Tuesday, December 24, 2013

No comeback home for piano virtuoso Schiff

BBC News - Andras Schiff: Why I won't perform in Hungary

We heard Andras Schiff's debut concert in Chicago many years ago, when he was a fresh-faced 24-year-old (1978), and soon to make his mark in the keyboard kosmos.  We heard him perform Bartok PC No. 3 with the Chicago Symphony there the next year, and again three years later (Grieg PC) with Ferencsik, and then later with Sir Georg Solti himself (Tchaikovsky PC). 

We heard Maestro Schiff in recital several more times (Bach Goldberg Variations, and WTC), as well as soloist with the New York Philharmonic (Dohnanyi) in Avery Fisher Hall (front row), and we heard him give a stunningly insightful master class in Lutz Hall, Northwestern University, where a student was grappling with a tangle of notes from Herr Schumann and, taking the artist bench himself, Schiff effortlessly spun them into pure gold.

This piece is a report of an appalling shame taking place back home, and his testimony puts a name and face on it.  What an embarrassment to Hungarians everywhere.  What has humanity learned in the 80 years.......?

Friday, October 18, 2013

David Dubal Comes Back to Chicago Classical Radio with THE ROMANTIC PIANIST

I learn more from listening to David Dubal's classical commentaries in the first few minutes than I do elsewhere listening for hours:  his own words, and then the insightful, and sometimes startling quotes from a variety of sources.  Where does he get these?

Mr. Dubal has been on -- and off -- our local WFMT (Chicago) in recent times, and frankly, I got into the habit of listening to him online

Now he's back on WFMT, thankfully, with a new program, THE ROMANTIC PIANIST.  The first installment was a superb survey of Franz Schubert, the one who was put on earth to write music, but who died, far, far too young at just 31.

We look forward to the rest of the series.  For more on our favorite classical commentator, go here.

Look for his books, too, Evenings with Horowitz, and The Art of the Piano.  The "inside Horowitz" -- he spent one night a wife with the pianist and wife, Wanda, for several years -- was a revelation, an insider's look at a mercurial, unpredictable, and eccentric genius.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Comeback girls reign at 'a very weird grand slam' | Herald Scotland

Comeback girls reign at 'a very weird grand slam' | Herald Scotland

"Three years ago I had to learn how to walk again and that has made me appreciate every single moment out there a lot more," Lisicki said. "Once you have to learn how to walk again, it just shows you how we actually have to appreciate to have two healthy legs.

"Being on crutches, you can't carry anything. You need the help of somebody else. So just being able to walk again and carry my own stuff was great. And then to come back on the court to compete and then to go even further than I did before the injury gives you a lot of strength."

Lisicki's philosophy now differs from the other three semi-finalists – Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and Kirsten Flipkens – in that she believes she has already achieved, though it will not stop her making a sustained tilt at the title.

Monday, July 1, 2013

He didn't make an "extraordinary comeback," he became a new person

WARRIOR POSE, a war correspondent’s memoir, how Yoga literally saved my life

By Brad Willis, aka Bhava Ram
Book review by John A. Sarkett

I tried a yoga class once.  It was ok, just ok.  I stretched and strained to stretch some more.  It didn’t really make a dent on my psyche.  I never went back, content instead with my usual regimen of weightlifting, running, cycling, tennis.

Came across this book in a yoga magazine distributed in the gym.  The title caught my eye;  could yoga really “save someone’s life?”

Indeed it can, and indeed it did.  TV reporter Brad Willis suffered a calamitous fall, broke his back, and navigated around on it for some seven years (it was fractured), until his vertebrae finally cracked apart, the pain became unbearable and he was now in sudden risk of spinal injury and paralysis.  Surgery didn’t work, and what was previously a large daily ingestion of potent pain pills, now became enormous.  He would wash these down with alcoholic beverages.  In short order, he was addicted to pills, alcohol, and food (his weight ballooned to 225).

He was barely able to walk or sit;  when he went anywhere, he had to take a portable recliner.

