Thursday, October 31, 2002

ANDIGHONI. I just got back from a performance [NY Times review here] of Antigone by the National Theater of Greece, and a revelatory experience it was. Not revelatory of Sophocles, who barely survived the transmogrification, but of the impassable gap between ancient theater and the modern world. You may think I should have realized this before now, and I may agree with you, but it took the experience of hearing the play in Modern Greek to bring it home to me. Somehow, when I excitedly reserved my ticket a couple of months ago, I had been thinking of it as parallel to seeing the Sovremennik Theater of Moscow do The Cherry Orchard (which pleasure I had last year). As soon as Antigone came onstage and began to speak, I realized my mistake. In place of Sophocles's somber and unforgettable "O koinon autadelphon Ismenes kara" (OH KOInon AUtaDELphon IZ-MEH-NEHS kaRA), there came the brisk and unmistakably modern "Ismini mou!" This literally means "my Ismene" and is the functional equivalent of simply saying "Ismene!" (in an affectionate sort of way). Now, there's no way to translate Sophocles's line into any modern language and have it sound anything but silly: "O common self-sibling head of Ismene!" (Calling someone "head of X" rather than simply "X" is not uncommon in Greek theater; A.E. Housman incorporated it and many similar tropes into his hilarious Fragment of a Greek Tragedy.) Even interpreting it a bit more generously as "Ismene, my full sister, sharer of my (blood, life, what have you)" it's hard to make it work as an address from one living character to another. But to go the "Hey, Ismene!" route is to lose everything that makes Sophocles Sophocles. It's as if you were to stage Shakespeare in a modern version which turned "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I" into "Damn!" Part of it is the loss of the ancient world, with its blood-pollution, sacrifices, and god-infused thinking; part of it is the loss of poetic theater as a viable genre (comparatively speaking, it's a piece of cake to translate epic successfully). But what I want to stress here is that there's no more point seeing Sophocles done in Modern Greek than in English or Japanese; the connection is purely historical—and if you expect more, you will be disappointed.

Unless, of course, you are Greek, in which case you will not realize there is a difference. One thing that astonishes me about modern Greek culture is its insistence on its alleged continuity with Ancient Greece, and part of that is an absurd belief that Ancient Greek was pronounced the same as the modern language—that Sophocles would, like his many-generations-removed descendents, have pronounced Antigone "Andighóni." I once thought only uneducated people believed this, but then I read an essay by Seferis, one of the most cultured men of the twentieth century, in which he furiously attacked foreigners who pretended that the ancient Greeks used some sort of strange pronunciation, made up out of whole cloth, rather than the authentic speech of the Greeks! I sadly reflected on the ineluctable pigheadedness and vanity of human nature and closed the book with a superior snap.

Addendum: This subject reminds me of the time I was living in New Haven and the Yale classics department put on Euripides' The Bacchae. I had friends in classics, and as a result I wound up playing the god Dionysos, a most enjoyable experience—I made my own thyrsos and everything. As it happened, one of the women in the cast was about to go to Greece to study, had been learning Modern Greek, and didn't want to screw up her Sprachgefühl by using ancient pronunciation, so she insisted on reading her part as if it were Modern Greek (which is the way modern Greeks do it). I, in an amazing feat of linguistic prestidigitation, spoke most of the part the ancient way but used modern pronunciation in my dialog with her. And I thumped my thyrsos thwackingly on the ground. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

HOI POLLOI. In a recent discussion on MetaFilter, someone referred to "the hoi polloi" and someone else (inevitably) said that this was redundant because "hoi means 'the'." This whole thing irritates me so much I can't resist hashing it out here. The basic principle: To speak English correctly, you don't need to know any other languages. Isn't that obvious? The problem with "hoi polloi" used to be that everybody who counted had a classical education and thus had Greek drilled into them so thoroughly that "the hoi" sounded redundant to them; Fowler was so upset by this that (although he was generally sensible on the subject of loan words) he recommended that the phrase be eschewed altogether! These days nobody knows Greek, but thanks to Fowler and his epigones everybody "knows" that "the hoi polloi" is wrong, so the anathema gets passed down from generation to generation.

