Bach's Christmas Oratorio

By Brian McCreath   |   Thursday, December 23, 2010
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Dec. 24

While Handel's Messiah rightly holds its place as this country's classical musical soundtrack for the holiday season (quibble if you will about its Easter message;  there's nothing wrong with talking about Easter at Christmas - just ask Bach!), it's J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio that rings through concert halls throughout Europe at this time of the year.

The six cantatas that make up the Christmas Oratorio, meant to be performed on six separate days throughout the liturgical Christmas season, tell the Christmas story as only Bach could.  With a combination of individual and communal perspective on both the joyful and meditative aspects of the season, it's a piece that always offers performers the chance to find new perspectives, angles, and ways of expressing eternal thoughts and feelings.

If you'd like to hear all six part of the Christmas Oratorio, in a terrific performance led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, feel free to listen to them below.

Part 1 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 2 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 3 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 4 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 5 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 6 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Father And Son Martin Sheen And Emilio Estevez On The Way

By Jared Bowen   |   Monday, October 10, 2011
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Oct. 10, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 6 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — El Camino de Santiago is a path for pilgrims which stretches more than 500 miles from France to Spain. It's arduous and emotional especially as depicted in the new film The Way which receives a very intimate treatment via a collaboration between father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. "I've gotten to a place where yes, I am concentrating on things that are personal and excite me," Estevez said. He wrote, directed and appears in the film playing Daniel, the son to Sheen's cantankerous Tom.

A day into Daniel's trek on the Camino he's killed in a freak accident and when Tom arrives to retrieve the body, he decides to finish the journey for his son. The heavy subject matter did not deter Sheen. "Like any artist you go to that place where you store those sense memories and you conjure them up when the opportunity is appropriate," Sheen said referring to playing a mourning father as his real-life son stood on-set nearby.

Long before their first footfalls on The Way, Sheen helped his son chart the story. "I live pretty close to my folks about 200 yards down the street so there was no escaping [Sheen] while we were working on the script," Estevez said. "I'm like, 'oh my God he's got another idea,' I just got out of the shower." Screenplay in hand, The Way was filmed in sequence — following Tom's trek as he's joined by a sweet Dutchman, a jaded Canadian woman and a dejected Irishman.

A lot of real-life El Camino de Santiago pilgrims also became part of filming. "That gives it an added reality," Sheen explained. "Emilio is very careful not to get into anyone's way because that's a very sacred time for a lot of people, a lot of people in mourning. A lot of people are carrying a lot of serious burdens and they're looking for healing and they're looking for alone time to have a chance to reflect."

The Way is a film that follows disparate journeys, ones accented with humor and sadness, but dominated by Sheen's march forward. And for that reason it may draw comparisons to Sheen's other recent high-profile father-son relationship with the troubled Charlie Sheen.

"We're a family and we are supportive of each other no matter what," Sheen said. "We pull for each other, we pray for each other, we lift each other up and particularly when it's most necessary." After a legendary Hollywood career, Martin Sheen has found the way on-screen and off.

Let's Talk About Seduction, Part 2

By Kyanna Sutton   |   Tuesday, September 20, 2011
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(page 2)

Seduction And French Politics

Former IMF Managing Director Dominque Strauss-Kahn (International Monetary Fund/ Flickr/Creative Commons)

In her book, Elaine Sciolino discusses now former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominque Strauss-Kahn (DSK) — who was controversial even before his now-dropped, highly publicized hotel maid rape case in New York this year. Many U.S. media outlets reported that DSK's political prospects in France are dim now that his reputation has been further tarnished by the rape scandal. Sciolino weighed in.

"DSK is back in France, but he has not been welcomed back. No matter what the truth about the encounter with the hotel maid in New York, too many tawdry details about his private life have been put into the public domain. Michel Rocard, the Socialist former prime minister, said publicly what others had said privately for years: That DSK has a 'mental illness' because he cannot contol his 'impulses,'" Sciolino said.

President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy with U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 (

Sciolino also offered her take on why French President Nicolas Sarkozy is not exactly beloved by the French. "At first, one of the main reasons Sarkozy was perceived so negatively was that he wasn't seductive enough. He has a fierce temper and doesn't seem comfortable mingling with ordinary folk," Sciolino said.

