Thursday, October 31, 2013

Crissy Broadcast

On the 30 Stockton Muni bus that we rode to the edge of the Marina and the Presidio waterfront, the woman above mentioned that she was going to the 4PM outdoor performance of Lisa Bielawa's Crissy Broadcast for 800 musicians. Decades ago, she had enrolled in a memorable musical composition course at San Francisco State with Herb Bielawa, Lisa's dad, and was curious to hear what Lisa had conjured. (Click here for an interesting post by Janos Gereben quoting Charles Amirkhanian about a 1974 Bay Area musical happening organized by Herb.)

Sitting next to us was a tourist from St. Paul, Minnesota (above left) who had jumped on the bus to explore the city while his wife took a nap at their hotel.

"This is going to be an awesome, once in a lifetime event," we promised as we talked him into joining our impromptu group.

As a 1960s style happening, our promise turned out to be true, though as a musical experience the afternoon left something to be desired.

There were dozens of small musical ensembles involved, from string groups to brass groups to an Asian instruments band, most of them led by new music experts such as Jeff Anderle on clarinet above and Kyle Bruckmann on oboe below. (The two have just started a new music reed quintet called Splintered Reeds.)

The hour-long piece started out well, in an agreeable cacophony of massed sounds among the different performing groups.

Then the various groups headed off in all directions, sometimes playing a few phrases solo and other times joining in with other wandering groups.

I laid down on the lawn in the central area, and was hoping to hear the overlapping sounds of different performing forces such as had occurred during John Luther Adams' Inuksuit which was performed by two dozen percussionists in an outdoor glen on the UC Berkeley campus last year. That spatial music composition was written for Steven Schick above, who was also helping out with Crissy Broadcast, but in this case the Crissy field space was too huge and the ambient sounds of wind and foghorns stronger than any acoustic musical forces. Plus, the organizers were engaging in hyperbole with the claim of 800 musicians, since there looked to be about 300 performers at most.

The solution for a listener was to find the group you most enjoyed hearing and simply follow them on their appointed rounds.

My favorites, with some of the most expressive music, was a cute chamber chorus from UC Berkeley above, whose singing had a Ligeti style complexity that was breathtaking.

We were all hoping that the forces would reconverge at the central starting spot, but instead they joined into clumps at the finale in scattered sections of the field and waterfront. "My group," as I was coming to think of it, were joined by the trio of girls above who improved the party ambience by dancing on the sidelines, before we all wandered away.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field

With the Golden Gate Bridge framing container ships and windsurfers...

...Saturday afternoon at Crissy Field provided a good reminder of why we live in this expensive and maddening city.

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art installed eight monumental sculptures by the 80-year-old Mark Di Suvero for a year-long residence.

They seem to have been happily adopted as playground equipment...

...benches for walkers...

...and sentinels...

...guarding the Presidio...

...while mirroring the nearby Golden Gate Bridge.

This weekend they also served as handy markers for the wandering musicians of Crissy Broadcast, Lisa Bielawa's hour-long spatial piece that involved dozens of musical ensembles meandering away from a central location into the great beyond.

More on that to come.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Eastern Europe at the SF Symphony

Reincarnation must be true. It's the only logical explanation for my instinctive emotional reaction to Eastern European and Russian music after a childhood on Southern California beaches with nary a Bohemian or Cossack in sight. Last week Edwin Outwater above came into town as a guest conductor with an all Eastern Euro program, starting with the Romanian Gyorgy Ligeti's 1951 essay in ethnomusicality, the Concert Romanesc. It was one of the best concert openers imaginable, tuneful, wildly rhythmic and with enough weird Ligeti moments that you could hear why the Hungarian cultural authorities banned it from performance for decades. The irony is that Ligeti's music soon became much wilder and stranger. In part due to Stanley Kubrick, who used the composer as his sonic muse for the second half of his film career, Ligeti stays in the worldwide performing orbit. Plus, his compositions are sounding more marvelous with each passing year.

Edwin Outwater is also a Southern California boy who went to Harvard, was the Resident Assistant Conductor at the San Francisco Symphony from 2001 to 2006, and is currently the Music Director of the Kitchener/Waterloo Symphony in Canada. This concert reminded me of what I thought listening to him back in his San Francisco apprenticeship years, which was that his programs were consistently fascinating music but the actual concerts always seemed to bite off more than he could chew. His conducting on Friday of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, with Simon Trpceski as an often overpowered soloist, sounded like Rachmaninoff at his most lugubrious, which is all wrong. Transparency, biting rhythms, and sudden, exquisite blossoms of lyricism are at the heart of Sergei P, and this performance communicated none of those qualities.

After a sweet, dull, unidiomatic rendition of three Dvorak Legends, there was a loud, exciting performance of the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski's 1954 Concerto for Orchestra. This was difficult, challenging music for both orchestra and audience, and it was a triumph. Lutoslawski conducted the San Francisco Symphony three times in his own compositions from 1986 to 1993, and I remember going to at least two of those concerts. His work struck me as immeasurably strange back then, but it was a major treat to watch a composer conduct their own pieces, particularly when they were so very different. It is good to hear that his music is aging as well as Ligeti's.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition

The 76-year-old British artist David Hockney is receiving a huge exhibition of his work from the last 15 years at the de Young Museum through January, and it's a sensational show. Hockney has decamped from the Hollywood Hills to the Yorkshire countryside for long stretches over the last decade, becoming an English landscape painter with a twist. As you can see above in Under the Trees, Bigger, 2001, Oil on 20 Canvases, the scale of his work has become enormous, the colors wildly saturated, and the style freer.

In the 1950s, Hockney was a figurative painter when abstraction was the predominant art world flavor. In the 1960s and 1970s after a move to Los Angeles, his acrylic portraits became instantly iconic, usually involving friends and lovers, and often featuring perfectly distilled swimming pools. In the 1980s, he experimented with photography in a series of marvelous cubist Polaroid portraits while also designing sets for a half-dozen opera productions around the world. In the 1990s, he returned to painting with a vengeance, focusing on monumental landscapes such as The Black Glacier, Watercolor on 6 Sheets of Paper above.

While visiting his ailing mother and a dying friend in the Yorkshire countryside during the 1990s, he became fascinated with the landscape and its "tree tunnels," which he has captured in a series of fractured, multi-screen videos...

...and huge, gorgeous paintings such as Bigger Trees near Warter, Summer 2008, Oil on 9 Canvases above.

Though Hockney spends most of his time in England these days, he still considers himself a binational Californian, and has played with large landscape work at American monuments such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite III, October 5th 2011, iPad drawing on 6 Sheets of Dibold above. Yes, you read that correctly. Hockney is now using the iPad to paint with a freedom and simplicity that feels brand new for him.

Hockney continues to paint his trademark portraits and there is a large selection of them in the exhibit, such as The Photographer and His Daughter above...

...and at least three representations of his striking Parisian studio/plein air assistant with the formidable name of Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima.

He also continues to explore photography, and there is a room devoted to his series of short films that he calls Video Cubism.

At a press preview, the Fine Arts Museum President Dede Wilsey gave a condescending speech about how artistic geniuses weren't necessarily "charming," but that David Hockney was, "with a constant twinkle in his eye."

The artist himself was in attendance, answering questions that had been submitted on postcards and emails in advance. This may have been because he has been hard of hearing for decades, but in any case Dede was right, and he was charming. The first question was, "Since the exhibition starts with work from 2002 to the present, is there any significance to the year 2002 for you?" His answer was, "The exhibition actually starts with work from 1998, so no, the year 2002 has no special meaning for me at all."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sarah Cahill and Adam Tendler at C4NM

In the intimate confines of the Center for New Music last Saturday evening, there was a dual piano recital by the Berkeley based Sarah Cahill above and the New York based Adam Tendler.

Sarah started her program with RCSC, a gorgeous 2001 piece by Annea Lockwood which required her to play both on the keys and on the strings inside the piano. Cahill has become such an adept at these techniques, possibly through her long acquaintance with Henry Cowell's piano works, that instead of seeming gimmicky, it looked and sounded perfectly natural. This was followed by one too many pieces by Hans Otte and ended with Terry Riley's 1994 Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, which Sarah introduced by reminding the audience that Terry Riley is a much deeper and more varied composer than the Father of Minimalism which he pioneered with In C.

Adam Tendler above started his recital with a short speech about gay rights and Matthew Shepard's murder in Wyoming before asking the audience to visit a website and start playing HATE SPEECH on their mobile devices when he sounded the first tones on the piano. The piano noodling, written by Tendler himself, was inconsequential but the ghostly sounds of the phones slightly out of sync with each other was extraordinary. The piece was premiered at the already legendary Brooklyn hipster joint, Roulette, last year and it was exciting to hear it live in the Tenderloin.

Without any further addressing of the audience and working from memorization without any scores in front of him, Tendler played the 1941 Three Preludes by Robert Palmer, The Slow Melt by Anthony Porter which was a mesmerizing, strange piece that evoked the natural world collapsing, Luciano Chessa's 2009 lesbian piece Tomboy for piano and video involving lots of feet, and ended with a 1968 Philip Glass composition called Two Pages. The last was a piece of hardcore minimalism that kept getting more hypnotic the longer it lasted, and at a certain point everyone was looking at each other with disbelieving looks. "He actually memorized the whole thing?"

During his introduction, Tendler confessed to being a longtime fan/worshiper of Sarah Cahill, who specializes in the work of contemporary composers. The two were a good fit because they share a style that can best be described as simultaneously discerning and ecstatic.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Solar Panels on Davies Symphony Hall

Last Friday afternoon, there were suddenly 575 solar panels sitting in the parking lot next to Davies Symphony Hall.

A huge crane stood patiently nearby, and when I walked by the site three hours later, both the panels and the crane were gone. That's some fast work, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, a phrase I have never read before, so congratulations.

According to Tyrone Jue at the SFPUC, the installation on the roof is scheduled to last six weeks. By the end of their labors, the system should be outputting 200 kilowatts, which will supply about 20% of Davies' energy usage. This is a huge amount, even after an energy conservation initiative at the auditorium a couple of years ago, as the building seems to be lit for a performance every week, six nights out of seven.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Transatlantic Crossings

Brenden Guy above is a British clarinetist and a classical music PR fellow for Karen Ames Communications. This year he produced an ambitious music series "to breathe new life into forgotten works" by contemporary composers. Last Friday at the SF Conservatory of Music was the third and final concert of the "Curious Flights" season, as he he is calling it, and it was an invigorating delight.

The concert started with a lushly romantic violin and piano piece by 20+ Berkeley boy composer Dylan Mattingly, played with feeling and beauty by Rene Mandel on violin and Miles Graber on piano.

This was folllowed by the first of three pieces by a contemporary English composer, Edwin Roxburgh, who was supposed to be attending these concerts but who had to withdraw at the last moment. Too bad for Edwin, because the performances of his music were wonderful and committed, including the 1972 Dithyramb I for percusssion and clarinet(s). The 29-year-old English percussionist Nicholas Reed above, with the perfect bedhead hair, kept the audience spellbound as he played a series of duets with Brenden on his succession of clarinets.

Larry London, who is actually a local SF Bay composer, had his 1998 Scenes from Dobashi played next. It was a suite taken from a puppet play that has never been performed, and the music is so evocative as background music that I kept wanting to shout out, "Let us see the puppet play." Nicholas Reed played the percussion part on a number of instruments that included empty paint cans. His expressive eyebrows as he helped to cue his fellow musicians were priceless.

And what wonderful fellow musicians he had. Besides Brenden Guy on clarinet, Tess Varley on violin was extraordinary and not just because she had the most perfect concert shoes of the year.

After intermission, there was a solo percussion piece by Roxburgh called Aube which was written for Nicholas when he was 15. The piece is inspired by a Rimbaud poem, and Reed inhabited/performed it with playful mastery.

The final piece, How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear, was for orchestra and amplified speaker, a suite of six Edward Lear poems that became stranger and more beautiful as it went along. Thank you, Brenden Guy, and I hope this series continues in one form or another.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Free Outdoor Ceramics Fair in Civic Center

For the first time since 1986, the San Francisco Civic Center Plaza is being used for an art show, the 4th Ceramics Annual of America.

The international festival is free to attend, and if you love something, it's all for sale at fairly reasonable prices, including the work of Damian Jones above.

The work ranges from traditional pottery shapes, such as the gorgeous vase by Steve Allen above... abstract forms like the work of Katherine Dube above.

There are also pop figurative works by Mark Rivera...

...and this sinister piece by Hijiri Yahagi.

The show will be up from 9AM to 7PM today (Saturday) and all day tomorrow (Sunday). Check it out, and pose like the lady above with one of Esther Shimazu's figures.

Update: Returned on Sunday and bought a beautiful jug from Nathan Ring above.