Thursday, January 30, 2014

Weekend Concerts Two: Cypress String Quartet

The 17-year-old, San Francisco based Cypress String Quartet has started a "Salon Series" this year, performing in three small halls around the Bay Area. In the East Bay, they are at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, on the Peninsula at the Woman's Club of Palo Alto, and in San Francisco at the small, glass-enclosed Joe Henderson Lab at the SFJAZZ Center. Performing chamber music in actual small chambers is a wonderful idea, and I caught up with the group on Saturday evening at the SFJAZZ Center.

Another innovation of the group is their "Call and Response" programs where they schedule two established pieces for string quartet, and then commission a living composer to respond somehow to the already existing works. In 2001, the living composer was Benjamin Lees writing his Fifth String Quartet to join Shostakovich's 11th and Britten's Third, and they liked the combination enough that they decided to repeat the program a dozen years later. Pictured above from left to right are Cecily Ward and Tom Stone on violin, Jennifer Kloetzel on cello, and Ethan Filner on viola.

Before each quartet, an alternating member of the Cypress would give a long, informal introduction to the quartet about to be played, which I found annoying but which most of the audience seemed to enjoy. Shostakovich's 11th Quartet was written in 1966 for the Soviet based Beethoven Quartet soon after its violist Vasily Shirinsky had died and the ensemble was considering disbanding. In seven continuous movements, the 17-minute piece was crammed with ideas and motifs, and the playing of the Cypress was excellent as was the sound in the small room. Britten's Third Quartet is one of his last works, with the long, exquisitely beautiful final movement not only quoting his own Death in Venice opera, but sounding very much like a response to the final movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

After such weighty fare, the Benjamin Lees String Quartet #5 could have easily sounded inconsequential, but it turned out to be my favorite piece of the evening, possibly because it was written for this ensemble and they played the stuffing out of it. Lees immigrated from Russia via China to San Francisco with his Jewish family soon after his birth in 1924. They moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s where he joined the military for World War Two, and returned to study with the wild, savvy composer George Antheil who encouraged him to apply for grants and check out the scene in Europe. He and his wife spent most of the 1950s in Paris, then moved to New York where he taught and composed for the next 30 years before moving to Palm Springs where he eventually died in 2010 soon after finishing his final String Quartet #6, also for the Cypress. His musical style is not that far from Britten or Shostakovich, a mixture of conservative tonal styles and spiky rhythms, but with a voice very much his own. It made me want to hear more of his music, the ultimate compliment.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Weekend Concerts One: Sasha Cooke

With the music of Henry Cowell and the atmosphere of San Quentin prison still running through my nervous system, I attended a trio of musical concerts last weekend that could have been easily overshadowed. Instead, in a nice surprise, they were varied and enjoyable. First off was an art song recital presented by San Francisco Performances at the San Francisco Conservatory, featuring the American mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke accompanied by the Taiwanese pianist Pei-Yao Wang. The two were filling in at the last minute for British mezzo Alice Coote who had fallen ill and canceled, but Cooke and Wang already had a recital program ready which they are scheduled to perform in New York's Alice Tully Hall next Monday, February 3rd.

Besides having an almost indecently voluptuous singing voice, Cooke is an engaging performer with an easy audience rapport, and also has quite a gift for mimicry. She imitated the Southern drawl of the 84-year-old composer George Crumb, whose 3 Early Songs from 1947 she performed, and also told us a story about Alice Coote. "About seven years ago at the Metropolitan Opera, I was singing the part of The Sandman in Hansel and Gretel with Alice Coote who was sounding absolutely incredible in the role of Hansel. I finally got the courage to congratulate her on the performance, and Alice said, "No! Bravo YOU! Yes, Bravo YOU!" and Cooke's imitative English accent was hilarious.

