Thursday, January 31, 2013

Frederik Schodt at the Mechanics' Institute

Frederik Schodt at Mechanics' Institute, 01.30.2013 Frederik Schodt speaking at Mechanics' Institute about Professor Risley.Wednesday evening I heard translator & author Frederik Schodt give a slide lecture at the Mechanics' Institute about Professor Risley, a 19th century circus impresario. Though Mr. Schodt called this a "lost history," he claimed that Professor Risley was once a household name & "the Michael Jackson of his day." To set the mood for his talk, Mr. Schodt donned a fancy hat & performed a magic trick in which he made drawings appear on the pages of a blank book. He then led us through Professor Risley's colorful life, which involved, among other things, touring an American circus through Asia, introducing ice cream into Japan, & meeting history's most handsome samurai. He brought a Japanese acrobatic troupe to San Francisco in 1867, on the 1st stop of a world-wide tour. I was fascinated to see photos of the Japanese acrobats taken in New York & Paris. Risley's own circus act involved him juggling small children high in the air with his feet. The presentation was informative & entertaining. Many of Mr. Schodt's friends seemed to be in attendance.

§ Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe: A Lost History, and a Lost Page from San Francisco’s History
Frederik L. Schodt

Mechanics' Institute
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 6:00 PM

West Edge Opera's Poppea Dress Rehearsal

Emma McNairy as Poppea
Photo Credit: Jamie Buschbaum
Tuesday night I got to attend the final dress rehearsal of L'incoronazione di Poppea, being presented by West Edge Opera this weekend. The production is streamlined in all directions. Many scenes & characters are completely cut, & director Mark Streshinsky does a good job moving through the plot. The minimal staging locates the action in the Kennedy years of the 1960s. Just a couch & a large curtained bed are on stage. Video projections play continuously on the set, but after a while they turned into wallpaper for me, & I stopped paying attention to them. All the supernatural characters are gone, so this is a world without divine intervention. The rehearsal ran under 2 1/2 hours, including one intermission, which occurs after the death of Seneca.

The fine cast are all expressive & idiomatic singers. Soprano Emma McNairy has a warm, bright voice & is a guileless & almost child-like Poppea. Soprano Christine Brandes has a compressed, solid sound, & her Nero is a spoiled teenager in a suit. As Ottone, countertenor Ryan Belongie sings in a pleasing, unstrained voice. He has many interesting costume changes, including preppy outfits, a dress, & nothing but a towel around his waist. Tenor Brian Thorsett is terrifically fun in the drag role of Arnalta, & his high, ringing voice is gorgeous. It is a crime that Arnalta's final monologue is cut from this production. Mezzo Erin Neff, as a tense Ottavia, was focussed in her singing & acting. Bass Paul Thompson sounded appropriately sepulchral as the ancient Seneca, wheelchair-bound & requiring an oxygen tank. I liked his easy access to the role's low D. Soprano Tonia D'Amelio was a perky Drusilla, & I enjoyed her gleeful singing in an aria expressing how happy she is that Poppea is about get to bumped off by Ottone.

West Edge Opera, 01.29.2013 Continuo players at dress rehearsal of West Edge Opera's Poppea.From the pit, conductor Gilbert Martinez played the harpsichord & led a small continuo of plucked instruments: harpsichord, theorbo, harp & lute. 2 violins & a gamba occasionally joined in the ritornellos, but the realization is dry & lacks variety for those moments when the music blooms into arias. Instead of the prologue for Fortune, Virtue & Love, this production opens with the love duet for Poppea & Nero from the end of the opera's Naples version. Ottone & Drusilla end up singing some of the love duet belonging to Damigella & Valletto, characters missing here.

More rehearsal photos on facebook.

