Friday, May 31, 2013

SFMOMA Countdown

From Thursday, May 30, through Sunday, June 2, the SFMOMA has free admission to mark their 3-year closure for major expansion. I was there Thursday afternoon, where people lined up in the lobby to receive a free tote bag in exchange for their contact information.

La Burbuja
Popup exhibits included this giant metal orb which opens to reveal a mobile recording studio for Santa Monica radio station KCRW.

The Homobile
Lynn Breedlove was on hand promoting the Homobiles ride service.

Philip Ross
This dapper fellow showed samples of building materials he grew from fungi.

Garry Winograd at SFMOMAUpstairs, I visited the profuse Garry Winograd retrospective. The galleries were crowded. The show starts with Winograd's iconic street photos of New York in the 1950s & 60s & extends into the 80s with pictures taken all over the US. The images are dynamic, his subjects always in motion. It's clear that Winograd enjoyed looking at women. I liked seeing his contact sheets, which demonstrate how much he moved around while shooting. A large number of the photos are labelled "Posthumous print," meaning the image was never printed during his life time. Some images were never even seen by Winograd himself, so the exhibit as whole does not really represent his choices.

Countdown Celebration
Thursday, May 30, 10:00 a.m. - 9:45 p.m.
Friday, May 31, 10:00 a.m. - 5:45 p.m.
Saturday, June 1, 10:00 a.m. - Sunday, June 2, 5:45 p.m.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Josh Kornbluth Presents Haiku Tunnel

Josh Kornbluth at SFPLTuesday evening at the San Francisco Public Library, Josh Kornbluth performed his comic monologue Haiku Tunnel, about his experience being a secretary at a large law firm in downtown SF. Mr. Kornbluth's persona is cartoonishly neurotic. In a hilarious introduction, he repeatedly denies that the story he is about to tell us is in any way true. The simple task of mailing 85 letters for his boss, an intimidating tax lawyer named Bob Shelby, escalates into an hysterically absurd crisis. I've had similar jobs as an office temp, so it was easy to identify with the stress of being at the bottom of the corporate totem pole. Mr. Kornbluth somehow remains endearing even as he makes things worse.

The monologue is from 1990, & the office technology that is important to the plot is now completely out of date, something Mr. Kornbluth had to acknowledge a few times. Several audience members arrived during the performance & were not shy about walking down the aisles looking for seats. A man in the row behind me knew the show very well & occasionally gestured & spoke lines along with Mr. Kornbluth. At the end of the show, Mr. Kornbluth pointed out the real-life Bob Shelby in the audience. This performance was presented free, in conjunction with a library exhibit about humor & the workplace.

§ Josh Kornbluth Presents Haiku Tunnel
San Francisco Public Library
Koret Auditorium
Tue, 5/28/2013, 6:00 - 7:30

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Clock at SFMOMA

Line for the Clock at SFMOMAOn Memorial Day a friend & I met at SFMOMA before its 11a opening time & gamely joined the line to see Christian Marclay's The Clock, the 24-hour film mashup composed of movie clips depicting every minute of the day & synchronized to the real time. The theater only seats 81, & viewers may stay as long as they like. In a procedure only the Opera Tattler could love, visitors wait in line to be led into the theater in groups of 6. Once inside, you stand at the back until someone leaves & you can take their place.

It turns out that the museum opens at 10a this week, so we should have arrived even earlier. The line stretched between 2 floors, & the predicted wait of 2 hours was accurate. The gentleman behind us bailed after an hour. The audience occupies low couches that seat 3, & my museum companion & I were seated together, though there is no guarantee of this. People who fall asleep or attempt to record the film are ejected. Bathroom breaks are allowed.

The Clock is addictive viewing. Most clips last just a few seconds & could be anything from Charlie Chaplin to Ingmar Bergman to the X-Files. Marclay wittily connects the disparate clips. For instance, someone makes a phone call, & in the next shot a character from a different movie answers the phone. There is a fugue-like continuity. We occasionally return to the same movie, & sometimes the soundtrack bleeds from one clip into another. I had no idea where the vast majority of the excerpts were from, so I got a small thrill each time I recognized a movie or an actor. Nearly every shot includes a clock of some sort. I was simultaneously immersed in movie time yet aware of real time passing. Since we were there around midday, we saw lots of scenes of people at lunch.

