Sunday, March 31, 2013

SFS Musicians Strike Ends

A press release from the San Francisco Symphony announces that the musicians & administration have tentatively agreed on a new 26-month contract. This ends the strike that began 2 weeks ago & resulted in the cancellation of concerts here & at Carnegie Hall. All the SF Symphony's performances for this week will take place as originally scheduled. Details of the new agreement are not yet available.

Website of the Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony here.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Timo Andres at Rex Salon

Photo credit: Mingzhe Wang
This week I heard pianist & composer Timo Andres perform in a Salon at the Rex. He opened with his composition At the River, a sizable piece lasting about 15 minutes. In the first part, his right hand played incessantly rippling notes in the middle of the keyboard while the left hand interspersed short notes at the extreme ends. The 2nd part was slower & chordal.

After briefly speaking to the audience, Mr. Andres played Schumann's Waldszenen with efficiency & familiarity. He has long slim fingers, & in the most rapid passages his hands became blurs. He often used the pedal to create smears. The Schumann was paired with 2 short movements from his own It takes a long time to become a good composer, which features percussive & fragmentary bits of chords & arpeggios. The ending was abrupt.

The Three Mazurkas by Adès were brief and had a dance-like feel. There were a lot of cascading notes, short notes, & notes at the extremes of the keyboard.The third mazurka had a dark, mysterious atmosphere. These were paired with Chopin's Polonaise Fantasie, which Mr. Andres played with a halting feel that made it sound like another Adès piece. He made a very big sound with the double trills, & the audience laughed at the quick release he made on the final chord.

Salon at the Rex photo IMG_20130327_181423_zpsf1b58f44.jpgThe salon audience was appreciative & made many complimentary comments during the Q&A following the hour-long recital. Mr. Andres described At the River as an homage to minimalist composers & said It takes a long time to become a good composer was "disintegrated Schumann." Someone asked if the popped-in high notes in At the River were meant to be programmatic, & Mr. Andres replied that they were there for resonance & because "they sounded good."

Mr. Andres read his music off an iPad, though he seemed to have much of the program memorized. He was also featured in a San Francisco Performances concert in Herbst on Friday, which similarly paired his music with Schumann.

§ Timo Andres, piano
Salon at the Rex

At the River (2010) -- Andres (b. 1985)

Waldszenen (Forest Scenes), Op. 82 -- Schumann (1810-1865)

from It takes a long time to become a good composer -- Andres (b. 1985)
    2. Everyone wants to be something they're not or,
            Pierrot on 88th St.
    4. Please let me sleep in your entrance hall or,
            Pantalon & Columbine

Three Mazurkas, Op. 27 -- Ades (b. 1971)

Polonaise Fantasie -- Chopin (1810 - 1849)

Wednesday, March 27, 6:30pm
Hotel Rex

Monday, March 25, 2013

Luciano Chessa & Benjamin Kreith: Garret

Ben Kreith & Luciano Chessa photo IMG_20130323_173728_zpse19211a8.jpgSaturday afternoon composer Luciano Chessa & violinist Ben Kreith give a duo recital at Duende in downtown Oakland. Avant-garde performance art shenanigans alternated with appealing violin pieces ranging from Schumann to Mr. Chessa's own compositions. Both musicians enacted their parts with exactness & a sense of purpose. Mr. Chessa was explosive in his recitation of a Futurist sound poem by Francesco Cangiullo. He pounded on his music stand, imitated singing & bombast, & made words seem like colorful explosions. He was goofy yet sincere in a Fluxus piece by George Maciunas in which he gently abused a violin. At one point he seemed about to eat the instrument. Mr. Kreith played his solos pieces with great familiarity & affection. His playing had bite in the ludicrously brief movements of Erik Satie's Le Piège de Méduse. He wore jingle bells on his right forearm while playing Mr. Chessa's Preludio e Siciliana & maintained a lovely, lilting quality. In Mr. Chessa's pensive & pretty Analfabeta, Mr. Kreith provided a billowy undercurrent as the composer whispered a poem into a bullhorn, triggered sound samples, & played the piano.

