Thursday, October 30, 2014

Psychic City Hall and the SF Giants Parade

Somebody at San Francisco City Hall was either psychic or optimistic this week. One of the odder details of Wednesday's Game 7 of the World Series were little white tents being set up on Polk Street in front of City Hall with orange and black flags on top of them. This was on Wednesday afternoon, before the game had even begun.

When I asked the laborers what the tents were for, they were mystified, but it looked like preparations for a Giants Parade in front of City Hall.

Maybe the powers that be were planning on holding a parade for the Giants win or lose.

If you have any issues with claustrophobia, my advice is to stay as far away from Civic Center Plaza on Friday as possible. I'm going to San Francisco's downtown Financial District just to avoid the crowds.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

World Series Game 7 in Civic Center

Wednesday's crowd in Civic Center Plaza waiting for a public broadcast of World Series Game 7 was oddly mellower than Game 6 the night before.

It felt less like gangbangers who wanted to get drunk in public and break stuff up, and more like serious fans wanting to root their team on with fellow fans.

Through a comedy of errors I ended up at a Merola Opera trivia night at the Sugar bar on Hayes Street which had been commandeered by a mixture of Giants fans and Phish fans who were getting drunk before a concert at Bill Graham auditorium across the street from the World Series extravaganza in Civic Center. Though Sugar is two blocks from my apartment, I had never been in the bar, but it turned out to be an absolutely perfect place to watch the Giants win their third World Series in five years, not too crowded, plenty of TVs, and an exuberant crowd.

The real magician of the Giants team is catcher Buster Posey above. Watching him play baseball in his down-low way has been an illuminating exercise. He's god and tries to make sure no one knows it, though he keeps leaving clues to his divinity for those paying attention.

World Series Game 6 in Civic Center Plaza

At 5:15 PM Pacific Standard Time, it was standing room only in Civic Center Plaza on Tuesday...

...with the sun shining in half the crowd's eyes as they peered towards the temporary screen.

The conjunction of World Series fever and Halloween related madness makes for a strange atmosphere... after watching the first inning, we walked two blocks home before disaster in the form of the Kansas City Royals struck with a vengeance.

Tonight's seventh game should be nuts.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mobile Series 1

This is the beginning of a new art photo adventure, documenting mobile device usage in public places. The two gentlemen above were in the backyard of the Eagle Saloon on a Saturday afternoon.

I asked the Tennessee bear on the right if he was addicted to his mobile device, and he readily confessed that was the case as he showed off a new digital wonder to his friend.

The couple above on a 47 Van Ness bus talked to each other in between spells of checking their mobile devices. It felt like a Noel Coward one-act for the 21st century.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Center for New Music's Second Anniversary Party

The Center for New Music celebrated their second anniversary last weekend with a fundraising concert and party to help pay for the tuning of their three pianos, which are currently situated in a rehearsal room, in the small concert hall, and in the front room of the thriving space for new and experimental music.

The place has attracted an unusually broad mixture of old and young and everything in between, both as composers/performers and appreciative audiences, including Patricia Bourne above...

...and artist Elena-María Bey and Pinna Records producer Roger Rohrbach.

Brent Miller above and Adam Fong opened the Center with an interesting model, where Center members such as Pamela Z below can perform concerts and try out material with little financial risk.

In fact, the artists and performers keep 100% of the box office receipts for each concert, while the Center ekes out a living with grants from arts groups and local government, membership fees, and sharing office space with other San Francisco arts nonprofits. There's probably nothing else like it in the world right now, at least not at this level of talent and experimentation.

The Center's location currently requires a bit of courage to attend as it sits on Taylor Street in the Tenderloin near the Golden Gate Theatre. The Center signed a fifteen-year lease so they have some safety for when the burgeoning gentrification of the neighborhood goes into hyperdrive, which looks to be finally happening within the next couple of years. (Photo above is of filmmaker and Center Board President Peter Osmonde.)

Sunday's concert featured four pianists, starting with East Bay composer Chris Brown who played his fascinating 2001 composition Branches for pianist and interactive percussive computer score. "How much of that piece was notated and how much improvised?" I asked Brown at intermission, and he responded that it was about 50/50. "Think Thelonius Monk."

