23 March 2015

This Victorian Novelist Knew About Buzzfeed, and It Was Everything

Conclusive evidence that '90s* kids knew all the best journalism hacks:

* 1890s

"Precisely, but the rubbish is capable of being made a very valuable article, if it were only handled properly. [ . . .] In the first place, I should slightly alter the name; only slightly, but that little alteration would in itself have an enormous effect. Instead of Chat, I should call it Chit-Chat!" . . . Chat doesn't attract anyone, but Chit-Chat would sell like hotcakes, as they say in America. I know I am right, laugh as you will." [. . . ]

"Now do let me go on," implored the man of projects, when the noise subsided. "That's only one change, though a most important one. What I next propose is this: – I know you will laugh again, but I will demonstrate to you that I am right. No article in the paper is to measure more than two inches in length, and every inch must be broken into at least two paragraphs. [. . . ] Let me explain my principle. I would have the paper address itself to the quarter-educated; that is to say, the great new generation that is being turned out by the Board schools, the young men and women who can just read, but are incapable of sustained attention. People of this kind want something to occupy them in trains, and on buses and trams. As a rule they care for no newspapers except the Sunday ones; what they want is the lightest and frothiest of chit-chatty information – bits of stories, bits of description, bits of scandal, bits of jokes, bits of statistics, bits of foolery. Am I not right? Everything must be very short, two inches at the utmost; their attention can't sustain itself beyond two inches. Even chat is too solid for them: they want chit-chat." [ . . .] 

"It would all depend on the skill of the fellows who put the thing together every week. There ought always to be one strongly sensational item – we won't call it an article. For instance, you might display on a placard: 'What the Queen eats!' or, 'How Gladstone's collars are made!' – things of that kind." [ . . .]

". . . And then, you know . . . when people had been attracted by these devices, they would find a few things that were really profitable. We would give nicely written little accounts of exemplary careers, of heroic deeds, and so on. Of course nothing whatever that could be really demoralising. . . ."

from New Grub Street by George Gissing, pp 446 - 448 (with omissions) in my Modern Library edition.

Previously: Williams Wordsworth has looked into smartphones, and Captain Ahab has pondered the advantages and disadvantages of GPS.

Poem of the Week 2015/12

Doom is the House without the Door –
'Tis entered from the Sun –
And then the Ladder's thrown away,
Because Escape – is done –

'Tis varied by the Dream
Of what they do outside –
Where Squirrels play – and Berries die –
And Hemlocks – bow – to God –

Emily Dickinson

This poem radiates between the mundane and the apocalyptic, the former grounded in concrete details of daily life (a house, the sun, the squirrels, berries, hemlocks) and the latter in abstract terms (Doom, Escape, Dream, even God). Oddly the generalized abstractions seem more real than the weirdly specific details, which is perhaps a source of the poem's uneasy power. The poem opens with Doom – doom in general, doom as fate, not an individual's doom. And yet Dickinson's metaphorical definition of doom conveys a sense of domesticity and even intimacy: doom is a house. It's where you live. And you are trapped in there, because, as in a nightmare, there is no door. So how did you get in there? From the Sun (the source of light and life, and frequently a stand-in for God, as in the opening of Book III of Paradise Lost: "Hail holy light. . . "). But not through the rays of light: from a ladder. This may just be part of the poem's use of very literal processes (you aren't just showing up inside this house, you have to have a way to get into it, and a ladder would make sense) combined with intense, surreal images: the ladder is from the Sun. It may also be a reference to, or a reminiscence of, Jacob's vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder from Heaven (Genesis, chapter 28). But here the angels are unmentioned, and the ladder is thrown away, because there is no escape once you're in there. That's the nature of doom. (Is it perhaps also the nature of the version of Christianity prevalent in the poet's nineteenth-century New England? While fewer and fewer believed in the literal nature of the Bible, they were still very much enmeshed in the social behaviors produced by it. But doom seems too harsh a term in this context. It would be a mistake to limit Dickinson's possible meanings just to one thing.)