The program included 3 improvisations utilizing an electronically amplified dan bau. I had to cover my ears during the most ear-piercing moments of Mr. Chessa's 1st improvisation. Mr. Kreith played the harmonica with unexpected facility in the 2nd improvisation. The recital took place on the upstairs floor of Duende, overlooking the restaurant area. Since the space is open, the music competed with the crash of ice cubes being poured, a coffee grinder, & a screaming toddler. The small but receptive audience gave the event the feel of a private salon.

§ Luciano Chessa & Benjamin Kreith | Garrett
Confusing Salon Music and Noise since 2013

00. Improvisation # 1
Luciano Chessa, Vietnamese Dan Bau, Quijada

01. Erik Satie: Le Piège de Méduse (1913/2012)
Transcribed for Violin and Piano by Luciano Chessa and Benjamin Kreith

02. Benjamin Kreith: O! Never Mind the Moon (2009)
Benjamin Kreith, Violin

03. Improvisation # 2
Luciano Chessa, Vietnamese Dan Bau, Aardvark Synth App, Piano; Benjamin Kreith, Violin, Harmonica

04. Robert Schumann: Intermezzo from the F-A-E Sonata (1853)
Benjamin Kreith, Violin; Luciano Chessa, Piano

05. Francesco Cangiullo: PP. G to N from Piedigrotta (1913)
Recitation by Luciano Chessa

06. Luciano Chessa: Preludio e Siciliana (1987/2013)
Benjamin Kreith, Violin

07. George Maciunas: Solo for Violin (for Sylvano Bussotti) (1962)
Score realized by Luciano Chessa

08. Virgil Thomson: Alice Toklas, portrait No. 3. from Five Ladies (1930)
Benjamin Kreith, Violin; Luciano Chessa, Piano

09. Javier Arias Bal: Filipina para violin a la memoria de Felipa Martin (2009)
Benjamin Kreith, Violin

10. Isaac Albeniz: Tango, No. 2 from the Suite España op. 165 (1890)
Transcribed for Violin and Piano by Fritz Kreisler (1927)

11. Luciano Chessa: Analfabeta (1989)
Transcribed for Violin, Voice, Piano and Aardvark Synth App by Benjamin Kreith and Luciano Chessa (2013)

12. Improvisation # 3
Benjamin Kreith, Violin; Luciano Chessa, Vietnamese Dan Bau

March 23, 2013 @ 4:00pm

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Seeking Asian Female

Wednesday evening I was at the San Francisco premiere of local filmmaker Debbie Lum's documentary Seeking Asian Female, playing at CAAMFest this week. The film follows Steven, a white man in his 60s, gleefully unabashed about his obsession with young Asian women. Online, he meets 30-year-old Sandy from Shenzhen, & she comes to the States to marry him. The director Ms. Lum finds herself compelled by Sandy's situation & gets so involved that the relationship cannot succeed without her intervention as translator, marriage counselor, & confidante. The film has many uncomfortable scenes. We watch Sandy & Steven struggle with communication difficulties, money, & life as a couple. Ms. Lum occasionally throws in censorious questions of her own. You're never quite sure if things are working out, so it makes for compulsive viewing,

CAAMFest 2013 photo IMG_20130320_181905_zps9ffc72f2.jpgThis was an added screening & sold out. I waited in the rush line with about 20 others & got in moments before the movie started. Many women were in the audience, but not as many mixed race couples as I would have thought. Ms. Lum was present & answered questions afterward. We learned that Steven & Sandy are still married, & that Sandy is in school, nearly fluent in English, & has a driver's license. Ms. Lum initially profiled 5 men with yellow fever, but only Steven found a woman. Once Sandy came to the US, Ms. Lum decided to focus the entire film on Steven & Sandy's relationship.

