Monday, October 31, 2011

The Kid with a Bike

On Sunday afternoon, New People Cinema was full for the showing of The Kid with a Bike, a film by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Dardenne. The film won a Grand Prize at Cannes & played here in the SF Film Society's French Cinema Now series. The film follows Cyril, a desperate young boy in foster care, usually dressed in red. He has a brush with juvenile delinquency & works out his anger at being abandoned by his father. In almost every scene Cyril runs away with a start or rides off furiously on his bicycle. The film has a dead-pan approach to story-telling. We witness events, but there is no delving into backstory or inner psychology. I felt impatient as episode followed episode without a sense of culmination, but there seems to be a moral tone to the plot. The film also reminds us how children love their parents, whether those parents deserve it or not. Programmer Rachel Rosen introduced the screening & thanked us for coming in on such a sunny day.

§ Le Gamin au Vélo (The Kid with a Bike)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Belgium/France/Italy 2011, 87 min.

French Cinema Now
Sunday, October 30, 4:30 pm
SF Film Society | New People Cinema

§ Photo credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kreith-Yi Duo

On Friday night, Old First Concerts presented violinist Ben Kreith & pianist Ann Yi in a substantial program of music from 3 centuries. The two maintained a feeling of tension throughout the Shostakovich Violin Sonata. The intense 2nd movement was especially driven. Mr. Kreith is a thoughtful player & communicates intention behind every phrase. He even varied the types of pizzicato at the beginning of the 3rd movement. Ms. Yi is a firm pianist who states her ideas strongly, & she played a thundering lead-in to the violinist's concerto-like solo.

After intermission the duo presented premieres of 2 new pieces, each around 8 minutes long. Sam Nichols's Wrack moved restlessly from idea to idea & had a rocking, unsteady feel. One of Mr. Kreith's forceful & stratospherically high entrances made me jump. Mr. Nichols was present & took a bow with the performers. Mr. Kreith had to spread the music for a crowd of twisted things by Christopher Wendell Jones across 5 music stands. As the piece progressed he moved closer & closer to the pianist. The violin alternated between sliding tremolos, pizzicato & long bowed notes while the piano punctuated with staccato chords. The duo played both pieces with great attention.

The program ended with Brahms's Violin Sonata in G major. The 1st movement was fast & sweeping & maintained the lilt of its dotted rhythm throughout. The Adagio had a mood of dreaminess, & the rushing final movement felt breathless. The sparse Old First Church audience was attentive, quiet & appreciative. I had fun chatting with Mr. Nichols about the Museum of Jurassic Technology afterward.

§ Kreith-Yi Duo
Benjamin Kreith, vioin
Ann Yi, piano

Dmitri Shostakovich: Sonata for Violin & Piano, Op. 134
Sam Nichols: Wrack (US Premiere)
Christopher Wendell Jones: a crowd of twisted things (World Premiere)
Johannes Brahms: Sonata No. 1 for Violin & PIano in G major, Op. 78

Old First Concerts

Friday, October 28, 2011 at 8 PM
Old First Church

Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature

Steven PinkerSteven Pinker, Harvard Psychology Professor & author, gave a talk at the Mechanics' Institute during Friday lunch about his new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He presented the counter-intuitive thesis that violence, when looked at from a long historical perspective, has declined steady across all aspects of society. This is due not to any fundamental change in human nature but rather to cultural shifts that favor empathy & self-control. Mr. Pinker showed plenty of graphs to back up his idea, including a scatter plot of the "100 Worst Atrocities." The book seems very academic, but it is worth considering whether democracy, increased trade & international organizations really do reduce violence. Mr. Pinker gave a prepared lecture for about 45 minutes then answered questions for another 45 minutes. People were generally in agreement with him, though the moderator cut short one person who aggressively disputed Mr. Pinker's figure for the number of casualties in the recent wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. Mr. Pinker told us that he has encountered critics who tell him that he may be basing his arguments on data & facts, but he is just wrong. I was surprised that religion did not come up in either his lecture or during the Q & A.

§ The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
Steven Pinker

Mechanics' Institute
Fri, 10/28/2011 - 12:30pm - 2:00pm

Simon Keenlyside

Thursday night baritone Simon Keenlyside walked on stage at Herbst Theatre with pianist Malcolm Martineau, looked around as if he'd never been there before, & just started singing. Mr. Keenlyside is a complete actor as well as singer, & every song came across with a satisfying directness & spontaneity. His voice is warm & comfy, & he produced a stunning variety of colors. He kept moving restlessly & seemed not to know what to do with his hands. He sometimes reminded me of a little boy. He was so captivating that I couldn't take my eyes off him, even to read the translations of the songs, but I felt I understood everything anyway.

Mahler's "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" was wry & even sly. In "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht," Mr. Keenlyside surprised us by not pausing for breath during an especially long phrase. Before performing songs from Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad, he reminded us of their wartime context & urged us not think of them as "English frippery." He seemed to be talking, not singing, during "The lads in their hundred," & he ghoulishly channeled a disembodied voice for the heart-rending "Is my team ploughing?" Strauss's "Befreit" shook me with its powerful ardour, & Debussy's "Mandoline" ended the program by wafting softly away.

Mr. Martineau was a terrific accompanist, his playing pristine & musical. His quiet notes were like little drops of water. The audience cheered the performance & was rewarded with 4 lovely encores. Mr. Keenlyside was undeniably cute in Schubert's "Der Einsame", & he & Mr. Martineau got softer & softer during Schubert's "An mein Klavier", completely drawing me in. When the performance was over, I turned to my concert companion & asked sorrowfully, "Is that all?" For a moment, I actually wanted to follow Mr. Keenlyside out. Instead, "An mein Klavier" lingered in my head the whole way home.

