Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Travesties at ACT

I caught the Sunday matinee of Tom Stoppard's 1974 Travesties at ACT. I'm not a big fan of ACT, but curiosity about the play got the better of me. The play is pretty crazy. It's a debate about the role of the artist in society in the form of a theatrical farce. It seems like to get anything out of it, the audience has to be very familiar with The Importance of Being Ernest, James Joyce's Ulysses, Shakespeare, Dada, the history of the Russian Revolution & World War I. & I'm sure there were other ideas in there that went right over my head!

The production was somewhat abstract. It starts with a completely blank, white stage. Props & sets fly in, glide in from the wings or rise from the below. From time to time a large circular map of Europe slides along suspended from the procenium. The library has book shelves floating in space at improbable angles & upside-down. Cartoon sound effects might accompany a bit of business. I'm not sure that this struck the right note, though. I suppose that this all reflects the highly artificial construction of the play, but I wonder if it would have been more interesting to stage it as if it were in fact a traditional farce. Then there would be the tension between the apparently conventional trappings of a drawing room comedy & the highly charged political & philosophical themes of the play.

Whenever I go to an ACT show, I'm struck by how the audience seems somewhat elderly. I also find myself wishing the performances were crisper. It's like I want to tell the actors, "Wake up! There are people out here!"

Dawn Upshaw at the SF Symphony

On Saturday night I was at Davies Hall to hear Dawn Upshaw. She sang an atonal song cycle called Time Cycle by Lukas Foss. I'd never heard her before, & I was at this performance with a friend who is huge fan of hers. She has a very easy-going, down-to-earth stage presence & a very pleasant, even voice, so it is easy to see what her appeal is all about. With unfamiliar music like these songs, the only comment I can make about this performance is that she sang absolutely everything, & this went a long way towards selling the songs. The piece itself is not obviously lyrical & has the disjointed lines characteristic of serial music, but Upshaw made everything sustained & connected. It never came out declamatory or sounding like sprechstimme, which is another way that the songs could have been delivered.

The rest of the program consisted of Michael Tilson Thomas conducting Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini Overture & Brahms 4. I like MTT's programming, but as usual I did not find him a very interesting conductor. He wanted a lot of sound for the Berlioz, but the brasses were too loud & covered the strings whenever the played. I've heard MTT conduct Brahms 4 before, & I think his loud opening for the 2nd movement completely strikes the wrong mood.

Voices of Kurdistan

On Friday night, went to Cowell Theater, Fort Mason for a concert of Kurdish music sponsered by the San Francisco World Music Festival. This was the 1st of 3 concerts of Kurdish music. This night featured a singer from Turkey called Aynur. She sang 2 sets, backed by 4 musicians: a violist, a lutist, 2 percussionists. I'm completely unfamiliar with this music, but it seemed to be a combination of folk songs & original songs written in the folk tradition. The songs varied from sorrowful to angry to humorous to defiant. Aynur is a powerful singer who grabs your attention & refuses to let go.

The theater was perhaps less than 3/4 full, but the audience was very enthusiastic. I heard a lot of Turkish spoken in the lobby before the show.

The only thing I really disliked about the performance was that all the musicians were amplified electronically. When Aynur was belting into the microphone, the sound was so loud it was painful. I don't understand why the amplification was necessary. My feeling is that the instruments & her voice are plenty loud enough to be heard in that hall without any artificial amplification.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Saw this new indie movie at Embarcadeo Cinemas last night. It's an earnest & affectionate portrait of a working class Hispanic family in LA's Echo Park. The movie is nearly plotless & is done in the neo-realist style, with many of the performances apparently by non-professionals. I got the idea from the movie that gays are the "bad guys" in the gentrification of the Echo Park neighborhood.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Super Vision

Last night I attended a performance of Super Vision at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Going in, I didn't know anything about it other than that it looked very high-tech. And indeed this was probably the most high-tech multimedia show I've ever seen. The actors perform between 2 screen which move & have computer generated & real-time images projected on them. The technicians controlling the visual & audio effects sit in darkness on stage, making the process look somewhat transparent. 2 other actors perform to video cameras at the edges of the stage & interact with the "real" characters via their projected performances.

The show was often stunning to watch, but the script was thin. The script raises issues rather than developing characters or a compelling story lines. The only character that came across as a warm human being was the sassy Sri Lankan grandma who appears on a Web cam. Actually I thought the most powerful part of the show was its opening monologue. With the help of the Claritas database, an actor profiled the audience using information gleaned from credit cards used to pay for tickets for the show. This was a truly vivid illustration of the issues of data privacy.

An Inconvenient Truth

Finally saw the Al Gore movie about global warming. It's a film of him delivering his illustrated talk to a studio audience, interspersed with his personal reflections about his family & growing up on is father's ranch. No new information here, though the movie is not the downer that one would expect. The facts are grim, but at least the information is out there. Gore's criticism of the present administration's environmental policy is not stated nearly as strongly as it might have been. Probably he's trying not to offend anyone.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Woman's Will presents 12th Night

Saw Twelfth Night at Dolores Parkin the afternoon. & what a beautiful day to be in the park too. Production was put on by the cleverly named "Woman's Will", which is an all-female company. I didn't feel that having an all-female cast necessarily made for a revelatory production, but this was a very enjoyable performance, regardless of the gender casting. Each character was made distinct, & the action never lagged. The performances were all strong. In particular, the Feste, Samantha Chanse, was an amazingly confident performer.

There was something very solid about the direction. I felt everyone really understood the play & that none of the main themes had been neglected.

It was a completely actor-driven event. You got the feeling that a dozen actors just showed up, pitched their set & got to it. Even the stage manager stepped in to play an officer & supplied stage music.

The main drawback was just that it was outdoors in Dolores Park, so the performance had to compete with traffic noise, a stray dog trotting through the playing area, a birthday party with screaming kids, & even a domestic argument. & unless you are very close & the actor is speaking right in your direction, you can't hear a thing. I was very sorry not to be able to hear Feste's singing.

