28 February 2011

h/t John Bunyan

Given the piles of unread books I keep on buying, it seems unproductive of me to reread things, but then productivity isn’t really the point here. A few months ago I picked up Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters to read (highly recommended; I’m surprised it isn’t better known) and was slightly horrified to see I had bought it eight years ago, at a store now closed; at the time, I just had to have a copy right away, but other novels and other things in general intervened. One of the titular daughters, a relatively poor girl who gets romantically entangled in unsatisfying ways in an effort to improve her lot, reminded me of Becky Sharp – a more sympathetically drawn Becky, but there was enough of the Sharp aura about her to make me wonder if Becky was one of the character’s literary mothers. Then I watched Gone with the Wind again, which is a terrific movie despite its abhorrent politics, and thought that Scarlett and Melanie clearly were descendants of Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley. So I was wondering if Vanity Fair isn’t perhaps one of the most influential novels in English, and I remembered that Robertson Davies recommended reading it several times, once when you were young, in the making-your-way-in-the-world years, and later, when you were older. So now that I’m older, I felt compelled to re-read Vanity Fair.

I think I hadn’t read it since college. I still have the paperback edition I bought then, which cost $4.25 (it's stamped on the front cover, right below where I wrote my name and dorm room), and it includes Thackeray’s own illustrations, which is a plus even though I don’t like his drawings of Becky (I think he makes her too plain and too obviously calculating). Geoffrey and Kathleen Tillotson were the editors, and somewhere in their preface, most of which I skipped, they say they’re trying to give the reader the same experience as the novel’s first readers, which is a nice idea except we don’t came to the book in the same cultural context as the first readers. The annotations are sparse and somewhat perverse; we are notified of tiny differences between manuscript and printed text, but information known to Thackeray’s contemporaries and countrymen that might be useful or interesting to modern readers (e.g., “the King” is which king?) isn’t supplied. We might be told that a Latin tag is from Sallust, but not given a translation. But I go back and forth on the value of annotations anyway.

The story sweeps right along, annotated or not, and I was caught up in rediscovering the details, though I did remember the general movement of the plot, and the famous scenes of Waterloo, and in vaguer ways the clever portraits and rueful musings. I was a bit surprised that I couldn’t remember much that happened after Rawdon’s sister-in-law springs him from debtor’s prison and he surprises Becky with Lord Steyne. The reason I couldn’t remember is that the novel falls off a bit after that – the story bogs down with a long digression about the narrator meeting Amelia Sedley and her brother Jos, and the faithful Dobbin, in Germany. It all seems like filler, and the filling includes lots of heavy humor about German names and court rituals and lots of sentimental and unfortunately non-satirical stuff about how dear and winsome Amelia is. Up until then I found her quite appealing; a sweet and fairly ineffectual woman, who blossoms (not always in appealing ways) under kindness but withdraws under pressure. Her sad little attempts to earn some money after her stockbroker father’s bankruptcy are quite moving. She comes across in a less appealing light in the German scenes, after she has come into enough money to be socially visible and desirable again (like many features of Vanity Fair, that rings true in America today – the way the financially unfortunate simply drop out of the sightlines of the bustling commercial world – the Vanity Fair of the title – the world that insists it’s the real world).

What makes her less appealing is one of the things I had forgotten, or been too young to realize when I last read the book – my memory was that she was either too innocent or too self-centered in her widowhood to realize how Dobbin feels about her, but she knows about it all along, and strings him along because he’s useful. Of course, he puts up with it for years, but the supposedly wicked Becky at least tries to please the people she’s using. Both Dobbin and Amelia prefer to channel their love into idealized images rather than actual physical beings; Thackery comes right out and tells us that Dobbin's lengthy separations from her helped him maintain his devotion, and after her husband’s death she readily forgets the unsatisfactory nature of their very brief marriage. This too is part of the novel’s sexual astuteness.

