Saturday, July 04, 2015

4th of July Illuminations Show

The 4th of July fireworks show in San Francisco is an iffy thing. The weather was misty at the pier at Aquatic Park, so this year's show was mostly illuminated fog, accompanied by cheesy songs about America, blasted from loudspeakers.

The crowds were definitely sparser & more low-key than usual.

Just before the start of the show, 3 gentlemen showed up with a miniature hot air balloon & proceeded to light its flame.

The successful launch received applause from the crowd, & the sky lantern wafted up & eastward, toward Fisherman's Wharf.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

SF Opera iCalendar Fix

The calendar page on the San Francisco Opera website has an iCalendar link which I thought would be handy for importing their performance calendar into my Google Calendar. However, when I tried it, Google Calendar only created one event. There's a slight problem with the file, but after a bit of hacking, I came up with a fixed version. If anyone would like to give it a try, I've uploaded it here. For the tech-savvy, I've also made it available on github.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

SFSFF: All Quiet on the Western Front

When I arrived an hour early for opening night of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Thursday, there were already 2 lines outside the Castro Theatre. In his introductory speech, Board President Robert Byrne told us it was not OK to skip any of the festival's great programs. A representative from NBCUniversal, one of the sponsors, announced that the company was committed to restoring 15 of its silent films in the next 4 years. Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress introduced the opening night film, All Quiet on Western Front. He explained that though it was produced as a sound film, a silent version was also made for the European market. The hyped-up audience applauded any mention of "nitrate" & "35mm" in his remarks.

The film was accompanied by the 6-member Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra on piano, violin, cello, clarinet, cornet & trombone. For each scene, they vamped on one of a handful of themes, ranging from jaunty to martial to lyrical. The score was tuneful & had a 19th century feel. The movie ran well over 2 hours, plus an intermission, & the band's playing was impressively consistent throughout. Additional musicians supplied sound effects for the battle scenes. We heard a whistle & bass drum for explosions, as well as the sound of marching, gun shots & machine gun fire.

I'd never seen All Quiet on the Western Front before. The artful framing & camera movements give it a European style. The movie does a good job depicting the spectacle of battle without glorifying it. A staccato sequence showing soldiers being mowed down by machine guns is particularly effective, & I experienced a real sense of loss as the characters got picked off one by one. The traumas that the soldiers suffer made me think of the Vietnam War for some reason. My festival companion thought that the movie soft-pedaled the episode in which 3 young soldiers exchange food for a night with a trio of French country girls.

§ All Quiet On The Western Front
Lewis Milestone, USA, 1930 • 134 mins.
Live musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2015
Thursday May 28, 7:00 pm
Castro Theatre

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Up-coming: NCCO Plays Schubert, Stravinsky & Bermel

Wednesday morning I attended the open rehearsal for this week's New Century Chamber Orchestra concerts, the last of the current season. Music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg kept checking the time & moving things along, so it was more a run-through than a working rehearsal. We got to hear the entire program. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg, standing in front of the orchestra, was the soloist & leader for Stravinsky's Suite Italienne. She & the orchestra gave the piece a variety of colors, & each movement had a clear, contrasting mood. The performance was energetic & emphatic. In the 4th movement, she humorously told the orchestra, "You sound like you're burping."

Composer Derek Bermel was present & explained to the audience that his piece Murmurations was based on the movements of flocks of birds he saw in Rome. It's in 3 movements, fast-slow-fast, & runs about 20 minutes. The orchestra did a good job maintaining the non-stop tremolos depicting fluttering wings in the 1st & last movements. A duet for 2 violins in the 1st movement clearly depicts 2 birds swooping around one another. The attractive 2nd movement features a long, suspended melodic line over arpeggios & pizzicatos in the low strings. Mr. Bermel followed along with a score & gave the orchestra notes after each movement. He interrupted the start of the 2nd movement, because he thought it was too slow.

After a break we heard a vigorous performance of Schubert's Death & the Maiden. The orchestra played out, often digging into their strings forcefully. The 1st & 3rd movements were percussive, & the 2nd movement was dark & urgent. The final movement was fast, loud & stomping.

Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg has a lot of excess energy, & she could not resist making a few mischievous jokes at the expense of Mr. Bermel. The audience was attentive & applauded after each piece. Right before the break, the orchestra played Happy Birthday for a member of the audience, & someone even brought out a cake with yellow frosting. Coffee, donuts & slices of cake were served during the break.

§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director & Concertmaster

Program 4. Schubert and Stravinsky Masterpieces

Igor Stravinsky
Suite Italienne, Arr. Albert Markov

Derek Bermel
Murmurations (2015)

Franz Schubert
String Quartet in D Minor D. 810, Death and the Maiden, Arr. Gustav Mahler

Open Rehearsal
Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 10am, Kanbar Performing Arts Center, San Francisco

Thursday, May 28, 2015, 8pm, First Congregational Church, Berkeley
Friday, May 29, 2015, 8pm, First United Methodist Church, Palo Alto
Saturday, May 30, 2015, 8pm, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco
Sunday, May 31, 2015, 5pm, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, San Rafael

Satirical Magazines at SFPL

While at the Main Branch Library on Tuesday, I got sidetracked by an exhibit of "subversive humor magazines" on the top floor. It does a good job putting Charlie Hebdo in context, & I actually learned something.

The story begins with Le Charivari, an illustrated Parisian newspaper founded in 1832. Its political & social satire ran afoul of government censors, & it shutdown within a few years. It was the direct inspiration for London's Punch magazine, among others.

If nothing else, the exhibit shows that dumb humor is nothing new.

These magazines clearly reached an artistic peak in the decades around 1900.

This sensitive drawing by Käthe Kollwitz appeared in Simplicissimus, the famous German satirical paper.

It was interesting to learn about Krokodil, the Soviet Union's official satire magazine. Judging by the pages on display, the United Sates & Britain were major targets. The collector Nat Schmulowitz obtained these by subscribing to the magazine directly. When it turned out the U.S. Postal Service was seizing them instead, he sued them to get his missing issues.

I also liked seeing issues of Tarantula, a 50's-style anti-Communist magazine smuggled into East Berlin from the West.

San Francisco is represented by The Nose, which published 25 issues in the 1st half of the 1990s. It seems to have aged well.

§ Mad World
Subversive Humor Magazines from the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor
April 1 - May 31 2015
Skylight Gallery
Main Library

Monday, May 25, 2015

SF Silent Film Festival Schedule

§ SF Silent Film Festival 2015
Castro Theatre

Thursday May 28

7:00 pm
All Quiet On The Western Front
Lewis Milestone, USA, 1930 • 134 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Friday May 29

10:00 am
Amazing Tales from the Archives (Free)
Serge Bromberg, Bryony Dixon & Robert Byrne, presenters
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

1:00 pm
Cave of the Spider Women (Pan si dong)
Dan Duyu, China, 1927 • 60 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius

4:00 pm
When the Earth Trembled
Barry O'Neill, USA, 1913, USA • 48 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

7:00 pm
The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)
F.W. Murnau, Germany, 1924 • 90 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Berklee Silent Film Orchestra

9:30 pm
The Ghost Train
Géza von Bolváry, UK/Germany, 1927 • 93 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius
Narration by Paul McGann

Saturday May 30

10:00 am
Ted Wilde (Harold Lloyd), USA, 1928 • 85 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

1:00 pm
Visages d'enfants
Jacques Feyder, France, 1925 • 117 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Preceded by Serge Bromberg receiving 2015 SFSFF Award

4:30 pm
The Donovan Affair
Frank Capra, USA, 1929 • 73 mins.
Musical accompaniment and narration by the Gower Gulch Players

7:00 pm
Flesh and the Devil
Clarence Brown (Greta Garbo, John Gilbert), USA, 1926 • 112 mins
Musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble

9:30 pm
Harald Schwenzen, Norway, 1922 • 105 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald

Sunday May 31

10:00 am
The Amazing Charley Bowers
Charley Bowers, USA, 1926–28 • 75 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Serge Bromberg

