Thursday, March 31, 2011

SFIFF54: Members' Preview

SFFS Members PreviewTuesday night, at the invitation of a friend, I attended the Members' Preview for the San Francisco International Film Festival. It was held in the beautifully appointed Letterman Digital Arts Center, the home of Lucas Arts in the Presidio. I felt privileged just to be inside the lobby, with its Mission style furniture, Star Wars figures & vintage movie posters. The place exudes a warm aura of wealth. About 400 members of the San Francisco Film Society attended the 1st of 2 identical presentations by Executive Director Graham Leggat & festival programmers. The event was similar to the morning's press conference. Mr. Leggat even repeated his self-satirizing introduction. However, the members got to see brief clips from about 25 films, grouped by category. After each group of clips there was a short discussion.

The trailer for Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer & a dog with his own subtitles, confirms that the movie is adorable & heart-warming. The Selling looks like an enjoyable parody of haunted house movies. Stake Land is a grizzly horror film. Le Quattro Volte appears to be a beautifully photographed treatise about man as an animal in nature. Though the clip we saw has a meaningful voice-over, the programmers assured us that the movie is mostly wordless. The Green Wave is a mash-up of overly-earnest voice-over, amateur video & crude animation. The aerial photography & evocative shots of abandoned neighborhoods made me want to see Detroit Wild City. I had no idea what to make of the clip from Chantrapas, which was a tracking shot of a man hesitantly walking down a street populated with circus-like characters. The Mill & the Cross is an arty, artificial CGI construction.

During the Q & A, a woman complained to Mr. Leggat about too-tight scheduling of specific weekday afternoon films, making it not worthwhile to take a day off work for the festival. Mr. Leggat called her comment "niggling," she called him "rude", & they had a tense exchange which ended when Mr. Leggat moved brusquely to another question. After the screening, my friend & I attended the wine & cheese reception in another building about a 5 minute walk away. My friend, a SFFS member for several years, observed less refreshments than in previous years.

§ SFFS Members Night
San Francisco International Film Festival 54
Tuesday, March 29
Letterman Digital Arts Center, The Presidio

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SFIFF54 Press Conference

SFIFF54 Press ConferenceThis morning in the swank Westin St. Francis, the San Francisco Film Society held a press conference announcing the up-coming San Francisco International Film Festival. Executive Director Graham Leggat and programmers Rachel Rosen, Sean Uyehara, Rod Armstrong & Audrey Chang gave us an overview of the wide selection of films, though it is difficult to get one's mind around a schedule of 189 films plus special events. Ewan McGregor is expected to be present at the opening night movie, Beginners. Closing night is Tournee, a French film featuring a cast of New Burlesque performers, some of whom will attend & perhaps perform. One of them, Suzanne Ramsey, aka "Kitten on the Keys", was at the press conference, wearing a voluptuous red dress & cat ears.

The Festival Spotlight is on 3 films exploring "flat art": Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's documentary about the Chauvet cave paintings; The Mill and the Cross, about Bruegel's The Way to Calvary; and Nainsukh, about an 18th century Indian miniaturist. Live events include Tindersticks performing a live soundtrack to short films, Leonard Cohen's New Skin for the Old Ceremony, the Zellner Brothers, & Porchlight, which Mr. Uyehara described as a "disaster" when done last year. Documentary highlights include Detroit Wild City and Cinema Komunisto. Under the New Directors category, programmers noted Sound of Noise, End of Animal & Le Quattro Volte. The programmers also pointed out 3 films from the Middle East: Microphone, Circumstance & The Green Wave. Fassbinder's TV movie World on Wire will be screened in a digital version in San Francisco & as a film print at the FPA, so you can compare & contrast.

When asked to name a favorite film, Mr. Leggat did not hesitate to name The Mill & the Cross. He recommended A Cat in Paris for children. Programmers also mentioned The Trip & Letters from the Big Man, which Mr. Uyehara said makes you ask yourself, "Why am I resisting this film?" There are already 3 more films added to the festival which are not in the printed schedule: Magic Trip, Another Earth & Submarine.

This event started at 10am but must have been early for many of the attendees, who were competitive in the coffee line. A large screen sat in the room, but we did not see any film clips. I sat behind an official from the San Francisco Arts Commission who turned out to be the person who brought Zhang Huan's wonderful 3-headed buddha to Civic Center Plaza.

§ San Francisco International Film FestivalApril 21 - May 5, 2011
Screenings at the Kabuki Cinema, Castro Theatre, New People VIZ Cinema, SFMOMA & the PFA. Ticket sales for the general public begin tomorrow.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra

Davies HallI heard a lot of people greeting each other in Russian as I waited in the lobby of Davies Hall Sunday evening for the sold-out appearance of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. The orchestra is large, with 8 double-basses standing behind the cellos & 2 harps for Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture. The orchestra makes a big sound that is plush, deep & grounded. The overture was rousing. Concert master Lev Klychkov has great hair & displayed a weighty, continuous sound in his solos.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein was soloist in the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1. She digs into every note & gets a brash & bright sound. She is unrelentingly forceful. Well into the final movement she broke a string. There was a very audible pop, & the music came to a stop as she stood up & walked swiftly off stage, leaving the audience & the orchestra members buzzing among themselves. A minute later conductor Yuri Temirkanov followed her, in a gesture of concern. The audience greeted them with applause when they returned a couple of minutes later, & everyone neatly resumed from the interruption. Ms. Weilerstein received an excited standing ovation.

