Thursday, April 30, 2015

SFIFF: 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets

Wednesday evening I attended a screening of the documentary 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets, which is a close-up look at the 1st trial of Michael Dunn, a Florida white man convicted of shooting & killing Jordan Davis, an unarmed black teenager, during an argument over loud music. The 3 1/2 minute altercation is limned through tightly edited trial footage, phone calls, media reports, interviews with Mr. Davis's parents & friends &, most frighteningly, by a security camera video that captured the sound of the gun shots. There is a lot of crying in the film. Tense courtroom scenes alternate with quieter moments showing the parents of Mr. Davis awaiting the outcome of the trial. Mr. Dunn's casual racism is apparent, & you could feel the festival audience's disbelief at his insistence that he is the victim. Footage of protestors & audio clips from local talk radio give us a picture of the community response. The film has slick opening credits & crisp aerial views of Florida freeways, as well as a dreamy interlude showing Mr. Davis's father at a swimming pool.

Immediately following the screening, Executive Director Noah Cowan introduced Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, & she received a standing ovation when she walked to the front of the theater. Ms. McBath is now a civil rights activist & gun safety advocate. Also present were Alison Parker, Director of Human Rights Watch's US Program, & producers Bonni Cohen, Minette Nelson & Orlando Bagwell. Mr. Cowan led them in a high-level discussion about gun violence & stand your ground laws. Ms. McBath is strongly motivated by her religion, & she told us her work is about "changing the heart of man." I noticed only one other African American in the audience, apart from Ms. Davis & Mr. Bagwell. I happened to sit next to a woman who is on the board of the festival, & she made me very sorry that I missed the festival's Black Panthers documentary.

§ 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets
Director: Marc Silver
USA, 2015, 98 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 29, 2015   6:45 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
May 6, 2015      4:00 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
May 7, 2015      5:30 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

John Eliot Gardiner Leads L'Orfeo

I'd never heard a live performance of Monterverdi's L'Orfeo, so I was excited to hear John Eliot Gardiner conduct a concert version with the Monteverdi Choir & English Bach Soloists in Davies Hall on Monday night. The entire performance was beautiful & refined, & the youthful cast all had attractive voices. Tenor Andrew Tortise as Orfeo sounded captivatingly sweet & resonant throughout, with a nice ring to his high notes & pleasing low notes. Soprano Francesca Aspromonte sang Music & the Messenger with a dramatic range of dynamics, & her sound was pure & penetrating. She began her act 2 narrative offstage. As Euridice & Hope, soprano Mariana Flores had a focused, slightly reedy sound, & she colored her voice nicely for Euridice's brief appearances.

Bass Gianluca Buratto was terrific as the infernal characters Caronte & Plutone. His voice was firm & powerful, and he went down to a low D smoothly. His Caronte skulked around the stage like Iago, & I like that his singing was befittingly gruff at times. I enjoyed the extroverted sound of tenor Krystian Adam, who sang the First Shepherd appealingly & with much variety.

The soloists were also members of the chorus, who all sang from memory & participated in the story fully by reacting & gesturing. Characters theatrically entered & exited the stage for their scenes, & there were a couple of lighting cues. The female soloists even danced & played the tambourine, with the chorus clapping along. The women wore different brightly colored dresses for acts 1, 2 & 5, but everyone was in black for acts 4 & 5, which take place in Hades. When the chorus sang in unison they made a gorgeous bell-like sound that seemed to have an aura around it.

Maestro Gardiner is a tasteful conductor. He pointed a lot with his left hand, & the ensemble was always perfectly together. Tempos were stretched & indulgent & seemed to slow down as the evening progressed, making the event feel like a ritual rather than a drama. The orchestra of period instruments was clean & bright. The famous opening toccata employed different combinations of instruments for each repetition & sounded brilliant. I was glad I was close enough to the stage to see the toy-sized violino piccolo in act 2 & to watch the elegant harp solo during "Possente spirto." All the performers looked delighted to be there.

The concert was intermissionless & ran a full 2 hours. A handful of people bailed before the end, but the audience was quiet & respectful. We were clearly not supposed to interrupt the performance with applause, but at the end the audience gave the performers an immediate & lengthy standing ovation.

