29 December 2016

fun stuff I may or may not get to: January 2017

And we're off into 2017!

ACT presents On Beckett starring Bill Irwin at the Strand Theater, from 10 to 22 January.

Aurora Theater presents Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, directed by Timothy Near, from 27 January to 26 February.

Cutting Ball Theater presents Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, translated by Paul Walsh and directed by Yury Urnov, who did their wonderful Ubu Roi a few years ago; Hedda will be doing it beautifully (well, urging others to do it beautifully) from 19 January to 26 February.

Theater Rhinoceros presents Gertrude Stein and a Companion by Win Wells, directed by Kathryn L. Wood and John Fisher, at the Eureka Theater from 28 December 2016 to 8 January 2017.

Shotgun Players is continuing to run the season in repertory through the month.

West Edge Opera is starting a program called Snapshot, featuring excerpts from new operas-in-progress. There will be two concerts, one this month and the other in February; each will feature four excerpts. This month you can sample Famous (music by David Conte, libretto by John Stirling Walker), Why I Live at the PO (music by Stephen Eddins, libretto by Michael O'Brien, based I assume on the story by the great Eudora Welty), Hagar and Ishmael (music by William David Cooper, libretto by Will Dunlap), and Afterword (music and libretto by Alden Jenks). Each program will be performed twice, and you can hear this first one on 21 January at the David Brower Center in Berkeley or on 22 January at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco. I'm not familiar with the SF venue, but I have been to the Berkeley venue, and am delighted that it is public-transportation friendly, and I wish West Edge would follow its own example and switch its regular season to a venue that does not require a car (though lack of public transportation access is just one of the problems with the abandoned train station in Oakland, their summertime venue). No word yet (at least none that has reached my ear) on singers, but the instrumentalists will be drawn from Earplay, the awesome local new-music ensemble, and led by Earplay Principal Conductor Mary Chun and West Edge Music Director Jonathan Khuner.

There's another new opera this month, and it will receive a piano / vocal workshop production at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music: Mary Pleasant at Land's End, "an historical drama set in Barbary Coast San Francisco," with music by David Garner to a libretto by Mark Hernandez, conducted by Ian Robertson. That's 14 January and it is free.

Nicholas McGegan leads Philharmonia Baroque in a program featuring violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock in the Mozart Violin Concerto 5, the Turkish. The band will also play Haydn's Symphony 91, along with a (possibly) interesting rarity, a Haydn-influenced symphony by his contemporary Adalbert Gyrowetz. You can hear the concert on 25 January at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford, 27 January at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 28 January at First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, or 29 January at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lafayette.

Joana Carneiro leads the Berkeley Symphony in the Cello Concerto by Mason Bates with soloist Joshua Roman and the Beethoven 4 in Zellerbach Hall on 26 January. UPDATE: Carneiro is pregnant and under doctor's advice not to travel, so she has withdrawn from this engagement and Christian Reif will conduct in her place. Best wishes to both of them.

The big attraction over at the San Francisco Symphony is the semi-staged performance of Das klagende Lied / The Song of Lamentation (the all-Mahler program also includes Blumine and the Lieder eines fahrendren Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)), led by Michael Tilson Thomas and directed by the reliably awesome James Darrah. The enticing soloists are soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael König, and baritone Brian Mulligan. Performances are 13 - 15 January (the 15th is a matinee).

James Gaffigan returns to the San Francisco Symphony to conduct Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Prokofiev's Violin Concerto 2 (with soloist Simone Lamsma), the Mozart 36 (the Linz), and the Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss's Salome. That's 19 - 22 January (the 22nd is a matinee).

The week after (26 - 28 January), Lionel Bringuier conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Kodály's Dances of Galánta, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major (with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet), and the Beethoven 4.

On 29 January, the San Francisco Symphony presents the Prague Philharmonia, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, in a program featuring Vltava (The Moldau) from Má Vlast (My Homeland) by Smetana, the Dvořák Cello Concerto (with soloist Gautier Capuçon), and the Dvořák 8.

San Francisco Performances presents The Bad Plus at Herbst Theater on 21 January.

Not sure quite where to put this, but jazz seems as capacious a category as any: Cal Performances presents Kodo, percussionists in the ancient tradition of Japanese taiko drumming. That's on 28 - 29 January in Zellerbach Hall.

Chamber Music
San Francisco Performances presents the Telegraph Quartet playing Webern, Berg, and Schubert at Herbst Theater on 31 January. This is SFP's annual concert featuring the previous year's Naumburg Competition winner.

Old First Concerts presents the Farallon Quintet on 13 January, when they will perform two world premieres, Alice Etudes by Gregory Vajda and The Integrity of Clouds by Joseph Sowa, along with Jean Francaix's Quintet.

On 15 January, Old First Concerts presents the Berkeley Choro Ensemble, which specializes in a traditional Brazilian style that combines European classical with native and Afro-Brazilian musical styles.

Old First Concerts presents the Ives Collective in an all-Beethoven program on 29 January.

Piano / Violin
Cal Performances presents Emanuel Ax playing Schubert and Chopin in Zellerbach Hall on 22 January.

The San Francisco Symphony presents famed violinist Itzhak Perlman with pianist Rohan De Silva at Davies Hall on 16 January in a program of Vivaldi, Beethoven, Schumann, and Stravinsky.

Early / Baroque Music
Cal Performances presents Jordi Savall and Hespêrion XXI in a program "exploring Venetian influences in musical Europe between 1500 and 1700"; that's on 27 January. Usually this group performs in First Congregational, which it always sells out; due to the recent fire in the church, the concert has been relocated. The good news is that therefore tickets are available; the bad news is that the performance is in Zellerbach Hall, not a venue conducive to intimacy and early strings.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents House of Time in Imaginary Theater: Stage Music by Handel and Rameau. as arranged for the ensemble by the group's oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz. You can hear the results on 20 January at St Mark's Episcopal in Palo Alto, 21 January at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, or 22 January at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Old First Concerts presents MUSA in a lovely looking program of French baroque pieces on 22 January.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Cal Performances presents Ensemble Signal with conductor Brad Lubman in an all-Steve Reich program, including the US premiere of Runner, a Cal Performances co-commission; that's in Hertz Hall on 29 January.

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present a modernist classic, Ligeti's Chamber Concerto, along with Kate Soper's Door, Michael Pisaro's ricefall, and the premiere of Richard Festinger's Careless Love, which SFCMP commissioned. The website gives full details on the performers, but does not mention who wrote the words for Careless Love and Door (presumably there are words, as the Festinger features baritone Daniel Cilli and the Soper soprano Amy Foote). All will presumably be revealed at the concert on 20 January at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

In addition to accompanying West Edge Opera's Snapshot programs, Earplay will present its first concert of its season: entitled Air, it will feature works by Peter Josheff, Tonia Ko, Elena Ruhr, Laurie San Martin, and Toru Takemitsu (the latter is this season's focus composer). Mary Chun leads the ensemble on 30 January at Herbst Theater.

The San Francisco Ballet presents its first two programs this season: Program 1 runs 24 January to 4 February and includes Haffner Symphony (choreography by Helgi Tomasson to Mozart's symphony), Fragile Vessels (Jiří Bubeníček to music by Rachmaninov), and In the Countenance of Kings (Justin Peck to music by Sufjan Stevens, orchestrated by Michael P Atkinson); Program 2 runs 26 January to 5 February and includes Seven Sonatas (choreography by Alexei Ratmansky to Domenico Scarlatti), Optimistic Tragedy (Yuri Possokhov to music by Ilya Demutsky), and Pas / Parts 2016 (William Forsythe to music by Thom Willems).

Visual Arts
You have until 29 January to catch the Le Nain Brothers show at the Legion of Honor. The Asian Art Museum's exhibit exploring the Rama Epic runs until 15 January. Both shows are worth visiting, or re-visiting.

