31 October 2012

Haiku 2012/305

cloudy skies, no rain
crowded sidewalks, no relief
darkened rooms, no rest

30 October 2012

fun stuff I may or may not get to: November 2012

October was jam-packed, as you may remember. I got sick halfway through (physically, I mean, not just the usual ennui; I thought it was allergies, then a cold, then realized it was, however mildly, the flu) and had to cancel some things and needless to say fell ever and even further behind. Here's November, because listing things takes less energy than doing them, and I'm still feeling low-energy. Dive in before it all turns to tinsel and sugarplums next month.

The Aurora Theater presents Wilder Times, an evening of four short plays by Thornton Wilder, directed by Barbara Oliver. (The plays specifically are: The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden, The Long Christmas Dinner, and Infancy and Childhood from the Ages of Man series.) 2 November to 9 December.

Wild Rumpus New Music Collective performs fresh new works by D. Edward Davis, Charles Halka, Andrea La Rose, Elizabeth Lim, and Nicole Murphy on 10 November at the Community Music Cente, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco.

Euouae performs works by Ockeghem, Brumel, Du Caurroy, and Josquin on 2 and 4 November at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in North Beach, San Francisco. It looks as if tickets are only available in advance. Check here for more details.

Emanuel Ax on the fortepiano joins Philharmonia Baroque for an all-Beethoven program featuring the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Twelve Contradanses for Orchestra, and the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major. 8-11 November in the usual locations.

San Francisco Performances has the usual tasty line-up: Jean-Yves Thibaudet in an all-Debussy program, 4 November; Quatuor Ebene with Richard Hery on drums in a more jazz-inflected program than their concert last season (which was fantastic), 8 November*; Kate Royal and Malcolm Martineau giving us A Lesson in Love, 10 November; the awesome Pavel Haas Quartet returns with Brahms, Janacek, and Beethoven, 13 November; and Marc-Andre Hamelin joins the Takacs Quartet in Schubert, Britten, and Shostakovich, 18 November.

* If you buy a ticket to Quatuor Ebene on-line between now and 5:00 PM Pacific on Friday 2 November, you can get 50% off by using the promo code SFP5EB.

Here are some highlights from another busy Cal Performances month: author/provocateur Dan Savage is speaking on 3 November; Emanuel Ax performs Beethoven and Schubert on 13 November; and then there are two concert series of particular interest: a centennial celebration of Conlon Nancarrow in conjunction with Other Minds from 2-4 November (further information here); and Esa-Pekka Salonen in residency with the Philharmonia Orchestra from 9-11 November (check here for individual programs, each one of astounding awesomeness); there is also a "Composer Portrait" concert featuring Salonen on 8 November.

San Francisco Opera finishes up its run of Lohengrin and then presents dueling Toscas, Racette or Gheorghiu, take your pick here. Personally I would go for Racette, whom I've always found a deeply committed performer; Gheorghiu always strikes me as someone play-acting at being a diva, though I've heard from very reliable sources that she's excellent as Tosca, so as usual the proof will be in the pudding, though of course speculating about uneaten and possibly uneatable (though sometimes quite delicious) puddings is a major preoccupation of some opera fans.

In addition, the annual Adler Fellows concert is 30 November at 7:30 (in Herbst Theater, next door to the Opera House).

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music's awesome new music ensemble, BluePrint, continues its Latin American season under conductor Nicole Paiement on 17 November with a program called Danzas Breves. Check out the line-up here. This program was originally called Saudades do Brasil; I wonder why they changed it. Maybe the word saudade was considered too obscure and foreign. It's a Portuguese word meaning a yearning so intense for the missing, the lost, the past, the possibly non-existent, that the absence becomes an emotional presence. That's one of the few Portuguese words I know. I can also say "I am offended" and "You are shameful" and believe me, you can have a full rich life among the Portuguese with just those terms.

The Berkeley Playhouse presents The Sound of Music, 27 October to 2 December, at the Julia Morgan Theater.

Berkeley Rep features Mary Zimmerman's White Snake from 9 November to 23 December.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has a Jasper Johns retrospective from 3 November to 3 February 2013.

Shotgun Players closes out its year and brings us into the holiday season with Woyzeck, music and lyrics by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, directed by Mark Jackson after the concept by Robert Wilson, 29 November to 13 January 2013.