§ Simon Keenlyside, baritone
Malcolm Martineau, piano

      Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft!
      Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt
      Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald
      Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder
      Liebst du um Schönheit
      Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht

BUTTERWORTH: A Shropshire Lad (1st set only)
      Loveliest of trees
      When I was one-and-twenty
      Look not into my eyes
      Think no more, lad
      The lads in their hundreds
      Is my team ploughing?

      Das Rosenband

      Le Manoir de Rosemonde

      Nuit d’étoiles
      Voici que le printemps
      Les Angélus

Schubert: Der Einsame
John Ireland: Sea Fever
Percy Grainger: Once I Had a Sprig of Thyme
Schubert: An mein Klavier

San Francisco Performances
Thursday, October 27, 2011, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe

San Francisco Public LibraryWednesday evening the San Francisco Public Library presented astronomer Alex Filippenko in a lecture on Dark Energy. This year's Nobel Prize in Physics recognized the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe, & Prof. Filippenko was on one of the teams that made this measurement. He led us through the background for the discovery & described the conclusion that something called Dark Energy makes up 73% of the stuff in the universe & is causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate. I found the talk informative & mind-boggling. Everything we can observe, from people to galaxies, makes up only .4% of the universe. Someday the expansion of the universe will be so great that we won't see any galaxies at all; they'll all be too far away.

Prof. Filippenko is an exuberant speaker with a weakness for bad puns, & he taught us the insult "Spherical Bastard." The 70 minute talk was well-attended. The audience ranged from college students to seniors. Judging by their questions, they were a scientifically well-informed bunch.

§ Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe
Alex Filippenko, Professor of Astronomy at UC Berkeley

A One City One Book event
Wed, 10/26/2011, 6:15 - 7:45
Koret Auditorium, Main Library

Kevin Spacey as Richard III

Last night I had the unexpected good fortune to see The Bridge Project's Richard III, starring Kevin Spacey. Mr. Spacey engaged the audience from the 1st moments. As he slumped in a chair, watching a video of his brother's coronation, he shared his contempt & sarcastic humor with us. His delivery was forceful & rhetorical, & he moved around swiftly, despite a metal brace holding his leg in a twisted position. He was fully invested in the part for the entire 3+ hours, & I was close enough to see the sweat. He let the audience partake in Richard's pleasure at being evil but never let us like him.

The Bridge Project brings together American & British actors, so the cast spoke in a variety of accents. I liked Chuk Iwuji as a cool & capable Buckingham. He communicates the text clearly & is also very funny. Haydn Gwynne was a dignified Elizabeth & spoke urgently. Gemma Jones had a classical delivery, & her Margaret was like a supernatural presence. The casting of 2 women as the young princes worked well.

The cast is in modern dress, & the action takes place on a bare wooden floor surrounded by a wall of doors. There are blackouts & projected titles between scenes, starting with the word "NOW" for the opening. The scene where Richard appears between 2 bishops is comically staged with Richard appearing on a giant video screen, as though caught by a hidden camera. The cries of the citizens come from the back of the auditorium, as if the audience is entreating Richard. I also liked the black humor of the nobles greeting the young Prince Edward with balloons.

The cast was a well-drilled army, & the show's pace never lingered. There was live percussion music, sometimes by the actors on stage, who drummed with excellent synchrony. The audience stayed focused the entire time, excited to see Mr. Spacey, & they gave him a standing ovation. The Curran Theatre was of course packed, & I felt like I was in a crowded elevator the whole evening.

§ Richard III
William Shakespeare

The Bridge Project
Director, Sam Mendes

Maureen Anderman
Stephen Lee Anderson
Jeremy Bobb
Nathan Darrow
Jack Ellis
Haydn Gwynne
Chuk Iwuji
Isaiah Johnson
Gemma Jones
Andrew Long
Katherine Manners
Howard W Overshown
Simon Lee Phillips
Gary Powell
Michael Rudko
Annabel Scholey
Kevin Spacey
Gavin Stenhouse
Hannah Stokely
Chandler Williams

25 October 2011, 7:30p
Curran Theatre

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BluePrint: North and South

SFCMBluePrint, the new music series at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, began its 10th season Saturday night with an ambitious & entertaining program. Mezzo Julienne Walker was soloist for John Harbison's North and South, a song cycle on poems by Elizabeth Bishop. The songs, accompanied by a septet of strings & woodwinds, depict a woman suffering in love. The music is picturesque & often bluesy. Ms. Walker has a bright voice & a natural, easy sound, as well as a relaxed manner on stage. She dedicated her performance to her mother, in recognition of her 65th birthday.

Violinst Axel Strauss was soloist in Concertino for Solo Violin & Small Ensemble by local composer Kurt Rohde. The 20 minute piece is modeled after a Baroque concerto & uses an ensemble of 8 strings, woodwinds & percussion. Everyone seems to have very independent lines, & the 2 percussionists were kept busy going back & forth between their instruments. Mr. Strauss has a thick, unbroken sound, & his playing is both gutsy & smooth. He executed a fiendish all-pizzicato cadenza with ease, & his long double-stops in the 2nd movement were beautifully even. The rapid-fire 3rd movement was exciting & ended abruptly in mid-air, at which point all the musicians were smiling. Maestra Nicole Paiement was a precise & joyful conductor throughout. Mr. Rohde was present & came on-stage to take a bow with the performers.