When I read the book years ago, the critical consensus was that all novels should aspire to be by Henry James, with maybe a dash of Henry Miller for our livelier times. Thackeray’s narrative intrusions and (alleged) sexual prudery were considered unfortunate weaknesses. My first paperback copy, which I no longer have, included an introduction that roundly condemned Thackeray for not stating boldly whether Becky was, in fact, having an affair with Lord Steyne. Reading the novel now, I have to say: you’re kidding, right? It’s completely obvious what’s going on; and in fact Thackeray's portrayal is extremely realistic, since we see the story as we usually see the stories around us: there are outward actions that conform, we assume, to a small number of possible interpretations. (Isn't this how Thackeray shows us the battle of Waterloo? Not the battle itself, but the surrounding ripples.) We make assumptions, given the nature of those involved. The insistence on some sort of explicit statement of the obvious now seems more banal in its dated “boldness,” more quaint than any Victorian reticence; isn’t the novel about living in the world – the worldly world, where one knows these things? It's part of the game he's playing with how we know what we think we know.

And years ago, at Berkeley, when I re-read the novel for a course in Victorian literature, the professor pointed out that it’s irrelevant whether Becky was technically an adulteress or not: we already have plenty of evidence that she’s materialistic, selfish, and manipulative (though also good-humored, sensible, and realistic in a way that makes her very likeable; I re-read The Eustace Diamonds when I finished Vanity Fair, because I remembered that Trollope refers to Lizzie Eustace as “a Becky Sharp,” but Trollope takes the radical step of making his heroine genuinely dislikeable – not entirely unsympathetic, but certainly dislikeable). Do we really need a sexual misdeed spelled out for us in order to find her a less than ideal friend and wife? The professor’s point was that this prurient approach to morality implicated us, the readers, as little better than the tittering gossips of Vanity Fair. So critics were already starting to talk that way.

Maybe that was the breaking dawn of post-modernism, because re-reading Vanity Fair I was struck by how post-modern this novel from 1848 seemed, in its awareness of itself as a narrative, and narrative as a socially created construct, and its awareness of its readers’ assumptions about narratives and what they mean; in its interest in power relations, in limited and shifting perspectives, in global perspectives and moral relativities (both of which usually take economic forms), and in pastiche and irony. It’s the prefaces and essays in the old paperbacks that now seem dated, trapped in the passing certainties of their times. This is why novels last but criticism is mostly like a fly preserved in amber; my edition of Wives and Daughters makes much of the novel’s critique of the patriarchy, which strikes me as not only dated but a bit silly, since the novel is very clearly (as the title might tell you) about female power relationships, which include but are by no means limited to "the patriarchy.”

I was so struck by these qualities that I first associated the novel’s onomatopoetic names with Pynchon (at least with what I remembered of The Crying of Lot 49, the only one of his novels I’ve read). Then I realized that of course such names are a long-standing tradition in English literature, not only comically as in Ben Jonson but allegorically as in John Bunyan, whose Pilgrim’s Progress is the source of the novel’s title. There’s an air of lost moral certainty in the reference to Bunyan that underscores the triviality and futility of many of the struggles so entertainingly depicted in the novel, and perhaps adds to the sadness of the book, because that’s what struck me the most while re-reading – not just the subtle sexual psychology, or the mildly shocking (to us) extent to which nineteenth-century British novels are about money (or, more exactly, about how the middle class is supposed to get it) – but the pervading sadness of the book.

A younger reader enjoys Thackeray’s famous cynicism, finds the humor in it, and feels flattered at understanding so much of the world. Most young people love to love the wicked, and Becky is in some ways an admirable philosopher: equal to most disasters, she shrugs and good-humoredly moves on. But an older reader is struck with how the characters cling to whatever little things bring them some little joy, with their fragile hold on the world and even on their own children, with their solitude, their loneliness: Rawdon and his son, both deserted by Becky; Rawdon’s worldly wise aunt, dying in paranoid, manipulative isolation; Mr Sedley’s increasingly disastrous attempts to regain his hold in the world; Sir Pitt Crawley, living in isolated squalor; Dobbin, clinging to his love for a woman he rarely sees; Amelia wandering alone on dusty streets, hoping for a glimpse of the son taken by her late husband’s rich relatives, who have rejected her; Becky, bright and clever Becky, living in a German garret, drinking too much and starting to rouge over her aging appearance.