12:30 pm
Avant-Garde Paris
Emak-Bakia • Man Ray, France, 1927 • 16 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Earplay
Ménilmontant • Dimitri Kirsanoff, France, 1926 • 44 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

2:30 pm
Why Be Good?
William Seiter (Colleen Moore), USA, 1929 • 81 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

4:30 pm
Per Lindberg, Sweden, 1923 • 86 mins.
Musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble

7:00 pm
Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Berthelet (William Gillette), USA, 1916 • 116 mins.
Musical accompaniment by the Donald Sosin Ensemble

9:30 pm
The Swallow and the Titmouse (L'Hirondelle et la Mésange)
André Antoine, France, 1920  • 79 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Diana Rowan (harp)

Monday June 1

1:00 pm
So You Think You Know Silents (Free)
Bruce Goldstein, presenter • 60 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Steve Sterner

3:00 pm
The Deadlier Sex
Robert Thornby (Blanche Sweet), USA, 1920 • 60 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald

5:00 pm
100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History
Ron Magliozzi, presenter • USA • 60 mins.
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

7:00 pm
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Fred Niblo, USA, 1925 • 141 mins.
Soundtrack with score by Carl Davis
Preceded by Kevin Brownlow in conversation with Serge Bromberg

Up-coming: SF Silent Film Festival

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is one of my favorite events, & this year it runs for 5 days, starting this Thursday night at the Castro Theatre. This year's selections look particularly strong, & I'd see everything If I could. The classics are represented by All Quiet on the Western Front, Murnau's The Last Laugh, Greta Garbo & John Gilbert in Flesh & the Devil, & Fred Niblo's Ben-Hur, puportedly the most expensive Hollywood production of the silent era.

The festival has been touting the restoration of When the Earth Trembled, a 1913 melodrama with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake at its climax, & Sherlock Holmes, a recently discovered 1916 feature starring William Gillette, the stage actor who established our iconic image of the detective. Cave of the Spider Women is a Chinese adaptation of an episode from Journey to the West. Other intriguing shows are a compilation of surreal shorts by Charley Bowers & an uncompleted film with an African-American cast that includes Bert Williams. I'm excited that Menilmontant is on the schedule. It's one of the best silent films I've ever seen, & I hope to learn more about it at the screening.

All the programs except for Ben-Hur are accompanied with live music, ranging from solo piano to a student orchestra from Boston's Berklee College of Music. Actors will perform the dialogue live for Frank Capra's The Donovan Affair, a talking picture with a missing soundtrack. The irrepressible film preservationist Serge Bromberg will speak in the festival's free Amazing Tales from the Archives presentation, accompany the Charley Bowers shorts on the piano, interview Kevin Brownlow before Ben-Hur & receive a well-deserved festival award at the screening of Visages d'enfants.

§ Festival Website | Musicians | Programs & Tickets | Passes

§ 20th Anniversary San Francisco Silent Film Festival
May 28–June 1, 2015
Castro Theatre

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Cypress String Quartet, Minus One

I recently discovered that the renovated Presidio Officers' Club now hosts a full schedule of talks & musical performances. The events are free, though you're asked to register via Eventbrite to guarantee admittance.

It's a brisk 20 minute walk from my apartment, so there's no reason for me not to become a regular.

The venue is a reception hall with a high ceiling, different types of seating & a raised stage area at one end. Attendees were encouraged to bring drinks in from the tequila bar next door.

Friday evening I heard a concert by the Cypress String Quartet, except that due to a medical situation they were missing their 2nd violin. Fortunately the replacement program of solos, duos & trios turned out to be a bonus. It was a treat to hear cellist Jennifer Kloetzel play 3 movements from the Bach Solo Cello Suite in D minor in the 1st half. Her sound was wonderfully booming & reverberant, & her playing had momentum.

