31 January 2017

Haiku 2017/31

pale veil of grey mist
over the chilly valley . . .
the blur of street lamps

30 January 2017

Haiku 2017/30

on my left, sunrise;
my right, it's already day
train tracks run between

29 January 2017

Haiku 2017/29

a much-traveled road
familiar landmarks slip past
a remembered tune

28 January 2017

Haiku 2017/28

when summer returns
remember the skeletons
beneath the green leaves

27 January 2017

26 January 2017

Haiku 2017/26

each day a sunset
some extravagant beauty
as the darkness falls

25 January 2017

Haiku 2017/25

walking down one street
then walking down another
the wind went with me

24 January 2017

23 January 2017

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

The shortest month has a lot going on, particularly in new music: go listen to something where the ink is as wet as the winter sidewalks!

ACT presents Annie Baker's John, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, at the Strand Theater from 22 February to 23 April.

Shotgun Players is filling the time between its two main seasons with the Blast Theater Festival, which they describe as "a month-long festival of new ideas, visions, and possibilities" – but I think that's what they try to do regularly, so who knows what that means. As with all performances, you have to go to find out; if you'd like to do so, check out the listings here.

Custom Made Theater presents Isaac's Eye by Lucas Hnath, directed by Oren Stevens. Isaac is Isaac Newton. The play runs from 16 February to 11 March, though it's difficult to find the dates on Custom Made's irritating new site. (Maybe I should point out that their new site is not more irritating than the other irritating new sites? And yes, I realize they are being designed for mobile devices that I do not use.)

You can see another play by Lucas Hnath at San Francisco Playhouse, which is presenting The Christians, directed by Bill English, from 24 January to 11 March.

West Edge Opera presents the second concert in its new series, Snapshot, featuring excerpts from new operas-in-progress. As withe the January concert, this one features four excerpts: from One O'Clock, music and libretto by Carla Lucero; Howards End, America, music by Allen Shearer and libretto by Claudia Stevens; The House of Words, music by Linda Bouchard to a libretto she has compiled from Galeano's The Book of Embraces; and The Stranger the Better, music by Liam Wade and libretto by Vynnie Meli. There are two performances, 25 February at the David Brower Center in Berkeley and 26 February at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco. Once again, 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. The January performance was a lot of fun.

The Lamplighters present Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience; or, Bunthorne's Bride, directed by Barbara Heroux, on 3 - 5 February at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, 10 - 12 February at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, and 18 - 19 February at the Mountain View Performing Arts Center in Mountain View.

Opera Parallèle presents Jonathan Dove's Flight from 10 to 12 February at the Yerba Buena Center.

UPDATE: Thanks to Lisa Hirsch for reminding me (in the comments) that Opera San José is presenting the local premiere of Silent Night, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning opera by Kevin Puts; that's 11 - 26 February. (I'm a non-driver, so San Jose is pretty much off my radar; I do sometimes list things in Palo Alto, Davis, Mountain View, and places like that, but only if they have a Berkeley / San Francisco performance. But there's no reason to be too strict about this; after all, if I didn't list things that weren't public-transit friendly, I'd have to omit West Edge's entire summer season at the abandoned train station in Oakland.)

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

Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Beethoven 9 with soloists Kiera Duffy (soprano), Sara Couden (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), and Andrew Foster-Williams (bass-baritone) and of course the fabulous Symphony Chorus, led by Ragnar Bohlin; that's 1 - 3 and 5 (matinee) February;

Blomstedt returns 9 - 12 February to lead the Brahms 3 and the Beethoven Piano Concerto 4 with soloist Yefim Bronfman;

and John Adams's 70th birthday will be celebrated by the Symphony over two weeks, with two major concerts: first is The Gospel According to the Other Mary (that would be Mary Magdalene) on 16 - 18 February, with Grant Gershon leading soloists Kelley O'Connor (mezzo-soprano), Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano), Jay Hunter Morris (tenor), and Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, and Nathan Medley (countertenors), along with the Symphony Chorus; then on 22 - 25 February Michael Tilson Thomas leads Scheherazade 2 with violin soloist Leila Josefowicz, for whom it was written, along with selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony at the Paramount Theater on 24 February in the Shostakovich 9, along with music and traditional dance from Native American peoples, featuring works by Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate and John Christopher Wineglass.

