Monday, January 31, 2011

British Television Advertising Awards 2010

YBCAThe 100-seat screening room upstairs at the YBCA was full yesterday afternoon for this 75 minute program of around 50 commercials & public service ads from Britain. Humor & high concept seem to be what the selections are mostly about. Frequently you sit through the commercial without finding out who the sponsor is until the very end. A slapstick film about a jockey who loses his horse turns out to be for Weetabix. A CGI extravaganza depicting rugged men turning deserts into lush, life-filled landscapes seems to have an environmental message, but it's advertising Guinness.

Many of the ads are elaborate stunts. One unbelievably quirky ad documents shepherds attaching colored LEDs to their sheep & using them as pixels to simulate a pong game, the Mona Lisa & a fireworks display. It actually caused our audience to applaud. In a Johnny Walker ad, an actor talks to us as he strides purposefully through a mountain landscape in a single tracking shot, while relevant objects come into view at just the right moments in his narration. I found it nerve-wracking. Curiously, the best commercial award went to a T-Mobile ad featuring a flash mob dancing in Liverpool Street Station, which is not a very original concept. Many of the award-winning ads can be viewed on the BTAA Web site.

§ British Television Advertising Awards 2010
January 30, 2011 2:00 pm
Screening Room
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

NCCO: Tour Kick-Off Concert

Pink or Orange City HallSaturday evening I was at the New Century Chamber Orchestra's Tour Kick-Off Concert. In the next 2 weeks they will perform in venues in California, Ohio, Michigan & Illinois. They already have a tour blog. I like their audience-friendly program. Music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, clearly buzzed, began by thanking the staff, board, musicians & audience. She joked that since this was the group's 1st time playing the program, this might be the worst performance of the tour.

There was a sense of excitement about the evening. The 19 string players attacked the dance-themed program aggressively. The final movements of Bartók Romanian Folk Dances sounded like a hoedown. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg was soloist for the Piazzolla Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. She plays with a nervous energy & gyrates like a rock star. A section in Summer with glissandos & a unison slide sounded like space music. Bass player Tony Manzo provided a plump yet discreet pizzicato accompaniment in the coda of Winter. He may be my favorite musician in the group. The audience laughed at the quote from Vivaldi's La Primavera in the 1st movement, & they clapped appreciatively for each movement. At the end there was cheering & a standing ovation.

The Tchaikovsky Serenade was played emphatically & had a somewhat disjointed feel, though the 2nd violin & viola sections often played very uniformly & cleanly. The ensemble is conductorless, so one sees a lot of eye contact between the players. The enthusiastic audience gave the show an immediately standing ovation, even resorting to stamping their feet. We were rewarded with 2 encores. Schnittke's evil version of a Polka made the musicians laugh as well as the audience. Salerno-Sonnenberg was the soloist for "Bess you is my woman now" by Gershwin.

A correspondent reported that he was seated next to an older woman who apparently lost count of the movements during the Piazzolla. Thinking the piece was already over, she was surprised by the final movement & asked aloud, "Just how many seasons do they have in Buenos Aires?"

§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director
Tour Kick-Off Concert

Wolf (arr. Drew): Italian Serenade
Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances
Piazzolla (arr. Desyatnikov): Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48

Schnittke: Polka
Gershwin: "Bess you is my woman now"

Saturday, January 29 at 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Opera Night at the de Young

Friday Nights at the de YoungAt tonight's Friday Night at the de Young, I got another peek at Ensemble Parallèle's up-coming production of Philip Glass's Orphée. The presentation ran about half an hour & consisted of several performed scenes, some spoken narration, prerecorded music & videos projected onto the walls above Wilsey Court. This time the circus theme for the underworld was evident. The Princess wore a female ringmaster costume. The poet Cegeste was lured to his death by an acrobatic clown circling him in a roue cyr. The final show ought to create some unusual stage pictures.

