In December 2009, a would-be terrorist boarded a plane for Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. While the explosive failed to properly ignite and the man was arrested upon landing, the ensuing investigation revealed the bomb in question had been made by al-Qaida leaders in Yemen.
This attempted act of terrorism heralded both the small Arabian country's re-emergence into the international consciousness as a refuge for al-Qaida and the ascendance of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), developments that have grown only more pronounced since.
I never heard of the Baroque composer Agostino Steffani until last year, when the Boston Early Music Festival presented the North American premiere of Steffani's Niobe, an opera about the mythical queen who bragged so much about her many children, the gods killed them all in revenge. One of the leading roles, Niobe's husband King Amphion, was played by the early-music superstar countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who sang the opera's most sublime aria — a hymn to the harmony of the spheres. I couldn't wait to hear Jaroussky again, and was eager to hear more Steffani.
This year, Hilary Mantel made history when she won a Man Booker Prize for her novel Bring Up the Bodies. She had previously been awarded the prize — England's highest literary honor — for her 2009 novel, Wolf Hall, and is now the first woman to receive the award twice.
Jazz reflects who we are as a people — democracy in action and all that. But a jazz tune or solo is also a portrait of the musician who makes it; the music reflects the particular background and training that influences how composers compose and improvisers improvise. Jason Kao Hwang makes that autobiographical component explicit throughout his extended composition for eight pieces, Burning Bridge. His parents made the move from China around the end of WWII, and he grew up attending Presbyterian services in suburban Chicago.
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
Stephen Colbert's Most Meaningful Musical Moments: Colbert loves music and loves to sing, so Fresh Air's Terry Gross asked him to bring a few songs that mean a lot to him and tell her why.
Baby Jane Hudson is now 50 years old — or at least the strange and brilliant movie in which she's the main character is, just released as a beautifully remastered Blu-ray. Robert Aldrich's grotesque gothic tragedy is a cross between Gypsy, with its antithetical show-biz kid sisters, and Sunset Boulevard, with its decayed Hollywood glamour.
Director Ang Lee has a surprising affinity for the Indian hero of Life of Pi — that's his name, Pi, and he's seen at several ages but principally as a 17-year-old boy adrift on a lifeboat in the South Pacific. He's the lone survivor of a shipwreck that killed the crew, his family and a variety of zoo animals his father was transporting to North America for sale.
Actually, Pi is the lone human survivor. He shares his boat and its dwindling food supplies with a man-eating Bengal tiger.
Long before singer and pianist Michael Feinstein became famous in his own right, he had the privilege of working closely with legendary songwriter Ira Gershwin, as his archivist and cataloger. In his book, The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs, Feinstein writes firsthand about the musical world of the American composers and brothers, George and Ira Gershwin.
If you look up the name Lyle Talbot on IMDb, you'll find dozens of films and television shows he appeared in, starting with the 1931 short The Nightingale and ending with roles on Newhart and Who's the Boss. He made a movie with Bogart before Bogart was a star. He worked with child star Shirley Temple, was featured in the Ed Wood cult classics Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda?, and had a recurring role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as Ozzie's friend and neighbor Joe Randolph.