Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Dozen Favorite Musical Moments of 2022

The following is not a "Best of The Bay" list because there were a few concerts I did not attend where subsequent reports from trusted friends made me feel like I had missed out. No, this is a list to make you feel like you have missed out. The dozen favorite performances are in chronological order, featuring a huge range of artists, starting with the 94-year-old conductor Herbert Blomstedt returning to Davies Hall last February. Blomstedt somehow seems to be getting better with age as he demonstrated leading the San Francisco Symphony in Carl Nielsen's Fourth Symphony and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. More at this link.
The next week at Davies Hall the young guest conductor Perry So had programmed a remarkable assortment of music by Asian composers working with Western classical forms. The exception was Western gay hippie Lou Harrison's 1997 Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra performed by Wu Man, for whom it was written. It was a daring, wholly successful program of music that had never been played at the SF Symphony before. More at this link.
Mozart's La Clemenza de Tito, was given the best production I have ever seen of that problematic opera in a wildly creative production at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, which was co-directed by young genius James Darrah. More at this link.
In May, pianist Sarah Cahill joined up with the adventurous Friction Quartet for a Noe Valley Ministry chamber music concert of contemporary music sandwiching Dvorak's "American" String Quartet. A young violist, Mitso Floor, was filling in and was sensational. It's good to read that he recently, officially joined the quartet permanently. More at this link.
In June, SF Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and stage director Peter Sellars revived their production of Stravinsky's oratorio Oedipus Rex with the composer's Symphony of Psalms added on as an epilogue. The Symphony Men's Chorus was superb throughout, and so were the cast of soloists. Plus, it was lovely seeing tenor Sean Panikkar in the title role finally having the career he deserves. More at this link.
The SF Symphony finished their 2021-22 season in July with a thrilling concert that featured the local premiere of Berkeley composer John Adams's piano concerto Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? The fiendishly complex work was written for pianist Yuja Wang but performed at these concerts by Víkingur Ólafsson, who was extraordinary. More at this link.
The annual American Bach Soloists Academy was canceled this summer on account of the Omnicron outbreak but the group still held a series of concerts at Herbst Theatre in August, including a surprisingly excellent performance of Handel's obscure oratorio, Belshazzar. The entire cast was wonderful and so was the pickup chorus, but pride of place went to soprano Maya Kherani sailing through some impossibly difficult music with apparent ease. More at this link.
The San Francisco Opera was celebrating its centennial and commissioned famous local composer John Adams to write another opera. The result was a brilliant distillation of Shakespeare's strange, sprawling play, Antony and Cleopatra. It's a major work and it was exciting to be part of the world premiere. More at this link.
The New Century Chamber Orchestra under its Music Director Daniel Hope offered an odd amalgam of radio play, jazz/cabaret/classical music concert, focusing chronologically on Berlin and the U.S. in 1938 when Hitler was ramping up to the Final Solution. The September performance was at the Presidio Theater, a gorgeously restored Art Deco style movie theater dating from World War Two. Operatic baritone Thomas Hampson was joined by "chansonnier" Horst Maria Merz, who was riveting. More at this link.
The pianist Yuja Wang gave the premiere of yet another piano concerto written for her, this time by Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg. The October concert, conducted brilliantly by Music Director Salonen, also featured a fabulous performance of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. More at this link.
The San Francisco Opera had a banner fall season this year with more successes and fewer stinkers than the usual batting average for an opera company. The first new company production of Verdi's La Traviata in close to 30 years was one of the happiest surprises. The production was colorful, traditional without being dull, and the two leads, South African soprano Pretty Yende as Violetta and American tenor Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo, worked beautifully together. More at this link.
The unexpected stunner of the season was Gluck's spare, beautiful 1762 opera Orpheus and Eurydice with a star turn by the young Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński in a creative marvel of a production by director Matthew Ozawa and his production collaborators. More at this link.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Castro Christmas Wonderland Block Party and Creepy Christians