Though my museum companion complained of being hungry while we were in line, he was so captivated by the film that he refused to leave after our agreed-upon 40 minutes. We happily stayed about 90 minutes. The Clock plays during the museum's regular hours, & a 24-hour screening starts this Saturday at 10am, during the SFMOMA's countdown to closing. Wait times are tweeted by @TheClockSFMOMA. I'm trying to resist the urge to see what happens at midnight.

§ Christian Marclay: The Clock
April 06 - June 02, 2013

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field

The SFMOMA has scattered 8 towering sculptures by Mark di Suvero across Crissy Field, where they will be displayed for the next year. It's one of the ways that the museum is displaying art while its building is closed for a major upgrade.

I approached Crissy Field by walking down from the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza. The walk was less than 15 minutes. The sculptures could be the wandering kid brothers of the Burning Man.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a great backdrop. The sculptures even look like they were built from leftover parts of the bridge.

The pieces don't feel completely abstract. They could be astronomical instruments, signposts, idle machinery, or even creatures.

All of them have elements that seem to be under great tension.

Some have moving parts that are slowly shifted by the winds.

 And even though they are huge, their scale feels human.

§ Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field
Location: Crissy Field
May 22, 2013 - May 26, 2014

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Robertson Leads Ravel And Gershwin

SF Symphony photo IMG_20130522_195550_zpsae2713d8.jpgWednesday night I heard the San Francisco Symphony's buoyant concert featuring pianist Marc-André Hamelin in Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand & Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I joined friends in the center terrace, where I'd never sat before. For me there was too much sound, & the orchestral balances were of course backwards, but I felt like part of the orchestra, & it was fun to watch the conductor. Maestro David Robertson looked happy & smiled a lot, & he was always well ahead of the orchestra.

The program opened with Variations for Orchestra by Elliott Carter. The music is complex, & I could not tell where the different variations began & ended. The orchestra's sections often play in opposition to one another, & there are a lot of solos. Maestro Robertson made the piece feel connected & gave it a gradually building momentum. Mr. Hamelin was a well-mannered soloist. His bass chords in the Ravel concerto were big & resonant. He sounded elegant in the Rhapsody in Blue after intermission. The opening clarinet solo was smooth, & I liked the jibing trumpet solos. The audience applauded Mr. Hamelin & the soloists appreciatively. The orchestra played cleanly all evening, & the program ended with a nicely flowing performance of Ravel's La Valse, which Maestro Robertson led without a score. The audience responded enthusiastically.

A women in our row ended her cellphone call just as the Ravel concerto started, & then her phone rang during the piece. A cellphone in the side terrace rang as well. My concert companion noticed Lisa Hirsch scurrying along the edge of the stage right before the second half, apparently trying to peek at the cellists' music.

§ Robertson Leads Ravel And Gershwin
San Francisco Symphony 
David Robertson, conductor
Marc-André Hamelin, piano

Elliott Carter
Variations for Orchestra

Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand

Rhapsody in Blue

Wed, May 22, 2013 at 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Honolulu Museum of Art

Honolulu Museum of Art photo IMG_20130515_114131_zpsc0ac5c4a.jpgThough my trip to Hawaii has nothing to do with art appreciation, I visited the Honolulu Museum of Art on Wednesday morning with a Honolulu resident who had never been there herself. The museum was founded in 1927 & grew out of the private art collection of a missionary family. The museum is larger than it appears from the outside. There are over 20 galleries, grouped around several outdoor courtyards.

The collection is broad & indiscriminate. The eastern galleries contain European art, organized by theme or by period. I enjoyed a 5th century Roman mosaic floor of an animal hunt & was impressed by the insistent lushness of Courbet's Stream in the Jura Mountains, which is next to a late Van Gogh painting of a Wheat Field. Couches are conveniently positioned for relaxed viewing of large canvases by Monet & Morris Louis. I liked the portraiture gallery containing Sargent's glamorous Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Manson, Jr. & John Copley's warts-and-all Nathaniel Allen. The friendly docents are clearly proud of the permanent collection.