Sciolino described Sarkozy's frank communication style and his tendency to use "naked flattery and insults rather than subtle wooing," as a turn-off for the French. She added that in France Sarkozy is seen as "contemptuous rather than enamored of the complicated codes of politesse. Unlike François Mitterrand, who used language to caress and mesmerize, Sarkozy contracts his words and salts his sentences with rough slang," Sciolino said.

Futhermore, Sciolino observed, in a country where food and wine are essential to the national identity, she said Sarkozy "prefers snack gobbling to meal savoring. French people of all classes disapproved of what they called Sarkozy's 'bling-bling' style early in his presidency: His Ray-Bans, his Rolex, his gold necklace, his penchant for hanging out with French billionaires."

A photo from 1972 depicting seduction at play in the office. (Mod As Hell/Creative Commons)

The Fallout Of Infidelity In France

Is it a cross-cultural misperception that French marriages tend to survive infidelities, sometimes for many years, while many American marriages and political careers crumble after an infidelity has been discovered?

"Private lives and politics are different," Sciolino said.

"Private life first. The French, like Americans, have not figured out a way to inoculate themselves against the pain of a partner's unfaithfulness. Jealousy and guilt are alive and well. Adultery is a major reason for divorce in France, as in the United States. When infidelity turns serious and the unfaithful spouse leaves to live with a lover, a scorned wife, especially if she is no longer young, can have a much harder time recovering than a scorned husband, even in France," Sciolino said.

Here's where the French and Americans in particular part ways. Sciolino posits that for Americans, infidelity is a black-and-white betrayal and the violation of a marriage contract that often means the end of a marriage. While an American might call a divorce lawyer when a spouse has cheated, the French tend to stick together. Why stay in an unfaithful marriage? Staying in an imperfect marriage keeps the order of things. "Parents stay together; the children are spared emotional trauma; property stays in the family; financial security is maintained; family history is kept; vacations are taken," Sciolino said.

In France, Sciolino has observed that infidelity is not as serious or as destructive as it would be for those "with an Anglo-Saxon worldview, especially if it is played out in secret and no one gets hurt." Sciolino cited a poll in 2008 that indicated that 46 percent of the French believe an infidelity should not be "confessed."

As for politics, Sciolino agreed that American and French cultures do tend to judge the act of infidelity differently when it comes to public figures.

"Politicians in any democratic country must woo the public, but in France it is assumed that their powers should not only be personal and magnetic but also extend to the bedroom. Appealing political positions are not enough," Sciolino said. "Politicians are not hounded out of office for sexual indiscretions, and the public is often happy to let their secrets remain officially under wraps. But seduction flows as an undercurrent in public and private life, so it is natural that talking about politicians' personal lives is part of the national discourse."

Is there a double standard when it comes to women? The author acknowledged that there is one exception to the sexual indiscretion allowance: Gender. A female politician is expected to be faithful to one partner.

Three Wardrobe Essentials

Elegance and style are pre-requisites for seduction, so as we wrapped up our correspondence, I could not resist asking the long-time Paris resident to share what's on her must-have wardrobe list. Here's what Elaine Sciolino recommended for women:

1. A great black dress that fits perfectly.

2. Elegant shoes that are also very comfortable, enough for a lot of walking.

3. A well-cut jacket made from a fine fabric.

Sciolino was quick to be clear that clothes alone do not make someone seductive. "Much more important than a wardrobe is the willingness to find common ground with the other – the butcher, the newspaper vendor, the bureaucrat, the sales person – and to carry on a conversation. Seduction is nothing more than a conversation without end."

Let's Talk About Seduction

By Kyanna Sutton   |   Tuesday, September 20, 2011
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Oct. 1, 2011

Cover of Elaine Sciolino's book. (Courtesy Times Books)

BOSTON — For the French, seduction isn't simply a question of sex. It's a mindset that transcends sexual conquest, relating to how one approaches one's life as a whole. Elaine Sciolino, Paris correspondent and former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, offers a few tips for Americans in her new book, La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life. She shared some thoughts on the book over email. 

