Sunday, May 19, 2013
My first trip to Carnegie Hall last night surpassed every expectation. The hall is both elegant and surprisingly simple, the sound as warm and resonant as legend suggests, and the performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra under conductor Simon Rattle as good as any concert I have ever heard. It may be hard to come back and listen to music in San Francisco's Davies Hall after this.
The program was a strange one, with Webern's Opus One, Passacaglia, a beautifully played, knotty curtain raiser before three fragments from Berg's atonal opera, Wozzeck. The fragments actually premiered a year before the opera in the 1920s as sort of a preview of coming attractions, and consisted of two arias for the soprano sung by Barbara Hannigan above, followed by the massive final orchestral interlude where the antihero Wozzeck is drowning himself. I have always found this music assaultive, but here the playing was gorgeous and compelling, building organically into an overwhelming climax before Hannigan chirped "hip hop" as the surviving orphan child. Richard, my 77-year-old concert companion had heard Wozzeck played by the Chicago Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and he declared this version "sounded the best."
After intermission, Hannigan changed out of her long, formal concert gown and into the dominatrix outfit above to sing the part of a paranoid Secret Police Chief in an excerpt from Ligeti's 1970s opera Le Grand Macabre. Hannigan was beyond virtuosic, dancing spastically in her stiletto heels, at one point pushing Rattle off the podium and conducting the orchestra, all while singing fiendishly difficult music perfectly. It sounded like Zerbinetta's aria from Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos updated for the 21st century.
This was followed by Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the one used in Disney's Fantasia where the satyrs and nymphs are bounding about in the rain. The performance was so good that the overplayed music sounded freshly written. Instead of the usual meat-and-potatoes, plodding Beethoven, we were treated to orchestral sections passing the music around to each other with a seamlessness and mysterious rightness that I have never heard in a live Beethoven performance in my life. As my companion said on the subway home, "I'd like to hear Simon Rattle conduct something every day of the week." And in Carnegie Hall, I would add, with an orchestra as skillful as the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Yesterday, on a warm, clear New York afternoon, we hopped over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a whirlwind tour.
The Temple of Endor in the Egyptian wing always seems to be closed when I visit this museum, and Thursday was no exception as the glass-enclosed atrium was being set up for a huge, fancy dinner event that evening. "Look, another party we're not invited to," I told my friend Jay.
A crew chief walking by said, "You're welcome to work it if you want," since there seemed to be a few no-shows, and I was half tempted to take him up on the offer. Instead, we wandered into a small set of galleries dedicated to American paintings from the first half of the 20th century, including the Edward Hopper canvas above.
The spirit of my friend Patrick Vaz seemed to be hovering over the afternoon, as there was a Georgia O'Keefe sun-bleached bone painting...
...hung next to large panels above by Florine Stettheimer, the eccentric New York artist who designed the original cellophane sets for the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein opera, Four Saints in Three Acts.
Picasso's early portrait of Gertrude herself was on the second floor, surrounded by an amazing assortment of iconic European paintings such as the Van Gogh below that are part of the museum's permanent collection.
Next to a silly, claustrophobic exhibition devoted to Punk Fashion, there was an extraordinary special exhibit of French Impressionist paintings from museums all over the world, focusing on depictions of what people wore. There was added attraction of displays in the middle of each gallery of actual clothing from the period, in a few cases echoing the exact dresses and suits that were being depicted on the walls. This sounds like it could have been one of socialite Dede Wilsey's Expensive Paintings and Fancy Frocks exhibits that keep popping up at the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, but instead the effect was scholarly, fascinating, and transported one into late 19th Century France in a surprisingly powerful way. Plus, there were about a dozen huge Manet paintings among all the Degas and Renoir and Tissot works that I had never seen before, and the exhibit was surprisingly uncrowded so you could easily stand right in front of everything.
Unlike San Francisco museums, the security guards were helpful and unobtrusive, and also allowed artists to sketch and paint within the galleries themselves. The place almost made me want to move to New York.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
This Saturday will see another installment of the Asian Heritage Street Festival on Larkin Street near Civic Center. The event is one of the smaller, more charming free street fairs in San Francisco, featuring everything from tasty food booths to ethnic dance to rock bands and even a runway show this year. Admission to the nearby Asian Art Museum is also free on Saturday.
Sunday morning the Bay to Breakers footrace makes its way through the neighborhood on Hayes Street. It is amusing, voyeuristic viewing, with plenty of costumes and nudity to ogle.
I will be in New York City for a week so will be missing the shenanigans. Tiger Woods, my cat, is insisting on coming along but he does not travel well so he's being left behind.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
SFMOMA will be shutting its doors next month for three years during construction of a huge new addition to the museum, which can be seen in a series of cutout models in the lobby.
The reason for the reconstruction of the fairly new building is because the Fisher Collection was donated to the museum by GAP founder Donald Fisher while on his deathbed, with the proviso that the institution display his trove of huge paintings and sculptures on a near permanent basis. The collection is a great gift to San Francisco, and it has gone to the right place, rather than to a proposed new, ungainly modern museum in the middle of the Presidio, which was Donald's original plan.
The Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta won the commission for the new space, and after reading a fascinating profile of the architects in a January New Yorker article by David Owen, I am eagerly looking forward to its completion.
I hope they retain the rotunda over the 3rd Street lobby, if only to continue displaying united nations--babel of the millenium which was was created for the space in 1999 by Shanghai-born, New York-based artist Wenda Gu.
I will also miss seeing the Filipino security guards fiercely standing watch in front of Andy Warhol silkscreens. "You should consider that hairstyle," I told the gentleman above, but like a member of the Queen's Guard in front of Buckingham Palace, he did not crack a smile.