As if this wasn’t enough, he was afflicted with throat cancer, most likely gotten from covering the Gulf War, where U.S. troops used anti-tank ordnance loaded with spent uranium.  Willis’ research found that some 100,000 troops were affected by the radioactivity, some 10,000 had already died.  Would this be his fate?
The back pain was unbearable, and his course of chemotherapy:  grueling.  Motivated by a love for his son, he checked into a pain clinic, where he was introduced to Eastern modalities, such as acupuncture, and most significantly:  yoga.  What began as an interest, grew into an obsession.

After two years of ever-increasing practice (at home and in classes), fasting, meditation, he lost all his excess weight (dropping at one point to 140 lbs), stabilized his back, and got his life back.  The cancer, vanquished by Western medical treatments, did not recur.  The former network TV correspondent turned yoga teacher, Brad Willis had not only made an extraordinary comeback, in fact, that appellation doesn’t do his transformation justice:  instead, we’d prefer to say, and he would concur, he became an entirely different person.

Certainly one of the most impressive tranformative stories I have ever come across.  You will find it hard to put down.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why was he always smiling?

Review: IKE’S BLUFF, President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World, by Evan Thomas

Puts the lie to the misconception “nothing happened in the 1950s.” In reality the 50s were a turbulent time where humanity teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation. This is an appealing and eminently readable portrait of Eisenhower, war hero, now turned peacekeeper. Churchill gets all the credit for saving the West, and we don’t dispute, but now, here, Eisenhower gets his due for saving humanity. Well-crafted blend of human and institutional insights, clear-eyed, neither fawning nor cutting.

Special insight, comeback angle:

“The famous smile, Ike told his grandson, David, came not from some sunny feel-good philosophy but from getting knocked down by a boxing coach at West Point. The coach refused to spar anymore after Ike got up off the mat looking rueful. “If you can’t smile when you get up from a knockdown,” the coach said, “you’re never going to lick an opponent.” P30 IKE’S BLUFF, President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World, by Evan Thomas

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Prison didn't stop Dave Dahl and his Killer Bread

IN AND OUT of jail and prison for 15 of his 49 years, Dave Dahl, a former armed robber and recovering drug addict, is a self-professed “slow learner.” The creator of Dave’s Killer Bread, he is also living proof that even a slow learner who seems destined for a life of crime can turn his life around.

After a solid start growing up in a family of bakers, Dahl slid into a life of alcohol, drugs, stealing and dealing. As it turned out, he wasn’t a very gifted criminal, beginning a series of in and- out incarcerations. It was during his last sentence that he began to see the light. “I was fortunate to suffer in prison, because I got clean, and for the first time in my life I was confident without drugs,” says Dahl, who discovered at that time that he suffered from clinical depression.

He also discovered that he was smarter than he realized and a lot more interested in what life had to offer than in his next fix. He began working out and studying health and nutrition with a renewed fervor. After his 2004 release, clean and sober, Dahl rejoined his family’s baking business. His brother, Glenn, owner of NatureBake (www.naturebake. com), the healthful-bread business started by their father in the 1950s, welcomed him back and encouraged his ideas.

Within six months, Dave had designed six varieties of whole-grain, organic bread, four of which were introduced in August 2005 at the Portland Farmers Market’s “Summer Loaf ” artisan bread festival to rave reviews. At the helm of Dave’s Killer Bread, Dahl now produces approximately 400,000 loaves of bread a week (16 varieties) with names such as “Good Seed” and “Rockin’ Rye.”

It’s sold at Costco (for specific locations, or to order by mail, visit www.daveskiller bread.com). Dahl—who now spends a good deal of his time sharing his story of redemption with at-risk youths, business leaders, law enforcement and politicians— says he’s in no hurry to grow. “We’re going slow; we don’t want to grow too fast,” he says. This time, being a slow learner has its benefits. —T. Foster Jones for Costco magazine

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Will I ever be able to play tennis again?

That's what author Stephen King asked his doctors after his near-fatal 1999 car accident.

"No," they said, "but you'll be able to walk."

He had so many breaks in his leg, his doctor said it was like "marbles in a sack."

