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It seemed a bit out of date.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