Haiku 2011/59

tries to find shelter
stretch out journeys in searching:
move onward, pilgrim

Jenny Lin plays Preludes and Fugues

San Francisco Performance’s Young Masters series is a great place to go to discover performers who will soon be playing in the larger neighborhood venues that house the symphony and the opera. Yesterday afternoon, despite the combined forces of an unexpectedly beautiful day, the looming Oscars, and the final Bay Area performance of the Vienna Philharmonic, there was a substantial and remarkably attentive audience, ranging from the very old to a surprising number of children, for pianist Jenny Lin, who played an intriguing mash-up of Shostakovich and Bach. She used selections from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier and from Shostakovich’s response to that work, his Preludes and Fugues Op 87, to create five triplets; each triplet was constructed like a sandwich, with a Prelude and Fugue by Shostakovich as the bread and a Prelude and Fugue by Bach as the filling. There was no separation between the sandwiches, so the melodies flowed forth in dazzling profusion, in Lin’s strong and articulate account. As an encore she played a piece by Catalan composer Federico Mompou, whom she features on an upcoming CD. Lin plays a lot of contemporary music, and much as I enjoyed this concert I would love to have her come back in a concert of new music.

27 February 2011

Love and Death; or, The Poet and the Princess

Fortunately the symphonic excitements happening elsewhere in the Bay Area last night didn’t keep Ensemble Parallele's production of Philip Glass’s Orphee from getting what looked like an almost full house, though they may have been tapping a new audience source, since the crowd looked distinctly more artsy and stylish (and were noticeably better behaved) than the usual crowd. Good to know that word is getting out about Ensemble Parallele, because their adventurous work needs to continue; the year is young, but there’s a good chance that this production is theatrically and conceptually more striking than any other operas we’re going to get around here, except maybe for Ensemble Parallele’s own upcoming (August 19-21) production of one of my favorite operas, 4 Saints in 3 Acts.

Though the visceral emotional impact of last year’s Wozzeck wasn’t quite there, that is no doubt because the Glass/Cocteau work is in itself more playful and ambiguous than the Berg/Buchner. Last week I watched Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy, for what I realized was the first time; I had assumed I had seen at least one of the films before, possibly back in college, because I am old enough so that the college experience included seeing foreign art films in funky repertory theaters, rather than getting black-out drunk every weekend. (Orphee is about, among other things, aging and wondering about your presence among the rising generations, so you see it all ties in.) Orphee itself was probably my least favorite of the three, but for reasons that make it prime operatic material: the others are more about poetically ambiguous moments of surrealism and Orphee is more about plot and inter-relationships, and it’s handicapped in that regard by the perpetually petulant Orphee of Jean Marais; last night Eugene Brancoveanu’s strong clear voice and appealing presence made the character instantly more sympathetic and interesting.

It helped to have seen the movies so recently, since the plot can be a bit hard to follow, especially if you're expecting a more straightforward rendition of the Orpheus/Eurydice story. But this production kept the locales and mood clear enough (and of course Glass’s score helps differentiate locales, from the antic, carnival-like sounds of the opening scene at the Poet’s Café to the plaintive flute, reminiscent of Gluck, that pierces the Underworld): the domestic scenes were in soft blues and browns; the Underworld scenes used a circus theme (very suitable, as an inversion and parody of our bourgeois world, with clowns as the imps of Hell) in black and red with accents of white and gold. (If the domestic scenes dragged a bit, that is simply in the nature of domestic scenes when contrasted with the glittering and disreputable circus.) The Roue Cyr, a large metal circle which is manipulated by a human rider inside functioning as the spokes of a wheel, took the place of the film’s mirrors as the entry to the Underworld.