Robert Arneson
"A Hollow Gesture"
The western galleries contain an extensive collection of Asian & Southeast Asian art, in good condition & often ornate. A theatrically staged sculpture of Guanyin from 11th century China still shows traces of its original colors. There were several special exhibits, including textiles from Central Africa & video sculptures by Tony Oursler that look like rejects from the Haunted Mansion. Selections from the collection of Thurston Twigg-Smith include 3 wonderful works by Robert Arneson & a collage by Jess. A room of recent acquisitions had pieces by Grandma Moses, Wayne Thiebaud, & Yue Minjun.

§ Honolulu Museum of Art

Saturday, May 11, 2013

SFIFF: God Loves Uganda

Thursday night I caught one of the last screenings at the SF International Film Festival & saw God Loves Uganda, a documentary tracing the influence of American evangelical Christians on Uganda. The film argues that evangelicals are importing a zealous homophobia, to the extent that Uganda's parliament is considering a bill outlawing homosexuality, with the death penalty invoked for serial offenders. The film begins in Kansas City, Missouri, at the cult-like International House of Prayer, amusingly referred to by its members as "IHOP," & follows a group of eager young missionaries to Uganda. They never appear to preach hate, but footage of IHOP's Lou Engle stating that homosexuality is "more demonic than Islam" made the festival audience gasp. The film introduces us to other anti-gay crusaders in Uganda, counterbalanced by the ex-communicated Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who behaves like an actual Christian. Video of him at the funeral of gay rights activist David Kato is powerful.

I admired the filmmakers for traveling with the IHOP missionaries, who will start singing & praying at the drop of a hat. The audience applauded when a Ugandan woman told the missionaries she doesn't need their message because she is already a Muslim. The country of Uganda itself appears vibrant & beautiful in the film. I liked hearing Tom Waits sing "Lord I’ve Been Changed" over the final credits.

SF International Film Festival photo IMG_20130509_193621_zps155fd493.jpgThe screening was introduced by festival programmer Sean Uyehara, who thanked festival volunteers & house staff. A show of hands indicated that a large portion of the audience had seen 5 or more films at the festival. A few had seen 15 or more. Mr. Uyehara said that if we were exhausted, then the festival had done its job.

§ God Loves Uganda
dir. Roger Ross Williams
USA, Uganda, 2013, 83 mins.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Mon, 5/6 8:15 PM
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Tue, 5/7 3:30 PM
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Thu 5/9 8:00 PM

Friday, May 10, 2013

SFIFF: The Last Step

On the last day of the SF International Film Festival, I saw The Last Step, an Iranian film by Ali Mosaffa. The scenario concerns a husband, played by Mr. Mosaffa, who declares himself to be dead in a voiceover at the beginning of the movie. However, we see him very much alive, dealing with his midlife crisis & his actress wife whose love seems directed elsewhere. The film gleefully toys with the audience. The husband suffers a number of accidents, any one of which could explain his death, but the story continually jumps back & forth in time, & it remains unclear whether he is dead or not. I enjoyed a comic subplot in which the husband takes up skateboarding, only to crash into his childhood bully. The script has a literary feel, & I recognized references to The Death of Ivan Ilyich, though I'm sure I'm missing more.

The showing was full, even though it was midday on a weekday. Festival programmer Sean Uyehara introduced the movie & reported that the director says the film "integrates many different types of representation." As soon as it was over, a woman in my row declared, "I'm confused."