This Sunday afternoon there was a small Christmas block party on Noe Street off of Market hosted by the Castro Merchants group, and there were three police cars prominently stationed at the entrance.
Since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Colorado Springs and the recent demonization of gay people as pedophile groomers by right-wing lunatics, putting together a family event that involves drag queens feels like an oddly brave thing to do.
Long after Drag Queen Storytime Hour had finished, an aggressive Jesus Freak cult arrived about 1:30 PM to harangue homosexuals for their sinful ways which were leading directly to hell.
I have run into this cult before near Patricia's Green in the Hayes Valley during the weekend street shutdowns, where a few of their more obnoxious members would shout into a microphone attached to an amplifier. I wasn't the only gay person this afternoon in the Castro who noticed that the group seemed to consist mostly of young closet cases whose eyes were filled with yearning. Whoever the cult leader might be, they are obviously exploiting repressed desires which is just plain evil.
The block party itself could not have been sweeter, involving kids drawing with chalk on Noe Street...
...and petting barnyard animals...
...and dancing onstage...
...while a wild variety of parents and adult friends danced in the streets.
This was the "second annual" Castro Christmas Wonderland Block Party and it reminded me of Halloween in the Castro in the mid-1970s when Cliff's Variety would erect a stage in front of their hardware store and host a children's costume contest...
...followed by an adult costume contest...
...and a bacchanalian street party that was a joy...
...until too many people showed up and things got so out of hand that it felt dangerous rather than fun.
On the way out I saw Castro residents arguing with the Jesus Freaks...
...while I replied to the offer of some literature from the young women above, "You should be ashamed of yourselves."

Monday, December 12, 2022

London Breed's Christmas Village

We stumbled across a Christmas Village in Civic Center on Sunday morning hosted by the San Francisco government.
The website for the Free Family Holiday Event promises "Face painting! Balloon artists! Holiday train rides! Entertainers in Holiday costumes!"
We were not sure who this character was supposed to be but she took to her posing duties with enthusiasm.
So did the welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Claus, as Christmas enthusiast Austin rushed into their photo area for a snapshot.
The professional photographer even produced an instant color print with a greeting from San Francisco's mayor: "HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM LONDON N. BREED".
This led to three questions. Why was Breed's name being printed as a holiday keepsake on the taxpayer's dime? Why did the sparsely attended event have zero outreach and publicity? Finally, when did that "N." appear in her official name?
Still, the tiny train circling the plaza is too cute and so are the kids. The event will be repeated next Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 4PM when it should be drier than this weekend.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Indio Tamale Festival

I joined a gaggle of gay friends on Sunday for the 30th annual Indio Tamale Festival.
There were tamale stands for everyone, including vegans and foodies into local exotica.
This was the first time the event had moved from the confines of old downtown Indio to a huge park nearby, which allowed for the Guinness-certified World's Largest Bounce House for the kids.
It was fun being a minority as a gringo in what was a predominantly Mexican-American family crowd.
In front of one set of tamale booths, the gentleman above was holding the 1st Place Traditional Tamale Award from the festival...
...and when I asked how he'd done this year, he brought out the first place award for 2022.
I was wary of the event being crowded and claustrophobic...
...but the expansive park had plenty of room...
...even for demonstrations of souped-up low-riders.
The only problem was the cacophony of three different stages blasting live bands and/or DJ sets in addition to various booths adding to the sonic overload. Our hosts, Barry and Grant above, could not take it for long... we left early, but not before I went on a twirly amusement park ride that almost made me pass out. It was lots of fun.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Sausalito Smooching

Sunday afternoon to Sausalito from San Francisco's Ferry Building was delightful.
There were same-sex and opposite-sex couples from all over the globe on the boat...
...including the couple in the foreground from Perth, Australia and the couple in the background who verged on daring displays of public affection, but kept pulling back.
While eating a sandwich from Venezia, the Italian deli downtown, on the Sausalito breakwater...
...I watched a November marine layer mist turn San Francisco ghostly.
On the return ferry, a young couple who had been making out next to their bicycles on the Sausalito breakwater continued their public avowals of love...
...joined by a half dozen male cyclists who were in varying stages of drunkenness and joy.
The trip was bone-chillingly cold and I envied the couple...
...who were warming each other up.