Shulhoff's Concerto for Piano required a percussion-heavy orchestra of about 40. The 20 minute piece feels both romantic & modern & is instantly accessible. There's an eerie chromatic theme, frequent changes of mood & a noisy, jazz-inspired climax. I liked hearing the siren, which made me think of Antheil's Ballet Mécanique. Pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi displayed fast fingers & a calm demeanor & was a clear audience favorite.

The program ended with brief excerpts from Harbison's opera version of The Great Gatsby. We heard a fast journey by car, real car horn included, & then a tense lovers' fight between mezzo Erin Neff & baritone Bojan Knezevik. Ms. Neff even threw herself to the floor at the end of the scene. This was but to whet our appetite for Ensemble Parallèle's production coming next February. It already looks dramatic.

§ BluePrint | North and South
Nicole Paiement, artistic director & conductor
New Music Ensemble

John Harbison: North and South
Julienne Walker, mezzo-soprano

Kurt Rohde: Concertino for Solo Violin & Small Ensemble (2010)
Axel Strauss, violin

Erwin Schulhoff: Concerto for Piano & Orchestra, Op. 43
Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano

Harbison: Excerpts from The Great Gatsby
Chamber orchestration by Jacques Desjardins
Myrtle: Erin Neff, mezzo-soprano
Wilson: Bojan Knezevik, baritone

October 22, 2011 8:00 p.m.
Concert Hall, San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Opera Kid

Opera Kid
Nine-year-old Aiden Sagerman likes opera, and he's not kidding.

Opera houses aren't made for children. When I went to "Dido and Anneas" and "La Vida Breve" the seats were too low for me. I had to sit on my knees for two whole hours.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Conlon Leads Verdi Requiem

I was at the SF Symphony's Thursday night performance of the Verdi Requiem led by James Conlon, who is a happy replacement for Fabio Luisi, who cancelled to replace James Levine at the Met. The opening section was beautifully soft, the orchestra & chorus barely above a whisper, yet not sounding feeble. During the Kyrie, the building swayed for several seconds. It was a 3.8 earthquake centered in Berkeley. Fortunately everyone stayed calm, though it was scary to see those plates over the orchestra shaking. I suppose it was an apt lead-in to the spectacular Dies Irae that followed!

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky has a big, metallic sound & a vibrating tension in her voice. She was thrilling & urgent. Mezzo Dolora Zajick was stern & authoritative, the support for her chesty voice seeming to start from the center of the Earth. Bass Ain Anger has a deep, sepulchral sound that was appropriate to the music. Tenor Frank Lopardo's voice sounded odd to me all evening. He sounded distinctly different when he was soft versus loud. Sometimes he seemed to sing falsetto or to squeeze the notes out instead of singing.

Maestro Conlon led without a score, & the performance was controlled & proportioned. The thundering climaxes were loud without being noisy. All the movements were connected, except for a pause after the Dies Irae. I liked the taut Sanctus, with its tight articulation & scherzo-like feeling. Maestro Conlon gave a lot of attention to the cellos, who opened both halves of the performance with nicely unified playing. The bassoons' interjections stood out neatly at the beginning of the Libera me. The chorus sounded secure & soft-edged. They sometimes stood & sometimes sat while singing. Overall, the performance had a smooth flow & a blended sound.

Maestro Conlon tried to prolong the silence at the end of the piece by keeping his arm raised, but someone began the applause almost immediately. The audience gave the performers a standing ovation & cheered the chorus in particular.

§ Verdi's Requiem
San Francisco Symphony
San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Ragnar Bohlin, director

Fabio Luisi James Conlon, conductor

Sondra Radvanovsky, soprano
Dolora Zajick, mezzo-soprano
Frank Lopardo, tenor
Ain Anger, bass

Verdi: Requiem

Thu, Oct 20, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Leah Crocetto at Hotel Rex

Rex SalonSoprano Leah Crocetto & pianist John Churchwell entered the salon at Hotel Rex with glasses of red wine & toasted one another before beginning their program of opera, art songs & torch songs. Ms. Crocetto told us this was her 1st time performing with Mr. Churchwell, so "We just want to have fun tonight." Ms. Crocetto's voice is robust, with real body & weight, though she was careful not to blast us in that small room. Her Non mi dir from Don Giovanni was strong, clean & even. She sustained a mood of anguish & yearning in her set of Rachmaninoff songs in Russian & easily plucked a high note out of thin air in How Fair This Spot. In Strauss's Cäcilie, her voice seemed to push against the walls of the room. She ended Liszt's O Quand Je Dors with a beautifully hushed & suspended note & made Pace non trovo feel like an operatic scene.

Ms. Crocetto threw in 2 colorful songs in Spanish not listed on the program, one of which included her convincing imitation of a mosquito. In homage to her previous life as a night club singer in New York, she ended with a set of torch songs. She changed singing styles completely & did not simply sound like an opera singer in a different kind of repertoire. With Every Breath I Take & Cry Me a River made me feel I was in one of those New York night spots, weeping into my scotch. Mr. Churchwell was also equally at home in both styles, & I liked his involved accompaniment. He has an unusual way of playing with very flat hands, & he breathes heavily with the music.

Ms. Crocetto has a warm personality, & she introduced each song for us, sometimes adding personal stories, all in a light way. Looking out at the audience, she told us she recognized many "repeat offenders," & halfway through she paused to ask, "Is everyone doing ok?" After the 75 minute performance, the audience formed a reception line, & Ms. Crocetto delightedly greeted her fans with thank-yous & hugs.

