Friday, December 25, 2015

ABS: Weihnachts-Oratorium

Earlier this month, I heard the American Bach Soloists perform Bach's Christmas Oratorio in St. Ignatius Church on the USF campus. In his introductory remarks, conductor Jeffrey Thomas told us this was the 1st ABS performance here. The large interior was well-lit & decorated with garlands, so the setting felt especially grand & festive. Performance forces were minimal: 4 soloists, 16 choristers, in a widely spaced row behind the orchestra, & about 20 instrumentalists, mostly one per part. The sound was not as muddy as I had expected, but it did seem to dissipate into the cavernous space rather than fill it.

Everyone gave punctilious, scrupulously consistent performances. Maestro Thomas's tempos were often fleet, but his beat was always perfectly regular & so never felt rushed. Tenor Kyle Stegall had a wonderfully bright, flexible voice & very clear diction. He sang his recitatives expressively, & his virtuoso arias sounded fluent & agile. He seemed to take breaths in comfortable places. I enjoyed the firm yet easeful voice of baritone Jesse Blumberg. He singing was athletic & elegant, & his high notes warm & open.

Soprano Hélène Brunet's voice was high, warbling & youthful & appropriately angelic. Mezzo Agnes Vojtko made a grounded, sustained sound. She executed long phrases efficiently, without seeming to take breaths, & was steadfast. The choristers were secure & dispatched their contrapuntal choruses pristinely. The soloists joined in the chorales, which were stately.

Individual orchestra members stood when they had obbligato parts, & there were many excellent solos. The trumpet's trills were impressively rapid & even. The tone of the flute was pleasingly pure & without breathiness. Debra Nagy's oboe playing is beautifully liquid, & her accompaniment to "Flößt, mein Heiland" was flowing & had clear-cut dynamics. The aria's off-stage echo voice always came in neatly on time. The strings played vigorously, & leader Elizabeth Blumenstock gave a vivid, wave-like motion to her part in "Ach, wenn wird die Zeit erscheinen." The horns struggled to be in tune.

The concert was well attended, & the sober-minded audience refrained from applauding between the separate cantatas, though many stood enthusiastically for the performers at the end. There were long lines for restrooms, even if one ventured outside to a nearby building. Late-comers squeezed themselves into a non-existent seat next to my concert companion, not realizing that they were in the wrong pew.

§ Bach's Christmas Oratorio
American Bach Soloists
American Bach Choir
Hélène Brunet, soprano
Agnes Vojtko, alto
Kyle Stegall, tenor
Jesse Blumberg, baritone
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Saturday December 12 2015 7:30 pm
Saint Ignatius Church, San Francisco

Thursday, December 17, 2015

NCCO: Holiday Program Rehearsal

Wednesday morning I attended the open rehearsal for New Century Chamber Orchestra's holiday concert this week. The mood was festive, & right before the rehearsal, Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg asked the orchestra to play "Happy Birthday" for a cellphone video she sent to a certain "Mastah G."

The morning started with the program's 2nd half, featuring Klezmer clarinettist David Krauker, performing traditional songs in his own arrangements. His playing was immediately arresting, exuberant & jazzy. Audience members compulsively nodded their heads to the beat & frequently broke into applause. His arrangement of "Wedding Dance" asks the orchestra to improvise slides, pizzicatos & slaps to accompany his raucous yet steady solo. Mr. Krakauer encouraged the musicians to be playful, & he was confident with the results. "Hanukkah O Hankukkah" was contrastingly slow & waltz-like, & Mr. Krauker played with swing.

We were lucky to hear his "Synagogue Wail" solo improvisation, which he said he usually doesn't do in rehearsal because he likes to surprise the orchestra. His piercing, energetic solo employed extended clarinet techniques & a lot of circular breathing which looked deceptively natural. We also got to hear his encore, a duet on a popular tune with Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg. At the end of it, she asked the audience, "Was that fun or scary?" It was interesting to hear Mr. Krakauer explain his intentions using analogies to things like boiling water or a traditional New Orleans marching band. Mr. Krakauer was often upstaged by the presence of 3 preschool girls in the audience who naturally became more rambunctious as the morning progressed.