Iridium Flare 65

Last night I walked out to the Marina Green, found a spot away from street lamps, & was able to see this Iridium Flare as it went by:

Date: 05 Aug
Local time: 21:13:12
Intensity: -2
Alt.: 62°
Azimuth: 93° (E )
Distance to flare center: 24.3 km (W)
Intensity at flare center: -8
satellite: Iridium 65
East of zenith
East of Vega (brightest star near zenith)
West of Milky Way

It looked about as bright as the nearest bright star, which I'm told was Vega. I spotted it for about 8 seconds as it slowly brightened then dimmed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Anniversary Year

It seems like every month I'm reading about another anniversary celebration for this year.
  • Mozart: 350th birthday

  • Nikolai Tesla: 150th birthday

  • Dmitri Shostakovich: 100th birthday

  • Janet Gaynor: 100th birthday

  • Rembrandt: 400th birthday

  • San Francisco Earthquake & Fire: 100th anniversary

  • San Francisco Japantown: 100th anniversary

  • Samuel Beckett: 100th birthday

  • John Huston: 100th birthday

  • George Bernard Shaw: 150th birthday

  • Bertolt Brecht: 50th anniversary of his death

Is this really such a big year, or are people just in the mood to commemorate?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Time To Leave (Le Temps qui reste)

This movie by Francois Ozon got mediocre reviews, but it sounded like something I would like, so I went to see it this afternoon. I thought it was beautiful, philosophical, & very French, though if it resembles anything, it is very much like a Bergman film. The main character is often unpleasant. If he wasn't so ridiculously good-looking, it would be pretty hard to identify with him. But the movie does not rely on our liking him. It's about how this very detached, selfish young man arranges things so that he can die feeling that he has made some kind of peace with himself.

The movie is somber & deliberately paced. It has no surprises, but every scene provides us with information & has a dramatic purpose. There are terrific actors in every role who give very detailed performances. For instance, there is a small but affecting moment at the end when Romain loses interest in the ice cream he's just bought at the beach. I also really liked the woman who played the waitress who asks for Romain's help.

The movie has 3 very explicit sex scenes, which probably made the movie unrateable. None of them involve what would be considered typical sexual situations, but all of them are visceral, erotic, & revealing of character.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Alex Ross Podcast

Alex Ross, blogger & music critic for The New Yorker, has listened to all the works of Mozart & come up with a nifty podcast about Mozart's bass lines. I hope Mr. Ross does more podcasts. I think he does a great job of getting content about classical music on the Web.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Silent Film Festival

Went a little overboard this weekend & saw 4 programs at the SF Silent Film Festival at the Castro. This year there were a lot of interesting programs, & I had a hard time narrowing down my choices.

Au Bonheur des Dames
This was the best program I saw over the weekend. Made in 1930 in Paris, so it's one of the last silent movies made in France. A beautiful & meticulous film in the classic silent style. Spectacular climactic montage sequence. I enjoyed the documentary street scenes of Paris. Based on a novel by Zola with one of those endings that is so right yet you hate it anyway. Musical accompaniment by the Hot Club of San Francisco, in the style of Django Reinhardt. More or less appropriate to the period & fun to listen to, but they weren't quite up to the emotional range of the movie.

Pandora's Box

I've saw this a long time ago, & I remember being impressed by it, but for some reason this time I wasn't that into it. I mostly found it exhausting. Everyone in the movie spends a lot of time glaring at each other & acting like animals. I noticed that in early scenes a menorah is prominently displayed in Lulu's apartment, & Schigolch has many stereotypically Jewish characeristics. Is this from the Wedekind source?

Musical accompaniment on the organ by Clark Wilson. He evoked the time frame of the movie by referring to the Three Penny Opera & the musical Cabaret. He played very consistently through the 2+ duration of the movie, though I found his playing a little lacking in variety.

Although the show was scheduled to start at 8:20pm, the film didn't start rolling until 9:10. It was sold out, so it took a while to get everyone into the theatre, then there was plenty of borching beforehand. Local artist Bruce Conner gave a rambling, pointless reminiscence of coming from the same town as Louise Brooks.

Amazing Tales from the Archives

Session about issues of film preservation. Appealed to the geek in me. I was interested to learn about the different formats many of the films are preserved in, such as paper prints, the spirograph, & the 3 column 35 mm films for home use. Naturally, everything is being transferred to digital.

The Girl with the Hatbox

Cute Soviet comedy about a perky young girl finding love & mayhem in Moscow. The film moves very deliberately at first, but there are several big comedic pay offs as the action moves into high gear at the end.

Whenever I see a Russian movie, I'm always impressed by the acting, & here the same high level of acting is evident. All the performers are great. I really liked the actor playing Natasha's love interest. He has a very appealing & expressive way of moving, & he's never over the top. I was disturbed to read in the program notes that 10 years after this movie, he ended up in the gulag.

Musical accompaniment was provided by a balalaika ensemble. Appropriate to the film, but for now I've heard as much balalaika music as I care to hear.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Citizen Kane at Union Square

This was fun. Last night, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation sponsered a showing of Citizen Kane outdoors at Union Square. The starting time was advertised as 8:00pm, but they had to wait for it to get dark, so it didn't start until 8:45pm.

Before the show started, they ran a raffle for DVDs of Citizen Kane, & the projectionist gave a brief talk about how innovative the movie was for its time. The movie was projected from a DVD onto an inflatable screen. Watching them inflate the screen was a bit of a show in itself.

There was a quite a crowd in Union Square, sitting on the ground directly in front of the screen, in chairs set up behind this area, & on the ledges & benches in the square. The audience was very quiet & attentive. I even saw a woman shush 2 women sitting behind her who continued to converse quite audibly several minutes into the movie.

As for Citizen Kane itself, I've seen it before, of course, & I continue to be impressed by its technical brilliance. Its many famous transitions are still stunning. But I'm never much interested in the content of the story itself. The revelations about Kane never seem significant, & I never care about what happens to any of the characters.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July Fireworks

It was actually a clear night tonight, so I went to Fort Mason to view the fireworks show launched off Aquatic Park. Usually the show is completely fogged in, & all you get to see are colorful clouds. But tonight the view was awesome. Besides the popular smiley-face fireworks, there were ones that expanded into cubes!

Titanic Exhibition at the Metreon

I couldn't really tell what the Titanic Exhibition at the Metreon was going to be like, but I decided to take a chance on it. It's not cheap. I paid $27, which was $22 for admission plus $5 for the audio tour. I would say that the experience, while unusual, is overpriced.

For history buffs & the curious, the real attractions of the show are the hundreds of objects retrieved from the wreck. These range from small personal effects like jewelry & toothpaste jars to a huge wall-sized portion of the hull. It's stunning to discover such fragile items as clothing, wallets, paper money & letters survived underwater all that time. Many of the objects are quite eerie to contemplate: A pair of wired-framed glasses; a pocket watch with the face obliterated; a letter from a mother, carried on board by her son; a corked bottle of champagne which appears to have the original liquid still in it.

