30 September 2014

Haiku 2014/273

he lay there, begging
I passed, unseeing his sores
which of us is lost

fun stuff I may or may not get to: October 2014

Baroque & Early Music
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra opens its season with guest cellist Steven Isserlis in a program of Haydn, Boccherini, and CPE Bach; that's 8, 9, 11, and 12 October, in their usual various locations; details here.

Magnificat performs the Opus Ultimum of Heinrich Schütz 3 - 5 October, in a different town each time; check here for details.

See also Handel's Partenope under Operatic.

Chamber Music
At Old First Concerts, the Jarring Sounds play both early and modern music, including Respighi, Revueltas, Britten, and others; that's 17 October; more information here.

Cal Performances presents the Takács Quartet playing Haydn and Debussy and then, joined by pianist Marc-André Hamelin, the Franck Piano Quintet. That's 12 October; more information here.

Choral Music
Cappella SF is a relatively recent addition to the local arts scene, headed by Ragnar Bohlin, whose skills as a choral director are in evidence every time the magnificent San Francisco Symphony Chorus sings. Their program is called Autumn Light, the idea of which is to move from "a mood of summer brightness to the more pensive state of mind that typifies the change to the fall season." The music includes works by Bach, Rheinberger, Lidholm, Pärt, and Schnittke. That's 4 October in Palo Alto and 5 October at St Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. More information here. Palo Alto is out of the running for this non-driver, so I'm looking at the San Francisco concert, which possibly overlaps with Magnificat's 5 October performance at St Mark's Lutheran (see under Baroque & Early Music). But the Magnificat concert begins at 4:00, Cappella SF is at 6:00, and the church is right across the street from the Cathedral – maybe I could make both? I could always try for Magnificat in Berkeley on Saturday, but that's when the SF Conservatory of Music's BluePrint concert is happening . . . life is very complicated. . . .

The San Francisco Symphony celebrates Halloween with John Barrymore's 1920 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, accompanied by Todd Wilson on the organ. More information on that here.

Cal Performances presents the Australian Ballet in Swan Lake, staged by Graeme Murphy "with reference to the royal love triangle of Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and Camilla" – either that is going to be an inducement for you, or the opposite. Personally I am grateful that we fought a revolution in this country so that we wouldn't have to pay any attention to those people, but I'm not sure how far the production actually goes in "referencing" the Beloved Trio of the Tabloids. Fortunately, judging from the publicity photos (which you may see here, along with further information on the show), the dancers are all much more attractive than the inbred royals, which is an enticement for those as shallow as I am.

Cal Performances presents Sasha Waltz and Guests, dancing to Schubert, with music performed live by pianist Cristina Marton and mezzo-soprano Ruth Sandhoff; that's 24 - 25 October; more info here.

New & Modern Music
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music's new music series, BluePrint, starts its season with Nicole Paiement leading the ensemble in works by faculty member Elinor Armer and composers who have studied with her (and also Herzgewächse by that presiding genius of the Modern, Arnold Schoenberg). That's 4 October; more information here.

At the SF Jazz Center, the Calder Quartet continues its exploration of Bartok quartets; they will play quartets 2 and 3, and then violinist Iva Bittová will join them for further musical explorations; that's 5 October; details here.

San Francisco Opera continues its fall season with Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, and 22 October) and Handel's Partenope (15, 18, 21, 24, and 30 October and 2 November). Both have promising-looking casts; check them out and get further information here for the Verdi and here for the Handel.

San Francisco Performances presents Rafal Blechacz playing Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin (the latter composer is apparently his specialty). That's 14 October; more information here.

At the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, pianist Sarah Cahill plays Gubaidulina, Wolpe, Ravel, Bach, and Couperin; that's on 15 October; more info here.

Cal Performances presents Richard Goode playing Schubert's last three piano sonatas; that's on 26 October; more information here. (For more Schubert, see under Dance for Sasha Waltz and Guests, also at Cal Performances, with dances set to lieder and Impromptus, performed live by pianist Cristina Marton and mezzo-soprano Ruth Sandhoff).