After intermission the orchestra gave us a full-bodied Brahms 4. They never play softly, & the orchestral solos are assertive. The brass & woodwinds have a heavy sound. I normally dislike these things, but I was instead won over by the band's grand & embracing manner. I would love to hear them in a Prokofiev program. Maestro Temirkanov uses soft, rounded gestures & presides over the orchestra benevolently. They offered the Nimrod Variation as a somber encore. The strings, & especially the violas, showed off their dark but warm sound.

§ Yuri Temirkanov conducts the St. Petersburg Philharmonic
Yuri Temirkanov, conductor
Alisa Weilerstein, cello
St. Petersburg Philharmonic

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1
Brahms: Symphony No. 4

Encore: Elgar: Nimrod Variation

Sun, Mar 27, 2011 7:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Albert Herring

Zellerbach HallLorin Maazel's Castleton Festival Opera brought 2 Britten operas to Cal Performances this past week. Saturday night I attended their production of Albert Herring, featuring a young & attractive cast, led by Maestro Maazel himself. All the singers were comfortable in their roles & performed with a sense of ease. They formed a very even cast & convincingly portrayed a group of characters who have known each other for a long time. Tenor Brian Porter sings in a natural, easy way & plays Albert Herring as good-natured but not simple-minded. He's just bored & ready for a change. Barihunk Adrian Kramer was an adorable jock as Sid. His Nancy was a bright-voiced mezzo, Tammy Coil. Nancy Gustafson was steady & mature in both voice & bearing as Lady Billows. Tenor Tyler S. Nelson makes a pleasing, sweet sound, & he was very funny delivering the mayor's self-serving speech at the May Day Festival. Even though we had good seats in the center orchestra, the singers sounded like they were far away. The 3 children were over-miked in Act I but brought down to realistic levels in Act II. The 11 members of the Berkeley Symphony in the pit played well for Maestro Maazel.

The action takes place on a green lawn, reset with furniture to indicate the different locations. The cast is in period costumes, & the story-telling is straightforward. Peaches play a prominent role in every scene. They are stolen, thrown at people, flung at windows & tossed by the bushel onto the stage.

I'd never heard this opera before. I found it easy to listen to & appreciated the varied orchestration, but I often thought the music did not fit the action. The quote from Tristan seems inapt, & I found it weird rather than humorous when the strings accompanied an on-stage kiss with a slide. I never got caught up in the good-natured story. Nothing is at stake.

At the end of the curtain calls, 2 members of the production team came out & took bows, standing awkwardly apart from the rest of the performers. Mr. Maazel had to duck out of the way of the curtain when it came down unexpectedly soon while we were still applauding. On the way out, I heard someone in the audience humming one of the opera's jaunty themes.

§ Albert Herring
Castleton Festival Opera
Lorin Maazel, Artistic Director & Conductor
William Kerley, Stage Director
Berkeley Symphony

Lady Billows, Nancy Gustafson
Florence Pike, Kristin Patterson
Miss Wordsworth, Ashleigh Semkiw
Mr. Gedge, Alexander Tall
Mr. Upfold, Tyler Nelson
Superintendent Budd, Benjamin Bloomfield
Sid, Adrian Kramer
Albert Herring, Brian Z. Porter
Nancy, Tammy Coll
Mrs. Herring, Rachel Calloway
Emmie, Daphne Williams
Cis, Emma Thvedt
Harry, Andres Beck-Ruiz

Cal Performances
Sat, Mar 26, 8 pm
Zellerbach Hall

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Andre Chenier at Bregenz Festival

SURREAL: A 15-meter (49-foot) head was fixed on a torso with cranes and integrated into a floating stage on Lake Constance near Bregenz, Austria, Thursday. It is part of the stage setting for the opera ‘Andre Chenier’ by Italian composer Umberto Giordano, which will premiere in July. (Felix Kaestle/Associated Press).

Image grabbed from WSJ Photo blog for March 24, 2011.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Meg Stuart: Auf Den Tisch!

Auf Den Tisch!An artistic-looking crowd assembled at YBCA Friday evening for the 1st of 2 performances of Meg Stuart's improvisational piece Auf Den Tisch! (At the Table!). The audience sits at & around a large conference table, which is the stage. At first it is unclear who are the performers. People took turns speaking into microphones at the table & describing the physical sensation of fear, then someone read a list that he got off the Internet while another performer struck poses. People changed into costumes & enacted compulsive or repetitive behaviors, though there was nothing I had not seen from years of riding the 22-Fillmore. One performer's role consisted of lounging around in his underwear while drinking a coke. 45 minutes in, I zoned out, so I don't know much about the remainder of the 90 minute show. At one point the musicians were so loud I covered my ears. Toward the end a performer threw candy from a piñata into the audience. My event companion would have liked a piece, but there was clearly not enough to go around. Walking to Market Street after the show, we fell into conversation with another attendee who knew a lot more about improvisational performance art. When I admitted that I had been bored, he explained that out of chaos can appear moments in which something happens. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. He then added, "But tonight there was no twice."