§ Salon at the Rex
San Francisco Performances

Leah Crocetto, soprano
John Churchwell, piano

Mozart: "Crudele? Ah, no mio bene!... Non mi dir" from Don Giovanni

        Oh, Never Sing to Me Again
        How Fair This Spot

R. Strauss:
        Die Nacht

        O Quand Je Dors
        Pace non trovo
        from Tre Sonetti del Patrarca

2 Songs in Spanish (Not listed in the program)

Fain & Kahal: I'll be Seeing You
Coleman: With Every Breath I Take
Hamilton: Cry Me a River
Tesori: Girl in 14G

6:30pm, Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The Hotel Rex

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apple Store Closed for Steve Jobs

Apple Store in WhiteA white curtain closed off the Apple Store on Chestnut Street this morning during the Steve Jobs memorial service for Apple employees. 2 reporters with TV cameras were stationed outside. Apple employees were presumably watching video of the memorial service inside.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Andrew Haigh's Weekend

Yesterday I caught a matinee of Andrew Haigh's Weekend. This small film, shot in Notthingham, England, follows an extended one-night stand between 2 seemingly mismatched 20-somethings. Tom Cullen is hopelessly adorable as Russell, a stoner jock with a funky apartment filled with second hand store furnishings. Chris New is a prickly hipster, guarding his vulnerability & attraction to Russell. The actors' chemistry is frighteningly convincing & their reactions to one another always look completely spontaneous. Their relationship is a series of drug & alcohol fueled conversations punctuated with sex, & we are not encouraged to think this can go anywhere. However, the story has a beautifully prepared-for ending which is sweet & romantic & took me totally by surprise. I also liked the realistic domestic scenes depicting the friends who function as Russell's family & who turn out to be far less peripheral than he thinks. The movie is attractively photographed, sometimes with a narrow range of focus, & Nottingham has a stark beauty in the pale light of early winter.

§ Weekend
UK, 2011 - 96 mins
Andrew Haigh, dir

§ Movie still: Quinnford & Scout

SFO: Don Giovanni

Over the weekend I was at opening night of SF Opera's new production of Don Giovanni. Conductor Nicola Luisotti began the overture forcefully, as if conducting a Beethoven symphony. The performance went at a brisk, non-stop pace, at the sacrifice of some precision. Maestro Luisotti accompanied some of the recitatives on the fortepiano & interpolated the heavenly opening of Mozart's A major piano concerto before the graveyard scene. I was totally disappointed that the final sextet has been cut from these performances, though.

The cast is youthful & lively. Bass Marco Vinco as Leporello has a dark, weighty sound & acted with a comic looseness. I did not get the drift of Lucas Meachem's Don Giovanni, who looked detached in his black circular sunglasses & seemed remorseful as he lay over the body of the dying Commendatore. I like Mr. Meachem's smooth, suave voice, & his serenade "Deh vieni alla finestra" was pretty. He sang it directly to the audience while the house lights went up.

Bass Morris Robinson has a deep, solid voice & was a terrifying Commendatore. His vivid singing made me think I understood Italian perfectly. He was also impressively immobile in the graveyard scene. Mezzo Kate Lindsey was a bright-voiced, intelligent & funny Zerlina. She made a startling entrance doing a cartwheel. Bass-baritone Ryan Kuster as her Masetto has a deep, virile voice & was not completely oafish. Tenor Shawn Mathey was a last-minute cast replacement & seemed nervous, though his voice sounded fine, & he made it through his 2 arias ably. Ellie Dehn as Donna Anna & Serena Farnocchia as Donna Elvira were both strong, hearty singers.

The stage was a vast empty space, with minimal sense of setting, besides a bunch of 18th century chairs. Much of the time the singers were directly under the proscenium. Tall mirrors suspended from the flys moved up & down with an eerie silence to indicate scene changes but otherwise did not contribute to the action. The Don & Donna Anna appear as lovers in the 1st scene, which makes Donna Anna into a nasty liar in her subsequent scenes with Don Ottavio. The masqueraders wore ridiculously over-sized wigs that could have come from Beach Blanket Babylon. The end of act 1, with the chorus as a group chasing the Don & Leporello, looked like a Benny Hill sketch.

As when I attended Lucrezia, I started out in standing room but then received excellent orchestra seats from a patron leaving after act 1. However, my opera companion was clearly happier in standing room.

§ Don Giovanni
San Francisco Opera

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Gabriele Lavia

Leporello: Marco Vinco
Donna Anna: Ellie Dehn
Don Giovanni: Lucas Meachem
The Commendatore: Morris Robinson
Don Ottavio: Topi Lehitpuu Shawn Mathey
Donna Elvira: Serena Farnocchia
Zerlina: Kate Lindsey
Masetto: Ryan Kuster

Sat 10/15/11 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

§ Production photo: Cory Weaver

Book Arts Jam 2011

Book Arts Jam 2011Over the weekend I made a field trip to Los Altos to check out the Book Arts Jam at Foothill College. It's an expo of book arts put on by the volunteer Bay Area Book Artists organization. The friendly exhibitors almost always want you to handle their creations, which can be made of almost anything. I saw books made of sailboat sails, computer motherboards, cardboard coffee sleeves, & even other books. The level of artistry can be very high. A gorgeous volume from Artichoke Press contains photographic images printed onto both sides of nearly transparent tissue paper. Judith Hoffman displayed a delightful pinhole camera shaped like a dinosaur which she used to photograph other dinosaurs, of course. There seems to be a growing interest in book arts, & more than one of the exhibitors expressed the opinion that as the book is becoming obsolete, it is turning into more of an art form.

