09 April 2016

fun stuff I may or may not get to: April 2016

Again with the BART Warnings
Many of these monthly previews last year started off with a warning about BART's shifting dates for track closures between West Oakland and the Transbay Tube, and at one point I mentioned that there were sure to be more of these closures affecting Bay Area travel in the future. Well, the future is now. Travel between San Leandro and Bayfair is via bus for certain weekends, starting with Easter weekend, because why would anyone need to get anyplace on Easter, and the bus bridge will continue into June (see here for more information and current closure dates). This is obviously not as major a shut-down as cutting off access between San Francisco and the east bay, but it will undoubtedly have some sort of effect on the train schedule, so leave yourself plenty of time to get where you want to go.

BART recently got some press attention for social media posts pointing out that the system is "at the end of its useful life" and that the trains are unbearably and even dangerously crowded (that's my description, not theirs) because they had no way of knowing there would be a tech-induced spike in employment. The usual angle to these stories was Wow, look at BART laying down some truth but in fact they're just softening the crowd up for an upcoming bond initiative, which is the sort of thing I used to vote for automatically because I not only rely on public transportation, I genuinely believe in it as a social, economic, and environmental good. Now it's the kind of thing I will automatically vote against because I am not voting another dime towards anything BART-related until (1) transit strikes are made illegal – it's ridiculous that the notoriously unhelpful and incompetent BART employees can hold an entire region hostage when their wages and benefits already are far better than those of most of their riders – and (2) BART shows itself more responsible with public money. To take just one fairly random example, BART employees get bonuses when ridership increases – uh, why? Ridership increases are due to employment and job location patterns, and have nothing to do with anything BART employees do. If anything, the ridership increases make BART an even worse experience. BART's spokespeople like to talk about "people who aren't happy if they don't get seats" but this isn't about getting seats, it's about trains that are so jampacked it is physically impossible to get on them and platforms that are dangerously overcrowded (I pray that in the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise, I am far from BART). Yet we still don't get full-length trains (that would be ten cars) on most lines during peak commute hours. Unbelievable. The whole "we had no way of knowing about the tech boom" argument is specious. because while BART was initially designed as a high-end commuter train it has been obvious for decades that that is not how it is used and that is not what the Bay Area needs. They should have started working years ago on getting longer trains and running them more often. Instead their already exorbitant ticket prices keep going up and the trains keep breaking down and necessary repairs are delayed until they have to shut down the system to get them done. Why would I vote to give this manifestly mismanaged system more taxpayer money?

I suppose I could wait until after this evening to post this, when I will have experienced what travel into San Francisco is like on a bus-bridge weekend, but I'm late enough with this as it is. I'm afraid some of the events I've listed have already past, but in the interests of just getting this done I'm going to leave them in. I've had some changes to my work schedule that I'm still adjusting to, but it does seem in general that it takes more running in life just to stay in place. So if you too feel you are slipping beneath the waves, take a look at Wild Rumpus's new offering, which is based on Roy Lichtenstein's famous painting Drowning Girl – more exactly, it's based on a poem by Kenka Lèkovich which is based on the Lichtenstein, and uses video by Paolo Pachini and Leonardo Romoli with music by the late Italian composer Fausto Romitelli (continue reading below). . .

Modern / Contemporary Music
Wild Rumpus New Music Collective presents the California premiere of Fausto Romitelli's final multi-media composition, An Index of Metals: A Video-Opera, on 20 April at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. See here for more information.

Not sure where to put this one, exactly, but Theater is a capacious enough term to hold it: Cal Performances presents poet Billy Collins and singer-songwriter Aimee Mann in what is described as "an evening of poetry, acoustic music, and conversation about the creative process" – I could skip the last item, but poetry and acoustic music sound appealing enough to overcome the awkwardness and inevitable disappointment of artists trying to explain how they do what they do. That's 24 April in Zellerbach Hall.

Aurora Theater presents The Heir Apparent by David Ives (based on a French play from 1708 by Jean-François Regnard), directed by Josh Costello; it runs 15 April to 15 May.

Shotgun Players presents Hamlet, directed by Mark Jackson. Right before each performance, each actor will pull character names out of (according to the website) Yorick's skull, and he or she will perform whatever name he or she pulls that night. I'm going to confess to mixed feelings about this – sounds as if it could be crazy fun, but I'm not sure that's what I really want from Hamlet, and it's maybe the kind of thing that is more exciting for the performers than the audience. Most of us are unlikely to see the production more than once or, for the dedicated and enamored, twice – so we're just seeing whatever we get that night, we're not seeing last night's Gertrude now playing Hamlet or vice versa. Also, given the length and complexity of the play, if each actor is learning each part, as we're told they are, the play is surely extremely condensed – again, I'm not sure that's what I really want from Hamlet. Sounds thrilling and high-wire for the actors, but for the audience? . . . I plan to go, nonetheless. If you'd like to as well, it's playing at the Ashby Stage from 31 March to 8 May. OK, update here, since I've now seen the show: while it's not perfect (what Hamlet could be?), and there was a weak link in the cast when I saw it, on the whole it is absolutely riveting and not at all gimmicky – in fact I can't wait to go back at least once. But even if you can only make it to one performance, you're going to see a fascinating, fresh, and thoughtful take on one of the most familiar works in the repertory. I'm leaving my initial thoughts here in case anyone else shares them and needs to be persuaded otherwise by a former skeptic who now speaks of this show with the zeal of a convert.