The members of Cypress make a consistently cushy, balanced & ripened sound. The evening's 2nd half was strong, beginning with 2 movements from Dohnányi's Serenade for String Trio. The vigorous & engaged playing made me want to hear the rest of the piece. Elena Ruehr's Prelude Variations for viola and cello, written to celebrate a marriage, felt like an intimate & languid conversation between the 2 instruments & was lovely. The concert ended with 3 movements from a Beethoven string trio, which the players gave an appropriately restless motion. They communicated the wildness of the finale without being harsh or rushed. There was no printed program, so the musicians gave friendly spoken introductions to each selection. Though outside noises sometimes intruded (the room adjoins a restaurant), the acoustics were good.

For some reason, many attendees brought small children with them.

A little girl sat in front of me during the 2nd half & was unable to stop playing with the hair at the back of her head, & so was able to be highly distracting without making any noise. Her mother was seated behind me & finally leaned over to reprimand the daughter. I thanked her.

§ Cypress String Quartet
Cecily Ward, violin
Tom Stone, violin
Ethan Filner, viola
Jennifer Kloetzel, cello

Ludwig van Beethoven
Duett mit zwei obligaten Augengläsern, WoO 32 ("Eyeglass Duo")
1st movement

Johann Sebastian Bach
Suite No. 2 in D minor for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1008
I. Prelude
II. Allemande
III. Courante

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
String Duo No. 1 in G major for violin and viola, K. 423
III. Rondeau. Allegro

Ernő Dohnányi
Serenade in C major for string trio, Op. 10 (1902)
I. Marcia. allegro
II. Romanza. adagio non troppo quasi andante

Elena Ruehr
Prelude Variations for viola and cello (2008)

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 3
I. Allegro con brio
V. Menuetto. Moderato - Minore
VI. Finale. Allegro

Presidio Sessions
May 22, 2015 at 6:00 pm
Presidio Officers’ Club

Friday, May 22, 2015

Salon at the Rex: Farallon Quintet

Wednesday evening in the Salon at the Rex I heard the Farallon Quintet present a program featuring the Mozart clarinet quintet. 1st violinist Dan Flanagan introduced the group as the 1st professional ensemble devoted to the clarinet quintet repertoire. So far they know of 600 pieces written for this particular configuration, besides the well-known examples by Mozart, Brahms & Weber.

Their program began with Chad Cannon's Citizen 13660 - Vignettes, a work commissioned by the quintet. Mr. Cannon is based in Los Angeles & works for Hollywood as well as composing for the concert hall. The piece is comprised of 8 short movements, lasting about 20 minutes altogether. 2nd violinist Matthew Oshida explained that the titles of each movement come from Citizen 13660, the illustrated memoir by Miné Okubo about her experience as an interned Japanese American during World War II. The strings play a lot of simmering arpeggios, with a slow melody sometimes on top. The music is specific in depicting flurries of dust or the clanging of bells. The overall mood is sad & rueful. Clarinetist Natalie Parker made a clean, even sound that blended with the strings, & her playing seemed effortless.

I enjoyed hearing Mozart's brilliant clarinet quintet in the small salon space. It was like having the right-sized frame around a great picture. The quintet's tempos were flexible & slightly pushed, & the musicians clearly listened to each other. Mr. Flanagan's playing was forward & bright. Cellist Jonah Kim made every moment of his part look rewarding to play, & his phrasing was detailed & assertive. The quintet captured the humor of the Menuetto, & Ms. Parker lightly played a little cadenza in the final movement.

For an encore we heard Satie's Gymnopédie No.1, arranged by Mr. Flanagan for the clarinet on the melody. The arrangement sounded distinct from the piano version & worked well. As is customary at these events, there was an affable Q&A with the musicians afterward.

§ Farallon Quintet
Natalie Parker, clarinet
Dan Flanagan, violin
Matthew Oshida, violin
Elizabeth Prior, viola
Jonah Kim, cello

Chad Cannon (1985 - )
Citizen 13660 - Vignettes

Wolfgang Amadeus Moart (1756 - 1791)
Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581


Erik Satie (1866 - 1925)
Gymnopédie No.1
Arranged by Dan Flanagan

Salon at the Rex
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Hotel Rex