§ Meg Stuart: Auf Den Tisch!
Meg Stuart, Keith Hennessy, Hahn Rowe, Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos, Ivo Dimchev, Jennifer Lacey, Julie Phelps, Maria F. Scaroni, Julie Tolentino

March 25, 2011 8:00 pm
YBCA Forum

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Curtis on Tour

Curtis on TourTuesday night San Francisco Performances presented their annual gift concert to subscribers. President Ruth Felt introduced Curtis students Kelly Coyle (clarinet) & Ayane Kozasa (viola) & faculty member Ignat Solzhenitsyn (piano). They began with a precise performance of Kurtág's Homage à R. Sch., a set of 6 short pieces of varying lengths & moods. A bass drum sat in front of the piano, & I kept wondering how it would be used. Finally the clarinetist, without moving from her chair, picked up a mallet & struck a soft note that turned out to be the last sound in the piece. Ms. Kozasa & Mr. Solzhenitsyn then played the Brahms Viola Sonata No. 1. I enjoyed Mr. Solzhenitsyn's playing, with its neat cut-offs & rounded attacks. He moves his body a lot, but his sound can be quite dainty. Ms. Kozasa has a smooth & even sound that is violin-like. Their grazioso movement was indeed graceful.

After intermission all 3 musicians performed Daron Hagen's Book of Days, a suite of 7 pictorial pieces named for days of the week. Tuesday was a long, flowing French melody for viola & piano. Friday reminded me of the lyrical, wide-open spaces in Copland, though it ends with an evil double-stop on the viola. Clarinetist Ms. Coyle is a self-effacing performer. Wednesday is a mercurial solo movement for clarinet, yet her playing remained straight-forward & subdued. The program ended with an unhurried performance of Mozart's "Kegelstatt" Trio, which the program notes say was named after a bowling alley. Mr. Solzhenitsyn displayed a soft, string-like sound. His page-turner missed a cue in the 1st movement, causing him to swat the page noisily himself. Ms. Coyle came out with an extra clarinet which she played under her chair but never used. The concert had good attendance, & the audience was quiet & polite.

§ San Francisco Performances Gift Concert

Curtis on Tour

Kelly Coyle, clarinet
Ayane Kozasa, viola
Ignat Solzhenitsyn, piano

GYÖRGY KURTÁG: Homage à R. Sch., Opus 15d
BRAHMS: Sonata for Viola and Piano, No. 1 in F minor, Opus 120
DARON A. HAGEN: Book of Days
MOZART: Trio in E-flat Major, K. 498 (Kegelstatt)

BRUCH: Nachtgesang (No. 6) from Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Op. 83

Tuesday, March 22, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Mechanics' InstituteThe Mechanics' Institute has an active writers group, & yesterday evening they held a panel discussion featuring one-person publishing companies. Most of the panelist have worked many years for traditional publishers but are now enthusiastically forging new publishing models on their own. Services they can provide include design of a good-looking cover, help getting an editor & promotion through their Web sites. Because distribution is through eBooks and print-on-demand, no ones cares about getting books into bookstores. Most of the attendees were writers & publicists with specific questions about pricing, royalties, ISBNs, getting reviews & authors' rights.

The Mechanics' Institute's meeting room was too small for the 60 or so people that squeezed in for this free event. I sat next next to an elderly gentlemen who was intently reading the New York Times. As soon as the meeting started, he put his paper away, lowered his head & went to sleep.

§ Nano-Presses: Publishing your book in the 21st Century
Mechanics' Institute Self Publication Working Group

Paula Hendricks
April Eberhardt
Carol Verburg
Andrew Haskins

Tuesday, March 22 2011, 6:00pm
Mechanics' Institute

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NCCO: Open Rehearsal

Herbst TheatreMonday morning I attended the New Century Chamber Orchestra's open rehearsal for their up-coming Mastery of Schubert program. The concerts feature soprano Melody Moore, but she did not participate in this rehearsal. However, I was curious about how the ensemble manages without a conductor, & this was a real working rehearsal. Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg wore a long-sleeve jersey with the words "NCCO LIVE" on it, & she definitely leads the proceedings. They began with the Presto movement of the Mendelssohn Octet, 2 or 3 players per part, & it was stop-and-go the whole way. Typically, Nadja hears something that bothers her, they stop, & they discuss how to resolve the problem. Decisions about ensemble, tempo, dynamics, articulation & mood are made on the spot. I saw every musician contribute comments & suggestions. Twice Nadja ran off the stage to assess balances. The process is incremental, & I did not notice huge changes in the passages they worked over. Interestingly, they never got stuck. There were cruxes when an issue was not solved to everyone's satisfaction, but somehow they knew to move on. They got through the Scherzo movement just before the break.

After the break, they ran the entire Bach Violin Concerto in E Major, with Nadja as soloist. She played with nearly the same level of nervous intensity as in performance. Her suggestions mostly consisted of asking the orchestra to play softer during her solos. At one point she was so puzzled by an accompanying viola line that she checked which edition of the score they had.

The rehearsal lasted about 2 and half hours, including a break at 11:15pm. There were about 30 audience members, & everyone was very quiet, except for a baby crawling around the auditorium during the 1st half. These open rehearsals cost $8 at the door, & your ticket stub is good for a discount on an evening performance. Unfortunately I will not hear how it finally comes together.

§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Open Rehearsal

Mastery of Schubert
Bach: Violin Concerto in E major
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
Schubert (arr. Assad): Lieder
An den Mond, D. 259
An den Mond, D. 296
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D. 118
Sehnsucht, D. 636, Op. 39
Melody Moore, soprano

Mendelssohn: Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20

Monday, March 21 at 10am
Herbst Theatre

Monday, March 21, 2011

Battleship Potemkin

Over the weekend the Castro Theatre screened Eisenstein's famous Battleship Potemkin, in a new restoration by Kino International. I'd never seen the movie before, even though I recognized its parody in Naked Gun. In the opening scene high waves crash against a pier, symbolizing the revolution sweeping Russia. Eerily, this image combined the tsunami that hit Japan with the uprisings in the Arab world.

Though the story is very simple, the atmosphere is tense & expectant. The shots of crowds lined up in Odessa impressed me, & I liked the many close-ups of ordinary-looking people. The graphic brutality of the Odessa Steps sequence does not feel like it belongs to an historic past. The movie has a strange shape, though, since the last act spends a lot of time building up suspense without culminating in any spectacle.

The soundtrack was the original orchestral score by Edmund Meisel. It matches the movie's atmosphere, sounding militant & Russian. The tempo & dynamics ratchet up step by step in the final act, building tension simply. La Marseillaise pops up throughout, though I expected the Internationale instead. This was the 1st time in a while that I've seen a silent movie without live musical accompaniment, & I wished for a live orchestra.

§ Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Dir. Sergei Eisenstein

Castro Theatre

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Teatro ZinZanni: Caliente

Teatro ZinZanniNever having been to Teatro ZinZanni before, I feared attending Caliente, their new show, on Thursday night. The wooden structure at Pier 29 looked closed, but the moment I stepped inside a different world enveloped me. The experience combines a cocktail lounge, upscale restaurant, cabaret, circus & hat shop. Half an hour before the start the lounge was abuzz. I spotted audience members in carnival masks & feathery accessories, & I spoke with a few random people who turned out to be enthusiastic repeat customers. The show takes place under an antique circus tent from Belgium. My dinner companion & I were escorted from the dimly lit lounge into this womb-like, glowing, red & gold interior by the buxom Madame ZinZanni herself.

The audience sits at tables facing into the center. A thin, Latin-inflected storyline strings together a series of broad skits, musical numbers & acrobatic acts, all anchored by Christine Deaver's big personality & fast mouth. However much she gave in her singing & acting, I always felt like she had even more in reserve. All the performers come up to top speed immediately. Sexy acrobat Vita Radionova looks as stable balancing on her arms as on her feet. Rebekah Del Rio's singing is centered & smooth, & she provided a welcome moment of relative stillness. We all knew that the mute janitor had something up his sleeve, but it was still a thrill when he sped to the top of a tent pole. The production includes many music & lighting cues, a stage elevator, a train, murals, & things dropping from the ceiling.

Audience participation is unavoidable. When I returned from the restroom mid-show (there is no intermission), my dinner companion was on stage, dressed in a colorful outfit I had never seen him in before & engaged in a drum battle with a sweet older lady. We discovered later, to my horror, that the performers originally had their eyes on me, so only my bladder's timing prevented me from becoming part of the show.

And somehow during all this the wait staff delivered separate soup, salad, entree & dessert courses, brought bottles of wine & refilled water glasses, without getting in the way of the performance. I don't know how the kitchen manages to serve everyone at once. I enjoyed my tortilla soup & the crunchy green beans with my beef fillet.

Everyone I interacted with was unfailingly friendly, & I got the sense that each member of the staff feels like a part of the show. When one of the servers stopped at our table, she paused momentarily to watch the performers, enjoying the spectacle as much as anyone. On our way out, my dinner companion cajoled me into trying on a hat in the shop, but before the situation got out of hand I convinced him that we should leave so that the nice young lady behind the counter could close & go home.

§ Caliente
Teatro ZinZanni

Directed by: Ricardo Salinas
Featuring: Christine Deaver, Robert Lopez, Rebekah Del Rio, Les Petits Freres, Vita Radianova, Ling Rui, Ann Bernard

Pier 29, San Francisco

Friday, March 18, 2011

Critic in Residence

Since newspapers have cut critics & fine arts coverage, arts organizations are doing their own "institutional blogging," but the WSJ's Terry Teachout finds the concept suspect:
The reason artblogs caught on in the first place is that they frequently offered a sharper, better-informed alternative to the bland arts coverage published in regional newspapers—and that they were, to use a word coined by no less a journalistic authority than Joseph Pulitzer, "indegoddamnpendent."
But at least being an official content curator is a paying job. Where does the support for these alternatives outlets come from?

§ The Cleveland Orchestra Invites 'Criticism' in From the Cold
By Terry Teachout
Wall Street Journal
Sightings | March 18, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kim-Lee-Laltinsky Trio

Noe Valley Chamber MusicSunday afternoon I was in a little church in Noe Valley to hear Bach's Goldberg Variations, transcribed for string trio. Immediately after I bought my ticket, I was told where the restrooms were & informed that there would be no intermission. An audience of around 75 people nearly filled up the small space. Violinist Leor Maltinski introduced the performance & asked cellist Angela Lee to play the Aria's bass line, which is the source of the variations.

The trio plays with a nice expressive freedom, sometimes changing moods mid-phrase. I like Mr. Maltinski's natural rubato & the evenness with which he plays very rapid passages. Ms. Lee plays with a lot of variety, & her attacks can be biting & rough or smooth & organ-line. Violist David Kim makes a reliable, solid sound that blends with both the violin & the cello. Transcriber Dmitry Sitkovestky cleverly arranged 3 of the variations as duets, each with a different pairing of instruments. Variation 7 was a tripping dance for violin & cello, & Variation 17 a flirty conversation between cello & viola.

There were some flashy moments, such as the rush of notes in Variation 26, ending with a booming sound from the cello. The trio built up the tension in the closing variations, finally digging into the Quodlibet with long, full bow strokes & a sense of arrival. It made a man in my row giggle. The audience was attentive & appreciative & gave the trio a standing ovation. The performance took about 70 minutes, & there was a dessert, wine & cheese reception after.

§ Noe Valley Chamber Music
Kim-Lee-Laltinsky Trio

Leor Maltinski, violin
David Kim, viola
Angela Lee, cello

Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Transcribed for String Trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky

March 13, 2011 4:00pm
Holy Innocents Episcopal Church

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kurt Masur conducts Mendelssohn

SFS Program
Conductor Kurt Masur looked thin & frail as he walked to the podium to conduct this all-Mendelssohn program with the San Francisco Symphony. His movements were minimal, & his left hand often dangled at his side, shaking with a tremor. Yet he was very much in control of the music & always well ahead of the orchestra. The Italian Symphony felt taut, transparent & sun-lit, & ensemble was very tight. The orchestra was re-arranged so that the woodwinds, brass & timpani were all on the right side. The violins, filling the left side, predominated, & their sound was shimmering & bright. Oboist Bill Bennett made the most gorgeous sound of the evening with his slow crescendo on a single note at the end of the development. The performance clearly pleased, & the audience applauded for the 1st & 2nd movements.

After intermission, we got Mendelssohn's complete music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was nice to hear the familiar Overture & Wedding March, but this experience did not convince me that it makes sense to perform all the music in concert. There is a lot of repetition &, since Mendelssohn focuses on the play's fey elements, not much variety of mood. Everyone did a good job of sounding airy, but I tired of admiring how well Mendelssohn depicts insects in flight. The San Francisco Girls Chorus, around 50 strong, was well-prepared & made a smooth, floaty sound. The vocal soloists participate only briefly, so Susannah Biller & Maya Lahyani had an assignment that consisted mostly of sitting at the back & smiling.

Interspersed with the music, & sometimes over it, narrator Itay Tiran performed speeches from the play, though the selected texts did not convey a narrative. He used different voices for each character. His Puck was a leprechaun. The audience gave the performance a standing ovation & responded warmly to the SF Girls Chorus, Mr. Tiran & Maestro Masur.

§ Kurt Masur conducts Mendelssohn
San Francisco Symphony
Kurt Masur, conductor

Susannah Biller, soprano
Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano
Itay Tiran, narrator
San Francisco Girls Chorus; Susan McMane, Director

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4, Italian
Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (complete, sung in English)

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Saturday, March 12, 2011

iPad 2 Release

PhotobucketWhen I walked by the Apple store in the Marina around noon on Friday, I saw 5 people in a special line on the sidewalk, waiting to purchase the iPad 2, which officially went on sale at 5:00pm. This was nothing compared to the line I saw a couple of hours later at the Union Square Apple store. It ran along 2 sides of the block. A store employee told me that the line started forming at 4 in the morning & that this was a "normal" turn-out for a new product. I bow down to Apple's ability to generate excitement for every iteration of their products.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Images from Michael Wolf & Trevor Paglen

On Tuesday afternoon I wandered the halls of 49 Geary St. & came across 2 photography shows with a shared interest in surveillance.

The Robert Koch Gallery is displaying large color photographs by Michael Wolf. In his Paris Street Views, Mr. Wolf photographed provocative images he found on Google Street View: a nude woman at the shore, a car on fire, a woman
prone on the sidewalk. The artist enlarges the pictures so much that one can see the pixel grid of the computer screen. It's street photography at a creepy remove. Another project captures female passengers squished up against the windows of a crowded Tokyo subway. This time the photographer is disconcertingly close, just on the other side of the glass. Some of the subjects are obscured by rain-streaked windows, making them strangely beautiful, almost romantic. Finally, there are 2 large 4' x 5' photographs of high-rise apartment buildings in Hong Kong. There seem to be hundreds of windows we can peek into. The view belittles the concept of individuality.

The photographs in Trevor Paglen's show at the Altman Siegel Gallery are at first glance banal. One has to read the descriptions to discover that Mr. Paglen is documenting government secrets. A long exposure of the night sky reveals dots of light that are spy satellites that do not officially exist. Views of a Nevada landscape contain a tiny gnat-like blemish that is a Predator aircraft. But do we trust Paglen? The more I considered the works, the more paranoid I felt. As if to emphasize the point, during my visit a staff member invited another gallery visitor into a private office to view a work that is not on public display.

In the back room of the Fraenkel Gallery, I was struck by the beauty & clarity of large prints, credited to Loewy & Puiseux, of the craters of the moon. They bear the unbelievable date of 1897.

February 3 - April 2, 2011

February 10 - April 2, 2011

§ Sol Lewitt
Photographic Works 1968--2004
February 24 - April 30, 2011

Monday, March 07, 2011

Pretentious iTunes Downloads

Those evil marketing MBAs at American Express offered to pay for my next 5 songs from iTunes. I'm sure that Amex will eventually make me pay for this indulgence, but in the meantime I now have these new songs on my iPod:
Hindemith: Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op. 50
Wolfgang Sawallisch, The Philadelphia Orchestra
(Each of the 2 parts is one "song")

MacMillan: After the Tryst
James MacMillan, Ruth Crouch

Weill: Je Ne T'amie Pas
Ute Lemper

Purcell: When I am am laid in earth
Kirsten Flagstad
It's not easy shopping for classical music on iTunes. Information one would like to know, such as performers & recording dates, is often not available. There are also many catalog errors, such as pieces with incorrectly listed composers.

PBO & Zheng Cao

Philharmonia Baroque's program at Herbst on Friday was nicely varied in its musical styles & moods. It began with a suite of short but bright dance pieces by Jean-Fréy Rebel, which in this performance more or less ran together. Music Director Nicholas McGegan completed the orchestration, adding parts for woodwinds, trumpet & even the tambourine.

Mezzo Zheng Cao, performing a program originally designed around Frederica von Stade, entered looking joyful to the point of tears, yet she sang “Scherza infida” from Handel's Ariodante with a sustained mood of despair. The bassoon obligato sounded appropriately dark, hollow & ghostly. Ms. Cao received warm applause & practically ran back on stage & then off again for her 2nd bow. The orchestra's 2 flutes stood while playing the serene, dispassionate Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. Their straight tone had a far-away sound. Ms. Cao returned to sing “Che faro senza Euridice,” sounding masculine & dropping easily into the aria's mournful mood. She executed a few discrete improvisations in the da capo.

After intermission, Ms. Cao sang 3 songs by Nathaniel Stookey, set to texts by Ms. von Stade & expressing clear, personal sentiments. The 1st song opens with a solo violin playing broken chords in the manner of Bach's solo partitas. This gives way to a bouncy waltz & references to Cherubino in the words & music. The slower, lugubrious 2nd song derailed after the singer entered & had to be restarted. Its text baldly expresses anxiety about growing old. The set ends with a comic patter song which Ms. Cao communicated with very clear diction. The audience laughed when she couldn't decide whether to watch "Oprah or Ellen" & when she expressed approval of her own shoes. Ms. Cao offered an encore of Handel's “Lascia ch'io Pianga,” which Maestro McGegan called a "bon-bon" for us.

The closing suite of dance music from Rameau displayed many contrasts in tempo & instrumental color. A piccolo solo was as high & piercing as a dog whistle. I was constantly entertained by Maestro McGegan's playful gestures, especially when he directed the speed changes for a wind machine. It looks like a large up-turned tub, & the percussionist clearly gets a work-out turning the handle. He was the 1st musician that Maestro McGegan singled out during the curtain calls. At intermission, I ran into the sharp-eyed Cedric, who pointed out David Gockley, Daniel Handler & Mr. Stookey among the audience.

§ Zheng Cao: The Life of a Singer
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Zheng Cao, mezzo-soprano

JEAN-FRÉY REBEL: Les Caractères de la danse
HANDEL: “Scherza infida” from Ariodante
GLUCK: Selections from Orfeo ed Euridice, incl. Dance of the Blessed Spirits, Aria “Che faro senza Euridice,” and Ballet – Chaconne
HANDEL: “Lascia ch'io Pianga” from Rinaldo (Encore)
NATHANIEL STOOKEY: Into the Bright Lights (U.S. Premiere)
RAMEAU: Les Indes galantes, orchestral suite

Fri, March 4, 8:00 pm
Herbst Theatre

Friday, March 04, 2011

MTT and Anne Sofie von Otter

Davies Hall Box OfficeThursday evening's San Francisco Symphony subscription concert was well-attended, but the audience was subdued compared to Monday's Israel Philharmonic event. MTT felt the need to speak before conducting Hindemith's Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, observing that the excellent program notes fail to convey "How much we enjoy playing this piece." We also learned that the work was a favorite of Leonard Bernstein, who used to joke that he wish he'd written it. It's a complex piece, with lots of contrapuntal writing & groups of instruments playing in opposition. It was easy to hear the influences of both Bach & jazz. The whole orchestra had a bright, gleaming sound, especially the string sections. The violins often had to play at the extremes of their range. The end of Part I, with its lush, blazing brass chords, made a ringing impression. A highlight of Part II was Mark Inouye's sustained trumpet solo.

Mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter sang a set of 7 love songs by Wilhelm Stenhammar, Nielsen, Grieg & Sibelius, with texts in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian & Finnish. Ms. von Otter has a pretty voice, & there were many small but expressive details in her singing. She made each song into a little story, for instance sounding like an eager young girl in Stenhammar's Flickan knyter i Johannenatten. She executed a lovely, controlled pianissimo in Grieg's En Svane. She sang with nice dynamic contrast in Sibelius's Kaiutar, giving it an almost operatic feel. The orchestrations, in many cases by different composers, were attractive & shimmering. I liked the way that various solo instruments took turns accompanying the voice in Max Reger's arrangement of Grieg's Jeg elsker Dig! Ms. von Otter offered us a bobbing encore in Swedish, & she could not resist adding her own little dance steps.

MTT & the orchestra gave Brahms's Serenade No. 1 in D a buccollic & soft-textured performance. It flowed simply, from moment to moment. My favorite parts were the beautiful, even-toned solos from clarinetist Carey Bell & oboist Bill Bennett. I generally enjoy Brahms, but I have to admit that the piece seems too long. There was a smattering of applause after the penultimate Scherzo movement. MTT turned to the audience & said, "One more!" He then added encouragingly, "We like this one the best!"

§ MTT and Anne Sofie von Otter
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano

Hindemith, Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, Op. 50

Songs of Scandinavia:
Stenhammar, Flickan knyter i Johannenatten
Nielsen, Genrebillede: “Pagen hojt paa Taarnet sad”
Sibelius, Demanten på marssnön
Grieg, En Svane
Sibelius, Kaiutar
Grieg, Jeg elsker Dig!
Sibelius, Var det en dröm

Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Aspåkers-polska

Brahms, Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11

Thu, Mar 3, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Israel Philharmonic

Through no fault of my own, I found myself at Davies Hall on Monday night for the 2nd of 2 Israel Philharmonic programs led by Zubin Mehta. The house was fully packed, & the performers & their supportive audience remade the symphony experience for me that night. American & Israeli flags were displayed on the stage, & the concert began with the national anthems of both those countries. The rest of the program was staunchly Germanic. Maestro Mehta came out wearing the bored expression of someone with a stomachache, but he comfortably conducted the entire program without a score. The orchestra has a raw string sound & ragged woodwinds & brass. Phrasing does not come naturally to the ensemble, & the familiar Beethoven & Schubert works often sounded like new pieces. The off-stage trumpet of the Leonore Overture seemed like it had fallen into the piece by mistake. Extraneous noises came from the percussion section when Maestro Mehta was walking to the podium for the Webern, as well as during a pause between movements.

For the Schubert C Major Symphony, the woodwinds moved to the front desks of the orchestra, the oboe sitting where the concert master would be. This makes some sense, but the interest was mostly visual. The woodwind section had persistent intonation problems, & a strange squeal popped out during the 2nd movement. The timpanist consistently thwacked the instrument as hard as he could. In the final movement, Maestro Mehta rotated himself clockwise to turn from the 1st violins to the 2nds, so that he was momentarily conducting full frontal, facing the audience.

Everyone around me was so engaged by the concert that they all conversed about it at some point during the music. Throughout the evening, 3 old ladies in our row had serenely refused to stand, forcing my concert companion & myself to climb over them 3 times, but they stood promptly at the end of the Schubert & joined in the big, appreciative standing ovation. Maestro Mehta announced that he dedicated the Schubert symphony to Joseph Krips, which elicited sighs of gratitude from the audience. A woman seated in front of me turned into a head-banger during the livelier moments of the Overture to Die Fledermaus encore.

§ Great Performers Series
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta, conductor

Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 3
Webern: Passacaglia
Webern: Six Pieces for Orchestra
Schubert: Symphony in C major, The Great

Encore: Johann Strauss Jr: Overture to Die Fledermaus

Mon, Feb 28, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

We Were Here

Castro TheatreThis afternoon I was at the Castro Theatre's matinee of We Were Here, David Weissman's weepy documentary about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Mr. Weissman was on hand to introduce the show, telling us that he "really made the movie for this theater." The film interleaves talking-head interviews with 5 people who were active at the center of the AIDS crisis. The interviewees are open & self-reflective, & all of them get teary-eyed at some point. Instead of covering a lot of historical facts, the film conveys the emotions of living through the worst years of the epidemic. Archival images of people with KS lesions are a jolting reminder of the fear prevelant in the early 80s.

Mr. Weissman & Ed Wolf, one of the film's subjects, took questions from the audience after the show. Mr. Weissman hinted that there are probably a lot of people of his generation suffering from unacknowledged feelings of loss. In response to a question about people who consciously wish to become infected with HIV, Mr. Wolf provocatively admitted that he could see why some people would consider it an attractive option. Because of the success of the San Francisco Model, being HIV+ immediately puts one at the head of the line to receive a plethora of support services.

There was a large audience, & the attendees included a group of high school students, for whom the film is presumably all new information. When I left the theater, there was already a line forming for the next show.

§ We Were Here
Produced and directed by David Weissman

ABS: Odes for Royal Women

American Bach SoloistsFollowing the captivating Orphée at Herbst Theatre on Sunday, I had a burger, a drink & a brisk walk, & I ended up at St. Mark's for American Bach Soloists's program of odes by Purcell & Handel, all in refulgent praise of Queens Mary, Caroline & Anne. It was funny to hear Elizabeth get dissed in Purcell's Now does the Glorious Day Appear. But since these are all happy odes, the program had a somewhat limited variety of moods. The duet about rolling streams from Handel's Birthday Ode for Queen Anne was positively cute.

The American Bach Soloists give immaculate, proficient performances that could go straight to CD. The ensemble is very precise. The cut offs & tutti rests were always sharp & definite. I usually expect Baroque instruments to be temperamental, but, apart from a single squawk from an oboe, they were flawless. Even the valveless trumpets were completely in tune, with a very straight tone.

All the singers were fine, with voices well-suited to the repertoire. Our 2 countertenors had nicely differentiated sounds. Jay Carter, a last-minute replacement, has an easy, mellow & unconstricted voice. Clifton Massey's sound is smooth & airy. Baritone Jesse Blumberg has a steady, even voice with a clear center of pitch. Tenor Aaron Sheehan is ringing & bright, & I wish he had gotten more arias. Soprano Elizbeth Weigle has a bright, slightly steely sound with just a bit of a warble. The 20-member chorus is well-rehearsed & makes a very uniform sound. The balances between chorus, soloists & orchestra were ideal, & the soloists were never covered.

ABS has one of the most attentive, quiet & appreciative audiences I have ever sat with, so perhaps the musicians are right to emphasize clean execution. The audience is also exceedingly polite. During a break, the man seated in the pew behind me asked if I could scoot over a couple of inches in order not to block his view. He was so nice about it that I felt embarrassed about my height, even though I often complain that I am the shortest guy in my family.

§ Now Does the Glorious Day Appear
Music for the Royal Women of Britannia

American Bach Soloists
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Elizabeth Weigle, soprano
Jay Carter, countertenor
Clifton Massey, countertenor
Aaron Sheehan, tenor
Jesse Blumberg, baritone

Purcell: Now Does the Glorious Day Appear
Purcell: Come, ye Sons of Art
Handel: Te Deum in D Major
Handel: Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne

Sunday 27 February 2011 7:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


OrpheeThis Sunday I was at Ensemble Parallèle's impressive staging of Philip Glass's Orphée. The production has a dream-like circus atmosphere, incorporating video, acrobatics & Felliniesque costumes. The opening cafe scene took place off to the side, barely visible to many in the audience, while the orchestra sat on the front of the stage. But it turned out that director Brian Staufenbiel was just faking us out, & a hitherto unknown feature of Herbst Theatre allowed him to set our view right. Attractive videos featuring the performers were projected into 5 picture frames above the set to illustrate the musical interludes. Video also provided some special effects, but it was never overdone. The opening of Act II, set in the underworld, featured expert circus artists. Among the spectacles was a breathtaking aerialist who kept herself aloft by clinging to 2 long draperies hanging from the flys. I was so mesmerized that I paid attention to nothing else while she was hanging in the air.

The entire cast was great, & anytime anyone opened their mouths a beautiful sound came out. Eugene Brancoveanu, as Orphée, has a large velvety sound that he seemingly produces without effort. He has an unruffled stage presence & did 2 fearless & convincing stage falls. Marnie Breckenridge, dressed as a slinky ring master, gave a well-rounded singing & acting performance as the Princess. Her character was always in control, even when sacrificing herself at the end. John Duykers was a sympathetic Heurtebise, & his distinctive narrow, fervid sound was a wonderful complement to Mr. Brancoveanu's denser baritone. Susannah Biller's voice is bright & clear, & she was a naturalistic actress as the forlorn Eurydice. Philip Skinner was both imperious & grotesque as the underworld judge, in a powdered wig bigger than the one worn by Beach Blanket Babylon's King Louie. & I'm sure he did not need that amplification.

The score, with its incessant repetition, is unmistakably by Philip Glass. Several times I found myself unconsciously counting the beats. One starts to recognize broadly descending or ascending motifs, & there is even a reference to Gluck's Orfeo. There are no arias, & the vocal lines follow the pace of spoken speech. Conductor Nicole Paiement gave the performance a sense of continual flow.

After the performance I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Ms. Breckenridge, & I also got to congratulate SFMike on his participation in this engrossing production. I was amazed to learn that they only had since Wednesday to rehearse in Herbst Theatre itself, on that complex multilevel set. So much good work went into this, & I cannot believe that there were only 2 performances.

§ Philip Glass: Orphée
Ensemble Parallèle
Nicole Paiement, conductor
Brian Staufenbiel, director & production designer

Orphée, Eugene Brancoveanu
La Princesse, Marnie Breckenridge
Heurtebise, John Duykers
Eurydice, Susannah Biller
Poet/Judge, Philip Skinner
Cégeste/Reporter, Thomas Glenn
Police & Commissaire, Austin Kness
Aglaonice, Brooke Muñoz

Roue Cyr Artist, David Poznanter
Aerialist, Marina Luna
Circus Artist, Ajina Slater

Herbst Theater, San Francisco
2:00 p.m. on February 27, 2011