31 December 2017

Haiku 2017/365

Wander off the path.
Follow the distant bird-song.
Shadows are waiting.

30 December 2017

Haiku 2017/364

last Christmas tree left
on the whole block of houses
blinking in the dark

29 December 2017

Haiku 2017/363

the lakeside trees wave
at their rippling reflections
waving back and forth

Friday photo 2017/52

Christmas garland festooning Disney's California Adventure park, November 2017

28 December 2017

Haiku 2017/362

Shadows come quickly.
Clear skies, winter afternoon.
It's warm in the sun.

27 December 2017

Haiku 2017/361

smudged grey winter light
shadows of crooked branches
songs of unseen birds

26 December 2017

fun stuff I may or may not get to: January 2018

ACT presents Pinter's The Birthday Party, directed by Carey Perloff, from 10 January to 4 February.

The Aurora Theatre presents Shaw's Widowers' Houses, directed by Joy Carlin, from 26 January to 25 February.

The San Francisco Symphony presents Bernstein's Candide from 18 to 21 January, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Cal Performances presents the Peking Acrobats for three performances on 27 - 28 January.

Early / Baroque Music
The San Francisco Early Music Society presents a concert to ring in the new year with Vajra Voices, joined by Shira Kammen on vielle and harp and Kit Higginson on recorder and psaltery, playing music they describe as luscious and florid – sounds like a delightful way to fend off the winter chills, assuming we actually get some by then. You can hear the program on 5 January at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 6 January at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 7 January at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Lieder Alive! presents new works by Kurt Erickson, Luna Pearl Woolf, and Mark Carlson, performed by soprano Heidi Moss Erickson, mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich, and pianists Ronny Michael Greenberg and Kurt Erickson, on 14 January at the Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present works by Don Byron, Ryan Brown, Vivian Fung, Meredith Monk, Frederic Rzewski, and John Zorn, and the great Meredith Monk will be there in person, both to perform and to discuss her works. The concert takes place 19 January at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; at 4:00 there is a rehearsal of Fung's piece, followed by a conversation among Fung and Brown facilitated by incoming Artistic Director Eric Dudley. That part is free and open to the public. For ticket buyers there is a 6:30 conversation among Dudley and the players, followed by the concert (the conversation with Monk is part of the concert) and a post-concert reception.

Meredith Monk will also be conducting an afternoon workshop and lecture at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 18 January.

On 20 January the Center for New Music hosts a concert in honor of composer Libby Larsen, featuring pianist Paul Dab, soprano Anne Hepburn Smith, violist Justine Preston, and clarinetist James Pytko. As always, check out the Center's calendar, as new events are frequently added.

On 27 January at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music the ZOFO Duet (pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi) performs a new Pictures at an Exhibition, featuring music by Samuel Carl Adams, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Sahba Aminikia, Avner Dorman, Cécile Marti, Lei Liang, Pawel Mykietyn, Kenji Oh, Keyla Orozco, Pablo Ortiz, Gabriel Prokofiev, Jonathan Russell, Gilles Silvestrini, Carl Vine, and I Wayan Gde Yudane. Each composer has chosen a painting as the basis of his or her piece, and the painting will be projected while the piece is played during the concert.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents a Faculty Centennial Concert, featuring works by Elinor Armer, Shinji Eshima, David Garner, and Conrad Sousa, on 28 January; the concert is free and does not require reservations or tickets.

Trumpeter Chris Botti appears at the SF Jazz Center from 9 to 14 January.

Vijay Iyer has a four-night residency (18 - 21 January) at the SF Jazz Center.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in performances of Beethoven's Leonore 3, Mozart's Piano Concerto 14, Schoenberg's Piano Concerto (Emanuel Ax is the soloist for both the Mozart and the Schoenberg), and Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, and that's 11 - 13 January at Davies Hall.

New Century Chamber Orchestra celebrates Mozart's birthday with an all-Mozart program, with concert master Daniel Hope as the violin soloist and pianists Menahem Pressler (only on 27 January, which is the actual birthday) and Sebastian Knauer (all the other dates); you can hear them on 25 January at First Congregational in Berkeley, 26 January at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, 27 January at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 28 January at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center.

The San Francisco Symphony presents the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in two programs, both conducted by Charles Dutoit: OK, Dutoit has been relieved of his position due to allegations of sexual misconduct, and as of today (26 December) although his name has been scrubbed from the SF Symphony's website, no replacement has been announced. Oddly the Symphony appears to be continuing with its year-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein, about whom substantial allegations, as well as rumors, also flew. Anyway, on 28 January someone will be leading the RPO as they play Debussy's Petite Suite (arranged by Büsser), Haydn's Cello Concerto 1 (with soloist Gautier Capuçon), and Stravinsky's Firebird; then on 29 January someone, possibly the same person, will lead them as they play Respighi's Fountains of Rome, the Liszt Piano Concerto 2 (with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet), and Stravinsky's Petrushka.

Chamber Music
Anthony McGill, chief clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, joins the touring Musicians from Marlboro – violinists Emilie-Anne Gendron and David McCarroll, violist Daniel Kim, and cellist Marcy Rosen – in a program featuring works by Beethoven, Penderecki, and Brahms, presented by Cal Performances on 28 January in Hertz Hall.

Mezzo-soprano Ilana Walder-Biesanz and pianist Daniel Alley give a recital titled Trousers and Tragediennes, which covers a lot of the mezzo repertory, at the Center for New Music on 27 January.

San Francisco Performances presents Stephen Hough playing Debussy, Schumann, and Beethoven at Herbst Theater on 18 January.

San Francisco Performances has two pianists in their PIVOT series: Sarah Cahill, along with Kate Stenberg, the Alexander String Quartet, and the William Winant Percussion Group, will perform works by Lou Harrison on 24 January at the Strand Theater; and on 26 January, also at the Strand, composer/pianist Timo Andres will play music by himself, Caroline Shaw, Christopher Cerrone, and Eric Shanfield. Please note that, for some reason beyond my understanding, the PIVOT concerts don't start until 8:30 PM and the seating is general admission, so be warned before you buy tickets.

The Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive presents a film series, running from 17 January to 25 April, exploring Sergei Eisenstein in the context of his contemporaries.

Savion Glover appears at the SF Jazz Center with drummer Marcus Gilmore (4 - 5 January) and drummer Jack DeJohnette (6 - 7 January).

San Francisco Performances has two dance group in their PIVOT series: LA Dance Project at the Strand Theater on 23 January and the Joe Goode Performance Group, also at the Strand, on 27 January. Unfortunately and inexplicably, as with all the PIVOT performances the start time is 8:30 PM, even on work nights, and the seating is general admission, so bear that in mind before buying tickets.

The San Francisco Ballet opens its season with The Sleeping Beauty (music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Helgi Tomasson after Marius Petipa), which runs at the Opera House from 23 January to 4 February.

