Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Alicia Choi Makes Music

Last Thursday, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music presented a Chamber Music Masters concert with cellist Bonnie Hampton (above, second from the right) who actually started the chamber music studies program at the school decades ago.

The programming (Riegger, Dvorak and Schumann) and Ms. Hampton's playing turned out to be unexpectedly dull, especially since most of the previous Conservatory Chamber Music Masters concerts have been so extraordinary. There was a major bit of excitement, however, and it was the playing of student violinist Alicia Choi above left in the First Dvorak Piano Quartet.

She was so good that she completely overpowered the quartet with her superior playing, including the fine violist Kristin Zimmerman above right, and the the Chamber Music Master Bonnie Hampton herself. If you get a chance to hear Ms. Choi perform at the Conservatory over the next year, jump at the chance. She's very special.

Monday, October 29, 2012

World Series Game 4 in Civic Center

San Francisco Rec & Park put up a large screen in front of City Hall Sunday afternoon for the fourth game of the World Series matchup between the SF Giants and the Detroit Tigers.

By 5:30, the central dirt seating area was jammed, and the fog and wind were whipping through the plaza.

Most of the crowd seemed pretty cheerful and mellow, but there were drunk punks on the outskirts who looked like they were ready to create mayhem at a moment's notice, and for some reason there was very little police presence. Maybe they hadn't been offered overtime.

So we walked a block back home, got under the covers, and watched the Giants on TV win the World Series in a four-game sweep, with the fabulous Marco Scutaro hitting the 10th inning go-ahead RBI. It still feels a bit unreal.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Protect Me, Virgen

A pair of litigious, mentally unstable sociopaths have sued me and six of my elderly, retired neighbors at a condo complex in Palm Springs last week for "no less than $500,000." The assertions and fabrications in their legal complaint are insistently lunatic, which is very troubling. I was on the condo Board for about four months three years ago, and resigned because their constant harassment was destroying my health while trying to recover from AIDS-related pneumonia. Others have taken up the mantle of defending us, but with this latest lawsuit, it seems I have no choice but to deal with these monsters again.

This week I called a Mexican-American friend with the story, and he promised to have his 90-year-old-plus grandmother in El Paso pray for me, which was followed this morning by a dream that was unusually vivid. I was in an unfamiliar Mexican city at a senior center, and an older lady befriended me and offered a key that was attached to a thin golden girdle that wrapped around my waist. There followed a series of frightening adventures involving dogs and pigs and soldiers and quicksand and earthquakes, but I felt completely safe through it all. After waking, I walked by 8th and Mission where the billboard above has just appeared, and let's just say it felt like a sign. Gracias, abuelita. Your love is much appreciated.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Black and Orange Civic Center

Van Ness Avenue at Civic Center has gone orange and black recently...

...presumably in support of the San Francisco Giants in the World Series...

...though the Davies Hall lighting and decorations seem to be more about publicizing the increasingly ambitious Dia de Los Muertos concert this November 2nd.

The best coverage of the Giants playoff games I've been reading is at the 40 Going on 28 blog. After a long paean to the Wonderfulness of the Giants, he slips this in:
"(Oh, one other thing, because it can't be all sunshine and roses: Hunter Pence, dude, you seem like a good guy, but what the fuck? You used to be able to hit? What the fuck happened to you? Did you participate in a some kind of black magic ritual and transfer all your Baseball Strength to Barry Zito? I mean, that's cool and everything, but I hope he's taking care of you because you look like a tweaked-out gardener swinging a brush cutter up there.)"

Happily, Hunter Pence had one of the few hits tonight in a close Game 2 Giants win. I'm still recovering from the last improbable World Series pennant two years ago, so this feels a bit like a dream.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cute Skateboarders on Harrison Street

On Sunday afternoon, the Dew Tour moved its four-day competition from Civic Center to a hill on Harrison Street next to the Bay Bridge.

Cargo containers, ramps, stairs, railings, flatbeds, and a Toyota with a ramp on its roof were strewn about over a four-block stretch...

...and 14 competitors came barreling down the street doing free-form tricks that were delightful and frightening in equal measure.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, "San Clemente’s Ryan Sheckler, 22, essentially won the skateboard streetstyle Dew Cup on his first run, posting a 90.25 score. No skater came close — not until Argentina’s Milton Martinez rolled the last run of the day. "I thought he had it, dude,” Sheckler said of Martinez, who scored 89.75. “I for sure thought he had it. I was like, ‘damn, congrats dude.’ ”

Milton Martinez is pictured above, cradling his skateboard which he broke in two after intentionally sailing off a cargo container about twenty feet down onto the street without falling. These guys were self-deprecating, filled with appreciation for each other, and genuinely awesome.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Giants Game 6 NLCS

After watching the street skateboarders on Harrison Street, we walked to McCovey Cove...

...just as the sixth game of the National League championship was starting.

The crowd inside and outside the stadium was in a giddy mood...

...and there were goofy costumes on kayakers...

...and family groups.

By the time we walked into Lucky Strike, the fancy new bowling alley across the street from the stadium, the Giants were ahead 4-0.

At Zeke's we saw it go to 5-0 with Pablo Sandoval eking out an RBI. Tomorrow evening's Game 7, in the middle of a predicted storm, should be a whopper.

Update on Monday: Wow, they are going to the World Series.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Crashing Crotches at the Dew Tour

An ambitious sports extravaganza featuring semi-profesional skateboarders and BMX bicyclists invaded Civic Center Plaza over the last couple of weeks, with six days of setup and four days of games.

The event was being sponsored by the controversial sugar-intensive Mountain Dew soft drink aimed at teenagers...

...and the major focus seemed to be the huge side pavilions where small designer brands were trying to be the new hip young viral thing...

...which meant lots of giveaways, including a free skateboard park for anyone.

There was a bit of phony controversy cooked up by the Chronicle where Supervisor Avalos, not sounding like the sharpest tool in the box, decried the use of public land with "big piles of dirt in front of City Hall."

There are plenty of egregious examples of SF Rec & Park Czar Phil Ginsberg along with his spokesmodel Sarah Ballard unilaterally deciding how to give away public space to private interests, but this turned out to be a charming use of Civic Center. As many commenters pointed out in the Chronicle article, the plaza is usually barren except for down-on-their-luck street people who sleep there, like the gentleman above who blended into the skateboard bazaar seamlessly.

My favorite sideshow activity was a group using a flexible tightrope on which to perform tricks in midair.

Most of these sports are for hormonal teenage boys who want to slam their crotches against something hard, and the tightrope as you can see above does not disappoint in that regard.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ivan The Terrific at San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony is performing an all-Russian program this weekend, starting Thursday and repeating Friday and Saturday evening. A few of us were invited to watch and discreetly take photos at a rehearsal of a newly discovered Sergei Prokofiev oratorio for chorus and two soloists, taken from music he composed for Eisenstein's three Ivan The Terrible films from the 1940s.

The concerts also mark the overdue debut of the 40-year-old Russian-German-Jewish Vladimir Jurowski above, who has been the Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director of the Glyndebourne Opera company for the last decade. As Jurowski explained to us at the end of the rehearsal, "During World War Two, the filmmaker Eisenstein wanted to kiss the ass of Stalin and his government, so he made a movie that idealized Ivan The Terrible as the great uniter of Russia. Eisenstein was an open homosexual and a singular, in-his-own-world artist, so Ivan Part Two ended up biting the same ass he was trying to kiss, showing the beginnings of the police state and Ivan's pathological paranoia which was the same problem that Stalin had. He just couldn't help himself. So the movie was banned until the late 1950s, and the third section was supposedly destroyed by bureaucrats who dipped the negatives in acid."

The composer Sergei Prokofiev left Russia during the Revolution by taking a train eastward across Siberia to the Pacific, and tried to make a career in the United States, which didn't work out. He moved on to Paris in the 1920s, where seemingly everybody interesting in the Western artistic world was living, but was convinced during the early 1930s by the musical bureaucrat Levon Atovmyan to return to Soviet Russia as a beloved homeland composer. Prokofiev did so, bringing along his wife and two sons, and the move was simultaneously liberating and confining in equal measure.

Though very few people have seen the films in the United States, the two Ivan The Terrible films are popular classics in Russia, filled with actors who are the remnants of legendary acting troupes dating from Stanislavsky and Meyerhold. In poor health and near the end of his life, which famously occurred on the same day as Stalin in 1953, Prokofiev tried to save and repurpose his movie music into an oratorio with his friend Atovmyan, rearranging the chronology to make musical rather than chronological sense.

Jurowski explained that for decades, the Ivan music was performed by orchestras in an arrangement by the original movie conductor, Abram Stasevich, in the 1960s that includes hokey narration. "This newly discovered version was created by Prokofiev with his assistant Atovmyan, and it has his fingerprints all over it," Jurowski explained, "but since the Stasevich was the standard performing version for years, Atovmyan simply put it away in a drawer. It was his daughter, who emigrated to Israel, who showed it to Nelly Kravitz in Tel Aviv. Kravitz brought it to me in London, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra gave the piece its premiere in January of this year."

Jurowski paused and looked at an old-fashioned television set that was playing a DVD of the Ivan The Terrible films, and said ruefully, "The music is wedded to the film, it's where it really belongs," but I objected, telling him that from the sound of the rehearsal, this was like hearing a brand new major composition by one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. "Prokofiev is still being discovered," Jurowski agreed. "There are a handful of his pieces that get played all the time, but there is so much wonderful music that nobody knows," and he listed off a series of obscure ballets and occasional pieces which he had performed recently during a Prokofiev festival in London.

It was fascinating listening to the conductor shape the music with orchestra and chorus all evening, and his sense of Prokofiev's rhythms is special. The concerts, which also include the young pianist Khatia Buniatishvili in the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto, should be one of the highlights of the year, if not the decade. Consider yourself alerted.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Bride of Death

The Thrillpeddlers are presenting the 13th edition of Shocktoberfest this month, which consists of a trio of horrific one-acts linked loosely by the concept of The Bride of Death, along with a couple of funny musical interludes. The evening begins with a 1920s British curtain-raiser by Fredrick Whitney in the style of French Grand Guignol, Coals of Fire. Leigh Crow above left played the old, fat, blind upper-class wife who is kind on the surface and a cauldron of rage on the inside. Crow's cancerous cough throughout was particularly disturbing.

Then there was a silly song by Douglas Byrd with the wonderful Annie Larson as Mrs. Mummy and Jim Jeske as Mr. Mummy above.

The Bride of Death above was a campy mashup of everything from Sunset Boulevard to This Old House to Franju's French horror film, Eyes Without a Face.
It was written by Michael Phillis (above, second from the right, with Dalton Goulette, Bonni Suval and co-writer Flynn DeMarco), and was bizarrely entertaining.

The new company stalwart, Cockettes composer Scrumbly Kodewyn, was represented by a brilliant musical number called Those Beautiful Ghouls, which felt like an homage and parody of both the Sondheim musical Follies and The Monster Mash. (Pictured above is Annie Larson and Leigh Crow.)

The final play, The Twisted Pair, by Thrillpeddlers regular Rob Keefe, went on too long much too insistently, but Dalton Goulette and Andy Wenger above as Brazilian rowers Matheus and Thiago who had just won their race on the Charles River in Boston, just about saved the day.

Also deserving special mention is Flynn DeMarco (above, flanked by Russell Blackwood and Leigh Crow) who was oddly attractive in a bridal dress, even covered with blood.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Dew Tour Lands in Civic Center

For the last eight days, Civic Center Plaza has been the construction site for a huge event scheduled for next weekend.

It turns out to be the San Francisco debut of the eight-year-old Mountain Dew tour for professional skateboarders and street bikers, surrounded by huge tents and pavilions selling and giving away sponsor swag (click here for the website).

A construction foreman came by and told me I was not allowed to take photographs, and I explained about the Civic Center blog, and reminded him that the plaza setting was about as public as it gets.

"The workers don't like being photographed," he told me. "Well, that's too bad," I replied. "They are working in a park where there is currently a huge controversy over the private sector taking over public space." This seemed to scare him, and off he went with his walkie-talkie.

In truth, the arrival of the skateboarders and bikers next week is more than welcome, and the event is free to the public, Thursday and Friday 2-7 PM and all-day Saturday from 10-7. On Sunday, they are even going to move the show to Harrison Street between Fremont and Spear for street biking on the street.