Friday, February 26, 2010

Kronos: Music from 4 Fences

Kronos: Music from 4 Fences
February 25, 2010 8pm
Z Space @ Artaud

David Harrington, violin
John Sherba, violin
Hank Dutt, viola
Jeffrey Zeigler, cello

Frangiz Ale-Zadeh: Mugam Sayagi
John Zorn: 6 Selections from The Dead Man
Felipe Pérez Santiago: CampoSanto
Terry Riley: The Welcoming Baptism of Sweet Daisy Grace
Amon Tobin (arr. Stephen Prutsman and Michael Winger): Bloodstone
Traditional (arr. Jacob Garchick): Lullaby
Jon Rose: Music from 4 Fences

Scott Johnson: "It Raged" from How It Happens (says I.F. Stone)

I have never been to a Kronos Quartet show before, & if this experience is at all representative, it is as much theater as it is music-making. The quartet is lit in dramatic ways throughout. The pieces might involve bits of staging & employ stunt-like extended playing techniques. My favorite was a movement of John Zorn's The Dead Man in which the players whip their bows through the air to make a whooshing sound. Rosin flying off the bows adds to the visual effect. Many of the pieces incorporate a pre-recorded soundtrack, but I never got used to the live performers & the soundtrack having equal presence. For me these require 2 different ways of listening which are incompatible.

I liked Frangiz Ale-Zadeh's Mugam Sayagi, with its plaintive mood & roots in Central Asian folk music. The piece begins & ends with the cellist alone on stage, repeating a simple phrase while the viola sings softly off stage. The whole thing is like a little story. I also liked Amon Tobin's song-like Bloodstone. Its opening bars are truly sweet & lyrical, & the accompanying soundtrack is interesting in its own right.

The finale was a performance of Jon Rose's Music from 4 Fences. The quartet create musical sounds by plucking, striking & bowing metal wires, strung on large movable frames to look like a barbed wire fence. The 5 horizontal wires also look like a musical staff. The wires are amplified, & their sound is loud, reverberant & barbaric. The performance was visually enhanced by live video projection of the musicians hands. At the climax of the piece the performers arrange the fences so that they are caged in.

The plastic chairs in the Z Space got very uncomfortable by the end of the intermissionless show. I attended with John Marcher, & as we left we encountered Jon Rose himself on the sidewalk outside. I may have offended him when I asked if the fence piece was notated. There is indeed a score, but Mr. Rose was more concerned about the quartet's fence-playing skills. He thought they definitely needed to practice more.

I've subsequently learned that the cheerful fellow who took my ticket stub at the theater was most likely none other than The Standing Room.

Blomstedt's Bruckner 6

Herbert Blomstedt conducts Mozart and Bruckner
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 2:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

San Francisco Symphony
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor

Mozart: Symphony No. 36, Linz
Bruckner: Symphony No. 6

PhotobucketOn arriving for this weekday matinee at Davies Hall, I headed for the ground floor men's room, only to stop short when I saw women coming out of it. I guess for these performances they convert the men's restroom to a ladies' room to accommodate the numerous female patrons attending by the busload. I'm glad I was paying attention.

Blomstedt used a reduced orchestra for the Mozart "Linz" Symphony. I counted only 18 violins, 4 cellos & 3 basses. Blomstedt stood on the floor instead of a podium, almost in the middle the orchestra. He led without a baton or a score. It was a gentle, low-key performance. He gestured as if he were pushing or rolling the sound out of the orchestra. Blomstedt's range of motion has become smaller as he has gotten older, but he is still vital & alert. He looked very happy, & the final Presto was energetic.

He led the hour-long Bruckner 6 without a score as well. He looked like he was cuing everything, though I feel like the orchestra does not play as precisely & transparently as they did when he was their music director. The romantic 2nd movement had an underlying tension that was held just barely in check. The raucous 3rd movement had a blazing yet controlled ending. The 4th movement built steadily, & Blomstedt ended it with a big upward swoosh of his baton, the music lifting off instead of coming to a weighty finish. It was a feeling of exaltation.

During the 4th movement, a violist had a severe coughing fit from which she could not recover, & she had to leave the stage during the music. I hope she is all right.

