Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Vault Fire

Last Wednesday evening, electric power in our neighborhood started flickering in an eerie manner, from indoor digital clocks to outdoor traffic lights.
Finally, the power in our building went out altogether, which was followed by an explosion that sounded like a bomb.
Neighbors poured onto the sidewalk at the corner of McAllister and Franklin, looking at black smoke coming out of a manhole in the middle of Van Ness and McAllister.
The Police and Fire Department personnel were unhelpful when it came to offering information, and the only mention I could find of the event was the above Twitter post from the SFPD mentioning there was a Vault Fire at the intersection, meaning underground PG&E equipment was blowing up and catching on fire again.
We went to sleep with the power still out, praying that PG&E infrastructure would not lead to our demise.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The SF Giants without Masks and with Fireworks

Friday evening was the first time the San Francisco Giants played before a full house since the pandemic began.
Their opponents were the cross-bay Oakland A's, and both teams are playing surprisingly well this year.
I bought a couple of expensive third-base-line seats on Stubhub a couple of days ago, and the sellers, sitting next to us, were my ex-lover from the early 1980s and his spouse, neither of whom I had seen in years. (They are not pictured, by the way. That's Austin and some sweet young man attending a game with his father.)
The game was fast and well played, with the Giants shutting out the A's 2-0, and though I like the Oakland team, it was good they lost.
The unexpected pleasure of watching a good Giants team again, particularly after being cooped up inside for 15 months, was a communal joy.
Plus, there were fireworks in the fog, a San Francisco tradition.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Hayes Valley Reopens

Last Friday evening the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association sponsored a post-pandemic reopening street party where I joined Austin and Kerry for a stroll.
The many outdoor dining areas along Hayes Street were jammed...
...with musicians serenading diners and drinkers from the car-free street.
The fancy retail stores were mostly open...
...and there was even an exclusive "Private Event" party at the allbirds shoe store to which we were not invited.
A few striking new murals have gone up near Absinthe...
...and the impressive "Work/Life" graphic novel by Eleanor Davis appeared at the back of the Proxy screen, sponsored somehow by Google (click here).
"I'm going to be bad -- I'm going to turn my phone off. Ugh, I feel like such a slacker."
I wish more people would be "bad" and turn their phones off when they are sharing public space with friends.
Otherwise, what is the point of going out?
The area around the tiny Patricia's Green parklet has been an oasis for me during this pandemic.
It was a place where people were respectful from day one about mask usage, and an outdoor refuge for those who had been working all day in their apartments on computers.
Plus, the people watching has always been spectacular, from affluent young fashionistas to grizzled skateboarders to City Supervisor Dean Preston above, not to mention the mentally ill acting out.
San Francisco deserves the herd immunity we seem to have secured, and the immediate reward is hugging friends.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Philharmonia Baroque at Herbst Theater