Berkeley Rep presents Mary Zimmerman's production of Treasure Island from 22 April to 5 June.

The San Francisco Opera's Merola Opera Program presents the fourth and final Schwabacher Debut recital for this year: baritone Kihun Yoon and pianist Mark Morash perform on 24 April at the Wilsey Center.

San Francisco Performances presents the San Francisco recital debut of soprano Christiane Karg, joined by pianist Malcolm Martineau in a program of songs by Berlioz, Debussy, Respighi, Hahn, Poulenc, Ravel, and De Falla; that's 8 April in Herbst Theater.

San Francisco Performances presents tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis in a program of songs by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, and Wolf, on 14 April.

Hilary Hahn is joined by pianist Cory Smythe in a program of Bach, Mozart, Copland, Antón Garcia Abríl, and Tina Davidson on 26 April in Davies Hall.

I'm often dubious about music accompanied by visuals, but hope springs eternal in the human breast and this looks intriguing: Cal Performances presents Gil Shaham playing the complete solo violin works of J S Bach, with specially designed videos by David Michalek. That's 14 April in Zellerbach Hall.

Cal Performances presents Murray Perahia in a program of Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven, on 17 April in Zellerbach Hall.

Old First Concerts presents Sarah Cahill in an exciting program of contemporary music written for her by Frederic Rzewski, Terry Riley, John Adams, Pauline Oliveros, Paul Dresher, Maggi Payne, Kyle Gann, and Annea Lockwood; that's 8 April at Old First Church on Van Ness Avenue.

Chamber Music
San Francisco Performances presents violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner in the fourth and final concert in their Bridge to Beethoven series, pairing musical responses with Beethoven's sonatas for violin and piano; this one features new work by Anthony Cheung along with Beethoven's Sonata Op 12 No 3 in E-flat Major and Op 96 in G Major; that's 2 April in Herbst Theater.

San Francisco Performances presents the San Francisco recital debut of the Duo Parnas (Madalyn Parnas on violin and Cicely Parnas on cello), in a program featuring works by Honegger, Ysâye, Tcherepnin, Cassado, and Ravel, on 10 April.

Cal Performances presents the Brentano String Quartet playing works by Bach, Haydn, and Shostakovich, at Hertz Hall on 10 April.

Old First Concerts presents the Ives Collective in A Samuel Barber Celebration, featuring chamber works written by Barber before he received the Prix de Rome at age 25. That's 24 April at Old First Church on Van Ness Avenue.

Early / Baroque Music
Having performed Bach's Christmas Oratorio last December, American Bach Soloists completes the cycle with his Easter and Ascension Oratorios, along with Buxtehude's Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn (Today God's Son Triumphs) and Kuhnau's Ihr Himmel jubiliert von oben (Heaven above rejoices). Jeffrey Thomas leads the orchestra, chorus, and soloists Clara Rottsolk (soprano), Eric Jurenas (countertenor), Zachary Wilder (tenor), and Joshua Copeland (bass). That's 22 April at St Stephen's in Belvedere, 23 April at First Congregational in Berkeley, 24 April at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, and 25 April at Davis Community Church in Davis.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents the Bay Area debut of the much-praised new vocal group Stile Antico, in a program exploring the intersection between sacred and worldly music. That's on 10 April at First Congregational in Berkeley.

See also Gil Shaham playing Bach's solo violin works listed above under Violin.

Nicholas McGegan leads Philharmonia Baroque in works by Beethoven – Leonore 3, Elegischer Gesang (Elegiac Song), Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage) – along with Mendelssohn's Symphony 2, Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise). Soprano Dominque Labelle and tenor Thomas Cooley are the soloists, and the Philharmonia Chorale led by Bruce Lamott is joined by guest choruses from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, UC Berkeley, and Stanford. You may hear all the praisesongs on 27 April at Bing Hall at Stanford, 28 April at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, or 30 April and 1 May at First Congregational in Berkeley.

At the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas leads Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with soloists Simon O'Neill and Sasha Cooke, 6 - 10 April; Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Rameau, Biber, Haydn (a piano concerto with soloist Ingrid Filter), and the Beethoven 2 on 20 - 23 April and Bartók, Ravel, Mason Bates, and the Shostakovich 9 on 27 - 29 April.

Opera Parallèle presents The Lighthouse by the late Peter Maxwell Davies, conducted by Nicole Paiement and staged by Brian Staufenbiel. That's 29 - 30 April and 1 May (matinee) at Z Space.