Perhaps the house without a door may also be seen as the body that holds an individual's consciousness or soul, which could be seen as entering "through the Sun," that is, via God, or another source of generation. And you can't escape from the body you were born into. What happens outside your individual consciousness – that outside where the unspecified they do things – is, in some ways, a Dream. Again, very precise details are subsumed by an abstract state: just as the house and the ladder and the sun are a metaphor for doom, so the squirrels and berries and hemlocks are seen as ultimately unreal, as a Dream. And some strange things are going on: not so much the squirrels playing, but definitely the berries dying – even if that's just a vivid way of summing up the ripening/rotting world of a berry, it's a strikingly strange way of putting it, and the summation of life processes as death is suitable for a poem examining Doom. And then we have the hemlocks, bowing to God. This is most likely a reference to the hemlock tree that was common in New England, and you could easily describe trees bending in the wind (that unseen force!) as bowing to God. But it's also almost impossible for a literary person (for the sort of person who would read this kind of poetry) to hear hemlock, particularly in conjunction with bowing to God, and not to think of the poisonous herb used to kill Socrates for promoting impiety (it's difficult for me to believe that Dickinson wouldn't have been aware of this resonance in the term hemlock; there are plenty of other terms she could have used). On that level the poem's final line seems to be reinforcing such a punishment for free philosophical inquiry: the hemlocks bow to God. But on another evel, the line is rejecting such a punishment: the reader is mistaken if he or she thinks this is the same plant that was used to kill Socrates. We're wrong if we think there is divine punishment in that dream-world outside. As with the ladder, with its possible cryptic reference to Jacob's dream, so the hemlock suggests an evocative episode in humanity's relationship with heavenly authority. The Doom described remains mysterious, perhaps inexplicable, but powerful and inescapable.

I took this from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. In the years after her death in 1886 several volumes with selections of her work were published; I'm not going to go into her whole publication history (which is actually quite fascinating and entertaining, what with adulterous affairs and family rivalries and separated stashes of increasingly valuable manuscripts) except to note that all those editions tamed Dickinson's poetry by smoothing it out, reducing perceived irregularities, and imposing standard punctuation. Johnson's edition, published in 1955, was the first to publish her work accurately and completely. There is also a more recent edition edited by R W Franklin, which incorporates more current discoveries and thoughts about what Dickinson intended (again: a complicated publication history, which I am mostly gliding over). I haven't seen the Franklin edition but I came across this blog which has several interesting entries comparing the two editions. Another recent book, which I have not seen but which sounds intriguing, is The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems, which gives you an idea of what some of Dickinson's manuscripts look like.

16 March 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/11

The harp that once through Tara's halls
       The soul of music shed,
Now hangs as mute on Tara's walls
       As if that soul were fled. –
So sleeps the pride of former days,
       So glory's thrill is o'er,
And hearts, that once beat high for praise,
       Now feel that pulse no more.

No more to chiefs and ladies bright
       The harp of Tara swells;
The chord alone, that breaks at night,
       Its tale of ruin tells.
Thus Freedom now so seldom wakes,
       The only throb she gives,
Is when some heart indignant breaks,
       To show that she still lives.

Thomas Moore, from Irish Melodies

Tara is the legendary home of the ancient kings of Ireland, and the harp is the traditional instrument of the Irish bards (hence the use of harps as a slang term for the Irish, though I think no one uses it that way anymore). Once you know that, the mood as well as the direction of the poem are fairly clear: the days of glory have passed; the ancient kings honored their poets, and the poets sang their glorious deeds; and both have sunk into silence, taking the golden times with them – but an implicit hope for the future lies in the indignant, breaking hearts of the people, which show that the old ideals have not completely passed away.

What we have here is a mid-nineteenth century Irish-born poet offering a romanticized view of his nation's past in the hopes of inspiring its political future: the references at the end to Freedom, and to the indignant hearts that break, are clearly aimed at oppressive British control of its neighboring island. And yet Moore uses traditional English verse forms and vocabulary: the revival of the Celtic language would come later. But Moore's series of lyrics on Irish themes made him a hero to the Irish struggling for independence. Moore was writing in the heady days of the Romantic movement, which rejected the universal and the rational in favor of (among other things) the local and the long-lost, a tendency linked to the growing nationalism of the nineteenth century. Moore was a friend of Byron, who died at a fairly young age when he went to help the Greeks fight for independence – another attempt at restoring self-determination driven by admiration for a country's past. Moore was close enough to Byron to be a literary executor, and he at least acquiesced in the infamous destruction of the poet's memoirs.