All right, let's take it a step farther. "Al" in Arabic means 'the,' so "the Alhambra" is redundant ('the the red') and should be eschewed. Not silly enough for you? How about this: "the Paraguay River" etymologically means 'the river river river'! That's right, para means 'river' and so does guay. The same is true of "the Yenisei River"; Evenki (y)ene means 'big river' and ses means 'river.' We are led to the conclusion that either 1) everyone must learn all other languages before daring to speak their own, or 2) "the hoi polloi" is perfectly good English, being the standard usage ever since it was first borrowed. "Hoi polloi" is treated in English as an unanalyzable compound, and that is as it should be.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

HOOKS AND CODS. I'm reading Geert Mak's Amsterdam (which has nice detailed maps of the city as it was c. 1300, 1575, 1650, and 1980—there's nothing I like better than a good historical city map), and I ran across the following passage (on p. 78):
For a good deal of the fifteenth century the rest of the Low Countries was plagued by a curious civil war, or rather a war between rival nobles and their adherents, the so-called "Hook and Cod Wars". Amsterdam tried—successfully, as it turned out—not to get involved in this dispute by simply forbidding its citizens to talk about it. By an order of 26 December 1481, it was officially forbidden for anyone to say: "Thou art a hook" or "Thou art a cod".
The war itself is curious enough (those interested in finding out more about it can do so here; you can either scroll down to 1349 or do a Find search on "cods"), but the fact that Amsterdam stayed out of it by forbidding people to talk about it is quite amazing. You won't find a bigger believer in free speech than languagehat, but... it gives to think, as the ponderously facetious used to say.
PUTA QUE O PARIU! A wonderful translation of bland American English executive-speak into more... colorful Brazilian Portuguese (courtesy, of course, of Merm).
READ NOT OK. The recent obituaries for Allen Walker Read focused on his claims for the etymology of "O.K." as an acronym for "Old Kinderhook"; he promoted these claims so assiduously that they have made their way into most dictionaries. But an article by Jim Fay conclusively (in my view) demolishes that etymology, proposing to return to the formerly accepted derivation from Choctaw oke(h), hoke(h). While Fay presses his evidence a bit ("...people of the 1800's who were interested in the frontier undoubtedly knew of "Yak oke" as a very simple, useful and expressive phrase.  The fact that they seldom, if ever, wrote the expression or used it in formal discourse does not mean they did not use it"), he is convincing enough that I have corrected my dictionary accordingly. I have also lost some respect for Read, who seems to have acted in an overbearing way without much regard for truth in this matter. [Via a MetaFilter comment (his first!) by TreeHugger, who has a blog rapid motion; thanks, Jordan!]

Sunday, October 27, 2002

MYSTERY! Avva has discovered a request for assistance at the website of the University of Otago (N.Z.) library: they have a number of items they haven't been able to identify, and have put images on the internet in hopes that others could do better. Of the sixteen items, ten are listed as having been solved (and the solutions are given); the remainder (numbers 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 16) are still awaiting identification. It's not as much fun as it could have been, since the scripts are known (Perso-Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Byzantine Greek)—I had my Languages Identification Guide poised and ready to seek out obscure Southeast Asian alphabets or Native American syllabaries—but anyone who knows Urdu, Arabic, Amharic/Ge'ez, Byzantine Greek, or (perhaps) Coptic should see if they can decipher one or more of them; Otago's Special Collections Cataloger, Margaret Tripp (her e-mail is at the site), will be eternally grateful to hear from you! (The Armenian page, #10, has already been deciphered by one of Avva's readers, dodo, and the translation, more or less 'items of Christian spiritual wisdom for each day of the year,' has been sent on to Ms. Tripp.)

Friday, October 25, 2002

ARTS & LETTERS DAILY IS BACK! Read Dutton's joyous letter.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

DIALECT, TRUTH, AND TRANSLATION. I've just gotten around to reading J.M. Coetzee's The Genius of Trieste in the Sept. 26 NYRB, and there's an interesting passage on his use of language I thought I'd share here.
Svevo's home language was Triestine, a variant of the Venetian dialect. To be a writer he needed to master literary Italian, which is based on the Tuscan dialect. He never achieved this mastery. Furthermore, he had little feel for the aesthetic qualities of language and in particular no ear for poetry: to his friend the young poet Eugenio Montale he remarked that it seemed a pity to use only part of the paper when you had paid for the whole of it. P.N. Furbank, one of Svevo's better translators, labels his prose "a kind of 'business' Italian, almost an esperanto—a bastard and graceless language totally without poetry or resonance." When it first came out, Una vita was criticized for its grammatical errors, for its unwitting dialectal usages, and for the general poverty of its prose....