§ Book Arts Jam 2011
Saturday, October 15, 10 am - 4 pm
Foothill College, Los Altos

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lara Downes at Salle Pianos

The small, funky space of Salle Pianos was already closely packed when I arrived for pianist Lara Downes's CD release party, & I would not have had a seat at all if a few extra folding chairs had not been brought out at the last minute. The evening was also a benefit for Classical Revolution, who organized the event.

13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg is composite piece in which 13 composers in each contributed an "extra" variation to Bach's Goldberg Variations. Ms. Downes began by playing the original Aria then paused between every one to two variations to talk about the music. Her playing is direct, though introspective, & she gets very absorbed in the music, often lingering slightly over phrases.

Ms. Downes described the suite as an arc, moving away from the Aria then back again, but none of the composers strayed too far from the original. Fred Lerdah's pointillist Chasing Goldberg sounds like 2 pianists playing out of sync. I liked Ms. Downes's affectionate playing of Fred Hersch's song-like Melancholy Minuet. Derek Bermenl's Kontraphunktus builds to a noisy climax, while Ryan Brown's Ornament variation stays in the top 2 octaves of the piano. The final variation by Ralf Gothóni is a fun, over-the-top, over-ornamented mash-up.

The entire performance lasted about an hour, & the appreciative audience applauded each break. Ms. Downes played a 1933 Bösendorfer & read the music off an iPad. The crowd was an unusual mix of older & younger people. The old lady in front of me demanded that I not point my cell phone at her, as she is afraid of cell phones, & she eyed me suspiciously even after I stowed the phone in my bag. Wine was available, but serving it was a difficult task for the 2 ladies at the door. After the music, the audience lined up for a pasta & salad dinner. Several of the younger audience members showed up with instrument cases. They were members of Classical Revolution, who were playing there later in the evening.

§ Lara Downes, piano

13 WAYS of Looking at the Goldberg‏
J.S. Bach
Fred Lerdahl
Jennifer Higdon
Bright Sheng
Lukas Foss
Derek Bermel
Fred Hersch
C. Curtis-Smith
Stanley Walden
Ryan Brown
Mischa Zupko
David del Tredici
William Bolcom
Ralf Gothóni

Encore: Dave Brubeck, Chorale

October 14, 2011 7p
Salle Pianos

Stephanie Blythe Sings American Songs

The Herbst Theatre audience gave mezzo Stephanie Blythe extended applause when she appeared on stage for this recital of American songs. Ms. Blythe began by explaining that when she sings in English she does not distribute printed texts. She works hard to communicate the words & wants to see the audiences' faces, not the tops of their heads as they read the program. To familiarize us with the texts of James Legg's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, she & accompanist Warren Jones took turns reciting the poems, temporarily turning the concert into a high school English class.

Ms. Blythe has no problems communicating the text while singing. Her voice is thrilling & martial, & I felt it bodily as much as heard it. She never sings softly, & no matter how much sound she made, I always felt she was actually holding back. Mr. Jones was an active accompanist & stated his musical ideas boldly. Legg's songs are compact & range from meditative to plaintive to angry. I found them a bit precious, & many of them end with a drawn-out silence.

Ms. Blythe broke the mood before starting into Barber's Three Songs, Op. 10. Noting how hot it is was, she declared, "I'm sweating my bazooms off!" She then told a slightly improper anecdote about the James Joyce Chamber Music poems about to be sung. She & Mr. Jones again recited the poems before performing. They communicated the story of anguished love clearly, & Ms. Blythe's powerhouse sound was especially suited to the war-like & raging "I Hear an Army."

The 2nd half of the program was all about having fun. Mr. Jones started us off with a jaunty Scott Joplin rag, then Ms. Blythe sang 2 sets of Tin Pan Alley songs, making each song a little vaudeville routine. She strutted onto the stage during the introduction to "Coax Me," & she sang it with a few growls & just the right amount of naughtiness. "What'll I do?" gave us her quietest singing of the evening. She stormed off the stage in hurt & anger at the end of "After You've Gone" & sang the hymn "How Can I Keep from Singing?" as an a cappella encore.

§ San Francisco Performances Vocal Series
Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano
Warren Jones, piano

JAMES LEGG: Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
SAMUEL BARBER: Three Songs, Op. 10

Songs from Tin Pan Alley
JOPLIN: Peacherine Rag
HERBERT & MacDONOUGH: Ask Her While the Band is Playing
HENDERSON, BROWN & DeSYLVA: If I had a Talking Picture of You
CREAMER & LAYTON: After You've Gone
JOPLIN: Magnetic Rag
BERLIN: If you Don't Want my Peaches
You'd be Surprised
What'll I Do?
I Love a Piano

JOPLIN: Maple Leaf Rag
LOWRY: How Can I Keep from Singing?
FOSTER: Beautiful Dreamer

Thursday, October 13
Herbst Theatre

Friday, October 14, 2011

iPhone 4S Release

iPhone 4S ReleaseAt 10am this morning, this line for the Chestnut Street Apple store ran around the block. There was even a policeman posted in front of the shop. The people in line were patient, & many of them whiled away the time on their current iPhones.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bachelor Days Are Over

This morning I got to see a preview of Katia Lewkowicz's Bachelor Days Are Over, the opening night film for the San Francisco Film Society's up-coming French Cinema Now. We incessantly follow an unnamed, but obviously cool, 30-something Parisian (Benjamin Biolay) though the 4 hectic days leading up to his wedding. He is defiantly passive in the face of stress-filled demands put upon him by his family, friends, fiancée & an attractive girl he has just met. The bride is unaccountably missing in action, & from the start the marriage looks like a bad idea. There is no real plot, so the interest lies in seeing the characters & relationships unfold. The situations are both frustrating & humorous, & I was kept in doubt as to whether the wedding would actually occur. The film's cool, light blue palette is attractive, & I liked the ensemble casts' convincingly naturalistic performances, especially Emmanuelle Devos as the permanently grimacing sister & Nicole Garcia as the excitable mother. Director Katia Lewkowicz is expected to attend the opening night.