§ The Last Step
dir. Ali Mosaffa
Iran, 2012, 88 mins.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
New People Cinema, Sat, 5/4 7:00 PM
New People Cinema, Wed, 5/8 6:15 PM
New People Cinema, Thu 5/9 1:00 PM

Thursday, May 09, 2013

SFIFF: Present Tense

Wednesday evening I saw Present Tense, my first fiction film of the SF International Film Festival. This nearly plotless movie from Turkey shows us Mina, a young woman, unemployed, on the verge of homelessness, drifting through the narrow streets & dilapidated buildings of Istanbul, with an inchoate plan to move to America. It looks promising when she stumbles into a job as a coffee house fortune teller, but things are really only getting worse. The movie is slow-moving & lingers on Mina's despondency. The photography is attractive, & Mina's surroundings are made to reflect her inner state.

Festival programmer Sean Uyehara introduced the screening. The director Belmin Söylemez & the producer Haʂmet Topaloǧlu were in attendance. The pair also wrote the script. Ms. Söylemez told us that she experienced the same things as her main character & that she & her friends would read each others' fortunes to keep their hopes up. Fortunately Ms. Söylemez & Mr. Topaloǧlu are not as humorless as their movie, & they told us how they cajoled their crew into drinking too many Turkish coffees in order to accumulate enough used cups for the final scene. Ms. Söylemez won the festival's Golden Gate Award for best new director later that evening.

The woman seated next to me arrived with a shopping bag, out of which she ate a multi-course meal after the lights went down. Mr. Uyehara was effective at politely curbing an audience member who spoke at length about her personal life but did not have a question for the filmmakers.

§ Present Tense
Simdiki zaman
dir. Belmin Söylemez
Turkey, 2012, 110 mins.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Mon, 5/6 6:30 PM
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Wed, 5/8 6:00 PM

SFIFF: The Kill Team

Tuesday evening at the SF International Film Festival I saw The Kill Team, a morally fraught documentary about a group of US soldiers convicted of killing unarmed Afghan civilians in 2010 for sport. The film focuses on the military court trial of Adam Winfield, who attempted to alert the military to what was going on through facebook chats with his father but ended up being charged with manslaughter for failing to prevent a murder. At the core of the film are interviews with the soldiers, whose appealing youth & clear intelligence are difficult to reconcile with their crimes. Jeremy Morlock, captured in a photo gleefully holding the head of a dead teenage boy, is a compelling & frighteningly charismatic speaker. We also see intimate moments with Mr. Winfield's distraught parents, especially his father, who continually questions what more he could have done to help his son. The film's mood is severe, & the festival audience gave it close attention & sat silently through the closing credits.

Director Dan Krauss was in attendance for a Q&A. He got access to interview the soldiers by embedding with Adam Winfield's defense team & having his film used as defense evidence. He compared Mr. Westfield to Hamlet & suggested that Mr. Westfield could have done more, though he acknowledged that it is hard to be a whistleblower in the military. Mr. Krauss considers this a story of failure of the military command structure, & his dream would be for the military to embrace the film & make it required viewing for officer training. We learned that even though Mr. Morlock is in prison, he somehow managed to wear army dress blue for his filmed interview.

The screening was introduced by Director of Programming Rachel Rosen & began with a montage of handsome photos in remembrance of George Gund III, the festival's Chairman of the Board who passed away earlier this year.

§ The Kill Team
dir: Dan Krauss
USA, 2013, 79 mins.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Pacific Film Archive, Fri, 4/26 9:00 PM
Kabuki Sundance, Mon, 5/6, 3:15 PM
Kabuki Sundance, Tue, 5/7, 6:00 PM
New People Cinema, Thu, 5/9 6:00 PM

SFIFF: Golden Gate Award Winners

Last night the SF International Film Festival announced the winners of its Golden Gate Awards at an event in the plush interior of Nick's Crispy Tacos. Members of the competition juries presented the awards, which come with valuable cash prizes up to $20,000. The ceremonial portion of the evening went efficiently. An out-going fellow wearing a blazer with a "Cannes" emblem on it tried to get people to upload self-promotional videos of themselves at the event, but no one's smart phone was up to the task. I met one of the winners, who told me about working on the video for a production of Tan Dun's Ghost Opera at Santa Fe.