§ L’incoronazione di Poppea
Claudio Monteverdi

West Edge Opera
Final Dress Rehearsal, January 29, 2013, 7:30p

Nerone – Christine Brandes
Poppea – Emma McNairy
Ottavia – Erin Neff
Drucilla – Tonia D'Amelio
Ottone – Ryan Belongie
Arnalta – Brian Thorsett
Seneca – Paul Thompson
Secret Service #1 – Tim Gahan
Secret Service #2 – Roy Landaverde

Conductor – Gilbert Martinez
Stage Director – Mark Streshinsky

Harpsichord: JungHae Kim
Theorbo: Daniel Zuluaga
Triple Harp: Cheryl Ann Fulton
Viola da Gamba: Josh Lee
Violin: David Sego and Amy Haltom

Fri, Feb 1, 8:00 p.m.
Sat, Feb 2, 8:00 p.m.
Sun, Feb 3, 3:00 p.m.
Performing Arts Theater at El Cerrito High School

Monday, January 28, 2013

ABS: St. John Passion

American Bach Soloists, 01.27.2013 The audience at American Bach Soloists performance of St. John Passion at St. Mark's Lutheran.Sunday afternoon I heard the American Bach Soloists give a pristine performance of Bach's St. John Passion. There was a chorus of 16 & an orchestra of the same size. Tenor Aaron Sheehan was a tireless & consistent Evangelist. He has a clear, high voice, & his singing was nicely connected. Baritone William Sharp was a noble Jesus. His voice is full & unforced & fits the music comfortably. He was also assigned the aria Mein teuer Heiland, which he sang in a calming manner. Countertenor Brennan Hall makes a clean & steady sound. He was sustained in Es ist vollbracht, which was accompanied by a lugubrious viola da gamba obbligato played by Elisabeth Reed. Tenor Derek Chester has an attractive, lyrical voice, & he worked hard to make his arias sound smooth. Baritone Joshua Copeland was solid & grounded in the bass arias & the part of Pilate. Soprano Clara Rottsolk had big, projecting high notes that made my concert companion wonder if she had wandered in from a Wagner opera. Her Zerfließe, mein Herze had a lot of strength. Except for the Evangelist & Jesus, the soloists also sang in the choruses. I did not see why the soloists were positioned behind the orchestra.

The concert felt scrupulously well-prepared. The choruses were clean & tidy, with occasional fussy details of articulation. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas led with square, even tempos that were not too fast or too slow. The orchestra played neatly. The performance was based on the 1725 version of the Passion, containing alternate versions of 5 numbers. A duet in which the soprano sings a chorale over the bass's running melody was striking. I was sorry not to have the churning opening chorus from the standard version, though. The serious-minded ABS audience was impressively quiet throughout & applauded the soloists appreciatively, especially Mr. Sheehan.

§ Bach's St. John Passion
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Aaron Sheehan, tenor (Evangelista)
William Sharp, baritone (Christus)
Clara Rottsolk, soprano
Brennan Hall, countertenor
Derek Chester, tenor
Joshua Copeland, baritone
American Bach Choir

Sunday, January 27 2013, 4:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Sunday, January 27, 2013

2012 British Arrows Awards

I'm glad I remembered to catch the 2012 British Arrows Awards, a compilation of award-winning British TV commercials, playing at the YBCA this weekend. I saw over 55 ads in about 75 minutes. None of them seem like they want to waste my time. Dorito's Dip Desperado, a goofy homage to Mexican Westerns, is a complete movie in itself, as is the wonderfully aw-shucks Commercial of the Year about a little boy's painful wait for Christmas morning.

Many of the spots were downright surreal. T-Mobile's amateur video of the royal wedding was vaguely disconcerting, & I found the ads for Wall's Sausages featuring a tiny rapping dog to be disturbing. The public service announcements were powerful. An ad promoting condom use by depicting a string of nasty sexual partners for a young woman was so scary that it caused some women in the audience to gasp. I liked the animated drawings painted on derelict buildings in an ad against street violence.

Humor is still the dominant approach here. Pot Noodle's pampered footballer's wife is a week's worth of silliness. The phone break proposed by Orange mobile network is brilliant. The high-concept campaign for Aldi does a great job promoting the supermarket's discount brands, but I still have no idea what the little girl says at the end of the canned beans spot.

