mijn-leven, met de Berliner Philharmoniker- en ik besef dat we het nooit samen over Beethoven hebben gehad. (We waren het wel volledig eens dat die Berliners top-musici zijn, zowel in de concertzaal als opnamestudio.)

Als ik de eindstreep van de Philadelphia halve marathon haal, en mijn medaille krijg, en ik besef dat ik ze je zou tonen- en hoe trots zou je niet geweest zijn, met al die gekke uithoudingssporten waar je kinderen zich mee bezighouden.

Als ik Mahlers tweede symfonie hoor, of Bruckners negende, of de CD van ons Gijzegems orgel, en ik denk terug aan afgelopen zomer; hoe we op de sofa zaten en de muziek over ons lieten spoelen- twee deugenieten, terwijl mama het huis uit was en met de stereo “vollen bak” opengetrokken zodat je de bas kon voelen- en ik besef dat ik nu zelf mijn weg door deze muziek zal moeten zoeken. Wie zal me nu zijn onverbloemde mening geven over dit of dat stuk, dat “eigenlijk die tweede beweging niets toevoegt aan wat je al in de eerste krijgt”?

Als een oude e-mail naar boven komt in een zoekbewerking, getekend “mama en papa” (of “mapa”)- en ik besef ineens dat mama nooit meer een mail zo zal afsluiten.

Als ik met de snelheid van een huisjesslak aan de noten van Asturias pluk op mijn gitaar, in een hopeloze poging om eens iets nieuws te leren- en ik herinner me dat je een paar jaar geleden, toen ik daar ook al mee bezig was, dat je het toch nog herkende en zei “Da’s toch een mooi stukje, he?”

Als ik mijn zakhorloge opwind, en voor de eerste keer in twintig jaar de herinnering opduikt dat je dat voor mij deed toen ik in het ziekenhuis lag na een schouderoperatie en dat zelf niet kon.

Als ik aan de Dender ben, en dat plekje passeer waar we ooit onze eerste aalscholver in het wild zagen. Eigenlijk, elke keer als ik een aalscholver zie…

Als ik aan het lopen ben door een stil stukje bos, en ik voel gewoon dat je hier de perfecte foto zou genomen hebben, de rust en stilte in beeld vastgelegd.

Als ik terugdenk aan Yellowstone, en hoe je twee keer luisterde naar dat fragment van het audio-dagboek dat ik voor je bijhield op mijn grote tocht- en hoe graag had ik die reis samen met jou gemaakt: stoppen op elke plek waar we de perfecte foto zagen, wachten tot de wolk net op de juiste positie gedreven was, of het zonlicht net goed zat, en intussen de schoonheid van het landschap met volle teugen naar binnen zuigen.

Als een vriend of collega me eenvoudigweg vraagt “Hoe gaat het?” en ik moet even denken wat ik antwoord. Want meestal kan ik waarheidsgetrouw zeggen “Goed, en jij?”, maar soms heb ik mezelf net bij elkaar geharkt na een van die momenten waarop ik besef dat je net overleden bent aan kanker, en ik weet niet hoe ik dat moet zeggen, maar ik wil het ook niet verbergen…

Rust in vrede, lieve papa…

Papa is op 6 november 2015 rustig en vredig thuis overleden.

Competition! | Wedstrijd!

Update 18 Dec. 2015

Due to lack of interest, no winner can be chosen. The 7-day ticket will go to a deserving friend.

Door gebrek aan interesse kan er geen winnaar uitgeroepen worden. Het 7-dagen toegangspasje zal naar een vriend gaan die het meer dan verdient!

Win 7 days of full and free access to the Digital Concert Hall!
If you want to get a sense of what you missed in New York, when the Berlin Phil did their Beethoven thing, you can read that blog post I did last week. Or you can take part in this competition, win 7 days of free and complete access to the Digital Concert Hall (DCH), and see and hear for yourself how it looked and sounded in Berlin, and enjoy many other concerts.

(Price offered courtesy of DCH and Berlin Phil- I won in their Advent Calendar Raffle, but already have a subscription, and I am allowed to pass it on. I’ve tried DCH on Mac OSX via browser, on iPhone and on iPad and it all works very well.)

To enter this competition, explain in the comments here on the blog, via Facebook or in response to the tweet why you’d like access to the DCH. Be creative! Best reason wins.

(Criteria for judgement: originality and general delightfulness, as judged by me. Competition open until Saturday 11 December, midnight EST. I will pass the access code to the happy winner via e-mail, so make sure I can identify or contact you!).

Win 7 dagen gratis, volledige toegang tot de Digitale Concert Hall!
Als je wil weten wat je gemist hebt in New York, toen de Berlin Phil zijn Beethoven ding deed, kan je er uiteraard over lezen in dit blog bericht van vorige week. Of je kan deelnemen aan deze wedstrijd, 7 dagen gratis en volledige toegang tot de Digitale Concert Hall (DCH) winnen, en dan zelf zien en horen hoe het in Berlijn klonk. En genieten van vele andere concerten, ook.