Now, he can walk, as they predicted.  And better still, he can play tennis, he told Terri Gross, of NPR's Fresh Air (Tuesday, May 28, 2013 broadcast). 

Doctors tend to lowball, King opined, so that you'll think you're beating the system later when you achieve a bit more.

The process to get there was grueling.  Along the way, King became addicted to the pain medication Oxycontin, but kicked it after a a three-week withdrawal.

He closed his interview by saying, "Terri, next time you're up here, we'll play doubles....."

Something he couldn't have imagined years ago when he was laid low with the horrible tragedy and nearly lost his life.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Once fired, now "indispensible man"

Superb story on JPM chief Jamie Dimon in Bloomberg Business Week.

As with most of the high and mighty, there is a comeback story buried here:

In 1998, Weill and Dimon’s deal frenzy climaxed in an historic merger with Citicorp: They had built the largest financial-services conglomerate on earth. And Dimon was universally understood to be the next in line to run it.

Then he was fired. Dimon had clashed with Weill’s daughter over her role at the company as well as with executives who had arrived with the larger mergers, but Dimon’s primary sin had been crowding the Citi throne. He spent more than a year out of action."

Fired, unemployed for one year.

Now "Wall Street's Indispensible Man" according a to a leading business publication.

In the middle of the storm, remember:  As long as you don't quit, better days ahead.....

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bobby Kennedy remade himself

Frail, weak, shy and sensitive as a youth, Bobby Kennedy was a prime candidate for sissyhood, but he decided to remake himself.  Even though he was smallish, and not a great athlete, he fought his way onto the Harvard football team, and through injuries, e.g. dislocated shoulder, fractured leg.  His coaches were so impressed, he was awarded a varsity letter, something neither Joe nor Jack had achieved.

That tenacity would serve him well as Jack Kennedy's campaign manager, and then as attorney general.

From Brothers, by Geo. Howe Colt

Monday, March 4, 2013

Retirements that don't stick; great comebacks in the music world

On classical WFMT, we recently heard  a "From the Recording Horn" segment on opera soprano Magda Olivero.

Born 1910, she retired from the stage, age 31, to marry.

That lasted 10 years, she made her comeback at 41.  After that, she had a very long and successful career.

Remarkably, she would debut at 65 at the Metropolitan Opera House as Tosca.

She performed well into her 90s.  An Internet report has her now age 102, living in Milan.

Remarkable story, remarkable comeback.

Some videos here:  http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/03/magda-olivero-is-alive-and-well-and-102-today.html

Some opera retirements stick.  The most famous:  that of Gioachino Rossini, the famed composer ("William Tell," countless others).  He retired at 37, wealthy, and apparently satisfied with his status as the most famous opera composer -- ever.  For him, there was no comeback to the business that made him rich and famous.

What did he do with himself?  Wikipedia:  "Rossini had been a well-known gourmand and an excellent amateur chef his entire life, but he indulged these two passions fully once he retired from composing, and today there are a number of dishes with the appendage "alla Rossini" to their names that were either created by or specifically for him. Probably the most famous of these is Tournedos Rossini, still served by many restaurants today.

But music held its sway on him, and he would pick up his pen later, as Wikipedia outlines:

"In the meantime, after years of various physical and mental illnesses, he had slowly returned to music, composing obscure little works intended for private performance. These included his Péchés de vieillesse ("Sins of Old Age"), which are grouped into 14 volumes, mostly for solo piano, occasionally for voice and various chamber ensembles. "

Compared to his operas, these are rarely heard.

Continuing on:  "Often whimsical, these pieces display Rossini's natural ease of composition and gift for melody, showing obvious influences of Beethoven and Chopin, with many flashes of the composer's long buried desire for serious, academic composition. They also underpin the fact that Rossini himself was an outstanding pianist whose playing attracted high praise from people such as Franz Liszt, Sigismond Thalberg, Camille Saint-Saëns and Louis Diémer.

