27 February 2015

Friday photo 2015/9

statue of Simón Bolívar, UN Plaza, San Francisco California, February 2012

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.

23 February 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/8

Melancholy Flower-Viewing

Melancholy cherries have begun smelling from a distance
cherry branches spread all around
the sunlight glitters and is exceedingly blinding
I live inside a tightly closed house,
daily eat vegetables       eat fish and duck eggs
the eggs and meat have begun rotting
distantly cherry blossoms sour,
the sour smell of cherry blossoms is depressing
now people put on their hats and go out for a walk
       under the outdoor air
and the sunlight is shining in the distance
nevertheless, I sit in this dark room alone
and send my thoughts under far-off cherry blossoms
send them to the men and women in their youth
        romping in the fields and hills
ah what a happy life they have there
what a joy is shining
under branches of cherry blossoms that spread all around
young girls dance dances
girls' white-polished arms and legs for dancing
pliantly swimming costumes
ah       here and there and everywhere       how beautiful
       curves are entangled
flower-viewers' singing voices are as peaceful as flutes
and reach me with an echo of boundless melancholy.
Now my heart, wiped with tears,
sobs feebly by the confining window;
ah this lone poor heart, longing for what life,
staring at what shadow is it crying
at the end of a beautiful world turned sour and rotten
       all around
I distantly hear the echo of flower-viewers'
       melancholy flutes.

Sakutaro Hagiwara, translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

There is an ancient tradition in Japan of going out, usually in organized parties, to view that early sign of spring, the cherry blossoms. The delicate beauty of these flowers doesn't last more than a week or two, so underneath the panorama of exquisiteness is a poignant reminder of the fleeting, catch-it-if-you-can nature of beauty, pleasure, and happiness (though undoubtedly for many participants the parties are less about aesthetics and philosophy and more about having an annual blow-out to celebrate the return of spring). In this poem, a Japanese poet of the early twentieth century draws out the philosophical and practical implications of the evanescent cherry blossoms: his description is less about beauty and pleasure than about melancholy: the glittering sun is blinding, the scent of the blossoms is sour, the blossoms as well as the food for his meals are already starting to rot. He thinks enviously of the young, having a happy life under the cherry trees. His heart – his heart, wiped with tears, sobbing by the window, his lone poor heart staring at shadows – will not allow him to join them (if he were there, no doubt he could not join in their joy – though perhaps their joy is only his projection, a way of heightening his own sense of isolation and sorrow). We are not told why he feels this way. His emotions are summoned up in a tumble of words and images, rushing past with the emotional consistency and logical leaps of a stream of passing thoughts. Joy is fleeting, melancholy and regret life-long.

I took this from Cat Town by Sakutaro Hagiwara, translated by Hiroaki Sato. It's part of NRYB Poets, the excellent and attractive new series from New York Review Books.

20 February 2015

16 February 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/7

When young spring comes,
With silver rain
One almost
Could be good again.

But then comes summer,
Whir of bees . . . 
Crimson poppies . . . anemones,
The old, old god of Love
To please.

Langston Hughes

Hughes is best known as a poet of the twentieth-century American urban black experience, which in itself is a wide and varied field, but his work extends even beyond that. Here is a witty and rueful poem about the renewal of the year. It's written in Hughes's characteristic free verse, with the musical chiming of some irregularly recurring end rhymes: in the first stanza, rain/again and in the second, bees/anomones/please. We open with a sense of hopeful renewal: spring is young, and the lovely silver rain, like a baptism, will wash the world clean. But there's a bit of a warning in this stanza too: one almost / could be good again. It's not just that one could almost, though apparently not quite, be good; it's that one could be good again – "one" has apparently been through this before, and is speaking somewhat sheepishly from experience.

Past experience also shows in his foreknowledge of what summer will be like. The only specific thing we heard about spring was that the silver rain would come, but with summer he gets very specific and goes into sensuous detail, including sound (the whirring bees) and color (the crimson poppies) to highlight summer's seductive appearance. Spring may be young, but the god of Love is not just old, but doubly old: the old, old god of Love: ever renewed and ever recurring, ever reviving and ever falling, the new-old cycle of the seasons and of life.