Haiku 2017/359 - 360

2017/360 (26 December 2017)
the lights are turned low
we go about our business
silent empty rooms


2017/359 (25 December 2017)
so neatly raked up
on a cold winter morning:
a pile of brown leaves

25 December 2017

Museum Monday #15

detail of The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel by Duccio di Buoninsegna in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

24 December 2017

Haiku 2017/358

shattered glass glitters
haloed around the wrecked car
no one is about

23 December 2017

Haiku 2017/357

those leaves are still green,
still clinging to their home branch:
what does winter mean

22 December 2017

21 December 2017

Haiku 2017/355

plates of tempura
rays of afternoon sunlight
little piles of gold

20 December 2017

Haiku 2017/354

little maple leaves
curled and red on the green lawn:
shoals of tiny crabs

19 December 2017

Haiku 2017/353

overnight rainclouds
under cover of darkness
we wake to damp dawns

18 December 2017

17 December 2017

Haiku 2017/351

darkness descending
colored Christmas lights twinkle
like streets full of stars

16 December 2017

Haiku 2017/350

too sick for haiku
but perceptions keep coming
just not in right measures

15 December 2017

14 December 2017

Haiku 2017/348

flopping like a fish
day sinks beneath the waters
such pretty moonshine

13 December 2017

Haiku 2017/347

eating fried chicken
watching little birds fly by
life sure is funny

12 December 2017

Haiku 2017/346

little golden leaves
dropping as the rain would drop
if it ever rained

11 December 2017

10 December 2017

Haiku 2017/344

high office windows
the cars look like little toys
the people like ants

09 December 2017

Haiku 2017/343

a car rattles past
the streets are empty again
cold stars, and silence

08 December 2017

Haiku 2017/342

against the low light
grey cats in the grey shadows
are they really there

Friday Photo 2017/49

the Washington Monument from the entry to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, October 2017

07 December 2017

Haiku 2017/341

lone bird on the lake –
now I see there's a whole flock! –
melting in the dark

06 December 2017

Haiku 2017/340

fallen from the tree
a branch, thick and mostly dead
shattered into twigs

05 December 2017

Haiku 2017/339

garbage night again
cats curling up on the bins
until the trucks come

04 December 2017

Haiku 2017/338

strong winds blow outside
their messages lost to me
as I lie inside

Museum Monday #12

coffin in the shape of a Nokia cell phone, by Samuel Narh Nartey of Ghana, in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC; coffins shaped like items important to the deceased were popularized in the mid-1950s by Ghanaian artist Kane Kwei

03 December 2017

Haiku 2017/337

austerely spiny
plumped by occasional rains
cactus in winter

Haiku 2017/336

red velvet curtains
pulled slowly back in the dark
we begin dreaming

01 December 2017

Haiku 2017/335

wrapped in newspaper
anxiously clutched in his hand:
a gentle bouquet

Friday photo 2017/48

roller coaster reflection at Disney's California Adventure park, November 2017

30 November 2017

Haiku 2017/334

dead leaves glow golden
yellow against bright blue skies
daggers of daylight

29 November 2017

Haiku 2017/333

through afternoon blues
waiting for the orange skies
light's eye-catching end

28 November 2017

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

So here's some stuff to carry you through the end of 2017, though most of these events, even many of the holiday-related ones, are crammed into the first couple of weeks of December. There's still a lot to see and do to carry you into the next year, which is an artificial construct anyway, but then that's what art is. . . .

After an absence of I think three years, Cal Performances is bringing back The Hard Nut, Mark Morris's profound and masterly version of The Nutcracker. When I describe it to people who haven't seen it, all I tell them is that it's not a parody of the Nutcracker, but it's own thing, and you should take it on its own terms. If you are one of the people who has never seen it, here's your chance: 15 - 24 December at Zellerbach Hall.

The SF Jazz Center has the magnificent Dianne Reeves in a Christmas-themed program from 30 November through 3 December.

Paul Flight leads the California Bach Society in a celebration of Christmas in Poland and the Baltic Countries, which promises some rare works both new and old, from composers such as Mikolaj Zielenski, Arvo Pärt, and Veljo Tormis; you can hear the results on 1 December at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 2 December at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, and 3 December at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley.

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players are continuing their annual participatory performance of Phil Kline's Unsilent Night on 9 December at Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco; I haven't been to one of these but have heard lovely things about it, and you can find out more here.

San Francisco Performances presents the male vocal quartet New York Polyphony at St Mark's Lutheran on 3 December in a program called Sing Thee Nowell, featuring works by Philippe Verdelot, Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Craig, and others.

Theater of Yugen is reviving A Noh Christmas Carol, which is exactly what it sounds like, except it includes elements of other Japanese theatrical styles, like kabuki and butoh, as well as Noh. I saw this show a couple of times when they first did it years ago, and Dickens's famous Victorian story of ghosts and redemption translates very well into the traditional Japanese forms. If you're looking for a refreshing take on a holiday classic, you can check it out from 1 to 24 December.

Christian Reif leads the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, with Zachary Quinto as narrator, on 10 December.

Lacuna Arts Chorale returns to Old First Concerts on 15 December for a program of new choral music for the holidays, including works by Emma Lou Diemar, Morten Lauridsen, Theodore Morrison, Paul Mealor, and Abbie Betinis.

Messiahs & One Christmas Oratorio
Nicholas McGegan leads the forces of Philharmonia Baroque in Messiah, with soloists Yulia Van Doren (soprano), Diana Moore (mezzo-soprano), James Reese (tenor), and Philip Cutlip (baritone), on 8 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 9 December at First Congregational in Berkeley, and 10 December at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park.

As part of their Great Performers series, the San Francisco Symphony presents Masaaki Suzuki leading the Bach Collegium Japan in Bach's Christmas Oratorio, with soloists Sherezade Panthaki (soprano), Jay Carter (countertenor), Zachary Wilder (tenor), and Dominik Wörner; that's in Davies Hall on 9 December.

Ragnar Bohlin leads the San Francisco Symphony performances of Messiah on 14 - 15 December, with soloists Layla Claire (soprano), Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano), Leif Aruhn-Solen (tenor), and Morris Robinson (bass).

And if you have the pipes for it you can also join a Sing-It-Yourself Messiah sponsored by the Golden Gate Symphony and led by Urs Leonhardt Steiner. Please note you'll be singing the choruses, not the whole thing, as they do have soloists: Yi Triplett (soprano), Erin Neff (alto), William Wiggins (tenor), Richard Fey (bass), and Franklin Beau Davis on trumpet, and it's a very nice touch that they list the trumpeter among the soloists. That's 11 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and on 17 - 18 December there is the pub crawl version, at respectively the Southern Pacific Brewing Company and The Homestead in San Francisco.

American Bach Soloists gives its annual performances of Messiah in Grace Cathedral on 13 - 15 December; Jeffrey Thomas conducts, with soloists Suzanne Karpov (soprano), Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen (countertenor), Zachary Wilder (tenor), and Hadleigh Adams (baritone).

The Curran Theater presents Bright Star, a musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, from 28 November to 17 December.

42nd Street Moon presents The Secret Garden, the recent musical with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, directed by Dyan McBride, from 6 to 24 December at the Gateway Theater.

The African-American Shakespeare Company presents its own adaptation of Cinderella from 22 to 24 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Opera ends its fall season (before returning in the June with Wagner's Ring) with the final performances of Turandot and Girls of the Golden West. You can also catch the latest Adler Fellows in their final concert together on 8 December with James Gaffigan conducting the Opera orchestra.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents Britten's The Rape of Lucretia on 8 and 10 December; performances are free but reservations are required.

On 7 December in Zellerbach Hall guest conductor Gemma New leads the Berkeley Symphony in the west coast premieres of Chasing Light by Rene Orth and Abstractions by Anna Clyne, as well as Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Liszt's Totentanz with pianist Conrad Tao.

Conductorless chamber ensemble One Found Sound plays works by Rameau, Brahms, and Ginastera on 8 December at Heron Arts in San Francisco.

Guest conductor Cyrus Ginwala leads the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony in Copland's Outdoor Overture, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto #3 with soloist Roger Woodward, and the Shostakovich 5, on 16 - 17 December at the Taube Atrium Theater.

Early / Baroque Music
If you want to hear a baroque oratorio that doesn't feature the Hallelujah Chorus, Philharmonia Baroque is presenting a rarity: Handel's Joseph and His Brethren. Nicholas McGegan conducts, with soloists Sherezade Panthaki (soprano), Gabrielle Haigh (soprano), Diana Moore (mezzo-soprano), Abigail Levis (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), and Philip Cutlip (baritone). Performances are 14 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 15 December at First United Methodist in Palo Alto, and 16 and 17 December at First Congregational in Berkeley.