After the coffee and donuts break, the orchestra rehearsed 2 Bach arrangements by Clarice Assad, which Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg prefaced by asking the audience, "You've heard of the phrase 'And now for something completely different'?" The musicians gave "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring" a soft, lilting mood, & there was a lot of discussion about tempos, dynamic levels, & whether or not to use mutes. The arrangement of "Sheep May Safely Graze" felt romantic rather than Baroque, & its opening reminded me of the Barber Adagio. There was more discussion about ensemble & working out of cues. A cellist questioned the contrast between the opening notes played without vibrato vs. the sweet, rapid vibrato of Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg's solo.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus participates in the program as well, but they were in school this morning.

§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director

Program 2: Holiday Lights
San Francisco Girls Chorus
David Krakauer, Clarinet

Johann Sebastian Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring from Cantata 208
(arr. Clarice Assad)
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sheep May Safely Graze from Cantata 147
(arr. Clarice Assad)
Traditional/John Jacob Niles: I Wonder as I Wander
Various: Medley of Christmas Carols
Baldassare Galuppi: Dixit Dominus
Charles Gounod: O Divine Redeemer
Traditional: Hanukkah O Hankukkah
(arr. Kathy Tagg)
Traditional: Wedding Dance
(arr. David Krakauer)
Traditional: Der Gasn Nign (The Street Song)
(arr. David Krakauer)
David Krakauer: Synagogue Wail for solo clarinet
Traditional: Der Heyser Bulgar (The Hot Bulgar)
(arr. David Krakauer)

Open Rehearsal
Wednesday, December 16, 2015, 10am, Kanbar Performing Arts 

First Congregational Church
Thursday, December 17, 2015, 8pm

Palo Alto
First United Methodist Church
Friday, December 18, 2015, 8pm

San Francisco
Herbst Theatre
Saturday, December 19, 2015, 8pm

San Rafael
Osher Marin Jewish Community Center
Sunday, December 20, 2015, 5pm

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Up-Coming: A Day of Silents

This coming Saturday the SF Silent Film Festival presents a special 1-day festival at the Castro Theatre. The 5 programs range from star vehicles for Douglas Fairbanks, Harry Houdini & Anna May Wong to a documentary & a French avant-garde fantasy. All are accompanied by live music.

The day starts with a splash with Douglas Fairbanks in the swashbuckling, technicolor The Black Pirate. The BFI National Archive will present a compilation of travelogues & newsreels of pre-war China, which ought to be an interesting time capsule. Harry Houdini stars in The Grim Game, a film until recently thought to be lost, in a restoration that premiered earlier this year. It is famous for footage of an unintended airplane crash which was then incorporated into the plot. In the evening the festival presents L'Inhumaine, a fantastical French melodrama, & Piccadilly, a British drama featuring Anna May Wong.

§ A Day of Silents | Films & Tickets | Passes
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Castro Theatre

§ Schedule at a Glance

11:00 am
1926, USA, 84 min
Live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra

1:00 pm
Filmed 1900–1948, 68 min
Compiled in 2015 by the BFI National Archive
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

3:00 pm
1919, USA, 73 min
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

6:30 pm
1924, France, 122 min
Live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra

9:15 pm
1929, UK, 92 min
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Etsy Holiday Crowds

This Saturday afternoon around 3pm, I showed up at Pier 35, thinking I would check out the free Etsy Holiday Emporium. Instead I came upon 2 long lines extending from either side of the entrance.

Staff were admitting people in waves of 50 at 5 minute intervals. A woman near the head of one line said she had been waiting 40 minutes, & more people kept joining the lines.

I was agape at both the crowds & the eager willingness to wait.

According to facebook posts, the venue became dangerously over-crowded within an hour of opening this morning, & some called the event a fail. Apparently Etsy was unprepared to have such an insane hit on its hands.

