Thursday, October 10, 2019

Chessa Boudin for San Francisco DA

An ardent young political volunteer was canvassing the lightly attended Castro Street Fair last Sunday advocating Chessa Boudin for San Francisco District Attorney in next month's election. George Gascon, the widely disrespected current DA, announced last year that he would not run for re-election, and for the first time in a century there was a district attorney election in San Francisco without an elected or appointed incumbent in the race. That was true until last weekend.

Gascon made an announcement last month that he was retiring from his job three months early, which allowed for Mayor London Breed to appoint candidate Suzy Loftus to the position. This kind of maneuver has been standard operating procedure in the corruptly provincial world of San Francisco politics for decades, but this was a particularly blatant, egregious example of gaming the electoral system, and it may possibly backfire. For more details and commentary on the situation, click here for the SF Examiner's Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez and David Talbot in the SF Chronicle. Remember, there are three other candidates running other than Loftus, and we have ranked choice voting in San Francisco, so vote for whoever you want in whatever order, but be sure that Loftus is neither Choice #1, #2 or #3.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Computer Meltdown Sabbatical

Ever since being a teacher's assistant at the San Francisco State Multimedia Studies Program in the early 1990s, I have been a stickler for keeping liquids away from computers. Last night, however, the contents of an unsipped martini went flying across my laptop, and the fault was mine. So Civic Center is taking a little sabbatical until I get around to buying a new computer. Sorry, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, your Japanese themed concert was wonderful last weekend and there are some nice photos, but they are probably unsalvageable. Will be back soon, I hope.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Fin de siècle at New Century Chamber Orchestra

The New Century Chamber Orchestra opened their new season last week with a program devoted to music from the turn of the 19th century to the 20th century featuring a young piano soloist who wasn't even born until the 21st Century.

Music Director Daniel Hope gave graceful introductions to all the short pieces in the first half of the program, which ranged from Elgar (Introduction and Allegro, Chanson de Matin) to an early Schoenberg Notturno for Strings and Harp, with a slow movement from a violin concerto by the Norwegian Christian Sinding seguing into Massenet's Meditation from the opera Thais. As usual, Hope was an impassioned, accomplished soloist fronting his newly energized string ensemble.

The Greek violinist Simon Papanas was appearing as "Guest Concertmaster" and besides leading the chamber orchestra, he played a violin transcription of the vocal line of Richard Strauss's famous song, Morgen. Though the accumulation of relentlessly pretty pieces during the first half of the concert started to feel like a collection of perfumed bon-bons, it was certainly fun.

The second half of the concert was devoted to one work, but gosh, what a piece it turned out to be. Like most of the audience, I had never heard Ernest Chausson's 1891 Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, a four-movement, 40-minute-plus chamber work that was astonishingly good. The string quartet parts were expanded for the entire chamber orchestra, which worked better in some movements by giving the music symphonic heft and not as well when maximum clarity for the violin and piano was required, but it didn't matter because the "concert" was so consistently varied and given such a passionate performance. Adding to the excitement was the West Coast debut of the 16-year-old piano wunderkind Maxim Lando from New York. Daniel Hope pointed out that the piano part was one of the most challenging in the entire chamber music repertoire, and he was right, but Lando seemed to have absolutely no difficulties with its intricacies.

Best of all, Maxim looked like he was having a hell of a lot of fun, and his youthful energy seemed to spread through the entire ensemble. In addition, his shy, sly looks for synchronizing cues at Hope and the other instrumentalists while hunched over the piano were adorable. I'm not a big fan of youngsters onstage at professional, adult musical events, but Lando felt like an exception, and his musical virtuosity felt special for any age.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Weird-Ass Stravinsky at the SF Symphony

Please excuse the click-bait title but was having a difficult time coming up with a better adjective. Instead of the usual Firebird or Rite of Spring, Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performed a trio of off-kilter, concentrated late Stravinsky compositions last week, and it was wonderful. The evening started with 1955's Canticum sacrum where Stravinsky played with Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositional style in a strange, jagged prayer with a huge chorus and a tiny orchestra bereft of violins and cellos. The baritone and tenor soloists were local oratorio favorites Tyler Duncan and Nicholas Phan, respectively, and they made the thorny vocal lines sound gorgeous. The chorus was an occasional, thrilling presence, but Tilson Thomas took the pace too slow, making it sound dirge-like. The work is more startlingly interesting when taken at a quicker, more disjointed pace.

The 1930 Symphony of Psalms, another piece for huge mixed chorus and a larger orchestra (but still no violins or violas), was given a virtually perfect performance, and the unearthly beauty of the final Alleluia movement sent most of the audience floating out of the auditorium. It may be my favorite Stravinsky composition, especially after hearing this.

After intermission, there was a non-Stravinsky amuse bouche, Haydn's Cello Concerto #2 with the young Oliver Herbert, who used to play with the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra, as soloist. Herbert had a sweet, flawless tone but is not yet at that interpretive place where music takes flight beyond the notes. The orchestral accompaniment was lively in the long first movement, but the performance started to drag in the final two, and made one wish for more Stravinsky.

Which we got, the 1945 Symphony in Three Movements, a 20-minute blast through a World War Two New Yorkscape that had enough ideas for a piece three times that long. The first movement had a few moments that amusingly presaged Philip Glass, while the second movement Andante played with a fractured tune that sounded like a similar refrain in Stravinsky's 1951 full-length opera, The Rake's Progress. The final movement is a rambunctious barn-burner, perfect for a composer conducting its premieres with various orchestras around the world, including the SF Symphony in 1946. The evening was one of MTT's better programs, and made me realize how much we'll miss him.