The Herbst Theater in the Veterans Building reopened last week for its first post-pandemic performance, given by the Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players.
This liminal period between pandemic and the reopening of society has been tough on arts organizations because governmental rules are seemingly arbitrary and change from week to week. For this concert, most of the seats had been cordoned off with tape, so that "household pods" who had shown their vaccination cards in the lobby were allowed in for a live music concert.
As my friend James Parr noted, the pandemic obliterated the farewell tours of both San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Music Director Nicholas McGegan, who were both retiring in 2020 from their posts after decades at the helm. The new Philharmonia Baroque Music Director is an Englishman, Richard Egarr, who has lots of interesting programs lined up (click here), but he was unable to conduct this comeback concert because of COVID visa problems. The task went instead to the Baroque violinist Augusta McKay Lodge who led (left to right, above) Carla Moore, August McKay Lodge, Noah Strick, Katherine Kyme, violins; Aaron Westman, viola; Hanneke van Proosdij, harpsichord; William Skeen, violoncello; David Tayler, theorbo; and Kristin Zoernig, double bass.
Ms. Lodge was superb and her work with Carla Moore in a pair of Vivaldi string concertos was stirring.
My only problem with the concert is that Baroque string music all starts sounding the same after a while, and I felt like I had fallen into a KDFC radio coma narrated by Dianne Nicolini. (Pictured above are Carla Moore, Augusta McKay Lodge, and Noah Stricker).
The intermission-less 90-minute program consisted of Handel's 5-movement Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major; three pieces by Vivaldi: the Concerto for Strings in G minor, the Sinfonia in B minor "al Santo Sepolcro", the Concerto for 2 Violins and Violoncello in D Minor; an eight-movement orchestral suite, "La Bizarre" by Telemann; the Concerto Grosso in A Minor by Giuseppe Valentini, and a Chaconne from Terpsichore by Handel. (Pictured above are David Tayler, theorbo, Kristin Zoernig, double bass, and William Skeen, violoncello.)
Augusta McKay Lodge's interplay all evening with the chamber orchestra was outstanding, and it would be great to see her return to San Francisco from Paris, where she is based, to perform without a face mask in a COVID-safe world.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Martinů and Dvorak at the SF Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony's two-month series of Covid-safe concerts has been a civic blessing, easing people into post-pandemic life gradually. Their vaccine cards requirement for admission is appropriate and influential. Plus, the first two concerts I attended in May were wonderful.
Last week's concert was conducted by Joshua Weilerstein and he didn't make a very good impression. However, he did start with a landmark piece by Bohislav Martinů, the 1938 Double Concerto for Two Orchestras. I have been listening to classical music radio stations all my life, and whenever they infrequently broadcast a piece by Martinů, it always makes me sit up and listen intently. This piece was no exception. To add to the excitement, there's a piano and timpani mediating as the contrasting texture to the two dueling string orchestras.
The three-movement concerto is intense from the starting gate and just keeps accelerating. Weilerstein kept everything at too relentless a pitch, neglecting the softer contrasts which make the piece work. Martinů was a turn-of-the-century working-class Czech who learned to be a composer in 1920s Paris when Stravinsky was king, and who fled to the United States during World War Two. He was one of the few artistic emigres from that period who landed on his feet, surviving as a professor while writing six symphonies. He was also a freak who could write down whole orchestral scores after hearing a piece once after a live concert performance. His music fits somewhere in the Stravinsky/Shostakovich/Janacek mold, and he was wildly prolific, with 15 operas and 14 ballet scores among his huge output. I wish he was programmed more.
The next piece was a string orchestration of a slow quartet movement by Florence Price, an early 20th century American black woman who composed classical music. I've heard a few other pieces by Price that were wonderful, so this soggy seven-minute performance felt like tokenism.
The final piece of the concert was Antonin Dvorak's 1875 Serenade for Strings, in a performance that was sloppy and wrong in all its rhythms. Via the internet, I listen to Bartok Radio, live from Budapest, when I'm working from home these days, and the Serenade for Strings is performed by one orchestra or another at least once a week. Strangely, it's enjoyable every time, but this performance was not. Next week, with California officially opened up, the entire orchestra is returning for two concerts with Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. Light at the end of the tunnel is here.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Nam June Paik Retrospective at SFMOMA

A retrospective of the polymath artist Nam June Paik (1932-2006) opened at the Tate Modern in London in 2019 and has finally made its way to SFMOMA in its only U.S. appearance.
Nam June Paik was born into a wealthy family that collaborated with Japan during its occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1905 to 1945. They fled in 1950 to Hong Kong during the Korean War and eventually settled in Japan where Nam June Paik studied music and aesthetics, writing a thesis on Arnold Schoenberg. He continued his studies in West Germany where he met just about everyone who was anyone in the artistic avant-garde of the late 1950s, including Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and Joseph Beuys.
He became a member of the Fluxus art movement in 1962, moved to New York City in 1964, began his decades-long collaboration with the classical cellist Charlotte Moorman, and incidentally became the father of video art.
Since I have never been a fan of Video Art, my expectations were low, but the exhibition turned out to be playful, fascinating fun.
One dark room, for instance, is dedicated to TV Garden, a Teletubbies before its time mingling of plants and electronics.
In a small screening room, we watched a 30-minute video from 1986, Bye Bye Kipling, a mixture of live events in three cities around the world with lots of groovy animation and effects, featuring just about every fabulous hipster artist of the time, from Lou Reed to Ryu Sakamoto to Dick Cavett playing satellite host.
It brought back in time the excitement of early multimedia and the optimistic spirit of both the medium and the artist. The animation above, by the way, is of the new World Trade Center towers sharing a hug.
The screening room is also showing the 1984 Good Morning, Mister Orwell, a 45-minute live satellite broadcast involving everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Salvador Dali to Laurie Anderson. Bay Area video artist John Sanborn worked on that historic piece, and it helped launch his long career.
In one room, there are reliquaries for friends like John Cage and Merce Cunningham...
...underlining what seems to be the artist's greatest pleasure, collaboration.
The finale of the exhibit is a recreation of Sistine Chapel, a 1993 Venice Bienniale multimedia installation on the walls and ceilings of a huge room.
Whether you are on edibles or not...
...by the time you leave it will feel like you are.