§ SF Etsy Team Indie Holiday Emporium
Sat–Sun, Nov 28–29, 11:00am–5:00pm 
Pier 35

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SFO: Meistersinger

Last Wednesday night I attended the opening performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at San Francisco Opera. Starting with a languidly paced overture, conductor Mark Elder led with slow, measured tempos that seemed chosen to give every note of the score its full value. The resulting music had a dull, even sheen. There were many beautiful instrumental solos, but the slow tempos may have strained the musicians. There was a surprising blooper from the off-stage band in act 3, & the violins sometimes sounded tired. The violas had a warm, velvety tone, & the harp had an emphatic clarity.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Walther sounded lyrical, masculine & ardent & was convincing as a young, noble military officer. He nearly missed a high note during the 1st act song trial, & before the 3rd act it was announced that he was singing through a cold. He sounded slightly cautious but made it through fine. Baritone James Rutherford was a mildly gruff Hans Sachs & sounded firm & youthful. His singing was impressively consistent & taut throughout. The production asks for naturalistic acting, & Martin Gantner's Beckmesser was eager, foolish & vain but not cartoonish. HIs singing was crisp & characterful & felt stylistically correct.

Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen had a solid, steely voice & portrayed a grown-up Eva. Bass Ain Anger sang Pogner with weight & a natural ease. I enjoyed the Magdalene of mezzo Sasha Cooke, whose bright, sparkling voice had a powerful presence. Tenor Alek Shrader was an appealing David. His voice was high & nimble, & he moved with agility. It was marvelous to hear bass Andrea Silvestrelli as the night watchman. His resonant, cavernous voice wafted easily through the auditorium, even though he remained at the back of the stage.

David McVicar's production, originating from Glyndebourne, is set during the Napoleonic Wars, & the attractively costumed cast look like they are in the latest Jane Austen adaptation. The entire opera takes place under an ornate vaulted ceiling, & the chorus & the Meistersingers were all distinct individuals, members of a small, lively community. Twice in act 1 the apprentices break into a synchronized dance routine with knee slaps & stomping. The stage fighting during the act 2 riot is rough & vigorous. In a surreal moment in act 3, shoe boxes in Sachs's workshop come to life. The busy meadow scene features stilt-walking jugglers & an extended dance routine. Many scenes had strong lighting coming in from the wings.

The performance ran 5 & 3/4 hours, not including the curtain calls. I noticed considerable attrition in the balcony by act 3. The remaining audience gave an appreciative ovation, cheering the cast & orchestra.

§ Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Richard Wagner

San Francisco Opera
Conductor: Mark Elder
Production: David McVicar
Revival Co-Directors: Marie Lambert, Ian Rutherford

Eva: Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Magdalene: Sasha Cooke
Walther von Stolzing: Brandon Jovanovich
David: Alek Shrader
Sixtus Beckmesser: Martin Gantner
Veit Pogner: Ain Anger
Hans Sachs: James Rutherford

Balthasar Zorn: Joel Sorensen
Ulrich Eisslinger: Joseph Hu
Hermann Ortel: Edward Nelson
Konrad Nachtigall: Sam Handley
Kunz Vogelgesang: AJ Glueckert
Fritz Kothner : Philip Horst
Hans Foltz: Matthew Stump
Hans Schwarz: Anthony Reed
Augustin Moser: Corey Bix
An apprentice: Laurel Porter
A night watchman: Andrea Silvestrelli

Wednesday, November 18, 6:00PM
War Memorial Opera House

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cupcake Opera

The Borderlands Cafe in the Mission is currently hosting a painting exhibition by the Internet's own Opera Tattler. The 30 or so pictures portray operatic stage scenes, of course, though the characters resemble small, hapless cupcakes with twig-like arms. Most depict recent San Francisco Opera productions, complete with quotations from the scores.

I attended the opening reception on Sunday. Since the pictures are right over the tables, they are sometimes difficult to inspect, though it is amusing to consider that customers might be planning the next start-up to take over the world while sitting beneath the image of a cupcake that has fallen on its frosting. No actual cupcakes were available but guests were offered thick fudge brownies. At least 3 of paintings were already sold by the end of the afternoon.

§ Cupcake Opera
new paintings by Charlie Tiee
October 1 - November 30, 2015
Borderlands Cafe

Opening Reception
October 11, 2015, 3:30 - 5:30pm

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

WSJ: How Videogames Are Saving the Symphony Orchestra

Francesca Buchalski as Link 
Classic tongue-in-cheek article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning about how concerts of videogame music are keeping symphonic music alive & kicking for non-subscription audiences:  New Mission for Videogame Heroes: Save the Symphony Orchestra.