§ 2012 British Arrows Awards
(formerly British Television Advertising Awards)
Thu, Jan 24 – Sun, Jan 27
YBCA Screening Room

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Civil War Living History Day

A troop of Civil War reenactors strutted their stuff in Fort Point on Saturday.

They performed military drills, gave a band concert, & manned displays of Civil War artifacts, which they explained with great familiarity. One friendly fellow used models of a human head & skull to show me how 19th century surgeons would carry out a trepanation & use a flattened silver coin to plug the hole.

The reenactors looked remarkably comfortable in their 19th century garb, & the setting couldn't be more authentic.

Fort Point must form some kind of natural wind tunnel. It was blustery & numbingly cold.

The chilling conditions didn't seem to bother the reenactors, who appeared entirely at home.

§ Civil War Living History Day 
Fort Point, the Presidio
Saturday, 26 January 2013, 10 am - 5 pm

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jon Mendle's Salon at the Rex

Wednesday night I heard guitarist Jon Mendle in the clubby Salon at the Rex. He played an hour-long program that included Baroque suites, arrangements of popular pieces by Debussy & Ravel, & a world premiere. The young Mr. Mendle is a graduate of the SF Conservatory of Music, & his resume includes a tour with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. He played an 11-string Archguitar, an unusual instrument that looks like a Baroque guitar with way too many strings. It sounded soft but resonant. Mr. Mendle has a relaxed manner & was very comfortable speaking with the audience between pieces. He seems to have a strong fingering hand.

Salon at the Rex, 01.23.2013 Salon at the Rex, pre-performance by Jon Mendle, guitar.Mr. Mendle acknowledged Alan Perlman, the builder of his guitar, who was in attendance. Mr. Mendle also pointed out composer Garry Eister in the audience, immediately after premiering his Moto Perpetuo.The piece was written expressly for Mr. Mendle's instrument & sounded flowing rather than rapid. Instead of maintaining a running pace, the music curiously unwinds at the end. Mr. Mendle clearly pleased the salon audience, who listened so quietly that you could hear when someone turned over a program or put down a glass. Some gave him a standing ovation. In the Q&A, there were many questions about his guitar.

§ Jon Mendle, guitar
Salon at the Rex

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
La fille aux cheveux de lin

S. L. Weiss (1687-1750)
Selections from Sonata XXIII, L'infidele

Adam Falckenhagen (1697-1754)
Sonata IV, Op 1 (1740)
    Allegro Un Poco
    A Tempo Giusto

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante défunte

Garry Eister (b. 1952)
Moto Perpetuo (2012) (World premiere)

Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856)
Fantasie Hongroise

Wednesday, January 23, 6:30pm
Hotel Rex

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Festspiele Eintrittskarte

So here's what a ticket for The Ring at the 2013 Bayreuth Festival looks like. It's kind of scary just holding it. It's one ticket for all 4 Ring operas. I think I need to keep this in a safe deposit box until August.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Valinor Winds at 7th Avenue Performances

Valinor Winds, 01.19.2013 Valinor Winds at Seventh Avenue Performances.Saturday night I heard wind quintet Valinor Winds perform in a small church venue in the Inner Sunset. The agreeable program began with a short, charming piece by Nino Rota, followed by Anton Reicha's Wind Quintet in E-flat Major, in what clarinetist Brenden Guy described as "the 15 minute version." The musicians all stood to perform Berio's Opus Number Zoo, which requires them to declaim the text of 4 child-like poems by Rhoda Levine, as well as play. Though the subject matter is conflict & war, the piece comes across as cute. After intermission we heard a genial version of Grieg's Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, arranged by Mr. Guy. The program ended with Barber's Summer Music, & I enjoyed hearing this florid & often sultry music.

The musicians took turns speaking to the audience between pieces. Mr. Guy explained that Valinor Winds was originally a student ensemble at the SF Conservatory of Music & that this was their first time presenting their own full-length concert. There is something very polite about the way quintet's members all listen to each other & maintain a good ensemble, no one instrument ever dominating. Their overall sound is smooth & pleasing. The event had an easy-going atmosphere. A reception with drinks and snacks immediately followed.