Conductorless chamber orchestra One Found Sound plays Ravel, Resphighi, and Debussy on 3 February at the Heron Arts building in San Francisco.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Cal Performances presents Cappella SF and the Bang on a Can All-Stars in Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields on 26 February in Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Opera's Opera Lab presents The Source by Ted Hearne, to a libretto by Mark Doten arranged from testimony, tweets, news reports, and other sources related to Chelsea Manning, the currently incarcerated Cassandra of the surveillance state. Performances are in the Taube Atrium Theater on 24 - 26 February and 1 - 3 March. (I am glad to report that President Obama commuted Mannings's sentence, though I wonder why he didn't do that earlier, since it was under his administration that she was imprisoned.)

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat along with improvised interpolations by trumpeter Peter Evans; that's 17 February at Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

Wild Rumpus New Music Collective presents the world premieres of their Commissioning Project winners, Carolyn Chen and William Dougherty, along with works by Alex Temple, Richard Reed Parry, Ted Hearne, and William Gardiner; that's 24 February at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco. (I don't see this concert on their website yet, but assume it will be there shortly; the information here comes from an e-mail they sent out.)

Other Minds presents a centennial tribute concert to the great Lou Harrison on 18 February at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco; Dennis Russell Davies will conduct music by Harrison and Isang Yun.

Old First Concerts presents the Wooden Fish Ensemble with special guests the Gyeonggi Kayageum Ensemble in a concert featuring several world or US premieres by Korean composer Hyo-shin Na, along with some arrangements of traditional Korean folk music; that's 12 February at Old First on Van Ness Avenue.

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble presents House of the Beehives by Melody Eötvös, along with the world premiere of Ghost Dances by David Coll, Canticles for Two Guitars by Dusan Bogdanovic, Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello, and Sebastian Currier's Broken Consorts; that's 4 February at the Hillside Club in Berkeley and 6 February at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The Kronos Quartet presents its annual festival of new music, this time featuring festival artist-in-residence Sahba Aminikia, along with many others, in six concerts in three days (2 - 4 February); you can experience them all at the lovely SF Jazz Center.

And as always, check out the calendar at the Center for New Music: some things that jump out at me this month are the Del Sol Quartet on 2 February, playing Ben Johnston quartets 3 and 4 (and they're doing what more new music groups should do, which is playing the pieces again after a pause) in collaboration with photographs by Elmore DeMott made in response to her mother's Alzheimer's; the welcome return on 3 February of I Sing Words: The Poetry Project, in which soprano Jill Morgan Brenner and pianist Paul Dab present settings of Janet Lewis, David Thomas Lloyd, David Hinton, and Cole Swenson by (respectively) Julie Barwick, Nicholas Lell Benavides, Mario Godoy, and Emily Shisko; an evening of new music by Kyle Hovatter on 10 February, featuring Danielle Sampson, Jessie Nucho, and Sophie Huet; but as mentioned earlier there's lots more that looks intriguing.

Some things that look enticing on the SF Jazz calendar: Vijay Iyer is in residence from 8 to 12 February, with a variety of programs; the Paris Combo on 14 and 15 February; and Dianne Reeves sings love songs from 16 to 19 February.

Early / Baroque Music
American Bach Soloists presents a concert of French baroque music by Rameau, Corrette, Rebel, Mondonville, and Marais, on 10 February at St Stephens in Belvedere, 11 February at First Presbyterian in Berkeley, 12 February at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, and 13 February at Davis Community Church in Davis.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents Artek performing Monteverdi's Book 7 Madrigals on 17 February at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 18 February at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 19 February at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

The California Bach Society led by Paul Flight presents pre-Bach masters from North German (Buxtehude, Bruhns, Schop, Tunder, and Telemann) on 24 February at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 25 February at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, and 26 February at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley.

Piano / Organ / Violin
San Francisco Performances presents Alexander Melnikov in a program of Rachmaninoff and Debussy at Herbst Theater on 2 February.

San Francisco Performances presents Jonathan Biss in a program of Schuman, Kurtág, Chopin, and Brahms at Herbst Theater on 11 February.

Cal Performances presents the California debut of Lucas Debargue, in a program of Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin, Ravel, and Medtner, on 12 February at Hertz Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents Benjamin Beilman (violin) and Yekwon Sunwoo (piano) in a program of Ravel, Bartók, Saariaho, and Brahms at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 24 February.

The San Francisco Symphony presents Lang Lang at Davies Hall on 7 February, in a program featuring Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor along with works by Debussy, Albéniz, Granados, and Falla.

The San Francisco Symphony presents an organ recital by James O'Donnell of Westminster Abbey on 26 February, playing works by Bach, Franck, Messiaen, and Widor.

Chamber Music San Francisco presents pianist Olga Kern playing Scarlatti, Beethoven, Schumann, and Liszt on 12 February and violinist Pinchas Zukerman with pianist Angela Cheng playing Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms on 25 February; both concerts are at Herbst Theater.