Sample Excerpts
Costumed attendees—dressed as dragons, wizards, princesses, fairies, knights and sorcerers—often engage in mock battles. Marriage proposals mid-show aren’t unusual.
“You can no longer just sit there and play Beethoven,”
“From a business-strategy perspective, it completely devalues the brand, ...akin to Mouton Rothschild using its wine to make and sell sangria.”
Heidi Harris, the associate concert master for the St. Louis Symphony, was surprised how much she enjoyed performing Zelda in a concert this year. “I thought it was very beautiful,” she said. “I dislike videogames less now.”

PBO: Scarlatti’s Glory of Spring

Last Friday night I heard Philharmonia Baroque's performance of Scarlatti's La Gloria di Primavera, a sort of extended secular cantata original written to celebrate the birth of the male heir of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1716. PBO touted these performances as the 1st in nearly 300 years. 5 soloists represent the seasons plus the god Jove. The text is fulsome, sycophantic & dramatically static, but the singers did a nice job creating characters & having fun with it where possible.

All the roles are virtuosic, & the entire cast displayed agility & charm. Mezzo Diana Moore was stable & rooted throughout her fancy coloratura passages. Soprano Suzana Ograjenšek's singing was youthful, clean & flirtatious. Countertenor Clint van der Linde's voice sounded firm & well-inflated. Tenor Nicholas Phan was wonderfully expressive & sang his rage arias colorfully. His rich, smooth timbre seemed well-suited for this music. Baritone Douglas Williams made the audience laugh the moment he stepped on stage & gave an engaging & comic performance as the pompous god Jove. HIs acting made the woman next to me downright giggly. His voice was solid & had some weight, & he gamely executed his music's unwieldy leaps. An additional 5 singers joined the soloists for the choruses & blended in neatly.

Everything felt tidy & well-rehearsed. Conductor Nicholas McGegan was a vivacious leader & kept the music spry & sparkling. The orchestra sounded bouncy & adroit. The orchestra was on the floor in front of the stage, except for 2 lutes & the flute & trumpet soloists who joined the singers on the stage. I sometimes felt that the music had a lot of filler, & the evening ran long, the 1st half lasting an hour & the 2nd half running 85 minutes. The performance was being recorded for a CD to be released next year.

The audience was attentive & respectful, applauding only at the end of each half. A man at the end of our row was particularly vocal in expressing his approval at the end. No printed libretto was supplied, but there were supertitles. As the lights went down at the start, an outside door squeaked loudly as it closed, which caused some titters

It was good to be back in the renovated Herbst Theatre, which looked spruced up & brighter. The acoustic sounded clearer to me as well. There is now a downstairs bar, & I enjoyed having a drink during intermission with friends who had all attended SF Opera's Lucia the previous night.

§ Scarlatti’s Glory of Spring
La Gloria di Primavera
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 - 1725)

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Suzana Ograjenšek, soprano
Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano
Clint van der Linde, countertenor
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Douglas Williams, baritone

Members of the Philharmonia Chorale
Heidi Waterman, soprano
Jennifer Ashworth, soprano
Katherine McKee, alto
David Kurtenbach, tenor
John Bischoff, bass

Fri. 9 Oct. @ 8:00 PM
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Monday, September 28, 2015

Super Blood Moon

Obviously no one would knowingly miss a Super Blood Moon Total Eclipse, so Sunday at dusk I stopped at Alta Plaza Park, the highest location on my way home. A small crowd was already gathered. Some people were picnicking. Even from the top of the park, the horizon is blocked by hills & buildings, so we had to wait for the moon to rise high enough. Some people applauded when the moon eventually emerged from behind clouds. I wouldn't call it blood red, but it was definitely a dark rusty orange, a bit brighter along the right bottom edge. I was lucky to get such a clear view of it during totality. As I kept looking at it as I walked home, it started to resemble a giant orange hanging in the sky. I went out to look again a half hour later, & its bottom edge was a bright, white crescent. It seemed more 3-dimensional than a normal moon. When I tried to check its progress later, the sky was too overcast.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Big Book Sale

I went into the Annual Fall Big Book Sale at Fort Mason telling myself that I do not need more books, but while browsing I came across a hardcover edition of The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll & was immediately convinced of its necessity.