Old First Concerts always has an interesting line-up, but they tend to perform mostly on Fridays at 8:00, and I decided almost a year ago that my always tenuous sense of contentment would increase if I just didn't bother with anything on Friday that doesn't even start until 8:00 - at the depressed exhausting end of a work week, why waste all those precious hours between the end of work and the start of the concert? Obviously with a schedule like that the presenters don't much care whether an office drone like me attends or not. Nonetheless I am strongly tempted by Vladimir in Butterfly Country on 16 November.

Haiku 2012/304

lovely soft gray fog
softening the city's edge
softening my view

29 October 2012

Haiku 2012/303

how the light hits it:
white-gray memories of rain
streaking the windows

28 October 2012

Haiku 2012/302

glance at the glowing
mortal green of autumn lawns
as the clear sun sets

27 October 2012

Haiku 2012/301

shade forests tremble
and dance on the glaring walls
late October light

26 October 2012

Haiku 2012/300

rain-washed crystal air
sits coolly, contrastingly,
over troubled minds

25 October 2012

Haiku 2012/299

a name from the past
a tiny twist of weirdness
slowly sinking back

24 October 2012

Haiku 2012/298

out in the darkness
the first needle-points of rain
splashing through the leaves

23 October 2012

Haiku 2012/297

go on and pretend
the veiled moon matters more than
glaring office lights

22 October 2012

Haiku 2012/296

my untied shoelace
my long shadow lengthening
my hurrying home

21 October 2012

Haiku 2012/295

on a bright morning
my foot touches the bare floor
and feels a first chill

20 October 2012

Haiku 2012/294

long-vanished blossoms
haunt the garden's chilly air
like Halloween ghosts

19 October 2012

Haiku 2012/293

heat settles down low
orange sun through brown-gray air
my eyes are burning

18 October 2012

Haiku 2012/292

an upright dry stalk
swaying just a little bit
as a bird alights

17 October 2012

Haiku 2012/291

withering lemons
plop down and splat split open:
juicy young insides

16 October 2012

Haiku 2012/290

wind through tree branches:
over the flowing green lawns
pale shadows ripple

14 October 2012

13 October 2012

Haiku 2012/287

snows of yesteryear?
right here, shooting from the hose,
watering the plants

12 October 2012

Haiku 2012/286

unexpected rain
pooled under glowing streetlamps
silvering sidewalks

11 October 2012

Haiku 2012/285

now the leaves have left
I think of wanting bareness
and now I want spring

10 October 2012

Haiku 2012/284

old man in the rain
your coat will not protect you
from oncoming chills

09 October 2012

She's back!

After a long time and lengthy travels, in which she visited her birthplace Paris, and New York, and was reunited with old companions as part of the moving and awe-inspiring Steins Collect show, SFMoMA's Mona Lisa is back.

That would be Matisse's Femme au Chapeau, a portrait of Mme Matisse whose wild and vivid colors, still striking 107 years after the painting first shocked the Parisian public, led a derisive critic to christen Matisse and his ilk wild beasts (fauves). Thus the Fauvist School was named. It's odd how many styles (like Gothic or Impressionist) were named by people who were attacking them. Matisse was once asked what color Mme Matisse was actually wearing when she sat for this portrait, and he said, "Black, of course."

This has always been my favorite painting at the museum. Comically, I could not take a picture of it when it was part of the Stein exhibit, but now that it's back in its regular place on the second floor, I can snap away (without flash, of course). Buying this painting, one of the centerpieces of their collection, is described in interesting and not entirely accurate detail by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas.

Sister-in-law Sarah Stein is back, too, from the same trip, and is on the wall opposite, where she silently asserts that it was she and her husband Michael who really understood Matisse. And that is true. Gertrude was more about Picasso.

Due to a planned renovation and expansion, the museum is scheduled to close next spring for about two years. I'm not sure where the collection is going during that time, but I suspect most of it won't be readily on view, so it won't hurt to pay a few more visits in the months that remain.

Haiku 2012/283

bright light on the bay
white boats swiftly sailing by
dreams made visible

08 October 2012

Restoration Romans

Last night I was back at First Congregational Church in Berkeley for Purcell's Dioclesian, the fourth and final performance of the first concert of the season for Philharmonia Baroque. Like King Arthur or The Fairy Queen, Dioclesian (just this once I will give the work its more formal title: The Prophetess; or, The History of Dioclesian) is one of those "semi-operas" in which a spoken-word play is interlarded with musical material of a striking and delightful and mostly tangentially relevant nature and then the whole thing is bound together with elaborate spectacle, using as much of the newest technology and as many of the oldest tricks as were available to theaters in the late seventeenth century (you know, the form works beautifully for Ariadne auf Naxos. . . ). Such works are by general consensus completely resistant to revival, and perhaps that's true based on time alone (last night's performance of the music was a bit over two hours, including intermission; I can only imagine the Einstein-on-the-Beach lengths it would reach if the evening also included actors playing out elaborate intrigues in the court of the later Roman emperors, let alone the time needed to switch sets and activate the stage machinery). But it wasn't so long ago that general consensus held that baroque opera, in its original form, was also resistant to revival, and now even the mighty Met has had to acknowledge the dramatic genius of Handel. So who knows? There was a revival of the complete Fairy Queen a few years back, which I understand was wonderful (there is a DVD, which I have not seen).