I took this from Moore's Irish Melodies: The Illustrated 1846 Edition, republished by Dover Publications. It's quite elaborately illustrated, with early Victorian vignettes and borders engraved on every page, so if that style appeals to you, you should definitely check it out. It seems not to be available anymore from Dover Publications, but you can still find it on Amazon. I've kept the mid-nineteenth century punctuation, though current style is lighter; I do think that omitting the comma after The chord alone would make the sense more immediately available to a current reader.

09 March 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/10

An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish

Here we have thirst
and patience, from the first.
       And art, as in a wave held up for us to see
       in its essential perpendicularity;

Not brittle but
Intense – the spectrum, that
       Spectacular and nimble animal the fish,
       Whose scales turn aside the sun's sword by their polish.

Marianne Moore

This poem is sort of a modern version of the Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn: both take containers from ancient civilizations and use them for an analysis of Art, Nature, and the human urge towards significant ornament. Pulled glass is a technique in which the glassblower creates patterns on an object by pulling and otherwise manipulating rods of colored glass. This poem is based on an actual glass bottle from ancient Egypt that Moore saw in the British Museum (you may see it here). Long ago, when I was last in London, I bought a postcard of the fish-bottle because I found it endearingly goofy; I was surprised years later when a bit of research connected that object with this poem. The bottle is dated about 1400 BC, so this piece of glass has survived over 3,400 years. Yet Moore does not specifically mention its age; outside of the implication of the glancing reference from the first in the second line, she makes it stand outside of time, as we shall see.

In her first line, Moore declares Here we have thirst: the first thing to realize about this object is that it has a practical purpose; it is a bottle, and it holds liquids – a vital function in a dry hot climate like Egypt's. Yet thirst can refer not only to the physical need for water, but to the desire that led the anonymous artist to take the time and trouble to turn an ordinary useful object into a striking and luxurious one. That's where the patience referred to in the second line comes in: the glassblower could have created many plain bottles in the time it takes to create a fancy fish-bottle. And this is from the first: from the very earliest days of human civilization, we see the imperative urge to take something basic to survival (like a device for storing water) and make it significant through making it beautiful, which is a thirst that is never fully satisfied.

In the first two lines, Moore identifies the deep underlying sources that produced this object: thirst (in both senses, as described above) and patience – taking infinite, time-consuming care. And she closes the lines off with a period. In the third line, indented to signal a shift, she adds almost as an afterthought: And art. You feel that the art (which is not given the significance of an initial cap: art, not Art) is not so much an end in itself as a by-product of the personality that thirsts yet is patient. But art is undeniably present, an end result and culmination – it unites thirst and patience, and also becomes its own thing.

The bottle is a practical object, but it is also an artistic creation, and it is also (remember that it is shaped like a fish) a reference to the natural world. Moore compares it to a wave: that too is something that comes from the natural world (like the fish, and like the human needs that led to the creation of a bottle shaped like a fish). Its watery element also links the wave back to thirst. A wave is one in an endless series; they come and go, but here Moore describes the wave as held up for us to see: the artist is holding up an object for our closer inspection and meditation. Held up can mean not just lifted high but also delayed. The artist is stopping time, freeze-framing this one particular wave at its crest (as in Hokusai's famous print of the Great Wave off Kanagawa, and compare this also with the processional frozen in time and place in the Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn) so that we may examine its prime qualities, that is, its essential perpendicularity.

Essential here implies not just that perpendicularity is of the essence of a wave, but also that it is necessary for us: the wave is not only perpendicular in its nature, but we need it to be so. And why would that be? Waves are constantly in motion, endlessly cresting and then crashing. Why is perpendicularity essential to it, and us? Perhaps it is exactly because when a wave is at its literal height – when it is perpendicular to the sea – it has reached its apex, and if we can hold it there for a second before it rolls down and is replaced by another, we can truly see it captured at the moment in which it fulfills its necessary form. And art is like this: a created thing held fast in its moment, even for what passes in human terms for eternity, capturing something we thirst for in its brief perfection before life moves on. There is no progression in art, but rather an endless series of these moments, each essential.

