Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony…SpartanNerd’s Music Review

          Nothing could taint the experience of finally seeing the Ninth Symphony performed live!  The Spartanburg Philharmonic absolutely nailed it…It may be the highest art Spartanburg has ever experienced, and this is an artsy place.  Worries about three of my students who didn’t arrive couldn’t scar it.  Neither the hazardous weather; neither the annoying synthetic buzz of the speakers in Twitchell Auditorium at Converse College: neither the horrible parking situation or record crowd audience.  No.  Beethoven’s music transcended it all.  This is a piece that I have purchased several times over the years, the first of which when I was sixteen years old and had my family scratching their heads.  A piece that I have taught about since my career began with glowing reverence.  A piece that I have never seen performed except in odd snips and pieces, and never with singers.
          The program started with the unconnected Modern piece, Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” which provided a point of variety and contrast, and set the stage for conductor Stefan Sanders’ remarks about the nature of life…the What, How, When, Why, and Where of life.  This piece has a pretty and controlled strings component, and “questioners” who played from the balcony, disconnected from the rest of the players, and playing with differing keys and tempos.  He explained that Beethoven strived to give us the answer that Charles Ives was also looking for with his greatest and final symphony.  He described the first movement as having an urgency, the second movement as a type of demonic dance, the third movement a tribute to love, and the fourth movement all about brotherly love.  I personally have always given deeper explanations of each movement…more technical ones.  But Mr. Sanders let his orchestra do the talking…
          As the first movement began, the straight sounds of open violin strings, the droning of the winds, the feeling of the orchestra being tuned, (a revolutionary idea in the great master’s day), the power of it all was too much for me.  My heart began to race and, yes, I began to cry.  How many times have I just sat and listened to recording of big-name orchestras?  How many rides from college back to Pacolet have I let this play?  (Yes.  Years ago.). I remember listening to this to go and pick up a pet rabbit with one of my sons, and I explained each movement and what was going on to him.  All of this crashed down on me at once.  To me the Spartanburg Philharmonic’s rendition was devastating, powerful, and unashamed to make statements in every way.  And the tempo that they played it in was perfect, not dragging at all.  And as annoying as that droning synthetic speaker sound in that room was, It was completely washed away by the raw strength of the orchestra.
          During the break between the first and second movements, you could hear a torrential downpour as a storm raged outside.  This was God smiling at us as we listened…the second movement evokes a tempest, and this heavy rain made a perfect backdrop.  As I listened, I noticed how perfectly balanced this orchestra is.  I have a few recordings that sometimes when I listen to, and feel like the recording or the players don’t sound as spot on as they could.  We had good seats for this concert…it’s true.  But the orchestra itself was pristine.  Never all night was there a single time that a horn was too loud, a section overpowering, or even a drum too tight.  I mention that I have never seen the Ninth Symphony performed live before, but I HAVE seen this movement performed a few times.  But the Spartanburg Philharmonic brought the greatest performance tonight.
          As there was another break before the third movement, something odd happened that I didn’t understand until later.  Four singers entered the stage and took a seat at the front.  For this event, the choir that was to sing the Chorale at the end was seated onstage for everyone to see.  But these four entered and took a seat up front, undoubtedly the soloists who would sing in the final movement.  And suddenly I had a slight panic.  There was to be no singing until the fourth movement?  Were they skipping the third movement? (Blasphemy!). No.  Nothing like that at all.  I felt my tension ease as the orchestra began to play the prettiest part of the the Ninth Symphony, the Pastoral movement.  I do enjoy the melody of this part…it reminds me of some of Beethoven’s other work.  But I will be the first to tell you as a teacher that this is also the least exciting part of the whole work.  After listening to the thing several times, you know the real treat is in the fourth movement, and sometimes it feels like some of the extended phrases and sections of the third movement are hoops Beethoven has you jump through to keep you anxious for the end.  The orchestra delivered this movement nicely, and then…
          So why did those singers come onstage so early?  Mr. Sanders had about a fifteen second break in between the third and fourth movement.  I don’t even think the players rested their instrument or turned pages.  He froze in place, as many times I have done in conducting different groups…and then, with more electricity than the raging storm outside, the fourth movement began, and I jumped to the edge of my seat!  And so the conversation began between the low strings and the rest of the orchestra, and it is like every single note is stamped on my soul.  I look over at the cellists and bassists at the right, and then back at the other players on the left, anticipating and reveling in it all.  Beethoven wrote this when he was COMPLETELY DEAF!  And the classic themes of the three movements before, Orchestra Tuning, Thunderstorm, and Pastoral are all shot down, and then the low players begin to play the hymn of the ages, the Ode to Joy, and the rest of the orchestra follows suit.  Then on cue.  My kinsmen, the singers, they all stand in one accord at the right moment…the same electric music that made me sit up in my chair had me moving again as they all sprang into action.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that wonderful bass singer singing the classic German text as we hear the conversation yet again, with words.  And how did this great chorus sound?  I was worried about the balance.  But it was sparkling and as pure as the greatest recording I have ever listened to.  And did I mention that I was glad to hear them singing in German?  My wife, sitting beside me the whole time, elbowed me in the side during the Turkish March and asked me if I was alright, and I realized again that I was crying.  The quartet delivered part beautifully, and when It was time for the rest of the chorus to come in with those notes…the ones with the droning trumpet…the notes that let you know a cathartic moment is upon you, it was ecstatic.  And the coda section of the piece, (should we really call it that?). This terrific group made it the greatest “mad dash” of all time.  Literally, the second that it was over, the audience roared in applause and stood to its feet.  The clapping went on for…five minutes?  And then it kept going!  Of course there wouldn’t be an encore, not after all that.  But what a rush!
          Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was the closing performance of the 2018-2019 orchestra season for the Spartanburg Philharmonic.  I want more.  Our city needs more.  Please keep this happening Spartanburg!
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SpartanNerd Unboxing and Review…Lego Nexo Knights “Ultimate Lavaria”

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The SpartanNerd spent some time this past weekend at the Toys R Us in Spartanburg, SC, this weekend.  I was immediately drawn to the display right at the entrance….a new item, “Lego Nexo Knights.”  I don’t know why…I kept coming back to it.