To a degree the controversy about Svevo's command of Italian can be ignored as an affair among Italians, irrelevant to outsiders who read Svevo only in translation. For the translator, however, Svevo's Italian raises a substantial question of principle. Should its defects, which run the gamut from wrong prepositions to archaic or bookish turns of phrase to a general laboredness of style, be reproduced or silently improved? Or, to put the question in converse form, how, without writing a deliberately clotted prose, does the translator get across what Montale called the sclerosis of Svevo's world, seeping up from his very language?

Svevo was not unaware of the problem. His advice to the German translator of Zeno was to translate his Italian into grammatically correct German but not to beautify or improve it.

Svevo disparaged Triestine as a dialettaccio, a petty dialect, or a linguetta, a sub-language, but he was not being sincere. Much more from the heart is Zeno's lament that outsiders "don't know what it entails for those of us who speak dialect [il dialetto] to write in Italian.... With every Tuscan word of ours, we lie!" Here Svevo treats the step from the one dialect to the other, from the Triestine in which he thought to the Italian in which he wrote, as inherently treacherous. Only in Triestine could he tell the truth. The question for non-Italians as well as Italians to ponder is whether there might have been Triestine truths that Svevo felt he could never get down on the Italian page.
I love that quote "With every Tuscan word of ours, we lie!"—and I suspect it would resonate with authors attempting to write in literary languages around the world, from Viennese writing in Hochdeutsch to Cairenes writing in Classical Arabic to Javanese writing in Malay.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

DER ANFANG WAR DAS WORT. Der Spiegel's cover story this week is on language: its origin and its relation to brain physiology. Unfortunately, the article itself is not online, but the teaser has an interesting set of links on the right (most, but not all, in German).

Sunday, October 20, 2002

YOU SAY HIMAAHLYA, I SAY HIMALAYA. I would make this yet another addendum to my Kolkata entry below, but I think it deserves the prominence a separate entry provides. Grant Hutchinson has a brilliant rant on the subject of "correct" pronunciations of foreign names, as hilarious as it is spot on. This is a man after my own heart:
Yes, OK, but don't you think it's important to say things the way the locals do?

Ah, what a tempting notion that is. Who among us has not come back from some foreign trip intent on saying "yama" for llama, or "Nee-kar-agggh-wa" for Nicaragua, or "Mong-rrrhay-al" for Montreal? (I confess to a dangerous flirtation with "Budapesht" myself.) And who among us was not then kindly mocked by our friends, who pointed out jeeringly (but caringly) that such words were pronounced differently in English, and, since English was the language we had chosen to speak, could we not just speak it properly? Or were we planning on spending the rest of our lives saying "Paree" for Paris?

So to answer your question - no, I think it's sad and silly to say things the way the locals do if there's an accepted English pronunciation.
[From The Angry Corrie, "Scotland's Wet 'n' Windy Hillzine," via Billy Blogs.]
THUS SPAKE THE QUEEN. "I plucke up the goodlie greene herbes of sentences by pruning, eat them by reading, chawe them by musing, and laie them up at length in the hie seate of memorie by gathering them together; that I, having tasted the sweetenes, I may the lesse perceave the bitternes of this miserable life."
—Written in Elizabeth I's copy of the Epistles of St Paul, August 1576 or after.

Friday, October 18, 2002

CORNISH FOLLOW-UP. Long-time readers know how I feel about the Cornish revival. But it looks like there's no stopping it. (Via Pat.)

