Thursday, May 31, 2007

Noontime Concert: David Requiro

Schumann - Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70o
Brahms - Sonata in D major, Op. 78
Gaspar Cassado - Dance of the Green Devil

A musical co-worker tipped me off to the noontime concerts at St. Patrick's on Mission. Even though they are called "noontime concerts", they start at half past 12. Anyway, I went Wednesday & heard cellist David Requiro accompanied by pianist Miles Graber. The very young Mr. Requiro was last year's winner of the Irving Klein Competition. Suprisingly, he's the 1st Bay Area winner of this local competition.

Despite his age, David Requiro is clearly a veteran perfomer. I really liked his intimate playing. He's the kind of performer who draws you in. He's very musical & phrases everything, & he's almost indulgent in the easiness that he has with slow movements. Since he's a competition winner, I take it for granted that his technique is nearly perfect. He has an effortless sound even when playing extremely high up on the instrument.

Unfortunately this church is a very poor venue for this kind of recital. The sound is extremely muddy & difficult to hear. Sightlines from the pews are poor. There are also the distractions of street noise & people moving around the church. & this being San Francisco, we had a fair share of institutional types, though the audience was entirely well-behaved.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Welser-Möst tries it again

A while back I got all pissy over MTT's Stravinsky mishap wherein he took 3 tries to get one of the movements started. Well, these things might happen more frequently than I thought. Here's Franz Welser-Möst having a Berg breakdown, via Opera Chic.

On the lighter side, here's Yefim Bronfman having mechanical trouble in Detroit, via The standing Room.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Zombies; Arab Photography; Political Cartoons

As I left work yesterday, I witnessed a zombie attack on Market Street. It was messy. I think these people are responsible.

This afternoon I visited the SF Camerawork gallery to see an exhibit titled Not Given: Talking of and Around Photographs of Arab Women. It turned out to be a multimedia show of photographs from something called the Arab Image Foundation This one was a bit too post-modern for me. The multimedia portion was 4 concurrently running slide shows of photos from the archive, grouped by search terms. I unfortunately remained unenlightened. I didn't understand the post-modern jargon of the wall text, & the photo selections seemed indiscriminate to me.

After my SF Camerawork visit, I went next door to the Cartoon Art Museum to see their provocatively titled exhibit Why Do They STILL Hate U.S.?. It's a collection of political cartoon about the Bush administration that appeared mostly in English-language newspapers outside the U.S. I like the idea of this exhibition, but my sense was that this was pretty much the same kind of criticism we already see here, only more blunt. The caricatures of Bush were very familiar: he's usually depicted as a big-eared hypocrite, ignoramus or tyrant.

The only cartoons that offered a new point of view to me were ones attacking Bush's stance against Iran as a nuclear threat. In these Bush rails against Iran, while ignoring a gleeful Korea, already holding a nuclear bomb. I don't think I've heard Korea come up here whenever we talk about the threat of Iran as a nuclear power.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Maker Faire

I'd never been to the Maker Faire in San Mateo before. I had no idea it was going to be so big & so crowded & such a family event. Definitely something for everyone, & probably the closest I'll ever get to Burning Man. If there's an over-all theme, it's something like "extreme arts & crafts". I never knew that welding could be a hobby.

The main ideas of the Faire come together in the many robotic exhibits: interactivity, recycling & repurposing of materials, customization, digital technology, playfulness, humor. I even took in racous round of Robo Games, in which a flame-throwing robot pursued a small beer keg on wheels & reduced it to a smoking shell.

I pretty much ignored the stage presentations, even though Steve Wozniak was a featured speaker. However, I was lucky enough to hear the awesomely retro Project: Pimento, who bill themselves as the only theremin lounge band. They totally convinced me that we don't hear enough of the theremin these days.