MTT Awarded Medal

According to this press release, yesterday President Obama took time out from the health care summit to award our own Michael Tilson Thomas a National Medal of Arts. Congratulations MTT!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thomas Viloteau at the Rex

Salons at the Rex
Thomas Viloteau, guitar
Wednesday, February 24 6:30pm
Hotel Rex

Caprices 8, 1, 7: Luigi Legnani (1790-1877)
Fantasie Elégiaque: Ferdinand Sor (1778-1839)
Fantasie Op. 19: Luigi Legnani
Variations on a Theme by Sor: Miguel Llobet (1878-1938)

Romance de los Pinos: Federico Moreno Torroba

PhotobucketIn the intimate & informal setting of the Rex Salon, I heard the young guitarist Thomas Viloteau play an hour of technically challenging music. He is the winner of several competitions & approached the performance with a seriousness demeanor. The guitar is such a quiet, personal instrument that even in this small space I had to adjust to its soft sound. Mr. Viloteau gets many timbres out of his instrument, & I liked his expressive vibrato, which he easily varies in speed & width. His long slender fingers make no wasted moves across the fingerboard. I especially enjoyed his playing of the Fantasie Elégiaque, which was often smooth & connected.

The Variations by Llobet are a showcase of special techniques. One glassy variation uses nothing but harmonics, each of which Mr. Viloteau hit dead center. In another variation he had to pluck the strings with his right hand far up the fingerboard so that he could use his right index finger to press down some of the notes.

Mr. Viloteau was born in Paris & surprisingly did not begin to study music until he was 12, which he admits is very late. He spent a year studying at the SF Conservatory of Music & is now living in New York so he can experience that city until his visa runs out in June. I got the feeling that the audience was as taken by his charming, French-accented speech as by his proficient playing. He introduced his encore by saying it was "short & easy." In response to a question from the audience, he confessed, "I would like to learn jazz guitar, but it's too hard."

Oscar Animated Shorts

The Opera Plaza & Lumiere cinemas are showing special programs of Oscar shorts. I don't know how else anyone would see these, since no one actully shows shorts before the main feature anymore. But the only reason I went was to see the latest Wallace & Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf & Death. It's a half hour of fun made for TV broadcast on Christmas 2008. Thankfully, it was exactly what I expected: a wacky send-up of the thriller genre with affectionately goofy references to such unlikely films as Ghost & Aliens. It made me laugh & feel cheerful. Interestingly, it has a love interest for Gromit, & I'm still wondering if this is OK. The film is not as deeply elaborate or ingenious as past films, but I am glad that the franchise is still going. Peter Sallis better not pass away any time soon.

Besides the 5 nominated shorts, the program was filled out with 3 "highly commended" shorts: Runaway (Canada), The Kinematograf (Poland) & Pixar's Party Cloudy. Except for Wallace & Gromit & Runaway, everything had that 3-D computer animation look. Violent or otherwise unnatural death is a feature of nearly every short. The punchline of The Lady & the Reaper (Spain) is a suicide.

Of course I'll be rooting for Nick Parks to win yet another Oscar, but I did like the twisted humor of Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Ireland), in which a story-telling grandmother identifies way too much with the wicked witch in Sleeping Beauty. I found the CGI look of the human characters in Kinematograf too freakish. The last film in the program, Logorama, is preceded by a parental warning & a long pause, during which we can accompany the kiddies out of the theater, I suppose. The film is a foul-mouthed parody of Hollywood blockbusters, enacted in a universe populated entirely by corporate brand logos behaving nastily.

Gewandhaus Orchestra Plays Beethoven

Gewandhaus Orchestra Plays Beethoven
Mon, Feb 22, 2010 8:00pm
Davies Hall

Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
Louis Lortie, piano

Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor
Beethoven, Symphony No. 7

It was a great treat to hear the Leipzig Gewandhaus on Monday night at Davies Hall in this all-Beethoven program. The hall was full, & there was a sense of occasion. I enjoyed the band's warm, cushy sound. I felt like all the players really listen to each other. The ensemble playing is excellent, & I could always hear the inner voices. Even the brass blended smoothly with the rest of the orchestra. It was fun to see all the woodwinds swooping their heads in unison during their tutti passages. They must do a lot of sectional rehearsals.

Louis Lortie is a technical marvel. He began the concerto with a great trill & played with a mechanistic precision. His right & left hands have exemplary independence. At times it looks like his left hand even wants to conduct. He displayed great dynamic range & was well-supported by the orchestra. Even when he scaled down to the edge of audibility, the orchestra managed to play even more softly. The audience responded so enthusiastically that Mr. Lortie returned for an encore, though there was an awkward moment when Chailly signaled for the orchestra to stand at the same moment that the audience stopped applauding when Mr. Lortie sat down to play again. Mr. Lortie offered us a short, rapid movement from a Beethoven sonata, possibly the Allegro Molto from Sonata #31.