The San Francisco Symphony presents Christian Tetzlaff playing some of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin in Davies Hall on 17 December.

Modern / Contemporary Music
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music New Music Ensemble presents a free concert on 1 December; Christopher Rountree leads the group in De Staat by Louis Andriessen, Sear by Tina Tallon, Corpus Callosum by Andrew Tholl, and Tuning Meditation by Pauline Oliveros.

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble is performing a free concert on 3 December at the CARe Doug Adams Gallery at 2465 Le Conte Avenue in Berkeley, in conjunction with the gallery's current show, Seeds of Contemplation: Works by Arturo Araujo; the ensemble will be performing Testy Pony by Eve Beglarian, Chaconne by Dallapiccola, and additional music by Glière and Bach.

Cal Performances presents flutist Claire Chase in two concerts (4:30 and 8:30) of new music she has commissioned, part of her on-going project of commissioning new works for solo flute until we reach the centennial of Varèse's 1936 piece Density 21.5. I assume the program is different for the two concerts though that's not really clear on the site. The program will be at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive.

As always, check out the calendar at the Center for New Music, which has new events added frequently.

Cal Performances presents tenor Simon O'Neill, along with fellow tenors Pene Pati and Amitai Pati and pianist Terence Dennis, in recital on 3 December in Hertz Hall, performing Beethoven, Donizetti, Rossini, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Mozart, and Cilea.

Chamber Music
Violinist Alexander Barantschik, pianist Anton Nel, and Peter Wyrick of the San Francisco Symphony play piano trios by Schubert and Mendelssohn at the Legion of Honor on 3 December. While you're up there you can also catch the Klimt / Rodin show.

The Telegraph Quartet, San Francisco Conservatory of Music's quartet-in-residence, presents a free program of Beethoven and Schoenberg on 9 December.

Cal Performances presents the Takács Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson in a program of Mozart, Shostakovich, and Brahms, in Zellerbach Hall on 10 December.

Cal Performances presents the Ragamala Dance Company in Written in Water, based on an ancient Indian board game, on 2 - 3 December in Zellerbach Playhouse.

Cal Performances presents Camille A. Brown & Dancers in BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play on 8 - 10 December in Zellerbach Playhouse.

Visual Arts
The other day, killing time before a concert, I wandered into the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive and caught enough of Martin Wong: Human Instamatic to convince me that I needed to go back when I had more time. You have until 10 December to check out the show.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is running A Day of Silents on 2 December at the Castro Theater. As usual there is a great program with live musical accompaniment showcasing the richness of silent cinema, starting with Lotte Reiniger's delightful Arabian Nights mash-up The Adventures of Prince Achmed (the earliest surviving full-length animated film) to William Dieterle's Geschlecht in Fesseln (Sex in Chains), which, despite its lurid-sounding title, is actually a high-minded social message film about prison reform and what we can call situational same-sex relations. Check out the full schedule here; you can buy either individual tickets or an all-day pass.

And if you want to get a jump on their annual festival, running from 30 May to 2 June 2018, the SFSFF is selling an all-Festival pass at a big discount until 1 January 2018.

The Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive has a series highlighting the last 70 years of Polish animation, running from 3 to 20 December.

And thus another year melts away into the past. . . .

Haiku 2017/332

trees strung with white lights
stretch down the holiday road
rain splashes gently

27 November 2017

Haiku 2017/331

glittering windows
under the glittering stars
cool blue winter night

Museum Monday #11

detail of Bruce Lee in the Afterworld by Martin Wong; you have until 10 December to see the excellent exhibit Martin Wong: Human Instamatic at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive

26 November 2017

Girls of the Golden West at San Francisco Opera

Last Tuesday I was at the War Memorial Opera House for San Francisco Opera's world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, a new work set during the California gold rush in the Sierra Nevada in 1851. The music is by John Adams and the staging and libretto by Peter Sellars. As was his practice in earlier collaborations with Adams, Sellars has formed the libretto from an eclectic variety of texts: news reports, diaries, popular songs, poems, mostly from the period being covered.

The first notes of the opera were not what I had expected (and this was pretty much the last surprise of the very long evening), mostly because I have become used to increasingly rich and complex sounds from Adams, and this sounded thinner, sparser: I read later in the program that this was his deliberate attempt to mirror the "spartan, simple, almost crude life" of the camps (I guess the richness of the natural landscape doesn't enter into it, or the richness inherent in anyone's emotional life), but it ended up sounding mostly like a stripped-down version of his usual style. It hits a number of familiar Adams tropes – the chugging rhythms and turbulent choruses, the elevated strings that halo the words with a sense of mystery, lyrical passages setting Spanish poems, a setting of a distinguished early modern English poet (this time not the John Donne of Dr Atomic but Shakespeare), and an ending that, like that of Nixon in China, offers calmness and contemplation after the action. If you like Adams, you will like or at least be intrigued by this score, though if you love Adams perhaps you won't, as it ends up sounding not like a new development but like Adams Lite. Of course any score by an artist like Adams is worth listening to, but that's the sunny-side-up way of saying that this score maybe isn't worth listening to on its own, outside the context of his body of work. I have heard that this music is extremely difficult to perform, which makes the accomplished singing and playing on opening night a real achievement, though perhaps once it's all been absorbed more deeply the performance will start to feel a bit less controlled and maybe wilder and more intense, especially in the violent second half.

The opera opens with Clarence center stage, a character that, I found out later from the program, is a miner, though he is dressed in fancy fringed buckskin over what looked like a flowered shirt: the effect is a bit camp, and I don't mean mining camp, particularly as he starts off by singing an almost hilariously homoerotic Whitmanesque paean to the lusty, eager, brawling young men of the mines, with "nothing feminine about them" – looking later at the sources of the libretto listed in the program (which is a general list, without specific citations or passages, just a list of authors) I guessed that this was maybe from Mark Twain, which makes me wonder if there wasn't some irony built into the original that was missing without the larger context of the passage, which is one of the recurrent problems with the libretto (though by no means the only one). To give another example, anticipating a bit: in the second half of the opera Ned Peters, a mule driver described as "a mulatto", gives us Frederick Douglass's famous speech "What to a slave is the Fourth of July?", which specifically mentions Virginia, and though I'm sure life wasn't easy for African-Americans on either side of the country,  the situation in California (a frontier free state) was surely distinct enough from that in Virginia (one of the original colonies and a slave state) so that using the speech here jolts us out of the moment (even if you accept, and I am willing to, that an uneducated mule driver can match the towering eloquence of Douglass). It seems odd and arbitrary to import such famous words into a different time and place. We are told that the crowd of whites tried to lynch Ned after this, but since what he says here was actually imported from a different person on a different occasion we are left to wonder what, if anything, really prompted the attempt. It's one of many puzzles in an opera that strenuously claims to be based in historical facts.

Back to our buckskinned miner: I did hope when he appeared that at least the miners would be allowed to tell their side of their story (one of my criticisms of the Dr Atomic libretto was that all the military men, when we actually got to see any, were consistently buffoonish), but that hope didn't last long, as right away the closest thing we have to a narrator or guide, Dame Shirley, shows up and gives him that "putting the blowhard man in his place" look so familiar from 1950s sitcoms. ("Dame Shirley" was the pseudonym of Louise Clappe, a New England woman who lived in the camps for a while with her husband Fayette; she wrote entertaining letters to her sister back east, and these descriptive letters form a very large and beautifully written though undramatic part of the libretto.) There's a moment at the end of the opera in which Clarence and Shirley are seated at opposite sides of a table while tragic events unfold around them and it would have been a dramatically powerful tableau if there had been any sense that here were two equal opposing forces.