"Rossini died at the age of 76 from pneumonia at his country house at Passy on Friday, 13 November 1868. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France. In 1887, his remains were moved to the Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze, in Florence, at the request of the Italian government."

Nearly 40 years after he quit the opera business.

We can't talk about retirements and opera without mentioning Rossini's compatriot, Verdi, who surpassed the facile Rossini to take the top spot in the opera composing world (though some might say that honor belongs to Puccini).  Verdi himself came out of 10 years of retirement to resume his career.

Wikipedia tells the story:

"After the completion and premiere of the opera Aida in 1871, Verdi decided that it was time for him to end his successful career as a composer of opera, though he was easily the most popular, and possibly the wealthiest, composer in Italy during the time, much as Rossini had done after the completion of the opera William Tell.

"Because of the immense popularity of Verdi’s music in Italy by the 1870s, Verdi’s retirement seemed to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, to be a waste of talent and possible profits. Thus a plot of sorts was hatched in order to coax the composer out of retirement to write another opera. Because of the importance of the dramatic aspects of opera to the composer, Verdi was especially selective in his choice of subjects. Consequently, if he were to agree to create another opera after a decade of retirement, the libretto would need to be one that would capture his interest. It was generally known that Verdi admired the dramatic works of Shakespeare and had, throughout his career, desired to create operas based on Shakespearian plays. However, his one attempt at doing so, Macbeth (1847), although initially successful, was not well received when revised for performance in Paris in 1865.[1] Because of its relatively straightforward story, the play Othello was selected as a likely target.

"Finally, after some plotting, Ricordi, in conjunction with Verdi’s friend, the conductor Franco Faccio, subtly introduced the idea of a new opera to Verdi. During a dinner at Verdi’s Milan residence during the summer of 1879, Ricordi and Faccio guided the conversation towards Shakespeare’s play Othello and to the librettist Arrigo Boito (whom Ricordi claimed to be a great fan of the play also). Suggestions were made, despite initial skepticism on the part of the composer, that Boito would be interested in creating a new libretto based upon the play. Within several days, Boito was brought to meet Verdi and present him with an outline of a libretto for an opera based on Othello. However, Verdi, still maintaining that his career had ended with the composition of Aida, made very little progress on the work. Nonetheless, collaborations with Boito in the revision of the earlier opera Simon Boccanegra helped to convince Verdi of Boito’s ability as a librettist. Finally, production began on the opera, which Verdi initially referred to as Iago.

"As the Italian public became aware that the retired Verdi was composing another opera, rumors about it abounded. At the same time, many of the most illustrious conductors, singers and opera-house managers in Europe were vying for an opportunity to play a part in Otello's premiere, despite the fact that Faccio and La Scala, Milan, had already been selected as the conductor and the venue for the first performance. The two male protagonists had been selected, too: Italy's foremost dramatic tenor, Francesco Tamagno, was to sing Otello while the esteemed French singing-actor Victor Maurel would assume the villainous baritone role of Iago. Romilda Pantaleoni, a well known singing-actress, was assigned Desdemona's soprano part.

"Upon the completion of the opera, preparations for the initial performance were conducted in absolute secrecy and Verdi reserved the right to cancel the premiere up to the last minute. Verdi need not have worried: Otello's debut proved to be a resounding success. The audience's enthusiasm for Verdi was shown by the 20 curtain calls that he took at the end of the opera. Further stagings of Otello soon followed at leading theatres throughout Europe and America."

Appears this thing "retirement" can be mercurial thing.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Convergence: a bracing look at global geopolitical and financial future

Gritty Questions on the Historic Collapse

We find the comments regarding Germany's gravitational pull towards the East to be particularly insightful.....

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Woman climbs Everest -- twice in one week

We began "Extraordinary Comebacks" (vol 1) with the story of Sir Edmund Hillary.  Everyone knows he was first to climb Mount Everest;  few know he failed on his first attempt, but made it on the second.

(Hillary Clinton, a great comeback story on her own, was named for him.)

So much of life requires that "second effort."  A second effort is sometimes all that separates the victor from the also rans.