It's the kind of movie that you immediately want to talk about, so it's appropriate that the Saturday screening is followed by a panel discussion. Ms. Lum will also release a related series of on-line films.

§ Seeking Asian Female (2012)
Debbie Lum, dir
82 mins, USA

Pacific Film Archive Theater
March 15, 2013 7:00 pm

Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
March 20, 2013 6:30 pm

New People
March 23, 2013 5:00 pm

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Up-Coming: Saturday Stuff

A few smaller but interesting events taking place this Saturday: Composer Luicano Chessa & violinist Benjamin Kreith present their "Garret" show in a performance space at Duende restaurant in Oakland. Their program looks to be a piquant mix, including Futurist sound poetry, improvisations, Satie, Schumann, & Mr. Chessa's own music. 6 singers, possibly outrageously styled, are on the bill for a recital celebrating French opera heroines, in the intimate gallery & salon space of Salle Pianos. Seventh Avenue Performances presents lutenist Adam Cockerham, violinist Noah Strick, and cellist Adaiha Macadam-Somer in a free concert featuring lesser-known Italian composers of the early Baroque. CAAMFest (formerly SF International Asian American Film Festival) is showing Seeking Asian Female, local filmmaker Debbie Lum's documentary about a Caucasian, 60-year-old parking lot attendant & his young mail-order bride from China. The panel discussion following is sure to be provocative.

§ Luciano Chessa and Benjamin Kreith's "Garret"
Saturday March 23, 2013 - 4pm
across from the Fox Theater 468 19th Street, Oakland

§ Les Héroïnes
A Recital of Femmes from French Opera
Saturday March 23, 2013 - 7:30 pm
The Szalon at Salle Pianos and Events

§ Seventh Avenue Performances
Sunset Baroque
Dawn of the Baroque
Saturday March 23, 2013 - 7:30 pm

§ Seeking Asian Female
New People
Saturday March 23, 2013 -  5:00 pm

§ Seeking Asian Female Panel
Union Bank Community Room
Saturday March 23, 2013 - 7:00 pm

Monday, March 18, 2013

9 Hour Bach Marathon & Vulgar Bulgers

Image: © Matthias Baus
Not listening to enough Bach? The day after Easter, John Eliot Gardiner leads a 9 hour Bach Marathon at Royal Albert Hall, starting at 1p with the motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied & concluding with a 7:30p performance of the Mass in B Minor. Speakers & various instrumental soloists are also scheduled throughout the day.  It seems to be one ticket for the entire event.

Sir Gardiner discusses conducting Bach on a recent edition of Front Row on BBC Radio 4. He refers to period performers who swell notes as "vulgar bulgers."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair

Anarchist Book Fair photo IMG_20130317_122518_zpsa6a9a3e1.jpgToday I visited the Anarchist Book Fair, which this year moved to the Armory building on Mission Street, due to the increasing expense of the usual Golden Gate Park venue. The fair is a gathering of grass roots political organizations,  pamphleteers, & independent publishers & book sellers. There were also plenty of t-shirts for sale. The vendors are a friendly & low-key bunch. I love that CrimethInc gave out flyers instructing us to how to request their books for libraries. 2 tracks of talks were scheduled for both days of the fair.

Anarchist Book Fair photo IMG_20130317_122847_zps77229df2.jpgThe high-ceilinged drill court of the Armory is an impressive space, though its vastness dwarfed the fair. It was a bit cold as well. Security personnel silently patrolled the event, one of them from the upper level, hinting eerily of the Panopticon.

§ Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair
March 16 – 17, 2013
The Armory Community Center

SFS East Coast Tour Cancelled

The San Francisco Symphony's East Coast tour, including dates at Carnegie Hall, has been cancelled, due to the musicians' on-going work stoppage. The main issue is the musicians' compensation. Despite several days of long negotiations, it does not look like the strike is close to resolution.