§ Wind-ter Wonderland
Valinor Winds
Sasha Launer, flute
Jessica Huntsman, oboe
Brenden Guy, clarinet
Alexis Luque, bassoon
Caitlyn Smith, horn

Nino Rota:  Petite Offrande Musicale
Anton Reicha: Wind Quintet in Eb Major, Op.88 no.2
Luciano Berio:  Opus Number Zoo
Edvard Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, arr. Brenden Guy
Samuel Barber: Summer Music

7th Avenue Performances
7th Avenue Presbyterian Church
Saturday, January 19, 2013, 7:30pm

Saturday, January 19, 2013

SF Fine Print Fair

San Francisco Fine Print Fair 2013, 01.19.2013 San Francisco Fine Print Fair. Verne Collection, Inc.This weekend I got up close & personal with a variety of beautiful works on paper at the San Francisco Fine Print Fair at Fort Mason. The dealers come from all over the country & offer prints from Europe, Japan & America by artists old & new. The folks from the Verne Collection in Ohio do a great job providing each of their pieces with a story. I enjoyed being able to browse through scores of images without worrying about reading the labels first to make sure I knew what I was looking at. Despite the value & fragility of their merchandise, the dealers seemed very laid-back. Everything is clearly priced, & you can go home with a Rembrandt etching for a modest 5 figures.

§ San Francisco Fine Print Fair
January 18 - 20, 2013
Fort Mason Conference Center, Landmark Bldg. A

Free Admission:
Saturday, January 19, 10:00 - 6:00 pm
Sunday, January 20, 11:00 - 5:00 pm

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Art of ParaNorman

Paranorman, 01.17.2012 Set & puppet for Paranorman, at the Cartoon Art Museum.I took advantage of a free night at the Cartoon Art Museum to see this small show containing some of the actual puppets & sets used in the production of the stop-motion animation film ParaNorman. The animated figures are only about  8 or 9 inches tall, but they wear impressively detailed & realistic clothing. I like the worn, lived-in look of the sets for Norman's house & school. There are also examples of the film's concept art. The exhibit is split between opposite ends of the museum for some reason. I was the only one in the gallery during my visit.

§ The Art of ParaNorman
October 6, 2012 – February 17, 2013
Cartoon Art Museum

These people are speaking German!

Roy Crane
Buz Sawyer
December 4, 1967
Ink on board
Cartoon Art Museum

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Daniel Pink: To Sell is Human

Monday night I heard Daniel Pink talk about his new book To Sell is Human to an audience at the Jewish Community Center of SF.  He argues that we all do sales, & in the book he applies the latest social science research ("Studies show...") to the modern sales environment in which the traditional information imbalance between sellers & buyers no longer exists. Mr. Pink is an assiduous & entertaining speaker, & he makes a real effort to interact with his audience. His hour-long talk combined corporate training, self-help & stand-up comedy. He proudly showed us a word cloud demonstrating that people associate selling with "pushy." 3 audience volunteers drew the letter E on their own foreheads to illustrate the concept of Attunement. We learned that ambiverts are more successful salespeople than extreme extroverts or introverts & that problem finders are more valuable than problem solvers.

Daniel Pink, 01.14.2013 Daniel Pink signing To Sell is Human at the SF Jewish Community Center.In the Q & A, a woman asked Mr. Pink if he uses his techniques on his children. The man sitting next to me asked how he can better promote his concerts. Cookies were offered to attendees in the lobby afterward, while Mr. Pink signed books.

§ Daniel H. Pink
To Sell is Human

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
Monday, Jan 14, 7:00 pm

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tessa Lark

Saturday night I heard violinist Tessa Lark, winner of the 2012 Naumburg Competition, in a recital presented for free to San Francisco Performances subscribers. Ms. Lark started with a Bach-like solo sonata by Ysaÿe, which she played from memory. Her sound is comfy, & she makes playing the violin seem like the most natural thing in the world. I like the warm tone she maintains even high up on the G or E strings. She has a solid up-bow. The running notes of the last movement of the Ysaÿe were incredibly short, rapid & even.