The goal of the exhibition is entertainment rather than instruction. Besides the artifacts, there are several life-size walk-through recreations of the interior of the ship. These are like little stage sets, with sound effects & music. We walk through a hallway & view recreations of a dining room, a 1st class stateroom, a 3rd class stateroom & the grand staircase.

As you enter the exhibit, a staff person hands you a boarding card which describes a passenger on board the Titanic. At the end of the exhibition is a wall listing the names of all the passengers, which survived & which perished. You can find out the fate of your passenger.

Naturally, the last room of the exhibit is a small crowded gift shop. The day I went they had a sign announcing that the author of a book about the Titanic was on hand to sign copies of his book. Sure enough, he was there behind a counter at the gift shop, looking like he might possibly be there most days. I didn't see him make any sales, though.

The oddest trinkets on sale in the gift show were crumb-sized pieces of coal from the Titanic, packaged in small vials as jewelry or in a plain plastic bag in a box. I think they were priced from 6 to 16 dollars. According to the exhibition documentation, 1 pound of coal supplied energy to move the ship at full speed for 1 foot.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Marriage of Figaro at SFO

Thursday night I went to a performance of the Marriage of Figaro. At first I was going to pass on it, but it really is my favorite opera, so I paid for an expensive side orchestra ticket at the last minute.

I heard the conductor Roy Goodman lead Rodelinda last year, & I remember really liking his conducting, but every time the orchestra started up my first thought was always that it was too fast. He also had the orchestra doing these original instrument things, like having the strings play straight tones without vibrato & doing terraced dynamics. A flute line or horn line would stick out more. I suppose this made details of the orchestration clear, but it often sounded unblended.

I don't know why, but oddly the last moments of the 2nd act finale were not together. Is Goodman's beat not clear? I couldn't tell why he was having coordination problems. I think the tempos were a problem, though. Not enough room to be expressive with the music.

The cast was very even, & they were all good actors. The Figaro was John Relyea, who is tall, lanky & has an athletic stage presence. He seemed to enjoy hopping over benches or steps on stage. & he has a very big voice. Ruth Ann Swenson as the Countess gave the most musically mature & controlled performance of the evening.

But this was very much an ensemble cast. No one performer or character dominated. The secondary roles were especially good. Dr. Bartolo hammed it up, flirting with the audience at the end of the 3rd act sextet, & Marcellina got applause doing her 4th act recitative about women having to stick together against the tyranny of men. For sure everyone was having fun on stage, & so the audience laughed a lot too, even though the staging wasn't especially clever or funny.

I want to know, why is it that characters always run offstage as soon as they finish their arias? Is this a convention? It seems strange, because it always leaves the audience applauding an empty stage. It robs the audience of a chance to interact with the performer

There is always too much to admire about this opera. On this hearing, I was thinking about the character of the Count. He's not a nice guy. He's predatory, smug & unreasonably possessive. Yet in the last act we see Figaro falling prey to that same kind of jealousy. Figaro, whom we like so much, could just as easily be the Count.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bigger Than Jesus

Saturday night I saw Rick Miller's Bigger Than Jesus at the Zellerbach Playhouse on the Berkeley Campus. It's a set of performance art pieces about the cult of Jesus, explicitly structured around the parts of the Catholic mass. Not being a Christian myself, I was not much interested in the content of the show. Really I just wanted the chance to see Rick Miller do something again, after I enjoyed his MacHomer so much.

Rick Miller is a very appealing performer, especially when he is in motion, as when he plays the charistmatic evangelist in the "gloria" section. Otherwise, the most impressive thing about the show is its use of live video projections.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Liszt's Dante Symphony

Friday night I went back to the Symphony to hear Conlon conduct Lizst's Dante Symphony, which I'd never heard before. This performance claims to recreate Liszt's original conception, which was to project a magic lantern show along with the music. While the music played, we saw sketches & paintings that were commissioned for the piece. The images were projected onto a pair of screens flanking the orchestra. Along with the images were inter-titles that narrated the program of the symphony. The inter-titles were helpful, I suppose, but Conlon's pre-concert lecture explained the program pretty thoroughly already. In the end I found myself focusing on the music & not the images.

The piece engaged my attention the whole time. It did a good job following the broad emotional arc of The Divine Comedy. The resembance to Wagner was very evident. The middle section kept sounding like it was about to turn into Parsifal. In the Paolo & Francesca section, there was a passage with 2 clarinets playing parallel intervals that reminded me of the 3rd act of Siegfried. Supposedly there is even a Tristan chord in there among the strangely shifting harmonies, but I must have missed it this time around.

I like Conlon's conducting. He is always comfortably ahead of the orchestra, & has a good sense of proportion. All the sections flowed smoothly from one to another. Most importantly, he made sure that everything was phrased & that expressive points were being made. Conlon made a great case for the music, even if I wasn't sold on the multimedia aspect of the performance.

There was a beautiful, very soft bass clarinet solo in the middle section. The boys choirs made a surprising, mystical entrance by singing from the back of the loge section. A solo voice came from another location of the hall, but I wasn't sure from where. No matter, the effect was appropriately ethereal.

As at the end of this Verdi Requiem, Conlon again sustained a pianissimo ending & held the hall in silence with his upraised left hand for several long seconds after the last notes faded away. He really communicates with this audience.

This concert is part of 6.5 Fridy series. The event begins at 6:30 with a lecture by Conlon. This lasts 40 minutes. Then there is a 20 minute intermission, followed by the symphony, which is 50 minutes in duration. The musicians wear jackets & ties instead of tuxedoes. We were out of the hall by 8:30. Before the performance, I kept worrying about getting hungry during the performance, so I ate a power bar during the intermission. I don't get the purpose of this format.

Monday, June 19, 2006

James Conlon Leads the Verdi Requiem

I've never been a big fan of Verdi, but this past Saturday I heard the performance of the Verdi Requiem that I'd always been waiting for. Impressively, James Conlon conducted the 90 minute concert from memory, firmly in control. That opening pianissimo was done with the unity of purpose that allows 200 musicians to make a softer sound than one person alone could ever achieve.

