Sunday, December 08, 2013
The annual Festival of Lights parade in downtown Palm Springs is a cute, small-town version of Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade with a dash of Burning Man thrown in for good measure.
The opening performers are usually the excellent Palm Springs High School Band marching down Palm Canyon, with Christmas lights draped around their instruments and clothing.
The group made history in 2006 when they marched in the Palm Springs Gay Pride Parade, possibly the first time a high school marching band had done so in the nation. A recently released short film by a Palm Springs mother-son combo who participated in the event documents the initial controversy, death threats, and eventual mutual delight of both the band members and gay community. (Click here for a Vimeo download).
In truth, what was most impressive was listening to the percussion section practicing and improvising before the parade began. They were so advanced and sharp in their musicianship they sounded ready for Xenakis, though the Christmas audience probably would not have been receptive.
Instead, there were neighborhood groups working together at hauling huge seasonal balloons down the street and ducking under streetlights.
There was a lovingly illuminated garbage truck...
...followed by a daisy-chained fleet of outrageously decorated taxis.
Best of all, my friend Steve Wibben above had snagged two wearable light strands attached to small battery packs at the invaluable Palm Springs True Value Hardware Store that afternoon.
We looked semi-official, as we booed Celebrity Grand Marshall Susanne Somers, and cheered Patty Delgado, matriarch of the Las Casuelas restuarants.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
The Coachella Valley is home to scores of ancient showbiz celebrities, who make occasional public appearances for special events.
Capitalizing on this, Palm Springs has a Walk of Fame modeled on the Hollywood Boulevard version...
...and this morning's honoree was to be Gavin Macleod, whose major claim to fame was playing the "stern yet compassionate Captain Stubing" on Aaron Spelling's 1970s-1980s television cheesefest The Love Boat.
In the early 1980s I was partnered with somebody who was a nurse at a San Francisco mental health crisis clinic, where he would wrestle the schizophrenics away from the frightened, often violent police who had dragged them in. He usually worked the 3-11 shift and when he arrived home from work late at night, he would shower, put on a robe, get into bed and turn on the television to reruns of The Love Boat, where there were nothing but happy endings.
The punchline is that the show would invariably put him to sleep within 20 minutes while I would be ushered into insomnia, needing to finish the dumb narrative just to see how it all ended happily. Plus, Lauren Tewes as Julie the Cruise Director was obviously a cocaine addict and watching her play the innocent ingenue while gumming her way through scenes with wildly spinning eyes was perversely fascinating.
The 82-year-old Macleod is currently in poor health and had a fall which required an immediate trip to the hospital, so the event this morning in downtown Palm Springs was canceled at the last moment. This did not stop a few of us who were not in the know from showing up at the installation. When I asked the woman above if she had dressed in honor of The Love Boat Captain, she enthusiastically agreed. "And also, for, you know, what day is it today? The military thing?" she asked. "You mean Pearl Harbor Day?" I responded. "Yes, that's it."
Friday, December 06, 2013
The City of Palm Springs recently celebrated its 75th birthday, which means their midcentury modern "historic" buildings are of fairly recent vintage. This makes for some serious conflict between preservationists and developers who can't figure out how to use old shells for new uses. (Click here for a Palm Springs Life article on the subject.)
Last September there was a fire of suspicious origin in downtown Palm Springs at the 1935 Community Church designed by William Charles Tanner, and it's being blamed on vagrants, though the arsonists could have been anyone.
Historic legends of a different sort also populate the area, including former Broadway star Carol Channing.
She was in Palm Springs Thursday evening as a celebrity guest for the annual downtown Christmas tree lighting where the city gives away hot cocoa and LED Christmas lights.
Channing is looking great for her 92 years and my only regret is not capturing a photo of her gold glitter go-go boots.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
A pair of performances of Benjamin Britten's 1961 War Requiem were uneasily scheduled at the San Francisco Symphony on the night before Thanksgiving and the Saturday following, and I attended the latter with some trepidation. The last time the SF Symphony had performed the massive requiem, which interweaves the Latin mass for the dead with nine Wilfred Owens poems for chorus and three soloists, it was conducted by Kurt Masur in 2002. Though Masur had recorded the work and conducted it all over the world, he didn't have a clue how to shape the music and it was sheer drudgery, so I walked out halfway. Even more daunting, the SF Symphony had given close to a perfect performance under guest conductor Donald Runnicles in January of 1995 that had me a blubbering, emotional mess from beginning to end.
The soloists for that 1995 effort were Andrea Gruber between one of her stints in rehab, along with the tenor John Aler who recorded a lot with Robert Shaw and baritone Håkan Hagegård who was most famous for his Papageno in Ingmar Bergman's film version of The Magic Flute. At last week's concerts, the soloists were Christine Brewer whose top voice sounded shredded and shouldn't be singing this music anymore, along with baritone Roderick Williams and tenor James Gilchrist above. The men's voices were lovely but except for the Abraham and Isaac duet that ends with the slaying of "half the seed of Europe, one by one," it was almost impossible to make out a word of Owens' poetry. Britten meant for the English to be understood, which is why the men are accompanied by a separate chamber orchestra for maximum transparency.
Semyon Bychkov conducted forcefully, with some of the more lyrical sections sounding unusually martial, but the playing of the orchestra(s) and singing of the large chorus was so superb that it didn't matter, and the greatness of Britten's pacifist masterwork came through loud and clear.
Like the recently deceased writer Doris Lessing above, Britten was a Child of Violence, both of them with fathers profoundly damaged by The Great War. Britten was born at the start of World War One, became a conscientious objector in World War Two, and finally a leftist observer watching the world gear up for a final, nuclear war in the 1950s and 1960s. We avoided the latter only through sheer luck, as demonstrated by historical records of Cold War near-misses that are popping out of sealed archives.
In the context of London's Aldermaston Marches for nuclear disarmament in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Britten's War Requiem proved to be a popular sensation when it debuted in 1962 at the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. A number of commentators at the time, including Stravinsky, derided the work as fashionable antiwar posturing, but the War Requiem 50 years later is sounding timeless and will probably continue to be performed as long as the world exists.
In fact, all of Britten's music is aging well, and it is being embraced by a whole new generation who grew up performing the many works Britten wrote for children, including the ghostly Boys Chorus in the War Requiem. The young tenor Nicholas Phan has a blog where he recently wrote a beautiful appreciation of Britten on his 100th birthday, where he writes:
"I've been repeatedly told time and time again that "Britten doesn't sell." What has been gratifying about this centennial year has been watching presenters and musicians alike stop thinking to themselves "Britten doesn't sell" and actually get out there and start selling Britten. The irony, of course, is that what compels me so much about Britten's music is that it does, indeed, sell. He has the power to touch an audience in ways that few other composers are able."
The San Francisco Symphony is doing its part with these performances along with June concerts that include the opera Peter Grimes and selections from his beautiful, neglected, gamelan-influenced ballet Prince of the Pagodas. The San Francisco Opera, sadly, doesn't seem to know how to sell him, so he is being ignored, which is a loss for everyone.
The photo above is of Britten with his friend and muse, the divinely inspired Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, who died last year. He wrote the difficult, beautiful soprano role for her and she can be heard on the great, historic recording Britten conducted which surprised everybody by selling out immediately. You can still download it to this day.