Monday, October 14, 2002

YOU SAY KOLKATA, I SAY CALCUTTA. It seems to me a very simple and unexceptionable idea that each language has its own names for things and that there is nothing wrong with that. In English we say "mountain" for what the Chinese call "shan," and I don't think either side feels insulted by the difference. This happy equanimity vanishes, however, when it comes to place names. The Chinese government does not want us to say "Peking," as we have for centuries, but rather "Beijing," which follows the government-approved pinyin rules. Well, fine, let them want whatever they want, but it shouldn't have any effect the English language, right? Wrong. As soon as the demand was made, publishers all over the English-speaking world bent over backwards to obey it. At great cost, atlases, dictionaries, and other reference works were retooled to reflect the new names of just about every city and province in China (some, like Shanghai, remained unchanged). Newspapers switched over. People agonized over whether it was still all right to say "Peking duck." I was flabbergasted. For the dubious benefit of pleasing the brutal rulers of China, everyone had to learn new spellings full of misleading consonants like x, c, and q.
(As for the allegedly greater accuracy of pinyin; it's true that "Beijing" is closer to the Mandarin pronunciation than "Peking," but they're equally far from, say, Cantonese "Pak-king," which is just as Chinese.)

All right, I could partially understand the desire not to offend the authorities in China, a large and increasingly important country with which we want to do business. But what happened when the repellent junta that rules Burma decided they wanted us to say Myanmar instead of Burma and Yangon instead of Rangoon? Exactly the same thing. Nobody replied "Fie on you, vile dictators! Aung San Suu Kyi and other democrats prefer 'Burma' and say they will restore the name when they can, so we laugh at your pretensions!" No, they hastened to change all the books again, and complain when people used the unreconstructed terminology. When I made a comment to that effect on MetaFilter, two people took me to task for my cultural imperialism. I'm sure they aren't junta supporters, yet they automatically took the side of the powers that be. And the same thing is going on now with India; the extremist Hindus running the place are insisting on "Mumbai" for Bombay and "Kolkata" for Calcutta, and they seem to be getting their way. [Note: For a better-informed corrective to this hasty sentence, see Kaushik's comment (#12).] Prepare to start saying "Bharat" for India soon.

Now, here's what I don't get. Nobody seems to mind that Spanish-speakers say Nueva York, that the French refer to la Nouvelle-Orléans, that the Chinese call this country Mei Kuo—excuse me, Meiguo—and the Russians Soedinyonnye Shtaty Ameriki. As far as I know, nobody cares that the French refer to Regensburg as Ratisbon or that the Hungarians call Paris Parizs. So why this concern for the English names of foreign places? And why in the name of Babel does this country, in every other way so self-satisfied and downright imperial, jump when even the pettiest dictator says "froggie"? All suggestions will be much appreciated. (And hell, feel free to accuse me of cultural imperialism if you like, just so you answer the question.)

Addendum: Scribbler brings up an excellent point in the comments: isn't the name of a country determined by the government of that country? He gives as his example Burkina Faso, formerly Upper Volta. Now, that's an interesting example, because according to my bible in these matters, Pospelov's Geograficheskie nazvaniya mira, the name was changed precisely because the old one had so many variations: Upper Volta, Haute Volta, Alto Volta, Verkhnyaya Vol'ta, etc. This was seen as impractical, and the new name (which apparently means 'land of upright/honest/incorruptible people') was meant to provide a unique designation that would remain the same cross-linguistically. This can be called the poster boy of country-name change; it completely changes the name (for a sensible reason, even), and there seems no prospect of the name changing back. Burma/Myanmar is the opposite: the two are alternate modernizations of the same Sanskrit preform, so that in some sense they are "the same name," and there is every prospect of the preferred English version returning to Burma (if, as we all hope, the current thugs are tossed out). Another point is that there was not much occasion to refer to Upper Volta, so that the name change didn't cause many problems; Burma is much worse from that point of view, and the Chinese situation still worse. Obviously each case must be evaluated on its merits, but my point still remains: English-speakers have a right to their traditional place names (and pronunciations: Lyons used to be pronounced "lions" and Milan "MY-lun," but they changed in the natural course of events, not by diktat from abroad or above).