§ Bachelor Days Are Over (Pourquoi Tu Pleures?)
Director: Katia Lewkowicz
France 2011, 99 min

October 27, 6:15 pm (Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema)
October 30, 9:00 pm (Film Society | New People Cinema)

§ French Cinema Now
October 27–November 2, 2011
SF Film Society | New People Cinema
Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema

Browse the films in the festival
Download the program (pdf)
Buy Tickets

Autodesk Gallery

Autodesk gallery
Yesterday I visited the Autodesk Gallery on the 2nd floor of One Market. It seems to be a showroom for presentations to clients, but it is open to the public on Wednesday afternoons. Its purpose is to publicize all the places Autodesk software is used, from computer animation to a Szechuan earthquake reconstruction project.

Autodesk Gallery
Of course there are a lot of architecture & transportation displays, like this organic-looking concept vehicle.

Autodesk Gallery
Impossible not to love the 8-foot Lego dinosaur. It even comes with a series of dioramas, also made of Legos, depicting its design & construction. Dismayingly, the actual assembly was outsourced to the Czech Republic.

Autodesk Gallery
One side is cut away, exposing the steel armature required to support it.

Autodesk Gallery
Here you can drive through a simulation of the completed Doyle Drive replacement.

Autodesk Gallery
This array of cameras will create your 3-D headshot. Frustratingly, the resulting 3-D model can only be viewed on an iPhone or iPad, so I have yet to see mine.

I joined a guided tour that started when I arrived, but the exhibits are self-explanatory, & I would have absorbed just as much on my own.

§ Autodesk Gallery at One Market
One Market, Floor 2
The Autodesk Gallery is open to the public every Wednesday from 12-5 p.m, with a guided tour from 12:30-1:30 p.m.

Yefim Bronfman at Cal

The stage at Zellerbach was so dark that it took a moment to notice that pianist Yefim Bronfman was walking out. Looking a bit gruff, he bowed a couple of times & quickly sat down to begin the Brahms Sonata Op. 5 before we had fully settled down. His playing was powerful. The opening chords were were full & thick, & the next phrase was contrastingly light but not wispy. The Andante 2nd movement was delicate & consoling, & Bronfman did a wonderfully building crescendo toward the end. The Scherzo sounded a bit angry by comparison. The finale was robust.

Mr. Bronfman was a mighty virtuoso in 3 of Liszt's Transcendetal Etudes. His thundering Mazeppa was a roller coaster ride. I kept thinking of the PDQ Bach gag where the pianist puts on a seat belt. Bronfman used a lot of pedal in the Harmonies du Soir, but he never sounded muddy. He displayed a strong left hand in Chasse-Neige, & he always sounded fluid & made the long melodic lines clear. The audience responded with cheers.

After intermission Mr. Bronfman performed Prokofiev's Sonata No. 8. There is a nice connectedness to his playing, & he always hits all the notes of a chord precisely together. I like the buoyancy with which he plays runs of chords. He gets very involved & sometimes rises off the piano bench emphatically. The 1st movement of the Prokofiev was anguished, & the finale was ferocious. Mr. Bronfman looked like he was grabbing those final chords out of the keyboard & devouring them.

The audience gave Mr. Bronfman a standing ovation, though he looked kind of grumpy throughout the evening. He held the audience's attention fully, & people were quiet even between movements. It was disappointing to look behind me & see the auditorium only half full. For encores, we got 2 Chopin Etudes from Op. 10: a shimmering No. 1 in C major & the stormy No. 12 in C minor. It was a jolt to leave Zellerbach Hall & be greeted by the sound of a blaring Cal marching band in the plaza.

§ Yefim Bronfman, piano
Koret Recital Series
Cal Performances

Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5
Liszt: Transcendental Etudes (selections)
IV. Mazeppa: Allegro
XI. Harmonies du Soir: Andantino
XII. Chasse-Neige: Andante con moto
Prokofiev: Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major, Op. 84

Chopin: Etude No. 1 in C major, Op. 10
Chopin: Etude No. 12 in C minor , Op. 10

Tue, Oct 11, 8 pm
Zellerbach Hall

Monday, October 10, 2011

SF Opera: Lucrezia Borgia

SF Opera: Lucrezia BorgiaThough receiving scant encouragement, I attended SF Opera's Lucrezia Borgia on Saturday night. The opera is in 3 short acts, & the music is agreeably melodic though not very memorable. I heard Renée Fleming sing half-voice in the dress rehearsal, but in performance her voice turns out to be not that loud. It is comfy, natural & easy on the ears, though not as mellifluous as one would expect for bel canto. She effortlessly sustained a lovely mezzo-forte note at the end of act 1.

Mezzo Elizabeth DeShong, looking like a 12-year old boy in the pants role of Orsini, demonstrated power in all parts of her range & gave an intensely focused performance. I liked tenor Michael Fabiano's ringing sound & dramatically convincing stage-presence as Lucrezia's unacknowledged son. His costumes expose his well-developed pecs, making him a dishy Gennaro. Bass Vitalij Kowaljow was an intimidating Duke of Ferrara. His voice is solid & dark & his singing nicely connected. Also fine was the posse of male singers, many of them Adlers, playing various courtiers. Conductor Riccardo Frizza made large round gestures, & I thought the orchestra played well, but I wished the music had more punch.