Moore then clarifies what she's getting at; what she's describing is Not brittle but / Intense: waves and glass both shatter easily, but what she's more concerned with here is not fragility and not the ephemeral nature of things but the intensity that causes certain things to stand outside of time; that is, this object (the fish-bottle, the crested wave), which might seem transient, too delicate to last, is in fact strong and concentrated, enough so to hold out against the constant on-rush of time.

After the dash comes a description of the fish-bottle, but one that blurs to the point of obliteration the distinction between this created object and the natural world it represents. The spectrum – this may refer to the undulating waves of color broken out over the body of the bottle. It may also refer to the way glass – the basic material of the bottle – can, if cut in a certain way, refract light into a rainbow of colors: an infinity coming out of a natural phenomenon (compare this with Elizabeth Bishop's The Fish, in which a very detailed, precise description of the fish she has caught explodes at the end into a vision of rainbows – I wonder if Bishop, to whom Moore was a mentor and a friend, had this poem somewhere in her mind when she wrote that one?). A spectrum can also be used in an attempt to classify something by points on a scale – another version of fixing something in time, perhaps. I suspect spectrum is at least partly there for the musical echo with spectacular in the next line. That's a word that usually applies to something huge, flamboyant, eye-catching. It may seem odd to apply it to a fairly commonplace creature, but Moore's adjective forces us to re-evaluate an everyday animal we may take for granted otherwise. Spectacular derives from spectacle, and she singles out this object as if it were a grand show presented for our admiration. (Throughout this poem we hear the distinctive Moore tone: the erudite language, precise yet suggestive, with hints of scientific scrupulosity; the dazzled love for what might seem small and ordinary animals or objects; the unexpected but considered comparison; the high-minded wit.)

The other quality she specifically cites in the fish is nimbleness. Again, she could be referring to nature or art or both: she admires lightness of touch and sureness of perception, a speed and compression in comprehension. The last line of the poem – Whose scales turn aside the sun's sword by their polish – armor the animal (or is it the bottle? or both?) in the shining perfection of its scales, which can turn aside the destructive sunlight (the sun's sword) by their polish – polish can refer to something smooth and shiny, and also implicitly to the labor that made the object so – to the care in crafting a bottle that looks like a fish, or a poem reflecting on a bottle that looks like a fish. The admirable, natural or created, is all around us. A fish becomes a fish-bottle which in turn becomes a poem; all freeze in time something flashing, bold, and elusive.

The British Museum site gives further information here on the technique used to create the fish-bottle, and on the possible significance of its shape (since Moore omits this information and derives her own meaning from the object, I have omitted it while discussing her poem, but it's interesting so I'm sticking it here).

I took this from The Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by Grace Schulman. I bought the hardback when it was published in 2003 but it seems to be out of print so I am linking to the Penguin paperback, which I'm assuming is mostly the same.

06 March 2015

02 March 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/9

(Titania to Oberon)

These are the forgeries of jealousy;
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,
By pavèd fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beachèd margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land,
Hath every pelting river made so proud,
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,
The plowman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drownèd field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is filled up with mud;
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
For lack of tread, are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazèd world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, scene 1, ll 81 - 117

. . . because Shakespeare knew about everything, including climate change. When we studied The Tempest in Janet Adelman's Shakespeare class at Cal, she told us, when we came to the scenes of Stephano and Trinculo introducing Caliban to booze, that she found it remarkable that Shakespeare already knew the havoc alcohol would wreak on colonized populations (she had worked on American Indian reservations and seen its effects at first hand). In this excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream, harmonious, musical language tells us of a disharmonious world. I'm posting this because – and I realize that anyone outside of California is going to sneer at me for this – I've really missed winter this year, and I have to admit it's skipping us (possibly because it's doubling up on the east coast). I know, I know: I too roll my eyes when Californians complain bitterly when the temperature drops down to the low 60s. But there really is such a thing as winter in California, and I miss the chill, and the darkness, and the early silence, and I miss the rain. This year we never really got the cold weather that triggers dormancy, and this has given us a misshapen spring. I planted tulips, and for the second year in a row only a few came up, and those have full-sized flowers on stubby little stalks, to weird effect. Roses are blooming all over my backyard, but they are strangely lopsided. I think one of my apricot trees is dead; the other is spotted rather than covered with blooms. The lilacs started budding in December and seem stuck there. I've been describing a place with too little water, and Titania's speech covers a world with too much, but the effect is the same: an unhealthy, and even dangerous, confusion of the regular cycle of nature.