But there's little complexity or individuality in how the miners are portrayed – "the miners" by the way are presented as mostly white American men, which I think is not quite  historically accurate; but here the men of color, like Ned or the Mexican Ramón, are otherwise engaged (as mentioned earlier, Ned is a mule driver, and Ramón works at a hotel, or maybe it's a casino or a restaurant or all three). The women, besides Dame Shirley, include a Chinese prostitute named Ah Sing (I assume the name is meant to be heard as "I sing"), a Mexican woman named Josefa, and the touring Lola Montez, who is given a silly version of her celebrated "spider dance" by choreographer John Heginbotham, which ends with her pulling out a huge Flit gun, which, according to Wikipedia, was not even invented until the late 1920s, but then the mining camp bar also had neon lights, not invented until 1910, so clearly the staging is not going to take too literal an approach to historical period.

Perhaps these anachronisms are a deliberate attempt to pull us into a more flexible sense of historical meaning so that we see the events of the past in relation to our present day, though it hardly seems necessary to make a point of doing this, given how zeitgeisty the approach is to the subject matter. It seems odd that Adams and Sellars apparently think they need to enlighten the audience with lectures on how rough things were for women and people of color, as if this had never previously been brought to our attention in other works, or the news, or the comments section of anything on-line, or just by living life and observing it. In this opera the people of color get eloquent speeches or lovely romantic songs in Spanish; they are given passages that give them some sort of interior life and reactions to the life around them. The white miners mostly speak in doggerel popular songs, including ones lamenting betrayal by their girlfriends or the hardness of a miner's life (no one here seems to find any actual gold); presumably this is meant to explain their violent anger in the second half, which ends in a lynching, but none of the miners actually analyze their own situation or speak individually; the treatment of them is very de haut en bas.

And there's more than a whiff of really unpleasant condescension in hearing this opera's two white male creators offer the standard denunciation of white male power as if these working class miners, mostly poor, uneducated, and struggling (and, of course, long dead, and as anonymous in death as they were in life), were as privileged, connected, and successful as Adams and Sellars. This isn't a political objection, but an aesthetic one: if you're putting these characters on stage, and spending so much time on them, give them their own voices (and let me emphasize the plural). As it is, the miners take up a lot of stage time but mostly as bad guys who react to the failures of their own lives by mistreating or abusing the men of color and the women. The ultimate effect is to make us see the latter almost entirely in relation to the white men, as victims of their power and their violence, and not as people with lives independent of that power. But such are the hazards of seeing people as groups rather than as individuals.

The opera's first half, which is about 80 or 90 minutes long, meanders around. We hear from Ah Sing, a sex worker ambitious for a better life through marrying a miner; we meet Dame Shirley and her husband Fayette, who is silent even when his wife apparently takes up with Ned the handsome mulatto mule-driver. She leads Ned around hand-in-hand while her husband follows making ineffectual "Hey, wha. . . ?' gestures. I have no idea why he stuck around for their affair, or if it really happened; although I tried to avoid reading about the opera before seeing it, I did read the bullet points in an e-mail sent to subscribers by Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, which said:

"The libretto is made up of a rich panoply of voices from Dame Shirley (our narrator) to Mark Twain, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni, and original mining songs. All of the stories in the opera are true and come from first-hand accounts. The love interests between various characters are dramatic constructs that help us contextualize the emotional world these characters might have inhabited, but the stories themselves all happened."

Insofar as I can figure out what this means, I think we're being told that, as in a Lifetime movie, this opera is "based on actual events" that didn't really include the emotional framework (that is, the fairly conventional romances) the creators have imposed on what we're seeing. This may help explain why so many of the relationships seem arbitrary or at least unfleshed.

Dame Shirley comes across some Native women, whom she describes as "wretched creatures" and "Macbethean witches" – so is this an educated nineteenth century New Englander's racially prejudiced view, or are we supposed to infer that these women are already suffering from the incursion of foreign (American) miners, or . . . something else? What is this incident doing here, besides checking off the "Native Peoples" box? The large projected face of a native woman at the back of the stage keeps its secrets. I like the nonlinear, collage-type librettos, but of course they will always work at some level, because any semi-intelligent observer can draw some sort of conclusion from the various juxtapositions, though it's also often the case that our thoughts tend to run along their usual tracks unless jolted out of them by a strong point of view. Such librettos can also be arbitrary and lack focus, which was the case here; the first half is busy with random incidents, all of which run on a bit too long, and the whole first act struck me as mostly pleasant.

The first act, I realized later, must have been meant as a contrast to the more violent (and even longer) second act, but it goes on too long to have its intended effect: by the time the second half started it was already nearly 9:30, and I had been working all day, and my expensive seat (second row in the center orchestra) was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. There were a few departures during intermission but on the whole I was pleased to see a new work greeted so respectfully by the audience, though I can't say I sensed a huge amount of enthusiasm around me.

The second half opens with Dame Shirley, costumed like Ellen Terry's Lady Macbeth in John Singer Sargent's 1889 portrait, declaiming the speech "The raven himself is hoarse . . ." – this is the speech that includes Lady Macbeth saying "unsex me here", which might have provided an interesting angle on the male/female dynamics in this play if it weren't already all too obvious which side we needed to be on. It was pleasing, however, to see some acknowledgement that cultural life, often on a very sophisticated level, sprang up with the mining camps. The passage hearkens back to the "Macbethean witches" Dame Shirley saw in the native women, but I felt no real resonance there, just a coincidence.

Things rapidly turn sour: this is the Fourth of July, and the American miners are having a rowdy celebration that keeps threatening to turn ugly, until finally violence breaks out against the Asians and Latinos in town, culminating in a semi-judicial hanging/lynching of Josefa, who has stabbed Joe, a drunken miner who kidnapped and attempted to rape her.

What we see on stage is Josefa at home with her beloved Ramón; the drunken and armed Joe breaks in, abducts Josefa, and later tries to rape her. She stabs him in self-defense but is hanged for the murder, dressed with great dignity and beauty, and "no one speaks up to defend her". Where was Ramón? His disappearance here doesn't speak well for him. [Update: See the comments for clarification on this point.] But it turns out that this is one of those semi-invented incidents, and maybe Ramón was just shoe-horned into the opera, having failed to appear in life to offer a satisfyingly operatic romance. According to the program, there was an actual woman named Josefa, who killed and was killed in a similar manner. She was a waitress who was "harassed by a drunken white miner", whom she stabbed. I have no idea what "harassed" means in this context, and no one seems to know exactly what happened. Does that matter? It does if you wonder if her murder was justified ("her murder" meaning both the murder she committed and the murder committed on her, and assuming you can find any killing "justified").

Here come the conventional disclaimers: I certainly wouldn't minimize, excuse, or dismiss whatever this drunken miner did, even given the different behavioral expectations between the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017 and a gold rush mining camp in 1851 – how you treat waitstaff is an excellent indication of what kind of person you are. But there are degrees in everything and if you're talking about a kidnapper/rapist, yes, by all means, stab away; but if you're talking about someone who is just being a jerk in a crowded public place, the punishment should maybe stop short of, you know, death. So possibly what we could have had here is a woman who is slightly sociopathic, and stabbing someone who is annoying but not physically threatening is actually kind of hilarious and almost endearing in a John Waters kind of way (which is not the high-minded Adams/Sellars way). If her reaction was, in fact, let me say overkill, then I can see why "no one spoke up for her". But such a character is stronger, stranger, and frankly more interesting than the Sellars version, which is very Birth of a Nation: a loving woman in an age- and gender-appropriate romance whose home is invaded protects her virtue and is punished for it. This wasn't a complex take on simplistic melodrama, it was the thing itself. The Adams/Sellars Josefa is, simply, a victim of gross injustice, whereas the shadowy historical woman is  possibly, ambiguously, a more or less cold-blooded killer, and you can see why "no one would speak up" for someone who is potentially so coolly unhinged. Why are we given the simplest, most sentimental version possible of her story? There's nothing in the Girls version of the story that the staunchest Victorian patriarch would find threatening.

