Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seduction at the Asian

A wall sign advertising SEDUCTION looked bizarre the other day as it framed masses of street people spread out with their dogs and hoarded trash on the sidewalks and thin lawn of Fulton Street.

The signage was for a new special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, Seduction: Japan's Floating World, depicting the upscale prostitution world of Tokyo during the Edo period (1615-1868). The exhibit is taken from a single collection by Dr. John C. Weber below, which consists of hundreds of kimonos, paintings and woodblock prints detailing the exotic goings-on.

Curious about where Dr. Weber's money came from to purchase all these treasures, I followed a surprisingly thin trail on Google. It seems that the rich are not only different from you and me, but they know how to keep their names off the internet for the most part. The clue to the origins of his personal wealth might lie with his ex-wife, Charlotte C. Weber, one of three Campbell Soup heiresses who was #1234 in Forbes' 2014 list of The World's Billionaires.

The outrageous highlight of the exhibit is a 58-eight painted scroll from the late 1680s by Hishikawa Moronobu, detailing a long streetscape in the moated, gated Yoshiwara pleasure quarter. The annotations above and below the scroll are fascinating, pointing out what each group in each room is doing from dining to dancing to having sex under elaborate bedding. It's worth a visit to see this piece alone.

There is a late 18th century oversized kimono bed cover on display along with other exquisite textiles.

Geishas on the upper scale were the movie stars of their time, and there was a high and low artistic industry detailing their lives and luxuries.

There is no add-on charge for this special exhibit that runs through May, so if you would like to visit inexpensively, this Sunday, March 1st, is the Asian Art Museum's free admission day.

Monday, February 23, 2015

For all flesh is as grass

The Saturday evening performance at the San Francisco Symphony of Brahms' A German Requiem was stirring and beautiful. It's too bad that the concert started with a deadly dull rendition by organist Jonathan Dimmock of four Chorale Preludes by Brahms, followed by the same composer's acapella motet for chorus entitled Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Muhseligen (Why is light given to those in misery?).

I reassured a number of subscribers at intermission that things would pick up immensely in the second half, and they did. Soloists baritone Christian Gerhaher (above right) and soprano Ruth Ziesak (not pictured) were superb in their small roles, Herbert Blomstedt's conducting was magisterial, the orchestra was sharp, and the massive SF Symphony Chorus was stupendously good. The music is still vibrating in my brain and body two days later. Congratulations to everyone.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Traffic Disaster at Franklin and Grove

Shortly after noon today, a water main busted at the intersection of Franklin and Grove Streets, which started a flood in the area.

To fix the problem, city workers had to create a huge sinkhole in the middle of the busy intersection, which screwed up traffic on Franklin and Grove and Van Ness and Gough and every other major artery nearby for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, at Davies Symphony Hall on one of the intersection's corners, a giant gold Buddha which had greeted guests at the annual Chinese New Years Concert matinee, was ready to be taken away by a different set of workers...

...but they graciously took photos of these two characters before hauling Him away.

San Francisco, and this neighborhood in particular, is becoming more surreal every day. If you're thinking of driving anywhere near the Civic Center for the next 24 hours, my advice is to pick another route or take public transportation.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why You Should Hear The Brahms Requiem This Weekend

Herbert Blomstedt (above) is in San Francisco for two weeks to conduct concerts at the San Francisco Symphony, his old orchestra where he was Music Director from 1985-1995. I heard him conducting the Sibelius Second Symphony last week in a precise yet smoothly controlled performance that was wonderful to experience. Blomstedt is 87 years old and only conducts a few orchestras where he has a long rapport in Germany and Scandinavia and San Francisco.

On Wednesday evening, the Friends of the SF Symphony were invited to an evening rehearsal of this weekend's program, the Brahms Requiem, and I asked a few of the attendees whether or not they were Blomstedt Fans.

Michele above was definitely one. "Blomstedt was the person who turned the San Francisco Symphony from what was, honestly, a so-so orchestra to a world class one. You could hear him elevating the sound from the time he arrived. He's also a very genial, gallant man. I used to sit in the Center Terrace a lot when he was Music Director and you could see that in his interactions with the orchestra."

The rehearsal was fascinating, as Blomstedt would play through each movement without pause, and then spend the next five to ten minutes singing and talking his way through what he REALLY wanted, and then entire sections would be replayed, and they always sounded better. The SF Symphony Chorus, with plenty of competition, is the eminent choral group in the Bay Area right now and they were sounding exquisite, particularly after Blomstedt would tell them that they must "accent it like so [singing] on these particular words like so [singing]." The performances should be very special.

I'm making this recommendation even though I can't abide requiems. George Bernard Shaw, the Pauline Kael of late 19th century London musical critics, put it better than I ever could: "I do not deny that the Brahm's Requiem is a solid piece of music manufacture. You feel at once that it could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker. But I object to requiems altogether. The Dead March in Saul is just as long as a soul in perfect health ought to meditate on the grave before turning lifewards again to a gay quickstep, as the soldiers do. A requiem overdoes it, even when there is an actual bereavement to be sympathized with; but in a concert room when there is nobody dead, it is the very wantonness of make-believe." (Pictured above is baritone Christian Gerhaher, who was sounding great in his short soloist role.)

In the short Wikipedia entry on Herbert Blomstedt, my favorite paragraph is this: "A devout Seventh-day Adventist, Blomstedt does not rehearse on Friday nights or Saturdays, the Sabbath in Seventh-day Adventism. He does, however, conduct concerts, since he considers actual performances to be an expression of his religious devotion rather than work." Even in rehearsal, you could tell he was completely energized by the music, and it required a functionary from backstage to tell him that he had to take a break after ninety minutes or many union rules were going to explode. In any case, you have been alerted that a possible religious experience is in store at Davies Hall this weekend. There are performances on Friday and Saturday, and you can get ticket info here.