John Marks

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John Marks Posted: Jan 28, 2013 2 comments
Photo courtesy the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

I certainly am no stranger to the idea that a "student" orchestra can turn in a performance undeniably superior to those offered by many "professional" orchestras. After all, my favorite commercial recording of Mahler's Symphony 6 is by the orchestra of The Manhattan School of Music, conducted by Glenn Cortese.

But what a special treat it was to hear Daniel Barenboim conduct the orchestra he founded with Edward Said in Weimar in 1999, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, in a program of Beethoven's Second and Third ("Eroica") Symphonies at Providence's Veterans Memorial Auditorium on January 26. The concert was presented by the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown University. The communication between the conductor and the orchestra members, who obviously revere him, was a wonder to behold. Further, when the carefully-nurtured dynamics finally opened all the way up, the near-stunning sound was a rapturous feast of tactile tonal richness.

My advice: If you live in Big Apple-Land, do whatever it takes to hear Maestro Barenboim leading his young charges in all the Beethoven Symphonies at Carnegie Hall, January 30 to February 3.

John Marks Posted: Oct 10, 2012 0 comments
I've had Vivid Audio's Oval K1 loudspeaker here for several months. Over many years, the only other speaker brands I've written about as much as I have Vivid have been Wilson Benesch and Shahinian Acoustics, whose speakers I still revere and can recommend without reservation—to the right listener. But Vivid's high-tech sorcery has raised the bar. The Vivids I've had here are among the best loudspeakers I've ever heard, and that's a consensus that seems headed in the direction of critical mass.
John Marks Posted: Aug 09, 2012 0 comments
Don't waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Fantasy Symphony Season competition, announced in this column in February, has been a smashing success—as far as I'm concerned, it's the most worthwhile write-in competition yet. The 13 winning entries and one hors-concours laureate are posted in the follow-up to February's column on Stereophile's website. The update lists the compositions in each winning Fantasy Symphony Season entry. I created a spreadsheet to determine the most popular composers and works in the winning entries.

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John Marks Posted: Jul 31, 2012 2 comments
Cardas Audio, one of the longest-established boutique audio-cable and accessories innovators, has brought George Cardas' frequency-sweep system-enhancement tweak, previously available on LP for more than 25 years from Cardas Audio and on CD from Ayre Acoustics, into the world of smartphone applications with the "Clarifier" app, available from iTunes' App Store for 99 cents. The app is for the iPhone (and iPod Touch) only; we don't know if an Android version is planned.
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John Marks Posted: Jun 20, 2012 2 comments
Fred Delius and the Duettes. Sounds like a 1950s vocal group, doesn't it? Let's start with some great new music. SACD fans: Prepare to vote with your wallets again. Frederick Delius (1862–1934) is one of my favorite second-rank composers who wrote first-rate music. Although not that easy to define, Delius's music is usually instantly identifiable as his.
John Marks Posted: May 29, 2012 3 comments
I had had it in the back of my mind for some time to try to hear the Wilson Duette, if only because celebrated classical recording engineer Tony Faulkner had, some time ago, shared with me his opinion that the Duette's simpler crossover made it the most coherent speaker in Wilson's line. Faulkner told me that when a cramped recording venue makes it impossible for him to use his favorite Quad electrostatic speakers for monitoring, he uses Duettes.
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John Marks Posted: Apr 26, 2012 7 comments
Music is love in search of a word.—Sidney Lanier

In 2009, I wrote about Luxman's entry-level solid-state integrated amplifier, the L-505u ($3700), and their near-universal (no Blu-ray) disc player, the DU-50 ($4990, now discontinued). I was very impressed by their performance and their quality at those prices. Indeed, I think I commented on these models in no fewer than five columns back then.

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John Marks Posted: Feb 21, 2012 7 comments
Here we go again! Come up with a list of classical pieces, and if your list is one of the skillfully crafted winners, you'll win your choice of a single CD from Stereophile's online store, and your list and all the other winning entries will be posted online for the admiration of all and sundry. This year's write-in contest will be somewhat more challenging than the last three, but I'm sure many of you will be up to it.
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John Marks Posted: Feb 10, 2012 1 comments
KEF: 50 Years of Innovation in Sound
By Ken Kessler and Dr. Andrew Watson. GP Acoustics International Limited, 2011. $89.99. Hardcover, 12" by 12" by 0.9", 216 pp. ISBN 978-988-15427-4-8. Available from selected KEF dealers and Amazon.com.

Ken Kessler's latest "coffee-tabler" (my favorite publishing-industry insider neologism) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the founding of KEF Electronics by documenting the history of the venerable loudspeaker manufacturer. While the book doesn't quite start with a bang, it does start with an evocative vignette. The year was 1979, the place the ballroom of Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty the Queen, about to present KEF's founder, Raymond Cooke, with the medal representing his having been made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), inquired, perhaps formulaically, "This is for loudspeakers?"

John Marks Posted: Dec 20, 2011 5 comments
I've been reading a fascinating book, Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (New York: Viking, 1998). Shlain's thesis is that the invention of the alphabet was the cause of immense changes in primitive society, upsetting previously widespread norms of gender equality and horizontal (rather than hierarchical) social relations in general.

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