Besides the always impressive San Francisco Symphony Chorus, we had a powerful quartet of soloists who lifted the level of the performance whenever they sang. The soprano & mezzo were huge-voiced & Wagnerian. The tenor & baritone were commandingly Verdian.

Conlon never let one's attention stray. All the sections were connected & flowed seamlessly together, except for the necessary pause after the Dies Irae. The orchestral textures were always clear, even during the huge climaxes, resulting in a very colorful performance. The approach was more symphonic than operatic, but no less imploring, frightening & thrilling for being so well-proportioned.

At the end of the piece Conlon demonstrated the audience's level of involvement by sustaining our silence with his outstretched left hand for close to a minute. When his arm finally came down, we responded with an immediate standing ovation.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Maid of Orleans

Went to Friday night's performance of Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans at SFO. David Gockley made his presence known before the start of the performance when his disembodied voice made the turn-off-your-cell-phones announcement & invited us to "enjoy the show."

"The Show" is a vehicle for a powerhouse mezzo, & Dolora Zajick delivers. Her voice is strong & loud & especially thrilling when she's belting out the low notes. This is good old-fashion grand opera & has many lyrical moment as well as a very exciting act III ensemble for the soloists & chorus. There's even a mini-immolation scene at the end, when Joan is burned at the stake to the musical depiction of rapidly flickering flames. In fact it was so stolidly 19th century that I found myself wondering why we are still devoting so much of our attention to these works. The audience just laughs at the romantic cliches.

The staging was somewhat post-modern, but for no apparent reason. The chorus is on stage the whole time dressed as a "Modern-day French audience", witnessing the story of the opera played out on a bare stage-within-a-stage. In the final moments, Joan, tied to the stake, is engulfed by a huge plume of stage smoke. When the smoke clears, she has been replaced by a little girl who walks downstage & raises her arms to the heavens. It's a completely unprepared for moment & is rather eerie.

The supporting cast was even & very good. I enjoyed hearing tenor Sean Pannikar as Joan's rejected suitor. His sound is bright & clear & fluid. It was hard to understand why Joan had no interest in him.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Douglas Coupland at Booksmith

I showed up at Booksmith on Haight Street this evening to see if Douglas Coupland would have anything interesting to say. I bought his latest novel, JPod, last month but only read the 1st 60 pages before deciding to put it down for a while. It just seemed like a rehash of Microserfs. Anyway, his appearance this evening was a total bust. There was an SRO crowd, & things got started late. Mr. Coupland showed up clutching a big box of kleenex with his name drawn on it in fancy letters. He was visibly suffering from a very bad cold & admitted to be "flying high as a kite" on cold medication. So he didn't read, & just 4 people asked questions, which elicited only brief, uninformative answers from him. In less than 10 minutes they moved right on to the signing. One of the people who asked a question received the decorated box of kleenex from Mr. Coupland. I used to be a big fan of Mr. Coupland, but his appearance & the new book are both disappointing.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

SF Opera Simulcast

I went by Civic Center last night to see how they were going to do the San Francisco Opera live simulcast of Madama Butterfly. Very high-tech screen setup against the backdrop of City Hall. Lots of people showed up with lawn chairs & warm clothing, but it was way too cold for me to stay for it. Gockley took advantage of the PR event to appear on-stage before the performance to make announcements & thank sponsers. I think this is a great idea, & I admire the hardiness of the people who showed up, but it's just too cold in San Francisco for this!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Drawings at the Legion of Honor

After my morning at the Metreon, I hiked up to the Legion of Honor to see the exhibit of drawings from the Collection of Joseph and Deborah Goldyne. Although the exhibit is divided into genres, like portraits, nature, etc., it is really a collection of individual masterpieces. It was easiest for me to enjoy each drawing on its own without considering how it might fit into some over-all scheme. What impresses me most are the Italian Renaissance drawings. They are so accurate & yet so fluid. How did they learn to draw like that? Can people still draw like that today?

I liked the gesture drawings of Tiepolo & Rembrandt. It's amazing how much character they can record in relatively few, very loose, lines.

I was also impressed by the Corot drawing of the back of heavily clothed peasant woman. This would seem to be an uninteresting view of an uninteresting subject, but he makes you feel that it deserves a lot of attention.

There is a very striking contour drawing of a chrysanthemum by Mucha. His line is precise & delicate. You get a sense of his sustained observation. I suppose that's something that just about all the drawings have in common: this very sustained sense of focus. & this focus can be completely abstract, as in Bruce Connor's crazy doodle-like drawing.

IMAX Deep Sea 3D

Last Saturday I was actually organized enough to get out of the apartment & get to the Metreon in time to catch a 10:30am showing of this 3D movie. I love visual spectacles like this. Completely thin on content but so much fun to watch. Whoever filmed it must have an obsession about eating, because it was all about sea creatures eating other sea creatures.

And I learned something too. I didn't know that squids could flash different colors or that corals all spawned on the same night each year. I wish there were more of these movies.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Finally saw this last week. It comes highly recommended, but I didn't think it was that good. It's a road movie, & the whole story was both predictable & yet had many implausible & unconvincing moments. I really didn't like its stereotypically negative depiction of gay men as predatory & abusive pederasts.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gruber's Frankenstein!!

Went to the SF Symphony this Wednesday evening. The conductor was Edwin Outwater, who I haven't heard before. The program started with Danses Sacrée et Profane by Debussy, which turns out to be a short piece for harp & string orchestra. French music doesn't always make much of an impression on me, which was the case here. Outwater seems to conduct with a very clear beat that is easy to follow.

This was followed by Living Toys by Adès. Before the piece, Outwater addressed the audience & explained that the general theme of the next 3 pieces was childhood. He interpreted the abrupt, startling ending of the Adès piece as the intrusion of thoughts of mortality upon the playfulness of youth.

I thought this was the most interesting piece of the evening. There were only 17 players, & everyone was often challenged to play extremely high pitches. In the manner of a lot of modern music, it's very dense. The middle of the piece features a virtuosic trumpet solo with lots of notes & special effects. Sometimes the players performed short passages of rhythmic hand-clapping. The 1st cellist seemed especially good a this.

After more shuffling of chairs on stage for this long 1st half, we heard Bizet's Petit Suite. This was a short series of light, encore-style pieces. I liked the slow movement featuring a duet between the violin & cello.