The program started with five German songs by Hugo Wolf from Morike-Lieder, continued with five wacky French surrealist Poemes de Max Jacob by Francois Poulenc, and the first half of the program ended with Baudelaire's L'Invitation au voyage and La vie anterieure with music by Henri Duparc. After intermission, the songs were all in English, starting with three beautiful, tonal pieces by George Crumb that he wrote as a teenager for his fiancée at the time. The highlight of the evening for me was a 1947 song cycle by Benjamin Britten called A Charm of Lullabies that he wrote for Nancy Evans, a mezzo-soprano who alternated with Kathleen Ferrier in the original production of The Rape of Lucretia. Cooke introduced the five songs by telling us that she and Wang were both working mothers so they could easily relate to the subject, "but there's some very weird moments in some of these pieces." She wasn't kidding, as William Blake's A Cradle Song featured lines like, "O! the cunning wiles that creep/In thy little heart asleep." while Thomas Randolph's A Charm starts with these lines: "Quiet!/Sleep! or I will make/Erinnys whip thee with a snake."

The concert ended with four Copland arrangements of Old American Songs which sounded simpleminded after the sophistication of Britten's music, and there were a pair of encores that ended triumphantly with the strange, sinister and funny Song of Black Max (as told by the de Kooning boys) by William Bolcom with lyrics by Arnold Weinstein. Special note should be made of the piano accompaniment of Pei-Yao Wang. Not only did the two women work together seamlessly, but they were virtuosic, stylistic chameleons depending on which composer they were performing. Though classical art song recitals are not usually my cup of tea, the evening was delightful.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sarah Cahill Plays Henry Cowell at San Quentin

San Quentin State Prison dates from the 1850s when a prison ship was anchored off a Marin County peninsula near what is now the Larkspur Ferry Landing. Its prisoners were marched to the top of the hill where they broke stones into the building blocks for structures that still stand today, starting a history of horror and occasional redemption that continues in the old, overcrowded prison complex.

One of the most remarkable examples of redemptive grace in the institution's history took place last Friday with a pair of concerts in San Quentin's Protestant Chapel by Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill (above) of music written by California composer Henry Cowell during his four years of imprisonment in San Quentin from 1936 to 1940. Cowell was sent there on an indefinite sentence of up to 25 years on a morals charge that stemmed from a naive confession to Redwood City police that he had engaged in homosexual activities after being blackmailed by a pair of neighborhood teenagers. San Francisco Examiner reporters of the time tried to extort hush payments from the composer as public relations consultants, and when he refused, the full scandal artillery of the Hearst press was unleashed in a series of sensational articles about perverted sexual predators. Cowell became California's version of the English mathematician Alan Turing, and it was only through the efforts of influential friends that the composer was paroled to his fellow composer Percy Grainger after four years in San Quentin.

Cahill has long championed the music of Cowell, much of which remains unpublished and unplayed, even though he may be the most essential American composer of the 20th century in terms of his influence. In the program notes at the San Quentin concert, Cahill writes:
"Henry Cowell (1897-1965) was born to a poor family and raised by a single mother in rural Menlo Park. Without formal musical training, he began to experiment at the piano, strumming on the strings and playing with his fists and forearms, and combining these effects with evocations of Irish myths and legends. His book New Musical Resources, with its theories of harmony and rhythm, had a profound influence on 20th century music. Among his students were John Cage, Lou Harrison, George Gershwin, and Burt Bacharach. He was one of the first scholars and teachers of "world music," studying the music of Japanese, Indian, Iranian, Irish, traditional American and Native American cultures. While at San Quentin, Cowell taught music classes to over a thousand students, conducted the band, started an orchestra, and composed remarkable piano pieces, many chamber works, and a variety of music for the prison ensembles and solo musicians."

Not much was known about Cowell's time at San Quentin until the 2012 publication of Joel Sach's long, academic biography, Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music, and the stories are heartbreaking. The composer was essentially a gentle saint who appraised his situation and decided to simply make the best of it, studying Japanese and Spanish, writing music and articles in the pitiful amounts of free time allowed, and creating a music education department at the prison that flourishes to this day. His first year involved hard labor at a jute mill making cloth. According to the Sachs bio, "Having spent years training himself to play difficult simultaneous rhythms, practicing even on the subway, Henry adapted the physical movements required by the jute machine as exercises in irregular rhythms. His jerky gestures quickly attracted attention, which is the last thing a prisoner wants. Co-workers began questioning his sanity; supervisors could report him for inexplicable behavior. Eventually he stopped."

Later that first year, Cowell applied to the Education Department being led by Dr. H.A. Shuder, and was assigned to teach a course in music appreciation. The class became so popular that another course in advanced harmony was added, and Cowell eventually joined the prison band. "When the band leader, violinist John Hendricks, told him that they played like different men under Henry's baton, he felt really pleased, although it was sometimes hard to detect the improvement. Soon he was named concertmaster. Being respected by Hendricks was in every way a good thing. A murderer in for life, he was a member of the prison elite and, according to Henry, he was actually a good man and protected Henry against sexual assault." Dr. Shuder wrote to Cowell on his 40th birthday in 1939, "There are no words adequate to express my appreciation of your fine service to me and to the men. If I thought that you were made up a little more of the spirit of the missionary, I would suggest that your participation here was in keeping with a high purpose as I am sure that it is assisting in a noble cause. Let me thank you once again most sincerely for your many contributions, for your refinement of spirit, and for the fine example which you are."

After Cowell's release, Dr. Shuder wrote him, "The Music Department in San Quentin is not a Music Department without Henry Cowell. It was his and without him it just isn't. There will never be another who can take your place." In truth, the work fostered by Cowell continues, and arts education is a powerful force at San Quentin, as channeled through various groups like the William James Foundation which helped organize these concerts. Friday morning started with four inmates who have been studying in the keyboard class of Trish Allred (below left) playing one song a piece, and their contributions were extraordinarily moving. Gino (two photos above) sang his own composition about Christian redemption while Luke above confessed that he was a beginner and that his name was "Abject Fear." Though he stopped and started throughout his piece, his singing voice was beautiful and his friends in the audience were encouraging in their shout-outs.

Robert above played a composition of his own with grace and determination, and he reminded me of a letter sent by Cowell to musicologist Nicholas Slonimsky:
"You asked whether the prisoners were of the type portrayed in the movies--I must frankly say that I haven't seen one! On the surface, they impress one as being a rather rough and ready, good-natured group, something like army men. It is only when one becomes better acquainted with them, that their lack of feeling for ethical behavior becomes evident. In a group of about fifteen or so, one will find one or two who really do have a strong or stronger moral sense; ten or twelve who seem to be rather childish, good-natured morons; and one or two really "tough eggs," bad men of whom one has to be careful. I cannot convey to you how extraordinary is the experience of being thrown in with such a motley crew."

Jasper above played and sang an American song standard with such expertise he could have been a professional musician in a jazz ensemble. Sitting onstage behind him, Sarah looked amazed. In an email later in the weekend, she wrote: "I told Jasper that his dexterity was astonishing and also the way his chord progressions are surprising and inevitable, which is such a great combination. I think he probably has not much more time on a keyboard during the week than Cowell did, and he had one hour a week, each Sunday. I also asked him about the Buddhist beads on his wrist and his star of David necklace and yarmulke, and asked him if he felt that was a contradiction. He went into a very eloquent description of his spiritual beliefs and how several strong faiths can coexist. Every encounter I had with each of the men was so surprisingly direct and honest, not about what they had done (although a friend did ask, and most were there for murder), but about how they respond to music, how they remember their mothers playing piano in their childhoods, what piece they responded to. Several of the men talked about Buddhism and meditation as having made a transformative difference in their lives. One of the inmates told me that staring down the barrel of an AK-47 was not nearly as scary as coming to terms with himself being responsible, rather than his parents or the judge or his friends or anyone else, for the crimes he had committed."

Sarah then began her program of Cowell's music while she and the audience of prisoners and a few outsiders were filmed by inmates for SQTV (San Quentin Television) and their surprisingly well-written monthly newspaper, the San Quentin News (click here). She started with the three-movement Celtic Set which is a gorgeous fantasia on Irish tunes, The Lover Plays His Flute from Amerind Suite, and the complex Rhythmicana with shifting time signatures every other bar. As usual with all her concerts, Cahill offered straightforward, illuminating explanations of the music, and gave an example beforehand of why Rhythmicana is so challenging to play. The audience looked completely absorbed.

Joining Sarah were the Ives Quartet, playing Cowell's Fourth String Quartet, "United," which the composer wrote in the Redwood City jail while awaiting his eventual transfer to San Quentin. It's an amazing work that was a new attempt at simplifying his complex musical thoughts. Cowell wrote: "The Quartet should not only be easy to understand without following any known pathways, but it should be understood equally well by Americans, Europeans, Orientals...or by anybody from a coal miner to a bank president." Or a prisoner.

After the quartet, there was a sing-along on three Mother Goose Rhymes as arranged by Cowell, and the concert ended with High Color, a fabulous example of the composer at his most virtuosic. The inmate audience was spellbound by the forearm clusters, and asked a number of questions about how in the heck did Sarah do that afterwards.

Throughout the morning, I kept unaccountably bursting into tears, partly because the spirit of Henry Cowell was so palpable. His greatest fear while in prison was that his music would be banished and forgotten, but instead it is being resurrected, and hearing it at that location was something of a mystical experience. Obviously, I was not the only one who felt that way, because the lightly attended morning concert was filled to the brim for the evening reprise, as word spread through the cellblocks.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The End of the 49ers Party

Last Sunday beautiful young 49ers fans arrived at the Bell Tower for early lunches before rooting for the home team in the NFC playoff game.

We headed South of Market to watch the game in public, and came across the detritus of a pre-emptive wine party at 11th and Howard.

The major compensations for their season ending loss was that we aren't being subjected to two weeks worth of dumb Super Bowl stories in the local media, and nobody torched a Muni bus.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Parisian Evening with Ensemble San Francisco

Last Saturday evening at the SF Conservatory of Music, a new chamber music group called Ensemble San Francisco performed A Parisian Evening of music by French composers that was marvelous. The nine young virtuoso instrumentalists were formed last year by pianist Christine McLeavey Payne and clarinetist Roman Fukshansky with the goal of maximum flexibility, since most of the musicians already have full-time gigs with the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and various other performing ensembles around the world. They started Saturday's program with Darius Milhaud's 1923 La Creation du monde, a five-movement piece suffused in the sounds of jazz Milhaud had just discovered in New York's Harlem. Why this music is not performed more often is a mystery because it's beautiful, distinctive and accessible. The composer's own reduction of the orchestral score for a piano quintet is masterful and so was the energetic performance by (left to right) Moni Simeonov on violin, Payne on piano, Rebecca Jackson on violin, Jonah Kim on cello, and Matthew Young on viola.

This was followed by a delightful account of an early (1922) Poulenc sonata for clarinet and bassoon, performed by Roman Fukshansky and Rufus Olivier, whose father has been the principal bassoon for the San Francisco Opera and Ballet orchestras for decades.

Then it was time for Ravel's 1924 violin and piano gypsy romance, Tzigane, played by the Bulgarian Moni Simeonov in a performance that grew more virtuosic as the piece went along, without ever descending into schmaltz.

After intermission, they played Gabriel Faure's 1883 Piano Quartet No. 1, with an interesting mixture of sensitivity and rollicking energy. In particular, Kim on cello and Young on viola looked like they were having such a good time that they might just stand up and dance during the performance.

The concert ended with Piaf Pot-pourri, a short bon-bon of two Edith Piaf songs arranged by cellist Kim for the whole ensemble.

The concert was held in the small recital hall downstairs at the Conservatory, and not only was it sold out, but in fact oversold to an unusually young and enthusiastic crowd.

The audience was invited upstairs afterwards for a reception involving delicious French wines and mingling. The entire event was so enjoyable that I can't wait to see what they do next.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SF Symphony Highlights for Winter/Spring 2014

The annual Winter Sale of discounted tickets for the remaining six months of the San Francisco Symphony starts on Tuesday, January 21st for subscribers, and Wednesday, January 22nd through January 31st for the public at large. It is one of the better cultural deals in the Bay Area, with $100+ orchestra seats marked down to $20-$40 for selected concerts, and you can order them online, by phone, or in person at the Davies Hall box office. Though not every scheduled concert is discounted, most of them are, so here are a few tips on what looks promising.

Osmo Vanska (above), the Finnish conductor who recently resigned from the Minnesota orchestra after its protracted labor dispute, is leading the symphony January 30th through February 1st. It looks like a great program, with Night Ride and Sunrise and Symphony No. 6 by Sibelius, Symphonies of Wind Instruments by Stravinsky, and Daniil Trifonov as piano soloist in Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Former SF Symphony Music Director Herbert Blomstedt above returns for two weeks of concerts in early April, and he seems to bring out the best in this orchestra. From April 3rd to 6th, he will be conducting Carl Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto with Carey Bell as soloist, and Schubert's Symphony in C Major, The Great.

Conductor James Conlon from the Los Angeles Opera returns from April 24th to 26th to conduct Shostakovich's wild, witty Piano Concerto No. 1 with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6.

For two weeks in early May, the Dutch early music specialist Ton Koopman makes his San Francisco debut leading a reduced orchestra in two weeks of Bach, both C.P.E. and his father Johann Sebastian. Baroque music has a difficult time making itself felt in the large Davies Hall, but soloists such as soprano Carolyn Sampson, cellist Peter Wyrick, and trumpeter Mark Inouye, not to mention the magnificent Symphony Chorus, should make for some interesting concerts. If that's not enough Bach for you, the awesome Christian Tetzlaff above plays the complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin on May 11th, and then joins Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra for Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 2 from May 14th to May 17th.

The season winds up with a few extraordinary concerts, starting with Charles Dutoit conducting Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and Faure's Requiem with full chorus on May 29th and May 30th. The following week Dutoit will be conducting Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Kirill Gerstein as soloist, along with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, which is described by John Mangum as "48 minutes of tragedy, despair, terror, and violence and two minutes of triumph." Can't wait.

Shostakovich reappears the following week along with his respected friend and composing colleague, Benjamin Britten (Dmitri on the left and Benjy on the right in the photo above). Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 along with excerpts from Britten's shamefully neglected full-length ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas, from June 12th to June 15th. The following week features Britten's beautiful Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings with tenor soloist Toby Spence and Shostakovich's final Symphony No. 15. The must-attend event of the season is a concert version of Britten's full-length opera Peter Grimes, with Stuart Skelton in the title role, Elza van den Heever as Ellen Orford, and a large contingent of local favorites such as Nancy Maultsby, Eugene Brancoveanu and John Relyea rounding out the cast. That will be taking place June 26th through June 29th while across the street the San Francisco Opera's summer season will be marking Britten's centenary with Verdi's La Traviata and Puccini's Madama Butterfly. And for a special treat on June 28th, Tilson Thomas will reprise The Prince of the Pagodas excerpts with Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes accompanied by Tal Rosner's video art.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

CalTrain's 150th Celebration: Past and Future Public Transport

The San Francisco to San Jose rail line made its inaugural trip in January 16, 1864 after a rocky financing history, and six years later was absorbed by Southern Pacific, which was owned by the local railroad tycoons known as the Big Four: Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins. (Click here for an instructive timeline at the valuable Bay Rail Alliance website.)

CalTrain as we know it is a fairly recent invention, dating from the 1980s after Southern Pacific had tried to terminate the commuter train service, which had become an anachronism in the car-centered culture of the Peninsula. Ron Diridon (above left with celebration emcee Tom Nolan) explained that he was the son of a career Southern Pacific father. Diridon's father changed his name from the Italian Diridoni so he could obtain that Southern Pacific job in the first place because swarthy immigrants who were not Native Sons of the West were unwelcome for railway employment in the 1930s.

By the 1970s, Ron explained in a funny, frank and historically informed speech, Southern Pacific's San Jose to SF service was famously rude, late and trains would often drive by stations without stopping, leaving passengers stranded on the platform. SP wanted out of the business altogether, but the state of California said no, which was when Santa Clara Supervisor Diridon led politicians from Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco County in an effort to save the rail system. In 1980 the state agency Caltrans took over administration from Southern Pacific, and in 1992 the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board paid $219 million for the right-of-way.

The "baby bullet" trains that helped revive CalTrain as a viable service began in 2002, with $217 million talked out of Governor Gray Davis by State Senator Jackie Spier (above right with fellow South Bay Congresspersons Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda). Currently, the rail line carries 54,000 passengers a day which is a huge jump from a couple of decades ago, but as someone who occasionally uses it to commute to Silicon Valley, I can testify that CalTrain is charming, antiquated and unreliable. When somebody jumps in front of a train or a locomotive breaks down, there is no Plan B for the system, and too often you can find yourself motionless in a field in San Bruno for two hours.

These days are coming to an end soon, so it may be time to indulge in nostalgia for a moment in history that is about to vanish. Over the next 5 years, the line will be electrified, which will finally allow for 21st century technology. It is being designed as the final, northern leg of the high speed California rail line from Southern California, and Ron Diridon is again spearheading that project, which is still in a world of controversy. Friends whose opinion I respect look upon it as a pigpile of public works pork, and watching the current Central Subway to Nowhere being built in downtown San Francisco does not inspire confidence that they are wrong.

Still, freeway car culture with its burning of valuable carbon molecules is insane and completely unsustainable. The more infrastructure and convenience that exists within public transportation, the better chance it will be successful. I was born in Santa Monica, a Native Son of the Golden West, and raised in Southern California when car culture apocalypse was at its dawn. After barely passing a high school driver's ed course with a psychotic professor who awarded me a "0" out of 100 possible points for "Attitude," I vowed to opt out of the automobile paradigm and never get a driver's license, a radical decision for a Southern California teenager. Recently, I made another vow to opt out of mobile phones, for similar reasons. Neither technological advance has helped create a particularly healthy sense of community, physically or mentally. (Photo above is of Dee Brown, a Peninsula Master Gardener who was a delightful celebration companion until I gave up a seat for an insistent, late-coming wheelchair user.)

The Peninsula's decision in the late 1950s/early 1960s not to be part of BART was shortsighted and has come to haunt the area in the form of daily parking lots on their freeways and thruways as Silicon Valley drives an overheated local economy. As State Senator Jerry Hill above put it during his speech, "Something is very wrong when the driving time is the same from my house in San Mateo to Sacramento as it is to Sunnyvale 20 miles south."

Besides the electrification of the Peninsula tracks, where Caltrain is promising a train every ten minutes by 2019, BART is finally building an extension from the Fremont station to downtown San Jose and Santa Clara, where it will connect with CalTrain, Amtrak, and the projected high speed rail system. This should make for a whole new generation of obsessive railway fans like Alameda resident David Foote above, who grew up in a small railroad town in Illinois before becoming a local boy genius who memorized every one of San Francisco's Muni lines in the 1950s. California has a lost knowledge of the use and enjoyment of public transportation which it needs to relearn after a few generations of widely accepted automobile obsession.

CalTrain's 150th Celebration: Native Sons

A couple of hundred people, some of them dressed up in 19th century costume, arrived at the CalTrain station at 4th and Townsend Saturday morning for a 150th birthday celebration of the San Francisco to San Jose rail line.

There were also plenty of politicians, including transit powerbroker Tom Nolan above right who heads the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB) with City Treasurer Jose Cisneros above left. Cisneros is one of three San Francisco County members of the nine-member organization that governs CalTrain, along with six additional reps from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Though he is not on the PCJPB, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Weiner also showed up, possibly to get his face on television again.

At 9:40 we boarded a free train ride to the Santa Clara station, a wooden structure dating from 1863 that has recently been turned into a Railway Museum.

As part of the junket, CalTrain was handing out little gift bags with muffins and dried apples to the passengers, including a large contingent from the Native Sons of the Golden West, a fraternal organization formed in 1875 for California-born white men that was a powerful force in the creation of racist immigration laws to exclude Asians and Mexicans.

During World War Two, they were also responsible for much of the lobbying of California governor Earl Warren, a member since 1919, for the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps. From all accounts, the organization has become more inclusive in modern times, limiting membership to California-borns of any race, but their early 20th century history is shameful.

At seven vintage stations along the route, the train would pause for a proclamation, read by the mayor or some other representative of various Peninsula towns...

...including Palo Alto, where we were joined by their newly elected mayor, Nancy Shepherd above right. She was attending the tented 150th celebration, which turned out to be a local politicians' networking and speechmaking extravaganza.

More about the history, future and politics of CalTrain will come in the next installment.