Reading the synopsis in the program after seeing the opera, it looks as if Adams and Sellars intended, or thought they had achieved, more of a dramatic arc than I saw on the stage. The whole first half seemed so low-key that I wondered several times if the piece wouldn't have been more effective semi-staged across the street at Davies Symphony Hall; there is very little interaction among the characters, who mostly give long speeches to us rather than to anyone else on stage. Did the mere fact of staging the work in an Opera House lead me almost subconsciously to expect greater dramatic impact and interest in character? The ghost of Puccini's Fanciulla del West hangs over this whole production, starting with the title and its pointed plural (by the way, unlike many of those I heard from after the opera was first announced, I like the title and its clear implication of a revisionist take on the Puccini/Belasco work). The last of Shilvock's bullet points about the opera was:

"The title reflects another opera – the singular “Girl of the Golden West” by Puccini. The reference is not intended as a critique of Puccini. Rather it’s intended as a contemporary interpretation of the source material that bridges both operas, seen through very different eyes 100 years later. To explore this and other fascinating discussions about this work, we invite you to visit sfopera.com/goldenwest where you can delve into a wonderful variety of insightful background materials."

That's diplomatic, and I think smudges what's really going on, as everything else I've seen about the creation of this opera, including what's in the program book, suggests that correcting Puccini was indeed a major factor here. And this is in line with Adams's continuing agon with past composers; after grappling with Beethoven in Absolute Jest and Handel and Bach in The Death of Klinghoffer,  El Niño and The Gospel According to the Other Mary, why wouldn't one of the pre-eminent opera composers of our day tackle the man who still dominates opera schedules nearly a century after his death? But I have to give this round to Puccini, his librettists, and Belasco, whose strange work, despite some stereotypes that grate on viewers nowadays, provides a much more emotionally complex experience than Girls of the Golden West: The Fanciulla lead is a strong woman with a conflicted inner spirit; the romantic lead is a Mexican bandit who longs for a different life, the heavy is a white man, the sheriff, the official keeper of law-and-order, whose unrequited love makes him both dangerous and sympathetic. The miners have individual quirks, and as a group they may be quick to anger, but can be persuaded by eloquence to justice and compassion. A strange air of homesickness and dissatisfied longing hangs over Fanciulla, and – ironically in view of the conventional American narrative – hope is found only by leaving the frontier, which remains beloved. By contrast, the effect of Girls is too often simplistic and preachy.

The orchestra, led by Grant Gershon, was in fine form, and all of the performers – singers Ryan McKinney as Clarence, Julia Bullock as Dame Shirley, Kai Brothers as Fayette, Davóne Tines as Ned Peters, Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon, Hye Jung Lee as Ah Sing, Elliot Madore as Ramón, J'Nai Bridges as Josefa, and dancer Lorena Feijóo as Lola Montez – were outstanding and I would love to hear them all again, though perhaps in a different piece, and preferably without what I assume was the amplification of the voices, which led occasionally to some odd effects. There are five remaining performances if you'd care to check the opera out for yourself.

Haiku 2017/330

I sweep leaves one way
the wind blows them another
the dead leaves don't care

25 November 2017

Haiku 2017/329

one morning glory
twining 'round a wooden fence
turning to the sun

24 November 2017

23 November 2017

Haiku 2017/327

consider the hours;
rise up wherever you are,
blessing the sad earth

for Thanksgiving Day

22 November 2017

Haiku 2017/326

in strong enough light
even trash in the gutter
looks so dramatic

Haiku 2017/325

dirty dinner plates
piled up so picturesquely
another still life

20 November 2017

Haiku 2017/324

little stone angel
washed by rain and dried by sun
you keep your secrets

Museum Monday #10

detail of The Martyrdom and Last Communion of Saint Lucy by Veronese in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

19 November 2017

Haiku 2017/323

out in the darkness
I heard a bird sing to me
or did I dream it

18 November 2017

Haiku 2017/322

long before nightfall
sleep comes as a reminder
of darkness ahead

17 November 2017

16 November 2017

Haiku 2017/320

rain drums on the seats
scattered in the empty park
no sound but rainfall

15 November 2017

Haiku 2017/319

staring at the sky
parsing enigmatic clouds
is a storm coming

14 November 2017

Haiku 2017/316-318

2017/318 (14 November 2017)
ascending jets roar
bird flocks scatter left and right
the palm fronds rattle


2017/317 (13 November 2017)
a string of white lights
brightening as the sun sets
baffling the pale stars


2017/316 (12 November 2017)
leaves drift on the porch
overripe pumpkins soften
Christmas music plays

13 November 2017

Museum Monday #9

At the exhibit Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, July 2017 at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Many of those attending the exhibit were inspired to wear their own fancy hats.

11 November 2017

Haiku 2017/315

round and round they go
under bright electric lights:
skaters on thin ice

(I may or may not have computer access the next few days.)

10 November 2017

Haiku 2017/314

when the sun came out
rain-slick streets started shining
puddles glowed like glass

Friday Photo 2017/45

view of the Capitol Building from the National Mall, Washington DC, October 2017

09 November 2017

Haiku 2017/313

sitting on a bench
bent under the daily weight
Tell me a story

08 November 2017

Haiku 2017/312

rain over the lake
grey falling into greyness
ducks dive for cover

07 November 2017

Haiku 2017/311

words jump off the page
some slide into memory
others fly away

06 November 2017

05 November 2017

Haiku 2017/309

last plums of summer
still so juicy on the tongue
among fallen leaves

04 November 2017

03 November 2017

Haiku 2017/307

the crunch of dead leaves
we hurry under shelter
first rain of autumn

Friday photo 2017/44

in front of Union Station, the Columbus Memorial: Washington DC October 2017

02 November 2017

Haiku 2017/306

A seagull in flight:
beautiful, but a cliché.
But look, there it is.

01 November 2017

Haiku 2017/305

Are those pigeons proud
of their lovely coral feet?
Do they even know?

31 October 2017

Haiku 2017/304

grey and ghostly go
floating down colorless streets
in empty cities

30 October 2017

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

SHN presents the stage version of Disney's Aladdin at the Orpheum Theater from 1 November to 7 January 2018.

Shotgun Players continues its tradition of closing its season with an offbeat yet oddly appropriate holiday show by presenting Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, the William S Burroughs / Tom Waits adaptation of Der Freischütz, directed by Mark Jackson, from 9 November to 31 December.

ACT presents Refuse the Hour, a "multimedia chamber opera" by William Kentridge, for three performances only, on 10 - 11 November. The show is in conjunction with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's installation of Kentridge's The Refusal of Time.

Aurora Theater presents the Bay Area premiere of The Royale by Marco Ramirez, directed by Darryl V Jones; the play is a semi-fictional retelling of the story of Jack Johnson, the black man who became World Heavyweight Champion at the height of the Jim Crow era in America. You can see it from 3 November through 3 December.

You can hear a free performance of Jerome Kern's Very Good Eddie at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 18 November.

The San Francisco Opera presents six performances of Massenet's Manon, from 4 to 22 November, with Ellie Dehn and Michael Fabiano in the leads, and six performances of Puccini's Turandot, from 18 November to 9 December, with Nina Stemme and Leah Crocetto replacing September's female leads. But the big news at the opera house is obviously the world premiere of the latest John Adams / Peter Sellars collaboration, Girls of the Golden West, beginning on 21 November and continuing through 10 December. (By the way, I like the title, though my informal poll indicates many do not.)