For the vocal excerpts, conductor Nicole Paiement led 5 singers & a band consisting of flute, clarinet, violin, harp & keyboard. Several of the singers had their parts memorized already. I like the contrast in timbre between the principal male voices of tenor John Duykers & baritone Eugene Brancoveanu. The performers were miked -- a necessity, I suppose -- but it resulted in some unnatural instrumental balances.

A large crowd gathered for the performance. Immediately following, we rushed over to Koret Auditorium, where young singers from Argentina were to perform next, but the venue was already full, & we were among many who were turned away. These Friday night events clearly bring crowds into the museum. It is possible to purchase drinks, but at one point I was surrounded by people eating chicken legs, & I have no idea how they got them.

§ Friday Nights at the de Young
Opera Night
Ensemble Parallèle presents “Love, Obsession, and Death”: excerpts from the Philip Glass opera Orphée
January 28, 2011 - 6:00pm
Wilsey Court

Friday, January 28, 2011

MacWorld 2011

MacWorld 2011This morning I visited the MacWorld Expo at Moscone Center West. Though the show is much smaller than it used to be, it was crowded. I suppose they should call it "iWorld" nowadays, since it is mostly accessories for iPhones & iPads. I came across at least 3 vendors hawking a strap attachment that allows you to hold the iPad in your open palm like a mitt. I saw one exhibitor demonstrate his iPad app using a stylus with ends like a felt-tip pen. This seems like such an obvious accessory, but that was the only time I saw anyone use a stylus at the show.

This is not the kind of show with a lot of booth babes, but the outdoorsy-looking employees in the DryCASE booth showing us how to vacuum-pack our iPhones are rather good-looking. One could have one's picture taken with an Elvis impersonator at the codeweaver booth. At another booth, one could see the unhappy, charred remains of an iMac that was well-cooked by a major fire. Its mouse had melted into a blob resembling pancake batter. I was surprised to see whole families attending the expo, including babies & screaming children. There was even a panel discussion on parenting in the age of the Internet.

§ MacWorld 2011
January 26 - 29
Moscone Center, West Hall

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)

I was at the funky Balboa Theater Wednesday afternoon to see Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries), an art-house movie from India. The minimal plot follows the intersecting lives of 4 individuals living in Mumbai: a reclusive painter, a good-looking laundry boy, a banker & a young wife seen only through her videotaped diaries. The story unfolds as a sequence of progressively more dramatic, yet predictable, revelations. I was quickly absorbed into the characters' interlocking lives, each dominated by an unexpressed yearning. Despite the seriousness of the scenario, the film has a light hand. I was amused by a restaurant scene in which the painter Arun pointedly ignores his agent by folding an origami boat out of a heavily starched napkin.

The movie is gorgeous. It opens with a dream-like montage of Mumbai's rainy city streets, as seen from inside a taxi. I loved the interiors of the characters' homes, looking realistically cluttered & lived-in. The city is shown so teeming with life & color that it seems to be a creature in itself. I was sometimes distracted from reading the subtitles because I was trying to take in all the details of the picture. And the film is made even more beautiful by its ridiculously good-looking cast.

§ Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)
Director: Kiran Rao
Starring: Aamir Khan, Prateik, Monica Dogra, Kriti Malhotra

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Carmina Burana Dessert

According to this Examiner review of Teatro ZinZanni's latest show, the plot revolves around a special dessert, which is served to the music of Carmina Burana. The review does not mention if the menu includes swan on a spit.

Clarinet Thing at the Rex

PhotobucketThis month's intimate Salon at the Rex featured Clarinet Thing, a jazz clarinet quartet. The program consisted mostly of original compositions by members of the quartet, who playfully took their inspiration from such unlikely sources as Balkan dance music, Buckminster Fuller & psychiatric disorders. They used several sizes of instruments, including the bassoon-like contra-alto clarinet. One of the musicians called it a "paper clip," accurately describing its silver color & the way it doubles back on itself. The quartet does not make a blended or uniform sound, & the players themselves admitted that they each have very different influences & backgrounds. They ended with a lively performance of 2300 Skidoo by Hergie Nichols. The piece has a hip, 1950's feel to it & reminded me of the jazziest parts of West Side Story.