After intermission came Gruber's Frankenstein!! It's a series of short, sardonic poems about monsters & superheroes performed by the composer himself, micked & sitting on a stool in front of the orchestra. He doesn't really sing. Instead he does a kind of sprechstimme using different voices & vocal effects. Sometimes he just makes non-verbal, non-musical sounds. He spoke the poems in English, though his accent was so heavy he may just as well have done it in German.

Gruber did some acting as well, though he avoided going into a full-blown dramatic perfomance. When he came to the line "this is the long finger", he made a fist & stuck out his middle finger to demonstrate, & I almost wasn't sure whether or not he knew the meaning of this gesture to an American audience.

The music is a pastiche of modern styles, often atonal & reminiscent of Berg & Weill. The orchestra at times plays toy instruments like kazoos, slide whistles & plastic tubes that make a low humming sound when twirled rapidly overhead. At the beginning of the piece, the timpanist blew up & popped 5 paper bags, crumbling each one & tossing it in a different direction. These antics provided fitting accompaniment to the poems & got laughs from the audience.

The piece was a little over half an hour, & I don't think it could have sustained itself for any longer. After it was over, I felt like I wouldn't really care to hear it again. I think that one of the things the piece does is satirize the way monster stories & super hero stories patronize & infantilze their audience. So at one level the piece itself insults us, its audience.

It was not a well-attended concert. I had a seat in the back in the 1st tier, & after the 1st piece I moved to the front row of the section. The only other people in the row were 2 ladies who didn't come back after intermission.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Number at ACT

This afternoon I attended the matinee performance of Caryl Churchill's A Number at ACT. This is a two-hander that lasts less than 55 minutes & uses the concept of human cloning to explore parenting, sibling rivalry & nature vs. nuture. The play consists of 5 short scenes which are interviews between a father & his cloned sons. The story is told very efficiently, & each scene ends with an abrubt black-out.

In this production, the action plays out in a very small room that seems to be a den or an office & that floats in darkness in the middle of the stage. Our view of the room shows three walls but no windows or doors. As I was looking at this set before the show started, I already started to wonder how the actors were going to get on stage, but this mystery was revealed only at the final curtain call. Between scenes the room itself is plunged in total darkness while light show with scary music plays around the perimeters.

The play is also a showcase for the actor Josh Charles who plays the troubled son & his 2 clones. This production did a very good job differentiating the 3 identical sons by dress, mannerisms, speech & positioning in the room. At the beginning of each scene it was immediately clear which clone we were watching.

I was very engaged by the ideas of the play, its cleverness, its tightness, & its mixture of the sinister with the humorous. Although no violence occurs on stage or is even described, I think it is a very cruel & violent story. One way to summarize it is to say that it is a story about how technology allows a bad father to be even worse. It reminds me of Edward Albee's The Goat in that you immediately want to discuss it after you've seen it.

I stayed for the "informal discussion" following the performance. It was a question-and-answer session, though I wasn't clear on who the guy leading it was. During the discussion he had to explain the plot 3 different times to 3 different people.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Cars in flames in the Castro

Last night a car ran a red light, ploughed into another car & set a row of cars on fire. These pictures on flickr are even better than the ones in the paper:


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Midori Plays Modern

Heard Midori & Robert McDonald give a recital at Herbst of all contemporary composers. A strong performer doing a demanding program. I think Midori is a really special performer in her ability to communicate with an audience. I didn't know any of the pieces, but she made sure I understood them. One of the pieces consisted mostly of the violin playing open-string double-stops really softly, & she even made that sound expressive!

I thought the most interesting piece was an anguished sonata by a Korean composer called Isang Yun. It moves from a piercing climax to an ending played with a mute that fades into silence.

Despite being brought back for 3 curtain calls at the end, Midori did not present an encore.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Stephen McCauley

Went to a book signing by Stephen McCauley at Borders this evening. There were about a dozen people there, & he seemed to know all of them already. He read from the beginning of his new book, then people started asking the standard author questions. I didn't stick around after that, but the book does sound like it's a fun read.

OK, the real reason I ended up there was that I was home sick on Monday & happened to hear him being interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air. He sounded like a very gentle soul, so I thought I'd check him out for myself. He's a somewhat small, very boyish looking 40-something, & does indeed seem like a very sweet guy. He looks like he does a lot of yoga.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Monteverdi Vespers at St. Ignatius

The Monteverdi Vespers is one of my favorite pieces of music. I'm always happy to have the opportunity to hear it, so on Saturday night I showed up at St. Ignatius to get a ticket for this performance featuring the San Francisco Choral Society. There was a bit of chaos at the door, as they were late in opening the doors to start seating people. I also couldn't help noticing the long & slow-moving line for the women's rest room. I guess churches don't necessarily have ample facilities.

There was a large chorus of about 150, which probably is not historically accurate. The orchestra, on the other hand, had 1 player to a part, which probably is historically accurate. Authentic numbers or not, the balance came out fine. Before the performance, one of the musicians gave a brief explanation of the Baroque instruments being played. Somehow this seemed both instructive & unnecessary.

I really liked hearing this piece with such a large chorus. The chorus didn't sound particularly loud, perhaps because of the size of the venue. The conductor, Robert Geary, did a good job of cueing & keeping things together, but overall the sound was a bit blurry. I think the chorus could have made a much bigger impression simply by singing with more dynamic range than they did.

The conductor mainly focused on traffic management for the chorus & then left the smaller ensemble numbers to the individual performers. Sometimes he didn't even conduct these numbers at all. The orchestra & the soloists were all very capable, so this didn't seem like a bad decision, but I think overall the performance would have benefitted from a little more rhythmic incisiveness.

There were 8 soloists, & the tenor Brian Staufenbiel seemed to get the most work. He looked like the happiest singer you could meet. He was all smiles whenever he wasn't actually singing. By the end of performance I was feeling like he was my best buddy.

The singers who stood out for me were the soprano, Shawnette Sulker, & another tenor, Brian Thorsett. Sulker has a solid, almost steely, voice. Thorsett has a clear, high voice, & he could also summon a big sound when he wanted. His duets with Staufenbiel were great. Monteverdi has the voices singing so close that the effect is quite sensual.

A well-rehearsed children's chorus of 30 performed the soprano line in the Sancta Maria from memory. They dispatched their part with such confidence & accuracy that you could tell this was a group of old pros. After their number, I heard a man nearby me cheer in a whisper, "Yeah!"

The performance had an intermission, which seems to be the usual practise, but I'm not sure that I approve. I also did not approve of the audience's cool response at the end. The soloists only came out for 1 curtain call, which didn't seem enough.

Monday, April 10, 2006

APE Show

On Saturday I went to the Alternate Press Expo at the Concourse Exhibition Center. There were a lot of exhibitors, & it was really crowded. My favorite discovery was a collection of precious & whimsical paper constructions from "Boxer Press". One item is a paper house that comes with a slot in the roof & a match. Every time you have a regret, you write it on a piece of paper & deposit it in the house. Then at the end of the year you use the match to burn the collected regrets!

The show has its own programming room now. I checked out Justin Hall's panel on Queer Cartoonists. Justin did a good job of giving everyone equal attention & trying to elicit responses that would make the panelists seem interesting.

Since the exhibitors are usually there to show personal projects, they are always really fun to talk to. & they really want to talk to you! Sometimes they come across like puppy dogs, eager to show off & get some attention.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rostropovich leads SF Symphony 2

I went back to the SF Symphony to hear Rostropovich's 2nd Shostakovich program on March 30th. I was in the 1st tier center section again. These concerts have been close to sold-out, but for some reason this section likes me.

The program opened with the 1st Jazz Suite. They had the small ensemble grouped on the left side of the stage, which looked a little odd, since the conductor ended up at an angle to the audience. They got the humor of the piece. The audience even laughed after the 2nd movement & after the Hawaiian guitar solo in the 3rd movement. The ensemble playing was excellent. The scoring might be a little fragmented, so that the performers probably do need to make an effort to sustain a line through each movement. The last movement sounded appropriately vampish. It reflected Rostropovich's preference for heavy, sustained playing.

This was followed by the 2nd Violin Concert with the concert master Alexander Barantschik. I really liked his playing. His bow arm is really smooth. He has an unbroken sound which makes it seem like he has an endless bow. He can do really fast bow speed changes. He had music in front of him, which I usually don't like to see for a concerto. He's not a flashy player, & executes even the technically challenging passages in an undemonstrative way. The orchestra was very supportive & never covered him. The string sections played especially uniformly. It wasn't an emotionally wrought performance, but it was well played & sincerely played & all of a piece with the orchestra. Barantschik got a very warm ovation from the audience & came back for 2 bows & scattered standing ovations.

The 2nd half of the program was the exhausting 13th Symphony. Like in the previous program, Rostropoich did a good job builing up to loud & gritty climaxes. His tempos were very generous, & he did a good job of sustaining the often oppressive mood, but somehow I didn't feel like he was so successful in this large piece. The soloist was a young, tall & lanky bass with a very strong, sustained voice but not much variety in his singing. As usual the chorus did a fine job. Their singing is very uniform & has a lot of variety.

The symphony ends very quietly, & Rostropovich worked hard to create an ending that moved imperceptibly to silence, but someone started applauding during the last chord, so the effect was completely destroyed. I hate when that happens. I felt like we needed to hear the last movement again without the applause, just so we could get the full effect of that final decrescendo.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Rostropovich leads SF Symphony 1

On Friday 24th I went to the hear Rostropovich conduct his 1st of 2 Shostakovich programs with the SF symphony. I sat in the center section of the 1st tier.

The program opened with the Festive Overture, which was very loud & very fun. Almost too loud & too fun, which maybe is the point. Rostropovich likes lots of sound. He often let the brasses just play out, which covered everything else. It was evident that the orchestra was going to play very nicely for him. The ensemble was much cleaner than for any of the other programs I've heard this season. This first piece also put me at ease regarding the conductor's age. Rostropovich must be at least 80, but he walked on & off stage really fast & seemed to have no physical limitations on the podium.

Yefim Bronfman performed the 1st Piano Concerto. I liked his aggressive, almost crazed, approach. He has a really strong left hand & can play very fast & very clear. At every opportunity he just attacked the music. My favorite moment was when he actually stood up to play the chord that punctuates the long trumpet solo in the middle of the 3rd movement. He definitely got the extra sound by doing this!

The 2nd half of the program was the 5th Symphony. I don't think that Rostropovich is a great conductor, but at least he has a musical personality & was shaping the music. He created truly soft pianissimos that left the audience hushed. He can build up to a climax that is heavy, loud & gritty. Rostropovich was at least communicating some ideas about the music. None of the other conductors I've heard this season have managed to do just that.

At the end of the symphony Rostropovich received a huge ovation. When he came back for a bow, he made a point of shaking hands warmly with the leaders of each section. After his 3rd curtain call, he grabbed the concert master & pulled them off stage with him in order to end the evening.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

I have wanted to see his show ever since I first read about it several years ago. So when I found out it was to be passing through San Francisco on a 10th anniversary tour, I got myself a front row seat for opening night, which was last Wednesday 22nd. I went to the show full of anticipation but also fearing that it wouldn't be good as I was expecting.

Now that I've seen it, I think that I must have spent a good portion of the evening staring up at that stage with my mouth half open. It was more theatrical & emotional than I had expected.

Matthew Bourne starts with the same general dramatic situations as the original ballet, but he tells a much richer story. The dancers all have to be very strong actors as well. It's almost like watching a play instead of a ballet. There were moments, like the confrontation between the prince & his mother after the night at the ballet, when you almost imagine you hear dialog.

From the opening nightmare vision of the swan to the final death scene, the show moves "from strength to strength." I was often kept very busy trying to keep track of all the individual little stories occuring on the stage. The bar scene alone was a miniature play, with each dancer having a very specific character with his or her own story arc.

The now famous male swans really are an amazing sight. When the swan appears in act 2, it's not a stick-skinny girl in a tutu. Instead, the swan is a massive, bare-chested man. There is nothing effeminate or coy about these swans. They are beautiful & powerful. But they are also frightening, aggressive & convincingly non-human. The encounter between the prince & the swan expressed mutual fear & fascination. It was animalistic.

Even though the choreography is completely reimagined, it still references the original, as when the swans enter in a single line that weaves its way down stage boustrophedon-like, or when 4 swans trot on stage for a parody of the Dance of the Cygnets.

& still the production keeps building. In the 3rd act party scene, the tension is palpable when the stranger appears & starts flirting with every woman in sight, at the same time casting stares at the prince. When the prince suddenly replaces the queen as the stranger's dance partner, a 3rd of the audience gasped, a 3rd laughed & a 3rd applauded.

& still the tension builds. I found this 2nd extended encounter between the 2 male dancers extremely wrenching. It alternates between gestures of tenderness & violence, & the situation becomes more & more humiliating for the prince. At one point the prince is cringing on the floor in a fetal position while the party guests point & laugh at him. It was such an unbearable moment that I wanted to shout at them, "Just stop it!" Things keep accelerating until people are pointing guns at one another & finally someone is shot.

& still the show keeps building. When the next scene revealed that the prince was in an asylum, I was already dismayed. Then when I realized that all the nurses were identical clones of the queen, I was as scared & horrified as the prince.

The final scene really brings home the cruelty & beastliness of the story's world. There turns out to be no safe haven even in the fantasy of the swans. The show still has stunning moments to present to us, such as the swan suddenly bursting forth from the bed, as if being born. & then the final tableux, which mirrors the opening scene. We realize that everything leads up to this moment, which is so moving & yet so cruel.

I can't really judge the technical aspects of the dancing. My impression is that the dancing is much looser & less technical than in a traditional ballet, though I was very impressed by all the moves the swans did on one leg. I've tried some of these poses in my yoga class, & they aren't easy!

Music for the production was provided by a minimal pit orchestra that was miked. It didn't sound too bad from where I was, right next to the pit, but I wonder how it was for the rest of the theatre. I heard this same type of miked ensemble when I saw Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker at Sadler's Wells, & I thought it sounded terrible there.

The orchestra played well, & I liked the conductor. His tempos weren't too fast, & he knew where all the climaxes were. There were a few forgivable trumpet bloopers. The principal violinist did a good job with the solos.

It's a stunning show & great theater. I'm so glad I finally caught it. I kept thinking about it days later, & the show became darker & darker in my mind. Sometimes I would look at people & start thinking that we're all just a bunch of cruel animals.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Haydn & Mozart's Coronation Mass

This past Wednesday I went to the symphony again, because I wanted to hear the Mozart Coronation Mass. The conductor was Martin Haselböck, who I have never heard before. I bought my ticket 90 minutes before the performance, I got a very good seat front & center in the 1st tier.

Program opened with a Haydn choral work called The Storm. I was confused by the program notes as to what version of this work we were hearing. There seem to be versions in English, German & for chorus & for 4 soloists?

I almost always enjoy the SF Symphony chorus, but for some reason I found them not very interesting in this piece. Or maybe I just didn't think the piece was interesting, or the conductor didn't do much with it. I was already worried about the Mozart, because Haselböck was starting out as one of those deadly Mozart conductors who has an unvarying beat.

Next came an operatic scene for soprana, Scena di Berenice. It was an extended dramatic recitative rather than an aria. In fact, I kept waiting for the singer to launch into an aria, but it never happened. The soprano Christine Brandes gamely emoted through the whole thing. She had a strong voice & communicated the different emotions clearly.

To end the 1st part, Haselböck conducted Hadyn's Symphony No. 96. He was turning out to be not very interesting. There's no rubato in his conducting at all &, like Metzmacher last week, he doesn't balance the orchestra. He also seems to be giving no musical instructions to the orchestra. I thought he was just randomly gesturing to different sections, with no effect on the playing.

The one bright spot in the Haydn was Bill Bennet's high, strong solos in the 3rd movement.

After intermission was the Mozart Coronation Mass. This is the piece I came to hear, but I was having a hard time finding anything interesting to listen to in this performance. The soprano was back as one of the quartet of soloists, & she sounded very operatic, as did the tenor, Steve Davislim, who had a lyrical, bright voice. The mezzo & bass didn't have as much to do.

There was was sloppiness in the orchestra & even the chorus's basses at times were not making a uniform sound. The one big bonus was that Haselböck interpolated the Ave Verum Corpus right before the last movement. I thought the tempo was a hair to fast, but the chorus did a great job sustaining a soft sound throughout. There was an approriately appreciate silence from the audience after this number.

So this past 2 weeks of symphony concerts haven't been very good for me. But now I'm thinking of coming back in a couple of weeks for Rostrapovich's Shostakovich concerts.

Matthias Sings Strauss

Last Thursday, March 2nd I got ticket to hear Matthias Goerne at the SF Symphony. I was thinking about getting a ticket when I got an e-mail from goldstar events with this concert listed, so it was clearly not selling well. I sat in one of the center sections of the 1st tier for $37, which is not too bad.

In fact, the concert was not well attended at all. The hall seemed barely 2/3 full. There were only 6 of us in my row, including a young, professional looking couple who were fidgety the whole evening.

The conductor was Ingo Metzmacher, who I think I have heard before. Program opened with a new piece: Verwandlung (2003) by Rihm. I haven't heard of this composer before. The piece was kind of what I was expecting for something modern. It starts very softfly, with just a few ghostly pitches, then gradually adds more instruments & builds to a climax including all the percussion, then winds down to silence again. There was nothing surprising about it, & it didn't leave any particular impression on me. With new pieces, I think it's really hard to tell if the conductor is doing a good job or not. The audience gave Metzmacher a good response, though, even bringing him back for a second bow. My sense is that they were impressed by the pianissimos he conducted at the beginning & end of the piece.

Then Goerne came out for 7 Strauss songs, none of which I knew. But it didn't matter, because Goerne totally sold me on them. His sound is very beautiful, sustained & warm & his singing very controlled. Some of the songs had solos for Barantschik, so I got a chance to hear more of him. I haven't made up my mind about him yet, though. I always think he looks more like a truck driver than a violinist, but he does a very solid job.

In the Strauss, I started to get annoyed by Metzmacher. He doesn't balance the orchestra at all, & he wasn't keeping the orchestra down enough to support the singer, so Goerne sometimes got covered. Wind & brass solos sometimes just popped out. This contrasted with Gardiner, who did an exemplary job of supporting voices in his concert not nearly as strong as Goerne's.

The program ended with Brahm's Piano Quartet No. 1 in g, transcribed for orchestra by Schoenberg. It turns out to be a colorful if kitschy piece of music. By this point I thought that Metzmacher was barely managing to do a decent job of traffic management. Entrances were not uniform & solos were not balanced. He didn't seem to be doing anything to shape the music.