I took this photo in my backyard on 20 December 2014, and that is indeed a lilac starting to bud in late December. But it's now over two months later, and it seems stuck at this stage. It doesn't look very healthy.

To go through the speech: Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, meet accidentally in the woods outside Athens. The meeting is accidental because they are quarreling over possession of a little Indian boy, born to one of Titania's mortal companions. So in the first line, these refers to accusations Oberon has just made about various love affairs of hers (which he has made in answer to similar accusations from her). She dismisses his claims as "the forgeries of jealousy" and goes on to recount the problems caused by his anger: whenever she and her band meet, he shows up brawling, and disturbs them. In the second line, she refers to "the middle summer's spring," which means the beginning of midsummer, but the conjunction of summer with spring prepares the way for the confusion of seasons with which the speech ends. She refers to their sport, but clearly there's deeper significance to their dances, which maintain a sort of regularity and amity in the natural order; without them the wind sucks up fogs and vapors from the sea and dumps the excess liquid on the land. The wind is presented as a sort of orchestra for their fêtes; it is the whistling wind, and it's piping in vain. Let's just pause here a moment to bask in the beauty of the line To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind: the line is not really necessary, but it is essential, which might be a useful definition of poetry. Ringlets to me conveys not only the little circles in which they dance (emphasizing once again the tiny, other-worldly quality of the fairy kingdom in this play), but also curling hair tossing and bobbing in the breeze.

Back to the overflowing waters: remember that in Shakespeare's time (as well as before and after his time) there were medical theories about the disease-causing qualities of certain vapors or miasmas; there was also a theory, derived from ancient Greece, of four humors, linked to the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, the balance among which controlled health and general well-being. So an excess of water indicates a world dangerously out of balance. The food supply is being disrupted; the fields are plowed and grain planted, but it's too wet and the grain rots while still green without reaching the gold of ripeness. The comparison to a youth lacking a beard refers wittily to the tassels of ripe wheat. (Corn refers to grain in general, not to what we think of as corn, which I think had not yet crossed the Atlantic from Mexico.) This was of course written at a time when food storage was in a fairly basic state; failed crops for one year meant hard times, and for two years meant disaster.

The fold – the enclosure for livestock, usually sheep – is empty because the animals have died of the murrain (an infectious disease, referred to here by its older form, murrion) and are benefiting no one but the scavenger crows. Nine men's morris is a board game, but sometimes large equivalents were cut into village greens, and that has been filled with mud, and the quaint (that is, curious, intricate) mazes are sinking back indistinguishable in the grass, since no one is walking through them. The grass itself is wanton (that is, luxuriant and profuse, with an implication of something tending towards the disorderly or promiscuous – what might seem like merely a colorful and appealing adjective is emphasizing the main theme of the speech, a breakdown in what is becoming and orderly). Humanity is being threatened by the squabbling in Fairyland; both work and play are sinking into mud and disease. These are frightful things, but in the Fairy Queen's description they seem so lovely: perhaps this is a sign of her distance from mortal struggles, and of the beauty permeating her existence.

Titania continues that "human mortals want [that is, lack] their winter here" and night is not blest with hymn or carol: both blest and hymn imply a religious significance to this singing; and (remember that the play takes place in ancient Athens) Artemis, the goddess of the moon, responds angrily to the lack of due praise: again, the excess of water caused by the disruption in the regular order of things leads to disease (here, specifically, rheumatic diseases). The result is a topsy-turvy world that intermingle the seasons in a confusing and destructive way. Hiem is the Latin for winter, used here, as it often is in poetry, as a personification of the season. This confused profusion of different seasons appearing simultaneously leaves the world mazèd, that is, amazed, lost as in a maze.