I also couldn't ignore the knitting drummer. I guess one way to creativity is combining existing skills in new ways.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Carnivorous Plants

Sunday was insanely warm in San Francisco. I even wore shorts! Went to Golden Gate Park to check out the special exhibit of carnivorous plants at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. Great stuff. The exhibit has healthy examples of all the major types of traps, many of them in bloom. Even though it's tough to refrain from touching the plants, it's a full sensory experience. You'll get sprayed with steam, & there is jazz music piped into the room! Can't fail to inspire a sense of wonder.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Steven Isserlis's Russian Program

SHOSTAKOVICH: Sonata, Op. 40
RUBINSTEIN: Sonata No. 1, Op. 18
GLAZUNOV: Two Pieces, Op. 20
PROKOFIEV: Sonata, Op. 119

Thursday night I heard cellist Steven Isserlis's Russian program at Herbst Theatre. I've never heard him before, but at least visually he is a pretty unmistakable performer. He has a huge mop of long curly hair, somewhat like Evgeny Kissin. He tends to look around while he plays, sometimes appearing to stare straight out into the audience. He also has a peculiar mannerism of occasionally flipping his left hand up & open at the end of a phrase.

He doesn't seem to have a big or weighty sound. Instead, his playing is very clean & adroit. Even when Shostakovich has him doing all sorts of wild strumming, sliding, pizzicato, or tearing through rapid passages, the sound was always precise & clear. He's a tasteful performer.

The program was 2 weighty pieces sandwiching the relatively lighter pieces of Rubinstein & Glazunov. Before the Rubinstein, Isserlis spoke a few words about the composer's huge stature in his day, then commented that we were about to hear why this piece is unknown today. He finds the piece old-fashion yet still enjoyable. The piece also gave our page-turner extra duties. During a cadenza passage for the cellist, she stood up, walked carefully around the pianist, turned Mr. Isserlis's page for him, then returned to her seat.

The accompanist was the very young Kirill Gerstein, whose similarly precise & clear playing, complemented & supported Isserlis very well. As an encore they did a lyrical piece by Rachmaninoff, which Isserlis said is probably his earliest known piece.

Rheingold in Valencia

The Opera Chic blog posted some wacky photos of a production of Das Rheingold directed by a group called La Fura dels Baus in Valencia: We Got Teh *lolbombs* Up In Here. The SF Opera has a new Ring in the works, but somehow I doubt it's going to look anything like this.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Christopher Maltman

Sunday evening I heard English baritone Christopher Maltman's song recital at Herbst Theatre. It was a fully romantic program of songs by Peter Warlock, Debussy, Henri Duparc, Franz Schubert & Hugo Wolf.

Maltman is young, tall & slim, & he looked very happy to be with us. Both his voice & his stage presence are operatic. The different ranges of his voice had different colors. He made discreet use of falsetto when a song called for a quiet ending.

Maltman is also a great actor & can create a character for a song. For Warlock's Captain Stratton's Fancy, he becomes the boistrous, happy drunk. But for Wolf's Der Gärtner, he is the naive, shy gardener.

Even though this was Maltman's recital, it was the accompanist Julius Drake who really had my attention this evening. He is a fantastic pianist & musician. He could make such a tremendous amount of sound that I could feel the low notes through the floor. But he could also play beautifully quiet & fluid passages. Drake inhabited the music so fully that he did more than the singer to communicate the songs. In fact I'm afraid that I listened to him more than the singer. Several days later, the strongest impressions of this recital I have are of Drake's intense accompaniments for some of the Duparc & Wolf songs. At times he would rise off the piano bench while he played, & at the end of each set he would leap up immediately.

Unsurprisingly, Drake seems to be in high demand as a chamber music performer & accompanist. He is no doubt more than just a supporting player. Maltman often seemed to be conferring with him between pieces. At one point Drake even gave him a pitch before starting a song.

There were a couple of unfortunate technical difficulties during the 1st song. First, there was a sudden loud blast of something electronic, like feedback or an alarm, but it stopped almost as soon as it started. Then there was a softer electronic buzz that took a bit longer to go away. Maltman carried on completely unfazed by the distractions. Then to test Maltman further, a woman came down from the side boxes & sat herself in the front row, speaking to a couple of people nearby as she did so. She did all this while Maltman was singing, then she disappeared after intermission.

For his first encore Maltman did a Flanders & Swann number & instantly became outrageously charming. For the first time I focussed solely on his singing so that I could catch all the words. He followed this by a comic Debussy song, Ballade of the Parisian Women, also dispatched with appropriate theatrics.