However, I did have the willpower to resist this LP of the 8 Bayreuther Festspiel-Hornisten performing lesser-known works for horn ensemble.

I also passed over this 1982 guide to bringing computers into your small business. 

It seemed a bit out of date.

The sale continues through Sunday. All books are $3, $2 or 1$. On Sunday everything goes for $1. But if you are determined to spend money like it's Customer Appreciation Day at Saks, check out the rare books corner, where there's a gorgeous 2 volume art book about Japan for a cool $700.

§ 51st Annual Fall Big Book Sale
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library
Wednesday, September 16 - Sunday, September 20
10 AM - 6 PM
Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Up-Coming: Mill Valley Film Festival 38

Tuesday evening I was at the press announcement for the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival. Executive Director Mark Fishkin, Director of Programming Zoë Elton, & Senior Programmers Karen Davis & Janis Plotkin gave an overview of the festival, which runs October 8 - 18. 107 features & 76 shorts will play on 13 screens in 4 Marin County cities, with over 300 filmmakers in attendance. The 1st announcement was that Ian McKellen will receive a tribute on Sunday, October 11, though they have not yet determined the film they will show at his appearance.

The 2 opening night films are The Danish Girl, an historical drama starring Eddie Redmayne as one of the 1st people to receive gender reassignment surgery, & Spotlight, a drama about The Boston Globe investigation of child molestation within the Catholic church. Closing night is Suffragette, a British drama about the early members of women's suffrage movement, with Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst.

Many selections come from the Cannes & Berlinale Festivals. I'm excited that Andrew Haigh's new film 45 Years is playing, as well as Taxi, another covert film by banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. The programming panel was enthusiastic about 2 films from Iceland, Rams & Virgin Mountain, & I'm intrigued by Ixcanul, a Guatemalan film in the Mayan language, & Mardan, a film from "Iraqi Kurdistan" directed by Batin Ghobadi, a younger brother of Bahman Ghobadi.

Films with big names include Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg & starring Tom Hanks; Youth, directed by Paolo Sorrentino & starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda; Wondrous Boccaccio, an adaption of the Decameron by the Taviani brothers; & Greenery Will Bloom Again by Ermanno Olmi. Documentary filmmaker Marcel Ophuls will receive a tribute along with a screening of his Ain't Misbehavin'. The Sorrow & the Pity will also be shown. Senegalese author & filmmaker Ousmane Sembène is remembered by the documentary Sembène! & a screening of his film Black Girl.

In response to the dismal underrepresentation of women directors in Hollywood, the festival is highlighting films & panels under the rubric "Mind the Gap," as well as offering a tribute to director Catherine Hardwicke. 2 films, Son of Saul & The Sorrow & the Pity, will be shown in 35mm. Non-film events include 9 nights of live music at the Sweetwater Music Hall, a nature hike & an exhibit celebrating Ingrid Bergman.

§ Festival Web Site | On-line Brochure | Films | Venues | Ticket Info | Festival Pass

§ Mill Valley Film Festival
October 8-18, 2015

§ Press Conference for the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival
Tuesday, September 15, 6p
Dolby Labs

Friday, September 11, 2015

SF Opera Opening Night

This morning the steps of the War Memorial Opera House are decked out, & party tents fill Grove Street, in preparation for San Francisco Opera's opening night, featuring soprano Leah Crocetto & tenor Michael Fabiano in Verdi's Luisa Miller. I joined the line for standing room tickets around 8:30am, & there were only 3 people ahead of me. Heading the line was the Opera Tattler, who was surprised to be first. In past years she has arrived far earlier, only to find herself 2nd or 3rd, so there is definitely a shift occurring in standing room. When the box office opened at 10:00am, a dozen people were waiting.

The mood was enlivened by the Opera Tattler's young companion, who was not shy about testing all the building's doors & crawling around the other patrons. Though he had to wait with the rest of us, he disappointingly won't have the fun of attending the show. A friendly guy in line made a coffee run & brought back treats for his fellow standees.

When I got my ticket, I was instructed to enter on the courtyard side of the building tonight, instead of the usual Grove Street side. Immediately following tonight's performance, General Director David Gockley will award the SF Opera Medal to Francesca Zambello, the director of the production.