This underworld included several fun and talented circus artists – and though it goes against the raffish, outsider nature of the circus Cocteau admired to refer to all circus performers as artists, to our eyes they clearly are artists (aerialist Marina Luna, Roue Cyr artist David Poznanter, and clown Ajina Slater). The circus theme is one of several references to Cocteau’s interests and milieu that are built into the production; another is that the banal plastic dishwashing gloves which are the key to passing through to the underworld become boxing gloves once one is in the Underworld: this is a reference to Cocteau’s interest in boxing (which was also no doubt an interest in boxers).

I knew the reason for the boxing gloves because, thanks to my early arrival, I was in my seat when conductor Nicole Paiement came out for a pre-performance talk, which was for once informative and useful. Here are some other points she made: Glass’s music for this opera, with its transparent scoring and emphasis on supporting the words, is very much in line with classic French operatic style; and the trance-like, dreamlike state his musical repetitions induce is a neat fit with Cocteau’s dreamlike surrealism.

One twist from the usual Orpheus legend is that his great love seems to be not Eurydice (the extremely appealing Susannah Biller), but Death, who takes the form of an elegant and imperious Princess (the fabulous Marnie Breckenridge). Death returns the favor, a violation of the rules of the Underworld (the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the Underworld is an element which, somewhat surprisingly, came out more strongly in this circus staging than in the film itself). The Princess and Orfee’s underworld confession of mutual, transgressive love, right before the Princess sacrifices them both by reversing time and restoring Orfee unconditionally to Eurydice, is the emotional highlight of the evening, brought to intense life by Breckenridge and Brancoveanu. (A minor complaint about the staging: it would be witty to have Death smoking, but when the other characters occasionally light up it seems silly and dated; after all, the opera is supposed to take place in a timeless land, the sort of improbable place where a policeman can refer to a poet as a national hero and no one laughs.)

I haven’t had a chance to mention all of those involved in the production, but it’s a sign of Ensemble Parallele’s outstanding work that they can get so many extremely talented people to put in so much work for what was unfortunately only a two-performance run: in addition to Brancoveanu, Breckenridge, and Biller, whom I’ve already mentioned, and Nicole Paiement conducting, we had John Duykers as Heurtebise, Philip Skinner as a Poet and a Judge, Thomas Glenn as Cegeste and a Reporter, Brooke Munoz as Aglaonice, and Austin Kness as the Police Commissioner. Brian Staufenbiel was the director, Austin Forbord did the videos, Matthew Antaky designed the lighting, Christine Crook designed the costumes, and the supernumeraries, who add a lot to the grotesque and menacing circus Underworld, are Michael Harvey, Charlie Lichtman, and Michael Strickland.

Haiku 2011/58

from higher branches
Bob, beneath the falling drops,
tries to find shelter

26 February 2011

Haiku 2011/57

green leaves slick with rain
bob beneath the falling drops
from higher branches

25 February 2011

fun stuff I may or may not get to: March

March is coming in like a lion and going out like a lion – just a scary-busy month, if you are theatrically/musically inclined.

The Other Minds Festival has its annual three-day run of new music March 3-5 at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco.

Volti combines with the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir for a program of new choral music in various locales, March 4-6.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents a concert version of Handel’s great opera Alcina March 5 (evening) and 6 (matinee). It’s free but tickets are required; you can reserve them by calling 415-503-6275 or at www.sfcm.edu. And on Saturday March 12, their BluePrint New Music Ensemble presents the world premiere of Manly Romero's Doppelganger, winner of the inaugural Hoefer Prize.

ACT presents Pinter’s The Homecoming, March 3-27.

Berkeley/West Edge Opera presents Buffy Baggott in The Carmen Fixation, an adaptation of Bizet, March 5, 9, 11, and 13.

