Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble: Short Stories

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble photo IMG_20140323_190025_zpsea3841da.jpgSunday evening I attended a salon-like concert by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in the small downstairs recital hall at the SF Conservatory of Music. Artistic Director Anna Pressler observed that all the composers on the program were present, except Debussy. Flutist Stacey Pelinka began with Debussy's Syrinx, which she played with a pleasant, unforced tone that was nicely colored. Maureen Ochi Sides, a junior at Oakland School for the Arts, explained that her short piece for flute, oboe, cello & piano takes its cheerful marching theme from a popular YouTube video. The audience was clearly amused by the finale in which the pianist industriously plays 2 voices simultaneously.

Composer Charles Zoll told us how his work for oboe, violin, cello & piano was expanded from a 6 minute competition entry to a 17 minute dance suite with a Lindy Hop as its central movement. It features a lot of rhythmic accents, which the musicians attacked avidly. 2 slower movements had a dark, questioning mood. Pianist Eric Zivian's playing was both aggressive & loose. At one point he used mallets to strike the piano strings directly. Violinist Phyllis Kamrin took such a long time tuning at the beginning that she joked to the audience,"That's not the first movement!"

In her introductory remarks, composer Laurie San Martin simply thanked all the participants & refrained from speaking about her piece, which provided music for a reading of Reply to a Dead Man, a benign & fanciful short story by Walter Mosley. Actor David E. Moore stood to the side of the stage & read the story in the voices of its characters. His voice was miked, & his lightly lilting delivery was soothing. A quintet of flute, oboe, bass, guitar & viola played a supporting role, weaving in & out under the reading, playing brief, pretty motives & adding dabs of color. There was no music when the narrator read the story's pivotal letter, but at that point guitarist Michael Goldberg switched from an acoustic to an electric guitar, signalling the letter's transformative revelations. The piece ran about 45 minutes & seemed like something that might be on NPR on a Saturday night.

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble photo IMG_20140323_185455_zps66b15cda.jpgAll the compositions received assidous attention from both the perfomers & the audience. The audience was especially attentive during the short story & laughed at its humorous moments. Complimentary wine & bite-sized chocolates were offered during  intermission.

§ Short Stories
Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

Claude Debussy • Syrinx, L. 129
    Stacey Pelinka, flute

Maureen Ochi Sides • I Am Glad, For I Am Finally Returning Home
Oakland School for the Arts student composer
    Stacey Pelinka, flute
    Andrea Plesnarski, oboe
    Leighton Fong, cello
    Eric Zivian, piano

Charles ZollBailes encima del escritorio de nuestra juventúd for Oboe, Violin, Cello, and Piano (2013)
Rapido! Competition National Winner
West Coast Premiere
    Andrea Plesnarski, oboe
    Phyllis Kamrin, violin
    Leighton Fong, cello
    Eric Zivian, piano

Laurie San MartinReply to a Dead Man for Chamber Ensemble and Speaker (2014)
World Premiere
    Stacey Pelinka, flute
    Andrea Plesnarski, oboe
    Phyllis Kamrin, viola
    Michel Taddei, bass
    Michael Goldberg, guitar
    David E. Moore, actor

San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Sol Joseph Recital Hall
Sunday 3/23/2014 at 7:00pm

The 19th Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair

Last Saturday afternoon I crossed under the Bay to check out the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair. The atmosphere was bustling & friendly. Anarchists do seem to love paper. I was given a handy wallet-size guide about interacting with the police & picked up a zine titled "Abolish Restaurants." I enjoyed learning how Beehive Design Collective uses computers to plan the layouts of its wall-sized images.

The event was catered by food trucks & groups handing out free food. There were also 3 tracks of talks & panel discussions. I attended a session on Surveillance Self Defense, in which 4 presenters listed on-line privacy apps to an extremely polite audience.

This year, the fair's venue was The Crucible in West Oakland, a very cool warehouse space offering classes in industrial arts. Most of the classes involve the use of open flame, making it an ironic place to hold a book fair.