17 December 2016

Supove plays Mattingly: Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field at the Center for New Music

Last Friday the Center for New Music hosted the west coast premiere of Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field, an epic (2+ hour) piece for solo piano by Dylan Mattingly, played by Kathleen Supové. I thought this sounded interesting, so off I went. I had heard a few pieces by Mattingly before, one at the Berkeley Symphony a few years ago and then a piece in honor of Terry Riley commissioned by Sarah Cahill for Riley's 80th birthday last year. I liked both pieces very much and had the feeling that Mattingly was an artist suited to long forms, so a solo ramble through the piano for several hours sounded right. The evocative title also intrigued me, suggesting an examination of being a certain type of romantic young man – drawn to youthful male archetypes like the warrior and the athlete, yet in a romantic, even nostalgic way removed enough from general culture to be individual and aestheticized. Achilles suggests an affinity for the foundational Greek classics, and Ebbets Field (home of the long-departed Brooklyn Dodgers) is a touchstone for the dreamier baseball fans (dreaming itself, as suggested by the title, also seems like an important theme, as if the future is dreamt of by the past, or the warrior dreams up his paler avatar, the athlete; in any case, the suggestion is of a fluid world with its own interior logic, but one that is on-going and continuous over distant times and places). The piece may have more particular meanings for the composer, but I think these things are enough as entry-ways for the listener.

The work is in 24 sections, as is the Iliad, but the correspondence is not necessarily direct; though section 22 is Death of Hektor, and the 22nd book of the Iliad indeed describes the death of Hektor, section 23 is Ebbets Field – though that is perhaps a reflection of the funeral games for Patroclus in Book 23 of the Iliad? Some titles directly reflect the Iliad (Catalogue of Heroes, Divine Rage: Ocean), some directly reflect the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers (For Jackie Robinson); others are more generally poetic (First Spring; Last Spring; Love, Death, and Paleoclimates; and one teasingly titled simply Music). I have to say I decided not to follow along with the titles, but just to listen to the onrush of music, a decision I wish had been made by some of the others in the very full house, who somehow managed to make astonishing noise with their programs; since the program was a single sheet of paper printed on both sides, I really have to salute their ingenuity.

Kathleen Supové is a physically small woman; her hair was in a purply-red Louise Brooks bob, and she was wearing short black boots, black tights, and kind of a short slip with a large leopard-skin print with a thick row of black lace at the bottom. The effect was striking, unusual for a performer, and even authoritative – no one wears leopard-skin with the intention of being overlooked or blending in. But any suggestion of studied eccentricity or the theatrically "artistic" was belied by her straightforward relationship to the piano; she did not play to the audience, but connected to the sheet music in front of her with intense concentration, occasionally nodding to or glancing at the page-turner (whom she graciously introduced during the intermission; his first name was Austin but I did not catch his second name) but then returning directly to the music. I enjoyed her glittering, aggressive playing. I did feel that the Center's Yamaha piano was occasionally over-bright, but maybe that was because I was very close (front row, far right).

From the chiming gamelan-like opening Invocation to the final Last Spring, the time actually flew by, which speaks well for both composer and performer. Obviously two hours and maybe 20 minutes of new music is a lot to take in. A recording would be wonderful, for repeated listening and for movement-by-movement analysis of what strikes the live listener, with almost palpable force, as a Scamander-River-like onrush of music, even with several Messiaen-like moments of radiant stasis, like a pulsating pillar of light. It all felt like a single coherent piece, despite the many small sections and the variety of styles that make it up. In keeping with the title, much of the music is bounding, athletic, youthful, with moments of quieter reflection and suggested loss.

Here is the composer's summary of his method, as printed in the program: "For hundreds of years, bards would travel the Aegean and sing from memory the 15,693 lines of the Iliad. Each time the story might change a little bit depending on the bard's surroundings and memory. With thousands of years between us and then, uncountable waves on the shore, a speckling across the universe of momentary loves and victories and breakfasts and hands running through hair, I wonder what the Iliad in which I find myself  might look like – evolved in some cases like fish on land and in others torn asunder like the endless reconfiguration of the continents, or perhaps transformed like the green Sahara only 10,000 years ago. These are the days I've grown up in – from the divine intervention in a walk-off home run to the rivergods in the Hudson to the soft breathing of someone sleeping beneath the window." That describes the effect of the piece very well: epic in sweep but intimate in detail, filled with personal moments that might or might not resonate with your moments, but in either case slip away or return reconfigured (so perhaps live performance, with its elusive attempts by the listener to hold each moment, and its inevitable disappearance into selective and hazy memory, really is the best medium for this piece).

The composer was there and took a bow afterwards, after we had applauded the dazzling and intrepid Supové. He wore black pants and a reddish shirt, with his frizzy auburn hair tied back. He looked very pleased, as indeed he had every right to be. There was a question-and-answer session after the concert, for which I did not stay. Later I kind of regretted this, but since it was late on a Friday night after a work week I was very tired. I don't always enjoy Q and A sessions anyway; I generally prefer letting myself marinate in memories of the performance as long as I can before forced re-entry into the usual world.

26 November 2016

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

This year has been a mixed bag, as usual, for most of us, I guess, but I'm also  pretty sure most of us will not be sorry to see it slide off into the past. In the meantime, we have one more month, and let's try to make the best of it. There are some holiday things on the list, but I omit the usual suspects on the grounds that you already know which annual holiday performances are part of your personal joy. (I do make an exception for Messiah, which I love, and which has its own category below, though I have to admit I haven't heard it live in several years – maybe this is the year to re-establish the personal tradition of hearing one or more live performances each season). Some organizations are having "Black Friday" sales; "Black Friday" is the holiday on which we celebrate the birth of Capitalism, and these days it seems to encompass weeks, so you might get a lower-price ticket if you shop early – or, conversely, you might discover as I did that the expensive ticket you bought just last week for a concert next March would have been available to you for almost half-price in a few days, if you had but known, because 2016.

Shotgun Players is finishing off its 25th anniversary season by running all five of this year's shows in repertory. I'm still hoping to write entries on all five shows, because delusional hope is what keeps me going, but here's my quick summary: Hamlet, done with six actors who don't know until ten minutes before the show which part(s) they will be playing that night: I went in thinking this was a gimmick, and kind of an annoying one at that, but I walked out a convert. I've seen it three times and would see it more if I could – don't miss it. The Village Bike: a powerful, unsettling play that has stuck with me since I saw it; unlike a lot of plays, which get weaker in memory, this one has gotten more powerful. It's theater that gets under your skin. Caught: a clever examination of the stories we tell ourselves and the narratives we get caught up in – just when you think you know where you are, you find out you're somewhere else. Grand Concourse: a strong and appealing cast, but the play itself is fairly weak and frequently exasperating. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: I felt this was a very good production, but the play itself I find overlong and almost completely unconvincing. I'm sure it was more striking and original when it premiered in 1962, but perhaps it is one of those works that has created the conditions for its own future banality?

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents Benjamin Britten's operatic treatment of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw on 9 and 11 December; the performances are free but you must make a reservation.

Christian Gerhaher returns to San Francisco Performances after his notable recital debut a couple of years ago; this time his is accompanied by pianist Gerold Huber in an all-Mahler program. That's 13 December at Herbst Theater.

Cal Performances presents mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato with Maxim Emelyanychev conducting Il Pomo d'Oro in a program of baroque music exploring states of war and peace. That's 4 December in Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows perform their annual concert of operatic excerpts and arias, including selections from Der Fliegende Holländer, I Pagliacci, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Carlos, Luisa Miller, Billy Budd, La Fille du Régiment, and others, on 2 December in Herbst Theater.