§ Luisa Miller
Giuseppe Verdi
San Francisco Opera
Fri 09/11/15 8:00pm
War Memorial Opera House

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Last month Japantown hosted the 3rd annual Origami-Palooza, a sort of origami open house, where people are invited to sit down & learn how to fold something out of a square of colored paper. It was well-attended, & you needed to hover a bit in order to snag a free seat.

It's obviously a perfect family activity, ...

--- but really people of all ages were getting into it.

Expert folders brought models to enter into a competition.

Their entries were amusing ...

... and astonishing.

My favorite was Trevor Mead's life-sized sheep, apparently constructed from 2 huge sheets of paper, supported by a metal frame. I'd never seen anything like it before.

A paper airplane contest was held in the plaza, though subjecting contestants to the vagaries of the wind did not seem fair.

The contest was emceed by John Collins, who holds the record for the longest flight of a paper airplane.

I liked figuring out how to fold a paper airplane at this table by seeing a sample of each step, but when I launched my finished plane, it shot across the room & smacked a little girl in the side of the face.

§ Origami-Palooza
Sunday, August 23, 2015, 1-5pm
East Japan Center Mall

Monday, September 07, 2015

SF Zine Fest

Sunday afternoon I attended the SF ZineFest, an indie marketplace for zines, comics & art. This year it was one day instead of two, & the organizers culled the vendors rather than allocating tables on a first-come, first-served basis. The event was crowded, & most of the vendors I asked were OK with the changes, though a couple complained they wouldn't be making as much money because it was only one day.

I had fun catching up with a handful of stalwart exhibitors whom I see every year. Luckily Geoff Vasile had an issue of Track Rabbit that I hadn't read yet, but I think the tiny Chihuahua at his table attracted as much attention as anything at the Fest. I found Jason Martin & got a copy of Bright Nights, his Transatlantic collaboration with UK artist Simon Moreton. They both excel at capturing small moments, & their differing drawing styles alternate without clashing. Andy Warner proudly handed out entertaining preview pages of his up-coming book Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, which will be published by Picador.

I saw a lot of polished projects, like Joan Karissa's accordion book of drawings of overhead bus wires. I liked handling the vintage-style covers of Fiddler's Green magazine & learning that Jeff Hoke is working on a follow-up to The Museum of Lost Wonder, with more paper models to build yourself. Jez Burrows's designs have a strikingly sleek & disinfected appearance.

I did not come across many old-school zines, so it was great to see issues of Before the Silicon, containing old newspaper photos of San Jose from the 40s & the 50s, & Doctor Popular's American Analog, with its grainy, gritty street photography. His snapshots of downtown San Francisco depict the City as I recognize it.

§ San Francisco Zine Fest
Sunday, Sept 6th 2015, 11AM - 5PM
San Francisco County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park

A Date with Destino

Saturday afternoon I attended a talk at the Walt Disney Family Museum about the aborted collaboration between Salvador Dali & Walt Disney. Dali worked at the Disney Studio for 8 months in 1945/46, producing over 150 art works, including 6 paintings, for an animated short called Destino, which was eventually shelved in 1948. Around the time of the production of Fantasia 2000, Roy Disney resurrected Destino as a low-budget, high-prestige project & convinced Paris-based animator Dominique Monféry to create a 5-and-a-half minute film based on Dali's drawings & Disney artist John Hench's original storyboards.

Ted Nicolaou, curator of the museum's current exhibit about Dali, & Dave Bossert, Destino's associate producer, showed slides & told stories of the film's production with warm enthusiasm. Listening to Mr. Bossert, I experienced the vicarious pleasure of hearing someone who really loves his job. He amused the audience with his story of attending the 2003 Oscars & then attempting to take his limo up to the drive-through window of In-N-Out Burger. It was fascinating to learn that Dali's artwork was stolen by a Disney employee in 1969 then recovered from a Long Beach gallery, though a few items are still missing.