Link to Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, via SFMike.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bach Motets

SF Bach Choir photo IMG_20130316_195912_zpsa9ecc4ad.jpgSaturday night I heard the San Francisco Bach Choir perform a program of 5 of the Bach Motets. As a friend of mine likes to observe, these pieces are about as good as music gets. The chorus numbered about 50 & were accompanied by an organ, cello & violone. Artistic Director Corey Jameson led with a clear beat & lenient tempos, & the chorus executed the fugal sections comfortably. This was the 1st of 2 performances this weekend. The audience was somewhat sparse & listened quietly. Everyone on stage looked satisfied with the concert. While the singers rearranged themselves after the 1st motet, Mr. Jameson encouraged audience members to try out for the chorus & assured us that the audition process is relatively painless.

§ San Francisco Bach Choir
Corey Jamason, Artistic Director

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225
Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226
Komm, jesu, komm, BWV 229
Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230

San Francisco Bach Choir Baroque Ensemble
Elisabeth Reed, violoncello
John Dornenburg, violone
Esther Lam, organ

March 16, 8pm 2013
Calvary Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SF Symphony on Strike

A notice on the San Francisco Symphony Website announces that the Thursday, March 14, 2:00pm performance of Mahler 9 has been cancelled due to a work stoppage. Patrons are advised to call the box office at (415) 864-6000 for the latest updates. So far only one performance has been cancelled. The Symphony administration's press release is here & on a special-purpose domain here.

SF Lyric Opera Goes to Denmark

Last night I was part of an invited audience for a rehearsal of The Little Match Girl Passion by San Francisco Lyric Opera. They presented this favorably-reviewed production at ODC last year & have been invited to perform it next month in Odense, Denmark, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. The personnel are largely the same, except for baritone Sidney Chen & soprano Jennifer Paulino replacing singers from the original show. Due to the difficulties of scheduling busy performers, this was the 1st & only chance for the 4 singers & Butoh dancer Anastazia Louise to run through the piece together before reconvening in Denmark.

We were missing the projections & lighting cues of the full production, & the singers did not have the actual percussion instruments they would be playing, but the singing was lovely & clear. Mezzo Celeste Winant & Ms. Paulino had closely matching voices & tenor Eric Tuan's high voice was ethereal. Chip Grant, the production's director, filled in for conductor Barnaby Palmer. Ms. Louise executed her anguished movements with sincere fervor, & her performance included hugging members of the audience. Afterwards Ms. Louise spoke a bit about her costume, which incorporates clothing of her grandmother, & she choked up while describing her personal connection to the work. Mr. Grant elicited comments from the audience, many of whom confessed to be quite moved.

§ Den Fynske Opera presents The Little Match Girl Passion
5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13 April, 2013

Kay Stern at Old St. Mary's

Old St. Mary's Cathedral photo IMG_20130312_123428_zps028330dd.jpgTuesday afternoon I heard violinist Kay Stern & pianist Joan Nagano at Old St. Mary's play an enjoyable lunchtime program consisting of Beethoven's Spring Sonata & showpieces by Amy Beach & Kreisler. Ms. Stern plays with great facility, warmth & a nice variety of phrasing. She had a cushy, sustained sound for the slow movement of the Beethoven, & she & Ms. Nagano smiled at each other after the fleeting Scherzo. Amy Beach's Romance was a lovely salon piece with swiftly changing moods & a dramatic flair. It could have accompanied a silent movie. The Kreisler sounded hearty & sweeping. Ms. Stern briefly introduced each piece. After playing the Beach, she commented, "No mistaking that was written by a woman." The audience was very quiet, even between the movements of the Beethoven, & they gave the performers an appreciative standing ovation.