The production has a period Renaissance setting dominated by a broad staircase & high stone walls. Every scene seems to take place outdoors in the middle of the night. I found act 3 to be particularly arbitrary. I don't think it made sense for Gennaro to be making out with his buddy Orsini. Lucrezia enters wearing armor, a cape & a sword, looking like a Renaissance super hero. I also didn't understand why her poisoning victims were carried out, only to be dragged back on stage during the final moments. And Lucrezia's gory suicide felt unprepared for.

My opera companion & I were in standing room at the orchestra level, then lucked out when 2 old ladies gave us their excellent center orchestra seats for act 3. When my companion saw the Borgia's bull statue in act 2, she whispered, "Wall Street." She was also upset when I gave away the "surprise" revelation that Gennaro is Lucrezia's son.

§ Lucrezia Borgia
by Gaetano Donizetti

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Director: John Pascoe

Apostolo Gazello: Austin Kness
Ascanio Petrucci: Ao Li
Maffio Orsini: Elizabeth DeShong
Jeppo Liverotto: Christopher Jackson
Oloferno Vitellozzo: Brian Jagde
Gubetta: Igor Vieira
Gennaro: Michael Fabiano
Lucrezia Borgia: Renée Fleming
Duke Alfonso: Vitalij Kowaljow
Rustighello: Daniel Montenegro
Jeppo Liverotto: Christopher Jackson
Astolfo: Ryan Kuster
Princess Negroni: Blance Hampton
Ladies of the Court: Mary Finch, Claire Kelm, Sally Mouzon, Sally Monro
A Voice: Jere Torkelsen

Sat 10/8/11 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

New Merola Opera Executive Director

Last week, the Merola Opera Program held a reception in the Opera House to recognize the appointment of Jean Kellogg as their first Executive Director. The event also welcomed Donna Blacker as Merola's new President & honored out-going President Patrick Wilken, who was definitely a bit emotional as he thanked his associates. Karen Ames uncharacteristically stepped out from behind her publicity veil to present Mr. Wilken with a proclamation from the Mayor. Some members of the press were in attendance, including the Opera Tattler, whose bag nearly tripped up Board Chairman Jayne Davis.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Fleet Week 2011

Fleet WeekFleet Week festivities have been unavoidable for those of us in the Marina. The Blue Angels started rattling windows on Thursday. Besides the airshow, there was a fair on the Marina Green with plenty of family-friendly fun, like these over-sized military vehicles that are like giant toy trucks.

Fleet WeekNot sure what this inflatable Marine figure was all about. Navy representatives gave me a free "Property of U.S. Navy" T-shirt, though. Oracle had a presence too. It sponsors one of the stunt planes & has its own big guest tent.

Fleet WeekThis was part of an inflatable obstacle course for kids to run, slide, crawl, climb & squeeze through.
Overcrowded 22-FillmoreThe crowds rendered Muni unusable, & I was nearly trapped in the neighborhood on Saturday night. To get to a performance at the Opera House, I resorted to walking the whole way. During the half hour I walked on Van Ness from Union Street to McAllister, not one Muni bus passed me.

Erotic Comics

Dirty Comics ShowFriday night I attended the opening of an exhibit of erotic comics at the Center for Sex & Culture. About 40 artists are represented, each by an illustration or a page from a comic. The artworks are arrayed in a tightly-packed row across a long wall. Homosexuality seems to be the baseline, & things get more baroque from there. There are no labels on the wall, but there is a data sheet listing the artists. Still, I probably needed more context. One comic attempts to explain how one may be both asexual & bisexual. I had no idea how to react to Rick Worley's story featuring a cartoony, marshmallow-shaped bunny rabbit & his twink sex partner. Later in the evening I discovered I was talking with Mr. Worley, whose conversation encompassed the X-Files, Klingon dictionaries & love poems in Elvish.

The CSC threw a good party. There was wine & beer, & I was offered a fresh-tasting bruschetta appetizer from a circulating platter. People kept arriving throughout the event, & the atmosphere was very sociable. Most of the attendees were the artists & their friends, & I kept getting asked whether I was an artist, but, alas, I am not.

§ Dirty Comics: An exhibition of erotic comic art
Curated by Jon Macy
Opening Reception
Friday, October 07, 2011, 06:00pm - 09:00pm
Center for Sex and Culture

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Salon at the Rex: Adam Schulman Trio

Salon at the RexThe fall season of the intimate Salons at the Rex opened with the Adam Schulman Trio performing a set inspired by the Nat King Cole Trio. Pianist Mr. Schulman joked at the start, "I'm not going to sing." Instead, the trio paid homage to Nat King Cole as a pianist. They evoked the cool side of the 1950s so easily that after the opening song I regretted not sitting down with a martini. Jack Riordan was laid-back on the amplified guitar, even when executing rapid runs. It feels like Mr. Schulman plays just the right number of notes, whether doing a solo or accompanying. John Wiitala looks very happy on the bass & seems to flick the notes out of his instrument.

As is usual at these events, the music lasted for about an hour, & there was a short Q & A afterward. The audience was relaxed & absorbed, though a woman across the room from me texted throughout the music. I could hear the clicks on the virtual keyboard of her iPhone.

Due to up-coming construction at the Rex, next year the salon series will relocate to a penthouse-like room on the 16th floor of the Hotel Adagio. Even though the hotel's lounge is far away on the ground floor, I was assured that there would be a bar in the room for the performances.