§ English Baroque Soloists
Monteverdi Choir

John Eliot Gardiner, conducting

Monteverdi L'Orfeo

Music/Messenger: Francesca Aspromonte
Orfeo: Andrew Tortise
Euridice/Hope: Mariana Flores
Nymph: Esther Brazil
Proserpina: Francesca Boncompagni
Caronte/Plutone: Gianluca Buratto
First Shepherd: Krystian Adam
Second Shepherd/First Spirit/Apollo: Nicholas Mulroy
Third Shepherd: James Hall
Fourth Shepherd/Third Spirit: David Shipley
Second Spirit/Echo: Gareth Treseder

San Francisco Symphony
Great Performers Series
Monday, April 27, 2015 at 8:00
Davies Symphony Hall

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

SFIFF: City of Gold

Last Saturday evening I joined a line at the Kabuki Cinema that went around the block for City of Gold, a new documentary about Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic for the LA Times. The rumpled Mr. Gold comes across as a critic for the people, as we see him drive around LA in a Dodge pickup, adventurously eating anywhere, from food trucks to modern French restaurants. He shows a warm enthusiasm for everything, even places he hates. We're made to feel like we're just hanging out with him while he's out to lunch with Calvin Trillin or at home with his family.

The film contains excerpts from Mr. Gold's reviews, interviews with food writers & chefs & nice stories about the small, hard-working restauranteurs that he has made successful by writing about them. The festival audience laughed at the look of fear that glazes over the face of the chef at a fancy restaurant when the critic walks in with a party of 6. It's also fun seeing footage of Mr. Gold playing cello in a punk band back in the day. Like Mr. Gold's reviews, the movie is really about Los Angeles itself, which is presented as a colorful & vibrant hive of ethnic enclaves.

Director of Programming Rachel Rosen conducted a Q&A with filmmaker Laura Gabbert & Mr. Gold after the screening. Ms. Gabbert told us she was able to gradually approach Mr. Gold about being the subject of the film because both their kids go to the same school. She shot the film on & off over a period of 5 years. The ending credits show Mr. Gold cooking at home with his family, & it was nice to learn that he actually cooks for his family most days before he goes out to work. Of course all the audience wanted to know was where Mr. Gold was going to eat while he was in San Francisco. I sat next to a dedicated festival-goer who was seeing 8 films over the weekend & was primarily interested in documentaries.

§ City of Gold
Director: Laura Gabbert
USA, 2014, 91 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 25, 2015   6:30 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
April 28, 2015   9:15 p.m.   Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Monday, April 27, 2015

20th Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair

Saturday morning I went on a short jaunt to The Crucible in Oakland to check out the Anarchist Book Fair. It's been a while since I've seen so many books, pamphlets & zines all in one place, & it felt positively retro to be surrounded by all that paper.

It was fun seeing the variety of formats & texts. One could pick up a pocket-sized copy of the Unabomber's Manifesto, Morrisey's Autobiography in the Penguin Classics edition or a set of academic works in attractive letterpress covers, whose contents the vendor did not hesitate to describe as "pirated."

There was a lot of graphic art for sale.

I liked discovering these brittle & sinister illustrations of famous anarchists by Flavio Costantini.

The event was well attended & got increasingly crowded. Many attendees brought their children, & there was even a special activity room for kids. Maybe I liked hanging around with the anarchists because they were all so earnest. I felt no cynicism, insincerity or irony, even from the 2 cheerful young women who tried to sell me a $15 pink taser.

§ 20th Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair
April 25, 2015, 10am - 6pm
The Crucible, Oakland

SFIFF: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Last Friday night I was at the Castro Theatre for the San Francisco International Film Festival's presentation of the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? There was a full house & a delay of over 20 minutes, so twice the audience began rhythmic clapping. Executive Director Noah Cowan introduced filmmaker Liz Garbus & announced that Tavis Smiley would conduct the Q&A.

Ms. Garbus already has a riveting subject & does a nice job presenting the full arc of Nina Simone's life & career, using archival footage, photographs, interviews, diary entries & recreations of Simone's childhood in the Jim Crow South. Concert films of Simone's trance-like performances are so compelling that I sometimes wanted the rest of the movie to stop so I could hear more of her music. I loved seeing her stop mid-song to demand that an audience member sit down during a 1976 Montreux concert.