On Thursday March 10 the Berkeley Symphony offers music by Stravinsky (Symphonies of Wind Instruments), Shostakovich (Chamber Symphony, Op 110a), and MacMillan (Seven Last Words from the Cross).

Cutting Ball Theater presents Lady Grey (in ever lower light) and other plays, by Will Eno, starting March 11 and running through April 10.

Saturday, March 19, Chora Nova presents “Of Loss and Longing: Music of Rheinberger and Mendelssohn” at First Congregational in Berkeley.

March 18-20 in various locales Magnificat joins with the Dell’Arte Company to present Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso.

The San Francisco Symphony presents the Mass in B minor March 16, 18, 19, and 20.

March 19-27, San Francisco Ballet presents Balanchine’s Coppelia.

March 24-27 in various locales New Century Chamber Orchestra presents an evening of Schubert (lieder sung by Melody Moore), Bach, and Mendelssohn.

On Friday March 25 Old First Concerts presents Composers Inc. in a celebration of Andrew Imbrie, featuring works by Imbrie and his students and colleagues.

Cal Performances presents the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in its final tour, March 3-5; on March 13 they have Les Percussions de Strasbourg in the afternoon and Jonas Kaufmann making his local debut in the evening; the next day, they present a “composer portrait” concert in honor of Pierre Boulez; March 24-27 they have the Castleton Festival Opera in two performances each of The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring; and March 26-27 they have the Tallis Scholars in “the Victoria project,” a two-day exploration of music by Tomas Luis de Victoria and other Spanish Renaissance composers.

San Francisco Performances also starts the month off with dance: the Stephen Petronio Company in the west coast premiere of I Drink the Air Before Me, set to music by Nico Muhly. On March 8, SFP presents the Pacifica Quartet, whom I love for their marathons of the Elliott Carter string quartets (and I love San Francisco Performances for presenting the Carter marathon twice), along with clarinetist Jorg Widmann in music by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Widmann himself, and Brahms. On March 18, they present baritone Christopher Maltman in recital; on March 20, Julie Albers on cello and Adam Neiman on piano in works by Beethoven, de Falla, and Rachmaninoff; on March 24, violinist Leila Josefowicz along with pianist John Novacek in works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Tuur, and Schubert; and March 30 through April 3, the Paul Taylor Dance Company in three different programs.

Haiku 2011/56

cats run for shelter
staring patiently beneath
green leaves slick with rain

24 February 2011

Haiku 2011/55

just over the hill
already rain fills gutters
cats run for shelter

23 February 2011

Haiku 2011/54

that's your paradise,
shining off in the distance,
just over the hill

22 February 2011

Haiku 2011/53

snakes shelter beneath
the apple tree's spreading limbs --
that's your paradise

21 February 2011

Haiku 2011/52

long after sunset
rocks hold diminishing heat
snakes shelter beneath

20 February 2011

Hilary Hahn at Herbst

Hilary Hahn never disappoints. I went out into the cold wet weather last night to hear her at Herbst Theater, along with pianist Valentina Lisitsa. After a week of rain and gloom – and I have to say, I generally enjoy such weather, and we don’t get all that much of it around here, but I also like contrasts – the two young women came out on stage looking fresh and springlike, both in long strapless gowns; Lisitsa’s a solid shade of pale green-gray and Hahn’s a rich yellow, covered with ornate and fanciful flowers in soft shades of jade, rose, and turquoise. They launched right into Kreisler’s Variations on a Theme by Corelli (in the style of Tartini), an elegant and virtuosic short introduction to the program. Strengthening the impression of sweetly glowing April in the middle of soggy February was the next piece, Beethoven’s Sonata in F Major for Violin and Piano, Opus 24, “Spring”. The second movement in particular was just one of those musical benedictions that seem like a visitation from another world, and a better one. The first half of the concert ended with Ives’s fairly brief Violin Sonata No. 4, “Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting.” The first part of the sonata was spikey and march-like in the Ives way, followed by a more flowing section and resolving in the solemn grace of the old hymn “Shall We Gather by the River.” Ives is an interesting Janus of a composer; his style is often aggressively and creatively dissonant and “modern” but his materials and subject matter look back nostalgically on a semi-rural America of camp meetings and small-town parades and upright Protestants singing solemn hymns in their upright churches, an America that was passing away in Ives’s own lifetime.