(Prijs aangeboden met dank aan DCH en Berliner Philharmoniker. Ik won in hun adventskalender wedstrijd maar heb al een jaarabonnement. Gelukkig mag ik het doorgeven! Ik heb DCH zelf al geprobeerd via Mac OSX met een web browser, iPhone en iPad en het werkt allemaal uitstekend.)

Om deel te nemen aan deze wedstrijd, leg uit waarom je toegang wil tot de DCH met een opmerking hier op deze blog post, of via op FB of in antwoord op de tweet. Wees creatief! Beste reden wint.

(Winnaar wordt gekozen op basis van originaliteit en algemeen plezier, volgens mijn oordeel. Wedstrijd open tot Zaterdag 11 december, middernacht EST (=18u. CET). Ik zal de toegangscode via e-mail bezorgen aan de gelukkige winnaar, dus zorg ervoor dat ik weet wie je bent of waar je te vinden!)


I like my orchestras like my coffee and my wine: big, bold, pronounced, at times deep, and dark. No sugar. Straightforward and honest. So it should come as no surprise that I have a soft spot for the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Recently I had the pleasure to hear the “Berliners” not once, but twice, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. I first heard them live in 2011 in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with Mahler’s third symphony. It was love at first sound, and my love has grown ever since (not entirely unrequited, I should add: their @BerlinPhil twitter account has given me a few likes and one retweet!). I have long known of the Berliners, and their reputation for good, solid performances, live and recorded. Since hearing them live four years ago, I have almost become a stalker, checking their touring schedule to see if they are playing anywhere near me, and then pouncing on the tickets. Fortunately I live close to New York, and they seem to like Carnegie Hall. Last year they brought Schumann’s symphony no 1 and 2. This year in November, we had two dates over Beethoven, and the love affair continues to deepen.


The Berliners and Mr. Rattle decided for this season to play the entire Beethoven symphony cycle, and record it. For those lucky (and wealthy) enough to get tickets for all five evenings in NYC, it must have been quite an experience, and I wish I could have been one of them. There was the odd rumble from critics about the programme. (But can I find the link to the review, can I? Of course not…) The basic argument: The orchestra’s appearance is a sure sell-out, and instead of using this as a vehicle to attach some more challenging (or more recent) pieces and give them wider recognition, Mr. Rattle has made a safe bet. Some people are never satisfied, I guess. As a conductor and musical director, Mr. Rattle has worked hard to bring new or less well-known music to a wider audience. Why not allow the man a chance to indulge in this guilty pleasure that all conductors seem to share? (He agreed in an interview  with the statement that: “Conductors are basically very simple people. All they actually want to do is conduct Wagner’s Ring Cycle and do a cycle of Beethoven symphonies.”) But for those who’ve taken the time to listen to the long version of that interview he gave for the Digital Concert Hall, it becomes clear that this was much more than just giving in to a slumbering ambition. The Berliners and Rattle have each made their own recordings of the Beethoven cycle, and performed them, but never like this together, and both sides were eager to explore this core repertoire in this highly concentrated format. Five cities, five full cycles, one recording. And for me, the New York leg of their musical journey turned out to be a match made in heaven.

If it is not clear yet at this point, here’s the disclaimer before you think I’m writing a regular classical music concert review: I’m a fan, not a critic. I don’t have a degree in music, I never took any music history or appreciation classes, and I have an extremely limited knowledge of the repertoire in any tradition. I barely play the guitar (one piece and a half, and badly at that). But I like to listen, and I like to give the musicians my full attention, and somehow I think that I, too, am entitled to put my opinion out there. And despite my lack of qualifications, I have found out that my gut-feeling of what makes a good recording or performance is often echoed by people who know what they’re talking about, even though I don’t always understand the jargon. I also have the bad habit of not listening to the programmed music in advance, so I often hear pieces for the first time during the performance. But Beethoven symphonies? I could whistle along if they were short on wind instruments!

I had tickets for Wednesday 18 Nov. (Leonore Ouverture, 2 and 5) and Friday 20 Nov. (4 and 7). This is quite a different pairing from my CD box set (Herbert von Karajan and Berlin Phil, 1963?, CD reissue, Deutsche Grammophon), but it certainly worked. Leonore was not familiar to me (for reasons I just confessed) and it was added to fill out the programme, because the second and fifth together don’t give a full evening’s worth. I beg your pardon- for me they would. In any case, this is a nice piece to lead in the evening, and it matches really well with the second symphony. The fourth and seventh turned out to be another natural pair, and I have created a playlist on my iTunes to match this new order- while waiting for the release of the new set of recordings in spring 2016…

As you would expect from any professional orchestra, these ladies and gents don’t encounter any technical difficulties. They dance through the notes on the page, with an ease that belies the years of hard training required to achieve this level of perfection- at the individual level, and as a group. But the Berliners bring also a lot of joy and passion to their performances. In the audience, you can hear and see they enjoy playing together, be it in close coordination in high tempo, or in producing almost translucent, quiet passages.

