31 October 2014

29 October 2014

Haiku 2014/302

stars & bars, wind-whipped
cracking right over our heads
in the harsh bright light

28 October 2014

27 October 2014

fun stuff I may or may not get to: November 2014

As usual November is (potentially, at least) a very busy month for performances. But this month in particular Cal Performances is really a star, with a wide range of great stuff (and I didn't even list it all – check out the whole month here).

Cal Performances presents the Théâtre de la Ville in Pirandello's modernist classic, Six Characters in Search of an Author. As with their production of Rhinoceros two years ago, the play will be performed in French, with English surtitles. That's 7 - 8 November in Zellerbach Hall. More information here.

Cal Performances also presents the return of Robert Wilson, and this time he has Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe with him in The Old Woman, by Daniil Kharms, adapted by Darryl Pinckney. That's 21 - 23 November in Zellerbach; more info here.

The Aurora Theater presents the west coast premiere of Breakfast with Mugabe, written by Fraser Grace and directed by Jon Tracy, which was "inspired by newspaper reports that [former president of Zimbabwe] Robert Mugabe . . . sought treatment from a white psychiatrist." That's 7 November to 7 December; more information here.

The San Francisco Playhouse presents Promises, Promises, with music and lyrics by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and book by Neil Simon, directed by Bill English. It's a musical version of the film The Apartment. We are promised "swinging energy"; if you've seen the movie, you will also be expecting, or hoping for, a sour edge. You can find out 18 November to 10 January; more information here.

Cutting Ball Theater presents the world premiere of Superheroes, written and directed by Sean San José, produced in association with Campo Santo. It's about a journalist investigating the crack epidemic. That's 21 November to 21 December; more information here.

The annual Olympians Festival runs 5 - 22 November at the Exit Theater. The Festival consists of readings of new plays based on a theme from Greek mythology. This year's topic is Monsters. I have searched for a useful website for the festival and haven't really come up with one, which is a little too loosey-goosey for me, but there's this from the Exit Theater and this on Facebook. I haven't made it to the Festival yet, but at least one play I really liked (Pleiades by Marissa Skudlarek; my write-up is here) has come out of it, so there's that. I also saw somewhere that Andrew Saito, playwright-in-residence at Cutting Ball, is also involved, and I really liked the play I saw by him, so there's also that.

Novelist Marilynne Robinson appears at City Arts & Lectures in conversation with Isabel Duffy on 4 November; more information here.

New & Modern Music
At the SF Jazz Center, the Calder Quartet completes its survey of the Bartók string quartets by performing Nos. 5 and 6, along with Korrespondenz by Péter Eötvös; that's on 11 November; more information here.

Cal Performances in association with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players presents the first concert of four this season in Project TenFourteen, which involves ten world premieres from ten different composers, each of whom was – and I hesitate to quote this part, because it sounds like the most ridiculous boilerplate, but then it's also broad enough to signal anything goes! while being filled with enough meaningless uplift to get funding from responsible sources – "challenged to reflect upon and address the human condition, common to us all." Well, at least we don't have to hear about the "community." In any case: new music! Exciting! The premieres are "interspersed with modern masterpieces," so, once again: Exciting! (In case anyone is misreading this: I am not being snide or ironic. New music really is exciting to me.) This first concert features Crumb, Aperghis, Ortíz, and Ruehr. That's 16 November; more information here.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents the second BluePrint concert of the season; Nicole Paiement leads the ensemble in works by John Glover, Conrad Susa, Lou Harrison, and Kaija Saariaho. That's 15 November; more info here.

Chamber Music
San Francisco Performances presents the Hagen Quartet in works by Mozart, Shostakovich, and Brahms; that's 1 November at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco; more information here.

At the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook sings Schumann's Frauenliebe und leben and Jake Heggie's The Deepest Desire; that's 17 November; details are here.

San Francisco Performances presents Dan Tepfer playing Bach's Goldberg Variations, with his own jazz variations inserted after each of Bach's; that's on 8 November; details here.

The Wagner Society of Northern California presents pianist Stephan Möller playing transcriptions of Wagner, as well as the occasional piano piece by Wagner himself. That's at the beautiful St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco on 16 November; more information here.

Baroque Music
Philharmonia Baroque presents marvelous countertenor Andreas Scholl singing arias from Handel's Giulio Cesare along with Bach's Cantata 170, Vergnugte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust. Conductor Julian Wachner will also lead the band in the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 and Telemann's Concerto in F major for Violin, Oboe, and Two Horns. That's 5 - 9 November, in their usual varied locations; check here for more information.

Cal Performances presents Apollo's Fire, led by Jeannette Sorrell, in Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers for the Blessed Virgin; that's 13 November; other information here.

Cal Performances also presents The Academy of Ancient Music, led by Richard Egarr, in Bach's Orchestral Suites, 15 November; details here.

Cal Performances presents Britten's Curlew River, an amalgam of Japanese Noh theater and medieval mystery drama, featuring Ian Bostridge as the Mad Woman; there are only two performances, 14 - 15 November (note that the 15th is a matinee performance); more information here.

