Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scenes from the Folsom Street Fair

The annual fall celebration of sexual kink known as the Folsom Street Fair was blessed with perfect weather this year...

...which made for great people watching...

...especially since many in the crowd of worldwide tourists were determined to show off their gym-toned torsos...

...prominent tattoos...

...and fetishistic outfits (note the tiny flyswatter whip in the man's hand above).

There were some very odd looking drag queens strutting their stuff...

...alongside more sophisticated examples such as Anna Conda above.

The street fair long ago stopped being predominantly for gay people, so it's not safe to assume anybody's sexual orientation. For instance, the young man above seems to be nodding off after a street food lunch while "falling for luscious locks."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Boyish Benjy Britten at New Century Chamber Orchestra

The New Century Chamber Orchestra opened their season with a pair of early pieces by Benjamin Britten, including the 1934 Simple Symphony which he wrote at the age of 20 after finishing an unhappy stint at London's Royal Conservatory of Music. In a letter to a Welsh composer friend, Britten wrote, "I cannot write a single note of anything respectable at the moment, and so--on the off chance of making some money--I am dishing up some very old stuff (written, some of it, over ten years ago) as a dear little school suite for strings--You see what I have come to...!" It was charming and well-played, but even though I am something of a Britten fanatic, never need to hear the symphony again because the composer's distinctive voice was missing. Bartok's mature 1939 Divertimento which followed in another well-played performance, was something of a tonic.

After intermission, we heard Britten's first great song cycle for strings and solo voice, the 1939 Les Illuminations, from a series of poems from the 1870s by Rimbaud. Sitting nearby at the concert was Patrick Vaz, and I asked him to explain who Rimbaud was to my friend Charlie in 30 seconds or less, which Patrick did very well, explaining that the wild teenage poet broke all kinds of conventions in tradition-bound French poetry, while carrying on a love affair with the older poet Paul Verlaine, before leaving France and literature for the Horn of Africa where he was some kind of adventurer/merchant before an early death.

The surreal poems tend to appeal to the young and visionary. Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Patti Smith were all acknowledged fans, and when W.H. Auden introduced his friend Benjy to the poet, Britten was entranced. He set a pair of the poems to music for a soprano friend Sophie Wyss before taking off on a trip to North America with his tenor friend Peter Pears. (The two are seen above on Jones Beach in Long Island, where they repaired for a while to the family home of Elizabeth Mayer, a German Jewish refugee who essentially adopted them.) The three years in America were a homesick, mostly unhappy time for the pair other than the fact that they fell in love and became partners for the rest of their lives.

Rather like Rimbaud, who wrote the poems while darting from London to Brussels and elsewhere, Britten finished the songs early in their North American trip between stays in Toronto and Grand Rapids and New York. The cycle evolved into an homage for his tenor lover Pears, though it can also be sung by a soprano, as it was here by Melody Moore above. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg stated at the beginning of this concert that Moore's rendition was "definitive," but it was not. It's the Pears version, which is on disc with the composer conducting, that is definitive and everything else is just interpretation. I didn't much care for Ms. Moore, with her slight hint of shrillness and many strange faces trying to act out the poems, but the chamber orchestra was something else. Their contribution was close to "definitive," and the music has been swirling around my head for the rest of the week, with the strange, idiosyncratic tenor of Pears inserted over New Century's superb string playing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

RIP Albert Goodwyn

Albert Goodwyn died about a month ago at the age of 67. He was an extraordinarily decent person who was the Captain of the Supernumeraries at the San Francisco Opera for most of the 1990s and a few years into the new century. That kind of casting job usually breeds a certain nastiness, but Albert was always the opposite, a genuinely kind soul.

There was a memorial party for Albert at a small theater complex in the Union Square area on Saturday afternoon, and the people who showed up were mostly backstage gypsies who had known and liked the man over the years. Organized by SF Opera makeup artist Denise Gutierrez (above left, with her back to the camera), the event was sweet.

RIP, Albert.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Castro Nude-In

On a gloriously beautiful Indian Summer Saturday noontime, the Third Annual Nude-In occurred at the intersection of Market, Castro and 17th Streets.

One of the most central and well traveled of all the parklets that have sprung up on San Francisco streets over the last five years, there were fears that the tables and benches would be taken over by the homeless, but instead it was a group of "naturists," as they call themselves, who have made the small intersection their own.

This has involved mild controversy, fueled by District 8 Supervisor Scott Weiner, who seems to take the presence of the Naked Guys personally. He is joined in this feeling by plenty of his constituents who don't want to look at mostly middle-aged naked men on their way to the hardware store.

Who does want to see them, though, are the tourists. Every town and city now has its own gay ghetto so the Castro District is boring, but naked people sitting and standing around casually on a busy street in the middle of the day is not something they are going to be seeing in Peoria.

Plus, the Historic F Line Streetcars start in Fisherman's Wharf these days and end in the Castro, and none of the tourists are being warned that they are going to see a bunch of Nude Dudes at the end of their ride.