Seduction ≠ Sex

Sciolino described seduction in France as omnipresent in everything: From sharing a meal, to the scent of a perfume; from a walk through the Versailles gardens, to a night-tour of Paris — or the elegant hand-kiss of a charming man. "It is an all-encompassing word that can stand for persuasion, attraction, influence; soft power," Sciolino explained.

Sciolino makes it clear that seduction is a force that seems to infiltrate all areas of French life, whether it is present in flirtatious conversation or political debate. "I was fascinated by newspaper headlines that more than often made use of this word, séduction, to qualify situations, people, or even objects. Saying that a politician is 'a seducer' does not necessarily mean that he is physically or sexually attractive, it can mean that he has great charisma, that he is a talented speaker, a brilliant mind," Sciolino said.

Nikos Aliagas demonstrates the je ne sais quoi of "the look." (via greekadman/Creative Commons )

The Look

In her book, Sciolino describes seduction in France, and in Paris particularly, as being inextricably wrapped up in a strong sensibility of quiet sophistication; much of which is transmitted and translated between people non-verbally throughout the culture. Sciolino explained the foundation of seduction as, le regard, "the look." It is without question, the first step in the art of French seduction.

"'Le regard' is the electric charge between two people. Their eyes lock and there is an immediate understanding. So much of seduction and seducing the other has to do with le regard, it holds promise and mystery, it's much more subtle than words, it has to do with the body without being overtly physical and sexual, but it can be enough to destabilize another, or to form a strong connection," Sciolino said.

I asked Sciolino to boil the game of seduction down to three rules (for busy American readers), or in this case, three acts of the "play." She accepted the challenge.

Act One: Le Regard

"Master the look. You never walk alone on the streets of Paris. (This is not New York!) Someone is always looking at you and you can look back. The look is powerful. There is something chaste and pure about 'the look,' as there is no sullying of the body. But there is also something inherently unfaithful about it, because with the look, you never stop falling in love. Stendhal, the nineteenth- century novelist, said, 'You can say everything in one look, and yet you can always deny the look, for it cannot be quoted word for word," Sciolino said.

This seemed to beg a question. Should "the look" be accompanied by a smile?

"Smiling is complicated in France," Sciolino said. "Avoid it in the beginning. Americans are accustomed to smiling at strangers; the French, particularly the Parisian, are not." That might help explain why some Americans find Parisians rude.

"The reluctance to smile does not indicate the absence of kindness in the French character, but it does signal reserve. A French smile is fraught with too much meaning to be bestowed as a mere pleasantry," Sciolino said.

Act Two: Intellectual Foreplay

"Turn conversation into a verbal caress and learn the pleasure of process. For the French, life is rarely about simply reaching the goal. It is also about the leisurely art of pursuing it and persuading others to join in. How much fun would sex be without the flirtation, or dinner without the bouquet of the wine? What joy is there in words without wordplay, or in ideas without fencing and parrying?" Sciolino said.

Act Three: The Kill

"Where an American might see 'the kill' as the sex act, the French might see it in the moment of pre-consummation. Some of the most unlikely characters throughout French history have valued the sizzle more than the steak. Georges Clemenceau is best known in the United States as a French prime minister. But he was also a novelist. There's a line in one of his novels that I love: 'The most beautiful moment in love is when I climb the staircase,'" Sciolino said.

This idea of anticipation as the apex of seduction is clearly illustrated on the jacket of Sciolino's book. In this case, a well-heeled woman climbs the staircase. One of the things a reader takes away from Sciolino's book is that for many French women in particular seduction = war. But is war a good metaphor for seduction?

"Arielle Dombasle, a singer and actress who is a character in my book, told me that seduction is war," Sciolino said. "So did Moliere's fictional character, Don Juan. Seduction can be war, but it's much more than that. Seduction has so many different facets. It's not simply war, it's not simply persuasion, it's a combination of all these different tactics, skills, emotions, processes. That's what makes it so complicated," Sciolino said.

Part Two: The Fallout Of Infidelity In France & Seduction In Politics

Skip Gates And Ilan Stavans

Thursday, April 21, 2011
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Richard Egarr and The Well-Tempered Clavier

Thursday, March 17, 2011
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About the Authors
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath

Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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