Sarah Cahill, with Joseph M. Colombo as page-turner, played Naturali Periclitati, a three-movement piece about "endangered natures" by composer John Kennedy that was as graceful as every other piece I have heard by him, with Cahill giving a persuasive performance.

I had to leave before the second half, which was devoted to a conceptual piece that included video about Greg Louganis by composer Luciano Chessa (not pictured, though the above guys seemed to be his posse). There was also a piece written and performed by Joseph M. Colombo.

However, the event was inspiring enough that I threatened to become a member myself, but composer and Membership Manager Luis Escareño advised me to return with a check rather than incur credit card fees. This means I can produce a concert of my own in the coming year, though it's going to be difficult topping the upcoming November 12th concert, FRIENDLY GALAXIES: AN EVENING OF CELEBRATING SUN RA AT 100.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Van Ness Goes Orange for World Series Game 1

Van Ness Avenue between McAllister and Hayes has gone orange for the World Series...

...including the San Francisco Opera House...

...and Davies Symphony Hall...

The first game tonight featured a slaughter of the Kansas City Royals by the Giants orange and black, which means nothing other than San Franciscans had a happy Tuesday evening.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sarah Cahill and Stuart Canin Make Music Together

The Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill specializes in contemporary music, but local groups such as San Francisco Performances and the Berkeley Symphony have started asking her to play classical chamber music, from Mozart to Schubert. The Berkeley Symphony started a chamber music series last year and asked Cahill to play piano with the legendary local violinist Stuart Canin, a first for both of them. She confessed to being nervous at first, but the two musicians got along splendidly, and it resulted in one of the best chamber music concerts I have heard in my life.

The 88-year-old Stuart Canin has had one of the most interesting careers as a violinist in history. (For a great online bio, click here for the American Federation of Musicians union website.) A New York City native, he studied at Juilliard with an interruption for World War Two as a violin playing soldier, followed by jobs with radio orchestras, as an orchestral soloist, stints in academia at the University of Iowa and Oberlin, and finally back to performing with the Chamber Symphony of Philadelphia.

The word got back to Seiji Ozawa at the San Francisco Symphony in 1970 that he needed to hear this amazing violinist, and Ozawa hired Canin as concertmaster on the spot after an audition in a hotel. In the 1980s Canin went Hollywood, becoming the go-to concertmaster for movie studio orchestras in over 650 films, then he yo-yo'd back to San Francisco and founded the New Century Chamber Orchestra. He semi-retired in 1996 and then was lured down to LA again to be the concertmaster of the LA Opera Orchestra for the next decade. In 2010 he finally retired and moved back to Berkeley to be close to children and grandchildren.

Last Wednesday at the San Francisco Conservatory as part of a free Faculty Artist Series, Sarah Cahill was to give a solo recital of contemporary music, but she decided to reprise the program she had been playing with Canin over the last month in Berkeley and Point Reyes. She started with a pair of Couperin keyboard pieces, followed by the sad, moody Violin Sonata No. 21 in E Minor by Mozart, and the uncharacteristically cheerful Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Minor by Beethoven. This is music that can be deadly dull when played with mechanistic precision, but startlingly moving and poetic when played as it was here by Canin and Cahill as if they were having a fascinating, passionate conversation which the audience was allowed to overhear.

After intermission, they were joined by the cellist Gianna Abondolo, a former colleague of Canin's at the New Century Chamber Orchestra, and they played the monumental, 40-minute Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert that was surpassingly beautiful. It was obvious they and the audience were completely invigorated by the performance in the tiny Sol Joseph Recital Hall, a perfect space for this music. Cahill told me later, "It's really long, but by the time the piece is over, I felt ready to play it all over again."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dreamforce Party Setup

Salesforce, the cloud computing behemoth, puts on a huge convention at Moscone Center every year that sprawls over Howard Street for a couple of weeks, and then caps the event with an outdoor party and rock concert in Civic Center Plaza for conventioneers.

They started setting up for the Tuesday evening event last weekend...

...and it was fun watching stages being erected and surreally large color bars being projected...

...while an army of roadies assembled light towers.

In terms of neighborhood intrusiveness, it's not as bad as Gay Pride Weekend, and we also get to hear the "mystery headliners."