See also the Cal Performances presentation of Marc-André Hamelin with the Takács Quartet, under Chamber Music.

The Berkeley Symphony opens its season with a program that includes the world premiere of Sea Shaped, commissioned by the Symphony from Oscar Bettison, the return of marvelous violinist Jennifer Koh as soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and Elgar's Enigma Variations. Joana Carneiro conducts. That's 2 October in Zellerbach Hall, and please note that the performance starts at 7:00 – I hope this is a permanent switch on their part to more sensible start times, but I fear it's only because this is the season opener. More information here.

The San Francisco Symphony, and the visiting London Philharmonic Orchestra, are both playing scads of Rachmaninoff. I like him, but he didn't even write that many pieces, and they've seemed so ever-present the last few seasons that he apparently has become for Davies Hall what Puccini is for the War Memorial Opera House – familiarity seems to be killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. Both composers deserve better. On 15 - 18 October you can hear violinist Isabelle Faust as soloist in the Britten Violin Concerto along with your Rachmaninoff. Mahler is also ever-present at the Symphony, but that seems different to me, at least for now: there's still excitement in hearing Tilson Thomas take another journey through these epics. The Mahler 7 is scheduled for 29 - 30 October and 1 November. You can check out the Symphony's whole month here.

Shotgun Players present Harry Thaw Hates Everybody, a musical by Laural Meade, directed by M. Graham Smith. It's another take on the ragtime-era story of Evelyn Nesbit. That's 15 October to 16 November at the Ashby Stage. More information here.

Visual Arts
The Berkeley Art Museum presents American Wonder: Folk Art from the Collection, open 1 October to 21 December; details here.

29 September 2014

Haiku 2014/272

stop and look upward
fanned out like a peacock's tail
nights burn with bright stars

Poem of the Week 2014/40

Adam Cast Forth

The Garden – was it real or was it dream?
Slow in the hazy light, I have been asking,
Almost as a comfort, if the past
Belonging to this now unhappy Adam
Was nothing but a magic fantasy
Of that God I dreamed. Now it is imprecise
In memory, that lucid paradise,
But I know it exists and will persist
Though not for me. The unforgiving earth
Is my affliction, and the incestuous wars
Of Cains and Abels and their progeny.
Nevertheless, it means much to have loved,
To have been happy, to have laid my hand on
The living Garden, even for one day.

Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Alastair Reid

Here is the original Spanish:

¿Hubo un Jardín o fue el Jardín un sueño?
Lento en la vaga luz, me he preguntado,
Casi como un consuelo, si el pasado
De que este Adán, hoy mísero, era dueño,
No fue sino una mágica impostura
De aquel Dios que soñé. Ya es impreciso
En la memoria el claro Paraíso,
Pero yo sé que existe y que perdura.
Aunque no para mí. La terca tierra
Es mi castigo y la incestuosa guerra
De Caines y Abeles y su cría.
Y, sin embargo, es mucho haber amado.
Haber sido feliz, haber tocado
El viviente Jardín, siquiera un día.

In this sonnet Borges gives us a monologue by a man with an experience he shares with only one other person: this is Adam, erstwhile inhabitant of the Garden of Eden, after he and Eve transgressed and were expelled into the world that we know. These thoughts must be occurring some time after the expulsion, since the "now unhappy" Adam has begun to have a clear sense of what his exile means: the unforgiving earth rather than the lush Garden, affliction rather than joy, and endless battles among his sons and their offspring (battles with the added perversity of being "incestuous," since the warring factions are all close kin). He is adjusting to his new reality: he asks, "almost as a comfort," if the Garden and even God really existed at all, or were only dreams and magical fantasies of his own. The "hazy light" (la vaga luz) in which he ponders these questions is contrasted with the "lucid paradise" (el claro Paraíso) he once lived in (Borges, like Milton, ended his life in blindness, and both poets convey Paradise and the Fall in terms of light, shade, and darkness). Yet Adam is hard-headed enough to admit that Paradise exists, though not for him. He finds happiness in having once been happy, and in the memories of the lost.

I took this poem from the Selected Poems of Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Alexander Coleman. The book contains both Spanish originals and English translations, which is handy, especially for people like me who can stumble through the Spanish if we have an English key.

