Friday, April 28, 2006

Cars in flames in the Castro

Last night a car ran a red light, ploughed into another car & set a row of cars on fire. These pictures on flickr are even better than the ones in the paper:

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Midori Plays Modern

Heard Midori & Robert McDonald give a recital at Herbst of all contemporary composers. A strong performer doing a demanding program. I think Midori is a really special performer in her ability to communicate with an audience. I didn't know any of the pieces, but she made sure I understood them. One of the pieces consisted mostly of the violin playing open-string double-stops really softly, & she even made that sound expressive!

I thought the most interesting piece was an anguished sonata by a Korean composer called Isang Yun. It moves from a piercing climax to an ending played with a mute that fades into silence.

Despite being brought back for 3 curtain calls at the end, Midori did not present an encore.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Stephen McCauley

Went to a book signing by Stephen McCauley at Borders this evening. There were about a dozen people there, & he seemed to know all of them already. He read from the beginning of his new book, then people started asking the standard author questions. I didn't stick around after that, but the book does sound like it's a fun read.

OK, the real reason I ended up there was that I was home sick on Monday & happened to hear him being interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air. He sounded like a very gentle soul, so I thought I'd check him out for myself. He's a somewhat small, very boyish looking 40-something, & does indeed seem like a very sweet guy. He looks like he does a lot of yoga.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Monteverdi Vespers at St. Ignatius

The Monteverdi Vespers is one of my favorite pieces of music. I'm always happy to have the opportunity to hear it, so on Saturday night I showed up at St. Ignatius to get a ticket for this performance featuring the San Francisco Choral Society. There was a bit of chaos at the door, as they were late in opening the doors to start seating people. I also couldn't help noticing the long & slow-moving line for the women's rest room. I guess churches don't necessarily have ample facilities.

There was a large chorus of about 150, which probably is not historically accurate. The orchestra, on the other hand, had 1 player to a part, which probably is historically accurate. Authentic numbers or not, the balance came out fine. Before the performance, one of the musicians gave a brief explanation of the Baroque instruments being played. Somehow this seemed both instructive & unnecessary.

I really liked hearing this piece with such a large chorus. The chorus didn't sound particularly loud, perhaps because of the size of the venue. The conductor, Robert Geary, did a good job of cueing & keeping things together, but overall the sound was a bit blurry. I think the chorus could have made a much bigger impression simply by singing with more dynamic range than they did.

The conductor mainly focused on traffic management for the chorus & then left the smaller ensemble numbers to the individual performers. Sometimes he didn't even conduct these numbers at all. The orchestra & the soloists were all very capable, so this didn't seem like a bad decision, but I think overall the performance would have benefitted from a little more rhythmic incisiveness.

There were 8 soloists, & the tenor Brian Staufenbiel seemed to get the most work. He looked like the happiest singer you could meet. He was all smiles whenever he wasn't actually singing. By the end of performance I was feeling like he was my best buddy.

The singers who stood out for me were the soprano, Shawnette Sulker, & another tenor, Brian Thorsett. Sulker has a solid, almost steely, voice. Thorsett has a clear, high voice, & he could also summon a big sound when he wanted. His duets with Staufenbiel were great. Monteverdi has the voices singing so close that the effect is quite sensual.

A well-rehearsed children's chorus of 30 performed the soprano line in the Sancta Maria from memory. They dispatched their part with such confidence & accuracy that you could tell this was a group of old pros. After their number, I heard a man nearby me cheer in a whisper, "Yeah!"

The performance had an intermission, which seems to be the usual practise, but I'm not sure that I approve. I also did not approve of the audience's cool response at the end. The soloists only came out for 1 curtain call, which didn't seem enough.

Monday, April 10, 2006

APE Show

On Saturday I went to the Alternate Press Expo at the Concourse Exhibition Center. There were a lot of exhibitors, & it was really crowded. My favorite discovery was a collection of precious & whimsical paper constructions from "Boxer Press". One item is a paper house that comes with a slot in the roof & a match. Every time you have a regret, you write it on a piece of paper & deposit it in the house. Then at the end of the year you use the match to burn the collected regrets!

The show has its own programming room now. I checked out Justin Hall's panel on Queer Cartoonists. Justin did a good job of giving everyone equal attention & trying to elicit responses that would make the panelists seem interesting.

Since the exhibitors are usually there to show personal projects, they are always really fun to talk to. & they really want to talk to you! Sometimes they come across like puppy dogs, eager to show off & get some attention.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rostropovich leads SF Symphony 2

I went back to the SF Symphony to hear Rostropovich's 2nd Shostakovich program on March 30th. I was in the 1st tier center section again. These concerts have been close to sold-out, but for some reason this section likes me.

The program opened with the 1st Jazz Suite. They had the small ensemble grouped on the left side of the stage, which looked a little odd, since the conductor ended up at an angle to the audience. They got the humor of the piece. The audience even laughed after the 2nd movement & after the Hawaiian guitar solo in the 3rd movement. The ensemble playing was excellent. The scoring might be a little fragmented, so that the performers probably do need to make an effort to sustain a line through each movement. The last movement sounded appropriately vampish. It reflected Rostropovich's preference for heavy, sustained playing.

This was followed by the 2nd Violin Concert with the concert master Alexander Barantschik. I really liked his playing. His bow arm is really smooth. He has an unbroken sound which makes it seem like he has an endless bow. He can do really fast bow speed changes. He had music in front of him, which I usually don't like to see for a concerto. He's not a flashy player, & executes even the technically challenging passages in an undemonstrative way. The orchestra was very supportive & never covered him. The string sections played especially uniformly. It wasn't an emotionally wrought performance, but it was well played & sincerely played & all of a piece with the orchestra. Barantschik got a very warm ovation from the audience & came back for 2 bows & scattered standing ovations.

The 2nd half of the program was the exhausting 13th Symphony. Like in the previous program, Rostropoich did a good job builing up to loud & gritty climaxes. His tempos were very generous, & he did a good job of sustaining the often oppressive mood, but somehow I didn't feel like he was so successful in this large piece. The soloist was a young, tall & lanky bass with a very strong, sustained voice but not much variety in his singing. As usual the chorus did a fine job. Their singing is very uniform & has a lot of variety.

The symphony ends very quietly, & Rostropovich worked hard to create an ending that moved imperceptibly to silence, but someone started applauding during the last chord, so the effect was completely destroyed. I hate when that happens. I felt like we needed to hear the last movement again without the applause, just so we could get the full effect of that final decrescendo.