Riccardo Chailly is an energetic & dynamic leader. The 7th Symphony was constantly moving. The 2nd movement was brisk, a true Allegretto. Things just sped up from there, though it was fast without feeling breathless. The orchestra phrases everything nicely & with much dynamic contrast. There was a wonderful passage in the last movement which they unexpectly played at a sustained piano. I was also delighted by a section where the 1st & 2nd violins, sitting across from one another, rapidly passed a theme back & forth. The audience again responded loudly, & we got an encore of The Creatures of Prometheus, in which the 1st violins showed off their ability to maintain perfect synchronization even playing very short notes.

The Gewandhaus has a tour blog, & it is nice to see that their former director, Herbert Blomstedt, who also happens to be in town, attended their rehearsal, their 1st concert & met them backstage. Their blogger is also impressed by the steepness of the steps in Davies Hall.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Lady from Shanghai

Friday, February 19 @ 8:00 pm
Paramount Movie Classics
The Lady from Shanghai

I was in a cheap mood last night, so at the spur of the moment I went to movie night at the Oakland Paramount to see Orson Welles's the Lady from Shanghai. Even including the $6.20 BART trip, it's cheaper than a movie in the City & the atmosphere can't be beat. Even the restrooms are like temples! Customers are allowed to bring drinks into the auditorium, & several people seated around me were plenty happy well before the main feature even started.

I've never seen this movie all the way through before, & I found it a bit of a muddle. Judging from conversations around me as I was leaving, a lot of other people found it confusing too. It only came alive to me at the very end, in the scenes shot in San Francisco. By coincidence, just a few days ago I was in the new incarnation of the aquarium where Orson Welles & Rita Hayworth are caught kissing by giggling school children. The new aquarium is not as Gothic & noir-ish as the old one. & it is such a pity that Portsmouth Square was turned into a parking garage long ago.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Free Day at the Academy of Sciences

PhotobucketHaving nothing better to do this morning, I determined to get back into the California Academy of Sciences on their free Wednesday of the month. This is an extremely popular day, & I have been deterred by the crowds before. This time I arrived at 8:45am for the 9:30am opening. There were at least 200 people in line ahead of me already, mostly families. By the time the line started moving, I could not see the end of the line, which looked like it was going down JFK Drive. They take pictures of everyone entering the museum & hand you a card with a code with which you can retrieve & purchase your picture at the end of the day.

San Francisco SkylineOnce in the museum, I headed for the line for the planetarium show passes. Once I had my pass, I got into line for entrance to the planetarium show itself. The show is a barely half an hour & is simply a movie about star formation. On my way out I had a brief chat with the young woman operating the show. She told me that on non-free weekdays the show is longer & includes a live segment in which she points out things we can see in the night sky that week. I was also surprised to learn that the old-school analog projector, which is no longer in use, actually projected sharper star images than the fancy digital projector.

As I left the museum, people were starting to line up at the cafeteria. The line outside was still hundreds of people long. I went across the street for a visit to the de Young Museum's tower, where I waited in line for the elevator up. People on vacation are so patient.

A Single Man

From the preview of Tom Ford's A Single Man, I was expecting something merely slick & stylish. Fortunately it turned out to be much more than that. The movie is certainly wonderful to look at. It's almost hyper-real, with its artificial shifts from drab tones into bright color, its seductive close-ups of eyes & lips, & its adoration of early 60's design (Were there really lavender-colored cigarettes then?). It is also a great period piece with much sly humor. For some reason I found it very funny when George, about to leave his office, washes down a few Bayer aspirins with the dregs from a bottle of Scotch in his desk drawer. I believe that shortly after this, he drives to a gun shop & buys bullets from a teenage shop assistant.

We see everything through the eyes of Colin Firth as George, & he does deserve all the accolades he has been receiving for his performance. In the scene in which George & Jim are home reading together on the couch, Mr. Firth only needs half a second to show us that George is dominated by the fear of losing Jim. Matthew Goode as Jim appears in only a few scenes, but we easily regret the loss of his sunny, self-assured character.