After a somewhat long intermission, Hahn came out alone and performed Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B minor for unaccompanied Violin. There was some applause after one particularly dazzling movement (I think it was the Double after the Corrente, but I wasn’t following movement-by-movement in the program so I’m just guessing), just as there had been some applause after the first movement of the Beethoven, which Hahn graciously and briefly acknowledged with a smile and a slight bow before moving on. Lisitsa rejoined her for a rarity, Antheil’s Violin Sonata No. 1, which is a wild and entertaining piece. The beginning sounds like honky-tonk Satie and moves into a solemn kind of keening (which the program notes suggest was inspired by Antheil’s travels to Tunisia and consequent exposure to Arabic music). There are all kinds of charmingly aggressive modernist displays throughout. Fantastic performance by both women; Hahn seems to be able to conjure any kind of sound out of her violin without apparent effort.

The audience’s enthusiastic ovations earned it three generous encores: one solo each for the two women and a final joint piece. Usually San Francisco Performances posts the encore titles but they haven’t done that yet for this concert, so I’m guessing here. First Hahn came out and performed a movement from one of Bach’s solo violin pieces. Then Lisitsa had the spotlight with a dreamy and evocative performance of Chopin. Finally the two joined for what I’m guessing was another piece by Kreisler. I’m getting increasingly lazy about leaving my house, so it was nice to have such a satisfying reminder of why it can be a good idea.

UPDATE: San Francisco Performances posted the encores; I guessed correctly:
BACH: Preludio from Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006 (Ms. Hahn)
CHOPIN: Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 (Ms. Lisitsa)
KREISLER: Schön Rosmarin for violin and piano

Haiku 2011/51

watching waves come in
boys and girls stroll on the beach
long after sunset

19 February 2011

Haiku 2011/50

time both lost and gained
do those birds have thoughts like that,
watching waves come in

18 February 2011

Haiku 2011/49

as she's slipping off
her slippers, a pensive pause:
time both lost and gained

17 February 2011

Haiku 2011/48

then retreat, hissing:
mother snake's last sage advice
as she's slipping off

16 February 2011

Haiku 2011/47

the moon-teased waters
rush up to embrace the shore
then retreat, hissing

15 February 2011

a forthcoming Brewer CD

Here's another exciting CD, coincidentally being released on March 8, the same day as Philharmonia Baroque's Lorraine Hunt Lieberson disc, so you can buy them both and get free shipping: Christine Brewer sings Echoes of Nightingales. A couple of years ago, in her recital at Berkeley, Brewer sang some of these songs: used as encores by such artists as Flagstad, Farrell, Traubel, and Steber, these are vaguely inspirational or sentimental songs, often drawing on religious or natural imagery. Once popular, these numbers are now rare enough so that a surviving example might be useful in placing the type: "Climb Every Mountain" from Sound of Music would have fit in with the set Brewer performed in Berkeley. She mentioned then that she was hoping to record a disc of these numbers one day, which I thought was a really charming idea, and I'm glad to see she has done so, so we can explore a forgotten musical by-way with her.

Haiku 2011/46

the tender blue sky
stretched blandly, kindly over
the moon-teased waters

14 February 2011

Haiku 2011/45

empty but for spring
and a light breeze and a bird:
the tender blue sky

13 February 2011

stately progressions at the Symphony

Thanks to the kind offices of Mr G/S Y, who got me a comp ticket, I ended up at the Symphony last Friday, for Ton Koopman’s debut as a conductor with the San Francisco Symphony. It was a very well-designed program, though a bit outside the usual symphony boundaries, curving from the baroque to the classical: JS Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major (Mario Brunello as soloist), CPE Bach’s Symphony in G major, and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major. Nice choices all, though I probably wouldn’t have gone if a ticket hadn’t been handed to me.