Now we come across this incredible story:

Woman sets Everest record - chicagotribune.comk


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Financial comedown for Hollywood mogul

Former TV Macher Merv Adelson Talks About Financial Ruin and His Las Vegas–Mob Ties


Friday, February 22, 2013

Washington's Birthday more than a million years ago

Dream no little dreams.  They have no power to stir men’s souls.  Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect

There was no President’s Day when I was 7.  There was Lincoln’s Birthday, there was Washington’s Birthday, and they each got their due.  As father of our nation, President Washington rated a school holiday.  My friend Dale and I took advantage by flying kites.   

Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1959 was very blustery (on the west side of Cleveland), and I aimed to take full advantage.  Tying together two balls of twine, I let my kite go.  It flew across our entire playground, and danced over the tall elms of the residential neighborhood, more than 150 yards away.  Our dream to fly to the highest possible was realized.  The thrill was unforgettable.   It was the first such (positive) thing I had done, more or less, on my own.

So it is with life.  Sometimes, we need the challenge and thrill of two balls of twine, not just one, to stir our souls, and soar higher than we had thought possible.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

BRAIN ON FIRE by Susannah Cahalan

One of the most thoughtful and hard-hitting books I have ever encountered.  As the author of a series of books on comeback stories, this is surely one, but so much more.    Briefly, the author succumbs to an extremely rare auto-immune condition where her body attacks her brain, hence ‘Brain on Fire.’  Quite literally.  Almost overnight, she goes from a spunky New York Post reporter to one variously thought to be suffering from alcoholism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or even retardation.  (Recalls how Fran Drescher had to seek diagnoses from no less than eight doctors for an accurate assessment of her condition (cancer)).  Ms. Cahalan had none of these.

She had, instead:  anti-NMDA (N-methy-D-aspartate acid) receptor encephalitis.  Her own antibodies were attacking her own brain. 

An unsettling look into biology.  Let’s just start with the imagery: Re her condition,  “about 50% of the time, it is instigated by an ovarian tumor, called a teratoma….from the Greek teraton, or monster.  These twisted cysts were a source of fascination even when there was no name for them (before the late 1800s).  The first description dates back to a Babylonian text from 600 B.C.   These masses of tissue range in size from microscopic to fist sized, or even bigger, and contain hair, teeth, bone, and sometimes even eyes, limbs and brain tissue.  They are often located in the reproductive organs, brain, skull, tongue and neck and resemble pus-soaked hairballs….the good news is that they are usually – but not always – benign.”

You still with me?  Ms. Cahalan did not have a teratoma, though it might have been ‘good news,’ since if you have one, and it’s removed, you tend to recuperate faster.

Which leads us to the question, what caused the author’s  anti-NMDA (N-methy-D-aspartate acid) receptor encephalitis?  Sadly, and unsettlingly, the cause of her seven-month descent into hell was never determined.  Was it from a sneeze on a crowded bus, her cat, germs in her kitchen?  What turned on the rogue antibodies?  She doesn’t know and will likely never know what prompted her body to attack itself.

That part of the medical equation we have to live with.  Other parts, not, and that’s what results in the author’s scathing indictment of the medical field.  On her way out of the book, she lets fly with some well-deserved knockout punches to several of her attending physicians, who were just “too busy” to take time to pinpoint her malady.  At the same time, she heaps unlimited praise on Dr. Najjar, who did take time.  His story, from a struggling young student deemed a dunce, rising all the way to become one of the top neurosurgeons in the world, is another great and restorative (if your faith in humanity needs some restoring, and after this, it will) comeback stories.  If you have a good physician, one who is willing to do what is necessary to prevail against disease, you will get down on your hands and knees and thank God for him or her after reading this harrowing and heart-breaking story.

There is real pathos here, and poetry, amidst the heartbreak:  “Recalling moments like these, which occurred frequently during this tentative stage in my recovery, I wish I could, like a guardian angel, swoop down and help protect this sad, lost echo of myself.”