Added addendum: Renee has responded with a touching and poetic entry in her own blog, on the onomastic history of her hometown Lwow/Lviv/Lemberg and the ghosts of buildings; I urge everyone to go there at once.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

GOPNIK WATCH. A while back I posted an appreciation of Adam Gopnik, who writes with grace and humor on just about everything. (Slightly earlier, I had posted Babbling Babes, which referred to his sister's work on infant language. It's GopnikWorld here at languagehat.) Having finally gotten around to the Sept. 30 New Yorker (it's tough keeping up with all the periodicals), I just finished his "Bumping into Mr. Ravioli" and had to write another paean. This piece starts off as a charming description of his daughter's imaginary playmate:
My daughter Olivia, who just turned three, has an imaginary friend whose name is Charlie Ravioli. Olivia is growing up in Manhattan, and so Charlie Ravioli has a lot of local traits: he lives in an apartment "on Madison and Lexington," he dines on grilled chicken, fruit, and water, and, having reached the age of seven and a half, he feels, or is thought, "old." But the most peculiarly local thing about Olivia's imaginary playmate is this: he is always too busy to play with her....

On a good day, she "bumps into" her invisible friend and they go to a coffee shop. "I bumped into Charlie Ravioli," she announces at dinner (after a day when, of course, she stayed home, played, had a nap, had lunch, paid a visit to the Central Park Zoo, and then had another nap). "We had coffee, but then he had to run." She sighs, sometimes, at her inability to make their schedules mesh, but she accepts it as inevitable, just the way life is. "I bumped into Charlie Ravioli today," she says. "He was working." Then she adds brightly, "But we hopped into a taxi." What happened then? we ask. "We grabbed lunch," she says.
He and his wife are a little worried, and he consults his sister, the child psychologist. She says there's nothing to worry about; "most under-sevens (sixty-three per cent, to be scientific) have an invisible friend, and children create their imaginary playmates not out of trauma but out of a serene sense of the possibilities of fiction." (I was amazed by the 63% figure, by the way; why didn't I have one?)
I paused. "I grasp that it's normal for her to have an imaginary friend," I said, "but have you ever heard of an imaginary friend who's too busy to play with you?"

She thought about it. "No," she said. "I'm sure that doesn't occur anywhere in the research literature. That sounds completely New York." And then she hung up.
From there he goes into a discussion of why modern urbanites in general, and New Yorkers in particular, are so busy all the time when their ancestors didn't have the problem ("Pepys, master of His Majesty's Navy, may never have complained of busyness, but Virginia Woolf, mistress of motionless lull, is continually complaining about how she spends her days racing across London..."), and segues back to the playmate ("Charlie Ravioli, in other words, was just another New Yorker: fit, opinionated, and trying to break into show business"). Then the story takes a turn that it would be churlish to reveal, but the last page is a touching little minidrama that many authors would have made a whole meal out of rather than just dessert—it reminds me of Mozart's penchant for tossing in a couple of totally new melodies towards the end of a sonata-form movement when nobody expects him to do anything but restate the key he started in. Sorry, it's not online, but it will be in his next collection. Buy it.

(Incidentally, a few pages after "Mr. Ravioli" there's a cartoon showing a grumpy little boy lying in bed and his father, sitting on a stool with a book open in his hand, saying "It's not about the story. It's about Daddy taking time out of his busy day to read you the story." Probably coincidental, but a nice juxtaposition.)

Update: The Gopnik piece "The Cooking Game" that I wrote about earlier is now online here.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

TARKOVSKY CORRECTION. A few weeks ago I posted an entry on the director Andrei Tarkovsky. I gave a couple of useful links about him and his father the poet, but the most gripping part was the second paragraph, in which I breathlessly recounted his descent from the shamkhals of Tarki. Alas, that appears to be a crock. I've just started reading his sister Marina's book Oskolki zerkala ('Shards of the Mirror,' or 'Shattered Mirror'), and the first section, Rodoslovnaya ('genealogy'), includes the following (my translation):
Papa's roots were in Poland. My grandfather was offered as an inheritance the ownerless herds and silver mines of the shamkhals of Tarki in Dagestan. This gave rise to the story [versiya] about the Caucasian origin of the family. There is no documentary support for this legend. Among the papers kept in our house after the death of Papa's mother was the genealogical tree of the Tarkovskys. On the parchment were little circles drawn in ink, and in each of them a name was written. I remember finding the names of Papa and of his brother Valya. More distant ancestors didn't interest me at all then. Afterwards, the parchment vanished. There remained an official document [gramota] from 1803, a "Patent," written in Polish, confirming the privileges of nobility [dvoryanskie privilegii] of Major Matvei Tarkovsky. From this document and from the "Dossier [delo] of the Noble Assembly of Volynsk Concerning the Noble Origin of the Tarkovsky Family" it is clear that Papa's grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great-grandfather were soldiers living in the Ukraine. They were Roman Catholics, but Papa's father was inscribed in the Orthodox church book and considered himself Russian.