In the monumental Bartok Sonata No. 1, Ms. Lark's clean execution was well-matched by pianist Renata Gutman's limpid playing. I liked the piano's precise galumphing in the final movement, & the pair did a good job communicating the movement's folk song quality. Explaining that this last movement of the Bartok reminded her of the music of her home state of Kentucky, Ms. Lark then gave us a sample, tossing off a sprinting Bluegrass fiddle piece with ease.

San Francisco Performances, 01.12.2013 Waiting for start of violinist Tessa Lark's recital at Herbst Theatre.The program's pleasant 2nd half consisted of a sonata by Mendelssohn, Debussy's Clair de Lune, a virtuoso showpiece by Wienawski, which Ms. Lark made look way too easy, & the song Estrellita by Ponce. She told us that Estrallita is one of her favorite pieces & that Heifetz's version was one of the things that made her want to play the violin. The audience was quiet & attentive, though they unaccountably applauded after the 1st movements of both the Ysaÿe & the Mendelssohn. Ms. Lark received a standing ovation, & someone in the balcony repeatedly shouted "Brava!" Many of those seated around me seemed to be musicians.

§ Tessa Lark, violin
Renana Gutman, piano

Ysaÿe: Sonata No. 4 in E Minor, Opus 27
Bartók: Sonata No. 1, Sz 75
Mendelssohn: Sonata in F Major
Debussy (trans. Carembat): Clair de Lune
Wieniawski: Variations on an Original Theme, Opus 15

Traditional: Bowing the Strings
Ponce (arr. Heifetz): Estrellita

Saturday, January 12, 8pm
Herbst Theatre
San Francisco Performances


The Asian Art Museum belatedly celebrated the New Year with a mochi-pounding demonstration by Kamagi Kai, who turned the preparation of this traditional Japanese treat into an hour long performance piece. The crowd was standing room only.

Calligrapher Shioh Kato interpreted the character for the Year of the Snake on a wall-sized surface, accompanied by ominous taiko drumming. He channeled a quivering energy that would put any abstract expressionist to shame. He grunted & yelled & even blew pigment onto the surface.

Nowadays mochi is of course made by machine, so it's impressive to see the physicality of the traditional process in which the rice is pounded in a large mortar by sticks & mallets. Alarmingly, one optimistic person has to stick his hand into the mortar to wet & turn the doughy mixture between blows. Set to the rhythm of the taiko, it was a lively dance.

There were many gleeful volunteers for the audience participation portions.

It was a great event for kids...

... & adults. Kamagi Kai's finale involved juggling mallets, flinging the mochi into the air & leading the audience in synchronized clapping. Samples of mochi were distributed at the end. The audience was warned to take small bites.

§ Mochitsuki!
Mochi-Pounding Ceremony
Saturday, January 12, 11am - 4pm
Samsung Hall, Asian Art Museum

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Castro Theatre is ringing in the new year with the digital restoration of the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I was probably a teenager the last time I saw it, & I was thoroughly entertained seeing it again. I hadn't realized the movie's songs are practically wall-to-wall. The movement of the characters is unusually captivating, & the witch is damn evil even by modern standards. Having just seen the Disney Museum's exhibit about the making of Snow White, I could recognize how Show White's small facial features & flirtatiousness were modeled after Betty Boop. The filmmakers were smart to reduce the prince's role to a cameo, after they realized they could not animate him convincingly.

I was glad to see several children at the evening show I attended, but it was the adults that were restless. A woman in my row left & came back twice during the movie. I heard people sniffling when Show White died. The organist played a medley of Disney tunes before the movie, though the inclusion of "It's a Small World" was a misuse of the mighty Wurlitzer.

§ Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
75th Anniversary Restoration!
1937, 83 min, DCP
Castro Theatre
Tuesday January 1-Sunday January 6