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in collaboration with Volti presents a double-bill of works by Kurt Rohde: Never Was a Knight, based on Don Quixote, and Death with Interruptions, with a libretto by Thomas Laqueur based on the novel by José Saramago. Performances are 4 - 5 November at Z Space in San Francisco.

The Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series presents Thomas Adès's new opera, The Exterminating Angel, based on Luis Buñuel's great film, on 18 November. The composer is also the conductor and the large cast is filled with wonderful artists; I don't usually go to the Met livecasts but I can't get to New York this month so this seems like the next best thing.

If you feel like getting in an early California mood before the premiere of Girls of the Golden West, you can head over to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 5 November, when Corey Jamason will lead student vocalists in a free concert of songs about San Francisco, from the Gold Rush into the 1920s.

Cal Performances presents tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Wenwen Du in Schubert's Winterreise on 10 November in Zellerbach Hall. On 8 November, you can hear Bostridge in conversation with Mathias Tarnopolsky, the artistic director of Cal Performances, discussing Winterreise and Bostridge's recent book Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession. Those attending are encouraged to read the book beforehand and to come with questions. The conversation is presented in association with the UC Berkeley Department of Music and will be held in 125 Morrison Hall.

The San Francisco Opera Chorus goes out on its own, led by Chorus Director Ian Robertson and pianist Fabrizio Corona, on 30 November in the Traube Atrium Theater (right next to the Opera House).

Cal Performances presents Valery Gergiev leading the Mariinsky Orchestra in Zellerbach Hall in two programs: Program A on 4 November features the Shostakovich 9, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto 2, and the Scriabin 3, The Divine Poem; Program B on 5 November features Strauss's Don Juan, Shchedcrin's Piano Concerto 2, and the Prokofiev 6; Denis Matsuev is the piano soloist for both concerts.

Violinist Benjamin Beilman joins New Century Chamber Orchestra as Guest Concertmaster for a program ranging from Bach and Biber to Stravinsky and Andrew Norman; there's an open rehearsal in San Francisco the morning of 8 November, and then concerts on 9 November at First Congregational in Berkeley, 10 November at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, 11 November at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 12 November at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael.

Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony in a program examining Love & Loss, featuring the Mozart 40, Vocare by Jonah M Gallagher, and Rossini's Stabat Mater, with soloists Shawnette Sulker (soprano), Betany Coffland (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Glenn (tenor), and Aaron Sorensen (bass) along with the Symphony Chorus led by Lynne Morrow; and that's 17 November at the Paramount Theater.

At the San Francisco Symphony you can hear Michael Tilson Thomas conduct the Ives 4 and the Beethoven Violin Concerto with soloist Pinchas Zuckerman on 16 - 17 November; the same program repeats on 18 November with Viviane Hagner replacing Zuckerman as the soloist in the Beethoven. Tilson Thomas returns to Mahler on 24 - 26 November, with the Mahler 4, which is the Mahler symphony I find the least interesting, but mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard is the soloist, so that's appealing; Mozart's German Dances round out the program.

Early / Baroque Music
Cal Performances presents William Christie and Les Arts Florissants in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Charpentier's Actéon on 9 November in Zellerbach Hall.

Elizabeth Blumenstock and her Guarneri violin lead Philharmonia Baroque in a concert of Venetian instrumental music on 8 November at First United Methodist in Palo Alto, 10 November at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 11 - 12 November at First Congregational in Berkeley.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents Ciaramella in a program featuring German music written around the beginning of the Reformation; you can hear the music on 17 November at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 18 November at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 19 November at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Modern / Contemporary Music
See under Operatic for new works by John Adams, Kurt Rohde, and Thomas Adès.

Chamber Music
Cal Performances presents the Tetzlaff Quartet on a program of Mozart, Berg, and Schubert on 12 November in Hertz Hall.

The Del Sol String Quartet is celebrating its 25th anniversary season with a three-day festival (the three days being 16 - 18 November) at the Atrium Theater in the Veterans Building next to the Opera House, featuring works by Terry Riley, Gyan Riley, Theresa Wong, Daniel Wohl, and Gabriela Lena Frank.

Strings & Keyboards
Cal Performances presents pianist Anthony de Mare in Liaisons: Reimagining Sondheim from the Piano, based on his recent album, for which he asked contemporary composers to re-imagine various songs by the great Stephen Sondheim for solo piano. You can hear some of the results on 5 November in Hertz Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents violinist Leila Josefowicz and pianist John Novacek playing Sibelius, Prokofiev, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, and John Adams on 7 November in Herbst Theater.

SHN presents An Evening with David Sedaris at the War Memorial Opera House on 13 November.

The Bad Plus are making a farewell tour with their current line-up, and you can hear them at the SF Jazz Center from 2 to 5 November.

San Francisco Performances presents violinist Regina Carter and her eponymous quintet in a program inspired by Ella Fitzgerald and music associated with her, on 17 November in Herbst Theater.

Cal Performances presents Argentina's Tango Buenos Aires on 11 November in Zellerbach Hall.

You can experience some vernacular South African dance on 12 November when Cal Performances presents the Gumboots and Pantsula Dance Companies in Zellerbach Hall.

Cal Performances presents the Joffrey Ballet in a program of new and recent dances on 17 - 19 November in Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents dancer/choreographers Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks and string quartet Brooklyn Rider in Some of a Thousand Words on 29 - 30 November at Herbst Theater.

Visual Arts
The Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive hosts the exhibit Repentant Monk: Illusion and Disillusion in the Art of Chen Hongshou, a major Chinese painter of the early 17th century. The show opens 25 October and runs through 28 January 2018.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opens Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules on 18 November; the show will run until 25 March 2018.

The Legion of Honor has a couple of interesting-sounding shows; one is Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter, which opened 14 October and runs through 28 January 2018; the other is Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World, giving us a view of what all those ancient marble statues looked like with their original colors, and that show opened 28 October and runs through 7 January 2018.

On 3 November, the Ghiberti Center for Culture presents two viewings (7:00 PM and 9:30 PM) of the John Barrymore silent Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde at Grace Cathedral, with organ accompaniment by Dorothy Papadakos.

On November 12 at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive, you can see the 1929 Soviet film My Grandmother. Soviet silent films are always a wild ride, visually at least, and this one sounds like no exception.

Haiku 2017/303

wind among dead leaves
a rustle and a rattle
then again silence

Museum Monday #7

detail of Death & the Miser by Hieronymus Bosch in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

Happy Halloween!

29 October 2017

Haiku 2017/302

morning fog lingers
softening the world's edges
sorrow is a blur

28 October 2017

Haiku 2017/301

strong light hits the fence:
the curls of peeling white paint,
the brown wood beneath

27 October 2017

26 October 2017

Haiku 2017/299

paling in the heat
waiting for the winter rains
the grass turns under

25 October 2017

Haiku 2017/298

waking before dawn
I hear other birds singing
and see other stars

24 October 2017

Haiku 2017/292-297

2017/297 (24 October 2017)
walking past the zoo:
was that an engine starting
or a lion's roar


2017/296 (23 October 2017)
across the hallway
another room of paintings
each one a lifetime


2017/295 (22 October 2017)
the sun is long gone
the daily noises subside:
cicada chorus


2017/294 (21 October 2017)
caught in their cages
restless tigers pace inside
while we pace outside


2017/293 (20 October 2017)
why does summer stay
after we want it to leave?
where is summer's fall?