San Francisco Opera is running until early December, when The Nutcracker moves into the War Memorial. Of the three operas remaining in the fall season, I'm most likely to end up at La Cenerentola, having already seen Tosca and Bohème more often than I really needed to. I am hearing, though, that the Tosca is good, and there are some interesting singers in Bohème, particularly Michael Fabiano, so check here if you're interested.

Cal Performances presents the Czech Philharmonic in Dvorák's Stabat Mater, conducted by Jirí Belohlávek, in Zellerbach on 9 November; more information here.

The San Francisco Symphony is mostly touring in November, but there's an interesting-looking concert at the end of the month: conductor Susanna Mälkki leads the Brahms 2, The White Peacock by Griffes, and the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3, with Jeremy Denk as soloist. That's on 29 - 30 November; more information is available here.

The Oakland/East Bay Symphony opens its season with Music Director Michael Morgan leading the Tchaikovsky 5 and the west coast premiere of Brothers in Arts, a new work for jazz quintet and orchestra by Chris Brubeck and Guillaume Saint-James, commemorating D-Day (both their fathers were in France during World War II; Brubeck's father was in Patton's army and Saint-James's was a teenager). That's 7 November in the beautiful Paramount Theater in Oakland; more information here.

Haiku 2014/300

dreaming in the dark
still dreaming during daylight
dreaming dreamy dreams

Poem of the Week 2014/44

When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, and the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds, sail over the midnight skies –
When the footpads quail at the night-bird's wail, and black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres' holiday – then is the ghosts' high-noon!

Chorus: Ha! ha! Then is the ghosts' high-noon!

As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees, and the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tomb-stones are gathered the bones that once were women and men,
And away they go, with a mop and a mow, to the revel that ends too soon,
For cockcrow limits our holiday – the dead of the night's high-noon!

Chorus: Ha! ha! The dead of the night's high-noon!

And then each ghost with his ladye-toast to their churchyard beds takes flight,
With a kiss, perhaps, on her lantern chaps, and a grisly grim "good-night";
Till the welcome knell of the midnight bell rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers in our next high holiday – the dead of the night's high-noon!

Chorus: Ha! ha! The dead of the night's high-noon! Ha! ha! ha! ha!

WS Gilbert, from Ruddigore

Here's another haunted poem for Halloween, though lighter in tone than last week's. It is sung by a ghost, accompanied by a chorus of lesser ghosts, in Act 2 of Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore, which has always been one of my top five favorites among the Savoy operas (the others, since you need to know, are The Mikado, Iolanthe, The Yeomen of the Guard, and The Gondoliers). Ruddigore is a satirical take on Victorian Gothic horror melodramas, a genre, or at least a style (as witness many of Tim Burton's movies) which has had a contemporary resurgence – I think the opera might find an appreciative audience today among fans of steampunk or vampire romances.

The lyrics manage to combine the classic signifiers of creepy haunting: howling winds, bats, black dogs, funeral shrouds, tombstones, and so forth – with a light-hearted air, skipping along on the internal rhymes: after all, this is a description of a party. (It reminds me of early cartoons like Walt Disney's The Skeleton Dance in the Silly Symphonies series.) There's a lot of movement here, much of it swift: things fly, sail, quail, sweep, take flight. This is not a still and solemn time: things howl, wail, bay, sob, and knell.

The nightly gathering occurs at midnight, and we tend to forget how dark and dangerous midnights used to be: in 1887, the year the opera premiered, electric street lights were still a fairly recent innovation in London, and it would be easy for audiences to transport themselves back to the night-time darkness of the earlier part of the century, when the action of the opera takes place.

Suitably for someone who is in but no longer of this world, this ghost uses vocabulary that is a bit archaic. A chimney cowl is "a hood-shaped covering used to increase the draft of a chimney and prevent backflow"; it also prevents birds and squirrels from nesting in the chimney. A cowl can also be the hood of a monk's robe, so perhaps the word is also meant to bring with it the aura of the mysterious monks prominent in the horror fictions of (Protestant) England. A footpad is a robber on foot (as opposed to on horseback); his victims would also be on foot. A night-bird is another term for an owl (another classic sign of spookiness). As for black dogs, I think the color just goes along with the inkiness of the clouds (like funeral shrouds), but it might be worth remembering that Mephistopheles first shows himself to Goethe's Faust in the form of a large black poodle. Except for that possible hint, the devil is excluded from this gathering; this seems like a fancy ball more than a Walpurgisnacht. To mop and mow is to grimace and make sad faces. The ladye-toast would be the woman (more precisely, ghost of a woman) that each man toasts; that is, his sweetheart. Lantern chaps would be the lower jaw or cheek, thin enough to be transparent like a lamp. Cock-crow is the traditional signal of dawn at which ghosts must return to their graves (remember Horatio, in the first scene of Hamlet: "I have heard, / The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn, / Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat / Awake the god of day, and at his warning, / Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air, / Th' extravagant and erring spirit hies / To his confine").

I took this from The Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan, edited by Ian Bradley, though the only annotation on this number is that it is similar to an early poem by Gilbert. Sullivan's music is appropriately haunting and sweeping; there are a number of recordings that are worth checking out, though of course when it comes to Gilbert and Sullivan you can't go too far wrong with D'Oyly Carte.

26 October 2014

25 October 2014

24 October 2014

Haiku 2014/297

waiting for the night –
for the moon? the stars? the dark? –
no, solely for sleep