The Christopher Isherwood novel on which the movie is based is plotless & psychologically interior, seemingly poor movie material. Mr. Ford's adaptation is confident & impressively true. He evokes the period with sureness. The scene between Colin Firth & Julianne Moore as Charley made me think of Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I also liked the sad & ominous string score by Abel Korzeniowski. It could have been for a Hitchcock movie.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Corduroy Bicycle

bicycle,corduroyWhile walking through Hayes Valley last week, I saw this bicycle chained to a parking meter. It was completely, meticulously wrapped in orange corduroy. Even the bike lock was wrapped! I think it was usable nonetheless. Only the brakes & chain were not wrapped. Wow...

Macworld 2010

iPod,sculpture,MacWorld2010On Friday I did a fast tour of the Macworld 2010 expo at Moscone Center. With Apple no longer attending, it was much smaller than in previous years. & it was as if the iPad did not even exist. The most visible vendors sold accessories for the iPhone, iPods & MacBooks or offered computing services that were not necessarily Mac-specific. Among the objects of desire on display were brightly colored portable batteries from HyperMac that are irresistible to handle & look like 21st century versions of cigarette cases & lighters. From the Bone Collection were ridiculously cute USB flash drives shaped like cartoon animals. The pandas sold out at the show. I love their tag line, “BONE makes you different”. In the Wiley booth, the stetson-wearing Andy Ihnatko was impossible to ignore. He was a funny & uninhibited pitchman for his book iPhone Fully Loaded & made me want to buy his book even though I don't have an iPhone.

NT Live: Nation

NT Live: Nation
Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 7:00 PM
Rialto Cinemas Elmwood

The National Theatre in London has movie house screenings of their plays now, along the lines of the Met's Live in HD broadcasts. However, this was not a live broadcast but a re-broadcast of a live performance. Going in, I knew nothing about Nation or the Terry Pratchett novel on which it is based. As it was, I could not make sense of this story about shipwrecked Victorians clashing with Polynesian natives. This is the National Theatre's family show, & it looks like a politically incorrect version of the Lion King. When I wasn't offended by the show's inexplicable presentation of race, I was simply embarrassed. The 2nd half opens with the cast dancing the hula while singing happy birthday to a puppet.

I can at least say that the filming was well executed. This can't have been an easy show to film live, as it is a very complicated production, with a rotating stage, underwater effects & video projections. & I was totally convinced by Emily Taaffe as Daphne, a Victorian teenager gone native. At the beginning of our screening, there was a technical glitch with the projection, & we found ourselves looking at the video player interface for a minute while the program was re-cued. There were also occasional audio drop-outs.

The next broadcast is Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art, which features Benjamin Britten & W.H. Auden as 2 of its characters. Obviously a different kind of show.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trio Cavatina

Trio Cavatina
Tuesday, February 9, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

SCHUMANN: Piano Trio, Opus 110 in G minor
CHOPIN: Piano Trio, Opus 8 in G minor
BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Opus 87

Herbst theatre intermissionSF Performances presented this unapologetically Romantic program at Herbst Theatre last night in appreciation of their donors & subscribers. Trio Cavatina are the 2009 Naumburg Competition winners & are quite a sleek-looking group, being 3 young woman in shoulder-baring dresses. I could not help but think that they must be a classical music publicist's dream.

As one would expect from competition winners, all 3 members of the trio play with great technical proficiency, & they were no doubt note-perfect this evening. They make an attractive, lustrous sound. I liked how violinist Harumi Rhodes consistently used the full length of the bow. Cellist Priscilla Lee has a similarly fluid style of playing, & her cello sound is exceptionally clean & even. Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute plays with great refinement &, with her long slender arms, looks quite elegant at the piano.

As this concert was general seating, the downstairs filled quickly, & I ended up in the balcony, which was itself at least a 3rd full. The trio seems averse to tuning on stage. At the end of the intermission, the page turner came on & hit the A on the piano, at which point we heard the strings tuning just off stage. The page turner may have a had a difficult night herself, as she missed at least 2 cues during the Chopin, forcing the pianist to flip a couple of her own pages.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Earplay 25: Ear and There

Earplay 25: Ear and There
Monday, February 8, 2010 7:30 PM
Herbst Theatre

The Earplay Ensemble
Mary Chun, conductor
Tod Brody, flutes
Peter Josheff, clarinets
Terrie Baune, violin
Ellen Ruth- Rose, viola
Thalia Moore, cello
Karen Rosenak, piano

Guest Artists
Michael Seth Orland, piano
Chris Froh, percussion

Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez
and of course Henry the Horse (2006)

Sam Nichols
Unnamed, Jr. (2009)

Kaija Saariaho
Je sens un deuxième coeur (2006)

Seymour Shifrin
The Modern Temper (1959)

Bruce Bennett
From the Ashes (2005)

A committed audience filled just a portion of Herbst Theatre last night for this program of contemporary chamber music presented by Earplay. I have never been to one of their concerts before, though they are now in their 25th year. Conductor Mary Chun introduced each half of the program with a description of the pieces, including their duration. Sanchez-Gutierrez's and of course Henry the Horse is for clarinet, violin & piano 4 hands. It was often fast, jumpy & chirpy. The slow second movement made me think of the inexorable ticking of a clock.