The Tarkovskys had fair hair and eyes. It was Papa's mother, Mariya Danilovna—daughter of a Kishinev postmaster, court counsellor Rachkovsky—who mixed up the cards, being dark because of her Romanian grandmother [?: v svoyu babku-rumynku]. Papa's family name combined with her dark coloring caused Dagestanis to think he was one of them, and certain Russians to ask the traditional question, "Tarkovsky... isn't that a Jewish name?" [ne evrei li Tarkovsky?] Even before the war this question interested our housemates. Semyonova, for example, was sure the answer was yes. Papa's nationality worried [volnovala] certain audience members at poetry readings as well, and they asked him about it in anonymous notes. Papa, who grew up in a family where people of all nationalities were treated equally, did not answer such notes. In general he was a little old-fashioned; he kissed women's hands and did not shake hands with scoundrels [ne podaval ruki podletsam].
So it looks like the Tarkovskys were Poles, not shamkhals. Fiction is stranger than truth. At least nobody picked up the story from my old entry and republished it to fool a larger audience...

Note: The translation has been edited in accordance with a very welcome e-mail; thanks, Renee!

Monday, October 07, 2002

HUGH MACDIARMID. One of my favorite poets is Hugh MacDiarmid, a Scotsman of violently clashing ideas (both a staunch Communist and a rabid Scots Nationalist) and undeniable poetic genius that shines through the artificial but convincing Lallans dialect in which he chose to write his earliest (and best) poems. Herewith "The Eemis Stane" ('the unsteady stone'), from Sangschaw (1925); how(e)-dumb-deid is 'depth, darkest point,' hairst is 'harvest,' lift 'sky,' yowdendrift 'blizzard,' fug 'moss,' hazelraw 'lichen,' and yirdit 'buried'—the rest shouldn't be too difficult. Listen to it.
I' the how-dumb-deid o' the cauld hairst nicht
The warl' like an eemis stane
Wags i' the lift;
An' my eerie memories fa'
Like a yowdendrift.

Like a yowdendrift so's I couldna read
The words cut oot i' the stane
Had the fug o' fame
An' history's hazelraw
No' yirdit thaim.

Poetry update: I won't make this a separate entry, but there's a wonderful poem called "Mordred" by John Ashbery (who gets better every year -- I never used to like him much) in the Sept. 26 NYRB (you have to pay to get the poem, but the table of contents may help locate it for people who have the issue); it includes lines like "I was preternaturally wise/ but it was spring, there was no one to care or do./ It was spring and the sprinklers were on" and "But I do, I said. Then, well, it's like a clearing/ in the darkness that you can't see. Darkness is meant for all of us./ We grow used to it," but I'm really citing it for the last line, the new motto of the Hats page: "Oh yes well it is important to have a hat."
ARTS & LETTERS DAILY IS DEAD. Or at least comatose. But don't despair: Denis Dutton is continuing operations here.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

COMPARING TRANSLATIONS. A fascinating article by Wendy Lesser, in which she discusses the art of translation and has the (all too rare) opportunity to compare two translations of a modern author, in this case Haruki Murakami. Here are versions of the first two paragraphs of his The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, first Jay Rubin's:
"When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.

"I wanted to ignore the phone, not only because the spaghetti was nearly done, but because Claudio Abbado was bringing the London Symphony to its musical climax."
And now Alfred Birnbaum's:
"I'm in the kitchen cooking spaghetti when the woman calls. Another moment until the spaghetti is done; there I am, whistling the prelude to Rossini's La Gazza Ladra along with the FM radio. Perfect spaghetti-cooking music.

"I hear the telephone ring but tell myself, Ignore it. Let the spaghetti finish cooking. It's almost done, and besides, Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra are coming to a crescendo."
This comes via Billy's Blog; I agree with his preference in translators, but I'll let you decide for yourself before checking with him.

Update. A great discussion about translating Murakami, who I may actually have to read. Thanks, Nelson!