With the first movement of the second, you get a pretty decent chunk of symphony thrown at you. All I could think as it drew to a close was: “Wow! Another three movements of aural heaven to come!” I honestly don’t know how these musicians manage to play together at that speed and with such delicacy, without sounding like a total mess. The sound is tight, nimble, you feel the bass- deep and dark- and yet discern the lightness of the violins layered on top of that.

During the break I reflected on what had happened on the train to New York. I had fired up ye olde iPhone with Karajan’s recordings. I was surprised that the famous opening of the fifth (ta ta ta daaaaaa) felt dull and somewhat jaded, “riffed” one too many times. It made me wonder if I made a mistake, and should have got tickets for a different night instead. I could only hope that a live performance would reignite some of the fire embedded in that iconic piece. And boy, was I right to hope. I can’t say what it was, but pretty much from that first bar I was “feeling it”. Was it the difference between a recording and a live performance? The expectation after that fantastic performance of the second? There is not much you can vary in that “ta ta ta daa” opening, I would have thought, but I immediately perked up my ears and embarked with them on the journey through the fifth. In contrast with the recordings, the wind instruments stood out a bit more (in all four symphonies, to be accurate), bringing a fresh perspective. Was it my location in the hall, or a Rattle accent? I don’t know, and I didn’t care: it worked for me, then and there. Total zen: in the moment, with music doing its job and taking me away from all my worldly worries (and trust me, I have plenty right now).

By the time Friday 8pm rolled around, I was chomping at the bit to hear the fourth and seventh. But could the musicians and their conductor match the ecstasy they created on Wednesday night for me? What if my favourite, the seventh, was not delivering the emotional catharsis I get from its slow second movement? It could (gasp!) mean the end of my love affair!


To me, the fourth symphony sounds overall rather happy, without being “easy listening”. It starts in a rather serious tone, but Beethoven quickly changes the tune, and winks: “Haha! Got you! Let’s play!” There is of course the slow, pensive second movement, where Simon Rattle wove a delicate gossamer web of refined tones, with the musicians’ carefully handing over phrases between the instruments, gradually swelling into denser sound, and backing off, again and again. Then, during the third and fourth movement I noticed people near me began bobbing their heads and tapping their fingers along with the music. It’s impossible to sit still when you hear music like this. Promising for the seventh…

For this seventh symphony, I think we need a mosh pit right in front of the orchestra. This is pure rhythm, with a finale that Richard Wagner described as the “apotheosis of the dance”, and it asks to be experienced in movement. If people were having trouble sitting still during the fourth, I don’t know how we managed to refrain from stage-diving and crowd-surfing in complete exhilaration during the seventh. The second movement did its thing for me, but Oh.My.Word- that third and in particular the fourth movement- to have been there, to hear it live… I’ll live to a hundred and never forget the sheer joy that music brought me. Like a tightly coordinated cavalry unit, the music came thundering down the hill, with Simon Rattle giving free rein to his musicians (the conductor’s body language at one point with a wide open move saying “Just keep thundering along, in sync, of course”). And after that first time, before you’ve recovered, Beethoven turns around and says “Did you like that? I knew you would! Let’s do this again!” And the cavalry comes charging down the hill, a second time, a third time, until you’re giddy with euphoria and feel you can conquer the world. Reinvigorated…

And so, on Sunday morning, before 7am, I was lining up for the start of the Philadelphia Half Marathon , and played that fourth movement a couple of times on my iPhone. Then, I tucked my earbuds away, and just let the earworm run through my head for the entire two hours and 36 minutes it took me to complete the course. Who needs Rocky’s “Eye of the Tiger” when you can have the seventh symphony as your Power Song ?

I can’t wait for the box set of the full Symphony cycle to come out. Until then, I can relive the Berlin concerts in the Digital Concert Hall, or explore the many, many great recordings by other orchestras and conductors. These symphonies never get old, it seems, and I must thank Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker for helping me to rediscover their beauty, emotion, and energy, which still speak to us across the ages. Thank you!

P.S. In a perfect case of serendipity, I randomly picked up another concert with a Berliner on Thursday, 19 Nov.: a flute and guitar duo at Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium. During the break I looked through the programme notes and found out why the flutist was so incredibly good and looked familiar: Emmanuel Pahud is a principal flute with the Berlin Phil. His friend Christian Rivet is a virtuoso guitarist to match, by the way. Catch them when you can!