Andrew Stroud, Simone's husband & manager, is the film's heavy, & Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina Simone's daughter, is frank about abuse in her family & her mother's emotional volatility. 2 daughters of Malcolm X appear as interviewees, looking & speaking like royalty.

In the Q&A, Mr. Smiley rolled the desired answers into his questions, & audience questions were more like comments, leaving little room for Ms. Garbus's replies. While waiting for the movie to start, I had a delightful conversation with the lady seated next to me who lived in New York City as a child & recalled regularly seeing Greta Garbo in the park.

§ What Happened, Miss Simone?
Director: Liz Garbus
2014, USA, 102 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 24, 2015, 6:00 p.m.
Castro Theatre
SFIFF: What Happened, Miss Simone?

SFIFF: Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

The 58th San Francisco International Film Festival opened last Thursday night at the Castro Theatre, with Alex Gibney's new documentary Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine. Executive Director Noah Cowan & Director of Programming Rachel Rosen introduced the screening, & Mr. Gibney was in attendance.

The film walks us from Jobs's teenage interest in computers through the spontaneous memorials that appeared at Apple stores when he died. We get plenty of archival footage & pithy interview clips from colleagues & journalists, as well as a bit of animation. Though the film covers a lot of ground, Mr. Gibney presents no new information. It was interesting to hear from Chrisann Brennan, the mother of Jobs's daughter Lisa, & fun to see a 1980s commerical for the Sony Walkman. The festival audience particularly enjoyed Apple manager Andy Grignon's reminiscence of the nerve-racking atmosphere behind the scenes of the 1st iPhone demo.

The film is narrated by Mr. Gibney & is also a personal essay in which he asks why there was such a public outpouring of grief when Jobs died. After all, Steve Jobs was famously a jerk in both his professional & personal life, & Mr. Gibney reminds us that Apple can cheat on its taxes, exploit workers in foreign countries & backdate executive stock options like the best of them. He suggests that the devices that Jobs created are so personal that users see themselves in them, & so users were sad when Jobs died because it meant there would be no more devices like these.

Mr. Gibney pointedly turned on his iPhone at the start of his Q&A with Ms. Rosen immediately following the screening. He described his interview style as "more like Columbo than Sherlock," & we learned that he approached Apple for the film, but the company with the world's largest public valuation said it "didn't have the resources" to help him.

I ended my evening at the festival by attending the opening night party, which was held at Madame Tussaud's in Fisherman's Wharf. Many of the waxworks are of movie stars, so the venue makes sense, but I found the statues creepy, & I feared being mistaken for a waxwork myself.

§ Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine
Director: Alex Gibney
2015, USA, 127 mins.

The 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 23, 2015, 7:00 p.m.
The Castro Theatre

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Geoff Vasile at CAM

Last Thursday evening, goaded by a timely tweet from MariNaomi, I jogged from a history talk at the Mechanics' Institute straight to the Cartoon Art Museum, where I arrived for the tail end of a reception for cartoonist Geoff Vasile, whose work is being featured in the museum. There was time to have a beer, watch Mr. Vasile draw a dinosaur & hear him hold forth on Erik Larson's drawing skills. I also heard attendees trade improper stories about strip clubs.

Mr. Vasile's own drawings are on display at the back of the museum, on the wall next to the restrooms. I liked seeing pages from his latest autobiographical story "My Mom Just Died!" Its content is characteristically inappropriate yet entirely sincere. It was interesting to see the fastidiously clean lines of his originals.

§ Small Press Spotlight on Geoff Vasile
Thursday, April 16, 2015 from 5:00 to 8:00pm
Cartoon Art Museum

The Mechanics' Institute's Industrial Fairs

Last week, Mechanics' Institute librarian Taryn Edwards gave a slide lecture about the 31 industrial fairs hosted by the San Francisco Mechanics' Institute in the period 1857 - 1891. We learned that in 1848 the population of San Francisco was just 800, but it boomed rapidly in the 1850s to well over 50,000. Most things still had to be imported into California, so these fairs promoted the production & consumption of local goods.

Ms. Taryn is a perky historian & presented many entertaining facts that made the era sound a lot more fun than today. The 1st fair in 1857 took place where the Crocker Galleria is now, in a pavilion with a canvas roof that was the largest building in California at the time. Visitors saw a range of products, including machinery, clothing, wine, beer & paintings. The fair had its own song, a skating rink, a hedge maze & a post-exhibition ball that was attended by 1,000 people. The dogged Ms. Taryn managed to identify 3 African-American exhibitors & noted that 25% of the exhibitors were women, even though women made up a far smaller proportion of the general population.