§ The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival
Golden Gate Award Winners

Documentary Feature: A River Changes Course, Kalyanee Mam (Cambodia/USA 2012)
Bay Area Documentary Feature: The Kill Team, Dan Krauss (USA 2012)
New Directors Prize: Present Tense, Belmin Sölyemez (Turkey  2012)
FIPRESCI Prize: Nights with Theodore, Sébastian Betbeder (France 2012)
Narrative Short: Ellen Is Leaving, Michelle Savill (New Zealand 2012)
Documentary Short: Kings Point, Sari Gilman (USA 2012)
Animated Short: Kali the Little Vampire, Regina Pessoa (Canada/France 2012)
Bay Area Short, First Prize: 3020 Laguna St. In Exitum, Ashley Rodholm, Joe Picard (USA 2013)
Bay Area Short, Second Prize: More Real, Jonn Herschend (USA 2012)

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

SFIFF: Deceptive Practice

The New People Cinema was packed on Monday night for the showing of Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay  at the SF International Film Festival. This documentary profiles Ricky Jay, magician & authority on the arcane. We see how he learned his craft from older magicians, in a kind of master-apprentice relationship. The film is lightly entertaining & includes interviews & clips of performances by Mr. Jay & others. The audience especially enjoyed a clip of Mr. Jay scamming Steve Martin in a game of 3 Card Monte. It was also fun seeing Mr. Jay as the 7-year-old Ricky Potash, billed as the youngest magician on tv, performing a particularly bad magic act with supreme aplomb. Mr. Jay is clearly guarded about his family & personal life, & the filmmakers do not penetrate his public persona.

The screening was introduced by festival programmer Sean Uyehara, & co-directors Molly Bernstein & Alan Edelstein were present for a Q&A. We learned that it took them many years to win Mr. Jay's trust. Neither of them is an expert in magic, & they were inspired to make this movie by seeing Mr. Jay's show & by Mark Singer's profile of him in the New Yorker.

§ DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
dirs: Molly Bernstein & Alan Edelstein
USA, 2012, 88 mins.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
New People, Sun, May 5, 6:15p
New People, Mon, May 6, 8:30p

Remembering William Bennett

Remembering William Bennett photo IMG_20130506_155828_zps373a462e.jpgMonday afternoon I attended the memorial service in Davies Hall for the San Francisco Symphony's principal oboist William Bennett. He passed away in February after suffering a brain hemorrhage & collapsing on stage while performing the Strauss Oboe Concerto. Those present looked like a typical subscription series audience & filled much of the orchestra & 1st tier seats. We saw a video of Mr. Bennett's life, which included his cartoons & paintings as well as pranks in which he filmed himself doing silly things like simultaneously brushing his teeth & playing the oboe.

Colleagues, friends, & family spoke, & members of the Symphony performed. Though they tried to keep the mood light, many speakers had to choke back tears. Mr. Bennett's son Daniel spoke, as did Mr. Bennett's sisters Nancy & Jean. A speaker who did not identify himself rushed onto the stage waving his arms over his head & described attending Mr. Bennett's performance of the Strauss Concerto the evening before he collapsed. MTT drew expressions of approval from the back of the auditorium when he stated that "c-natural is the worst note on the oboe."

Remembering William Bennett photo IMG_20130506_173002_zps9cbb719b.jpgThe audience applauded each speaker & performance. A man ran up & down a center aisle looking for a seat during the 1st musical selection, & I heard someone's cellphone ring. Attendees signed a guest book for Mr. Bennett's family & received a CD containing Mr. Bennett's solo performances with the Symphony, including his February 22nd performance of the Strauss Concerto. His playing will be greatly missed.

§ Remembering William Bennett
Words and Music to Celebrate a Life
Monday, May 6, 2013 at 4:00
Davies Symphony Hall

Video: Remembering William Bennett
Videography by Nancy Bennett and Scott Altomare

Opening Remarks: Sakurako Fisher, SFS President

Mendelssohn: Andante con moto tranquillo,
    from Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Opus 49
Alexander Barantschik, violin
Amos Yang, cello
Robin Sutherland, piano

Remarks: Brent Assink, SFS Executive Director

Mozart: Larghetto, from Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K.581
    Luis Baez, clarinet
    Alexander Barantschik, violin
    Amy Hiraga, violin
    Yun Jie Liu, viola
    Peter Wyrick, cello

Remarks: Rob Weir, SFS Bassoonist

Brass Quintet (arr. Robert King)
Praetorius: Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen
Brahms: Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, Opus 122, nO.8
    Robert Ward, horn
    Mark Inouye, trumpet
    Guy Piddington, trumpet
    Timothy Higgins, trombone
    John Engelkes, bass trombone

Remarks: Roger Phelps, friend of the Bennett family
Members of the Bennett family

Closing Remarks: Michael Tilson Thomas, SFS Music Director

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

SFIFF: Before You Know It

Sunday I attended a late night screening at the SF International Film Festival of Before You Know It, a gentle documentary about gay seniors. It interweaves profiles of 3 men in their 60s & 70s, in very different social circumstances. We bounce between a gay retirement home in Oregon, an outreach center for gay elders in Harlem, & a bustling drag bar in Galveston, TX. I like that the film dwells on the present & shows life moving forward for each man. The filmmaker was lucky to capture one of them enviously attending a gay wedding in New York shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized. I worried about the safety of the 76-year-old Dennis Creamer, visiting a bar alone & going on a vacation cruise by himself, while sometimes dressed as a woman.

Rachel Rosen, Director of Programming, introduced the film, calling it "essential." Director PJ Raval & Mr. Creamer were present for a Q&A. Mr. Raval looks far from retirement age, & he can no doubt charm the most reluctant documentary subject. Mr. Creamer, as unassuming in person as in the film, described the process of his participation as an "evolution." The couple seated next to me came equipped with 2 small glasses, which they set in their armrests & filled with their own provisions as the lights went down.

§ Before You Know It
dir: PJ Raval; USA, 2013, 110 mins.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Sun, 5/5 9:00 PM
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Thu, 5/9 5:00 PM

ABS: Bach & Handel

American Bach Soloists photo IMG_20130505_155812_zpsd97fab42.jpgSunday afternoon I heard American Bach Soloists present an appealing program of vocal works by Bach & Handel. It opened with a gorgeous performance of Handel's Silete venti. Soprano Mary Wilson sounded warm, sparkling, & joyous. Her coloratura singing in the Alleluja was effortlessly smooth. The orchestra played alertly, & John Abberger's oboe solos were immaculate. The audience responded with cheers.

Baritone Mischa Bouvier sang 3 arias from different Bach cantatas. I like his deep, comfy, & virile sound. Flute soloist Sandra Miller stood in front of the orchestra for her virtuosic music in the 1st & 3rd selections & sounded nicely even. Cellist William Skeen played long, rapid runs in the 2nd selection with accuracy. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas did not conduct the first 2 selections, which only require continuo instruments.

The orchestra, numbering from 15 to 19 instrumentalists, was a consistently tight ensemble & always had a good balance with the singers. In Handel's secular cantata Apollo and Dafne, the 2 soloists sang characterfully & acted their characters' antagonism. The audience laughed when Ms. Wilson's Dafne escaped by hurriedly retreating to a seat in the audience. For her first, buccolic aria the violinists, imitating lutes, plucked their instruments like mandolins. Principal violin Robert Mealy played his concerto-like solo for Dafne's transformation with vigor & control. Kate van Orden's agile bassoon passages stood out. The performance was impeccable & received long applause & a standing ovation.

American Bach Soloists photo IMG_20130505_170621_zpse60f30f1.jpgWhile the stage was reset after Silete venti, Maestro Thomas encouraged us to attend ABS's up-coming performance of Biber's huge 53-voice Missa Salisburgensis. Light refreshments were available during the intermission for a small donation. The church ambiance changed picturesquely during the concert's 2nd half, when the sun started coming through the windows at a low angle.