2017/292 (19 October 2017)
in faraway skies
there are just as many stars
they burn as coldly

18 October 2017

Haiku 2017/291

a seat on the train
empty except for the dust
and a beam of light

(I may or may not have computer access over the next several days.)

17 October 2017

Haiku 2017/290

what seemed like silence
melted into a medley
of quiet noises

16 October 2017

Haiku 2017/289

Squirrels scamper by.
A rustling, and then silence.
A bird flies far off.

Museum Monday #5

Tucked away in a corner of Saint Luke's studio, his signifying ox peeks out with a gentle look on his face. This is a detail from Rogier van der Weyden's great picture, Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There is a legend that the accomplished Luke, an artist as well as a doctor and writer, drew a portrait from life of Mary the Mother of Jesus. You can find various icons that claim to be either the original or a faithful copy of the likeness. Luke is the patron saint of artists and his feast day is 18 October.

15 October 2017

Haiku 2017/288

grim shadows gather
lengthening through the long day
then melt into night

14 October 2017

Haiku 2017/287

grey blanket of clouds
pulled by unexpected winds
over chilly stars

12 October 2017

Haiku 2017/285

confused by the clouds
which way can a flower turn
searching for the sun

11 October 2017

Haiku 2017/284

the sun burns orange
brown skies over blackened earth
smoke hangs heavily

10 October 2017

Haiku 2017/283

restless autumn leaves
rustling and changing colors
as they fall groundward

09 October 2017

Haiku 2017/282

The tree had one pear.
High winds rose during the night:
pear and tree, unpaired.

Museum Monday #4

detail of The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine by Barna da Siena, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

08 October 2017

Haiku 2017/281

dancing in a ring
under the silver moonlight
then they melt away

07 October 2017

Haiku 2017/280

the sun slowly sets
over the pretty landscape
where you were happy

06 October 2017

Haiku 2017/279

low light through the leaves:
is it morning, or evening,
or a memory

Friday photo 2017/40

a bench on the Esplanade, Boston, June 2017

Back when I lived in Boston I always liked this bench: the curved seat, the lion's foot, the wing. I guess it was a style from the early twentieth century, as I was a little surprised recently to see an identical curved bench in a garden scene of a French film from 1919 (La Cigarette, directed by Germaine Dulac, in Flicker Alley's Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology). I had never seen another bench like it before.

05 October 2017

Haiku 2017/278

every day pigeons
wait for the slender young man
with his bag of crumbs

04 October 2017

Haiku 2017/277

leaves on the plaza
alone except for one man
sweeping them all up

03 October 2017

Haiku 2017/276

shifting shadows sway
in the afternoon's dull heat:
the night will be cool

02 October 2017

Haiku 2017/275

an abandoned house
brooding in the grey twilight
windows like black eyes

Museum Monday #3

the courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

01 October 2017

Haiku 2017/274

lined up in neat rows
shiny new condos and the
beggars beneath them

30 September 2017

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

September is the traditional start of the "performance season" but this is the month that's looking jam-packed.

Crowded Fire Theater presents Christopher Chen's A Tale of Autumn, directed by Mina Morita, from 14 September to 7 October at the Potrero Stage.

The annual SF Olympians Festival returns to the Exit Stage Left, where from 4 to 21 October you can see plays (some short, some evening-length) based on ancient legends (this year the Festival has expanded beyond Greece to Egypt and Mesopotamia) around water and watery places.

Cal Performances presents Parisian troupe Théâtre de la Ville in State of Siege, an adaptation of Camus's novel La peste (The Plague), an examination of political panic seen as a contagious disease. (The performance is in French, with English surtitles.) That's in Zellerbach Hall on 21 and 22 (matinee) October.

Composer Jake Heggie will give a Master Class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 4 October. Voice students Paige Stinnett, Elizabeth Dickerson, Andrew Ross, Jessie Barnett, and student pianist Kevin Korth will perform some of Heggie's works and then, I assume, listen to his thoughts.

In preparation for the world premiere next month of the new John Adams / Peter Sellars opera, Girls of the Golden West, San Francisco Opera is presenting a day-long symposium on 28 October, during which you can explore the history, culture, and music of California during the Gold Rush as well as hear from the creators of the opera. There are a number of other ancillary events planned around this world premiere, including Opera Director Matthew Shilvock in conversation with opera director Peter Sellars at the Commonwealth Club on 30 October.

And if you're interested in new operas you might want to check out a workshop production of the first half of Abraham in Flames at the Wilsey Opera Center on 3 and 4 October. Based on her youth in Tehran, creator / librettist Niloufar Talebi has worked with composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and director Ray Rallo to tell a tale combining autobiography, Iranian poetry, and biblical stories. The workshop will feature Merola alums Nikki Einfeld and Brian Thorsett, along with the Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco and the Living Earth Show. Tickets are available here.

Joana Carneiro leads the Berkeley Symphony in its first program of the season on 5 October in Zellerbach Hall; you can hear them play the Beethoven 1, the world premiere of William Gardiner's Cello Concerto with soloist Tessa Seymour, Shostakovich's Jazz Suite, and Fearful Symmetries by John Adams. They repeat the program the next day at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

On 14 October, you can hear the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, led by Music Director Dawn Harms in the Brahms Festival Overture, Barber's Knoxville 1915 and "Ain't It a Pretty Night" from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah with soprano Julie Adams, Lou Harrison's Song of Queztecoatl, and Amy Beach's Gaelic Symphony.

Cal Performances presents its annual orchestra residency, and this time it's the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with music director Riccardo Muti, leading three different programs from 13 to 15 October in Zellerbach Hall.

The Oakland Symphony opens its season under conductor and Music Director Michael Morgan with the Beethoven 5 and the Shostakovich 15 on 20 October at the Paramount Theater.

On 28 October, you can hear two different concerts from the Korean National Gugak Center's Creative Traditional Orchestra: the first, at 3:00 PM, features contemporary music and the second, at 8:00 PM, features traditional folk and court music. Both are in Zellerbach Hall and presented by Cal Performances. (Gugak means national music.)

The San Francisco Symphony has a special Oktoberfest concert on 3 October, led by Christian Reif, with soloists Julie Adams (soprano), Daniela Mack (mezzo-soprano), David Blalock (tenor), and Edward Nelson (baritone). The chorus and orchestra will be performing various drink- and Vienna-related numbers. I believe beer is involved. Maybe I'm losing my mind, but this actually looks really fun.

The San Francisco Symphony also has Krzysztof Urbański conducting Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with soloist Augustin Hadelich, and the Shostakovich 10 on 6 - 8 October; Urbański returns on 19 - 21 October to lead Mozart's Overture to The Magic Flute, Dvořák's Cello Concerto with soloist Sol Gabetta, and Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra. [12 October update: Sol Gabetta has had to withdraw from the performances for family reasons, so Joshua Roman will now be the soloist in the Dvořák.] On 13 - 15 October, Jakub Hrůša conducts Dvořák's Carnival Overture, Mozart's Piano Concerto 17 with soloist Piotr Anderszewski, Smetana's Vltava (The Moldau) from Má Vlast, and Janáček's Taras Bulba. And finally on 26 - 28 October Osmo Vänskä conducts Sibelius's Finlandia, the Sibelius Violin Concerto with soloist Baiba Skride, and the Shostakovich 1.

On 21 and 22 October you can hear Christian Reif conducting the San Francisco Conservatory of Music orchestra in Vagaries by Peter Engelbert (the Highsmith Competition Winner), the Shostakovich Piano Concerto 2 with soloist Puripat Paesaroch, and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. (The Highsmith Composition Award is given annually to a student or recent graduate of the Conservatory.)

On 27 October you can hear One Found Sound performing Bach, Dvořák, and Stravinsky at Monument SF, which is at 140 9th Street in San Francisco.