I liked seeing the bunting-filled photos by Carleton Watkins of subsequent fairs & learning about the 4,000 pound cheese on display in 1864. By the 1860s, San Francisco was already being viewed as a gateway to trade with Asia, & products from Japan were exhibited. After 1906 the fairs stopped being daily news & dropped from local history.

The lecture was well-attended & seating was cramped. Refreshments were available. An attendee brought along a stunning quilt made from silk cigar wrappers that was stitched by her great-grandmother. The quilt is in beautiful condition & has been on the Antiques Road Show, but the owner admitted to me that a museum conservator who has seen it is appalled by the way she currently handles it.

§ Before the PPIE: The Mechanics’ Institute and the Development of San Francisco’s “Fair Culture” (1857–1909)
A lecture & slideshow by Taryn Edwards
Thursday, April 16, 2015 - 6:00pm
The Mechanics' Institute

The Salt of the Earth

Last week I saw The Salt of the Earth, a potent documentary about photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, made by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the photographer's son. Salgado started out as an economist but switched to photography in 1973 at the age of 29. The documentary traces his career & personal life & shows him still at work, travelling all over the world, photographing nature, wildlife & pre-agricultural societies. But it is his powerful photographs of momentous human events that predominate. I loved seeing his cinematic photos of Serra Pelada fill the screen in the beginning of the movie. Even though they are static images, they seem to be in motion. His pictures of burning oil fields in Kuwait are monumental & hallucinatory projected on a movie screen.

A core sequence presents his darkest work, documenting famine in Ethiopia & genocides in Rawanda & Yugoslavia. This part of the film is difficult to watch. Salgado himself became so disgusted by what he witnessed that he basically concluded humans are unredeemable. The film ends with some light, thankfully. Salgado's current projects include an interesting experiment in which he replanted the forest that was once cleared for his family farm in Brazil.

Wim Wenders narrates the film in English, though Salgado speaks mostly in French when interviewed. I attended a matinee at the Embarcadero Cinema & was disheartened that there were only 10 of us in the audience.

§ The Salt of the Earth
A film by
Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
2014, 109 Mins

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Philharmonia Baroque & SF Opera Adlers

Last Friday night I heard Philharmonia Baroque in a concert featuring San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows. Board member Kay Sprinkel Grace took 5 minutes at the start to talk about the orchestra's current $8 million fund raising campaign. In the 1st half we heard 4 Mozart vocal numbers, each paired with a short instrumental dance. The singers were on a raised stage behind the orchestra, & there were supertitles.

Bass Anthony Reed had a lambent, even sound & open, relaxed low notes in "Per questa bella mano." Double bass player Kristin Zoernig stood beside him & performed the aria's wildly virtuosic accompaniment. It was amusing to watch her flit all over the instrument while Mr. Reed remained stationery. Soprano Julie Adams sang the cute "Nehmt meinen Dank" with a room-filling sound that I could feel physically. Baritone Edward Nelson sang a comic, multilingual aria from La finta giardiniera with a lovely voice, & his acting was so adroit that his strutting entrance got laughs even before he started singing.

I sat on the side of the hall, behind the orchestra & had a good view of conductor Nicholas McGegan, whose gleeful expressions were infectious. The orchestra's playing was consistently sprightly, though the valveless horns struggled to sound in tune. During Mr. Nelson's aria, 2 men seated themselves in our row & were a bit chatty, but they did not return after intermission.

Rossini's enjoyably silly one-act opera La cambiale di matrimonio, written when he was 18, took up the 2nd half. There was a lot of action, & the 6 singers created a fun & lively theatrical atmosphere with just a few chairs & props. Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino was a strong-willed Fannì & sounded brilliant & secure, especially in her short coloratura aria near the end. Tenor Brian Thorsett's singing was high, clear & elegant, even though his character, Fanni's young lover, often behaved boorishly. Baritone Efraín Solís was hearty & sympathetic as an earnest Canadian merchant who arrives wearing a big fur coat. His singing was warm & focused, & every note was distinct in his rapid coloratura passages.