Sarah Cahill plays an all-chaconne program at San Francisco Performance's Salon at the Rex series on 14 December.

Also note the Dylan Mattingly piece (Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field, performed by Kathy Supove on 9 December) at the Center for New Music, listed under Modern / Contemporary Music.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Cal Performances and the Kronos Quartet present some of the new works commissioned in their Fifty for the Future project; check here for the full list. That's 3 December in Zellerbach Hall.

If you're a modernist looking for a holiday event / old-style happening, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players are reviving Phil Kline's Unsilent Night on 10 December. This year's event will be at Mission Dolores Park; meet on Dolores Street at the tennis courts by the corner of 18th Street at at 5:00 PM with your boombox / phone / whatever plays CDs, tapes, or MP3s. Download the music and walk around, shifting sound and perspective.

The Friction Quartet joins a quartet of excellent singers (soprano Amy Foote, mezzo-soprano Molly Mahoney, tenor Michael Desnoyers, and bass Sidney Chen) in a program of new works by Nick Benavides, Danny Clay, Noah Luna, and Mark Winges, each of which is inspired by an artist who died young (musicians Hank Williams, Jacqueline du Pré, and Charlie Parker, and poet Joe Bolton). That's 4 December at The Women's Building on 18th Street in San Francisco.

As always there is a cornucopia over at the Center for New Music, so check out their schedule. Some things that jump out at me for December: an evening of improvisation with guitarist Amy Brandon and trumpeter / vibraphonist Ben Zucker on 2 December; Blurred Music, another evening of mostly improvisation, this time with violinist Biliana Voutchkova and clarinetist Michael Thieke, on 4 December; pianist Kathy Supove playing the west coast premiere of Dylan Mattingly's epic piano piece Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field on 9 December; and a CD release concert for composer-pianist Eric Tran (the ticket price includes a copy of the CD) on 13 December.

Early / Baroque Music
Philharmonia Baroque presents Handel's oratorio Joshua, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, with soloists Thomas Cooley (tenor), Daniel Taylor (countertenor), William Berger (baritone), Yulia van Doren (soprano), and Gabrielle Haigh (soprano), and the Philharmonia Chorale (Bruce Lamott, director). That's 1 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 2 December at First United Methodist in Palo Alto, 3 December at First Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 4 December at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lafayette. Note the (sensible and welcome) early start times; baroque oratorios tend to run long.

If you are looking for some festive baroque music that does not involve the Hallelujah Chorus, the San Francisco Early Music Society presents the Archetti Baroque Strings along with baroque trumpeter Kathryn Adduci and soprano Clara Rottsolk in Christmas music by Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, Telemann, Bach, Torelli, and Manfredini (I will confess I know nothing about those last two); you can hear them 9 December at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 10 December at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, or 11 December at First Unitarian in San Francisco.

Also note that Joyce diDonato and Il Pomo d'Oro are at Cal Performances in a baroque program on 4 December, listed above under Vocalists.

American Bach Soloists continues its popular tradition of performing Messiah in Grace Cathedral; this year you can hear Jeffrey Thomas lead soloists Hélène Brunet (soprano), Emily Marvosh (contralto), Derek Chester (tenor), and Mischa Bouvier (baritone), along with ABS's chorus and period orchestra, from 14 to 16 December (there are additional performances on 10 December at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis and 18 December at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park). ABS also offers DVDs and Blu-Rays of their Grace Cathedral performances (I have not seen the film).

Cal Performances presents the choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra in Messiah on 10 December in Zellerbach Hall.

The San Francisco Symphony, led by Patrick Dupré Quigley, and the excellent Symphony Chorus, led by Ragnar Bohlin, performs Messiah on 15 - 17 December, with soloists Lauren Snouffer (soprano), Anthony Roth Constanzo (countertenor), Zachary Wilder (tenor), and Christian Van Horn (bass-baritone).

You can give in to the urge to join in those mighty choruses by signing up for the Golden Gate Symphony's Sing It Yourself Messiah on 12 December at Mission Dolores Basilica. Urs Leonhardt Steiner leads the group, with soloists Gina Silvermann (soprano), Theresa Cardinale (alto), William Wiggins (tenor), Alex Ip (bass) and Franklin Beau Davis (trumpet).

Paul Flight leads the California Bach Society in a Scandinavian Christmas program, which you can hear on 2 December at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 3 December at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, or 4 December at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley.

The International Orange Chorale presents The Full Heart: Choral Music of Love and Passion, featuring new works by Ivo Antognini, David Conte, Paul Crabtree, Aaron Jay Kernis, Huang Ruo, Sven-David Sandström, Stephen Smith, Peter Warlock, Eric Whitacre, and Healey Willan. along with the world premiere of Into the Golden Vessel of Great Song by the Chorale's inaugural Composer-in-Residence, Nicholas Weininger; these free concerts are at All Soul's Episcopal in Berkeley (3 December) and St Mark's Lutheran (10 December) in San Francisco. The group's second CD, The Unknown Region, is also now available.

Old First Concerts presents the Lacuna Arts Chorale, led by Sven Edward Olbash, in Hugo Distler's Die Weihnachtsgeschichte (The Christmas Story) and Arvo Pärt's Which Was the Son of . . . ; you can hear the concert on 9 December.

The Berkeley Symphony, led by guest conductor Elim Chan, performs the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Shai Wosner and the US premiere of James MacMillan's Symphony No. 4; that's on 8 December.

The relatively new conductorless chamber ensemble One Found Sound presents an interesting program on 9 December at Heron Arts in San Francisco: George Enescu's Decet for Winds, Op 14, Aaron Copland's Quiet City (featuring Jessse Barrett on English horn and Brad Hogarth on trumpet), and Zoltán Kodálay's Dances of Galánta.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents A Day of Silents on 3 December at the gorgeous Castro Theater, with a typically enticing line-up including some Chaplin Essanay shorts; Lubitsch's So This Is Paris; Eisenstein's first feature, Strike; Conrad Veidt in Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others), one of the first features about homosexual life; The Last Command, for which Emil Jannings won the first Oscar for Best Actor; and Gloria Swanson as prostitute Sadie Thompson, in the first film version of Somerset Maugham's Rain. Lots of great stuff there!

The Silent Film Festival always has excellent live music, and the Day of Silents is no exception: the redoubtable Alloy Orchestra will be accompanying Strike and The Last Command, and while they're in the area they will also assist at showings of Dziga Vertov's avant-garde Russian classic Man With a Movie Camera at the Fox Theater in Visalia on 6 December and also Lon Chaney's HE Who Gets Slapped at Santa Rosa Community College in Petaluma on 9 December. HE Who Gets Slapped is one of my all-time favorite films, and HE's circus act has to be seen to be believed (I tracked down a copy of the original play by Leonid Andreyev, and there's no description of such an act, so hats off to whomever came up with it for the movie).

Among other things, 2016 is the 500th anniversary of the death of the beloved painter Hieronymous Bosch; in a new documentary, Hieronymous Bosch: Touched by the Devil, you can watch "a team of art historians as they travel the world to examine all of the known Bosch paintings with x-ray and infrared cameras"; that's showing at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from 1 to 4 December. Sounds promising, though I've been burned by art documentaries before (like Tim's Vermeer, which I thought was both overheated and underthought; I gave up after half an hour).

24 November 2016

finding the word & a found poem

Is there a word for  the condition of finding the word that describes your condition? Because there should be. I recently came across the Japanese word tsundoku, defined as "the state of buying books and letting them pile up unread," which is as good a description of my life as any. I cannot resist bookstores, and find comfort in the piles of books, all close to hand. I assure myself that some day I will get to each and every one of them, even the ones that have been waiting on my shelves for decades. (We all have our ways of denying our mortality.) Recently while re-arranging the teetering piles, I came across this juxtaposition:

No points to the designers for originality, but it does seem like the quintessential image for a certain sort of nineteenth-century attitude.