The good news:  our author recovered well enough to resume her life and write this book.  She documents how it saved at least one life, and the implication is that it has saved many more.  She was no. 217 in the world to ever be diagnosed with AMP – the year after, there were hundreds, then thousands.  Word was getting around.  Yet, she shows how some self-possessed neuro-experts never get the memo.   Shame.

You will never, ever think about mental illness or autism in the same way.  For many of these individuals, the catalyst is infection, hard to find, hard to treat, and expensive to treat (the author estimates her bill at $1 million, covered by insurance).

In that regard, this book breaks new ground.  Not many do.  In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin suggests reading catastrophe stories.  This true tale is exponentially so, to be trapped in your own body by your own deteriorating brain.  Read it and weep, and then be glad our author’s trip to hell was round trip, and she’s back, and now she’s savings others, and changing the entire medical world, through the power of language, once taken from her, now restored.

PS    Ms. Cahalan has a back page blurb from my acquaintance and former Clevelander (we grew up in the same neighborhood, few years apart) Mira Bartok, author, THE MEMORY PALACE, another superb and highly recommended memoir.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The strange comeback story of Sixto Rodriguez

Forty years after recording his first album, Sixto Rodriguez, 70, is on the brink of international stardom.  Momentum is building:  He was just featured on the back page of TIME, Jan. 28, 2013 issue.

 It's never too late, they say.  Here's a very strange story that lends credence to that outlook....

Also:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/video/2012/jul/24/searching-for-sugar-man-sixto-rodriguez-video

Can you come back against lung cancer?

Afflicted with lung cancer, this gentleman was given six months to live -- 45 years ago.

How did he come back against it?  We heard his story on the BBC and found it neatly laid out here at the NY Times.

Please read

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Al Gore x 150

A dozen years ago, presidential candidate Al Gore was defeated, crestfallen.  He did a multi-media show called The Inconvenient Truth, became a road warrior, and showed it all over the place. 

He did a lot more, too.  Since then, he turned his fortunes around.


He multiplied his $2 million net worth about 150 times --- into a $300 million fortune.  So says the current TIME magazine.  And more on his financial prowess at Forbes.

Whatever your politics, and how the money was made (he sold his cable TV property to Al Jazeera), you have to call this one amazing comeback.

But not everything along the way was glory to glory.  Remember the famous "kiss" with his dutiful spouse with the spunky name, Tipper?  At the 2000 Democratic National Convention?

Well, he and wife Tipper went separate ways in June 2010;  the media called it a "civilized split."  Tipper is about as far away from Washington, D.C. as you can get and still be in the continental 48.  Reports have it that she is dating a photographer.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Against all odds

Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs. However, for him, it's no problem. Lee Cowan reports on how Vujicic was able to overcome incredible odds to live a relatively normal, and at times extraordinary, life.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Modern Day Pagliacci, the clown who cried -- no more

Can the outward clown be inwardly tortured  - laughing to hide the tears, like Pagliacci?

We recently learned that none other than David Letterman, 65, late night jokester to the world, himself fought depression for 20+ years.  In 2003, when beset by a bout of shingles, he finally capitulated, took medication for the depression as well.  He said it was like seeing 20/20.  He fessed up on the Dec. 20 CBS This Morning.

Sometimes making a comeback is as simple ---- or as difficult ---- as accepting the need for medication.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A jazzy comeback

When Dave Brubeck went to music school at the College of the Pacific, his inability to read music was found out.  A teacher ran to turn him in, the dean hit the roof, and they agreed on the only course of action:  to flunk him out.  But a bevy of teachers intervened, said STOP!  ‘this guy has talent.’

The dean relented  on this condition:  that Brubeck agree never to teach piano.  He did agree, and instead, went on to become something that affected millions vs. hundreds:  Dave Brubeck became a jazz icon.

The pianist passed away nearly one month ago, on December 5, 2012, one day short of being 92 years young.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What better quote for a new day, a new month, a new year

“The great virtue of man lies in his ability to correct his mistakes and continually make a new man of himself.”—Wang Yang-Ming

We wish you the very best in everything 2013 can offer.....and an extraordinary comeback whenever you need one......