§ Noontime Concerts
Kay Stern, violin
Joan Nagano, piano

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata #5 in F, Op.24 “Spring”

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach  (1867-1944)
Romance for Violin and Piano

Fritz Kreisler  (1875-1962)
Praeludium and Allegro  (In the Style of Pugnani)

March 12, 2013, 12:30p
Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral

Monday, March 11, 2013

SFCM: Ariodante

SF Conservatory of Music photo IMG_20130310_135600_zpsf8f71629.jpgSunday afternoon I heard a concert version of Handel's Ariodante performed by the San Francisco Conservatory Baroque Ensemble. Mezzo Johanna Bronk was confident as Ariodante. She has a secure, even sound & an endearing stage presence. Her Scherza infida was sorrowful & received extended applause. She had a lot of energy for her act 3 bravura aria Dopo notte, & she beamed so widely that the audience spontaneously applauded before the da capo. Mezzo Nikola Printz was convincingly ambitious & intimidating as the villain Polinesso. Her voice was commanding, & her low notes had strength. Soprano Audrey Goodman was sturdy-voiced & poised as the princess Ginevra. Soprano Elena Galván, as the naive attendant Dalinda, had a fittingly youthful, high & bright sound. I liked her perky anger in the act 3 aria Neghittosi or voi che fate?

Bass Christopher Filipowicz made a resonant, hall-filling sound that was appropriately fatherly for the King of Scotland. Daniel Bates as Lurcanio has an appealing tenor voice that is clear, open & ardent. He executed some nice falsetto notes. Tenor Andres Ramirez did a good job being unobtrusive in a part consisting of sitting patiently & delivering a few bars of recitative. 6 additional singers joined the soloists at the end of acts 1 & 3 to form a chorus, & they looked amused to be present.

The performance was unstaged, but the soloists had their parts memorized & acted their scenes. Ariodante brandished a sword in act 2, & Lurcanio & Polinesso pulled out daggers in act 3, though I felt that Lurcanio was fighting dirty when he stabbed Polinesso by surprise.

SF Conservatory of Music photo IMG_20130310_150213_zpsbc6fbf23.jpgConductor Corey Jamason led an orchestra of 22 on Baroque instruments. He stood at a harpsichord & sat down to play it for the recitatives. The musicians played with bite & clear phrasing, though there were patches of rough intonation. The supportive audience applauded each aria & often yelled bravos. During act 1 a baby cried. We also heard an electronic whistle, which one of my opera companions identified as an errant hearing aid.

§ Concert performance of Handel's Ariodante
San Francisco Conservatory Baroque Ensemble
Corey Jamason, conductor

King: Christopher Filipowicz
Ginevra: Audrey Goodman
Ariodante: Johanna Bronk
Lurcanio: Daniel Bates
Polinesso: Nikola Printz
Dalinda: Elena Galván
Odoardo: Andres Ramirez

Sunday, March 10, 2:00 PM
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Concert Hall

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Streets Embarcadero

The clear weather today made it a great day for this month's Sunday Streets, which turned the length of the Embarcadero from Fisherman's Wharf to China Basin into a zone for pedestrians & bicycles only. The 2 kinds of traffic are not really compatible, but the atmosphere was still relaxed. I was in the area the around the Ferry Building at lunch time.

Cheerful bands were positioned along the route.

The best of them gave the impression that they were simply jamming for themselves & their friends.

I finally got a chance to see the whimsical & nostalgic Raygun Gothic Rocketship in full daylight. Tantalizingly, it seems that you can climb inside it as well.

Hula hoops were popular activities at more than one location.

 People don't dress up to go out anymore; they wear costumes.

These hairy apes had something to do with car sharing, I think.

Some photo ops were impossible to resist.

I really appreciate that Sunday Streets are largely free of typical street fair vendors, though some are starting to encroach. This one waved me away after I took this picture.

§ Sunday Streets
3/10/13 Embarcadero
4/14/13 Mission
6/9/13 Bayview/Dogpatch
7/7/13 Great Highway

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Bay Lights

Tuesday night I joined the crowd lining the Embarcadero at the bottom of Howard Street to witness the official opening of the Bay Lights, a light installation using the entire western span of the Bay Bridge. It's billed as the largest LED light sculpture in the world. The bridge's suspender cables have been fitted with 25 thousand white LED lights, & artist Leo Villareal has programmed them to display constantly moving patterns. Beads of light fade in & out, ascend & descend, ripple & form shapes. It was fun to see a cigar shape zip back & forth across the entire span like a UFO.