Autumn is described as childing, that is, fruitful, breeding. This reference to childbirth continues in the end of the speech, in the terms progeny, parents, and original (that is, origin) and will echo through the play. Remember that their quarrel is about a child; and the play itself will end with all the sets of quarreling divided lovers joined in amity, and conclude (right before Puck's epilogue, which stands outside the action of the play) with Oberon blessing the newlyweds and wishing them healthy children: "And the blots of Nature's hand / Shall not in their issue stand. / Never mole, harelip, nor scar, / Nor mark prodigious, such as are / Despisèd in nativity, / Shall upon their children be." (Act V, scene 1, ll 411 - 416): nothing prodigious (in its now archaic sense of unnatural or abnormal) shall harm their children. Order is restored.

There are of course dozens of editions of A Midsummer Night's Dream; I use the one from Signet Classic.

27 February 2015

24 February 2015

fun stuff I may or may not get to: March 2015

This is an overwhelming month of possibilities. It took a lot of time to put this together, I'm sure it will take a lot of time to go through it, and it will take a lot of time actually to attend even a third of these offerings. Good luck! I hope the categories are helpful, though some listings could have gone in several. I would like to draw special attention to a couple of performances: first the 2 March performance of the Philip Glass Études for piano, featuring Timo Andres, Maki Namekawa, and Glass himself; and second Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble 27 - 29 March – what a great chance to bookend your month with live performances by two of the giants of modern American music.

Cutting Ball Theater's Hidden Classics Reading Series presents A Murder of Crows by Mac Wellman, directed by Rem Myers, on 8 March, and Strindberg's A Dream Play, translated by Paul Walsh and directed by Rob Melrose, on 22 March. And on their main stage, Antigone continues through 22 March.

You can do a compare-and-contrast with Antigones this month since Shotgun Players is kicking off its season with the Sophocles tragedy, this time in the recent translation by Anne Carson (the Cutting Ball translation is a new one, done by Daniel Sullivan). That's Antigonick, co-directed by Mark Jackson and Hope Mohr, and it opens 19 March and runs through 19 April.

Berkeley Rep presents Molière's Tartuffe, adapted by David Ball and directed by Dominique Serrand, from 13 March to 12 April.

San Francisco Playhouse presents Stupid Fucking Bird, adapted (loosely, I'm guessing) from Chekhov's The Seagull, by Aaron Posner and directed by Susi Damilano, 17 March to 2 May.

Custom Made Theater presents The Braggart Soldier; or, Major Blowhard, adapted from Plautus and directed by Evren Odcikin, from 27 March to 26 April. This is a big month for adapted classics.

Dame Edna Everage's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour touches down in the Orpheum Theater, 17 - 22 March.

Early/Baroque Music
Philharmonia Baroque features delightful violinist Rachel Podger, leading the band in an all-Vivaldi program, 11 and 13 - 15 March; as usual, they perform in different venues on different days, so check here for specifics.

Magnificat presents two oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier centering on Biblical heroines Esther and Judith; that's 6 - 8 March in a different location each day, so check here for details.

American Bach Soloists have a special Bach birthday concert on 20 March at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, featuring Anthony Newman on organ and harpsichord and Joshua Romatowski on flute.

Cal Performances presents harpsichordist Davitt Moroney in an all-Bach program on 28 March.

Lacuna Arts performs Domenico Scarlatti's Stabat Mater and Heinrich Schütz's St John Passion on 15 March at the Episcopal Church of St Mary the Virgin.

The Baroque Ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, directed by Corey Jamason and Elisabeth Reed, presents a (free) concert performance of Monteverdi's L'Incoranazione di Poppea on 7 and 8 March.

Ars Minerva, a new group founded and led by Céline Ricci, is planning on reviving some of the forgotten or neglected operas composed in the seventeenth century for the famously wild Carnival season in Venice. First up is a semi-staged production of La Cleopatra, with music by Daniele da Castrovillar and libretto by Giacomo dall'Angelo. That's 14 - 15 March at the Marines Memorial Theater near Union Square.

See also Cecilia Bartoli's appearance with Cal Performances, listed under Vocalists.

Modern/Contemporary Music
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble bring On Behalf of Nature to the Yerba Buena Center on 27 - 29 March.

Cal Performances and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present the fourth and final of the Project TenFourteen concerts on 29 March; this one features music by Nakano, Liang, Wem-Chung, Varese, and Crumb.