§ American Bach Soloists
Mary Wilson, soprano
Mischa Bouvier, baritone
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

HANDEL: Silete venti, HWV 242

J.S. BACH: Arias for Bass
“Laß, o Welt, mich aus Verachtung” from cantata BWV 123
“Das Brausen von den rauhen Winden” from cantata BWV 92
“Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!” from cantata BWV 8

HANDEL: Apollo & Dafne, HWV 122

Sunday, May 5 2013, 4:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Saturday, May 04, 2013

SFIFF: Rent a Family Inc.

Friday night at the SF International Film Festival I saw the US premiere of Rent a Family Inc., a worrying documentary filmed in Japan about Ryuchi Ichinokawa & his business called I Want to Cheer You Up. Mr. Ichinokawa & his employees stand-in for clients' family members at important social events. For the 1st quarter hour I did not believe this was real. The movie was shot over a three and a half year period, & captures Mr. Ichinokawa on assignments, at home, & driving or walking through the city alone. We get glimpses of his biggest job, a wedding at which all the family & friends of the bride are his stand-ins. Mr. Ichinokawa is a reticent subject. As the film unfolds we discover that he is struggling financially, socially isolated, & completely disengaged from his wife & children, not even telling them what he does for a living. I left feeling concerned for both Mr. Ichinokawa & the clients that need his services.

The screening was introduced by Golden Gate Awards Manager Audrey Chang. The director Kaspar Astrup Schröder & the film's composer Jonas Colstrup were present for a Q&A. The audience asked relevant questions, & Ms. Chang somehow managed to ask something that Mr. Schröder already answered. We learned that scenes of Mr. Ichinokawa's family watching TV commentaries about Japanese society were constructed & did not happen that way in real life. 2 scenes showing Mr. Ichinokawa with clients are re-enactments using his employees. Though Mr. Ichinokawa claims that his role-playing has never been detected, Mr. Schröder thinks that people sometimes suspect when stand-ins are used but never say anything, because they want to preserve the face-saving facade. He asked if we thought this business would work here, but only a few of us raised our hands. Mr. Colstrup composed a serenely uplifting score featuring a solo cello but was entirely reluctant to talk during the Q&A.

§ Rent a Family Inc.
Lej en Familie A/S
dir: Kaspar Astrup Schröder
2012, Denmark, 77 mins.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas Fri, 5/3 8:45 PM
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas Sun, 5/5 6:45 PM
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas Sun, 5/5 9:15 PM
Pacific Film Archive Tue, 5/7 6:30 PM

Friday, May 03, 2013

Jessica Rivera's Salon at the Rex

Wednesday evening I heard soprano Jessica Rivera & friends in this season's last Salon at the Rex, presented by San Francisco Performances.  She began with a set of 4 songs, accompanied by pianist Maryanne Kim. Ms. Rivera has a pleasingly cushy voice & is an expressive singer.  She sounded full of yearning in a selection from Golijov's Saint Mark Passion, & the vocalise-like passages were lovely.

Ms. Rivera then introduced composer Gabriela Frank, who accompanied 2 of her own compositions. The bubbly Ms. Frank described how she originally wrote "O Anjo Anuncia" as a surprise wedding song for Joana Carneiro, Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony. The text in Spanish concerns The Annunciation & unfolds lyrically with a devotional feel. Ms. Rivera's performance was heartfelt, & I liked the warmth of her low notes. The song is part of an oratorio by Ms. Frank about Biblical women, which premieres this Friday at Mission Dolores. Ms. Frank presented Nilo Cruz, the librettest, who told us how he had to "find the conflict" for the work. We also heard a few words from Brandon Brack, Music Director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, who praised the professionalism of the chorus's training.

Salon at the Rex photo IMG_20130501_194503_zps37d5cd1e.jpgThe program ended darkly with Frank's "Carnaval de Tambobamba" sung by mezzo Rachel Calloway. The mournful text is based on a Quechua language source. Ms. Calloway sang with a sustained sound & communicated anguish & loss. Ms. Frank played tocsin-like chords at the bottom of the keyboard vividly.

The performance ran an hour, plus a brief Q&A. We learned that Ms. Rivera was inspired to become an opera singer when she saw Jeanette MacDonald in the movie Maytime. The endearing older lady seated next to me turned out to be the mom of director Peter Sellars.

