Thursday, March 15, 2018

Skateboarders and Sea Critters

We walked along the San Francisco waterfront on a grey Saturday last week...

...and kept running into daring young skateboarders.

Though bicyclists and scooter riders on pedestrian sidewalks drive me nuts, skateboarders don't bother me.

For one thing, you can hear them when they are approaching, and they tend to be attentive and skillful. Instead of rolling along with a bicyclist's air of moral superiority, they also exude a bad boy aura while harming nobody but themselves and some concrete.

Speaking of bad boys, we stopped by Pier 39... watch sea lions playing at their version of king of the hill...

...though half the time they look like they are about to kiss.

From Pier 39 we walked to our favorite secret outdoor pub...

...where we drank cheap German beer under the curious gaze of the seagull above.

For a moment, the beauty of the world was overwhelming.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Debut of Trio Foss

Matthew Wolka, the new Director of Old First Concerts, greeted a very small crowd on Sunday afternoon, March 4th with the observation that a recent concert during the Super Bowl attracted about 300 people, "but the Academy Awards seem to be a bigger draw for our demographic than football." Of course, the same old man accompanied by his service dog with a noisemaking collar, who attended the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 performance earlier in the weekend, was again seated in the front row. It seems the new normal for chamber music concerts in San Francisco is quiet music intermingled with occasional tinkling bells.

The concert featured the debut of a new group, the Trio Foss, with Icelandic violinist Hrabba Atladottir, cellist Nina Flyer, and pianist Joseph Irrera who were excitingly good playing together. Although they began with Beethoven's early Piano Trio in B-flat major, we were attending for the 1939 Bergerettes by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů and Dmitri Shostakovich's 1944 Piano Trio No. 2. Every piece I have ever heard by Martinů over the years has been extraordinary, simultaneously accessible, complex and tuneful, and these five dance movements were a good example. Why his music is so rarely heard is a mystery. Shostakovich's World War II piano trio was a great discovery, an astonishing work of genius which I had never heard before last week.

The core of the newly formed Foss Trio seemed to be cellist Nina Flyer who has had a wide-ranging global career, as principal cellist of the Jerusalem Symphony, the Iceland Symphony, the Bergen (Norway) Symphony, acting principal in the San Diego Symphony, and principal of the Women's Philharmonic. While teaching at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, she formed the New Pacific Trio which morphed into Trio 180, a group I heard perform a couple of times.

Her current trio (Hrabba Altadottir, Joseph Irrera, and Nina Flyer above) is an extraordinary musical combo, and it's difficult to imagine hearing a better live performance of the Martinů and Shostakovich works, even accompanied by the occasional tinkling from a damned dog collar.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Lesbians Who Conduct and Sing

The Bay Area Rainbow Symphony (BARS) held their 10th anniversary gala concert at Herbst Theater last Saturday with a starry, ambitious program.

This was the first concert of the gay and lesbian community orchestra I had attended, partly out of musical snobbery, but was curious to hear whether the ensemble could perform Mahler's massive, difficult Symphony No. 1 without a train wreck.

Going to so many concerts, there are a few people you run into who become markers of taste. If I see Gene Nakajima (above, top right) at an SF Symphony concert, the chances are good that it will be especially interesting. Gene plays clarinet in BARS and had urged me over the years to check out his community orchestra.

Though it was a very tight fit, the orchestra somehow managed to cram close to 100 musicians onto the small Herbst Theatre stage, and not only did they perform the symphony without a disaster, but they managed to give a superb performance. The soft, high, ethereal opening of the Symphony No. 1 did not quite work, and I settled in for a long evening, but was happily surprised when the entire orchestra soon joined in and gave a committed, skillful performance for the next hour.

The last time I heard the work live was in 2010 with Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Davies Hall and I walked out after the first movement because the tempos were so wrong and the playing sloppy, so it was a particular pleasure to hear this favorite symphony again done right. Much of the praise should go to Music Director Dawn Harms (above right with the concertmistress whose name I don't know). Harms plays viola professionally with the SF Opera Orchestra and the New Century Chamber Orchestra, but who knew she could conduct? There are a lot of cross-rhythms and moving parts in this symphony which can easily get muddy, so it was a joy to hear the clarity Harms and the orchestra brought to the music.

The second half of the program featured opera star Patricia Racette in a pair of songs from Kern's Showboat followed by four Edith Piaf songs with full orchestra.

Racette came out publicly as a lesbian in 2002, a brave career move at the time, and for years has been married to mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton (above left), who gave a speech about the evening's charity recipient, The Trevor Project, a 24-hour suicide hotline for gay and lesbian teenagers.

In 2014, Racette sang in Showboat at the SF Opera and was very fine, but the happiest surprise of the evening were the Edith Piaf songs that followed, which fit Racette's current voice unusually well. The orchestrations were lush and well played by the orchestra, and Racette sounded relaxed and soulful, with wonderful French pronunciation thrown in besides. A lot of opera singers sound ridiculous performing popular songs, but Racette is an exception. Congratulations to her and to this community orchestra for sounding so good and taking music so seriously.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Lesbians Who Tech

During a walk Saturday afternoon, we passed the Castro Theatre and instead of a German Film Festival or a Little Mermaid Sing-Along...

...the old cinema was hosting Lesbians Who Tech...

...a three-day conference holding its fifth annual gathering in San Francisco.

Though "gay" has been the accepted term for those attracted to their own gender for most of my life...

...I have perversely always loved using "lesbian" and "homosexual" instead, partly because the words sound both antiquated and exotic.

I asked the two characters above if they were "lesbians who tech," and they instantly replied, "Of course we are." Now that's an ally.