San Francisco Performances presents the piano Études of Philip Glass, performed by Maki Namekawa, Timo Andres, and Glass himself. That's 2 March at Davies Hall.

The 20th Other Minds Festival will take place 6 - 8 March at the Jazz Center. Check here for a full list of performances and ticket information. There's some enticing stuff there.

As ever, the Center for New Music has a full schedule of the newest new music; the things that catch my eye for March are all towards the end of the month: an open salon with Wild Rumpus on the 27th; the Plath Project, featuring five new chamber works, commissioned by the Firesong Ensemble, using Sylvia Plath's poetry, on the 28th; a tribute to the late composer Robert Ashley, featuring baritone Thomas Buckner and the sfSoundGroup in works Ashley composed for the singer, on the 29th; and the Del Sol Quartet playing the music of Huang Ruo on the 31st.

Blueprint, the new music ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has a concert called "Exotic Soundscapes" on 14 March, featuring music by Robin Estrada, Stephen Paulson, and Olivier Messiaen. The group is led by Nicole Paiement and the soloists will be Justin Cummings on bassoon and Sarah Cahill on piano. And then on 15 March the Hot Air Music Festival takes over the Conservatory from 1:00 to 9:00 for its fifth annual new music extravaganza. On 20 March there is a concert featuring the music of Elinor Armer.

For further new music, check out Thomas Adès at the San Francisco Symphony and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra's John Adams mini-festival at Cal Performances, both listed under Symphonic, or the three new operas listed under Operatic.

Cal Performances presents mezzo-soprano Susan Graham with pianist Malcolm Martineau in Hertz hall on 1 March at 3:00. You could then walk down to Zellerbach Hall for Cassandra Wilson's tribute to Billie Holiday at 7:00.

Cal Performances presents a rare US appearance by Cecilia Bartoli, with Sergio Ciomei on piano, performing works from her album Sacrificium, dedicated to the art of the baroque-era castrati. That's on 31 March and 2 April. I heard her back in the day in intimate Jordan Hall in Boston – just goes to show you, go hear all the young singers you've never heard of before, because tomorrow they'll be performing in big barns and the tickets will cost you hundreds.

San Francisco Performances presents mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke with pianist Julius Drake in a program of Haydn, Mahler, Liszt, and Granados, on 6 March at St Mark's Lutheran.

San Francisco Performances presents soprano Leah Crocetto with pianist Mark Markham in a program of Strauss, Duparc, and Verdi, along with the world premiere of the complete song cycle Eternal Recurrence by Gregory Peebles and a selection of torch songs. That's 22 March at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

See also Dawn Upshaw's appearance with Thomas Adès at the San Francisco Symphony, listed under Symphonic.

West Edge Opera continues its series of concert operas with piano accompaniment with Donizetti's Poliuto on 28 March and 1 April. Once again, the weekend performance is at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek (which is not accessible by public transportation) and the weeknight performance is at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley (which is accessible by public transportation, but the 8:00 start time is going to render this a non-starter for many working people).

See also the two baroque operas listed under Early/Baroque Music. The rest of the operatic offerings this month are all new:

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble joins with Volti to present Death with Interruptions, a new opera by Kurt Rohde. The libretto is by UC Berkeley history professor Thomas Laqueur (I think I had a class from him! if it's the one I'm thinking of, we read (among other things) Moll Flanders). The libretto is based on a short novel by Portugal's own José Saramago (but people, please: if you read only one Portuguese novelist, skip Saramago and read the great Eça de Queirós (which is sometimes spelled Queiroz, so check both spellings in whatever searching you do)). But by all means check out the opera, and you can do that 19 and 21 March at the ODC Theater.

For another opera based on a novel, check out the Composers, Inc presentation of Middlemarch in Spring, a new opera by Allen Shearer with a libretto by Claudia Stevens. That's at Z Space on 19 - 22 March.

Uksus, a chamber opera by Erling Wold with libretto by Yulia Izmaylova and Felix Strasser, set among the avant-garde Russians of the early twentieth century, will be on view at the Dance Mission Theater from 6 to 8 March.

Cal Performances presents Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich in an all-Boulez program in Zellerbach Hall on 12 March.