§ The 19th Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair
March 22, 2014, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Crucible, West Oakland

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Century Chamber Orchestra & Chanticleer

New Century Chamber Orchestra / Chanticleer photo IMG_20140321_195107_zpsf2d24d19.jpgLast Friday night I heard the New Century Chamber Orchestra's joint concert with Chanticleer. The program was an olio of songs & light classics, such as the Barcarole from Tales of Hoffman, Bartók's folk music arrangements & a songs by George Gershwin & Kurt Weill. Chanticleer's performance was consistently exacting & prim. Their renditions of Comedian Harmonists songs, complete with crooning soloists & imitations of brass instruments, were highly elegant. I was startled by the high notes Chanticleer could sing in the 3 Hindemith songs. They stood next to the orchestra for their numbers, but during instrumental pieces retreated to chairs at small round tables at the side of stage, where they looked like swank nightclub patrons.

New Century Chamber Orchestra / Chanticleer photo IMG_20140321_210945_zpsbb949465.jpgI liked the incisive playing from the cellos & bass at the start of a fugue-like section of Miklós Rózsa's Concerto for String Orchestra. The orchestra dug in for Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances. Cellist Michelle Djokic played a soulful solo in the "Pe loc" movement, & Music Director Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg imitated stuttering speech with her violin. The ensemble ended the suite with a flourish of bows in the air.

A female moritat singer, in bowler hat & long overcoat, came down the aisle singing "Mack the Knife." She was convincingly sinister & her voice was both pleasant & a bit raw. The audience laughed when it realized she was the orchestra's missing violinist, Iris Stone. She sang in German, but Chanticleer entered singing breezily in English.

New Century Chamber Orchestra / Chanticleer photo IMG_20140321_220611_zpsf96c5956.jpgCountertenor Cortez Mitchell stunned the audience with his solo of "Summertime," which he may have sung in the original register. He had a full-throated sound & did a seamless slide at the end. "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" was a solo for Ms. Solerno-Sonnenberg. During a toe-tapping medley of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn songs, the musicians hissed to imitate a steam engine & talked amongst themselves while bassist Anthony Manzo plucked out background music. The audience gave the show a standing ovation.

At the beginning of the evening, 2 latecomers made their way to seats in the middle of the 2nd row after the orchestra was already on stage. Ms. Solerno-Sonnenberg watched them for a while then said, "You're late!" She turned to them again & asked, "Why are you so late?" During the 2nd half, a man sneaking into a seat close to the stage was caught by Ms. Solerno-Sonnenberg, who declared, "You're very late!" The best-dressed audience member was a little boy, no more than 6, wearing a suit & tie, in the row behind me. He slept through the performance.

§ Atlantic Crossing
New Century Chamber Orchestra | Chanticleer

New Century Chamber Orchestra
Fritz Kreisler: Midnight Bells

Jacques Offenbach/Julius Hopp (arr. Erwin Bootz/Comedian Harmonists): Barcarole aus "Hoffmanns Erzählungen"
Trad. (arr. H. Frommermann/Comedian Harmonists): In einem kühlen Grunde

New Century Chamber Orchestra
Miklós Rózsa: Allegro Giusto from Concerto for String Orchestra, Op. 17

Béla Bartók: Four Old Hungarian Folksongs
Paul Hindemith: Selections from Six Chansons
    O La Biche
    Un Cygne
    Puisque tout passe

New Century Chamber Orchestra
Béla Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances

Milton Ager/Jack Yellen (arr. Harry Frommermann/Comedian Harmonists): Wochenend’ und Sonnenschein
Kurt Weill : My Ship

Kurt Weill (arr. Clarice Assad): Mack the Knife

George Gershwin (arr. C. Assad): Medley
    It Ain’t Necessarily So
    Bess, You Is My Woman Now
    There’s a Boat Dats Leavin Soon for New York

Vincent Youmans/Irving Caesar (arr. H. Frommermann/Comedian Harmonists): Tea for Two
Harold Arlen (arr. H. Frommermann/Comedian Harmonists): Stormy Weather

Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn (arr. C. Assad): Medley
    Lush Life
    East St. Louis Toodle-oo
    Take the A Train
    It Don’t Mean a Thing

Fri, March 21, 2014, 8pm, SF Conservatory of Music

Monday, March 24, 2014

SF Opera Annual Meeting

San Francisco Annual Meeting photo IMG_20140320_160828_zps0a90a8b2.jpgLast week I attended the San Francisco Opera’s Annual Meeting. General Director David Gockley reviewed the company’s financial health. Operating expenses for fiscal year 2013 were $68 million, with a deficit of $812K. This is down from the previous year, due to there being fewer performances, but this meant that ticket sales were also down 7%. Mr. Gockley acknowledged the falling subscription rate & said he was "betting the ranch" on the 2014-15 season, which he called the company's "return to greatness." He spoke urgently about the need for more subscriptions & legacy giving & observed that operating expenses rapidly outstrip ticket revenues because opera depends on expensive labor & does not benefit from technology to save costs. His announcement that new seats would be installed in 2015 drew applause from attendees. We also learned that Opera at the Ballpark will be on July 5th this year.

Immediately following the business presentations, Mr. Gockley had a brief on-stage conversation with composer Carlisle Floyd, whose Susannah will be presented next season. The 87-year-old Mr. Floyd was sharp, & he gave cogent answers to questions from Mr. Gockley & the attendees. Discussing the creation of Susannah, he positioned himself as a composer more interested in drama, at a time when opera was all about singing. He intriguingly described his newest opera, inspired by the movie Stage Beauty, about Restoration-era actor Edward Kynaston. It will premiere at Houston Grand Opera in 2016.

San Francisco Annual Meeting photo sfoa_zps4153ec13.jpgAdler Fellows A.J. Glueckert, Hadleigh Adams & Rhoslyn Jones then performed excerpts from Susannah, accompanied by pianist Noah Lindquist. The music & the performances were lovely. Mr. Glueckert had a clear, fluid delivery that made it seem like he was talking. Mr. Adams made his character’s anguish sound disconcertingly pretty. Ms. Jones sounded fresh, natural & even. She almost broke up when a wine cork popped at the back of the room during her duet with Mr. Glueckert. Mr. Gockley & Mr. Floyd remained sitting on the stage behind the singers, mouthing the words along with them. A wine reception followed.

§ San Francisco Opera
Annual Meeting

John A. Gunn, Chairman of the Board
Keith Geeslin, President
Michael Simpson, Director of Finance and Administration / CFO
David Gockley, General Director

Adler Fellows Fellows perform excerpts from Susannah by Carlisle Floyd
Sam's Aria -- Mr. A.J. Glueckert 
Hear me, O Lord -- Mr. Hadleigh Adams
Ain't it a Pretty Night -- Ms. Rhoslyn Jones
Jay Bird -- Rhoslyn Jones & A.J. Glueckert
Mr. Noah Lindquist, piano

Thursday, March 20, 2014 • 4:00 p.m.
Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, Studio A

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ray Chen & Julio Elizalde at SF Performances

Julio Elizalde and Ray Chen photo IMG_20140310_211933_zps40d10044.jpgMonday evening I attended SF Performances’s gift concert for subscribers and donors, featuring violinist Ray Chen & pianist Julio Elizalde in a program of Mozart, Sarasate & Beethoven. Mr. Chen has a disarmingly cheerful stage presence, & he looked stylish in his tailored Armani suit. His playing is sleek & joyful, & his performance of the Mozart Violin Sonata in A Major was perky.

Before the set of 3 Sarasate showpieces, Mr. Chen explained that he was “putting the dessert first,” because when he added Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata to the program, he realized there wasn’t anything that could follow it. He dispatched Sarasate's virtuosic challenges with suave ease. The audience reacted audibly to the left hand pizzicato, & he executed a startling run of staccato notes starting from the bottom of the bow in the Habanera. His tone was consistently sweet & pleasing. I enjoyed the singing, contralto-like sound he made on the G string in the lyrical Playera. He impressively controlled the audience’s silence at the end as well. The Zigeunerweisen was very rapid without feeling out of control, & the audience responded with cheers.