This was one of the 6:30 Friday concerts, and the house was quite full, though there was a disruptive pause after the first movement of the Orchestral Suite to allow late-comers to mosy on in. I realize I sound like the perpetual malcontent, since I complain constantly about the standard 8:00 start time, but what I’ve always said is that concerts – all or most of them, not just the occasional Friday performance – should start at 7:30 or possibly 7:00. Starting at 6:30 is, honestly, a bit early. I know people will say I’m never happy, which is certainly a possibility, but since this isn’t what I suggested I feel free to complain, though I’m going to keep it minimal.

In a nod to performance practices both of the baroque and of our approach to the baroque, the forces were reduced by maybe half (though unfortunately they couldn’t also halve cavernous Davies Hall). I entered classical music through baroque and early music, back when what were then called “early instrument” ensembles were clearly here to stay, though still dismissed by some. The term I hear more often these days is “historically informed performance practice,” which is no doubt more accurate and has the advantage of emphasizing technique rather than tools: the style has infiltrated the mainstream.

What I’m getting at is that baroque music played on modern instruments, as the Orchestral Suite was, no matter how reduced the forces or “authentic” the style, always has a luxe and occasionally lush sound to me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just there, an example of how performance practices condition a listener’s ears. I recently watched two DVDs of Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria; the first, led by Glen Wilson and Pierre Audi from Amsterdam in 1998, is what I think of when I think of how Monteverdi sounds, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying Raymond Leppard’s 1973 Glyndebourne production, with its gussied up orchestration and an awesome performance as Penelope by Janet Baker. The Orchestral Suite reminded me how much baroque music is based on dance forms, and it also reminded me that at that period dance was a much statelier affair than it later became.

I didn’t note the instrumental troubles or other possible dramas and tensions among the players noted by those at the Wednesday concert. Brunello’s cadenzas in the Haydn sounded a bit quirky (I hadn’t heard the piece in quite a while and don’t know if they are standard or where they came from), but other than that it was all maybe a little too smooth. Koopman bobbed up and down, looking like a cartoon of an eccentric professor. I enjoyed the percolating CPE Bach, but oddly the Schubert symphony, which sounded like beefed-up Haydn (though without Haydn’s wit) lacked some spring for me – normally I love listening to Schubert, but this didn’t do much for me. Maybe I was just tired and had had enough. It was like walking down an endless colonnade, which is something one is not always in the mood for. Maybe I just associate Schubert more with forests, streams, and green fields.

Certainly there was much more whispering during the Schubert than during the other pieces; a woman in front of me, who had kept talking beforehand about someone who didn’t take all the repeats (in what piece I wasn’t clear, and she may not even have been talking about anything we were about to hear anyway) demonstrated her love of Schubert, which actually seemed quite sincere, by twitching and whispering at the start of each movement; and some of the local aristocrats added to the aura of authenticity by refusing to let the sawing and tootling of the servants interfere with their whispers.

Haiku 2011/44

singing to no one
a boy strolls down empty streets,
empty but for spring

12 February 2011

happy blogaversary to me

Five years of reverberating. Deepest thanks to all visitors and readers, casual or constant, and particularly (and always) to V, who suggested it, and who has read every word (or so she tells me).