The last movement of the Quartet is a kind of hungarian rhapsody, with a raucous orchestration of runs & splashy climaxes. The conductor got a big ovation out of the audience by plowing through this loud & fast & so ending the concert with a bang.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Will Eisner

On Thursday night I went to the Cartoon Art Museum, which sponsered an illustrated talk by Bob Andelman about his new authorized biography of the cartoonist Will Eisner. Will Eisner's name constantly comes up in well-informed discussions about graphic novels & comics, but I've never really understood why he is so important. & unfortunately the talk did not clarify things for me. Andelman's description of Eisner's career made it sound like the comic book industry is made up of a bunch of crass shysters.

I did enjoy getting glimpses of Eisner's art work as teenager & of his personal sketches. You can see what a skilled artist he is.

Andelman was enthused about his subject but not so experienced at giving these sorts of presentations, so while he read from a copious sheaf of papers, he kept apologizing for having his slides out of order for going on too long. He peppered his talk with personal anecdotes, but I failed to find them amusing or revealing.

Before the event, I had a chance to look at the exhibits in the musuem, & they had a number of anti-American political cartoons. With the current flap over the anti-Islamic Danish cartoons, I wonder if the museum has considered putting these cartoons on display, perhaps along with a Danish flag that has been trodden on.

Swan Lake (SF Ballet)

On Wednesday night I got myself a dress circle seat for San Francisco Ballet's Swan Lake. I know hardly anything about ballet, but I know that at least I like Tchaikovsky's music for this one. The swan was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan, who looked just unnaturally skinny to me. You could see it was no effort for her male partners to lift her! In her best moments, she moves very smoothly, fluidly & elegantly. When she flaps her arms in imitation of a bird wing, it looks like she has more than the usual number of joints in her arms. I didn't get the impression that she was a powerful dancer, though. In the 3rd act she had one unsteady moment landing on her feet.

To my uninformed eye, even a full length ballet seems thin on story line. For long stretches, we watch peasant dances or ethnic dances that are complete onto themselves but aren't integrated in any way into the action. The characters of the mother & the tutor seem to just walk around a lot.

I was probably most entertained by watching one of the solo male dancers in the 1st act twirl & leap & sweep in a big circle around the stage & also by 6 children doing a dance together, especially when the 2 boys got out of sync & went jumping up in the air alternately instead of in unison. It was kind of charming!

The conductor did a good job of pacing the tempos for the benefit of the dancers, though at times this meant the music plodded along almost too deliberately. It was a little surprising to hear Tchaikovsky's Serenade for violin interpolated in the last act. But this provides the prince & the swan a chance to dance together some more before the end.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Roving Mars in IMAX

Saturday night I went to the Metreon to see the short documentary featuring images from Mars on the IMAX screen. The movie was long on visuals but short on explanations. The NOVA documentary & Steve Squyres book are more informative about the technical & personal stories behind the mission. For me the most impressive images in the IMAX movie were the rovers being built & tested, the parachutes being tested & the computer animated sequence of the rocket launch.

But there was not enough explanation. I wanted to know more about all the stuff that was on the rovers. I wanted to know why the early parachute designs were flawed. I wanted to know what the heck all the stages of that rocket were for. It's pretty wild to see that huge rocket jettison more & more components, until it's just a small disk flying through space. & I wanted to know how they came up with that crazy bouncing landing gear. To me, these would be compelling stories.

Rick Miller's MacHomer

I caught MacHomer at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley on Thursday night. This frantic & wacky one-man show presents Macbeth as done in the voices of the Simpsons cartoon characters. It assumes equal familiarity with both the Simpsons & Shakespeare. Rick Miller does an impressive job mimicking all the characters as well as other celebrities, switching from one voice to another in rapid fire. The show never stops coming at you for 70 minutes. I was starting to feel sorry for the performer; he had so much to do. During the final musical number, he apologized to the audience for dropping out briefly to cough.

The show is never unfaithful to any of the Simpsons characters. It feels like it could be animated as a Simpsons episode with no problems. In fact, there have been episodes where the Simpsons are historical characters & even Shakespearean characters, & I wondered if these episodes were actually inspired by this show.

The melding of the Simpsons with Shakespeare is spot-on: "Is this a dagger I see before me? Or a pizza? Mmmm, pizza..." Early on, the show veers off into King Lear for a few moments, & it's amazing how appropriate it sounds to hear King Lear's first speech done by Mr. Burns. Whole speeches from Shakespeare in the voice of a cartoon character can actually sound great.

It's a high-tech show. Rick Miller performs in front of a rear-projection video screen, which displays constantly shifting cartoon drawings which illustrate the settings & the character being impersonated. There is also a witches' cauldron on stage which has a video camera in it, so that the performer can play to this camera & have his face or crude paper cut-out puppets projected onto the screen.

The show was sold out, & there were quite a few kids in the audience.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Radu Lupu

On Tuesday night I heard Radu Lupu's recital at Herbst Theatre. Just him, a piano, works by Schumann & Schubert, & an attentive sold-out audience.

He's become a very weird performer. He's almost disdainful of the audience, like he doesn't even want us to be here while he plays. He just sits down, leans back & starts playing. He plays the pieces with no breaks between movements. He hums audibly while he plays. He sits leaning back in a chair instead of on a piano bench, with his arms extended. At times his arms barely seems to be moving. He occasionally sits up to do a fortissimo.

His playing is so beautiful, controlled & refined. For the Schumann Wawldszenen he created many different colors & moods, some of them supernatural & eerie. He's a Rasputin of the piano for me. I was in a trance for 2 hours. I didn't want to leave the hall after the concert & go back to listening to the sounds of traffic & noise in the outside world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Menschen am Sonntag

This night caught screening of Menschen am Sonntag, a 1929 German silent, as part of the Berlin & Beyond festival at the Castro. Slice-of-life story of 4 young Berliners out for a day of leisure. Sexual attractions & jealousies ensue. Reminiscent of the leisure sequences in Sunrise & The Crowd. Shot on the streets of Berlin & on Wannsee. Fresh, modern & youthful. Naturalistic in the way of a French New Wave movie. Live organ accompaniment was uninteresting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gardiner Conducts Mozart

On Monday I went to Davies Hall to hear John Eliot Gardiner conduct the Mozart Mass in C minor & Mozart Requiem, with this Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique & the Monteverdi Choir. Modest forces playing major works: 30 singers & about 45 in the orchestra. Soloists come from chorus, giving a communal feeling. Fleet tempos. Clean & balanced sound. Ideal music.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Katy Grannan at the Fraenkel Gallery

Portrait photos of people in various states of undress, reminiscent of Diane Arbus. The models seem like exhibitionists, the photographer a voyeur.