San Francisco Performances presents Garrick Ohlsson in the second of his two all-Scriabin concerts (the first was last December). This one will be 14 March at the Jazz Center.

The San Francisco Symphony presents Jeremy Denk with The Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 15 March and 16 March, with a different program each night.

See also the Philip Glass Études listed under Modern/Contemporary Music and Yuja Wang with the visiting London Symphony, listed under Symphonic.

Cal Performances presents Jennifer Koh in a program of Bach, Berio, and a new piece by John Harbison (co-commissioned by Cal Performances); that's on 15 March.

Chamber Music
Cal Performances presents cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han in an all-Russian, all 20th-century program (Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff) on 8 March.

San Francisco Performances presents the Takács Quartet in an all-Schubert program at the Jazz Center on 15 March and the Elias Quartet in an all-Beethoven program on 30 March at St Mark's Lutheran.

Chamber Music SF presents the San Francisco debut of the Sitkovetsky Trio, in a program of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms on 8 March; and the Pacifica Quartet in a program of Haydn, Ligeti, and Beethoven on 29 March. All performances are at the Marines Memorial Theater near Union Square. More information on these concerts and the rest of there season may be found here.

Cal Performances presents the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in three concerts, each led by Benjamin Shwartz and each featuring a piece by John Adams: Program A on 20 March has Shaker Loops, along with Stravinsky's Danses Concertantes and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A (with soloist Martin Fröst); Program B on 21 March has Son of Chamber Symphony (which is also being used by the Joffrey Ballet at Zellerbach; see Dance below) along with Beethoven's Eroica and Hillborg's Clarinet Concerto: Peacock Tales (again with Fröst as soloist); Program C on 22 March has Chamber Symphony along with the Mahler 4 (with soprano Ying Fang). I assume both the Mahler and Beethoven are in chamber-orchestra versions.

New Century Chamber Orchestra features Guest Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow (former Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic) in a program of Mozart, Grieg, Holst, and Brahms, 5 - 8 March (in a different location each day so check here for details).

The Oakland East Bay Symphony, led by Michael Morgan, has an all-Mexican program on 27 March at the Paramount, featuring work by Carlos Chávez, José Pablo Moncayo, Silvestre Revueltas, Rubén Fuentes, and Diana Gameros, who will perform traditional Mexican songs. Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner is the solo pianist in the Chávez piano concerto.

At the San Francisco Symphony Thomas Adès conducts The Unanswered Question by Ives, La Création du Monde by Milhaud, Luonnotar by Sibelius, and his own In Seven Days, with video by Tal Rosner. Dawn Upshaw is the soprano soloist, I assume in the Sibelius, and Kirill Gerstein is on piano; that's 5 - 7 March. Then Ton Koopman leads the orchestra in works by Handel and Haydn, featuring fabulous principal trumpet Mark Inouye, on 18, 20, and 21 March; and Semyon Bychkov leads the orchestra in the Bruckner 8 on 25 - 27 March. Michael Tilson Thomas is around this month, only he's leading the London Symphony Orchestra: first in the Britten Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, the Sibelius 2, and the Shostakovich Piano Concerto 1 with soloist Yuja Wang, on 22 March; and then in Hidden Variables by Colin Matthews, the Shostakovich 5, and Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F Major, again with Wang as soloist, on 23 March.

Cal Performances presents the Joffrey Ballet in a program of dances by Stanton Welch (Son of Chamber Symphony, to the John Adams piece), Alexander Ekman's Episode 31 (set to a reading of a Christina Rossetti poem), and Val Caniparoli's Incantations (to a score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky); that's 14 - 15 March (same program both days).

The San Francisco Ballet presents Program 4, with the Jerome Robbins Dances at a Gathering and Hummingbird by Liam Scarlett, 26 February to 8 March. The Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov Don Quixote returns from 20 to 29 March.

At the San Francisco Jazz Center, the Vijay Iyer Trio performs on 27 March in conjunction with the release of his new album, Break Stuff.

See also the Cassandra Wilson appearance at Cal Performances, listed under Vocalists.

Visual Arts
Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland opens at the de Young Museum on 7 March and runs to 31 May.

High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection opens at the Legion of Honor on 14 March and runs until 19 July.