Sam Nichols's Unnamed, Jr., for viola, clarinet & piano, is a moody piece in which the instruments seem to pursue independent but interweaving lines of thought. Mr. Nichols was in attendance & made a surprisingly swift leap onto the stage to take a bow with the musicians. His piece was a perfect lead in to Saariaho's trio for viola, cello & piano, Je sens un deuxième coeur. This is a set of 5 deeply serious mood pieces, ranging from brooding to rough.

After intermission Karen Rosenak & Michael Seth Orland played Seymour Shifrin's The Modern Temper for piano 4 hands, a busy piece with bouncy passages of dance music. The program ended with Bruce Bennett's From the Ashes, a 20 minute work for violin, viola, cello, piano, clarinet, flute & percussion. It's a colorful work in which a lot happens. At the center is a tam-tam solo in which percussionist Chris Froh enthusiastically attacked the instrument with brushes, sticks & his elbow, inevitably leading up to a rattling crescendo. Also notable was a passage in which the bass clarinet made a barking sound which was taken up by the strings. I liked the playing of flutist Tod Brody, whose piccolo sound is impressively solid & not a bit shrill. The composer was also in attendance, though Mr. Bennett was not quite as sprightly as Mr. Nichols in getting onto the stage.

The audience was invited to a wine & cheese reception afterward, where we could mingle with the performers & composers.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Morrison Artists Series: Afiara String Quartet

Morrison Artists Series: Afiara String Quartet
February 7, 2010 3:00pm
San Francisco State University
McKenna Theatre, Creative Arts Building

Mozart: Quartet No. 19 in C, K. 465 Dissonance
Berg: Lyric Suite
Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13

Despite, or maybe because of, Super Bowl 2010, there was such a big turn out for the Afiara String Quartet this afternoon that the house ran out of printed programs. I was attracted by the substantive & balanced program on offer. I was especially glad of the chance to hear Berg's Lyric Suite. I own 2 CDs of this piece, but hearing it live I realized that it creates a lot of timbres that just do not come across well in a recording. The Afiara Quartet may even have an affinity for this work, & they brought a lot of concentration to their performance.

The young members of the quartet play with an easy technical facility & with perfect ensemble, yet they are also 4 distinct musical personalities. Cellist Adrian Fung has a big, sometimes booming, sound which is quite prominent. 1st violinist Valerie Li has a sweet sound on her higher strings which changes to a warm tone lower down. She often sounds like she is about to take flight. I was always aware of hearing individual voices assert themselves.

Members of OLLI were welcomed during the introductory remarks. SFSU sponsors a local chapter. This is a social group for people 50 & up who are interested in cultural programming. As a privilege of membership, they attended a champagne reception during the intermission. Before the Mendelssohn, violist David Samuel thanked the Alexander String Quartet, who had coached them during a residency at SFSU. I had spotted the Alexander's 2 violinists during the intermission.

Audiences for the Morrison Artists Series are eager, & I especially enjoyed the performance of an elderly woman who carefully took her time finding a seat in the front of the hall. We were past the eerie introduction of the Mozart & well into the exposition before she was settled in.

Midori Performs Music of Her Time

Midori Performs Music of Her Time
Midori, violin
Charles Abramovic, piano
Saturday, February 6, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Huw Watkins: Coruscation and Reflection
Kryzsztof Penderecki: Violin Sonata No. 2
Toshio Hosokawa: Vertical Time Study III
James Macmillan: After the Tryst
Adams: Road Movies

To me Midori is a performer with exceptional powers of communication. Through a lot of hard work, she made this program of contemporary music as accessible as any evening of standard works. Midori executed the many abrupt shifts in Huw Watkins's Coruscation with startling efficiency. The companion piece Reflections had her playing perilously high on the E string, the sound strong & loud yet not strained. I enjoyed the often mordant outer movements of the Penderecki Sonata for Violin & Piano, especially when Midori demonstrated that she can be as expressive with pizzicato as when she uses a bow. She sustained a mood of even calm in the drawn-out central slow movement. Pianist Charles Abramovic plays crisply & cleanly & is a very supportive accompanist. His playing, & even his appearance, remind me of Robert McDonald, Midori's previous collaborator.