The atmosphere was relaxed. The audience seemed pleased with each number, & there was humorous banter among the musicians. In the question & answer session afterward, people wanted to know about the difference between the clarinet, bassoon & saxophone. They were also curious about the backgrounds of each of the players, who pursue disparate musical interests outside of this quartet. When Sheldon Brown demonstrated an ornate Balkan melody, many in the audience found it similar to klezmer music.

§ Salons at the Hotel Rex
Clarinet Thing
Sheldon Brown, Beth Custer, Ben Goldberg, Harvey Wainapel

Wednesday, January 19
Hotel Rex

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Orphée Sneak Preview

Strawberry BowlLast night I was part of an invited audience for a preview of Ensemble Parallèle's up-coming production of Philip Glass’s Orphée. In an hour-long presentation, artistic director & conductor Nicole Paiement gave us an informative overview of the work & led several excerpts performed by cast members Eugene Brancoveanu, Susannah Biller, John Duykers & Brooke Muñoz with piano accompaniment. Even though the singers have only just begun rehearsals, they sound like they will be a terrific cast. Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu's gorgeous & communicative singing as Orphée made me think I understood French perfectly.

The opera is based closely on the Jean Cocteau film Orphée, which was playing when the audience came in. Indeed, the libretto is essentially the dialogue from the movie, a concept which one audience member declared "insane" during the Q & A. Ms. Paiement engagingly explained the ways in which the opera is stylistically French in its lyricism & yet completely characteristic of Philip Glass.

Director Brian Staufenbiel discussed the staging, which will present the underworld as a surreal circus. The motorcycle henchmen from the movie are represented by a roue cyr, a kind of giant metal hula hoop with an acrobat rolling around inside it. We also saw samples of videos featuring the cast, which will be projected inside 5 pictures frames above the set. Ensemble Parallèle will present a further peak at the production at the free Friday Night at the de Young on January 28 at 6:30pm & 7:45pm.

§ Orphée Sneak Preview
Ensemble Parallèle
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
January 18, 2011, 6pm

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ein Praktikant fürs Leben

This afternoon I was back at the Castro Theatre for more German Gems. Ein Praktikant fürs Leben (Intern for Life) is a made-for-tv movie that was designed to fill a slot for films that are both entertaining & have a social message. It is a plot-driven romantic comedy about a corporate intern whose efforts to please his executive boss draw him into increasingly desperate situations. His duties include covering for the boss's extramarital affair, then spiral out of control when he falls for an attractive receptionist who turns out to be the boss's mistress. The film knowingly combines elements of drama, farce, social satire & slapstick. I liked a moment near the end when the story toys with both the evil boss & the audience by presenting a rather suspicious plate of sushi. The film is made very enjoyable by the sharp performance of Roman Knizka as the eager, likable & overly-compliant intern.

The director Ingo Rasper, all smiles, appeared after the screening to talk with Festival Coordinator Ingrid Eggers & answer questions from the audience. We learned that "Generation Praktikum" is a real social phenomenon in Germany in which college graduates in their 30s accept low- or non- paying corporate jobs, saving companies from the expense of hiring full-time employees. Many in the audience praised Mr. Rasper's previous movie, Fashion Victims.

§ Ein Praktikant fürs Leben (Intern for Life)
Dir. Ingo Rasper

German Gems
A Weekend of New German Cinema
Saturday, January 15, 4:30 pm
Castro Theatres

Mahler auf der Couch

German GemsLast night I saw Mahler auf der Couch on opening night of the German Gems festival at the Castro. There was a full house. The movie is a psychodrama about the marriage of Alma & Gustav Mahler. A humorous depiction of the real meeting between Mahler & Sigmund Freud frames the story, which presents emotionally charged moments from the couple's life in jumbled order. The style is informed by a modern sensibility. There are frequent hand-held camera shots, jump cuts, & characters talking directly to the audience. Alma comes across as a woman dominated by her sexual appetite. Mahler is egotistical, pathetic & klutzy. I was not sympathetic to the directors' reduction of Mahler's music to a paean of love for Alma. A scene where Mahler rushes out of his composing hut exuberantly shouting he has finished the 6th Symphony borders on the silly. An obligatory scene featuring the famous Adagietto shows Alma hearing the music in her head as she reads the manuscript score & weeps.