This year it was the bands Cake and Bruno Mars, which certainly fit in with the extravagance of the affair.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

London Musical Gods Descend on San Francisco

The London cellist Steven Isserlis played two concertos with the local, original-instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra last week at the SFJAZZ Center, and his performance was soulful and enchanting. The program had the order switched for the two 18th century cello concertos by CPE Bach and Boccherini, which Isserlis announced to the audience after intermission, explaining in a deadpan voice that we were the victims of a "ghastly hoax." He then explained how the Bach was forward-looking music for its time, "modern music," while the Boccherini was old-fashioned in its use of traditional forms but nonetheless "perfect and heavenly."

Sandwiching his performances were two middle-period Haydn symphonies, #52 and #67. Haydn wrote close to 110 of them, mostly for his live-in job at the Esterhazy estate in Hungary, and they are witty, sane and charming pieces but sometimes hard to bring off in modern concerts where they can easily become dull. The first movement of #57 was conducted by Music Director Nicholas McGegan with verve and a perfect touch, but in the slow second movement he decided to seriously stretch out the tempos, and the piece simply expired and never recovered, not even in the sprightly final movement.

The orchestra was excellent accompanying Isserlis in the Bach and Boccherini, and there was even a hint of jazziness in some of the offbeat rhythms the cellist adopted which fit the music and the location. Isserlis performs as a soloist, in chamber music, with original instrument ensembles and full, modern orchestras in everything from Baroque music to contemporary pieces. This is the second time I have seen him perform and would gladly attend anything in which he's involved. He's a great musician.

Also a supremely great musician is the conductor Vladimir Jurowski, who is touring with the London Philharmonic Orchestra where he has been principal conductor for the last seven years. This year is the last in that particular relationship which is too bad because they are sensational together. The strings, in particular, were so full and rich that they sounded as if we were in Carnegie Hall rather than Davies Hall.

Jurowski was born in Russia, moved with his professional musician family to Germany in 1990, and currently lives with his own family in Berlin, but he's an honorary Londoner because his major career so far has been out of that city, including a stint as the Music Director of Glyndebourne Opera. I've heard him three times now, with three different orchestras, starting with the San Francisco Symphony, his debut with the New York Philharmonic earlier this year, and now this appearance with his own orchestra. He's my new favorite conductor in the world. Even the overplayed Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was interesting in the orchestra, although the boorish, pounding style of piano soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet made me want to run out of the hall.

The Monday evening concert started with a curtainraiser commissioned by the orchestra in 2002, Magnus Lindberg's Chorale, an intentionally dense, beautiful and stirring work for a huge orchestra. After intermission, that same huge orchestra played Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony from 1943, written in the darkest Russian hours of World War Two. The strange hour-long piece alternates between moody string meditations to full-out, cacophonous marches written for an orchestra so loud as to cause hearing loss, which in this case was actually worth it. The performance was assured, powerful, and mysterious. I can't wait to see what Jurowski does next.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Castro Street Fair Election Endorsements

Campaign volunteers carrying signage for the upcoming November 4th election were everywhere at the Castro Street Fair a couple of Sundays ago.

There were also plenty of candidates in attendance, such as Daniel Flores above who is running for Superior Court Judge.

Local newspapers have chimed in with their election endorsements recently, and it's a tossup which publication's are the most egregious. The revamped San Francisco Examiner has been surprisingly progressive, and their articles explaining the various propositions by Joshua Sabatini have been excellent. Meanwhile the San Francisco Chronicle and the right-wing, gay Bay Area Reporter are in concordance on most issues and candidates, so you can't go far wrong by voting the opposite of their recommendations.

So here are some wildly biased endorsements from Civic Center, a resolutely non-commercial site which is not worried about either advertisers or being invited to the powerful insiders' table.

First off, vote for Daniel Flores for Superior Court Judge because my friend Michael Nava above says he's the best choice and I trust him.

San Francisco Supervisors David Campos and David Chiu have both been corrupted by power during their years on the Board, but I have seen Campos act out of conscience to do what is right, while David Chiu has behaved like an amoral snake since the day he took office and became Board President. Vote Campos for California State Assembly.