When the pair returned after intermission, there was an electronic hum in the hall, & we had a delay as Mr. Abramovic left the stage to get assistance. Toshio Hosokawa's Vertical Time Study III is a set of 3 fragmentary pieces exploring various timbres. Midori sometimes let the bow slide over the fingerboard, & I was left wondering whether or not I was still hearing the violin sound. The piece left me with a sickening feeling. James Macmillan's After the Tryst was a complete contrast. It's an achingly beautiful pastoral show piece, only a few minutes long. Midori started with the fastest trill I have ever heard, & she made the piece sing in one long, unbroken line. It really did make me think of a field of flowers in bloom & was a highlight of my evening.

Without leaving the stage, the pair launched into the frenetic opening movement of John Adams's Road Movies. It's a wonderfully pictorial piece, & the audience applauded spontaneously after the vigorous & focused performance of the 1st movement. A lot of fun was had in the final 40% Swing movement, with the violin & piano jauntily sliding in & out of sync. John Adams was in the house & came on stage to take a bow with the performers at the end. We recalled Midori & Mr. Abramovic to the stage at least 4 times & continued clapping even when the house lights came up, but we were offered no encore. It is hard to know what could cap this, though.

Oakland Art Murmur; Rebecca at the Paramount

Oakland paramountI spent last Friday evening in Oakland, starting off with the Art Murmur open galleries art walk. We were lucky to have a break in the rain, & the galleries were filled with a young, artsy crowd, enjoying the buzz & free wine. There were too many people for me to actually enjoy the art, but it is a fun & busy atmosphere in a colorful neighborhood. The show spills out into the street. With great fanfare, a man on the sidewalk uncovered big boxes of donuts with organic ingredients.

I cut my art walk short in order to attend movie night at the nearby Paramount Theater. This was another well-attended event, & that huge theater was almost full. The line to get in was a little like going through airport security, as the theater staff confiscates customers' water bottles. I was a guest of John Marcher, but the evening is a recession-busting $5. Besides a classic movie, you get entrance into that plush art deco setting, live organ music, a newsreel, a cartoon & the Dec-O-Win, an audience favorite in which we all get a chance to win valuable prizes from local businesses. That's at least 3 hours of fun!

I had never seen Hitchcock's Rebecca before, so I had the pleasure of experiencing the gothic twists & turns of the plot along with the characters. I was never convinced of any romantic passion between Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine. I suppose we're supposed to look to the malevolent Mrs. Danvers for that aspect of the story. I see that the Paramount will be showing The Lady from Shanghai later in the month, & I'm tempted to return for that.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

MTT's Perfect Weekend

In this weekend's How To Spend It, the luxury spending insert in the Financial Times, MTT describes his perfect weekend in San Francisco. Besides rehearsals & concerts, this includes congee at The Slanted Door, walking the dogs at Crissy Field, a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum, & an overnight stay at an undisclosed location in the North Bay ("I use this time to think about the music in my head, the music I want to write."). The article is illustrated with a photo of the maestro at the Ferry Building farmers' market, radishes & brussels sprouts spilling out of his shoulder bag.

Update: I'm finding the How To Spend It Web site difficult to navigate, but the article now seems to be online here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Mostly British Party & Tati's Trafic

Party at Thomas pinkLast night I somehow found myself at the opening night party for the Mostly British Film Festival, even though I was not on the guest list & I had no intention of attending the actual opening night film. Nonetheless, I chatted with a film buff, ate some appetizers, drank a British beer, & had my picture taken with my companion in the posh premises of the Thomas Pink shirt shop.

A little later in the evening we made it to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening room for Jacques Tati's Trafic. I had only seen this once before many years ago, & I remember thinking it a sad come-down from Playtime. I had forgotten much of it, as it turns out, &, while I still don't think it a good film, it is very much a Tati film. The choreographed car pile-up scene is a slow-motion ballet. The 5-year-old in me loved the montage of drivers caught picking their noses in the supposed privacy of their cars. I even liked the strange plaster busts being given away as premiums at a gas station. So not a total failure, & I am glad to have seen it again as part of this series.