As the lovers' main obstacle, bass Matthew Stump was appropriately obtuse, & his voice was firm & well-grounded. Mezzo Nian Wang, sounding secure & bright, was a flustered maid, & Mr. Reed was a contrastingly cool butler. Maestro McGegan's perky conducting was a good fit for Rossini, & the evening was entirely vivacious. The audience was engaged & laughing, even after the supertitles crapped out before the final ensemble.

The show was immediately followed by an LGBT reception in the lobby, where sparkling wine & cookies were served. My concert companion & I mingled with some of the performers, & we learned that Maestro McGegan asked the singers not to look at him. I was at 1st suspicious of the pink sparkling wine, which an old lady at the reception correctly identified as a rosé Crémant.

§ Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Ted Huffman, director
Julie Adams, soprano
Jacqueline Piccolino, soprano
Nian Wang, mezzo-soprano
Brian Thorsett, tenor
Edward Nelson, baritone
Efraín Solís, baritone
Anthony Reed, bass
Matthew Stump, bass

Overture in D major, K. 106
“Per questa bella mano”, K. 612
    Anthony Reed, bass
    Kristin Zoernig, double bass

Contredance No. 1 in D major, K. 106
“Nehmt meinen Dank”, K. 383
    Julie Adams, soprano

Contradance No. 2 in A major, K. 106
“Con un vezzo all’Italiana” from La finta giardiniera
    Edward Nelson, baritone

Contradance No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 106
“Dite almeno, in che mancai”, K. 479
    Julie Adams, soprano
    Brian Thorsett, tenor
    Edward Nelson, baritone
    Anthony Reed, bass

La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract)
    Fannì — Jacqueline Piccolino, soprano
    Clarina — Nian Wang, mezzo-soprano
    Edoardo Milfort — Brian Thorsett, tenor
    Slook — Efraín Solís, baritone
    Norton — Anthony Reed, bass
    Tobia Mill — Matthew Stump, bass

Fri, April 17 @ 8:00PM
SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cal Performances 2015/16 At a Glance

§ Cal Performances 2015/16 Season

11 & 12 The National Circus and Acrobats of China
18 Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
24 & 25 Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel, music director

1-4 Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra, Cinderella
9 Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club
11 Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers of India
11 Takács Quartet
16-18 Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour
23 eco ensemble
24 Bach Collegium Japan
29 & 30 Circa, Opus

6-7 Ensemble Intercontemporain
7 Youssou N'Dour
8 Leila Josefowicz, violin
13 & 14 Compañia Flamenca José Porcel
19-22 Rude Mechanicals, Stop Hitting Yourself
22 Danish String Quartet
27-29 Mummenschanz

6 Garrick Ohlsson, piano
12 & 13 Ira Glass with Monica Bill Bames and Anna Bass, Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host

January 2016
22 & 23 Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Rice
24 Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour
24 Yefim Bronfman, piano
29 & 31 St. Louis Symphony

14 eighth blackbird, Hand Eye
21 Takács Quartet
26 Jordi Savall, viol, Frank McGuire, bodhrán
27 & 28 Chitresh Das Dance Company, Shiva
28 Danish String Quartet

4 & 6 Yefim Bronfman, piano
5 Renee Fleming, soprano
6 Binge-Worthy Journalism with Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder
11-13 Mark Morris Dance Group, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
18 & 19 Trajal Harrell
19 Buika
19 L'Arpeggiata
20 Savion Glover with the Jack DeJohnette Quartet
26 Montreal Symphony Orchestra
29-April 3 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

2 Musicians from Marlboro
9 The Tallis Scholars
10 Brentano String Quartet
14 Gil Shaham, violin, with films by David Michalek
16 globalFEST, Creole Carnival
17 Murray Perahia, piano
26 Matthias Goeme, baritone

1 Kronos Quartet
5-8 Edgar Oliver, Helen & Edgar
7 David Finckel, cello, Wu Han, piano, The Passionate Cello
12 Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor 

§ Subscriptions

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cal Performances 2015/16 Season Announcement

Monday morning Cal Performances held the press announcement for their 2015/16 season, also billed as the inaugural season of Berkeley RADICAL (Research And Development Initiative in Creativity, Arts and Learning), which aims to attract a millenial audience. Executive & Artistic Director Matías Tarnopolsky called conductor Gustavo Dudamel the poster child for the new initiative, & Maestro Dudamel will lead the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in Beethoven Symphonies 7, 8 & 9 & participate in additional public programs.

Several musical performances involve collaborations with visual artists. The St. Louis Symphony's concert of Messiaen's Des Canyons aux Étoiles will be augmented by photographer Deborah O'Grady's images of the American landscapes which inspired the piece. Ms. O'Grady was in attendance, & we saw a short video about the project, in which she pointed out Messiaen's explicit references to geological formations in the score. Ensemble Intercontemporain, led by Matthias Pintscher, will give the American premiere of U.C. faculty member Edmund Campion's Cluster X, with a video by Austrian artist Kurt Hentschläger. The Kronos Quartet's performance of Terry Riley's Sun Rings will have a visual accompaniment, as will Gil Shaham's recital of the Bach solo sonatas & partitas.

Pianist Yefim Bronfman will perform all the Prokofiev piano sonatas in a set of 3 recitals. Baritone Mattias Goerne will sing Die schöne Müllerin, & countertenor Philippe Jaroussky will present a program of French songs from the 19th & 20th centuries. Mark Morris's  L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato will be back, & the Mariinsky Ballet will come with their production of Cinderella.

Mr. Tarnapolsky clearly enjoyed introducing the season's Bach offerings with a photoshopped picture labelled "ZellerBACH" that showed huge portraits of Bach adorning the facade of Zellerbach Hall. We also learned that the Berkeley RADICAL season has its own cocktail, which would be unveiled at the reception immediately following the press conference. During the Q&A, the only question was from a local music critic who wanted to know the recipe for the cocktail.

§ Cal Performances 2015/16 Season
Website | Brochure | Press Release (PDF) | Subscriptions

§ Cal Performances 2015/16 Season Press Announcement
Meyer Sound, Berkeley
Monday, April 20, 9:30 a.m.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday at the Cherry Blossom Festival

This afternoon, on my way to the gym, I passed through Japantown & happened to catch the tail end of the Cherry Blossom Festival parade.

Teams of mikoshi carriers crossed Fillmore Street...

...including those wild guys in their loin cloths.

I've never seen the Cherry Blossom Festival so crowded.

Traditional exhibits like bonsai trees are still to be found...

...but the biggest draw seemed to be the anime cosplay talent show on the main stage.

I saw people in costume... every direction I looked.

§ 48th Annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
April 11, 12, 18, 19
11a - 6p
San Francisco, Japantown

Friday, April 17, 2015

SFIFF58: Romeo is Bleeding

This week I attended a preview screening of Romeo is Bleeding, a documentary about an East Bay youth arts program created in response to deadly gang violence in Richmond. The film centers on Donté Clark, the smart & persevering leader of a group of teenagers who are mounting a production of Romeo & Juliet. In their version, the feuding families are rival gangs of North & Central Richmond, & the cast's own urgent & angry spoken word poems replace Shakespeare's speeches. The collegial atmosphere of the preparations is apparent, though we only get small glimpses of the actual play in performance. The film has an elaborate sound design, crisp photography & a strong sense of place. A floating camera sometimes gives us views above BART trains & neighborhoods. I liked a sequence in which the camera accompanies D'Neise Robinson, the high school student playing Juliet, on her tedious nighttime commute home after a rehearsal.

Romeo is Bleeding has its official premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival this month, at a special event at El Cerrito High School, where the play documented in the film was performed. Mr. Clark will attend the premiere, as well as festival screenings at the Kabuki & the PFA. Jason Zeldes, the film's director, will attend the premiere & Kabuki screenings.

§ Romeo is Bleeding
Director: Jason Zeldes
2015, USA, 93 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 29, 2015, 7:30 p.m.  El Cerrito High School
May 1, 2015, 6:30 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
May 3, 2015, 2:00 p.m.  Pacific Film Archive Theater

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cherry Blossom Festival

I spent Saturday afternoon with a friend, walking around the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is taking place over 2 weekends in Japantown. The event was densely crowded with young people, & there were long lines at the food stalls. A lot of people showed up in costumes.

The origami exhibit was in a small but lively space.

This mask with astonishing facial details must be by Joel Cooper.