San Francisco Opera's Wilsey Center presents Ana Sokolović's Svadba-Wedding on 2 -3, 5 - 6, and 8 - 10 April. I thought about going to this, but tickets are around $80 yet it's general admission – sorry, no, general admission is what you do when you're a black-box theater in the Tenderloin and your top ticket price is $25 (well, maybe I'm showing my age there . . . how about $30?), and even then, you offer to reserve seats for subscribers and donors because sparing them the pain of open seating is one way of luring them to subscribe or donate. The Opera has sent out some discount offers for this event, but that's not really enough for me, as I've skipped free concerts because I didn't feel like dealing with general admission. You want to see how thin the veneer of civilized behavior is? Tell a bunch of elderly opera fans that a concert they want to hear is general admission. The jockeying for rights of first entrance and the struggle for favored seats will make the Lord of the Flies boys look like courtiers at Versailles attending the Sun King as he receives the latest ambassador. I'm not claiming any moral superiority here – at a recent event I practically vaulted over a feeble, white-haired old man in a walker who was, I will say in my defense, blocking the aisle during the initial rush for seats. Cue up Vissi d'arte – I'm very particular about how I experience my performances.

I have to say, my initial excitement over the Wilsey Center has diminished. I am put off that the feature mentioned most prominently and often in official descriptions of this new venue is that the seats have cup-holders and we can bring into the auditorium the (over-priced) booze and snacks they're selling. With what the Wilsey administrators would apparently consider a monastic severity unexampled since the austerities of the Desert Fathers, I can manage to go a whole hour – even two – without drinking alcohol or eating, and I'm not too thrilled at the prospect of buying an expensive ticket, dealing with general admission, and then having someone chewing or slurping in my ear throughout the performance. I also find it annoying that the Wilsey Center has reverted to the automatic 8:00 start time, even during the work week, that the Opera itself wisely abandoned a few years ago. There's the eternal question: will the potential interest and enjoyment of this performance outweigh the inconvenience, expense, and always attendant irritations? I'm afraid the Wilsey folks are throwing too much onto the bad side of the balance.


Lisa Hirsch said...

I went to Svabda-Wedding, which I liked a lot, and "general admission" turned out to be seating at tables, with a fairly small number of people per table. I had no problems getting a seat, didn't have to vault over anyone, and there was plenty of space between each person. You could move the chairs, which was good because the performance took place in multiple locations within the theater.

Drinks - and hardly anyone seemed to have them - were on the tables.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed the performance. On general principle I'm not paying those prices for general admission (for one thing, you don't know until you're there what the set-up will be). Except for the Goerne/Kentridge Winterreise, general admission seems to be the usual mode at the Wilsey, which I think is a mistake.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The web site said "cabaret-style seating," which I believe is pretty clear. Also, the box office would undoubtedly be happy to tell you what the setup will be.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

"Cabaret-style seating" means several things to me. I could call the box office to see if they knew what exactly it meant, though I'm not certain they would, but: there are lots of things I can do with my time and money and high prices + general admission + 8:00 starts means three strikes, I'm out. Other people are free to make other choices. My comments on open seating are not specific to this particular instance.

Michael Strickland said...

Love the "Hamlet" conversion story. Does that mean all the actors memorized every role or are they reading from a script?

And your comments about open seating are hilarious. For true savagery, I'd nominate the mostly elderly female crowd at SF Symphony open rehearsals which features a first-come, first-served doughnut component that seems to bring out the worst behavior that spills over into, "No, you can't sit in that seat, I'm saving this row for my friends."

Patrick J. Vaz said...

"I'm saving this section for my [imaginary] friends. Please go sit in the second balcony, or wherever it is people like you sit."

Thanks -- my comments are funny because they're true. As for adding free food to the mix, the Symphony is playing a dangerous game there, and I would not want to be the intern who lost the endowment through not buying enough chocolate-covered old-fashioneds to supply all the dowagers.

The actors in the Shotgun Hamlet memorize every role (the play is cut, but not ludicrously and is still an impressive amount of text probably well-known to many audience members). That is a lot of memorizing, so it seems that, as at a rehearsal, they can call out "Line" during the performance and one of the currently non-performing actors, sitting at the side, will supply the prompt. When I saw it, Gertrude did this several times; the only other performer to do so was Claudius, and she only called once (I almost gave her the line myself). But she was very good as Claudius. The woman playing Gertrude was the one weak link that evening, though I've seen her before in other things and she was good so perhaps it was an anomaly. The actors do carry bound scripts but rarely refer to them, and then mostly when the play calls for written materials to be produced (as when Hamlet enters reading and Polonius asks what he reads: "Words words words", or Polonius reads the king and queen Hamlet's love notes to Ophelia, or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take their commission to England). Other than that, the scripts are mostly used as props: the Ghost's shield, the gravedigger's shovel, things like that. Most other props, like the flowers, the poisoned cup, and the fencing foils, are mimed.