The talk concluded with a screening of Destino. Its use of CGI & cross-dissolves instead of full motion animation already looks dated, & the film does not feel like an artifact from the 1940s. It's most authentic element is the sound track, taken from an old LP recording, heard with all its clicks & pops. The scenario is clearly a love story & the imagery recognizably Dali-esque, including clocks, melting faces & ants crawling on a hand. Apparently Dali was interested in American baseball, but when a woman's head turns into a ball which is then batted into the distance by a baseball player, the gesture does not read as romantic. At one point bicyclists with baguettes on their heads appear, but the animators later discovered that the baguettes should have been rocks. The audience of mostly older adults knew a lot about Disney already & made appreciative noises whenever specific Disney lore was mentioned.

§ Talk | A Date with Destino
Ted Nicolaou and Dave Bossert
Sat, Sep 5, 1pm
Walt Disney Family Museum

§ Destino (2003)
Dominique Monféry, dir.
USA, 2003, 7 mins.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Celebrating Stefano Scodanibbio

Last Sunday I attended an afternoon concert at Old First Church featuring musicians of sfSound & the music of Stefano Scodanibbio. 4 trumpeters opened the program with a solemn, portenous piece lasting about 13 minutes. An elderly man sitting in front of me covered one of this ears through much of it, & some of the chords created a physical sensation inside my ear canal. Violinist Ben Kreith gave a bright, jazzy performance of the solo piece My New Address, which was relentless in its use of squeakingly high harmonics & double stops. Mr. Kreith gave the music a clear sense of line & punctuated the ending playfully. 9 musicians then participated in a group improvisation in 3 movements, using material supplied by Scodanibbio. It was often cacaphonous, though duets clearly emerged, between violin & cello, for instance, or double bass & vibraphone. The last movement was fast & busy & climaxed in a high, piercing flourish from the clarinet.

After the intermission, Luciano Chessa performed a 10 minute improvisation on an amplified Đàn Bầu, making electronic wails & metallic plucking & scratching sounds. At one point it got loud enough that people covered their ears, though the ending was tentative & quiet. Matt Ingalls on bass clarinet & Lisa Mezzacappa on contrabass then did a compact 5 minute improvisation that grew to a loud climax then wound gently down to silence. Mr. Ingalls's astonishing extended techniques included circular breathing, stratospheric high notes & rattling the clarinet's keys.

The concert ended with Scodanibbio's Monteverdi-inspired Mas lugares, performed by the Del Sol Quartet. The harmonies of Monteverdi's madrigals came through, though they were enveloped in harmonics, scraping noises & glassy timbres. The 20-minute piece felt stretched-out & ghostly. The Del Sol Quartet made the different sections clear & played with a sustained sound. The audience of about 50 was supportive & always recalled the performers back for a 2nd bow. Afterwards I chatted with the Del Sol Quartet's violinists & learned that Mr. Kreith had just returned from playing string quartets on a river rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.

§ Celebrating Stefano Scodanibbio
sfSound & special guests

Stefano Scodanibbio
Plaza (2002)
          Tom Dambly, Scott Macomber, Doug Morton,
          Lenny Ott, trumpets; John Ingle, conductor

Stefano Scodanibbio
My New Address (1986/1988)
          Benjamin Krieth, violin

Stefano Scodanibbio
Avvicinamenti (2007)
          Monica Scott, cello; Lisa Mezzacappa, bass
          Brendan Lai-Tong, trombone; Benjamin Kreith, violin
          John Ingle, saxophone; Matt Ingalls, clarinets
          Mark Clifford, vibraphone; Luciano Chessa, piano
          Kyle Bruckmann, oboe/English horn (sfSoundGroup)

Luciano Chessa
COHIBA (2015)
          Luciano Chessa, dan bau

Matt Ingalls/Lisa Mezzacappa
Omaggio (2015)
          Matt Ingalls, bass clarinet; Lisa Mezzacappa, contrabass

Stefano Scodanibbio
Mas lugares (on Monteverdi's Madrigali) (2003)
          Del Sol String Quartet: Benjamin Kreith, violin;
          Rick Shinozaki, violin; Charlton Lee, viola; Kathryn Bates, cello

Old First Concerts
Sunday, August 30, 2015 at 4pm
Old First Church

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Curious Flights: An English Portrait

Last weekend I attended a cozy evening of mid-20th century English music, presented by the concert series Curious Flights. Every piece required a different configuration of performers, ranging from a nearly 30-member chorus, to a piano duo, to a 10-piece chamber orchestra, & I wondered if musicians were going to outnumber the audience. Soprano Julie Adams opened the program with 6 songs by John Ireland. Her voice was rich & ear-filling, & she had nice coloration in "My Fair" & fitting comic punctuation in "The Scapegoat." Pianist Miles Graber's accompaniment was sober & dark-hued.