The Fairy Queen does have the advantage of playing off well-known material (A Midsummer Night's Dream) which is still a theatrical staple. Dioclesian, based on a play by Fletcher and Massinger that uses the classical past to comment on the political struggles of seventeenth-century England, is a harder sell to non-specialists. The music remains excellent, and easily survives the abandonment of its original container, and with all plot summaries and narrative threads and political allegories wisely left in the program book for those who cared to pursue them there, what PBO gave us last night was just the music, a grab-bag of baroque thrills and splendors: stately marches, lively dances, graceful solos, flirting shepherds and shepherdesses, drunken gods, and grand choruses, and songs of war and love. There were particularly striking contributions from Katherine Adduci on trumpet and Hanneke van Proosdij and Stephen Bard on recorder. The whole band, led by Music Director Nicholas McGegan, was in great form, but you know you tend to get noticed more with the martial trumpet or the amorous flute, while the flowing strings bravely play in workaday semi-anonymity. The soloists were fine (Helene Zindarsian, Jean-Paul Jones, Clifton Massey, Brian Thorsett, Jonathan Smucker, Jeff Fields, and John Bischoff) and helped swell the sound of the  chorus, which produced mighty effects greater than its relatively small size.

So the first half of the concert was pretty much sheer delight as far as I was concerned. The second half: maybe a bit less so, for a variety of reasons. The first hour had been the music from Acts 1 through 4. After a fairly lengthy intermission, we had the music from Act 5, which was an elaborate masque almost as long as the preceding four acts put together. The Act 5 masque was celebrated in its own time and often revived as a set-piece, but I suspect what really distinguished the masque for its contemporaries was the fanciful and intricate staging more than anything else. I did wonder if Purcell maybe realized that the scenery was going to be the memorable star of the masque no matter what the rest of them did. and though the music is consistently enjoyable it is pretty much enjoyable in the same manner as the rest of the work (though there's nothing in either half as striking as, say, the awakening of Winter in King Arthur), and towards the end I was experiencing the physical dip I usually experience at that time of evening, and was feeling I had had perhaps enough. And after the intermission the man to my left must have been sitting an inch closer to me, because he kept obliviously brushing against me with his sleeve - such are the hazards of concert-going and pew-seating, and the little things that add up to our experience.

And then, after behaving in the first half, the singers started joking it up, grimacing and striking absurd poses and glaring and flirting with each other in a campy way. I've seen enough PBO concerts at this point to realize this is sort of a house style, and is liable to erupt randomly in unsuitable places, but I wish they would stop it. The pastoral names (Corinna, Mirtillo) may seen bizarrely affected to us (well, to those of us who haven't read much seventeenth century verse), but their dramatic truths remain alive, though expressed in an idiom strange to us, and the ironies in the material would come across better if they were played straight. To me the effect is to trivialize and mock the piece, and if you feel that way, why are you performing it? (And I did notice more noise among the audience in the second half; during the first half they had been notably attentive.) Anyway in the larger scheme of things these were relatively minor irritants, and as I said, the first half was a total pleasure, and I was glad of the opportunity to hear this relative rarity live.

Haiku 2012/282

flat on the sidewalk:
pale five-pointed maple leaf
glistening starlike

07 October 2012

Haiku 2012/281

milky white sap flows
from the wounded just-plucked tip
of the purple fig

06 October 2012

Haiku 2012/280

morning Beethoven:
how can I live up to that?
what was I thinking?

05 October 2012

Haiku 2012/279

the breeze touched my hair
I pretended it was you
both so quickly gone

04 October 2012

Haiku 2012/278

waiting on the street
birds must be in the gray trees
suddenly they sing

03 October 2012

Haiku 2012/277

the moon is a pearl
slipping into midnight seas
lovely and lonely

02 October 2012

Haiku 2012/276

of course you are slow
carrying your carapace
beautiful turtle

01 October 2012


Some more from last season, with a look forward as well. . . .

A few years ago the San Francisco Conservatory of Music moved from wherever it was before to Civic Center, close to the Opera, the Symphony, Herbst Theater, and public transportation. One beneficial result is that it's become much more a part of the performance scene in San Francisco. (Another beneficial result is that it provides a beautiful and intimate new performance space, the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall.) One series I've grown particularly fond of is BluePrint, the new music ensemble, led by Nicole Paiement, who also leads Ensemble Parallele, whose aweseomeness I cannot extol enough. I went to three of their concerts last season; the first one I wrote about here, and the other two I am writing about right here.

The first of the two was "Musical Humors: Discover Philippe Hersant." The very French name (though in fact the composer was born in Rome) and the mention of musical humors led me to expect the sort of music we might typically think of as "French": clear, light, elegant, witty, with clarity of rhetoric taking precedence over sturm und drang. That would have been enjoyable, but his music turned out to be much richer, drawing on a wide variety of sources, musical and literary (his undergraduate degree was in literature). The pieces we heard drew on Basho, Bruce Chatwin, Goethe, and Kafka, and the musical influences he mentions include Heinrich Schutz, Bartok, and Tobias Hume, who published in 1605 a collection of viola da gamba pieces entitled Musical Humors (so what I had read as humor in the sense of comedy was really a reference to the four humors that were thought to control our moods and personalities). The first half of the program consisted of 11 Caprices (each with a title taken from Kafka), a powerful choral setting, conducted by Ragnar Bohlin, of Psaume 130 (Aus Tiefer Not), using Martin Luther's German text (as did Schutz, who inspired this piece), and an instrumental piece, Song Lines. The second half gave us Sonate pour violoncelle seul, Wanderung (using a Goethe poem also used by Schubert and Schumann), and Musical Humors. There are a lot of different influences mentioned here, but the music doesn't sound derivative at all. This was a really fun and effective composer portrait and the name Philippe Hersant is one I now look for.

The other BluePrint concert from last season featured Eight Miniatures for Chamber Ensemble (Hommage a Stravinsky) by Stefan Cwik, Anosmia by Neil Rolnick, and the Concerto for Harpsichord and Orchestra by Philip Glass. Cwik is a young composer (born 1987) and he spoke to the audience before his piece opened the concert, telling us that his piece was inspired by his formative love of Stravinsky's music. I thought he sold himself a little short in emphasizing his debt to Stravinsky; the piece, for an ensemble of flute, bassoon, violin, and piano, stood up beautifully on its own and certainly didn't come across as the work of a too-ardent disciple.

As for the next piece, Anosmia (the name means the loss of the sense of smell), here is where I am going to mention that Mike Strickland was at the same concert, and I will refer you to his write-up (with lovely photos) here, because he accurately summarizes both my feelings and his contrasting opinion. As he notes, I "thought the piece was too long and [I] wanted to know more about the affliction and less about domestic bliss, but that may say more about him than the work, which I thought was perfect." Yep, that's accurate, even no doubt the part about my reaction saying more about me than about the music, which was indeed fairly light and boppy and pleasant. But I felt it went on about twice as long as it needed to, and I thought Rolnick completely evaded the challenge of presenting loss of smell musically - hearing loss, sure, that you can do, but smell is possibly the most evanescent and subtle of  the senses, which may be one reason it's so linked to memory. So how do you portray its loss, outside of simply describing it? Here it's simply described, only the text didn't really even deal in any serious way with the issue. We have a man who loses his sense of smell, but he has a loving male partner who takes care of him. So lots of the piece is taken up with what seemed sort of smug self-congratulation on having this wonderful partner. I'm happy for him, but it's not much use to the rest of us. The singers were good though (baritone Daniel Cilli, along with soprano Maya Kherani and alto Carrie Zhang). I was much happier with the Glass Concerto for Harpsichord in the second half. The young soloist, Christopher D. Lewis, was just dazzling, and when he finished and jumped up to enthusiastic applause his more concentrated demeanor gave way to a huge relieved grin.

The theme for this year's BluePrint series is Latin America, and the first concert is this Saturday, 6 October. I'm already committed to the Schumann series that Jonathan Biss is running for SF Performances, so sadly I will miss this first concert, but that shouldn't stop you from going (more info here), and I've already marked my calendar for 17 November, 2 March 2013, and 13 April 2013.

Haiku 2012/275

sultry sweaty day
koi surface in their warm pond
gaping mouths upward