28 September 2014

Modernism from the Meyerhoff Collection at the DeYoung

I guess the National Gallery of Art is undergoing some renovations, because there have been two local exhibits featuring parts of their vast collection: an Impressionist show that closed this summer at the Legion of Honor, and then over at the de Young museum modernist works from the Robert & Jane Meyerhoff Collection. Contrary to the usual practice in special exhibitions, photography was allowed in both; I assume this is because they come from a government-run museum. All of the photos of paintings below are only details and sections of the works; if you want to see the whole thing, the National Gallery allows you to search their catalogue on-line. The show is at the de Young until 12 October.

The entry way. All of the other photos are of paintings.

This is from Ad Reinhardt's Untitled (Yellow and White) of 1950. It's very forthrightly yellow, though I think it's meant as sort of a zebra painting, as in: is it black with white stripes, or white with black stripes? There are two shades of yellow there, though perhaps that's more a matter of how thickly textured the paint is.

The four below are all from Hans Hofmann's Autumn Gold of 1957. You can see the whole thing here. The paint textures are really rich in this one; it's good to see it in person.

Here's a whole painting: Frank Stella's Flin Flon IV of 1969. The exhibit is nicely arranged, with lots of space around the paintings, many of which are quite large.

Across from the Stella is an enclosed room which holds Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani, a suite of fifteen paintings that correspond to the fourteen traditional stations of the cross (I don't remember what the fifteenth painting in this series represents). Lema Sabachthani is a shortened version of one of the sayings of Jesus on the cross: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? which means, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? The phrase is found in Matthew 27:46 and also in Mark 15:34 (which gives Eloi, Eloi instead of Eli, Eli). The omission of the reference to God may explain why this Jewish artist chose a traditionally Catholic subject: the paintings are meditations on spiritual struggle in an abandoned world. They benefit from being seen together and in isolation, creating an atmosphere similar to that of the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

Below is a detail of the first station:

The one below gives you some sense (I hope) of the atmosphere the paintings create. Each canvas is well over six feet tall and about five feet wide.

Below is a detail from British artist Howard Hodgkin's Souvenirs of 1980-1984:

Below is a close-up section of Agnes Martin's Untitled #2 of 1981. I really loved this one so I had to include it here but none of the photos I took do justice to the subtlety of the colors or the textures. There are horizontal stripes of very pale red, kind of a beige-white, and very pale blue. I find her work very meditative; it rewards close contemplation. (That's another Martin painting I'm looking at in my avatar above.)

Eric Fischl's Saigon Minnesota of 1985 is a very large, unsettling work. It seems at first like some sort of family gathering in a suburb. But it's on four panels of different sizes, which look oddly cobbled together, so that there is no smooth surface. It's obviously summer, given the bathing suits and popsicles, but the very bright colors have an acrid edge.

Then you notice details like the man at the top and center of the work, who is missing an arm. Is Saigon a reference to the Vietnam War? Is the man a wounded veteran, who has brought the war home to Minnesota? In a note posted near the painting, Fischl says that the title came to him as he was working on the painting and noticed that some of the people were "[taking] on an Asian appearance while he painted. At the same time, the national press was reporting on an alleged child-abuse scandal in a small Minnesota town."

You wouldn't necessarily think "child-abuse scandal!" when you saw the painting, but there is something at least potentially disquieting going on in many of the poses. Even the characters who look like young people enjoying their summer take on an oddity in these surroundings.

The longer you look, the more fraught and ambiguous seem the relations among these people.

Across from the Fischl is Agualine of 1980 by Nancy Graves. I really loved this strong, vibrant, joyous work. Click here to see the whole thing and read some more information about the painting.

Philip Guston's Courtroom was in his controversial exhibit of 1970, when he puzzled and alarmed his public by returning to figurative painting.

Haiku 2014/271

cutting back branches
one bough snapped back and slapped me
that tree threw some shade

27 September 2014

Haiku 2014/270

cleaning the lint trap
my garments shred, thread by thread
and so my life goes

25 September 2014