I arrived about 20 minutes before the 9p lighting. Unfortunately it started raining immediately. I did not have an umbrella, so I huddled under a window of Ozumo restaurant along with a dozen others. There was a sizable gathering of young artsy types lining the Embarcadero, but within 15 minutes the crowd dispersed. The lights are scheduled to do their thing from dusk to 2am every night for the next 2 years. It's an impressive combination of art & technology & a slick way to celebrate the Bay Bridge.

§ The Bay Lights Grand Lighting!
05 March 2013, 7:00 pm - 2:00 am
The Embarcadero

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

SF Symphony 2013 - 2014 Season

The San Francisco Symphony has announced their 2013 - 2014 season calendar. In recognition of Benjamin Britten's 100th birthday, the season features the War Requiem with Christine Brewer, a semi-staged version of Peter Grimes with Stuart Skelton & Elza van den Heever, the Four Sea Interludes with a commissioned video, & excerpts from The Prince of the Pagodas on a program with a Gamelan ensemble.

Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt returns for 2 weeks & leads a Bruckner 4. The Great Performers series has recitals by pianist Evgeny Kissin & pianist András Schiff, who concludes his Bach keyboard cycle. Gustavo Dudamel will lead the LA Phil in 2 splashy concerts. In a new film series, the orchestra plays live accompaniment to classic movies, including Psycho, Vertigo, Fantasia & City Lights.

§ San Francisco Symphony Press Room

Monday, March 04, 2013

Shanghai Express

Sunday evening I joined a friend to see Shanghai Express, part of a series of Pre-Code double features playing at The Roxie this week. Programmer Elliot Lavine enthusiastically introduced the film to a vocal audience of film buffs. The movie stars Marlene Dietrich & was directed by Joseph von Sternberg. Its corny story of simmering passions & political intrigue takes place largely in the close confines of a train peopled by characters resembling the suspects in an Agatha Christie mystery. There is a bit of suspense in the movie's middle section, when the passengers are taken hostage by Chinese rebels. Dietrich's flamboyant outfits sometimes make her resemble an exotic, non-human creature. She is especially captivating in a shot when she looks through a window with her hand pressed on the pane & in another scene when she smokes a cigarette with a trembling hand. Her love interest, Clive Brook, is wooden, but it is nice to see Anna May Wong, as an enigmatic high-class prostitute, hold her own against Dietrich. The film's Chinese characters seem to be speaking Cantonese, which doesn't make sense for a train traveling between Beijing & Shanghai.

§ Shanghai Express
Joseph von Sternberg, dir.
80 mins., USA,  1932

§ Hollywood Before The Code: Deeper, Darker, Nastier!!
Friday, March 1 - Thursday, March 7
The Roxie

Saturday, March 02, 2013

2013 San Francisco History Expo

This afternoon I went to the Old Mint to check out the San Francisco History Expo, a clubby community fair for local history buffs. It was worth a visit just to be inside the building, which feels like a disused stage set. There were even people in historical dress milling around. Most of the exhibitors were on the main floor, & there were films & presentations in the downstairs vault. The inner courtyard was also open.

Many of the City's neighborhoods have their own historical societies. I learned that we have a Museum of Freemasonry as well as over a dozen local lodges. I had a chat with Emperor Norton, who is apparently doing quite well as a local tour guide. He recommended another tour led by a drag incarnation of Lola Montez.

I loved looking at this matrix of snapshots showing the habitués of the Old Spaghetti Factory in North Beach, taken around 1962 by Jerry Burchard. A friendly volunteer identified some of the people for me.

They look amazing. Clearly from another era but somehow not that distant. I wish I'd been there.

§ 2013 San Francisco History Expo
Saturday March 2, 2013 - 11am to 5pm
Sunday March 3, 2013 - 11am to 4pm

The Old Mint
88 Fifth Street at Mission