Origami artist Linda Mihara explained that this huge structure, still under construction, is a Level 3 Menger Sponge, a fractal sculpture composed of thousands of folded, interlocking business cards. It's part of an even larger, virtual construction whose components are distributed around the world.

Ms. Mihara also made sure we visited the Paper Tree store to see this scaly dragon, folded from a 6 foot square of paper.

At the end of the day we found the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck, which had a line half a block long. Fans were waiting to buy donuts, petit fours & macarons. Just as we got there, though, 3 cops came & shut it down. My companion inquired what the trouble was, & apparently Hello Kitty is not allowed to serve customers past 6:00pm.

§ 48th Annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
April 11, 12, 18, 19
11a - 6p
San Francisco, Japantown

Monday, April 06, 2015

SFCM: L'elisir d'amore

Saturday evening I attended the SF Conservatory of Music's sold-out performance of L'elisir d'amore, in a sunny production directed by Jose Maria Condemi. The opera was moved to rural America, circa 1950. The set design did a good job filling the space vertically. Scenery on the back wall depicted a farm landscape, with a sun, & later a giant Harvest Moon, hanging in the sky. Bales of hay & a clothes line were the main on-stage props. A grassy walkway extended from the stage to around the orchestra & was used effectively for numbers like the barcarole, which Adina & Dulcamara sang in front of the orchestra.

The cast all gave cute, animated performances, & the action moved quickly. Nemorino was a plucky teenage milkman, & tenor Mario Rojas sang him with a lovely plush, ringing tone & sense of a yearning. His singing maintains a nice line. "Una furtiva lagrima" felt like it consisted of just 2 long phrases, & it received prolonged applause. Soprano Evan Kardon has a strong, penetrating voice, & her Adina sounded potent & mature. In a pantomime during the overture, she was contemptuous & abusive toward Nemorino.

Baritone Daniel Cameron as Belcore walked with a great hip-dislocating swagger & sang with a pleasant light, high voice. He was especially amusing doing an exercise routine involving a kettle bell swung between his legs. Baritone Sergey Khalikulov made a clear, open sound & was a snazzy Dulcamara. I enjoyed hearing soprano Sabrina Romero's high, warbling & youthful voice as Giannetta.

The orchestra's playing was secure & balanced, & conductor Scott Sandmeier led with gentle tempos, though there were occasional coordination problems between singers & orchestra. The chorus of about 16 sounded cohesive & easily made a big sound in that hall. They also did a maypole dance to end act 1.

The audience laughed at all the jokes & gave the performers a standing ovation. Two latecomers during the 1st half were not hesitant to walk directly in front of the orchestra to reach their seats on the opposite side of the auditorium. My opera companion & I happened to be seated next to the woman who also sat next to me at La Cleopatra a few weeks ago.

§ L'elisir d'amore
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Scott Sandmeier, conductor
Jose Maria Condemi, stage director
Members of the SFCM Opera program and Conservatory Orchestra

Adina............Evan Kardon
Giannetta......Sabrina Romero
Nemorino......Mario Rojas
Belcore.........Daniel Cameron
Dulcamara.....Sergey Khalikulov

Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall
Saturday, 04 April, 2015 | 07:30 PM SFCM: L'elisir d'amore

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Trevor Paglen at Altman Siegel

This week I checked out the handful of works by conceptual artist Trevor Paglen at the Altman Seigel gallery at 49 Geary. Mr. Paglen investigates secrecy, communications technology & government surveillance, & though his art is part documentary, it is not self-explanatory. Code Names of the Surveillance State is a video scroll of the nerdy, boastful & funny names of NSA spying programs. Large photographs of people at the beach are paired with annotated maps revealing that these are also landing sites & choke points for the undersea cables carrying the world's Internet traffic.

Inside a curtained room, a projected video gives us a long, continuous shot of the GCHQ's UFO-like headquarters, filmed from an aerial camera that circles the building & occasional zooms in on cars & employees.

This sculpture of computer parts sealed in a plexiglass container looks like a skinned Power Mac G4 Cube, but it's a functioning wi-fi hotspot which communicates with Websites through the Tor network, a protocol designed to disguise a Web user's location. It is difficult to give concrete, visual form to subjects that are by nature hidden & recondite, but I found the exhibit a bit spooky nonetheless.

§ Trevor Paglen
March 5 – May 2, 2015
Altman Siegel
49 Geary Street, San Francisco