Recently Oxford University Press was having another sale so I bought a pile of books from the Oxford World's Classics series, even though I've barely made a dent in the previous piles I bought at their previous sales (hence: tsundoku). I noticed that the backs of most of the books had big pull-quotes in red, and looking through them I felt they were a found poem:

Being persuaded that no woman was chaste, he resolved, in order to prevent the disloyalty of such as he should afterwards marry, to wed one every night, and have her strangled the next morning.

At least their lives would remain a protest against those brute forces of society which fill with wreck the abysses of the nether world.

These hours of solitude and meditation are the only time of the day when I am completely myself.

I am not a man, I am dynamite.

Arms and the man I sing of Troy. . . 

His rise testifies to the decline of a whole society.

The nearest the general run get to art is Action: sex is their form of art: the battle for existence is their picture.

Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful one who taught by the pen, who taught man what he did not know.

For a wondrous power ordains that I shall walk hand-in-hand with my strange heroes for a long time yet, viewing the broad sweep and rapid flow of life, viewing it through the laughter that the world sees and the tears that it neither sees nor suspects.

19 November 2016

Ray Chen plays with New Century Chamber Orchestra

The Saturday after the presidential election I trekked out to Herbst Theater in San Francisco to hear violinist Ray Chen as guest soloist and conductor for New Century Chamber Orchestra. I believe he also chose the program. It was an evening that brought balm, despite the woman behind me coughing all through the Mozart Violin concerto #3 (followed by an impressive improvised cadenza of constant throat-clearing).

The performance opened with a different Mozart piece, the Divertimento in F major, K. 138. As you might guess from the composer's name, the music was a portal into a world very different from the one most of us have been living in recently. The performers all stood in a semi-circle. Chen is a very physical performer, leaning forward, leaning backwards, sometimes goggling his eyes at others as they saw away (this made one of the people in front of me giggle; I didn't think it was that funny, actually). I had heard him once before, at a subscriber gift concert sponsored by San Francisco Performances, but it was interesting to watch him interact with a whole group and not just one pianist. He conducted too, waving his bow as his baton. He has a full sound, capable of sweetness and pathos. The first half ended with Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, in a haunting performance that brought out things I was not expecting from this music, with which I am mildly and vaguely familiar – here it was sadder, deeper, more mystical and mysterious than I had expected.

I'm not a big fan of chat from the stage, though I realize that is yet another losing battle of mine. I have to say that Chen does it better than most; he's very good-humored and extremely charming. He does ramble a bit, but so do they all, and his ramblings at least led us to amusing and unexpected places. At one point he noted that his original Australian accent had returned, as it sometimes does when he speaks publicly (his background is Taiwanese and Australian; he moved to this country at age 16, roughly a decade ago, to attend the Curtis Institute). In discussing his programming, he quoted his father as saying, "Mozart is to music as oil is to the wok," a koanic comparison that led to a moment of apparently stunned contemplation on the part of the audience. He also introduced us to his violin, joking that it was his girlfriend. It turns out he plays the Joachim Stradivarius – the very instrument played by Joseph Joachim, the great nineteenth-century violinist. Chen joked that this means that when he plays pieces like the Brahms Violin Concerto (dedicated to and first performed by Joachim) "the notes are already there, I just have to pull them out." I would have been interested in hearing how he came to play that instrument, but he did not tell us, and it was time to return to music anyway.

The charming Chen can go into different places when he plays (music coming from inside perhaps being a truer form of communication than words directed outwardly), and the second half opened with a stylish yet searching performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto #3 (accompanied by coughing directly behind me, as previously mentioned), followed by the stately rolling clouds of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings.

I can't emphasize enough how good it was to hear this music performed so richly at the end of a week that left most of us shocked, angry, and disgusted. I don't buy a lot of the bromides about art: I think music can divide us as easily as bring us together, I'm not sure anything can heal what has been happening in this country, but it was profoundly moving to see this varied group come together and, working in harmony, create and recreate the fleeting beauty left us by those who have gone ahead of us. What was happening outside had still (and was still) happening, but during the concert I kept thinking about Larkin's lines about the jazz trumpeter Sidney Bechet:

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. . . .

11 November 2016

9 November 2016

My Götterdämmerung t-shirt from my first Ring Cycle (Seattle, 1995).

I am slowly emerging from a state of shock (and the shock is partly that I was shocked . . . ).

Take care of yourselves, and then help take care of the world. The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, environmental and social justice groups, arts organizations – all are continuing their work of inching the world forward. Donate, volunteer, move forward: every ending is a beginning.

31 October 2016

gods & monsters & a sorceress

Some local artists are raising funds for projects that sound worth supporting:

Locally sourced tenor Nicholas Phan is running an IndiGoGo campaign for his latest solo CD, Gods & Monsters, in which he and pianist Myra Huang perform German lieder (by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Wolf, and Mahler) that center on myths, legends, and fairy tales, involving gods, monsters, witches, and "other fantastical creatures." Phan's other solo albums have been sterling and this looks like a wonderful program. You can find out more, check out the offered premiums, and contribute if you are so minded, here. The campaign ends in a few days.

Curious about what else was being performed at the opera houses in the days of Monteverdi? Ars Minerva, which is led by soprano Céline Ricci, is the place to find out. The youngest company performing the oldest operas, Ars Minerva has announced their third revival of a long-forgotten work from the giddy days of seventeenth-century Venetian opera: La Circe, attributed to Pietro Andrea Ziani with a libretto by Cristoforo Ivanovich, about the enchantress celebrated by Homer and Ovid. I attended the company's first two productions (La Cleopatra by Castrovillari and The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles by Pallavicino), and both were completely entertaining and delightful and extremely well done on a limited budget. If you'd like to help out their work – and reviving seventeenth-century Venetian operas is God's own work, make no mistake – you may find out more and donate here.

25 October 2016

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

UPDATE: A couple of items I forgot:

Christian Reif leads the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra in Henze's Maenad's Dance from The Bassarids, the Sibelius Violin Concerto (with soloist Jason Moon, winner of the 2016 Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition), and the Shostakovich 6; that's on 13 November (matinee).

The Golden Gate Symphony performs Ask the Sky & the Earth, An Oratorio-Cantata for the Sent-Down Youth, with music by Tony Fok and lyrics by Wei Su, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of China's cultural revolution and the relocation of an urban generation to collective farms. The program also includes the Beethoven 6, the world premiere of Remembering for Atonement with music by Michael Kimbell and words by Viktoriya Neverov-Krstic, and the Legend of Matouqin, featuring Master Bo Li. Performances are 5 November at Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco and 6 November (matinee) at the UC Theater in Berkeley.

Cal Performances presents Robert Wilson's Letter to a Man, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, based on the diaries of Nijinsky; that's 10 - 13 November at Zellerbach.

Aurora Theatre presents Safe House by Keith Josef Adkins, directed by L. Peter Callender, a story of conflict between two brothers in a free family of color in antebellum Kentucky. That's 4 November to 4 December.

San Francisco Playhouse presents She Loves Me, a musical version of the charming 1940 Lubitsch film The Shop Around the Corner, with a book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; the show is directed by Susi Damilano with musical direction by David Aaron Brown. It runs from 23 November to 14 January 2017, so if you're looking for a fun holiday show that doesn't feature three ghosts visiting a miser, this might be it.

If you're a Sherlock Holmes fanatic (there doesn't seem to be any middle ground there), you may want to check out Baker Street at 42nd Street Moon, a revival of the 1965 musical with music and lyrics by Marian Grudeff and Raymond Jessel and a book by Jerome Coopersmith (loosely based on A Scandal in Bohemia). The director / choreographer for this production is Cindy Goldfield and the music director is Dave Dobrusky; the show runs from 2 to 20 November at the Eureka Theater.