On 31 October, Zubin Mehta conducts the Israel Philharmonic at Davies Hall in Amit Poznansky's Footnote (a suite from the movie), the Mozart 36, the Linz, and the Schubert Symphony in C Major, The Great.

San Francisco Performances presents the delightful mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and pianist John Arida in an all-Bernstein program at Herbst Theater on 1 October.

On 15 October, Lieder Alive! presents bass Kirk Eichelberger and pianist Marek Ruszczynski in Hugo Wolf's Mörike Lieder and Goethe Lieder and Mahler's aus des Knaben Wunderhorn.

San Francisco Performances has the always adventurous soprano Dawn Upshaw, pianist Gilbert Kalish, and the Sō  Percussion Ensemble performing Bryce Dessner's Music for Wood and Strings, George Crumb's Winds of Destiny and the Bay Area premiere of Narrow Sea by Caroline Shaw at Herbst Theater on 26 October.

Students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music will perform music of vaudeville and early Broadway, including songs by Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, and others, on 29 October; the performance is free.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus, led by Valéri Saint-Agathe, presents a mostly Philip Glass program on 25 October in Herbst Theater, with some interesting repertory: accompanied by Michael Riesman and Andrew Sterman from the Philip Glass Ensemble, the chorus will perform selections from Einstein on the Beach, The Photographer, Koyaanisqatsi, and Hydrogen Jukebox. Since the concert is in celebration of the composer's 80th birthday, the Chorus (presumably Music Director Saint-Agathe) had the witty idea of launching the program with other composers born in '37s: Dietrich Buxtehude (1637), Johann Michael Haydn (1737), and Mily Balakirev (1837).

The Second Annual San Francisco Festival of Russian Choral Music will take place this month, featuring the Slavyanka Russian Chorus led by its Artistic Director Irina Shachneva, along with other Slavic choral groups, Highlighting works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as works from ancient Russian folk and liturgical traditions, the first concert will be on 15 October at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley, the second on 20 October at Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco, and the third on 22 October at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco.

Ragnar Bohlin's Cappella SF kicks off its season with Music Through Ten Centuries, from St Hildegard von Bingen down to the present day; you can hear them 28 October at St Andrew's Episcopal in Saratoga or 29 October at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco.

Chamber Music
San Francisco Performances presents the JACK Quartet, joined by cellist Joshua Roman, in works by Gesualdo (arranged by Ari Streisfeld), John Zorn, Amy Williams, Jefferson Friedman, and Roman himself, at Herbst Theater on 13 October.

Cal Performances presents cellist Anssi Karttunen and pianist Nicolas Hodges in works by Beethoven and Brahms, as well as the US premieres of Fling by Ashkan Behzadi and Slackline by Pascal Dusapin and the world premiere of Aquaria by Sean Shepherd (the Dusapin and Shepherd pieces are Cal Performances co-commissions). That's 29 October in Hertz Hall.

Members of the San Francisco Symphony perform two different chamber music programs up at the Florence Gould Theater at the Legion of Honor: on 22 October, violinist Alexander Barantschik, pianist Anton Nel, and cellist Peter Wyrick will play piano trios by Brahms and Shostakovich; and on 29 October a chamber ensemble will play works by Roussel, George Crumb, and Dvořák.

Early / Baroque Music
The California Bach Society, led by Paul Flight, will perform J S Bach's Missa Brevis and Cantata 21 on 20 October at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 21 October at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, and 22 October at First Congregational in Berkeley.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents the Aulos Ensemble in a program exploring Handel & His World, which will include selections from some of the German, Italian, and English composers that influenced Handel (such as Telemann and Purcell) as well as Handel himself; that's 20 October at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 21 October at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 22 October at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Philharmonia Baroque doesn't usually appear in this category, but they are opening their season with the American premiere of a co-commission written for their period instruments: The Judas Passion, a subject with obvious links to the baroque Passion tradition. The music is by Sally Beamish and the libretto by David Harsent; Nicholas McGegan conducts, with soloists Mary Bevan (soprano), Brenden Gunnell (tenor), and Roderick Williams (baritone). The program also includes Telemann's Tafelmusik, Suite No 1 in E minor. You can hear the performances 4 October at Bing Concert Hall in Palo Alto, 6 October at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, or 7 and 8 October at First Congregational in Berkeley.

San Francisco Performances presents the Kronos Quartet, Youth Speaks, and the Living Earth Show in Echoes, a program combining spoken-word performances and new music in an examination of how San Francisco has been changing. That's 7 October in Herbst Theater.
The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble begins its season with A Garland for Weinberg, a concert celebrating Mieczyslaw Weinberg with a performance of his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, along with Krzysztof Penderecki's Leaves of an Unwritten Diary and the world premiere of two tributes to Weinberg by Julie Herndon and Stephen Blumberg; that's 8 October at the Berkeley Hillside Club and 9 October at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players launch their season on 21 October at the Taube Atrium Theater with a program featuring the west coast premiere of Postlude à l'Épais by Philippe Leroux, the world premiere of Procession Time by Nicole Mitchell, and Schnee by Hans Abrahamsen. At 4:00 there is an open dress rehearsal of the Mitchell piece, followed from 4:30 to 5:20 by a talk with Mitchell facilitated by SFCMP Artistic Director Steven Schick, and both those events are free and open to the public. If you have a ticket, you may hear a pre-concert discussion with Schick and the performers, followed by the concert itself at the sensible start time of 7:30 with a 9:00 post-concert party.

As always, the Center for New Music is chockablock with interesting stuff; some things that jump out at me are an evening of art songs by Clara Schumann, Libby Larsen, Emma Logan, Julie Barwick, and Rita Zhang, performed by soprano Winnie Nieh and pianist Paul Dab on 6 October; the Siroko Duo (flutists Victoria Hauk and Jessie Nucho) with three world premieres by Nick Benavides, Emily Shisko, and Michael Kropf, on 13 October; Aki Tsuyuko and Ippei Matsui with piano, electronics, and projected live drawing, on 15 October; and the Bottesini Project on 21 October – but check out the whole schedule as well.

Keyboards & Strings
The San Francisco Symphony presents pianist George Li in recital on 8 October in Davies Hall, playing Haydn, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Liszt.

The San Francisco Symphony presents organist Nathan Laube in recital on 22 October in Davies Hall, playing works by Jongen, Mendelssohn, JS Bach, Roger-Ducasse, and Duruflé.

Pianists Stephen Bailey, Michael Boyd, Daniel Glover, Machiko Kobialka, Jeffrey LaDeur, Gwendolyn Mok, Robert Schwartz, Sandra Wright Shen, and William Wellborn gather on 22 October under the auspices of Old First Concerts to celebrate the birthday of Franz Liszt.

The San Francisco Symphony presents pianist Daniil Trifonov in a program including works by Mompou, Schumann, Grieg, Barber, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin in Davies Hall on 30 October.

Cal Performances presents long-time friends Simpsons creator Matt Groening and artist of the comic strip Lynda Barry in conversation, with each other and then with the audience, at Zellerbach Hall on 7 October.

Cal Performances presents expert story-teller Garrison Keillor on 23 October in Zellerbach Hall.

Cal Performances presents ODC/Dance in boulders and bones in Zellerbach Hall on 11 October.

Cal Performances presents Dorrance Dance, Michelle Dorrance's nouveau tap troupe, in Zellerbach Hall on 27 October.

A Chantal Akerman retrospective is running at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive from 24 September to 29 October.

This looks like a fun way to spend Halloween: the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula will be presented with the score by Philip Glass, performed by the Kronos Quartet as well as Glass himself on keyboards. Although SF Jazz is putting on the show, it is in Oakland at the beautiful Paramount Theater.