Between events I experienced a classic demonstration of how small San Francisco is. Stopping to get something to eat at a place halfway between the opening night party & the movie, I sat down & found myself right next to beastly blogger John Marcher, who, despite a week reporting from Sundance, regretted missing Ensemble Parallèle's Wozzeck.

Afiara String Quartet at UCSF

Chancellor's Concert Series
4-Feb-10 noon
Cole Hall, 513 Parnassus Avenue

Afiara String Quartet

Briseno: El Sinaloense
Puccini: Crisantemi
Beethoven: Grosse Fugue, Op. 133

As is the practice for these free Thursday lunchtime concerts on the UCSF campus, David Watts, M.D. began with a short poetry reading, this time the love poem "Song" by Allen Ginsberg. Then the young members of the Afiara String Quartet played a tight half hour of music, & we were all out of there by 12:45.

The concert began with Briseno's El Sinaloense, a punchy mariachi number, complete with a rolled R shout by the cellist. This was followed by Puccini's totally contrasting Chrysanthemums, with its gentle heaving. We finished with Beethoven's strange & prickly Grosse Fuge. The Afiara quartet plays very cleanly & with a youthful ease. They have perfect ensemble, & yet I always had the sense of hearing 4 individual voices. I found myself listening a lot to the cellist, whose playing has a bright personality. The cellist is also the spokesman for the group, & he talked briefly between pieces.

This short appearance totally encourages me to check out the quartet's pleasing program of Mozart, Berg & Mendelssohn at SF State on Sunday afternoon as part of the Morrison Artists Series. Apparently they already have fans. As I was reading the program posted outside the hall, an old man came up to me, told me all about the quartet's residency at SF State with the Alexander String Quartet, & assured me that I would like the show.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Animals Out of Paper

Animals Out of Paper
by Rajiv Joseph
directed by Amy Glazer
West Coast Premiere
The SF Playhouse
February 2, 2010 7pm

Lorri Holt, Ilana
David Deblinger, Andy
Aly Mawji, Suresh

Having an interest in origami, I bought a ticket to this show on the strength of the title alone. & indeed the play is set in the studio of an origami artist who is in the midst of an emotional & creative block. A high school math teacher brings her a gifted student to mentor, & a messy relationship between the 3 ensues.

I appreciated that the origami terminology used by the characters is correct. I was delighted by the set, which is full of folded animals, & wished I could go onstage to get a closer look. I quickly recognized Bernie Peyton's cacti, Linda Mihara's connected cranes & Jeremy Shafer's anatomically accurate heart. I even spotted real-life origami expert Robert Lang in the audience. His flying hawk figures importantly in the 1st scene.

The play itself contains many charged moments, but I found it lacking in over-all structure. During the 1st scene of the 2nd act it became clear where the situation was heading, yet the big encounter in the last scene, the only time all 3 characters are on stage, was left completely unresolved. I felt like the play needed at least one more scene.

All 3 actors were wonderful to spend time with. David Deblinger is especially convincing & sympathetic as a sweetly nerdy high school teacher. I would almost see this show again just for his warm performance. Aly Mawji is charismatic as your classic confused-yet-big-hearted teenager.

The theater has an informal atmosphere, & members of the staff & the audience seemed to know each other. Many people brought drinks with them to their seats. I was seated next to a gentlemen in a stiff leather jacket that creaked whenever he shifted in his seat. A new kind of theater distraction.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Listen to Alex

I'm excited to know that Alex Ross has a new book coming out in September called Listen to This, though, having followed him in the New Yorker, it appears I will already be familiar with much of the content. But I am even more excited by the one word topic of his next project: Wagnerism.

ABS: Monteverdi Vespers

Monteverdi Vespers of 1610
American Bach Soloists
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Jennifer Ellis soprano
Abigail Haynes Lennox soprano
Derek Chester tenor

Sunday 31 January 2010 at 7:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Less than 4 hours after hearing those ambivalent, see-sawing notes that close Berg's Wozzeck, I was blasted by the blazingly confident fanfare that opens Monteverdi's Vespers. Monteverdi & Berg are both favorites with me, but I won't even try to imagine how they might be linked.

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas, standing at a harpsichord, led an incredibly clean & in-tune performance by the American Bach Soloists. Every vocal line was clear, balance between voices & orchestra was ideal, & those often unreliable Baroque wind instruments were played with virtuosic agility. No odd squawks or questionable tuning here. Tempos & dynamic levels were very uniform. The performance had the technical perfection of a CD recording.

In a crowd of very even soloists, the reliable Derek Chester stood out. His tenor sound is ideal for this music: smooth, pure & bright, especially in its middle range.