§ Adam Schulman Trio
Salons at the Rex

Adam Shulman
, piano
Jack Riordan, guitar
John Wiitala, bass

Will You Still be Mine?
Straighten Up & Fly Right
Moon Ray
Somebody Loves Me
After You've Gone
Don't Blame Me
Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby
I Didn't Know What Time it Was

Wednesday, October 5
6:30 pm
Hotel Rex

Flowers for Steve Jobs

Flowers for SteveOn my way to the Salon at the Rex this afternoon, I had to navigate through a mob in front of Union Square Apple store. I saw reporters & assumed it was something to do with the new iPhone. It was only until I got home later that I discovered that Steve Jobs had passed away. These 2 bouquets of flowers were left in front of the Apple store on Chestnut Street in my neighborhood. There can't be many corporate CEOs who deaths spark a public outpouring of grief.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Schulz Sketches From Abroad

Though thwarted by ridiculous rush-hour traffic earlier in the week, I was determined to see these travel sketches by Charles Schulz at his museum in Santa Rosa. I made it on Sunday, the last day of the exhibit. On view are 14 landscapes & travel scenes made by Mr. Schulz while on vacation in France, Yosemite & England. They are realistic & observational in a way that the Peanuts is not, yet the comic strip characters would not look completely out of place in them. Mr. Schulz used relatively crude tools, such as marker pens & crayons, & the pictures were never meant for display. The pleasure in making them is evident, even if 3 watercolors made in 1991 have actually been neatly torn into quarters. These were discarded by Mr. Schulz but salvaged & re-assembled by his wife Jean.

Schulz MuseumThe museum also currently has a show of Pop Art works inspired directly by the comics. It was a nice bonus to see a strangely poignant Superman by Mel Ramos & a sparkly portrait of Mickey Mouse by Andy Warhol. The museum is staffed by eager & elderly volunteers who make it a point to converse with every visitor.

§ A Change of Scene: Schulz Sketches From Abroad
June 8 to October 2, 2011

Pop'd From the Panel
June 25 to December 11, 2011

Charles M. Schulz Museum

APE 2011

APE 2011I spent my Saturday at the Alternative Press Expo, a celebration of independent comics, print & the hand-made. Every year the artwork gets slicker & more well-crafted. Big draws this year were appearances by Kate Beaton, Daniel Clowes, Chris Thompson, Adrian Tomine & Shannon Wheeler. Fans lined up in front of various tables throughout the day for signings. I witnessed Mr. Thompson assiduously drawing a portrait of the heroine of Habibi in each book he signed.

Artist Ray Sumser asked passers-by to name their favorite cartoon character, then he pointed it out somewhere in his Comicosm, a 6'x9' painting crowded with 1,500 iconic characters. Los Angeles-based cartoonist Jeff Krell is on a mission to bring the hilariously raunchy work of German cartoonist Ralf König to an American audience. Many of the local creators I had seen at Zine Fest last month were here, including the endearing Jason Martin & the bluff Geoff Vasile, whose old-school attitude belies his youth. I was also accosted most personably by Justin Hall, whose Queer Cartoonists Panel is now a fixture of APE. I later heard another panel discussion in which all the creators dismissed art school as a scam.

This year the expo provided a free shuttle service from Cal Train & BART, but the schedule was infrequent & had an unaccountable gap in the middle of the afternoon. I walked from the Westfield Mall to the expo in about 20 minutes, which was quicker than waiting for the shuttle.

§ APE | Alternative Press Expo 2011
Concourse Exibition Center, San Francisco
October 1 -2

Monday, October 03, 2011

MTT conducts Mozart, Adès, and Stravinsky

SF SymphonyOn Friday I heard my 1st San Francisco Symphony concert of the season. This was at the kind invitation of John Marcher, who himself arrived direct from an afternoon at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The program opened with Mozart's Haffner Symphony. There was a large string section, & the orchestra played with a full, rich sound & tight ensemble, though the interpretation was a bit blunt. I heard an unchararcteristic squawk from the woodwind section in the Presto.

A long screen divided into 3 frames was lowered over the orchestra for Thomas Adès's Polaris. The huge orchestra included 2 harps, & the brasses were arrayed in 5 groups around the terrace. The piece opens with a flurry of notes from the piano but soon involves the entire orchestra. The brass players always seem to enter in sequence, from highest to lowest, & it was fun to hear some extremely low notes from the tuba. There were also piercingly high pitches on the violins & piccolos. The piece is atmospheric & evoked tides & the sea for me. It builds to a dark climax near the end, & its 15 minutes felt short. The accompanying video triptych depicted stars, circular openings & 2 women grappling with seaweed on a rocky beach. It looked like we were watching the same movie started at different times on each screen. Mr. Adès & filmmaker Tal Rosner appeared on stage for the ovations. The poor 1st stand violinist dropped her bow when she stood up to shake hands with MTT. I hope her bow was not damaged.

Every section of the orchestra played out for Petrushka. The principals punched out their solos, making the piece into a concerto for orchestra. Ensemble was tight, & the orchestra made a brash sound. As a bonus, MTT gave us Stavinsky's toe-tapping Scherzo à la Russe. On the last note the entire orchestra stood & faced us triumphantly, a maneuver executed with startling synchronization.

§ MTT conducts Mozart, Adès, and Stravinsky
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Tal Rosner, video artist

MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D major, K.385, Haffner
ADÈS: Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra (with film by Tals Rosner) (2010)
STRAVINSKY: Petrushka (1947 Version)

STRAVINSKY: Scherzo à la Russe

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall