Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eric Klinenberg at Books Inc.

Eric Klinenberg at Books Inc., 02.27.2012 Eric Klinenberg at Books Inc. promoting Going Solo.Monday night, about 50 people showed up at Books Inc. in the Marina to hear sociologist Eric Klinenberg talk about Going Solo, his new book about the rise of living alone. 40% of San Francisco households are one-person households, but this is low compared to trends in Europe & Japan. Mr. Klinenberg called this the biggest social change in the past 60 years that we have failed to identify. He told us that he originally titled the book "Alone in America," but what he learned while researching it really changed his mind about the topic. He repeatedly heard from research subjects that being lonely & alone was preferable to being lonely while in a relationship.

Mr. Klinenberg is a focused & personable speaker, & he talks in pithy, self-contained sentences. In the Q&A, people worried about the breakdown of community life caused by more people living alone, but Mr. Klinenberg thought it quite possible to create communities of single people. Mezés, a Greek tapas restaurant a block away, offered a free appetizer to diners coming in from the event with a newly purchased & signed book.

§ Eric Klinenberg at Books Inc. in the Marina
02/27/2012 7:00 pm

Monday, February 27, 2012

ABS: St. Matthew Passion

American Bach Soloists, 02.26.2012 American Bach Soloists performance of St. Matthew Passion at St. Luke's Lutheran.On Oscars night, the American Bach Soloists sold out St. Mark's Lutheran for a fastidious performance of the "early version" of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Tempos were either fast or very fast. The brief duet for Testis I & II sounded like a race. There was one singer per part, even for the choruses, which all had a rapid, compressed feeling. There was also only one instrumentalist per part & one set of continuo players. For the arias "Erbarme dich" & "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!", the obbligato solos thus had to be played by a violinist from the opposite orchestra. Despite this paring down, conductor Jeffrey Thomas had 16 additional choristers on stage who only participated in the chorales & the final chorus. This gave the chorales a heaviness & depth that set them apart from the other numbers. 9 well-prepared members of the Pacific Boychoir were considerately dismissed immediately following their duties in the opening chorus.

All the singers had clear, clean voices well suited to the music. Wesley Rogers was an intense Evangelist with a loud, ringing voice. Mezzo Danielle Reutter-Harrah has an even sound with a pleasing warble. Her "Erbarme dich" was sustained. Soprano Clara Rottsolk's voice was beautifully pure, strong & arresting. I liked how she placed a clear climax in "Aus Liebe". Tenor Aaron Sheehan has a high, smooth voice & sounded pleading in his Part I recitative & aria. Tenor Derek Chester was sterling & confident in his "Geduld!" aria. I enjoyed baritone Mischa Bouvier's full, cushy sound & connected singing, & I wished he'd had more arias. Maestro Thomas played a keyboard instrument listed as a "Lautenwerk" to accompany Mr. Bouvier in "Komm, süßes Kreuz." Apparently the instrument is supposed to sound like a lute, but something went wrong with the tuning, & Mr. Bouvier sang undaunted through a lot of bent pitches. It was unsettling, especially as the orchestra otherwise played with impressive accuracy.

The most obvious differences I noticed in this early version of the score were missing flutes in "Blute nur," the replacement of the chorus at the end of Part I with a chorale, & the assignment of the 1st aria in Part II to bass instead of alto. The highly serious audience was extremely quiet & attentive for the entire performance, whose 2nd half lasted about 100 minutes. The audience responded with a standing ovation & recalled Maestro Thomas several times. The musicians stamped their feet in appreciation as well.

§ Bach's St. Matthew Passion

American Bach Soloists
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion
Early Version, BWV 244b

Wesley Rogers, tenor (Evangelista)
Joshua Copeland, baritone (Christus)

Clara Rottsolk, soprano I
Anne-Kathryn Olsen, soprano II
Danielle Reutter-Harrah, alto I
Jay Carter, countertenor II
Aaron Sheehan, tenor I
Derek Chester, tenor II
Mischa Bouvier, baritone I
Robert Stafford, baritone II
Pacific Boychoir

Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 7:00 PM
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Sunday, February 26, 2012

San Francisco Ballet: Chroma, Beaux, Number Nine©

Saturday night I saw this mixed program of modern dances at the San Francisco Ballet. Wayne McGregor's Chroma has a nervous, explosive energy. Its music is correspondingly wild & urgent, with lots of percussion & brass. At times it sounds like a score to a Hitchcock film. The 10 dancers move sharply & constantly extend their bodies as far as they can reach. They looked like they were breaking their spines doing an undulating movement. The performance had precision & snap, & it sustained an aggressive tension for the whole 25 minutes.

Mark Morris's Beaux was a world premiere, choreographed for the SF Ballet. When the curtain went up on the 9 male dancers in fuchsia body suits, a lady behind us uttered, "What, are they all naked?" I liked the accompanying harpsichord music by Martinů, which partly parodies Bach. Every movement of the dance felt motivated by the music. The choreography was graceful. It was as if the all-male cast were performing moves originally designed for ballerinas, though they did not look effeminate. Harpsichord soloist Bradley Moore took a curtain call with the dancers, & the lady behind us mistook him for the conductor.

Christopher Wheeldon's lively Number Nine© requires 4 couples plus a corps of 16. Both the movements & costumes were florid & pretty. It was a cheerful way to end the evening. I am not a habitué of the ballet, but my companion, more experienced than me, exemplified proper procedure by treating to me a glass of champagne before the curtain & then pre-ordering another round for the 1st intermission.

§ San Francisco Ballet 
Program 2

Composer: Joby Talbot, Jack White III
Choreographer: Wayne McGregor

Beaux (World Premiere)
Composer: Bohuslav Martinů
Choreographer: Mark Morris

Number Nine©
Composer: Michael Torke

Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon 

§ Photo credit: Maria Kochetkova in McGregor's Chroma. © Erik Tomasson

Saturday, February 25, 2012

3020 Laguna Street in Exitum

3020 Laguna Street in Exitum
A single-family dwelling off Union Street currently houses a Highlight Gallery Project Space, in which 9 artists have created installations prior to the building being demolished. Chris Fraser replaced the front windows with shutter-like slats which project slivers of light onto the white-washed walls & floor.

3020 Laguna Street in Exitum
Andy Vogt sliced through the dining room, leaving a neat, diagonal trench that drops straight to the outside of the building.

3020 Laguna Street in Exitum, 02.25.2012 Keg in backyard of Highlight Gallery Project space at 3020 Laguna Street.I saw a steady stream of youngish visitors on Saturday afternoon. There was a keg in the backyard, & some of the artists were present. The atmosphere was a cross between an open house & a neighborhood barbeque.

§ 3020 Laguna Street in Exitum
Highlight Gallery Project Space
Jan 28 - Feb 28 2012

SFCO: Goldberg Variations

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, 02.24.2012 Audience waiting to enter Herbst Theatre for performance by San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.When the doors opened at Herbst Theatre for this concert by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the line passed across the lobby twice & down a side hallway. The concert had only one work, Bach's Goldberg Variations, in a string version by Dmitry Sitkovetsky, but conductor Benjamin Simon began the program with a 25 minute lecture/demonstration using the 18 musicians on stage. We heard samples of several variations & got a thorough deconstruction of the Canone alla Seconda. Maestro Simon asked the audience to count off the variations' 8 bar phrases & to sing the bass line. Following the talk, the house lights came up, & there was a 4 minute pause while Maestro Simon remained on stage with the musicians. Some audience members left, resulting in several people returning to their seats after the music had started.

Sitkovetsky's clever orchestration often uses the section leaders as a concertino of soloists. The Aria starts intimately with just a quartet of principals. Many variations feature solos, duets & trios, & Sitkovetsky preserves the virtuosic character of the original. Maestro Simon's tempos were moderate & had a light sway. Many variations ended with a feeling of lift-off. Concert master Robin Sharp played her many solos with a sweet tone & smooth bow speed changes. Principal 2nd violin Debra Fong had a complementary darker, mellower sound. Bass player Michel Taddei was reassuringly grounded & secure. The overall performance was even, though violin intonation was sometimes ragged.

In his talk, Maestro Simon had explained that the 70 minute piece would be performed without intermission & requested no applause until the end. The audience was indeed quiet & attentive, & they gave the concert a happy standing ovation.

§ 2011–2012 Main Stage Concert #3:
Benjamin Simon, conductor
Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations (arr. Dmitry Sitkovetsky)
Feb. 24 • Fri. 8:00pm • San Francisco
Herbst Theatre

Thursday, February 23, 2012

John Cage at Crown Point Press

This afternoon I saw prints by John Cage at Crown Point Press. Cage made these prints on almost yearly visits there during the last 15 years of his life, & they are exhibited as part of Crown Point's 50th anniversary. In a process that parallels his music, he designed chance procedures that dictated their production. Sample worksheets show how meticulously Cage specified even the mixture of pigments. One set of prints was created by timed contact with fire. Even though the results were up to chance, Cage never rejected a piece, & the prints feel calm & controlled.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android AppAn informative staffer told me that for the exhibit opening they brought in a piano for a concert of Cage's music. The program included 4' 33", a score of which is also on display in the gallery. I wish I'd known about the event.

§ John Cage exhibition
Crown Point Press
February 3 - March 31, 2012

§ Pictured: 10 Stones, 1989; John Cage

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Christopher Bram & Armistead Maupin at Books Inc.

Books Inc., 02.21.2012 Christopher Bram & Armistead Maupin at Books Inc., Opera Plaza.Tuesday night there was an audience of about 70 at Books Inc. in Opera Plaza to hear Christopher Bram & Armistread Maupin discuss Eminent Outlaws, Mr. Bram's history of post-war American gay writers. Mr. Bram writes about Mr. Maupin in his book, & the 2 have corresponded for years, but this was the 1st time they had ever met in person. Mr. Bram read an excerpt from his book about Mr. Maupin & Tales of the City. The audience gasped when they heard that Mr. Maupin once worked for Jesse Helms. Mr. Maupin then prompted the author to talk about other writers covered in Eminent Outlaws & threw in his own anecdotes along the way. I have not read the book, which Mr. Bram describes as a "family history." It does seem to be somewhat gossipy, as were both authors in conversation, especially concerning Gore Vidal. The well-informed audience made the event feel like a friendly literary salon.

§ Join Christopher Bram as he shares Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America in conversation With Armistead Maupin
02/21/2012 7:00 pm
Books Inc., Opera Plaza

Academy Award-Nominated Animated Short Films 2012

Opera Plaza & the Lumiere are showing programs of Academy Award-Nominated Animated Short Films, plus 4 "highly commended" films to fill out the bill. Most of the films emphasize mood & visual appeal over story.


Dimanche/Sunday (Patrick Doyon; Canada, 2011, 9 Minutes)

A quiet village Sunday, told from the point of view of a bored little boy. The graphic style is simple & flat, & there are touches of surrealism.
A Morning Stroll (Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe; UK, 2011, 7 minutes)

I saw this in the Annecy show just last month. The same anecdote told in 3 different styles, each more outlandish & grotesque than the last.
Wild Life (Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby; Canada, 2011, 14 minutes)

Minimally animated painted images tell the story of an idle young Englishman's seemingly pointless move to remote Canada.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg; USA, 2011, 15 minutes)

A cyclone transports a Buster Keaton-like character to a fanciful world of living books. It's a sentimental & nostalgic tribute to children's books, with a musical score based on "Pop Goes the Weasel." Seems like the likely Oscar winner.
La Luna (Enrico Casarosa; USA, 2011, 7 minutes)

A Pixar short, glowingly lit, about a trio of Italian stereotypes who have a whimsical job to perform on the moon.
Highly Commended

Skylight (David Baas; Canada, 2009, 5 minutes)

In the Bambi-Meets-Godzilla category, an irreverent parody of old nature films. Googly-eyed penguins meet an ignoble fate, unless we all do something about it. Wonderfully silly & got the most laughs from the audience.
Hybrid Union (Serguei Kouchnerov; USA, Ukraine, 2010, 4 minutes)

Rattletrap CGI robots & a mattress-shaped raincloud race across what looks like the Black Rock Desert. I didn't understand this one at all.
Nullarbor (Alister Lockhart; Australia, 2011, 10 minutes)

A bad case of road rage develops between 2 nasty-looking drivers along a featureless stretch of southern Australia. This one amused me the most, & I enjoyed its shaggy dog story without getting distracted by the CGI.
Amazonia (Sam Chen; USA, 2010, 5 minutes)

Candy-colored CGI frogs & insects cavort to the scherzando of Beethoven's 8th Symphony, looking like a lost segment of Fantasia 2000.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Candlelight Concerts: The Monteverdi Consort

Monteverdi Consort Reception, 02.19.2012 Reception following concert by Monteverdi Consort at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin.Sunday evening I heard 6 members of the The Monteverdi Consort in a  program of Renaissance vocal music in a church venue in Cow Hollow. Bass Robert Worth introduced each piece. He explained that all the pieces are built around the earliest solfège syllables ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la, so we heard a lot of ascending & descending scales in the music. After an opening chant for all the voices, 5 singers performed a pastiche mass, made from movements by 4 different composers.

Since there is only one singer per part, every line was distinct. Soprano Lindsey McLennan has a pleasant & pretty sound. When there was a missed cue in the Josquin des Prez Missa, she firmly restarted & got things back on track. Countertenor Eric Tuan sang bodly. Mr. Worth's crisp, clean-toned bass voice was easy to hear. The audience laughed when he comically emphasized a descending scale in the final piece by Peter Philips.

The program lasted a little over an hour, & the audience was quiet & appreciative, applauding especially for the slowly-building Illibata Dei virgo nutrix by Josquin de Prez. Though these Candlelight Concerts are free, there was a short pause halfway through to collect donations from us while we sat in the pews. A wine, cheese & dessert reception followed the performance. This was the 2nd time in a week that I heard a concert by a group named after Monteverdi yet did not hear any of his music.

§ "Soulmization"
Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

The Monteverdi Consort
Nick Burdick
Lindsey McLennan
Cheryl Moore
Eric Tuan
Will Watson
Robert Worth

Ut queant laxis (hymn in honor of John the Baptist); Gregorian chant

Hexachord Mass / Missa La Sol Fa Re Mi
Kryie eleison; Cristóbal de Morales
Gloria in excelsis Deo; François Roussel
Credo in unum Deum; Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Sanctus - Benedictus; Benedetto Pallavicino
Agnus Dei; Cristóbal de Morales

Ut Phoebi radiis; Josquin des Prez

from Missa La Sol Fa Re Mi; Josquin des Prez
Kryie eleison
Credo in unum Deum
Agnus Dei

Illibata Dei virgo nutrix; Josquin des Prez (ed. Jesse Rodin)

Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La; Peter Philips

Candlelight Concerts
February 19, 2012
7:00 p.m.
The Episcopal Church of st. Mary the Virgin

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Yesterday I saw the movie version of Coriolanus directed by & starring Ralph Fiennes. The movie does a good job updating the story to the modern day, relocating it to a war-torn, multi-ethnic country in Eastern Europe. The Volsces, hiding out in primitve secret quarters, are like a rebel army in the Middle East. Their chair of state is a salvaged barber's seat. The movie is gory & looks like a first-person shooter game in the early war scenes. Much is made of the exhausting hand-to-hand combat between Coriolanus & Aufidius. The movie likes to imply a sexual tension between the two. The story is told clearly, but Shakespeare's text has been mercilessly cut, & there are a lot of significant silences & long stretches with no dialogue.

Mr. Fiennes plays Coriolanus as a brutalized soldier, with a permanent expression of contempt. Brian Cox, as Meninius, Coriolanus's old mentor, gives a naturalistic performance. His character is perhaps more benign than in the text, & he is given a death by suicide. Gerard Butler as Aufidius is a convincingly self-assured & business-like soldier. Vanessa Redgrave is miscast, seeming too old & feeble in the role of the ambitious Volumnnia. I liked the scenes with the tribunes Sicinius & Brutus, depicted as a pair of smug bureaucratic weasels.

§ Coriolanus (2011)
Director: Ralph Fiennes
122 min, UK

Technology in Book Arts

Saturday afternoon I attended this presentation about the role of technology in artist books. The 1st half consisted of individual presentations. Don Farnsworth of Magnolia Editions spoke passionately about his fascination with all kinds of machines & showed us slides of his work involving a variety of technologies, such as laser cutters, acrylic ink printers & Jacquard looms that weave photographic images (left). The guy makes his own astrolabes too! A current project involves a font made out of marks & scribbles by Chuck Close. The font can be used to render new Chuck Close portraits that the artist has never drawn. Bookbinder John DeMerritt said his motto is "No Motor," & he proudly showed us photos of his studio where he uses only tools from the 19th century & before. Penny Nii & Mohammed Allababidi showed their prototype for a "digital over analog book" in which additional content for a physical book is revealed by an augmented reality app on the iPad.

After the individual presentations, there was a Q&A & panel discussion, but unfortunately I had to miss most of it. The 1st question came from a man who decried the closing of bookstores & declared technology to be evil. The panel quickly responded that while publishers currently feel threatened, digital technologies have increased the numbers of readers & writers. Mr. Farnsworth pointed at that we are the transitional generation that has experienced both analog & digital culture, & we are the only such generation. He also asserted that the young today mistake corporate messages as knowledge.

§ Technology in Book Arts
Panel Discussion

Macy Chadwick, host
Don Farnsworth, Magnolia Editions
John DeMerritt , John DeMerritt Bookbinding
Steve Woodall, Director of the Center for Book and Paper Arts, at Columbia College Chicago
Penny Nii & Mohammed Allababidi

Sat, 2/18/2012, 2:00 - 4:00
Koret Auditorium, Main Library

§ Photo credit: Brad, 2009; Jacquard tapestry; © Chuck Close & Magnolia Editions, Inc. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Merola "Behind-the-Scenes"

An audience of opera aficionados filled the orchestra level of Herbst Theatre on Thursday night for this educational event sponsored by Merola Opera. The nearly 2 hour presentation explained the role of the apprentice coaches, who prepare singers for their performances. Pianists Robert Mollicone  (left) & David Hanlon (below), current Adler Fellows, each talked about their backgrounds. Mr. Mollicone told us how he 1st got involved in opera by singing in the chorus for Carmen at age 15. Mr. Hanlon was inspired to pursue opera coaching by seeing a master class by Martin Katz. Each pianist also performed a short solo. Mr. Mollicone played the Rachmaninoff Prelude in g minor, Op. 23, No. 5, & Mr. Hanlon did a jazz improvisation on "My Funny Valentine."

To demonstrate a coaching session, Mr. Hanlon worked on a scene from Dead Man Walking with mezzo Laura Krumm. He improved her rhythmic precision when he asked her to conduct the piano while she sang. Mark Morash, Merola's Director of Musical Studies, projected images to show us the difference between a full orchestral score ("open score") & a piano reduction ("closed score"). Mr. Mollicone demonstrated how a rehearsal pianist prepares singers for when they sing with the full orchestra. He accompanied Ms. Krumm & baritone Ao Li in a "Il cor vi dono" from Così fan tutte & then accompanied Mr. Li in "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Faust, while Mr. Morash described musical cues the accompanist can provide. Mr. Morash also pointed out blatant omissions as well as an erroneous extra bar in the piano part of Faust, attesting to the need for the rehearsal pianist to know the full score. To end the program, the 2 pianists played a rowdy piano four hands piece written by Mr. Hanlon called Bang Kiss Kiss Bang.

§ Merola "Behind-the-Scenes" Member Event
Mark Morash, San Francisco Opera Center Director of Musical Studies
David Hanlon, pianist
Robert Mollicone, pianist
Ao Li, baritone
Laura Krumm, mezzo-soprano

Thursday, February 16, 6:30 PM
Herbst Theatre

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti, 2nd Night

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 02.15.2012 Davies Hall, before the appearance of Chicago Symphony Orchestra.Wednesday night was the 2nd of the Chicago Symphony's two appearances in the SF Symphony's Centennial Season. A full string section played the Rosamunde Entr'acte, but they seemed quieter than a string quartet doing its best pianissimo. Even when the woodwinds & brass joined, the volume never rose above a piano. The clarinet played a simple & graceful solo, & everything had a soft ease.

Anna Clyne's Night Ferry requires a full orchestra plus lots of percussion. It opens with an umistakable depiction of a storm at sea, divided strings rising & falling, accompanied by thunder from 3 bass drums. The 20 minute piece then moves through a series of moods. One section features plinking sounds, like a gamelan, & another has ominous lowing from brasses, low strings & bass clarinet. There's a funny passage where a descending run passes through all the strings in one swoop. Though the piece has a few hulking climaxes, it eventually runs down & ends in silence. After the performance, it took the youthful composer a while to reach the stage, leaving Maestro Muti waiting by the door confusedly. The audience applauded the composer warmly.

The 2nd half was Schubert's Great Symphony in C. The orchestra played with flexible tempos, starting lazily then becoming more tight. Conductor Riccardo Muti was a tactful guide, sometimes standing still, sometimes ushering the orchestra from one section to the next. He moves freely & was always playfully in the moment. He jumped back from the 1st violins to indicate a swift cut-off. He made the grand pause in the 2nd movement startlingly tangible. I enjoyed the orchestra's blended sound & the way solos emerge distinctly but without popping out. The brasses were clean & smooth. I heard only one blurry note in the 3rd movement. The 4th movment was fast without being breathless, & the strings played tautly without sounding pointed or over-articulated. The final chord of every movement glowed. The audience, which seemed to have a lot of Russian-speaking patrons, was appreciative & gave the performance a standing ovation. The concert ran past 10pm, & I was sorry that there was no encore.

§ Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Schubert: Entr'acte No. 3 from Rosamunde
Anna Clyne: Night Ferry (CSO commission)
Schubert: Symphony in C major, The Great

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti, 1st Night

SF Symphony, 02.14.2012 San Francisco Symphony patron viewing exhibit on the Symphony's history in the 1st tier lobby.As part of their Centennial Season, the SF Symphony is presenting 2 concerts of the Chicago Symphony, conducted by Riccardo Muti. A huge orchestra with lots of percussion was on stage for the 1st half of Tuesday night's program. It began with Honegger's Pacific 231. It was short but raucous. The chugging rhythms clearly evoke the locomotive the piece is named after. The orchestra showed off its blended brass sound, & the strings made driving & astringent sounds. I was impressed by Maestro Muti's springy motions on the podium. It was a breathless way to start.

This was followed by Alternative Energy, a large 4 movement work by Mason Bates, Chicago Symphony's composer-in-residence. The piece has a detailed program about industrial landscapes. The 1st section features a funky metallic percussion section & a ratchety car motor crank, which the player turns at various speeds. There's also a hoedown-like violin solo which returns at the end of the piece. Pre-recorded sounds enter in the 2nd movement. The speakers are placed around the stage, so the samples have a spatial dimension & swoop around the orchestra. We hear factory noises, hydraulic lifts & warning buzzers, launched in jazzy, syncopated rhythms. The 3rd movement introduces mysterious high-pitched crackling, & chirping birds emerge in the 4th movement. The recorded sounds interweave with the orchestra, which plays colorful musical fragments in stomping rhythyms reminiscent of house music. The whole thing has a youthful, optimistic feel & was great fun to listen to. There was a huge response from the audience & bravos for Mr. Bates. The appearance of Mr. Bates confused the woman seated next to me, who said that she had expected the composer to be a woman. She showed me Anna Clyne's name in the program, & I pointed out that she was looking at the pieces for the following night. I guess she was not surprised that an Entr'acte by Schubert sounded like the 20th century Honegger.

The 2nd half was contrastingly restrained. Maestro Muti led a controlled, muted performance of the Franck Symphony. The orchestral balances were very even & soft. There was one shimmering climax in the final movement, but otherwise it was a reticent interpretation. The audience responded warmly, & there was a scattered standing ovation. Someone near me shouted for an encore. However, after conferring with the 1st chair players, Maestro Muti waved goodbye to us & walked off the stage, followed by the orchestra.

§ Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Honegger: Pacific 231
Mason Bates: Alternative Energy (CSO commission)
Franck: Symphony in D minor 

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Zheng Cao Opera Fund

Merola Opera, 02.14.2012 Dog attending Merola Opera reception for the Zheng Cao Opera Fund.On the afternoon of Valentine's Day, I attended a reception held by Merola Opera to honor mezzo Zheng Cao & announce a fund created in her name. The fund, started with a gift from Annette Campbell-White, sponsors an in-coming Merola participant who is an"Asian/Pacific artist." If no Merolini fulfills that requirement, the fund sponsors a mezzo. The 1st recipient is tenor Yi Li, currently at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He received a certificate from Merola board member Donna Blacker & sang "Pourquoi me reveiller" from Werther & 2 Chinese love songs, accompanied by Mark Morash.

I had expected the event to be primarily informational, so I was more than surprised to be in the same room with a handful of former Merolini, SF Opera General Director David Gockley & mezzo Frederica von Stade. Zheng Cao herself was able to attend, & the event was quite emotional, with colleagues sharing appreciative stories about Ms. Cao. Adler Fellow Renée Rapier ended the program by singing "You'll Never Walk Alone." She invited the audience to join her in the 2nd verse, & I had the surreal experience of hearing Flicka, who had sat down next to me, singing right into my ears.

§ Zheng Cao Opera Fund
Reception and Announcement
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
San Francisco Opera House

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Great Gatsby Opera

On Sunday afternoon I saw the last of 3 sold-out performances by Ensemble Parallèle of John Harbison's opera of The Great Gatsby. The opera was performed in a slightly cut version & in a reorchestration that preserves the sonorities of a large orchestra using only about 30 musicians. Harbison's score is complex & modern-sounding. Conductor Nicole Paiement & her band were kept busy every moment. The substantial overture establishes the opera's leitmotifs & its urgent yet often somber mood. I liked hearing the banjo that accompanies Harbison's authentic-sounding recreations of 1920s jazz. The opera condenses the novel into 11 short scenes occurring in various locations. Though the music is continuous, there are arias, duets & ensembles woven into the flow. At dramatic moments the orchestra drops out completely, leaving us with the voices alone.

The casting was excellent & the acting so good that I sometimes felt I was watching a play. Tenor Daniel Snyder has a strong, muscular voice & was an angry Tom Buchanan. Mr. Snyder even looked like an ex-football player. Soprano Susannah Biller has a high, solid voice, & her Daisy was outwardly confident yet easily swayed. Mezzo Julienne Walker looked convincing as the athlete Jordan Baker, & her robust sound was a good match for Ms. Biller's in their duets. Tenor Marco Panuccio as Gatsby has a lyrical sound, though the role's very high music was clearly challenging. I liked his acting. He was suave, a bit shady, & desperately insecure. Bass Bojan Knezevic & mezzo Erin Neff gave powerful, dramatic performances as the unhappy George & Myrtle Wilson. Their scenes had so much raw emotion that they did not seem like secondary characters.

Front & rear video projections enhanced the production without overdoing it. Rippling water appears out the windows of the Buchanans' home, & reflections from a swimming pool dreamily wash over Gatsby's home. The eyes of the iconic eyeglasses billboard are alive, & they watch & then entrap George & Myrtle. A procenium-filling video illustrates the tense car journey to New York. The party scenes were lively & included dancers & an on-stage band with singers. I liked the crooning of jazz singer Mark Robinson. The many scene transitions were smooth, though it was a mistake for Gatsby to get up after being shot & then climb into his coffin. In the opera's final moments, Daisy's green light descends into the auditorium above the audiences' heads.

Composers John Harbison & Jacques Desjardins took a curtain call standing side-by-side. Immediately following the performance, director Brian Staufenbiel, assisted by cast principals, ran the Gatsby raffle drawing from the stage. The performance began Bayreuth-style, with the conductor stealing into the pit after the lights went down.

§ The Great Gatsby Opera By John Harbison
World Premier Chamber Orchestration By Jacques Desjardins
Ensemble Parallèle Opera
Nicole Paiement, Conductor
Brian Staufenbiel, Director

Susannah Biller, Daisy Buchanan
Julienne Walker, Jordan Baker
Jason Detwiler, Nick Carraway
Daniel Snyder, Tom Buchanan
Bojan Knezevic, George Wilson
Erin Neff, Myrtle Wilson
Marco Panuccio, Jay Gatsby
Mark Robinson, Radio / Band Singer
Carrie Zhang, Tango Singer
Roger Mccracken Meyer Wolfsheim
John Minagro, Henry Gatz
Roy Eikleberry, The Minister

Matthew Antaky, Scenic & Lighting Designer
Christine Cook, Costumer
Austin Forbord, Videographer
Jeanna Parham, Wig & Makeup Designer
Tom Seagl, Choreographer

Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Sunday, February 12, 2012 – 2:00 PM

§ Photo Credit: Susannah Biller and Marco Panuccio by Steve DiBartolomeo

Monday, February 13, 2012

SF Treasure Hunt

SF Treasure Hunt

Saturday afternoon I was at Justin Herman Plaza for the start of the annual San Francisco Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt, where I saw these lovely ladies win the costume contest. Team Get Your Drag-On! was a Miss Chinatown beauty pageant, complete with emcee & stuffed dragon mascot. They wore sashes with names such as "Miss Chinese Playground" & "Miss Lead Based Paint." The beauty queens were advised not to wave above their tiaras. The prize was a cake. The team went on to place 2nd in the Master's Division of the hunt, though they were a good hour behind the winning team, rumored to be from Google. Contestants are not required to run in costume.

§ San Francisco Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt
Saturday Feb. 11, 2012
Justin Herman Plaza

Blomstedt Conducts Bruckner 5

SF Symphony, 02.10.2012 Pre-concert, San Francisco Symphony, Davies Hall.It's great that former San Franciso Symphony Music Director Herbert Blomstedt continues to come back every season to lead 2 weeks of concerts, even though he is well into this 80's. It was a nearly full house for this intermissionless, 80 minute concert featuring Bruckner's 5th Symphony. Maestro Blomstedt led without a score & used simple, sweeping gestures. Despite the piece's length & big repeats, the peformance was buoyant & light-filled. The climaxes sounded full without blaring. The ending of the 1st movement was sheer & bright. The 2nd movement sometimes had a slight lilt. The strings' melody was velvety & lush. I liked the steely flute solo from Timothy Day & the dark sound from oboist William Bennett. Mr. Bennett made an impressively legato octave jump. There was a stunning moment for the whole orchestra when a very clean cut-off led into a long pause. Orchestral balances were very clear, & a passage in which big brass chords combined with rolling string arpeggios was gorgeous.

The 3rd movement often felt like a country dance. The jocular clarinet solo in the 4th movement was sharply articulated & vivid. The last movement's extended coda was taut & sustained, & the finale was shimmering & sunlit. The performance received an immediate standing ovation & shouts of "Bravo" for Maestro Blomstedt, who gestured appreciatively to the orchestra.

The audience was attentive, though an elderly couple in the front row left during the 2nd movement by walking all the way up a center aisle. The 1st & 2nd violins were split, which made sense, as the two violin parts were often independent. The strings have to play continously, but they were tireless.

§ Herbert Blomstedt conducts Bruckner's Symphony No. 5
San Francisco Symphony
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor

Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 

Fri, Feb 10, 2012 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Separation

In the succinct opening scene of A Separation, an intense family drama from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, a handsome married couple argue before an unseen judge. The wife Simin wants to emigrate & raise their young daughter outside of Iran. The husband Nader refuses to leave, because it would mean abandoning his elderly father, who is stricken with Alzheimer's. This is just the starting point for the film's exquisite plot, in which each development makes you shift your interpretation of the characters. Nader hires a woman to look after his father, but when the father soils himself, she calls a religious hotline to ask if it would be a sin for her to change his clothes. Even though no one behaves out of deliberate malice, the stakes keep escalating, & the consequences are devastating. The camera stays close to the actors' faces & puts the audience right in the middle of the film's many clashes. We also get a keen glimpse into a crowded judicial system. The sense of urgency never lets up. When the final credits began to roll, many in the audience gasped. Afterward, I had to sit over a cup of coffee to decompress before I could find my way home.

§ A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) (2011)
Asghar Farhadi, writer & director
123 min, Iran

Brian Barneclo at CounterPULSE

Brian Barneclo at CounterPULSE, 02.08.2012 Brian Barneclo giving slideshow talk at CounterPULSE.On Wednesday night, as part of Shaping SF's Art & Politcs series, artist Brian Barneclo gave an illustrated talk about his mural projects. The nearly 2 hour event was attended by a patient audience of about 15 & was recorded as a podcast. Mr. Barneclo is a super friendly guy who still talks like the suburban Indiana skateboarder he once was, with lots of "you know"s & an ambling manner. After studying painting in college, he ended up in San Francisco & got a job painting commercial signage, which is how he "got his chops." His sign painting background is evident in the lettering that appears in many of his murals. Mr. Barneclo talked us through pictures of his murals located in private homes, public spaces, skateboard parks, & even Nopa restaurant & Mauna Loa, a neighborhood bar in the Marina.

His latest public work is the 600 foot Systems Mural Project by CalTrain. It took 2 years to get permission & funding & then 2 weeks to actually paint. He said he's a different person now because of all the things he got involved in to complete it. The project cost included $17,000 for him to receive training & certification as a CalTrain worker, since he had to paint while inside the trainyard. His public projects also require huge insurance costs, though even he is unsure  what the liabilities are. I was delighted to learn that Mr. Barneclo improvised the happy little procession at the bottom of the Systems Mural on the last day. He has his "favorite strokes" when painting & feels that when he is having fun, that feeling transfers itself to the painting. SFMike has documented the joyful creation of 2 public murals by Barneclo, including the Systems Mural.

§ Shaping SF
Art & Politics: Brian Barneclo
February 8 at 7:30 p.m. CounterPULSE

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Zyzzyva Meets Granta

City Lights Bookstore, 02.07.2012 Audience at Zyzzyva Meets Granta reading in City Lights Bookstore poetry room.This evening City Lights Bookstore held a joint reading by local contributors to the current issues of Granta & Zyzzyva. About 35 good-natured & attentive listeners fit themselves into the upstairs poetry room. Oscar Villalon & Laura Cogan of Zyzzyva introduced the authors. Daniel Alarcón read from his piece in Granta 118 about witnessing a street brawl in South America. He also told us about Radio Ambulante, started by him & his wife, which he described as "This American Life in Spanish & for a trans-national audience." Herbert Gold read the 1st 2 pages of "Melinda, Doing Her Best", & he did a good job making us curious about the aloof title character. Dean Rader read a selection of his poems, including his "Self Portrait as Wikipedia Entry." Though he claimed it was "riddled with inaccuracies," he did show us his broken pinky finger.

Zyzzyva meets Granta, 02.07.2012 Poster for Zyzzyva & Granta event at City Lights Bookstore.The readings were over in a tight 40 minutes. Mr. Gold was the first of the writers to arrive, & when he noticed a small table set with wine bottles & plastic cups, he asked his host guilelessly, "Is that wine just for display?"  I suppose City Lights can be forgiven for misspelling "Zyzzyva" on their posters & event Web page.

§ Zyzzyva Meets Granta
Readings at City Lights Bookstore
Tuesday, February 7, 2012, 7:00 P.M.

Brian Dettmer at the JCC

Over the weekend I found the satellite exhibit for Brian Dettmer's painstaking show of altered books. The location is advertised as the Katz Snyder Gallery, which turns out to be a hallway on the 2nd floor of the Jewish Community Center. Many of the pieces are a few years earlier than the ones currently on display at the Toomey Tourrell Gallery, so it is interesting to see how quickly Dettmer has scaled up his work in size & intricacy. I liked seeing 2 small pieces extracted from comic books. The cunningly constructed Egyptian Book of the Dead has a truly esoteric feel. Unfortunately the books are behind reflective glass, making them difficult to examine.

§ The Book Sculpture of Brian Dettmer
Katz Snyder Gallery, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
February – March, 2012

Pina 3D

I've never seen a performance by the controversial Tanztheater Wuppertal, so I was curious to see Pina, the 3D movie tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch by Wim Wenders. Wenders filmed excerpts of her dances on stages & in diverse outdoor locations. Pina Bausch passed away unexpectedly just before production began, so the film also features remembrances from her multicultural company. I was stunned by the opening of The Rite of Spring, which is brutish & frightening & fits the music perfectly. I want to see this live. The movie also made me want to see the whole of Cafe Müller, with its characters stumbling spasmodically around a room full of chairs. It looks nerve-wracking & painfully sad. Pina seems to require a great deal of vulnerability from her dancers. I was made very uncomfortable by another piece in which a lifeless woman is poked & prodded by a mob of men in suits. Pina is also very funny, though it was hard to know what to make of the woman in love with a hippo or the ballerina stuffing her toe shoes with veal. In a joyful procession that bookends the film & seems to be a salute to Pina, the company marches single file while making gestures representing the four seasons.

Wenders makes good use of 3D. When a shot shows the whole stage, the dancers look like figures in a doll house. Other times we're right up next to them. A piece in which the dancers cavort on a flooded stage is made even more exuberant by the 3D splashes. Scenes filmed on Wuppertal's amazing suspended railway make us feel like we're flying. It's got to be worth a trip to Wuppertal just to ride it.

§ Pina 3D (2011)
Director: Wim Wenders
103 min, Germany

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Great Gatsby Staging Rehearsal

Ensemble Parallele rehearsal, 02.03.2012 Q&A following open rehearsal of Ensemble Parallele's The Great Gatsby. Marco Panuccio, Susannahy Biller, Jason Detwiler, Julienne Walker, Nicole Paiement.Friday afternoon I was in the small audience for a staging rehearsal of Ensemble Parallèle's production of The Great Gatsby by John Harbison. We saw the principals, chorus & supers run through 4 scenes, with piano accompaniment. Even though there were starts and stops, do-overs & no sets, the excerpts were dramatic. The casting is great. Bass Bojan Knezevic delivers a horrific opera scream in the car crash scene. Soprano Susannah Biller as Daisy already identifies fully with her character. Tenors Marco Panuccio & Dan Snyder make an excellent contrast both physically & vocally as Gatsby & Tom. The score sounds modern, though Harbison has also written authentic-sounding jazz songs for an on-stage band & for music coming out of a radio. During one of the breaks, conductor Nicole Paiement said that her favorite bars of the opera are when Gatsby & Nick 1st meet & sing, "I'm Gatsby!" -- "You're Gatsby!"

Director Brian Staufenbiel described the deployment of scrims & video projections, & it seems complicated. The production moves into the Novellus Theatre on Monday for final preparations, & there's clearly a lot yet to work out. A Q&A with the principals followed the rehearsal. We learned that this production cuts about 30 minutes off the original, all with the composer's approval. A significant cut is ending act I with a love scene between Daisy & Gatsby. Maestra Paiement also said that her tempos are often fast, to get the dialogue up to the speed of conversation.

Ensemble Parallèle performs The Great Gatsby by John Harbison on February 10, 11 & 12 at the Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Brian Dettmer: Textonomy

From One to ZeroEver since someone told me about book artist Brian Dettmer a while back, I've been wanting to see his work in person, so I went to the busy opening reception for his show at the Toomey Tourell gallery on Thursday evening. He typically begins with discarded reference books with lots of pictures. He seals the edges then carves through the pages, excavating overlapping layers of images & text. It was difficult for me to stop staring at the results. I loved the tabular clutter of From One to Zero, created from a book about numbers. A gallery staffer described its $5,500 price as "affordable."

American Peoples, 02.02.2012 American Peoples, altered set of encyclopedias by Brian Dettmer, at Toomey Tourell gallery.Many of the pieces combine several volumes into large sculptures. Standing in front of the five-foot high American Peoples, I felt embraced by its splayed pages, spilling over with geographic & anthropological images. Mr. Dettmer is politely vague about his techniques & the amount of time it takes to create his art. He was present at the reception & stood innocuously in a corner chatting with visitors. More of Mr. Dettmer's pieces are currently on display at the Jewish Community Center, & I'm looking forward to checking that out too.

§ Brian Dettmer: Textonomy
Toomey Tourell Fine Art
February 1st – March 31st, 2012

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Trio di Clarone

Wednesday night I heard Trio di Clarone, the clarinet trio consisting of Sabine Meyer, her husband Reiner Wehle & her brother Wolfgang Meyer. The program was all short pieces & featured Mozart's music on the basset horn, which is an elongated version of the clarinet, with a lower range and a darker, raspier timbre. Its player has to be seated, & the instrument is so long that the bell rests on the floor.

The program began and ended with basset horn arrangements of numbers from Mozart operas, which all had a light & graceful feel, even the military march in "Non più andrai." The Meyers sibling were frisky in duos by Poulenc & C.P.E. Bach on regular clarinets. They looked like they were dancing together during the jocular "Vif" movement of the Poulenc. Mr. Wehle has an open, mellow sound & played nicely soft & rounded phrases in the 2nd of 3 Stravinsky solo clarinet pieces, though a cell phone rang right at the end. Mr. Wehle acknowledged it with a nod. The trio established a strong, contrasting character for each movement of Bach's French Suite in G Major. I liked the lively, flexible tempos & tossed-off ornaments. The Courante depicted sprinting & made the audience laugh. The 2 clarinets bantered rapidly in the Bourrée.

Each half of the program was about 40 minutes. The trio played cleanly, with very close ensemble, & the musicians even sounded similar. They looked like they were having fun playing for each other as well as for the audience. Everything seemed comfortably easy. A smattering of people gave them a standing ovation, & the encore was a bubbly excerpt from Don Giovanni, thus completing the Mozart/Da Ponte cycle.

§ San Francisco Performances
Trio di Clarone

MOZART: Three Arias from The Marriage of Figaro, K.492
(arranged anonymously for three basset horns during Mozart's time)
Rondo: Al desio di chi t'adora
Arietta: Voi, che sapete
Aria: Non più andrai

POULENC: Sonata for 2 Clarinets

STRAVINSKY: Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo

J.S. BACH: French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816
(arranged for two clarinets and basset horn by Rainer Schottstädt)

MOZART: Divertimento No. 1 for Three Basset Horns, K.439b

C.P.E. BACH: Duo in C Major for Two Clarinets, Wq. 142

MOZART: Four Arias from Così fan Tutte, K.588
(arranged for three basset horns by Rainer Schottstädt)
Aria: Come scoglio immota resta
Aria: In Nomini, in soldati
Aria: Un aura amorosa
Terzetto: Una bella serenata

MOZART: "Riposato, vezzose ragazze" from Act I of Don Giovanni

Wednesday, February 1, 8pm
Herbst Theatre

§ Photo credit: © 2009 Marion Koell/Avi-music.