I know nothing about the candidates for SF Board of Education, so if anyone does, feel free to add your comments. My only maxim for the Community College Board is not to vote for any incumbents (that would be Anita Grier and John Rizzo) since they helped the institution get into the frigging mess it is today.

On races where there is only one choice, DO NOT VOTE unless you personally think somebody is an exceptional public servant. Jeff Adachi for Public Defender is the only person who fits that bill for me.

On the San Francisco ballot propositions, VOTE NO ON A. The $500 million bond is being sold as a cure to MUNI and city transportation in general, but as Joe Eskenazi writes in the SF Weekly, there is nothing in the language of the proposition that says anybody "shall" do anything, only that they "may." If there's anything we have learned about the City Family kleptocracy that runs San Francisco municipal government, it is that their word means nothing.

Proposition B, put onto the ballot by Supervisor Weiner who is in the photo below, uses "shall" language while indexing bigger budgets for MUNI based on rising population figures. Mayor Lee and his minions were furious and vowed revenge on future pet projects for the supervisors who voted for it, and Piedmont Poverty Pimp Randy Shaw has been howling that it might take money away from the millions he's receiving from the city to house derelicts in the Tenderloin. So VOTE YES ON B.

Proposition C extends the Children's Fund, a do-nothing, bureaucratic fiefdom, for another 25 years. VOTE NO ON C.

Proposition D is an attempt to extend the gold-plated, lifetime retirement health care benefits one receives after five years of San Francisco municipal employment to former Redevelopment Agency employees and their scam-infested successor agencies. It's amazing to find out they weren't already on the gravy train before this. VOTE NO ON D.

Proposition E is the soda tax, which is another nanny state tax on the behavior and wallets of low-income people, as if they don't get dinged enough already. VOTE NO ON E.

Proposition F asks the voters to approve new height limits at a development on Pier 70, and none of the usual suspects has voiced opposition to it. This is probably because the developers actually talked with the community first instead of going through the usual back channels in the Mayor's Office. VOTE YES ON F.

Proposition G is an anti-real-estate-speculator measure which imposes an additional tax if you're flipping a property before five years are up, "subject to certain exceptions." The local and national real estate industry is up in arms about this one. The legislation is more symbolic than anything else, but it might help cool things down slightly in this insanely overheated real estate market. VOTE YES ON G.

Proposition H is an attempt to stop the Fisher Family Foundation from putting in toxic artificial turf for soccer fields at the west end of Golden Gate Park along with invasive night lighting. Everybody has signed off on the plan at City Hall, so this election really is the last-ditch attempt by San Francisco citizens to stop it. VOTE YES ON H.

Pissed off at neighborhood opposition that ties up "improvements" at SF Rec & Park facilities, seven supervisors led by Scott Wiener want to amend the Park Code so Phil Ginsburg can do whatever the hell he wants without interference. If toxic soccer turf and pay-to-play private takeovers of public space strike you as okay, then vote yes. Otherwise, VOTE NO ON I.

Proposition J is a minimum wage increase that was watered down by Mayor Lee to take place over the next four years. Better than nothing, VOTE YES ON J. Also completely watered down by the Lee administration was affordable housing legislation spearheaded by Supervisor Kim. She caved under pressure from the Mayor's Office, and now we have a symbolic piece of legislation which will mean nothing to anyone. VOTE NO ON K.

Proposition L is a cri de coeur from Automobile Drivers feeling used and abused in San Francisco. It's a completely advisory measure demanding automobile drivers should stop being gouged in parking garages and at meters. I have always hated car culture, but they have a point, although a stupid one. The SF Metropolitan Transit Authority treats everyone like crap, and overcharges as much as the traffic will bear. VOTE NO ON L.

For the California State Propositions, I'm voting NO ON 1, Governor Brown's bloated Water Bond that is yet another attempt to drain the Sacramento delta for Southern California, YES ON 2 which creates a rainy day fund when there is a budget surplus, YES ON 45 for more monitoring of health insurance price hikes by the state, NO ON 46 which calls for the drug testing of doctors because workplace drug testing is completely invasive, YES ON 47 to charge felonies as misdemeanors for a whole range of nonviolent, drug related crimes, and NO ON 48 because we don't really need another Indian casino in this state. Happy voting!