The San Francisco Visitors and Convention Bureau should be paying these guys, because the amazed, surprised reaction from the disembarking tourists is priceless.

Saturday's Third Annual Nude-In was a protest of sorts against the recent police harassment and proposed anti-nudist legislation from Weiner. A number of beautiful young people like the gentleman above showed up in naked support of the Nude Dudes, and so did a trio of women.

My friend Jay above had flown in from Long Island the evening before, and when I told him about the event, he was thrilled. He spent much of his career being a closeted gay who worked for a Republican town bureaucracy while simultaneously skinny dipping in the Atlantic Ocean his entire life. He stripped down immediately at Castro and Market at noon, and had a great time talking to everyone.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Democrats in the Castro

San Francisco's Democratic Party headquarters opened in the Castro Saturday morning in the old Tower Video location next to Cafe Flore on Market Street.

All the usual suspects were there, including John Burton above, and Nancy Pelosi and even people you wanted to see like Jane Morrison (click here for a wonderful photo from Jan Adams of Pelosi wading into the crowd to greet the 90-year-old-plus Morrison).

San Francisco is a one-party town which breeds corruption almost by definition. The latest iteration of that age-old story of idealistic politician who crosses over to the Dark Side is Christina Olague above. It seems she was once a left-wing Latina bisexual stalwart in the corridors of power, and has publicly become another in a long line of Willie Brown's enablers. It's been depressing to witness, from her participation in the bogus Run, Ed, Run campaign for Ed Lee's mayoral coronation, to her open, happy embrace of campaign cash from Willie and Rose. According to the SF Examiner, Willie is hosting a fundraiser at the Ferry Building this Friday for Ms. Olague, probably as a very public quid pro quo for her recent 8 Washington project vote. In an interview subsequent to that vote, she told her own (appointed) district voters that their views were not going to sway her when there was serious idealistic campaign moolah at stake. I hope the voters of District 5 kick her to the curb in November. She more than deserves it.

Just as sad is the new District 8 Supervisor Scott Weiner above, who has never heard of a property right he doesn't instinctively feel is sacred. The latest crusade for this priggish Savonarola is to combat the horrors of nudists who have claimed the intersection of 17th, Market and Castro as their own. He's a sad evolutuion for the San Francisco gay community, and longtime Willie Brown enabler Bevan Dufty unfortunately laid the trail.

I asked Rafael Mandelman (above left) why he was running for the Community College Board when they were in the middle of such a shit storm over finances and accreditation. "They are a valuable institution. And it's going to get better," he replied, simply, and I believed him. It's too bad that Mandelman doesn't really seem to enjoy campaigning which is part of the reason we're stuck with Weiner in District 8 when Mandelman would have been a so much better alternative reality. Do vote for him this November and maybe we can start creating that reality.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Swedish House Mafia Playing Bill Graham

Three "Dot Spots" that looked like refugees from the 1958 sci-fi movie The Crawling Eye appeared over the entrance of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in Civic Center this weekend. They were part of an online publicity stunt for the announcement of the final world tour of a colossally successful trio of DJs called Swedish House Mafia. If you happen to be a fan of the electronica single Miami 2 Ibiza, $65 general admission tickets go on sale this Friday at noon for their February 16th gig. The Stockholm dates have already sold out, so you have been warned.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Wells Fargo Sign of the Times

An amusing piece of street signage has sprouted on Market Street near Octavia, serving as a useful corrective to the "Corporate Community Partner" branding that is plastered at every cultural and political event in San Francisco. The blue graffiti also works as an almost intentional bit of modern art accessorizing.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Buddhas Up the Yin Yang

During a contentious online discussion when San Francisco's Asian Art Museum was threatening to go bankrupt recently, somebody wrote in, "How many Buddhas can you look at anyway without being bored to death?"

This brought back the memory of wandering through the famous museums of Europe years ago and wondering, "How many bloody, dying Jesus paintings can you look at without being repulsed?"

The Asian Art Museum is feeling emptier and more serene than usual these days because it is in between special exhibits, and the 1,000-year-old Buddha statues are looking particularly graceful. You might want to check it out.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

San Francisco Symphony Opening Gala 2012

The lovely PR ladies at the San Francisco Symphony above played hostess to various jackals of the press at the Opening Gala of the 2012-13 season on Wednesday evening. (Forgive me for not identifying most of the people in the photos of this post but I neglected to ask anyone their names.)

The all-French concert started close to twenty minutes late, and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas decided not to fight the steady stream of latecomers from the party tents, but instead gave an entertaining lecture on the various parts of the orchestra that Berlioz used for different narrative points in his Romeo et Juliette Symphony, complete with musical examples from the whole ensemble. It was a bit like The Old Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

Unfortunately, though MTT is a great conductor in all kinds of repertory, Berlioz is still not quite in his grasp. There's a certain lifelessness that's fatal for music that can easily become sleep inducing without the proper verve and sympathy.

The three movements excerpted from the longer symphony put my date Ella into a coma. (She is posing above left with a happy society woman.). However, she came back to life with the appearance of superstar violinist Joshua Bell, who put his heart into a couple of written-for-Ysaye baubles by Chausson and Saint-Saens before and after intermission.

Ella was the perfect date, smart and funny and honestly thrilled and amused by the spectacle of San Francisco Society strutting their stuff. Best of all, early on during the performance of Ravel's Bolero, she tried shifting in her seat on her very large heels and just about fell to the floor. We happened to be looking at each other at that moment, and for the next fifteen minutes we both did our best to suppress hysterical giggles, with varying degrees of success. I must apologize to all our neighboring seatmates for the occasional sputters that would explode out of nowhere.

The theme of the Gala Opening was something Gallic like Oh-La-La, and the event design didn't quite hold up to last year's centennial high standard, particularly at the street party on Grove that featured Cirque du Soleil types on stilts and small platforms.

Ella could hardly get enough of socialite dance floor watching, but we finally wound home, thoroughly entertained.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dreamforce Tent City in Civic Center

On Sunday morning, tents and stages were being erected throughout the Civic Center neighborhood, for what purpose nobody seemed to know.

A small army of roadies were assembling massive structures, and though the security guards thought it was for an event on Wednesday evening, they weren't sure.

The Opening Gala for the San Francisco Symphony is scheduled for Wednesday evening, but their much smaller tent was already up and waiting for festivities next door to Davies Hall.

I finally cornered one of the organizers who said it was for something called Dreamforce, and a quick online search led to the discovery that this was going to be the Big Party setting for the Salesforce convention that has taken over Moscone Center downtown this week, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers will be performing for the multitudes. Across the street Joshua Bell, the San Francisco Symphony, and the city's socialites will be celebrating in their own way. It should be a wildly busy weekday night in the neighborhood.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Super Shostakovich at the SF Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony has started the season with a guest conductor, Semyon Bychkov above, rather than music director Michael Tilson Thomas because he is off galivanting with one of his other orchestras in early September. So the official SF Symphony gala opening is not until this Wednesday evening when he returns, but it mattered not a whit after the superb Shostakovich Eleventh Symphony performance this past week.

The concert started with a slow motion rendition of Schubert's early nineteenth century Unfinished Symphony, with a reduced orchestra. The eccentrically stretched out tempos Bychkov was asking for sounded interesting at first, and then the taffy pulling finally made the music sound dull, which it is not, even though it has been seriously overplayed.

Dullness and familiarity were not issues with the performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony from 1957. This exciting, moving, hour-long symphony with its terrifically loud and soft dynamics wasn't premiered in San Francisco until 1985, and has only been performed again once, by MTT in 2000, before last week's concerts. The orchestra gave a performance on Saturday night that was one of the most beautiful and powerful things I've ever heard. (The dudes at intermission above were composer Nicholas Pavkovic on the far left and SF Labor leader Tim Paulson on the far right. Their friends in the middle are unknown.)

The Eleventh is subtitled The Year 1905. Reading the program describing what's supposedly happening in each of the four movements is mildly interesting. Reading the music through the prism of what Shostakovich Really Meant Politically is less interesting, partly because that particular guessing game has been the dominant strain in so much writing about the composer. The Cold War is long over, and the most interesting fact about Shostakovich The Soviet Composer is that he never got the message that the symphony was dead. He just kept plugging away, writing fifteen symphonies that 
are the 20th century heirs to Mahler's huge, novelistic sprawls where the entire world has been stuffed inside. They are also fantastically varied, from short and playful to gargantuan, sometimes with voices and most often without.

Shostakovich's work is at an historical moment where it is starting to transcend all the programs with which it's been saddled, because this music is so abstractly great on its own terms. The opening strains of this Eleventh Symphony, which keep repeating insistently throughout the entire score, is one of the most gorgeous, despairing pieces of music ever written. Let us hope for the moment when Shostakovich's symphonies become as overplayed as those of Mahler, Beethoven and Brahms, not to mention Schubert.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Diez y Seis de Septiembre

Saturday afternoon, the 15th of September, chairs and tentlets and a small stage were assembled at Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall.

According to the gentleman from the Mexican consulate above, this was part of a global celebration of Mexican Independence Day, which is on the 16th of September rather than Cinco de Mayo which is more of a gringo drinking day than a historically significant date in Mexico.

The consular official encouraged a return later in the evening when there would be entertainment.

On the way back, I ran into my favorite fast food worker from the Financial District above, and he graciously stood for a photo in his Billabong jacket.

Happy birthday, modern Mexico, and a happy birthday to the writer Michael Nava who is currently composing a series of novels about that country and its intersections with the United States, along with its politics, history, religious traditions, and art. It's a very rich stew.