A little research unearthed the fact that this line just launched on January 2, 2016.  (Saturday was January 9.  So the line was only a week old.)

I expect it will replace Lego Ninjago and Lego Chima.  Or maybe it will be an attempt.

There were a wide variety of different things for the new line, but I didn’t want to commit too much…or anything at all.  But since I kept coming back, I decided to make a purchase.

I purchased “Ultimate Lavaria.”  Keep reading for a review of my experience so far!

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Lavaria came in this little box.  Above is what caught my eye, and then there is the backside, showing that there are things that can be done on tablets and phones with the figure.

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I’m not a Lego collector, and have talked about the price of Minifigures before.  But if there is even a CHANCE I am going to get into these, I want to have a system of keeping them organized.  So I opened the box carefully from underneath in order to preserve it as a storage space.

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As  expected, there was an instruction book and polybags with the bricks inside.

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The instructions are your general instructions.  Large simple pictures with arrows.  (I had a picture, but lost it somehow?)

There was also lots of cross-sell for this new line.

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And here was the parts list.

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I went ahead and arranged the bricks the exact way they are listed, because I’m insane like that…that’s why.  I found there were a few anomalies…

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These extra parts.  Also, there were some bucks with a long peg that weren’t listed.  I went ahead and began assembly.

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I don’t know why, but I decided to pause here, seven minutes into the build.  I took this picture.  I think this was right after I put the wings on.  Its a pretty ingenious idea, making a backpack out of a two-studded flat piece by adding a part that fits over the neck.  The legs here are on a thing that looks like a floating thing from a boat or something.  I have seen this design before on Ninjago things.

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And here is Lavaria completed.  Next, I put together the “base.”

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The base doesn’t really make sense.  The character is a spider, sitting on an amber thing, and there are two “wings.”  This is actually a weapons rack.  You can change the front of the shield to have the fireballs or the beetle on it.  The “wings” are a storage area for those.  Also, the right side had a shooting mechanism.  Only today, three days after assembly, has it dawned on me that that is another weapon, a crossbow!  (I would have taken a pic with Lavaria holding it if I had figured it out.)  The other side has two tiny rubber snakes either as weapons or as guardians over the beetle shield.  (who knows.)

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There is al alternate pair of legs, so Lavaria doesn’t have to be on four spider legs.  Also, you can turn the head around to get a different expression.

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I think what caught my attention with Lavaria is the similarity to Darth Maul.  The double sided spear.  The mechanical spider-legs.

It dawned on me that Lavaria is a female!  And I was pronouncing it “le-VAIR-EE-ah.”  But it must be LAVA-ria.

Remember I mentioned the electronic features of Lego Nexo Nights?  I have played through the first level, and this character has made no appearance whatsoever.  But all of the enemies have some “lava” component to them.  The main enemy is named “Jestro,” a cross between the Joker and Destro?

But that gave me a hint about the characters intended name, and also what that amber thing on the base is (it’s lava.  DUH!)

As far as the game is concerned, I have encountered a glitch already.  The game feels “unfinished.”  It is the kind of game that you just tap the screen to make the character attack the enemies.  So far, you can only be the “good guys.”  These are Clay, Lance, Macy, and Aaron, with the promise of another character coming soon.  The name of the app is Merlok 2.0, which points out the futuristic knight theme that these guys are to have. (Merlok’s voice in the game is the exact same voice as Sensei Wu from Lego Ninjago.)

How does the toy interact with he game?  Remember those different shield that came with Lavaria?  The app can scan those, and this adds special moves to your chosen Nexo Knight. (What does “Nexo” mean anyway?)  It is notable that choosing “beetle bomb” causes your Nexo Knight to suddenly have the four legs that Lavaria has, only in their color scheme.  So maybe she isn’t supposed to always have those spider legs on?

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The shield shown here is “incinerate.”  Basically it makes fire fall out of the sky to burn up your lava enemies?

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And you can see the Venom attack on this shield.

The game encourages you to “re-scan” your shields over and over to increase their power. I think this is to discourage people from “faking out” the app.  I could be wrong.  It seems it only let me scan in three within a few minutes.  (The game comes with two to get you started, so I have five special moves unlocked, basically.)

But it looks like there are dozens of moves you could unlock if you collected the whole line.

SO was this a good impulse purchase?

I’ll admit.  Whatever I thought was cool about it in the store has worn off a little.  Maybe it’s the simplistic game.  Or maybe it was that the kit wasn’t the least bit challenging.  Or maybe it is because this is the only thing I have from this set.  Not sure.

Will I get more?  Not sure!

I think Lavaria is cool looking.  She is pretty fun to play with.  She has to get a 4/5.

The app has to get a 2/5 for now.

So the SpartanNerd Rating of Lego Nexo Knights Ultimate Lavaria is 3/5.

Do you agree or disagree, Hub City Geeks?  Let me know in the comments!