Chamber Music
San Francisco Performances presents cellist Sol Gabetta and pianist Alessio Bax in a program of Schumann, Brahms, and Prokofiev, on 15 November.

Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han return to Cal Performances on 20 November in a program featuring works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff.

Old First Concerts is presenting several string quartets this month: on 4 November the Amaranth Quartet plays Erwin Schulhoff's Five Pieces for String Quartet, Gabriela Lena Frank's Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, and Béla Bartók's String Quartet No. 4, pieces chosen to illustrate the uses of cultural identity in musical form; on 11 November the Farallon Quintet plays Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes, Copland's Sextet for Clarinet, Piano, and String Quartet, the world premiere of Durwynne Hsieh's Sextet, and Carl Maria von Weber's Clarinet Quintet in B-flat major, Op 34; and on 18 November the Telegraph Quartet plays pieces chosen to reflect light and dark: Haydn's Bird quartet, Brett Dean's Eclipse for String Quartet, and Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet.

Modern / New Music
Cal Performances presents pianist Myra Melford and her Snowy Egret Ensemble in The Language of Dreams, a program inspired by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano; that's 19 November in Zellerbach.

Other Minds has composer Alvin Curran in conversation with Charles Amirkhanian, along with recordings and films of some of his works in performance, on 20 November at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, in conjunction with the exhibit Art / Act: The Canary Project at the Center.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents a special pre-election concert on 4 November: Alan Pierson conducts the Conservatory's New Music Ensemble in Ted Hearne's Katrina Ballads and Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together, with narrator Angela Davis. The concert is free but reservations are required.

Early / Baroque Music
Dynamic violinist Rachel Podger returns to Philharmonia Baroque to lead a program centering on Vivaldi and his admirer J S Bach (with some Tartini tossed in as well). Some of the dates are apparently sold out already but tickets are available for 2 November at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto, 3 November at the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, and 4 November at Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Early Music Society sponsors Musica Pacifica and countertenor Ryland Angel in a program featuring sacred motets by Alessandro Scarlatti and Alessandro Stradella; that's 11 November at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 12 November at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 13 November at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Chora Nova is singing Haydn's Mass in Time of War on 20 November at First Presbyterian in Berkeley.

Robert Geary leads the San Francisco Choral Society in Duruflé's Requiem and his Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, along with Herbert Howells's Te Deum & Jubilate and Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine; that's on 12 and 13 November at Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Opera Chorus sings operatic and non-operatic choruses on 19 November in the Taube Atrium Theater (on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building adjacent to the War Memorial Opera House).

Guest concertmaster Ray Chen leads the New Century Chamber Orchestra in works by Mozart (the Divertimento in F major, K 138 and the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major), Britten (Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge for String Orchestra, op 10), and Elgar (Introduction and Allegro for Strings, op 47); their usual open rehearsal is on 9 November at Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall C in San Francisco, followed by performances on 10 November at the Berkeley City Club, 11 November at First United Methodist in Palo Alto, 12 November at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 13 November at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael.

The Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra and Chorus performs It's in the Stars: Songs of Fate on 12 November at the Castro Valley Center for the Arts. Youth Orchestra Principal Conductor Omid Zoufonoun and Chorus Director Lynne Morrow lead the program, which includes Barber's Sure on this Shining Night, Rafael Inciarte's Rumbamban, Gershwin's Our Love Is Here to Stay (arranged by Darmon Meader), Dukas's fanfare from La Péri, Brahms's Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Gershwin's Cuban Overture, and Bizet's Carmen Suites 1 and 2.

The Oakland Symphony performs Lost Romantic Symphonies at the Paramount on 18 November; Omid Zoufonoun leads the Youth Orchestra in Gershwin's Cuban Overture and then Michael Morgan leads the regular orchestra in Joachim Raff's Symphony 3, along with the US premiere of the Violin Concerto: Dream of a Summer Night by Siegfried Matthus, with soloist Kelly Hall-Tompkins, who also performs in the Theme from Schindler's List by John Williams and selections from Fiddler on the Roof (Hall-Tompkins is the fiddler in the recent Broadway revival of that show),

The Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, led by guest conductor Alasdair Neale, performs Jonathan Dove's Figures in the Garden: Dancing in the Dark, Mozart's Overture to the Marriage of Figaro (arranged for Wind Octet), Copland's Clarinet Concerto (with soloist Stephen Zielinski), Barber's Medea's Dance of Vengeance, and Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes on 5 November at Everett Middle School in San Francisco (behind Mission Dolores).

The San Francisco Symphony is mostly gone on tour this month, but from 2 to 4 November you can hear Michael Tilson Thomas conducting his own Agnegram along with the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 (with soloist Yuja Wang) and the Bruckner 7. Several other orchestras will be visiting Davies Hall in the SF Symphony's absence: Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Andrew Norman's Play and the Tchaikovsky 4 (31 October) and the Mahler 9 (1 November); Jacek Kaspszyk leads the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Polish Melodies No. 2, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 (with soloist Seong-Jin Cho), and the Brahms 1 (6 November); and Simon Rattle leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Boulez's Éclat and the Mahler 7 (22 November) and Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra, Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra (witty programming!) and the Brahms 2 (23 November). Those are enticing programs, and it is the mighty Berlin Philharmonic, but brace yourself before you check the ticket prices.

Visual Arts
The Asian Art Museum presents The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe, exploring the art around the four main characters of the Indian epic Ramayana. The exhibit runs from 21 October to 15 January 2017.

07 October 2016

update: continuing problems

I have a spiffy new computer, but now my home Internet service is bombing out regularly and I go days without being able to get any kind of connection. I have contacted AT&T and I can already tell this is going to be an ordeal. I hope to resume regular posting soon. In the meantime, deepest thanks to those who keep checking back.

16 October update: So I now have a spiffy new modem from AT&T, and I know I set it up correctly because I am getting occasional connectivity, but . . . I'm still bombing out a lot. Back to the drawing board for me (or for AT&T), and I hope to be back soon.

24 September 2016

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

Cal Performances hosts the Mark Morris Dance Group, making its annual visit with a world premiere: Layla and Manjun, based on the ancient Persian romance. The Silk Road Ensemble provides the music. That's 29 September - 2 October (the Sunday performance is a matinee).

Cal Performances also presents Sweden's Cullberg Ballet in Deborah Hay's Figure a Sea, with a score by Laurie Anderson. The first half of the show will be the choreographer "guiding the audience through her choreographic journey" followed by the complete piece in the second half. That's 22 - 23 October in Zellerbach Hall.

Earlier this year when the San Francisco Opera announced its upcoming season, I was stunned to realize that what looked like the big must-see was, of all things, . . . Don Pasquale. Its comparative rarity alone (last done here in 1984, according to the SF Opera Archives) in a season mostly made up of exhausted warhorses helped push it to the top of the list, but what really cemented its lead was the SF Opera debut of tenor Lawrence Brownlee, alongside the always delightful Heidi Stober. You can check it out on 28 September and 2 (matinee), 4, 7, 12, and 15 October. The other offering this month, The Makropulos Case, would normally be the must-see of the season, a position that almost automatically goes to anything by Janáček, as far as I'm concerned. The problem here is the presence of Nadja Michael in the lead – when she appeared here a few years ago in the title role of Salome, I was left pondering whether an operatic performer could be considered truly successful if she managed to be theatrically striking without actually being able to sing the role. There was definitely a presence there, but whatever authority her performance had was not vocal. I've read other reports of her that made me think that night was not an aberration. And she is following in the incandescent footsteps of Karita Mattila, who just a few years ago set the house ablaze in this same part. You can check this one out on 14, 18, 23 (matinee), 26, and 29 October.