Cal Peformances presents the Lucinda Childs Dance Company in a revival of the 1983 Available Light, with music by John Adams, choreography by Lucinda Childs, and a stage design by Frank Gehry; that's 3 - 4 February at Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents the Batsheva Dance Company in Last Work, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, from 15 to 17 February at the Yerba Buena Center.

San Francisco Ballet presents Frankenstein, a new evening-length work based on Mary Shelley's famous novel, with music by Lowell Liebermann and choreography by Liam Scarlett, from 17 to 26 February.

Visual Arts
Monet: The Early Years opens at the Legion of Honor on 25 February and runs through 29 May.

At the Asian Art Museum, Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China's Han Dynasty opens on 17 February and runs through 28 May.

Haiku 2017/23

sun instead of rain
I'm supposed to be happy
I glare at the sky

22 January 2017

Haiku 2017/22

faceless in the dark
the hooded man passes me
head bowed to the rain

21 January 2017

Haiku 2017/21

"Such dramatic storms!
Perfect rain, but the lightning . . .
perhaps it's de trop?"

19 January 2017

Haiku 2017/19

morning sky with moon
last night's leftovers served up
on dawn's silver tray

18 January 2017

Haiku 2017/18

one cloud in the sky
one bird crossing the one cloud
my eye joins them both

17 January 2017

Haiku 2017/17

one day I'll look up
these bare branches will be green
and filled with ripe fruit

16 January 2017

Haiku 2017/16

cats circle the house:
are they trying to get in,
or glad to be out?

15 January 2017

Haiku 2017/15

scanning the painting
noticing for the first time
that streak of cobalt

14 January 2017

Haiku 2017/14

second glass of wine
like clockwork I cry for you
after all these years

12 January 2017

Haiku 2017/12

A vast silent sky.
Did your loves and hates matter?
The stars blink blankly.

11 January 2017

Haiku 2017/11

a fringe of ivy
washed deeper green by the rain
trims the wet walkway

10 January 2017

09 January 2017

Haiku 2017/9

cars roll by, honking
trains rush past, whistles blowing
a bird sits, cheeping

08 January 2017

Poem of the Week 2016/30

The Smaller Orchid

Love is a climate
small things find safe
to grow in – not
(though I once supposed so)
the demanding cattleya
du côté du chez Swann,
glamor among the faubourgs,
hothouse overpowerings, blisses
and cruelties at teatime, but this
next-to-unidentifiable wildling,
hardly more than a
sprout, I've found
flourishing in the hollows
of a granite seashore –
a cheerful tousle, little,
white, down-to-earth orchid
declaring its authenticity,
if you hug the ground
close enough, in a powerful
whiff of vanilla.

Amy Clampitt

(This is the Poem of the Week I was working on when the Great Computer Meltdown of 2016 occurred. I had been thinking of ending the series anyway, though I was planning to go through December, but technology decided I would end in late July. I thought I would go ahead and finish this one. After writing up and posting a poem every week since 2013, I felt it would be good to switch things up, particularly as my schedule has changed a bit this year and I seem to have even less free time than ever, and I wanted to spend more of it writing about the various performances and other cultural events I've experienced. I may resume the series at some point, on a regular or occasional basis. I hope any readers have enjoyed the poems and maybe found a new writer to love. If you've found anything here you've liked, please: follow the link (there's one in each entry) and buy the book!)

Clampitt opens with a sweeping assertion – love is a climate; that is, part of Nature, something omnipresent, something inextricably linked to our lives and the quality of our lives, but not something we are always conscious of, though it surrounds us – and then immediately draws it in: small things find safe / to grow in – moving from the broad encompassing sweep of climate to a safe space for small things, the little things among which we live, a place with room for growth, some nurture in the Nature.

She then qualifies the type of natural phenomenon love is, contrasting her early expectations of grand passion with what she has come to identify as true love. Significantly, her early expectations of Love are shaped by literature, in particular Proust's great novel, whose first volume (Du Côté du chez Swann / Swann's Way) she references: a cattleya is a type of orchid, and it plays a major role in Swann's love affair with Odette: pretending to adjust the flower she is wearing, he begins giving her the caresses she is pleased to receive, and do a cattleya becomes for them, in their private language of lovers, a way of saying to make love. The next few lines in Clampitt's poem give a quick summary of aspects of the early parts of Proust's novel, aspects that would strike a bookish adolescent wondering about love and the wider world as a thrilling glimpse of what Life must be like. It's all rather big, not just in size but in significance; this is not the everyday world, but one of glamour, hothouses and high society; not a place of ordinary visits or simple pleasures, or even regular happiness and sadness, but of bliss and cruelty, even at civilized, exotically European, ceremonies like teatime (and the bookish adolescent might think of the novels of James and Wharton as well as of Proust, or of Eliot's I have measured out my life with coffee spoons).

