Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Folsom Street Follies

"That is just so wrong," my friend Tim Miller said about the fellow next to us dancing solo on top of a pool table.

We were waiting in a beer line at a "bear bar," the Lone Star Saloon on Harrison Street Sunday afternoon, early refugees from the crowded Folsom Street Fair a block away.

"Would you care to expand on what's so wrong?" I asked Tim, who was looking good in his leather harness over a bare chest. "God, where to start? Skinny vs. large, dancing vs. not dancing, young vs. old, smooth vs. hairy, methedrine vs. marijuana, past vs. present. He's just wrong."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Evening with Edgar Meyer

The New Century Chamber Orchestra kicked off their year-long, five-concert season with guest star Edgar Meyer, a very famous bass player who everyone in the world has heard of except me.

According to his Wikipedia entry:
[Meyer]'s styles include classical, bluegrass, newgrass, and jazz. Meyer has worked as a session musician in Nashville, part of various chamber groups, a composer, and an arranger. His collaborators have spanned a wide range of musical styles and talents; among them are Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Sam Bush, James Taylor, Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, Mark O'Connor, Alison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and the trio Nickel Creek.

He also received the MacArthur Prize for genius in 2002, and has recorded a pair of bestselling Appalachian music CDs with Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor. And according to blogger Axel Feldheim, who was also at Saturday's concert in Herbst Theatre, Tom Hanks should definitely play Meyer in the movie.

After the orchestra played a "horrendous" Sonata in G Minor written by the twelve-year-old Rossini (the description is the composer's, the music and the performance were just fine), Meyer came out for a bit of solo Bach on his double-bass transcribed from one of the unaccompanied cello suites, and then joined the orchestra in a Concerto for String Bass No. 2 by Giovanni Bottesini, somebody else I'd never heard of before. It seems the 19th century Bottesini was "the Paganini of the double-bass," and besides writing and performing on the instrument, he was also a famous conductor who led the first performance of Verdi's "Aida" in Cairo. The music was fun, and the performance wildly virtuosic with cadenzas written by Meyer for the first and last movement.

After the bouncy first half of the concert, the orchestra waded into darker waters. They started with a transcription for string orchestra by Rudolf Barshai of Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet, which the composer renamed the "Chamber Symphony in C Minor." The Eighth Quartet was written in 1960, just after a trip to Dresden, which left the Soviet composer suicidally depressed and thinking about his imminent death (he lasted another fifteen years). The great Soviet composer's music is sounding better with each passing year, but I still prefer Sardonic Shostakovich to Gloomy Shostakovich, though God knows he had plenty of reasons to write the latter. The chamber orchestra's playing was my favorite of the evening, particularly the crazed, jagged second movement which is cribbed from Shostakovich's own Eighth Symphony.

The final piece, Mahler's Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony (overused in Visconti's 1970s movie of "Death in Venice" with Dirk Bogarde) was being recorded for an upcoming CD release from the orchestra. The audience was admirably silent and we floated along on the ten gentle minutes of harp and strings quite happily.

Pictured above are music director and concertmaster Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violinist Robin Mayforth, principal second violin Candace Guirao, violinist Deborah Tien Price, and bass principal Tony Manzo, who did a great job in the opening Rossini.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Joint Democratic Party/Labor Campaign Kickoff

A second-story warehouse space on Howard Street between 8th and 9th was the site of a joint campaign kickoff Saturday morning between the San Francisco Democratic Party and local labor unions, complete with a bank of phones and computers to get in touch with voters.

There were muffins galore...

...and short speeches from various politicians such as California State Senator Mark Leno (above).

San Francisco's other State Senator, Leland Yee, and the Executive Director of San Francisco's Labor Council, Tim Paulson, also shared the stage for some less than inspiring oratory... did the foul-mouthed, 77-year-old Chair of the California Democratic Party, John Burton.

Jan Adams at her "Can It Happen Here" blog has an interesting post about what Democrats are up against this November (click here), and why there is something of an enthusiasm gap this time around.

Personally, I'm hoping that the current generation of twenty-somethings take over sooner rather than later.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Aida at the Ballpark

On a warm San Francisco Friday night at the Giants ballpark...

...the San Francisco Opera offered a free simulcast performance of their current production of Verdi's "Aida"...

...on the ballpark's super-wide Jumbotron screen...

...for a huge crowd that looked to be in the 50,000 person range.

You could order drinks and junk food at the concession stands that featured video feeds of singers rather than athletes...

...and sit either in the stands or on the baseball field itself.

We only stayed for an hour to soak up the ambience because I'd already seen the silly production in the opera house on opening night.

Brian at Out West Arts compared the production, in its artistic aspirations, to the movie "Ernest Goes to Camp," which was more than a trifle unkind but not necessarily incorrect.

On this particular Friday evening, though, it didn't matter because a warm San Francisco night is unusual enough that the weather felt like a blessing.

Just watching the moon and the lights on the water around the ballpark with Verdi as a soundtrack was sublime.

Even the gaily decorated palm trees in front of the stadium looked like they were part of the production.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Patrick Says Auf Wiedesehen to the Fisher Collection

Highlights from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's recently acquired Fisher Collection have gone back into storage for the next five-plus years, or Gap corporate headquarters which amounts to the same thing, until a new wing can be built for the entire collection.

So my friend Patrick Vaz took me on a lunchtime visit last week for a final glimpse. We glided quickly through the dull room with non-moving exhibits of Calder mobiles, and the simplistic Ellsworth Kelly room above, while pausing to admire the colorful Richters in the photo below.

"These Anselm Kiefers (below) sort of make you want to commit suicide," I said to Patrick, and his raised eyebrow in response was hilarious.

"And that's supposed to be a bad thing aesthetically?" he asked. "To me?"

Patrick didn't feel strongly one way or the other about the Philip Guston room.

Though he understands what Chuck Close is about, it strikes him as very much one-trick pony that gets tiresome fast.

Agnes Martin (above) is an altogether different story. Though I don't get her minimalist stuff at all, watching Patrick look at an Agnes painting, which he is doing above, is pure joy. His aura literally gets happier.

The Cy Twombly room was pleasing too.

The museum has been blanketing the city with borderline offensive would-be hipster advertising lately, including the above featuring a Project Runway designer manque supposedly looking at a Warhol with the text, "MUSEUM, people die. Personas live forever." Patrick objected to the slogan: "Personas by their nature are dated. That doesn't make any sense."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Jerry Springer Goes to Hell

The West Coast premiere of a shockingly successful 2003 London musical, "Jerry Springer: The Opera," has just opened for a month-long run at the Victoria Theatre on 16th Street off of Mission. It's being produced by the 10-year-old Ray of Light theatre company, an itinerant musical group that has had a few recent successes at the 100-year-old theatre with versions of "Bat Boy," "Rocky Horror Picture Show," and "The Who's Tommy."

"Jerry Springer: The Opera" is on a whole different order of ambitiousness, a sung-through work that's half rock opera and half British oratorio, for a cast of 40 singers who need to have serious vocal and acting abilities to do the piece justice. It's a pleasure to report that the cast and crew of this huge show have pulled the task off and you'd better hurry and buy tickets now before the word spreads and the show sells out its run (click here).

The main character in the musical is actually the chorus, who are magnificent as they taunt characters from the sidelines, sing advertisements, interfere in the proceedings, and transform themselves into choirs from heaven and hell.

My only complaint is that everyone is miked, and though the sound mix was fine on Thursday evening, it was too loud. It suited the material, though, and the eight-piece band led by Ben Prince on keyboards (above) was superb. They were so good they deserve their own mention: David Choo, keyboards; Fred Johnson, drums; Brendan West, guitar; Jason Park, trumpet; Philip Hobson, French horn; and Hermann Lara and Lendle San Jose on woodwinds.

With hardly any weak links in the cast, there were also a couple of spectacularly good performances, including Jonathan Reisfeld (above) as both the Warm Up Man on the Jerry Springer Show in Act 1 and Satan in Acts 2 and 3.

Also worth special mention are the trio above (left to right): Steve Hess as Dwight, an adulterous Springer guest in Act 1 and God in the second half; Tracy Camp as Peaches his wife, and then the Head Nurse in Purgatory; and Timotio Artusio as a pre-op transsexual who's also having sex with Dwight. Artusio just about walked away with the show during his "Talk to the Hand" showpiece with the chorus, which is a great call-and-response number.

There is signage everywhere around the front of the theatre warning patrons about the dirty language in the piece, and there is a note in the program, "If you're upset or offended by the content, we're sorry, but no refunds will be provided." They aren't kidding, as the musical is relentlessly, gleefully obscene, but it works.

The director, M. Graham Smith, in his smart notes in the program writes:
"The show, conceived by a British writing team [Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee] and originally produced in London, has always seemed part of that most beloved niche of British comedy: making fun of Americans. We are so vain, so emotional, so shameless, so impulsive, so crude, so desperate for validation and willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to be on TV. Directing the show in America, the show feels less judgmental about its characters, and celebrates the clusterfuck that is life in a young, messy democracy, and getting messier every day."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Political Campaign Snapshots 3: District 6 Candidates' Forum on Housing

Debra Walker, a candidate for San Francisco Supervisor this November, opened her campaign headquarters on Market Street near the corner of Sixth, which certainly is the epicenter of the downtown District 6.

I dropped by on Sunday afternoon to deliver a few Michael Nava for Superior Court signs, and a charming trio of volunteers welcomed me and said that Debra was at a candidates' forum at the Main Library a couple of blocks away.

In the Turkish restaurant across the street from the library, Glendon Hyde aka Anna Conda was fortifying himself before the two-hour event.

The lightly attended forum was sponsored by a consortium of nonprofit groups that are would-be and actual power brokers, including The Housing Rights Committee, The Central City SRO Collaborative, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, and La Voz Latina.

Only seven of the 14 candidates had been invited, leaving out my friend Harold Brown for instance who actually lives in an SRO, and this practice was defended by Richard May in the comments to a smart article about the forum written by the Tenderbloggers above (click here.)

Here's an excerpt from Mr. May's comments (updated info: not pictured above, this was a different emcee):

"I was the moderator for this event and also one of its principal organizers. I want to make it perfectly clear that if we could have invited every registered candidate we would have – even though in my opinion it would have been a disservices to the public to give voice to what can only be characterized as fringe candidates. Candidates whose only motivation for entering the race was a self serving interest of seeking name recognition and who have no interest in winning let alone governing.

For the sake of full discloser, I need to make it clear that you (the writer of this blog) and myself have never met.

Had you had the privilege of meeting me you would NEVER question my integrity by insinuating I choose to invite only those candidates that I or my associates liked. FOR THE RECORD – BEFORE ANY CANDIDATES WERE INVITED, I personally consulted with the nationally recognized ALLIANCE for JUSTICE organization to ensure that our criteria was both fair and legal. SIR!"

The candidates who made the Richard May/Alliance for Justice cut were, from left to right, Glendon Hyde, James Keys, Jane Kim, Jim Meko, Theresa Sparks, and Debra Walker. (Elaine Zamora was also invited but didn't attend.). If you're interested in seeing more, click here for a link to video of the event.

Jim Meko (above) and all of the other candidates onstage, with the major exception of the lightweight James Keys, would probably make a decent supervisor. I saluted them for trying to make a difference while fleeing into the beautiful sunshine of a September afternoon before the dreary speeches began.