Immediately after the movie, Donato Cabrera of the SF Symphony appeared on stage with Festival Coordinator Ingrid Eggers to talk about the Symphony's up-coming Mahler performances & to answer questions about the musical content of the film. There was also a reception in the theater's upstairs lobby, which immediately became a crush. I could see beer, pizza, soup, cheese plates & small sandwiches. There was supposedly vodka & caviar as well, but it may have been at the opposite end of the room where I could not easily get to it. I was perfectly happy to get a Spaten, one of 2 beers available.

As a bonus, an hour after the movie they screened a bland 40 minute promotional documentary about Esa-Pekka Salonen & the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra recording the movie's soundtrack. The soundtrack of course consists solely of chunks cut from Mahler's symphonies, primarily the unfinished 10th. The only music we see performed in the movie, though, is from Wagner's Die Walküre.

§ Mahler auf der Couch
Directed by Percy & Felix Adlon

German Gems
A Weekend of New German Cinema
Castro Theatre
Friday, January 14, 7pm

Monday, January 10, 2011

Soyeon Lee

Herbst TheatreThis special concert for San Francisco Performances subscribers presented Naumburg Competition winner Soyeon Lee. SF Performances President Ruth Felt introduced the soloist & thanked the Chiu family for sponsoring the concert. Ms. Lee's sound is soft & even, & her playing has a fluid ease. In the sprightly Gavotte of Bach's French Suite in G, she made the opening notes especially short, seeming to pluck them off the keyboard. She was very persuasive in the paired etudes by Unsuk Chin & Ligeti. The Unsuk Chin piece features rapid bursts of notes at the extreme ends of the keyboard, but Ms. Lee made it look & sound graceful. She played the cascading tremolos of the Ligeti Etude with a rippling smoothness that was both beautiful & a bit frightening. I liked the sardonic mood of forced jauntiness she gave to the Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue. She attacked the rapid fugue fearlessly. Ravel's whirling La Valse had some nice washes of sound. The glissandos she did with the back of her hand were almost mechanically uniform & even. The Schumann Carnaval was similarly clean, even & controlled, & Ms. Lee could play some of the movements quite fast. I liked her Chopin movement, so it was not surprising that she offered a real Chopin Nocturne as her encore, though she may have played a wrong chord near the beginning.

The audience was polite & warm, & many stood for Ms. Lee at the end, but the audience did not applaud long enough to get more than one encore. A cell phone went off in the middle of the Schumann, & the lady seated in front of me kept nodding off.

§ Soyeon Lee, piano
2010 Naumburg Competition Winner
SF Performances

Bach: French Suite No.5 in G Major, BWV 816
Unsuk Chin: Etude No. 6, Grains
Ligeti: Etude No. 6, Autumn in Warsaw
Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in D-flat Major, Opus 87, No. 15
Ravel: La valse
Schumann: Carnaval, Opus 9

Chopin: Nocturne No. 20, Op. Posth. in C-sharp minor

Sunday, January 9, 2011
Herbst Theatre

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Tape Music Festival 2011

Tape Music FestivalI was at Fort Mason last night for a show at this weekend's San Francisco Tape Music Festival. We sat in a darkened theater & heard pre-constructed soundtracks. These are collages of mostly non-musical & electronic sounds. The oldest piece was Pierre Boulez's Étude from 1951, created with a tape loop on a tape recorder, but I suspect that most of the other pieces in the program were created with digital technology. It was certainly digital files that we listened to. A Mac laptop fed them into a mixing console which was manned by a team of operators, providing the only live element of the event. There were 2 large speakers on the stage, 2 smaller ones high on the walls on either side of the auditorium & one or 2 speakers at the back, possibly on the floor. Because I sat on the aisle near one of the side speakers, all the sound seemed to be coming from my left.