Cal Performances presents Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the Philharmonia Orchestra of London in three different programs: a Beethoven (the Eroica) and Sibelius (the 5th) program on 7 October, followed by two all-Stravinsky programs: the Fanfare for Three Trumpets, Symphonies of Wind Instruments, Agon, and The Rite of Spring on 8 October and the Symphony of Psalms and Oedipus Rex on 9 October (matinee).

The Berkeley Symphony opens its season at Zellerbach Hall on 13 October, with Joana Carneiro leading a typically unusual and intriguing program: the world premiere of Paul Dresher's Crazy Eights & Fractured Symmetries, Eric Korngold's Violin Concerto with soloist Philippe Quint, and Stravinsky's Petrushka. Due to the opening night dinner, the concert will start at 7:00 rather than their usual hour of 8:00, and I would like to encourage them to move in this direction for the whole season, as (for whatever reason) their concerts often start late and though I generally do not leave before a show ends I have had to leave Berkeley Symphony at intermission several times, because – and I couldn't be the only audience member in this position – I have to get up early the next morning to go to work, and sadly cannot stay out all night.

The Oakland Symphony opens its season at the Paramount on 14 October with a wide-ranging program featuring Michael Morgan conducting Red States, Blue States by Clark Suprynowicz, Episodes Concertantes, Op. 45 (with the Delphi Trio) by Paul Juon, In the South by Elgar, and Mahler's Rückert Lieder, featuring baritone Hadleigh Adams.

Meanwhile over at the San Francisco Symphony you can hear Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 1 (with soloist Yuja Wang), the world premiere of Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber Overture (based on his recent world premiere opera from across the street, Dream of the Red Chamber), and two bird-related Stravinsky pieces, Le Chant du rossignol and the 1919 version of  the Firebird Suite; that's 28 September to 1 October.

Pablo Heras-Casado conducts the Mozart 29, the Dvořák 7, and the Schumann Cello Concerto (with soloist Alisa Weilerstein); that's 19 - 22 October (the Thursday performance is a matinee).

Tilson Thomas returns to conduct the Brahms 2, the Allegri Miserere (with the Pacific Boychoir), and the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 (with soloist Rudolf Buchbinder) on 27 - 30 October (the Sunday performance is a matinee).

See also Philharmonia Baroque's all-Beethoven concert under Early / Baroque Music.

The annual SF Olympians Festival will take place at the Exit Theater from 5 to 22 October; this year's theme is Harvest of Mysteries, and the plays are based on myths involving sleep, dreams, and the Underworld (and this year, the net for myths and legends has been cast beyond Olympus, as far as the banks of the ancient Nile). You can get all the details here.

At ACT, King Charles III by Mike Bartlett, directed by David Muse, runs from 14 September to 9 October, and a new play by Tom Stoppard, The Hard Problem, runs from 19 October to 13 November.

Berkeley Rep presents an adaptation by Tony Taccone and Bennett S. Cohen of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here, directed by Lisa Peterson. It's about the rise of a fascist leader in America. Can't imagine why they've scheduled that this year. It runs 23 September to 6 November, so you can see it before this election finally ends (I hope) on 8 November.

Cutting Ball Theatre presents the return of Avantgardarama!, an evening of seven short experimental plays. It runs 5 to 23 October.

Shotgun Players present Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by the late Edward Albee, directed by Mark Jackson, from 12 October to 13 November. I have seen the famous movie version, but I have never seen the play on stage. I'm curious. I'm also not a very big Albee fan. I figure if this one doesn't convince me, he's maybe just not my playwright.

Custom Made Theatre presents the musical Chess, lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, directed by Brian Katz, running from 15 September to 15 October.

Theatre Rhinoceros, now located at the Eureka Theater on Jackson Street, presents The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Darryl V Jones, from 24 September to 15 October.

Poet Billy Collins appears at the Nourse Theater for City Arts and Lectures on 7 October.

Chamber Music
Cal Performances presents the Takács Quartet in the first two concerts in a series of six, in which they will play the complete Beethoven string quartets. You can hear Nos 2, 11, and 13 on 15 October and 1, 10, and 14 on 16 October (matinee). The other four concerts will be in March and April 2017.

San Francisco Performances presents harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani playing pieces by William Byrd, Kaija Saariaho, Toru Takemitsu, JS Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Lou Harrison, WF Bach, and Steve Reich; this is part of their new "Pivot" series, so it's not at one of SFP's usual times or places; the concert, which will last about an hour, is open seating at the Strand Theater and starts at 8:30 on 8 October.

San Francisco Performances presents the first two in a four-concert series designed by pianist Jonathan Biss to explore the idea of a "late style" among composers. For these concerts Biss will be joined by violist Hsin-Yun Huang and the Brentano String Quartet; the 15 October concert is all Beethoven and the one on 19 October is Bach, Elgar, Gesualdo, and Mozart.

San Francisco Performances presents the young Dover Quartet in a program of Mozart, Rossini, Dvořák, and Edgar Meyer (Quintet for strings; the composer will join the quartet to make up five). That's on 30 October.

San Francisco Performances presents a special Concert of Gratitude, sponsored by Ruth Felt as a  thank-you to SFP's audience as she retires from the organization she founded 37 years ago (in honor of that anniversary, all tickets are $37, and it is reserved seating, so that's another reason to be grateful to her). The program continues the tradition of high quality established by Felt as a hallmark of SFP: the Alexander String Quartet will play Beethoven's Quartet No 11 in F minor, Serioso; pianist Marc-André Hamelin will play the Brahms Intermezzi, Op 117; violinist Midori will play the Bach Sonata No 1 in G minor for Solo Violin; and Hamelin and the Alexanders will play Schumann's Quintet in E-flat Major, Op 44. That's 23 October at Herbst Theater, starting at 7:00.

Old First Concerts presents the New Piano Collective (Johnandrew Slominski and Jeffrey LaDeur) in a concert exploring music "of reinvention and transformation", featuring works by Ravel, Chopin, Rameau, Debussy, Liszt, and Kodály. that's 16 October.

On 23 October, Old First Concerts presents the Ives Collective in some unusual repertory: works by Joaquin Turni, Ernst von Dohnányi, and Gabriel Fauré.

Old First Concerts presents the Grace Note Chamber Players on 30 October in works by Bartók, Bach, and Beethoven.

Choral Music
Ragnar Bohlin leads Cappella SF in a program they're calling Immortal Fire, featuring works by JS Bach, Mark Volkert (a new work written especially for this chorus), Benjamin Britten, Maurice Duruflé, Arvo Pärt, and Jonathan Dove; that's on 30 September at St Andrew's in Saratoga and 2 October at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco.

Volti is joined by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble for its season opener, A Close Correspondence, a program based on letters and letter-writing, featuring Janáček's Intimate Letters quartet; David Lang's A Father's Love from battle hymns, based on a letter by Civil War soldier Sullivan Ballou; and two premieres, by Onur Türkmen (based on a letter by Goethe) and Mark Winges (based on letters from Abelard and Héloïse, Janáček, and Virginia Woolf). That's 15 October at First Congregational in Berkeley and 24 October at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco.

Ensemble Basiani returns to Cal Performances on 21 October, singing in the traditions of Georgia (the one in eastern Europe).

Early / Baroque Music
The California Bach Society performs the mighty St Matthew Passion on 7 October at the First Unitarian Universalist in San Francisco, on 8 October at First Methodist in Palo Alto, and 9 October at First Congregational in Berkeley. The evening concerts start at 7:30 and the Sunday matinee is at 3:30.

It's not baroque, but it is Philharmonia Baroque and period practices: Nicholas McGegan leads the group in Beethoven's Concerto for Fortepiano No 3 with soloist Robert Levin, followed by the Pastoral Symphony. That's 16 October at First Congregational in Berkeley, 19 October at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford, 21 October at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 22 October back at First Congregational. If you want to hear this excellent ensemble in some baroque music, let me recommend their handsomely packaged recent world premiere recording of Alessandro Scarlatti's La Gloria di Primavera, which preserves the pleasures of their live performance (and you can always close the program book and ignore the more than usually sycophantic text).

Modern / Contemporary Music
The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players open their season on 8 October in the Taube Atrium Theater with works by Joe Pereira, Toru Takemitsu, Ken Ueno, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir

And as always, check out the varied calendar of the Center for New Music.

Visual Arts
The lengthy trek out to the Legion of Honor might be worth it to see The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of 17th-Century France, which opens 8 October and runs through 29 January 2017.

18 September 2016

New Century Chamber Orchestra launches its silver season

New Century Chamber Orchestra is turning 25 this year, and to mark this milestone they have christened this their Silver Season. The other major milestone they are marking is the ninth and final year of Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's time as their Music Director, a term that has been marked by a higher profile for this fine ensemble as well as the very welcome Featured Composer Residency program, culminating each season in a new work written for the ensemble (on 16 May 2017 you can hear these works in the first of three final and farewell concerts).

Last Saturday I headed out to Herbst Theater in San Francisco to hear the first concert of their season. It opened with Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement), written by a youthful Webern for his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg (in a version for chamber orchestra prepared by Gerard Schwarz). It is a brief (roughly ten minute) but full and even lush piece, written when both composers were immersed in that late romantic style that is so replete in every way (size, sound, luxurious longing, impending sadness and exhaustion) that the only place to turn from it was to the bracing asperities that I at least love in the works of the Second Viennese School these composers are now mostly associated with. I hope it's not damning to call this piece tasteful, but there's always a sense of elegant restraint behind even its most voluptuous swellings. This was followed by Mozart's Piano Concerto No 13 in C Major, with soloist Inon Barnatan. He is sort of an elfin fellow, and the silver of the season also seemed appropriate for his silvery, mercurial touch; C major is seen as such a triumphant key, but that didn't seem quite what was going on in this delicate yet striking performance. The piano was situated so that Barnatan on his stool was just a few feet away from Salerno-Sonnenberg in her Concertmaster's seat. He frequently glanced over at her, and the two exchanged cues wordlessly. But when he was not looking at her, he did not look at us; instead, a smile of blissful distance on his face, he seemed to be floating off on effulgent clouds he himself was calling forth.

After the intermission, we had Philip Glass's Symphony No. 3. I am a long-time Glass fan, but I was a little mixed on this symphony, though the playing was, as is to be expected with this group, full and fine and thoughtful. The symphony is in the usual four movements, and though I found them all enjoyable enough it was only the third and longest movement that I really connected with. It is also the most "Philip-Glass-like" of the movements, which left me feeling dubious about myself, since I've always rejected "that performance didn't sound like [insert name of composer here: Beethoven, Prokofiev, Glass. . . ]" as a standard – why should people always "sound like" themselves? It's like those painters who have one technique and use it over and over, until it can seem more like a commercial gimmick than anything else. Nonetheless, here I was, most absorbed in the most Glass-like part of the work, feeling in it that undertow of melancholy I hear in his work, with the deep strings lamenting forward, overlaid with the plangent thrusts of Salerno-Sonnenberg's violin. The other movements seemed a bit more haphazard to me, a little less specific in what they summoned up, if you will.

The concert closed with Peter Heidrich's Variations on Happy Birthday, in which the familiar tune is treated in the styles of various composers and traditions, from Bach and Haydn to "film music" and jazz. It's a fun item, so I can see why they thought it would be, you know, fun to include it in the first concert of their 25th birthday season, but it seemed like a bit of a goof after the sort of pearly sadness that underlay the other pieces, though of course the playing was still on a high level. Salerno-Sonnenberg announced that they weren't playing all the variations and we could enjoy ourselves guessing which piece was supposed to be which composer, but I genuinely hate guessing games, which kind of blunted the edge of that for me. And I wonder how many of us would be able to detect a Max Reger parody (Variation IX) unless it was clearly labeled as such, though in general it's easy enough to hear roughly who or what is being parodied. Despite this there was much whispering around me from the previously attentive audience as they tried to pin each butterfly to the board. The young woman next to me asked several times to borrow my program. (Why not just listen? But I do realize it took me a long time to learn that,) Violinist Evan Price, whose birthday it was, did an elaborate solo. Someone behind me decided to chant his name. Some people tried clapping along during the "Hungarian" variation. None of these audience interventions really took off, though. It was not my favorite ending to an otherwise dreamy concert.

11 September 2016


The good news is that Computer Crisis 2016 is nearing an end. So I'm just going to lie low until I'm fully functional again, which should be in . . . a few days? a week? soon?

05 September 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/36

Well, this "no computer" thing is certainly dragging on . . . but I'm hoping to have good (or goodish) news soon.

More Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard:

In memory

Of Pelagon, a fisherman,
his father Meniscus placed

here a fishbasket and oar;
tokens of an unlucky life


29 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/35

This computer thing is dragging on much longer than I was hoping it would. Soon, soon, I keep telling myself: soon. . . . Here's some more Sappho, once again translated by Mary Barnard:

And I said

I shall burn the
fat thigh-bones of
a white she-goat
on her altar


22 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/34

I have finally received the diagnosis on my computer, and the news is not good. Motherboard meltdown! So now I have to deal with the trouble and expense of getting a new one.

Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard:

It is clear now:

Neither honey nor
the honey bee is
to be mine again


15 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/33

Still no computer. I know, I know: how do I manage? Where do I get this incredible inner strength? Here's another Sappho fragment, once again in the Mary Barnard translation:

The gods bless you

May you sleep then
on some tender
girl friend's breast


08 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/32

Computer crisis continues. . . though I'm hopeful things will be up and running again soon. In the meantime, here's another fragment from Sappho as translated by Mary Barnard. Since I'm on a Chromebook borrowed from V, I let her pick the poem. And here it is:

If you will come

I shall put out
new pillows for
you to rest on


Nice choice, Miss V!

01 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/31

The computer crisis continues, so once again I call on Sappho (in the Mary Barnard translation) for the weekly poem:

Many's the time

I've wished I, O
had luck like that


25 July 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/30

My computer has been dead in the water (metaphorically) since last Thursday. I am not sure when my regular contact with civilization (in the shape of the Internet) will be restored. As I wander the wastelands without e-mail, without Amazon, without Netflix, without you-get-the-picture, I still want to give you a poem for Monday morning, so here is a beautiful fragment from Sappho (in Mary Barnard's translation):

Day in, day out

I hunger and
I struggle.


18 July 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/29

A Jelly-fish

Visible, invisible,
     a fluctuating charm
an amber-tinctured amethyst
     inhabits it, your arm
approaches and it opens
     and it closes; you had meant
to catch it and it quivers;
     you abandon your intent.

Marianne Moore

Moore presents a jelly-fish, in a poem as light and fluctuating as the creature it describes. It appears and disappears (visible, invisible) and that quality calls to mind the otherwise unmentioned water where the jelly-fish is found. The strange creature is a charm – which can mean something that gives delight, a small ornament, something created or containing magic – all apt meanings that undulate through the reader's comprehension. Some solidity is suggested by the comparisons to semi-precious stones (even if the primary meaning is the color of those stones): amber and amethyst. The initial am sounds in amber and amethyst and the t sounds in tinctured and amethyst are very musical, leaping lightly through the words. Tinctured seems paler and less present than tinted would be, something tinged or dissolved in another substance. This delicate jewel is made of the nerves and what passes for the brains of the jelly-fish, inhabiting the "jelly" as if it were a crustacean in its shell (as if the actual animal is the nerves and the brains, not the whole physical element). Your arm approaches – your, because the poet is universalizing her irresistible urge to make contact with something so beautiful and evanescent. This living, separate being quivers at the attempt, which "we" then considerately abandon: intense curiosity is here accompanied by reticence; both the curiosity and the reticence are forms of respect.

This is from The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore; though described on the cover as the Definitive Edition, with the Author's Final Revisions, any aficionado of this poet knows that there is no final, definitive edition of her works, only the fluctuating charms of the revisions she made over the decades; some poems have several versions, each of which has its own claim to some sort of authority. I've recently read Linda Leavell's very fine biography of Moore, Holding On Upside Down, which I recommend; it provides some fascinating new light on Moore's complex family relationships as well as on her work.

Jellyfish from the Monterey Aquarium, though sadly lacking in amber- or amethyst tinctures.

11 July 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/28


Spring goes, and the hundred flowers.
Spring comes, and the hundred flowers.
My eyes watch things passing,
my head fills with years.
But when spring has gone, not all the flowers follow.
Last night a plum branch blossomed by my door.

Man Giac, translated from the Vietnamese by W S Merwin with Nguyen Ngoc Bich

Poems about spring usually begin with its arrival, but this one begins with its departure – its departure, along with its hundred flowers, hundred being one of those numbers that is a specific amount but also suggests a general abundance. It is in the second line that spring arrives; just two lines, and two years have already swept by. This suggests that spring is not really the main topic of the poem. The title has given us rebirth as a guiding concept, and spring of course is a traditional and obvious symbol of rebirth, as the earth comes back to life after winter. But the third and fourth lines give us a different perspective. We now have a speaker, telling us of his eyes and his head. He is probably an older man, or at least one of a meditative bent, given his years of experience and his interest in time passing. The seemingly objective statements in the first lines reappear to our memories in a new, subjective light: a person (rather than a general omniscient narrator) is telling us about the spring and the flowers going and coming; they are among the things this man has watched and the memories that fill his head. We now have a poem meditating on the passage of time and perhaps the recurrence of memory. There has been a slightly generic feel to all this so far: the generalities of spring and the unspecified flowers, the universal experience (among those still living) of watching the years pass. We move on to an observation the speaker has made after many springs: not all the flowers go. Then, in the last line, and for the first time in this poem, we suddenly have a line filled with specific details: last nightplum branch blossomsmy door. Perhaps night is also an indication of the speaker's age and even his approaching death. The plum blossom is a powerfully significant symbol in Asian cultures: noted for its beauty, it is one of the first trees to bloom, even when snow is still falling, so it is considered a harbinger of spring, and as such a symbol of hope and perseverance; like all such blossoms, its peak time is brief, making it a symbol of the transitory nature of life. This union of opposite significances – the on-coming renewal of spring, the swift passing of life – does not exhaust its symbolism, but it does suggest why this flower of all others is one named in this poem about time, memory, and renewal. Among the hundred flowers coming and going, we have this one specific flower blossoming forth in the final image, something both real and to be remembered for the rest of the speaker's (or even the reader's) life.

This eleventh century poem was translated by a twentieth- / twenty-first century American, and can be found in East Window: The Asian Translations by W S Merwin.

08 July 2016

Friday photo 2016/28

urban birds at breakfast, San Francisco, June 2016

(I'm not really sure what that item they're gathered around is – possibly a Hostess product a bit the worse for both wear and weather)

05 July 2016

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

A dyspeptic entry this month, which is possibly a coincidence and possibly related to a number of annoying trends, most of them involving bad websites, inconvenient locations, odd times, the idea that art exists as an excuse for noisy parties, and various other nuisances that I complain about regularly.

The last few performances of the San Francisco Opera's season go into the early days of July, but the Opera's new website is such a mess I'll leave you to figure out what's going on, if you're interested. Dear SF Opera: for the love of God, would you please put a regular calendar, with an obvious link, back on your awful site? And maybe restore the front-page list of the season's operas, with a link to each, the way you used to have them, before you decided it was much more important to have huge slow-loading garish photos of wankers drinking from champagne flutes than it was to provide easy access to basic information about the season?

The Merola program starts up this month as well. Don't even waste your time trying to find any information on the Opera's perplexing website; I'll make things easy for you and give you the link right here. The annual Schwabacher summer concert, featuring opera excerpts, takes place 7 and 9 July at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the first of the two summer operas, Conrad Susa's Transformations, to a libretto by Anne Sexton, will take place 21 and 23 July, also at the Conservatory of Music.

West Edge Opera continues its streak of presenting wonderful repertory at inconvenient times and locations; we're back to the abandoned train station in Oakland and 8:00 start times (there are also some matinees). Their website gives directions to the train station, but all of them assume that you have a car, as well as some interest in wandering around the abandoned train station district of Oakland late at night. Last year I think there was a shuttle from a BART station but it looks as if there isn't even that this year, so unless you can hitch a ride – well, good luck. (I should perhaps mention that a kind friend has offered to drive me to the performances she's going to, so I'm complaining here on general principle: thought should be given to non-drivers.) At least this year some of the seats are reserved so you might be spared the added irritation of open seating. This year's program is Thomas Adès's Powder Her Face (matinees on 31 July and 6 August and an evening performance on 13 August), Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen (30 July, matinees on 7 and 13 August), and Handel's Agrippina (6 and 12 August and a matinee on 14 August). And I'd have subscribed to a season like that in a snap if it were offered at a time and place that were more easily manageable for a non-driver who has to work for a living.

Visual Arts
There's an enticing exhibit at the Asian Art Museum: Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, featuring more than 150 objects from the former imperial collection. The show runs from 17 June to 18 September. I used to love to go to the museum on Thursday nights, when it was open late. Then, unfortunately, the Museum decided that Thursday nights should not only be cut back drastically (no more late Thursdays during what passes for winter around here), but they should be trashed with obnoxious parties. After fleeing a few of these thumpingly noisy annoyances (there was no escape, even in the farthest reaches of the building) I let my membership lapse and the Asian Art Museum pretty much dropped off my radar. So choose your visiting time carefully if you make the effort. Their website does have a Thursday warning page, complete with cringe-inducing prose with a tech-sector slant ("mingle with innovators" – ugh, no thanks, I really just wanted to look at art), so you can avoid the more egregiously offensive evenings. I also let my membership in the DeYoung / Legion of Honor lapse because the DeYoung's Friday night late hours were similarly trashed. I have no idea why becoming a third-rate nightclub has suddenly become the beau ideal of local arts groups. Perhaps there simply aren't enough people who are actually interested in, you know, experiencing art.

Modern / Contemporary Music
The sfSoundFestival has a wonderful series of concerts from 8 to 10 July, all at inconvenient times in a possibly inconvenient location (the Gray Area Grand Theater at 2665 Mission – no idea if this is near a BART station; the website doesn't seem to have a section on "how to get here" though they do have an "Incubator" section, which sent me screaming into the night, because techtalk seems to have infected everything around here). The only place I've seen this series mentioned is on Iron Tongue of Midnight, so check it out there and I tip my hat (once again) to Lisa Hirsch for posting the information.

San Francisco Playhouse presents the satirical noir musical City of Angels (music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, book by Larry Gelbart, directed by Bill English) from 6 July to 17 September. The Playhouse does really good work, but . . . they amplify their musicals. Not sure why that's necessary in a fairly small theater. I find it alienating, and it reduces the intimacy of the space. In last season's otherwise generally excellent production of Company, I found all those little mikes taped to the actors' faces really distracting. The Playhouse loves to call itself the Empathy Gym – you go there for your empathy workout – so why are they using steroids for their musicals?

Shotgun Players continues its season with Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck, directed by Joanie McBrien. That plays from 13 July to 14 August. And I've complained enough for this month – I have nothing but love for the Shotgun players. Go see their Hamlet!