Clarinetist Brenden Guy & a string quartet drawn from One Found Sound sold me on Howells's Rhapsodic Quintet. The quartet's playing was smooth & balanced, & the clarinet was restrained & always blended well with the strings. 1st violinist Christopher Whitley made a sweet sound. The musicians all listened closely to one another, & their performance had lovely instrumental textures & was sweeping.  St. Dominic's Schola Cantorum, a community choir, were impressively firm & neat in their 3 songs. I liked the clear sopranos & the solidity of the tenors. It was fun hearing the individuality of the folksy solos in Britten's The Shepherd Carol, & the chorus's climactic chords were powerful without being merely loud.

Pianists Peter Grunberg & Keisuke Nakagoshi were cool under pressure in Arnold Bax's demanding Sonata for Two Pianos. Mr. Nakagoshi's playing was vivid & virtuosic, & Mr. Grunberg was a piano-playing machine, efficient & sleek. Their synchronization was precise, & the audience spontaneously applauded the busy 1st movement. The evening ended with a brisk performance of Britten's youthful Sinfonietta, Op1. The 10 instrumentalists followed conductor John Bailey's sharp gestures closely, & the ensemble was bright & somewhat aggressive.

The atmosphere was amiable & felt like a gathering of friends. The performers made sure that Mr. Guy, the event's prime mover, took the final bow of the evening. The stage crew were quick in rearranging the stage between numbers. The clicking of a camera shutter throughout the 2nd half was distracting.

§ Curious Flights
An English Portrait

John Ireland: Songs Sacred and Profane
            Julie Adams, soprano
            Miles Graber, piano

Herbert Howells: Rhapsodic Quintet, Op. 31
            Brenden Guy, clarinet
            One Found Sound, string quartet
            Christopher Whitley, violin
            George Hayes, violin
            Danny Sheu, viola
            Laura Gaynon, cello

Gerald Finzi: My Spirit Sang All Day
Benjamin Britten: The Shepherd Carol
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Valiant For Truth
            St. Dominic’s Schola Cantorum
            Simon Berry, music director

Arnold Bax: Sonata for Two Pianos
            Peter Grunberg, piano
            Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano

Britten: Sinfonietta, Op. 1
            Curious Flights Chamber Ensemble
            John Kendall Bailey, conductor
            Tess Varley, violin
            Baker Peeples, violin
            Jason Pyszkowski, viola
            Natalie Raney, cello
            Eugene Theriault, double bass
            Bethanne Walker, flute
            Jesse Barrett, oboe
            Brenden Guy, clarinet
            Kristopher King, bassoon
            Mke Shuldes, horn

Saturday, August 29, 2015, 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Sol Joseph Recital Hall

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Alice in Bookland

Last Monday morning I visited the Book Club of California on the last day of their exhibit of fine art editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The books come from a much bigger Lewis Carroll collection belonging to one of the club's members. The oldest edition in the exhibit dates from 1907, which is when the copyright for Alice expired, allowing new artists to illustrate the story. I never find these subsequent illustrations preferable to the originals by Tenniel, but it was fun seeing the variety of formats & styles on display.

I liked this edition by George Walker & Eleanore Ramsey, with what look like woodblock prints on handmade paper. It was frustrating not to be able to handle it.

I was also intrigued to see that Mervyn Peake had illustrated the Alice books. His thin-lined, sinister picture of the Cheshire Cat looks like it was drawn by an evil Dr. Seuss. I wanted to see the rest of the pages in this book as well.

There was also an eclectic array of Alice translations, in languages ranging from Turkish to Icelandic.

The exhibit was in what appears to be the club's meeting space, a quiet library-like room overlooking Sutter Street & invitingly equipped with a wet bar.

My favorite thing, though, was this sturdy card catalog, still packed with cards indexing the club's holdings

§ Alice in Bookland
Fine Press Editions from the Collection of Mark and Sandor Burstein
May 18-August 24, 2015
Book Club of California