After intermission, the Magnificat for 6 voices was performed before the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria instead of at the end. This shuffled order may have been to done to give the Sonata's showy instrumental solos a central position in the 2nd half.

Before the performance, we were encouraged to a enter a raffle to win Monteverdi's Vespa, in the winner's choice of color. For some reason the announcer thought that people might not know what to do with a Vespa, so he suggested that the winner might want to donate it back to ABS or another organization.

Ensemble Parallèle's Wozzeck

Ensemble Parallèle
John Rea's Orchestration
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
January 31 at 2:00 p.m.

Nicole Paiement, conductor
Brian Staufenbiel, stage director

Bojan Knezevic, Wozzeck
John Duykers, Captain
Patricia Green,Marie
Kai Nau, Marie & Wozzeck's Child
Phillip Skinner, Doctor
AJ Glueckert, Drum Major
J. Raymond Meyers, Andres
Erin Neff, Margret
John Bischoff, First Apprentice
Torlef Borsting, Second Apprentice
Michael Desnoyers, Madman/Soldier

Ensemble Parallèle ambitiously presented this chamber version of Wozzeck in 2 performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend. The slimmed down orchestration required less than 30 musicians in the pit, but the orchestra made plenty of sound & played quite alertly for an intense 90 minutes. Nicole Paiement's conducting was fluid & responsive to the constantly shifting demands of the music. She obviously prepared well.

The singing was uniformly fine. Bojan Knezevic has a powerful & beautiful voice, & his Wozzeck is noble & intelligent. This Wozzeck is not stupid or unaware but rather overwhelmed by circumstances. John Duykers gave a wonderfully grotesque performance as the Captain. I was impressed by his acting & his narrowly focused voice. Phillip Skinner also gave an excellent singing/acting performance as the cartoonish Doctor. The production cleverly exaggerates the menace of these tormentors by projecting live video of their faces at a huge size during their Act I scenes with Wozzeck.

Video projections are put to good use throughout the production. The videos are made to look like 1920's silent film, complete with scratches & skips. As the murder scene progresses, an image of the moon grows larger & redder. The climactic orchestral interlude following the death of Wozzeck is accompanied by slow motion shots of Mr. Knezevic sinking underwater with his eyes & mouth open in horror.

The audience on Sunday seemed to be completely absorbed by the drama, & we might have sat in silence for a long while after the final, tentative notes of the opera, if a title had not come up announcing "Ende".

At a reception after the performance, SF Opera General Director David Gockley was spotted, as well as ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff. As we entered the theater, my concert companion also recognized actor Liam Vincent, whom we had both seen recently in She Stoops to Comedy.

Monday, February 01, 2010

MTT Plays Mozart

San Francisco Symphony
Sat, Jan 30, 2010 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor and piano
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Bruce Sledge, tenor
Eric Owens, bass-baritone

Stravinsky, Octet
Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major (K. 488)
Stravinsky, Pulcinella

I found this a playful SF Symphony program: Mozart sandwiched between Stravinsky in a classical mood. The Stravinsky wind Octet was performed crisply & without a conductor. The piece made me think of film music for a silent comedy.

After the orchestra was assembled on stage for the Mozart concerto, there was a long pause as we awaited MTT's entrance. As the wait lengthened, orchestra members & then the audience became amused & were just short of laughing as MTT came on. MTT led without a score & seated at the piano, which was surrounded by the orchestra. To make sure we were watching, he sometimes turned & mugged for the audience. He extended the 1st movement cadenza with his own improvisations, wandering off into snippets of other pieces. Several times the orchestra prepared to enter, but then put down their instruments as he mischievously continued to improvise. He finished the movement by pulling out a handkerchief & mopping his brow, to the delighted applause of the audience. He addressed something to us during the pause, but I didn't hear what he said. He continued to improvise freely around the long, spare melody of the 2nd movement.

In the 2nd half we got a bright & vibrant performance of the Pulcinella suite, which I somehow got the idea was about sexual frustration. There were many wonderful instrumental solos, especially by oboist William Bennett, concertmaster Alexander Barantschik & bassoonists Steven Dibner & Rob Weir. In her brief role, soprano Sasha Cook had a meaty sound, & I especially liked her lower register. Bass Eric Owens had an even shorter part, but his solid, dense sound was very welcome. Leaving the hall, I had the inapt sensation that I had just seen a Broadway show instead of the symphony.