Before the Kreutzer Sonata, the accompanist Mr. Elizalde humorously told the story of the piece’s premiere. Noting that it was once titled a “Sonata for Piano with Violin Obbligato,” Mr. Elizalde declared, ”The Beethoven is mine!” His playing was weighty & even, with a sense of deliberation behind each note. Mr. Chen was contrastingly airborne & a bit flighty. In the 32nd-note variation of the 2nd movement, Mr. Elizalde lost some notes, & the performers came close to dragging in the minor variation. The audience applauded after the monumental first movement & gave a standing ovation at the end. When Mr. Chen returned for encores, he apologized for coughing during the Beethoven, as he had a cold. At the conclusion of the Meditation from Thais, he again got the audience to maintain an extended silence.

SF Performances photo IMG_20140310_191301_zpsebff3ae5.jpgI attended this concert as a guest of Patrick Vaz. We sat so close to the stage that I could hear Mr. Elizalde’s humming. The performers read their music off iPads, which they controlled with foot pedals. The pair signed CDs & in the lobby afterwards, where I snapped a picture of one of my friends meeting Mr. Chen.

§ Annual Gift Concert
San Francisco Performances 
Sponsored by Camilla & George Smith

Ray Chen, violin
Julio Elizalde, piano

MOZART: Violin Sonata in A Major, K. 305
SARASATE: Spanish Dances, Opus 21, No. 2 “Habanera”
SARASATE: Spanish Dances, Opus 23, No. 5 “Playera”
SARASATE: Zigeunerweisen, Opus 20

BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in A Major, Opus 47 “Kreutzer”


SARASATE: Introduction and Tarantella, Op. 43
MASSENET: Meditation from Thais

Monday, March 10, 2014, 7:30pm

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Little League on Parade

Saturday morning my walk to the bus stop was interrupted by a raucous motorcade in the Marina. Pickup trucks loaded with youngsters in baseball uniforms went down Chestnut Street, the kids joyfully beating the sides of the vehicles & chanting the names of their favorite teams.

The kids definitely knew how to play to a crowd. There was much waving & high-fiving.

There seemed to be main viewing area in front of Lucca Deli. Spectators overflowed into the street.

This was all part of opening day ceremonies for San Francisco's Little League. No baseball was played today, but the parade ended up at Moscone Park for a BBQ.

§ San Francisco Little League Opening Day
March 8, 2014
Moscone Recreation Center

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

2014 San Francisco History Expo

Over the weekend, a friend & I spent an afternoon at the San Francisco History Expo, a gathering of local history buffs & organizations. It's held, appropriately, in the Gold Rush-era Old Mint building, where the exhibitors occupied rooms on 2 floors. There seem to be history societies for every neighborhood, profession & affinity group in the city. I got the impression that historians must rely on the kind of people who never throw anything away.

A member of the Yerba Buena Lodge of the Odd Fellows told me ghost stories about the Legion of Honor, which was built atop a burial site. A local tour guide informed me that the Presidio doesn't use any Hetch Hetchy water but instead has it's water supplied by a creek. From the author of a food history of San Francisco, I learned that the Chronicle ran a review of a sushi restaurant in 1906. Fortunately the food critic enjoyed the experience. I had fun looking up the entry for my dad in a 1972 directory, which impressively listed him as "dining rm capt Fairmont Hotel."

Historical geographer Gray Brechin delivered a heart-felt slide show talk about local WPA projects, which ranged from street improvements to a diorama in the Academy of Sciences, as well as the public art. I was amazed to learn of a 37-foot square 3D model of San Francisco, constructed in 1940 & meant for City Hall. Mr. Brechin claimed that every building in the city was represented. Seeing the breadth of jobs the feds once offered to the poor & underemployed made my expo companion & I depressed afterward.

Coffee was available in a vault downstairs from Travelin' Joe's coffee cart. It was definitely the most happening place in the expo, & the barista delivered excellent old school patter as he made our drinks. Sadly, there wasn't enough electricity available for his waffle iron.

§ 2014 San Francisco History Expo

Saturday March 1, 2014 - 11am to 5pm
Sunday March 2, 2014 - 11am to 4pm

The Old Mint
88 Fifth Street