I took this from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Arnold Rampersad editor and David Roessel Associate Editor.

13 February 2015

12 February 2015

Philharmonia Baroque: Trauermusik

Last Sunday I stood under the brick arches of First Congregational Church in Berkeley, waiting for my concert companion, watching the clouds scud by over the tulip trees and wondering if it would rain again. From an inner room I could hear the ethereal ululations of a singer warming up. I was there for Philharmonia Baroque's excursion down an interesting and somewhat obscure byway of the German baroque: mourning music, mostly from assorted lesser Bachs. But before the Bachs there was a brief but dignified sinfonia from George Philipp Telemann's Schwanengesang, written for the funeral of the Mayor of Hamburg. Wind instruments flowed gracefully over the striding strings. If you know the Handel Sarabande used to great effect in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon: it was similar to that in its effect of dignified mourning.

After that orchestral prelude, we heard Johann Christoph Bach's Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig (Lord, turn unto me and have mercy upon me). This Bach was a cousin of the father of Johann Sebastian Bach. Right before the piece conductor Nicholas McGegan announced a slight change in soloists: soprano Sherezade Panthaki would sing in the upcoming Trauermusik, the major piece on the program, but in the J C Bach cantata we would hear soprano Tonia D'Amelio, normally found in the chorus, as "a sinful Lutheran." The other soloists were countertenor Clifton Massey, tenor Brian Thorsett, and baritone Jeffrey Fields. Actually, they were all sinful Lutherans except the baritone, who responded to their anguished psalms with a rather jolly assurance that his grace would save them. All the soloists were very fine, and I enjoyed D'Amelio's chance to shine as a soloist. I think the acoustics in that venue don't favor the lower voices (my concert companion was quite firm on this subject); both in the chorus and among the soloists the higher voices resounded more powerfully than the lower. There's always a bit of a halo around the voices in First Congregational, which I guess is not inappropriate for a church.

The major piece on the program was the three-part Trauermusik (Mourning Music), composed for a ducal funeral by Johan Ludwig Bach, a distant cousin of J S Bach. It's a big, extravagant piece, and I'm surprised it's not better known. In addition to the four soloists, there is a double choir and of course the orchestra. Although the Biblical texts (adapted from Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and 2 Corinthians) are appropriately serious, with a mind to the heavenly life  presumably now being enjoyed by the duke being buried, the elaborate, thoughtful music speaks well of the pleasures available in this world. PBO did a pleasing, energetic job, their customary jauntiness subdued into a more appropriately funereal grace. I was glad for a chance to hear this little-known piece live; there seems to be only one recording, and I hope PBO is making one to add to their growing discography.

Suitably enough the rain returned briefly just as we left the church; a swift shower pounced on us and then moved on, leaving the streets slick with wet again, shining with jagged streetlight reflections.

Next up for Philharmonia Baroque is an all-Vivaldi concert featuring visiting violinist Rachel Podger; I've heard her play with them before, and this is sure to be a delightful concert. That's 11 - 15 March and you can get more information here.

10 February 2015

San Francisco Opera: Summer Operas on Sale

San Francisco Opera is currently offering a 30% discount on its three summer operas (summer in this case being mostly June and into the first days of July).

The big item here is Berlioz's epic Les Troyens, in David McVicar's production, conducted by Donald Runnicles, starring Anna Caterina Antonacci (or Daveda Karanas, depending on the date), Susan Graham, Bryan Hymel, Sasha Cooke, Brian Mulligan, Christian Van Horn, and René Barera. There is also the world premiere of Two Women with music by Marco Tutino, based on the Moravia novel (also the basis for the film starring Sophia Loren). That's directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Nicola Luisotti and stars Anna Caterina Antonacci, Sarah Shafer, Stephen Costello, and Mark Delavan. There's also a revival of Le Nozze di Figaro, conducted by Patrick Summers, with an excellent cast including Philippe Sly, Lisette Oropesa, Nadine Sierra, Kate Lindsey/Angela Brower, and Luca Pisaroni. It's one of my long-time favorite operas but I've seen this production a couple of times and I hate it, so . . . I don't know about that one.

Anyway: the sale ends 2 March. You can order on-line by going to sfoperacom/offer and entering code SUM15. You then select your performance and your seat. You may also call the box office during business hours at 415-864-3330. You'll probably need to give them the SUM15 code.

Not every performance is on sale but it looks as if most of them are. You get half an hour to complete your purchase once you've put the first ticket in the cart, which is certainly more reasonable than some places (hello, Yerba Buena Center!) that only give you ten minutes. But even with half an hour you may want to scope out available performances and seats first.

09 February 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/6


How do I look to the birds above?
My hair is a mess
my clothes all tattered

How do I look to the birds above?
My hair is a nest
my clothes don't matter

Gavin Geoffrey Dillard

Here's some reassuring and even raffish philosophy, for the next time you're feeling unkempt or out of step stylishly. The title, referring presumably to the date when the poem was written, sets the tone for what follows: this is poetry as emotional diary, as more or less deceptively casual aperçu, as a floating reflection of the thoughts (witty, profound, silly, lustful) occasioned by our minds wandering through the world. The poem could have been written in ancient China, and it does seem aligned in spirit and style to the translations of Asian poetry popular in America, particularly on the west coast, since the middle of the last century. But the date pins it down to a particular time, and probably to a particular moment implied in the poet's life (and this aesthetic – the moment captured and occasionally transfigured – is found in the rest of thie collection, in which the poet talks about men he's loved and/or slept with, cats, flowers, insects, the weather, aging – the random and central stuff of life).

This brief poem relies heavily on repetition for its effects. He starts with a question: How do I look to the birds above? Is this just a momentary whimsy? Or is he self-conscious that his appearance doesn't fit in with wherever he is? Since he's thinking about the birds above, I assume he's outdoors, maybe walking down a street. Perhaps it's early morning, and he's walking home after a night out, and he's surrounded by people going to work, looking askance at him – the particular situation is left to your imagination; someone else might come up with a completely different scenario. All we really know is that the poet is suddenly conscious that his hair is a mess, his clothing old and tattered. The people he doesn't fit in with are implied, because he is suddenly self-conscious about his appearance, which leads him to ask how he looks to the birds – will their reaction be different from society's implied reaction? Birds can fly away, birds are musical, birds have a beauty that is different from ours but comprehensible to us.

So in the second stanza, he repeats his initial question, only this time the answer is given from a bird's-eye view, rather than the social perspective we saw in the first stanza: for a bird, his messy hair would have the homey appeal of a nest (this is a vivid description; my hair often looks like that); for a bird, his coverings, tattered or not, are odd and not important. As I said earlier, repetition is a key element here, but so are the alterations, the easy-going almost-rhymes that register the discrepancy between what people see in him and what he thinks the birds would see: mess / nest for the hair and all tattered / don't matter for his outfit. A different perspective can be a refreshing thing. I imagine the poet walking on under the watch of his birds, invigorated and confident.

I took this from The Naked Poet: Poems from 1970 to 1985 by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard. It appears to be out of print, and I found no listings for it on Abe Books or eBay, usually the best sources for out-of-print books, but there are some available on Amazon for prices ranging from high to outrageously high. I should warn you if you click on the link that though I don't know if the young man on the cover is the poet, he is definitely naked, so use whatever NSFW precautions you feel are necessary.

06 February 2015

Friday photo 2015/6

2 Views of Diana as sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

This one was taken in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

This one was taken in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Both were taken in 2009.

02 February 2015

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

Baroque Music
Philharmonia Baroque presents some Bach cousins (along with some Telemann) on 4 and 6 - 8 February (as usual they perform in various venues depending on the day, so check here for more information on that as well as for tickets). On the program are Johann Ludwig Bach's Trauermusik (Mourning Music) and Johann Christoph Bach's cantata Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig (Lord, have mercy upon me) and a sinfonia from Telemann's Schwanengesang. Nicholas McGegan conducts and the soloists are soprano Sherezade Panthaki, countertenor Clifton Massey, tenor Brian Thorsett, and baritone Jeffrey Fields, along with the Philharmonia Chorale led by Bruce Lamott.

American Bach Soloists perform the St Matthew Passion on 27 - 28 February and 1 - 2 March. This is self-recommending. Check here for more information.

Opera Parallèle revives Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, which had its world premiere here in 2000. This company's work is always worth experiencing; you can check out what they do here from 20 - 22 February at the Yerba Buena Center. More information here.

West Edge Opera presents Rossini's Zelmira in concert, with piano accompaniment. This is the first in a series of three rarities they are performing this way, with two performances each: a Sunday matinee at Rossmoor and then a weeknight performance at Freight & Salvage. You can hear Zelmira in Walnut Creek on 15 February and in Berkeley on 17 February. More information here.

Joana Carneiro conducts the Berkeley Symphony in Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, the Brahms 4, and the world premiere of the orchestral version of Jake Heggie's Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, featuring marvelous mezzo Sasha Cooke. That's 26 February; more information here.

The Oakland East Bay Symphony presents a far-ranging program conducted by Bryan Nies: Samuel Barber's Symphony No 1, the world premiere of Begejstring (Excitement), by jazz violinist Mads Tolling, with the composer himself as soloist, and Haydn's Mass in Time of War, featuring Adler Fellows Julie Adams, Zanda Svede, Chong Wang, and Anthony Michael Reed as soloists. That's 20 February in the beautiful Paramount Theater in Oakland; more information here.

There's quite a lot going on at the San Francisco Symphony this month:

Herbert Blomstedt leads the orchestra in the Sibelius 2 and the Mozart Piano Concerto No 19, with the distinguished Peter Serkin as soloist (I used to hear his father play, back in the day . . . now I feel even older than I actually am); that's on 13 - 14 February; he then leads them in an all-Brahms concert on 19 - 21 February, and the big item here is the German Requiem with soprano Ruth Ziesak and baritone Christian Gerhaher, whose magnificent recital last September (presented by San Francisco Performances) immediately made this a concert of intense interest. There are further Brahmsian doings 26 - 28 February and March 1, when Michael Tilson Thomas leads the band in the Violin Concerto, along with the Schumann 1, Spring, and The Light That Fills the World by John Luther Adams. The violinist for the Brahms is Anne-Sophie Mutter for the February dates and Ye-Eun Choi on 1 March.

If you're craving more Brahms, as you well might be, you can hear his Piano Concerto No 1 with soloist Hélène Grimaud when the San Francisco Symphony presents the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra for two nights, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The first night, 15 February, features the Brahms and the Tchaikovsky 5; the second night, 16 February, features the Ravel Piano Concerto and Ma Mère l'Oye along with the Prokofiev 5. That gives you two chances this month to hear the Mother Goose Suite live (the Berkeley Symphony is the other one).

Cappella SF performs works by Conrad Susa and David Conte on 6 February at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. More information may be found here.

San Francisco Performances presents cellist Alisa Weilerstein in a program of Golijov, Bach, and Kodály on 14 February at St Mark's Lutheran; details here. (This program is different from the one originally announced, in case you think your memory is playing tricks on you.)

Cutting Ball Theater presents Antigone by Sophocles in a new translation by Daniel Sullivan, directed by Paige Rogers, using music and movement techniques inspired by the company's residency last summer at the Grotowski Institute in Poland. I saw an early version of this last year as part of the company's Hidden Classics reading series, and it was already very impressive – this is one I'm really looking forward to. That's 19 February to 22 March; more information here.

New/Contemporary Music
Cal Performances presents Clarice Assad on piano – the program has not been announced but I'm guessing she'll perform her own compositions? Also, this is in a new venue: the University Club, which apparently is part of the revamped Memorial Stadium. Panoramic views of the Bay Area are promised. Sounds like an adventure. That's 21 February; more information here.

Cal Performances, in association with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, presents the third of the four Project TenFourteen concerts, featuring ten world premieres (in the 2014 season, to explain the second number). This one will be on 22 February in Hertz Hall and will feature music by Berio, Nono, San Martin, and Ueno (the latter two are the premieres). More information may be found here.

The Center for New Music always has a full calendar of interesting offerings – check it all out here.

Cal Performances presents Peter Nero on piano with Michael Barnett on bass and Katherine Strohmaier on vocals in an evening of Gershwin; that's 8 February in Zellerbach; more information here.

At the SF Jazz Center, you can catch (among other acts) the Paris Combo on 19 - 20 February; Kurt Elling on 21 - 22 February; and Taj Mahal on 26 - 28 February and 1 March. You can check out their entire schedule here.

Chamber Music
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents the Pacifica Quartet in a program of Shostakovich, Dohnanyi, and Mendelssohn on 12 February; more information here. The quartet is also giving a master class on 10 February, starting at 4:30; more information on that here.

The Jarring Sounds perform "A Prelude to Valentine's Day" featuring songs of love by Monteverdi, Purcell, Frank Wallace, Michael Karmon, and others. That's at Seventh Avenue Performances; more information may be found here.

Chamber Music San Francisco presents violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili in a program of Dvorak, Grieg, and Franck on 15 February and the Casals Quartet in their San Francisco debut, playing Mozart, Ravel, and Brahms, on 28 February. More information on those concerts here.

Visual Arts
The Asian Art Museum has two intriguing related exhibits opening on 20 February (and both closing 10 May): The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection (ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating [ephemeral] world," are woodblock prints) and Seduction: Japan's Floating World, which will include paintings and fabrics as well as woodblock prints (which I cannot get enough of, actually) to explore life in the Yoshiwara, the famous pleasure district of Edo (present-day Tokyo). More information on those here.

The 48th California Annual International Antiquarian Book Fair will take place 6 - 8 February at the Oakland Marriott City Center, which is right by the 12th Street BART station. More information here.

Poem of the Week 2015/5

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd –
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Philip Larkin

Arundel is a small town near Chichester, southwest of London. There is a specific tomb in Chichester Cathedral that inspired Larkin towards this poem. You may see some images of it here, though there are some differences, possibly caused by the usual vagaries of memory, between the actual monument and Larkin's description of it: he puts the empty gauntlet in the wrong hand, there is a dog under the lady's feet but a lion under the knight's, there are no Latin names around the base – also, though he did not realize it when he wrote this poem, there had been some restoration work done on the tomb in the nineteenth century. These differences are interesting but don't affect the separate reality created by the poem.

In the title Larkin has located the tomb in space but not in time; it's described as an Arundel tomb, not as a medieval tomb. Given how central time and its relentless forward movement are to this poem, this geographical title might be to ground the poem in a specific location before we start our main exploration, which will be temporal. The tomb is old enough so that the stone has started to crumble; the faces are blurred. Those depicted were of high social rank, an earl and a countess, though we probably could have deduced that from the prominence and intended permanence of their monument. They are shown in their "proper habits," that is, their appropriate attire: armor for the knight, elaborate (and therefore expensive) pleats for his lady. The little dog underfoot is actually a symbol of fidelity, though it's unclear if the poet knows that; visually it registers on him, perhaps because of the incongruity of the fluffy little pooch under the pleats and armor, as a "faint hint of the absurd."

It's not an ornate tomb; its "plainness of the pre-baroque" contrasts with the swirling drama of that later age (one which to us is also old and alien in style). His eye is not involved, only scanning the generic qualities of the tomb as he tours the old church, until he notices with "a sharp tender shock" that the sculptor has shown the dead couple holding hands. It's the sculptor's "sweet commissioned grace" but it's unclear if this is the couple's commission or a posthumous wish of their friends. In any case this touching show of married faith and love was probably not the main feature of their actual lives; it's "just a detail friends would see." (The friends, of course, are also long past.)

The poet tells us that the couple would not imagine lying thus into the twentieth century (perhaps they were among their contemporaries who expected the imminent arrival of the end of the world and the Last Judgment); further, that they could not imagine how soon the world would change around them, the feudal arrangements giving way, turning "the old tenantry away"; how soon "succeeding eyes begin / To look, not read" – I take this to mean that those attending or just visiting the church no longer "read" the monument as they would when it was new; that is, they would no longer consciously take it in, paying close attention to it, but instead would include it in their general visual survey – they would look, but no longer really see.

The mention of the old tenantry turning away hints at the social changes in England in the centuries since the tomb was new, but the passage of time is mostly marked here by natural phenomena existing outside of humanity and independent of its controls: the snow, the summer light, the passing sounds of birds (I love the beautiful alliteration in this passage, subtly echoing the twittering avian music: "bright / Litter of birdcalls strewed the same / bone-riddled ground"). Different generations rise up and recede like waves; like waves, they wear away even what stone memorializes, so that actual knowledge of the two inhabitants of this tomb is long gone (I take this to be the meaning of the "endless altered people . . . / Washing at their identity").

Throughout, the real names of the buried pair have not been mentioned. And they are not relevant to our purposes here. Their social position is emphasized, but mostly to point out how meaningless it is in our age: they are "helpless in the hollow of / An unarmorial age." And this is no doubt how they would see our puzzling times: as hollow (as in spiritually empty, though the primary meaning here is most likely a hole or cavity in something), and unarmorial, as if to be a society permeated with knighthood and heraldry is normal, and a culture without these things can only be defined by their absence: unarmorial. And they lie in this odd age, helpless. It is referred to, in a striking image, as a "trough / Of smoke in slow suspended skeins / Above their scrap of history." A trough is a long and narrow and open container, skeins can be loose yet knotted stretches of yarn, or a tangled and complicated state of things, and of course smoke is transitory and not solid: the implication is of something that seems fairly complex (the skeins) as well as unchanging and long-lasting (the skeins are slow and suspended), yet is of its nature impermanent (it's smoke, and we each have only a little bit we can call ours of the on-going stream of history). We have the sense that both our time and their personalities, which seemed so indelible and ineradicable to us and to them, are fleeting and illusory things.

All that is left of what these people were is what is conveyed to us when we see his hand sculpted holding hers, a stone memorial to marital fidelity. Time has "transfigured them" and the implication of transfigured is that they have been elevated into something more beautiful and glorious than they used to be: in this sense what they are to us is an "untruth"; the sculpted affection that may have been incidental to them has, for us, overcome whatever the actual people were or thought their lives meant ("the stone fidelity / They hardly meant has come to be / Their final blazon"). Blazon is an excellent word there; for us it usually means to display prominently or extensively, and its hidden blaze gives the word some forceful fire, but it can also mean to describe or depict armorial bearings in a correct heraldic manner. So blazon is both an accurate technical description of the purpose of the tomb – to remind us of the correct lineage and standing of those buried there – and a gauge of how much has changed in the world from what they would have recognized.

This final stanza keeps hinting at and then pulling back from something magnificent, even perhaps transcendent: the dead couple is transfigured, there is a final blazon, and it proves something true – but they are transfigured into Untruth, the final blazon is something they hardly meant, what is proved is an almost-instinct (that is, deep-seated, innate, but therefore unreasoned, and perhaps linked to a sense of spiritual self-preservation rather than to any outside reality) – and it is only almost true. (Perhaps this last stanza has been prefigured in the first, when the speaker sees the little dog, a symbol of fidelity, and finds it faintly absurd.) Yet out of this very Larkinesque sense of irony and doubt blossoms one of his most famous lines, an assertive statement bursting forth (made more definite by contrast with the ambiguity leading up to it) that has perhaps tended to overshadow the irony and doubt in which it is grounded: What will survive of us is love.

People do love to think that. It is, as Larkin says, almost instinctual in us to say it. But I have to say: though it makes a grand conclusion to the poem, I think the statement is incorrect. For all we know, the hand-in-hand gesture put there by the sculptor was meant to gloss over or misrepresent the actual relations between the actual people. Nothing of them, or of whatever they thought of as love – whatever for them pinned to the board that elusive, glittering, fragile butterfly – has survived at all. What has survived is the sculptor's work, intended to illustrate an emotional state that is long vanished, and may not even have existed in the first place. What we are seeing is not love, but the representation of love. In short, what will survive of us is not love at all, but Art.

I took this from The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin, edited by Archie Burnett. The information about the differences between the actual tomb and the one described in the poem and about the restoration of the tomb and Larkin's not knowing about it comes from Burnett's annotations.