It's easy to get swept up in the heady perfumes. But Clampitt has begun by telling us that this is not what love is (and not is emphasized by appearing at the end of the short third line, right after a dash, which sets it apart, visually as well as grammatically). She slips us right into what she has discovered love is, starting with the contradictory but, without even a line break after teatime: but this  / next-to-unidentifiable wilding. . . . Though she is defining what she now feels love is, there is still a quality of mystery and strangeness here; love is like this a wild offshoot, it is next-to-unidentifiable, it is hardly more than sprout, it is small, and the somewhat odd use of tousle as a noun (indicating something tangled and disorderly; the unexpected appearance of the word as a noun rather than a verb helps maintain the sense of struggling towards a definition of something uncertain and unsettled) tells us not to get too cozy; there is still something messy and unruly in what might otherwise seem an overly domesticated – an overly old person's – definition of love. Clampitt devotes many lines to describing this little wild orchid that flourishes in the climate of love (or rather in making it clear that she is attempting to describe something difficult to describe, perhaps exactly because it not flashy like the hothouse cattleyas but small and cheerful, a random, easily overlooked woodland orchid), partly to balance the earlier lines dedicated to her youthful misconceptions of love but also to show that it is still not an easy thing to define. And her two conceptions are not worlds apart; both are flowers, and specifically orchids, a flower often linked, in its voluptuousness, to sexualities both male and female; in fact the word orchid derives via Latin from a Greek word for testicles. Underlying  this poem is a subtle insistence on the physical; the poet may start by declaring that love is a climate, but she immediately switches to describing it in terms of the organic and actual: first the cattleyas, as given to her by books (specifically Swann's Way), and then the little messy wilding, as given her by her life.

The granite seashore suggests something vast, hard, spiritually metaphorical about life; it is in this intransigent landscape, so briefly mentioned, and more exactly in a little hollow in it, that the love-plant is found – this is what has been discovered by her, among the hardness of the world. No matter how complicated this plant is to describe, it declares its authenticity, a forceful assertion of truthful authority in a deceptive world. How does it declare its authenticity? First you must bring yourself physically down to its small but commanding level; you must not only hug the ground (hug again reminds us of physical love), you must hug the ground close enough. You must bring yourself down to the level at which your senses can understand this at first insignificant-looking flower. And then you smell it, and that smell is its declaration of authenticity: in a powerful / outdoorsy-domestic / whiff of vanilla. The scent, like climate, is something we experience through our senses, though it is not a physical presence. It comes from a cheerful little white flower, and despite its unassuming-looking source it is powerful. It combines both the outdoors and the domestic. It has the whiff of vanilla. Vanilla is the flavoring par excellence of American desserts (my Portuguese grandmother used to complain that Americans put vanilla in all of their desserts), so it suggests something American as opposed to the European teatime, something domestic, sweet, and even wifely – yet vanilla is also produced from a type of orchid native to hot climates, like the cattleyas that must be grown in a hothouse, continuing and reinforcing the theme that there is something wild and exotic in what might seem a small, domestic and domesticated, love. Implicit even in the title is that her two visions of love are linked; though one is produced by people (in literature or hothouses) and one is found in Nature growing wild, the former are linked to and ultimately developed from the latter, and one does not preclude or reject the other. The poet's first, youthful, vision of love, so grandly expressed through someone else's dramatization, changes into her mature vision of love, with a kind of pleasure and even ecstasy expressed by close observation and physical experience of a small and intimate living thing.

This poem is from The Kingfisher: Poems by Amy Clampitt.

Haiku 2017/8

the sun rose again
like something once forgotten
coming back to mind

07 January 2017

Haiku 2017/7

a simple supper –
eating bread and drinking wine –
I offer it up

06 January 2017

05 January 2017

Haiku 2017/5

under the fig tree:
grey feathers, scattered about,
and a smiling cat

04 January 2017

Haiku 2017/4

look at the people
crowding through the jam-packed streets
screaming silent screams

03 January 2017

Haiku 2017/3

waking at midnight
gentle thrum of steady rain
. . . the world's new-minted

02 January 2017

Haiku 2017/2

what waves wash ashore
lies a moment in the sand
then it's waved away

01 January 2017

Haiku 2017/1

an overgrown path
runs away from the main road
showing softer green