The pieces use a lot of the same sounds: electronic swooshes, birds chirping, metallic squeaks & pops, robotic chatter, croaking, earthquake-like rumbling. They could be soundtracks for science fiction or horror movies or for those scenes when a character thinks he is going crazy. The pieces are loud. I had to cover my ears for a long section of Maryanne Amacher's Synaptic Island which was piercingly high & punishing. The only piece that made me want to listen to it was Matt Ingalls's poem, which has silences & usually presents only a couple of sounds at a time, making it easier to focus on. It also has a rhythmic element & an over-all symmetrical structure.

The show lasted about 2 hours. The theater, seating at least 200, was sold out. People resorted to sitting in the aisles, & I had someone lying at my feet the whole evening. Many looked like college students, & there were many young couples. They were a great audience, attentive, quiet & appreciative. Everyone applauded after each piece, even though there were no live performers. My concert companion paid for my ticket, but we were both grateful for the reduced price offered to the "underemployed."

§ The San Francisco Tape Music Festival 2011
January 7-9, 2011

Donal Sarsfield - Of Noise Alone (2010)
Cliff Caruthers - Open Door (2011)
Kyle Bruckmann - Orgone Accelerator (2010)
Heather Frasch - Sonic Postcard: Philly (2010)
Dixie Treichel - Interstellar Espionage (2007)
Ilya Y. Rostovtsev - Understatements.[i] (2010)
Pierre Boulez - Étude (1951)
Thom Blum - Post from Rajasthan (2007)
The Art of Noise - Bright Noise / Flesh in Armour / Comes And Goes / Momento (1983)
Matt Ingalls - poem (2011)
Maryanne Amacher - Synaptic Island (excerpt) (1998)
Francis Dhomont - Vol d'arondes (2001)

Saturday, January 8, 2011 8pm
Southside Theater
Fort Mason Center

Saturday, January 08, 2011

SFS: Hélène Grimaud plays Schumann

Cough DropsI had not heard of conductor Kirill Karabits before. He looks very young, with the appearance & optimistic demeanor of a college student. The program opened with Ukrainian composer Valentin Vasilyevich Silvestrov's Elegie (2002). The piece is for strings only, lasts barely 8 minutes, & has a chamber feel to it. It uses a repeated descending motif & is quiet & undemonstrative, with places where the music comes to a rest. It ends in silence. Maestro Karabits made smooth movements & kept the piece feeling sustained & gently flowing

In the Schumann piano concerto, I found pianist Hélène Grimaud's playing to be heavy, though she does get deep into the keys & is always clear & clean. She has an intense & focused stage presence & communicated the restlessness of the 1st movement well. There was a contrast between her spiky playing & Karabits's willowy gestures. I liked the upward swoosh he made for the last chord. Many stood for Ms. Grimaud when she came out for her 2nd bow.

Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances sounded splashy without being brash. Maestro Karabits moves his arms like a ballet dancer & made the transitions very fluid. There were prominent & nicely played solos from the oboe, clarinet & sax in the 1st movement. Concert master Alexander Barantschik made a dense, continuous sound in his 2nd movement solo. It was a consistently pleasant performance. Even the Dies Irae in the 3rd movement sounded joyful. In the last moments of the piece, Karabits wafted his arms above his head in a curious fashion, as if the music were floating away. He received a warm standing ovation. The concert was well attended, & all the cool kids were there as well: Besides accompanying the Opera Tattler, I spotted Cedric & gave New Year's greetings to SFMike & Patrick.

§ Hélène Grimaud plays Schumann’s Piano Concerto
Kirill Karabits, conductor
Hélène Grimaud, piano
San Francisco Symphony

SILVESTROV: Elegie for String Orchestra
SCHUMANN: Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 54
RACHMANINOFF: Symphonic Dances, Opus 45

Fri, Jan 7, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall