Friday, February 28, 2014

Palm Springs Black History Month Parade

Downtown Palm Springs has more parades than any place I have ever been...

...and last Saturday was the occasion for the 27th Annual Black History Month Parade.

The Palm Springs High School band contingent led off the parade and was followed by a clutch of white politicians in convertibles, including gay Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet above...

...but they were all upstaged by the fabulous dance studio founder above.

Like many other places in the United States, Palm Springs has an ugly racial history that includes razing and burning down a poor downtown neighborhood called Section 14 in 1962. (Click here for a fascinating history of blacks in the Coachella Valley written by Chris Clarke in 2012.)

Though Palm Springs seems to be successfully integrated these days, the racial antagonisms and wounds are still present, as this 2001 LA Times article about a wild racial vandalism incident at Palm Springs High School attests.

Maybe the advent of a new, less bigoted Calfornia generation will help...

...and we can all aspire to being Ambitious Bad Girls.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Big Fat Gay Wedding

On February 12th, my partner Tony Hurd and I were legally married after seventeen years together...

...and San Francisco's City Hall was lit in celebration for a couple of weeks.

The unmarried President of France with the messy love life also showed up on the 12th and tried to upstage our nuptials...

...along with those of other charming wedding parties, but thankfully his entourage left at noon, allowing everyone to be married under the rotunda.

Former mayor and current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom also tried to upstage us...

...with a celebration of the ten-year anniversary of his decision to allow gay marriages at San Francisco City Hall.

They were unsuccessful and love won out over political tongue baths, with the most charming judge presiding imaginable.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Yoga at the Asian

A Smithsonian Institute exhibition on the cultural history of Yoga is making its only West Coast appearance at the Asian Art Museum through May.

The first room of the exhibit features some marvelous thousand-year-old Indian statues, including Vishnu above...

...along with the sandstone Yogini above on the left and a frightening depiction of a snake-embroidered Shiva on the right.

There are 19th century illustrations, including the advanced Siddha above, "experiencing his equivalence with the universe."

Movies and posters from the early 20th century demonstrate the Western world's fascination with the exotic Orientalia of Yoga, including a 1938 British ad for Koringa, billed as "the world's only female yoga magician." If I were ever to take up yoga as a serious discipline, Koringa would definitely be my avatar.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Violin Concert in The Whispering Dishes

The Exploratorium science museum installed a nifty sound sculpture on Market Street near the Four Seasons Hotel called Whispering Dishes last October.

You can sit in one of the sonic shells, speak softly, and be heard with startling clarity in one of the shells across the sidewalk, even with the ambient sound of the city streaming by.

Last week, a violin player sat down at one of the discs and I hopped onto a seat in front of the dish across the sidewalk for a private concert. It was exquisite, like she was playing in my ears.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rita & The Robots: An Operatic Double Bill

The New Century Chamber Orchestra went operatic on Saturday at the Jewish Community Center with a concert of operatic bon-bons such as the Meditation from Massenet's Thais and the Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. The second half was a fully staged one-act Donizetti comic opera called Rita that has rarely been performed, probably because the three-character piece is a farcical romp about domestic violence (singers above are baritone Efrain Solis, tenor Thomas Glenn, and soprano Maria Valdes). Maybe on account of the One Billion Rising event the day before, but it was difficult to enjoy the piece, even though the music under music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the performers under the direction of Eugene Brancoveanu were all superb. I've long felt the same way about comic depictions of lovers hitting each other, from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew to Zerlina's aria in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Batti, batti o bel Masetto where she pleads with her husband to beat her, to Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners yelling, "To the moon, Alice!"

Much of this was made palatable in Rita by the charm of the performers, particularly Thomas Glenn above, who is reliably wonderful in just about every role in which he performs. In Rita, he was the tortured, henpecked second husband of the title character and he somehow managed to channel Stan Laurel into his movements so that the violence was more funny than disturbing.

The following afternoon at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, there was a live global broadcast of the Dallas Opera production of Tod Machover's recent opera, Death and The Powers.

The 90-minute, one-act opera is framed as a "ritual performance" by robots describing a moment on Earth when humanity ceased to exist and became part of "The System" instead. The old theatrical adage, "Never work with children or animals," should probably be amended to "...or robots" because they invariably steal the show, and this opera was no exception. Moving, stretching, glowing and singing, these robots also had most of the best music in the opera.

The drama enacted by human performers in the "ritual performance" are the final days of billionaire Simon Powers before he leaves the "meat" of his body and becomes a virtual mind.

Audience members were encouraged to download an Apple app on their mobile devices and tablets, where they could interact with rudimentary computer graphics which a few people described as reminding them of 1990s screensavers. What did look like magnificent fun was being in the new Dallas Opera House with its abstract chandelier above, a collection of moving, colored light tubes that became the representation of Powers in his virtual state.

The basic family drama was lightly lifted from The Tempest, including soprano Joelle Harvey above in an unfortunate blonde fright wig as daughter Miranda. As usual, Harvey was wonderful, as was the rest of the cast, particularly veteran baritone Robert Orth as Powers. Machover's music, enhanced with lots of electronics, was stronger in the orchestra and the concerted sections of the opera than the philosophical, often pretentious arias that the individual characters were given to sing.

The conductor was Nicole Paiement, who is a local San Francisco treasure spreading the wealth to Texas. She will be back in April to conduct her own company, Opera Parallele, in a double-bill of Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel and Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias. Tenor Thomas Glenn will be featured in that production too.

Monday, February 17, 2014

One Billion Rising at SF City Hall

San Francisco City Hall was booked to capacity for Valentine's Day weddings, though some of the romantic quality of the day was probably lessened by preparations for a late afternoon rally protesting violence against women on the building's Polk Street stairway.

It was one of many worldwide locations for author Eve Ensler's One Billion Rising annual public relations campaign which started in 2012, where the one billion women who have been beaten or raped are meant to rise in the streets and dance.

This being San Francisco, protestors with other agendas showed up too including the messianic male circumcision foes above.

There has been some criticism in feminist circles decrying the fact that the organization is "neo-colonial," since it consists almost entirely of white, affluent women in positions of power lecturing poor colored women around the globe on how to behave when they are attacked by men.

The invariable advice is to report the malefactors to law enforcement and have them locked up, no matter what the circumstances.

The transgender community is not particularly pleased either, since they have been erased out of existence by the organization.

The emcee for the San Francisco event was Univision reporter Fabiola Kramsky above, who is also the wife of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. In fact, an entire crew of politicians who tried to have Sheriff Mirkarimi thrown out of office for possible domestic violence last year were there to preen at the podium, including Mayor Ed Lee, Gascon, and SF Supervisor David Chiu who is running for State Assembly this year against David Campos. Chiu has recently jumped on the moral superiority bandwagon during his campaign, pointing to his vote for removing Mirkarimi while Campos did not.

Beverly Upton, above, who is the Executive Director of the taxpayer-funded San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium and Partners Ending Domestic Abuse, gave a speech so filled with cliches and buzzwords that it became unintentionally nonsensical. Meanwhile, the supposedly abused wife of Mirkarimi, Eliana Lopez, was producing Ensler's play, The Vagina Monologues, in Spanish at The Brava Theatre that evening while her husband was sponsoring One Billion Rising events at the San Francisco jails. The ironies and competing messages were dizzying.

Between the self-serving speeches, ethnic dance troupes would perform a few dance numbers, but the performing setup was ass backwards. The raised stage was reserved for speakers nobody really cared about seeing while the dancers performed on the sidewalk and could only be viewed by a handful of people in the front row or on a huge, grainy video screen that had been assembled at considerable expense in front of City Hall. The two-hour event felt like a slick but poorly manufactured spectacle that was trying to give off the vibe of spontaneity, and in a weird way it belittled the real issue of human violence.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Magik*Magik Plays The Collected

First there were the 19th century Russian composers Rimsky-Korsakov, Musorgsky, Balakirov, Cui, and Borodin called The Five. Then there were the early 20th century French composers Poulenc, Honegger, Auric, Milhaud, Durrey, and Tailleferre who were dubbed Les Six. The 21st Century now has The Collected, a quartet of American composers (above from left to right Brent Miller, Adam Fong flanking violinist Eric km Clark, Denise Gilson, and Lisa Renee Coons). Miller started the group in 2006 and they have been holding occasional collaborative concerts for different performing forces since.

Last Saturday at Old First Church they offered one of their most ambitious concerts so far, with about a dozen members of the marvelous Magik*Magik orchestra, the ensemble started by Minna Choi above, which just celebrated their fifth anniversary with a collection of rock stars at Oakland's Fox Theatre a couple of weeks ago.

Though there was an expert conductor, John Kennedy, the first three pieces required the musicians to listen to each other as intently as a chamber music group. The first piece, Coons' Isolation, had Kennedy standing in the middle of the church with the performers surrounding the audience. Coons notes, "The work is more about listening and responding to one another than the exact notes on the page. This score only acts as a framework for the collaborative listening and gestures of ensemble and conductor." Isolation started tentatively and grew progressively richer and more complex over the next twenty minutes, with the Sensurround experience adding to the fascination.

Gilson's Construction Pieces was essentially a five movement concerto for chamber orchestra and electric violin played by the Los Angeles composer and virtuoso violinist Eric KM (Kenneth Mitchell) Clark that included "through composed, aleotoric and improvisational elements," according to the program notes.

Adam Fong's Concordia Pulls the Sea also required the conductor and the players to closely follow each other's cues, including a set of index cards that conductor Kennedy (below right) used to guide the players through 50 different possible combinations of musical fragments. It was a kick watching the viola player above using his expressive eyebrows to communicate with his fellow players throughout the evening.

The best word I can think of to describe all this music is "brainy," requiring concentrated listening from the audience. There were elements of pure beauty in all three pieces as they alternated between spareness and complexity, and I would gladly hear any of them again just to get a better grasp. The final piece by Brent Miller was a setting of a romantic Octavio Paz poem, Antes del Comienzo, and it was straightforwardly gorgeous. It was written for Miller's wife, Jacqueline Goldgorin (above left) who I have known slightly for a number of years, and it was a happy relief to hear that she has a huge, beautiful, operatic soprano. Writing for voices is a special talent that only a few composers seem to possess, and it is obvious that Miller is one of them. Get to work on an opera, dude.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Year of The Horse Celebration at the Asian

Last Sunday afternoon, there was an hour-long music and dance performance by students at the Asian Art Museum from the Chinese American International School...

...which I stumbled across as it was ending, and a parental camera orgy was in full swing.

Tuition at the bilingual immersion program at the Hayes Valley K-8 school is $23,406 a year...

...and is probably worth every penny...

...if only to weed out the riffraff.