Haiku 2011/43

one bird, in between
the lacy budding branches,
singing to no one

11 February 2011

Haiku 2011/42

one small cloud, far off
one flower up close, so large
one bird, in between

10 February 2011

Haiku 2011/41

late afternoon yawns
sun so high, spirit so low
one small cloud, far off

09 February 2011

Haiku 2011/40

all those useless feet:
the centipede unable
to outrun my foot

08 February 2011

Haiku 2011/39

first flowering branch
leaning out from a tall vase
petals dropping off

07 February 2011

Haiku 2011/38

afternoon facades
flattened by the bright white light
of the glaring sun

06 February 2011

classical music is dead, Super Bowl edition

Heard during various commercials during today's Super Bowl game:

snippets of music by:
Verdi, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Handel, Orff,* and Mozart

(perhaps we should exclude Orff because I believe it is federal law that every NFL broadcast must contain at least the opening of the O Fortuna chorus from Carmina Burana)

file this one under "the more things change. . . ."

"A little reflection," continued Frank, "soon convinces a man that rough downright stealing is an awkward, foolish trade; and it therefore falls into the hands of those who want education for the higher efforts of dishonesty. To get into a bank at midnight and steal what little there may be in the till, or even an armful of bank-notes, with the probability of a policeman catching you as you creep out of the chimney and through a hole, is clumsy work; but to walk in amidst the smiles and bows of admiring managers and draw out money over the counter by thousands and tens of thousands, which you have never put in and which you can never repay; and which, when all is done, you have only borrowed; -- that is a great feat."

from Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds, Vol 2 p 124 in my old Oxford edition; originally published in 1873

Haiku 2011/37

the light lasts longer each day

05 February 2011

Haiku 2011/36

bird building your nest:
did winter destroy your home?
are you just restless?

04 February 2011

Haiku 2011/35

bland bluish expanse
daily burning to darkness
in red-gold sunsets

03 February 2011

Haiku 2011/34

fluttering away –
a speck – then invisible –
removed from this world –

02 February 2011

Haiku 2011/33

rising with the sun
this exhaustion, this hunger
unsought and unslaked

01 February 2011

Hot Air Music Festival schedule

Here's the full schedule for the Hot Air Music Festival, this Sunday February 6, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Sorry if this is a little messy, it's the sort of cut-and-paste thing I rarely do and I don't have time to fix it. I have to miss this myself, but it looks like an amazing afternoon/evening:

1:45 Triumphant Digitally Synthesized Fanfare To Hot Air Music Festival by Red Bennett
2:00 Michael Gordon’s Industry, Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion and Osvaldo Golijov’s Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind in the Recital Hall
3:00 Paul Bergel’s Winchester House of Mystery Suite and George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae in the Recital Hall
4:00 Music by Matthew Cmiel, John Russell, Derrick Spiva, Jr. and Christopher Porter in the Recital Hall
5:00 Music by Louis Cruz, Pantawit Kiangsiri, Pierre Jalbert and David Gottlieb in the Concert Hall / Music by Anthony Porter, Luciano Chessa, Harry Whitney and Alden Jenks in the Recital Hall
6:00 Music by Devon Farney and Stephen Hartke in the Concert Hall / Music by Clayton Moser, Aaron Pike and David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion in the Recital Hall
7:00 Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union and Steve Reich’s Six Pianos in the Concert Hall
8:00 Samuel Adams’ Tension Study No.1, Arvo Paert’s Spiegel im Spiegel and Dan Becker’s Gridlock in the Concert Hall
9:00 Kajia Saariaho’s Pres and John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur in the Concerto Hall

You can find out more about the Festival here.

Haiku 2011/32

smudge of whirling birds
wheeling up through light gray fog:
pink light of morning

in case I didn't already love Ensemble Parallele to pieces. . .

I've just heard (via SF MOMA's e-mail newsletter) that they will be presenting Stein/Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts sometime in August, in conjunction with SF MOMA's upcoming exhibit, The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde (I also can't wait to see that show, since I have a long-time thing about Stein).

There will be visuals by "video/performance artist" Kalup Linzy and "original music" by Luciano Chessa (hmm, not sure why they need additional music, but I guess I'll find out).

That's all I know at this point; stay tuned. . . .