§ Salon at the Rex

Jessica Rivera, soprano
Maryanne Kim, piano
Gabriela Lena Frank, piano/composer
Rachel Calloway, mezzo-soprano
with special guest Nilo Cruz, author/playwright/librettist

How Do I Love Thee, Lippe (1884-1956)
"Seit ich ihn gesehen" from Frauenliebe und -leben, Schumann (1810-1856)
St. Ita's Vision" from Hermit Songs, Barber (1910-1981)
"Lúa Descolorida" from La Pasión seqún San Marcos, Golijov (b. 1960)
    Jessica Rivera, soprano
    Maryanne Kim, piano

"0 Anjo Anuncia" from Hymn of the Annunciation, Frank (b.1972)
    Jessica Rivera, soprano
    Gabriela Lena Frank, piano

"Carnaval de Tambobamba" from New Andean Songs, Frank (b.1972)
    Rachel Calloway, mezzo-soprano
    Gabriela Lena Frank, piano

Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 6:30pm
Hotel Rex

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Up-coming: Merola Opera Summer Program

Merola Opera has announced the 29 artists participating in this summer's training program. They were selected from over a thousand applicants & include returning Merolini Aviva Fortunata, Jacqueline Piccolino, Joseph Lattanzi, & Timothy Cheung. Public programs include staged performances of The Rape of Lucretia & The Marriage of Figaro, a free concert in Yerba Buena Gardens, & a performance in the War Mermorial Opera House. Additional events are available to Merola supporters.

§ Merola Opera Program Summer Festival

The Rape of Lucretia

by Benjamin Britten
Thursday, July 11 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, July 13 at 2:00 PM
Everett Auditorium, Everett Middle School

Schwabacher Summer Concert
Thursday, July 18 at 7:30 PM
Everett Auditorium, Everett Middle School

FREE Outdoor Schwabacher Summer Concert
Saturday, July 20 at 2:00 PM
Yerba Buena Gardens

Le nozze di Figaro
by W.A. Mozart
Thursday, August 1 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, August 3 at 2:00 PM
Everett Auditorium, Everett Middle School

Merola Grand Finale
Saturday, August 17 at 7:30 PM
War Memorial Opera House

Tickets are available through the Opera House box office & online.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Matthias Goerne Sings Winterreise

I was worried about hearing baritone Matthias Goerne perform Winterreise in Davies Hall, but his dark, velvety voice went out into the hall nicely & was surprisingly ringing. His singing displayed variety & immense control & felt well thought out. His voice was turbulent in Erstarrung & seemed to swirl in Wasserflut. He made a big, climactic sound in Einsamkeit, & Der stürmische Morgen was both bold & lilting. Though Mr.Goerne takes gasping breaths, he somehow always maintains an unbroken line. I like the way surfs up to his high notes, which sound taut but not strained. He gets into his sound, & he often lingered & stretched out the tempos, especially toward the end of the cycle. Christoph Eschenbach's accompaniment was pointed. Notes often stuck out, & he sometimes did not release the pedal cleanly.

Davies Hall photo IMG_20130428_190414_zpse8a0fbbc.jpgA melodic cell phone rang twice during Erstarrung, & I heard a watch alarm go off during Die Krähe. 2 patrons seated in the terrace walked out during Letzte Hoffnung. Mr. Goerne sang for about 80 minutes, & the audience gave him a standing ovation and recalled him & Mr. Eschenbach to the stage several times. My concert companion unaccountably kept hoping to hear "I Could Have Danced All Night" as an encore.

Mr. Goerne signed CDs in the lobby afterward. I saw many of my favorite music fans & bloggers, some of them for the 2nd time that weekend. There was much discussion of Mr. Goerne's technique. A native German speaker testified that he read the text like the rest of us, because Mr. Goerne's pronunciation was so slurred.

§ Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach
The San Francisco Symphony Presents Great Performers

Matthias Goerne, baritone
Christoph Eschenbach, piano


Sun, Apr 28, 2013 at 7:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall