Tuesday, February 21, 2017

concert review: Santa Cruz Symphony

It's been raining fairly hard the last couple of days. Yesterday, the main road to Santa Cruz was blocked by a tree falling over, and just as drivers who happened to be packing chainsaws cleared away half of that problem, the same direction of the highway was blocked several miles further back by a rockslide.

On Saturday, however, no rain fell, and because of that I thought it safe to venture to Santa Cruz on that road, since it was already by then the only one open without going 50 miles out of my way and then probably still being blocked. I left very very early and got there in plenty of time, having brought with me a pile of scanning work I needed to do at FedEx, and used my extra time to do that.

I was there on assignment to review the Santa Cruz Symphony, as it was being guest-pianisted by Yuja the Unavoidable, and my editor was curious as to what would happen when she descended in all her sequin-clad glory on a small waterlogged central coast town.

Turned out that she and the locals meshed well together, and I could describe it quite succinctly. (I disclaim responsibility for the Trumpesque headline.) My reviews used to push 1000 words, but ever since I was told to keep them under 650, I'm finding my whole thought processes changing. I thought I had a lot to say about the music, but it turned out brief. Anything else I might have added seemed superfluous. Yuja's dresses (she changed at intermission)? No. The bizarre venue, strangest one I attend regularly, with the ambiance of a basketball arena? No.

Monday, February 20, 2017


B. and I went to Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience yesterday from the Lamplighters, probably still the best G&S troupe anywhere. The singing was excellent, particularly strong from deep-voiced Cary Ann Rosko as Lady Angela and newcomer Jacob Botha as Grosvenor.

But what was better still was the sumptuously impressive sets (scenic design, Peter Crompton) and the brilliant costumes (design, Melissa Wortman; construction, Miriam Lewis). That was critical, and here's why.

Patience is one of the finest of the G&S operettas - though Sullivan had composed great songs before, this is the first full show where he was consistently on top form from start to finish. But it has a problem, which is that the satire of the aesthetic movement more quickly dated than anything else Gilbert wrote for the Savoy. Even as early as the first revival twenty years later, reviewers were incredulous in recalling that characters resembling Bunthorne had once actually existed. Remember that the trial and fall of Oscar Wilde (who was modeled on Bunthorne rather than the other way around) had occurred in the interim, and the world had changed.

Accordingly, some modern productions update the costuming. The Sixties, which provided later days with their most striking contrast between their aesthetic fad and their conventional style, is a favorite. But Lamplighters artistic director Rick Williams, in an essay in the program, said that these haven't caught on. He thinks we should stick to the original setting because Gilbert's satirical point is universal.

Well, it is. Certainly artistic fashions always lend themselves to popular frenzies and to being exploited by poseurs, a more universal point than, say, Pinafore's now quaintly obsolete class rigidity. But for that reason it seems to me that it's more, not less, appropriate to re-set Patience in the days of some more contemporary artistic fashion. If it's universal, it should be applicable to any time.

The big question is, what do you do about the clothes for the ending, where the hero and the maidens abandon aestheticism and become conventional? There is no contrast available in Victorian days that would equal the impact of a Sixties production I once saw, in which what had been hippie chicks for the entire show were transformed into Jackie Kennedy clones, pillbox hats and all. Suddenly I understood the story in a way I never had before.

But this show did pretty well. The gowns that the maidens wore for the bulk of the show were so vividly pre-Raphaelite that they outdid any actual pre-Raphaelite paintings I could find online. Then for the final scene the maidens came out in what I think can best be described as 1910s middle-class summer hoop dresses, with these stiff medium-brim hats with a sprig of lace hanging off the back. I've seen these hats in period drawings before, but nothing I Google can produce a picture of one. (Nothing appropriate on the Lamplighters site either, for either set of costumes.)

Anyway, I think this production did as good a job as possible with this problem, given that restriction. But I think it odd that a company that entirely re-set their most recent Mikado, and stating while doing so that this was permissible because Gilbert's point was universal (it's "not actually about Japan"), should be so rigidly insistent on preserving his original setting for Patience, when, in the words of the same artistic director, Patience "focuses on the ubiquitous phenomenon of fads, cults and crazes in style, taste and lifestyle in general."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

comfort food by state

Today's Parade magazine has a list of favorite comfort foods, by state. It looks like a good list to go through and check off: whether I've eaten it, whether I've eaten it in the state it's associated with, whether I'd want to eat it. Your reactions are welcome.

Alabama: Barbecue Chicken With White Sauce. White sauce, made with mayo? On barbecue? Ewww, I'm glad I'd never heard of this before.

Alaska: Smoked Salmon Chowder. Sure, I've had this.

Arizona: Chimichangas. Them too, but they're not a particular favorite.

Arkansas: Biscuits and Chocolate Gravy. Gravy, yes; chocolate gravy, no.

California: Ramen. I should warn you that the ramen you'll be served at a restaurant in California is not the cheap bowl of noodles eaten by impecunious students. It's a big bowl of extremely serious Japanese soup, with weird Japanese things in it. I've had this, but it's not something I'd go looking for. The article also mentions Vietnamese pho, though, and that I have extremely frequently.

Colorado: Chile Verde. Sure. If I'm at a Mexican restaurant that has neither tamales nor mole, I'm likely to order this.

Connecticut: Steamed Cheeseburgers. What? No. I've had a plain hamburger from the tiny place in New Haven that claims to have invented them, but to me the great Connecticut food is their thin-crust pizza.

Delaware: Scrapple. I associate this with Philadelphia, and I guess listing it here is proof that Delaware is really not much more than a suburb of Philadelphia. Strangely, the only time I've had scrapple in the Philly area was in the Jersey suburbs. I've not seen it on restaurants elsewhere: I've bought it from the market, but it's not the same.

Florida: Cuban Sandwich. I've had one of these, though in San Jose, not Florida, and my reaction was, "That was interesting. Not likely to have it again, though."

Georgia: Peach Cobbler. I limit my fruit desserts to ones with apple.

Hawaii: Saimin. I had all kinds of unique-to-Hawaii foods in Hawaii, including poi, which is never to be forgotten (and never to be eaten again), but I never even heard of this.

Idaho: Finger Steaks. Interesting idea; never heard of it before. But I haven't been in Idaho in 35 years.

Illinois: Deep-Dish Pizza. Yes, I usually wind up having some of this when I'm in Chicago, because the natives always take me there. I won't tell them this, but it's not really my idea of pizza, so I've almost never had it anywhere else.

Indiana: Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. Nothing I recall ever having seen on the menu in Indiana, and I've had more great food in Indiana than any other Northern state.

Iowa: Maid-Rite Sandwich. Don't recall ever seeing this either.

Kansas: Chicken-Fried Steak and Mashed Potatoes. I've had chicken-fried steak, I've even had it in Kansas, though I associate it more with Texas. Leave out the mashed potatoes, though: I won't eat those.

Kentucky: Hot Brown. Never heard of, and doesn't appeal to me.

Louisiana: Gumbo. Of all the classic Louisiana dishes, this is the one I found most disappointing in New Orleans restaurants, rather bitter. Way out in Cajun country they told me, in a shocked tone of voice, that Orleans cooks burn the roux, which would explain it. I liked the Cajun gumbo better. But I'd rather have jambalaya, rice dressing, sauteed catfish, fried shrimp, fried chicken ...

Maine: Lobster Roll. I've had this, but I prefer my lobster in bisque, which I've had in Maine.

Maryland: Crab Cakes. Trader Joe's used to sell a really good frozen version of this. The best I've had in a restaurant outside of Maryland was in San Diego; but I did once have them in an ultra-Maryland place right on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, in a sampler plate along with soft-shell crab (which I did not like), and amazingly delicious corn on the cob.

Massachusetts: Clam Chowder. Yep. I was all over central Boston trying clam chowders. I would not rate the fabled Legal Sea Foods anywhere near the best.

Michigan: Pasties. These usually have potato, so I've avoided them. And I've never been to the U.P., which is the part of Michigan these are popular in.

Minnesota: Hotdish. I had something sort of like this at a restaurant in St. Paul once, but not the complete mishmosh.

Mississippi: Tamales. I've heard of the distinctive Mississippi tamales, but I didn't have any when I were there. I eat Sonoran tamales, which are the default kind in California.

Missouri: Toasted Ravioli. I had this in St. Louis, and liked it so much I made it at home.

Montana: Huckleberry Pie. See previous comment on peach cobbler.

Nebraska: Runzas. Now this actually sounds good, but I don't recall coming across it even in rural Nebraska.

Nevada: Thai Food. Kind of a wimpy response. What dish, exactly? We have Thai restaurants all over the place here, too, for the same reason, and I eat at them frequently. I make a few Thai dishes at home, too: pad thai (when I can find the sauce, which stores are strangely reluctant to carry), broccoli with peanut sauce, and occasional red curry.

New Hampshire: Apple Cider Doughnuts. I'd have eaten this, back when I was still having rich desserts, but I don't recall ever being offered any.

New Jersey: Trenton Tomato Pie. Never had this.

New Mexico: Breakfast Burritos. I've seen them on the menu, but won't order them. The idea makes me a little ill.

New York: Buffalo Wings. I'm even more authentic than with Chicago pizza here, and I like these a whole lot more. I've had these, I've had them in Buffalo (as well as many other places), I've had them in the joint that claims to have invented them, which is where I learned that the other half of the wing, the halves that aren't called "drumettes", are called "flats".

North Carolina: Pulled-Pork Barbecue. I've had what claimed to be North Carolina barbecue, but not in North Carolina (another state I haven't visited for 35 years), and I wasn't much impressed. I trust the real thing is better.

North Dakota: Knoephla. Never heard of it; it has potato, so I don't want it.

Ohio: Cincinnati Chili. I've frequently had it in Cincinnati, and unlike some of the other local dishes I've actually had in their home towns, it's completely unknown anywhere else. Don't tell the locals, but it's completely unlike anything else called "chili". It's actually a cinnamon-flavored spaghetti sauce.

Oklahoma: Onion Burgers. Not something I recall seeing in Oklahoma.

Oregon: Mac and Cheese. I know Tillamook cheese, all right (good quality, but milder than my preference), but I don't associate this standard dish with Oregon.

Pennsylvania: Philly Cheesesteak. I've made a point, on some visits to Philadelphia, of heading down to South Philly to have one of these in its canonical home. Like the Mission Burrito in San Francisco, it's better there than anywhere else. I have it with provolone, not Cheez Whiz.

Rhode Island: Doughboys. Another tasty-sounding dessert I've never heard of.

South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits. Ah, the best edition of this I've ever had was in Savannah, right across the Georgia border.

Tennessee: Hot Chicken. I've never seen this in Tennessee, but I did try the truly vile mockup of it that KFC has been promoting. I promise not to judge the real thing by that.

Texas: Smoked Brisket. I've had brisket barbecue in Texas, but I don't know if it qualified as smoked or not.

Utah: Funeral Potatoes. Won't eat any such thing.

Vermont: Blueberry Pancakes With Maple Syrup. I've had pancakes with maple syrup in Vermont (where it's real maple syrup, and they don't charge extra for it as they do in New Hampshire, at least in the places I've been), but I don't care for blueberries.

Virginia: Brunswick Stew. Vaguely heard of this, but I didn't know exactly what it is, and I've never had any. Possibly lima beans would be tolerable in small quantity in a thick enough stew.

Washington: Cedar-Plank Grilled Salmon. Yep, had that.

West Virginia: Pepperoni Roll. Never heard of this, but I like pepperoni.

Wisconsin: Deep-Fried Cheese Curds. Heard of this, even seen it offered, but never had the nerve to try it.

Wyoming: Bison Meatloaf. I've had bison burgers (usually much drier than beef; otherwise I can't tell the difference), but not meatloaf.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


1. Three concerts, all at Stanford:

1a. Concert no. 1: Bruckner Orchestra of Linz. I've spent the week since this one listening obsessively to Philip Glass symphonies. Why? Because this concert was on the premiere tour of the new one, No. 11, and the sound is in my head. My first thought afterwards was that I'd write in this blog, "The new Glass symphony sounds just like the previous three Glass symphonies." But I couldn't write that in my review, could I? Well, why not? So I did.

1b. Rebecca Young viola masterclass. Instead of being in Campbell, the usual venue for events that might attract 20-30 people, it was in the 700-seat Dinky, so we were all invited to sit on stage. First time I'd actually set foot up there. Alas, the chairs were uncomfortable. So was the music the students played, which was the Bartok concerto. Afterwards, though, and the reason I came, Young (assoc. principal with the NY Phil) and other worthies played the Brahms G-minor Piano Quartet, yum.

1c. Stanford Wind Queertet [sic], 5 students + 2 student pianists, most not majoring in music. Played a perky, attractive Nielsen Wind Quintet together, and each a piece separately. Most amazing of these was the one unaccompanied one, a Bach Cello Suite arranged for French horn. For horn? He struggled, but he got through it.

2. After much running around to various libraries, I think I've finished acquiring everything that everybody - including me - needs to finish up the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies. I'm busily working on my own contribution, drawing lines down the margin of my bibliography printout as I finish each one, and watching the lines get longer and longer. Weirdest statement of the year: a newspaper editorial column stating that Frodo claiming the Ring was abandoning his moral qualms. Did this guy read the book? Then: on to the next year's bibliography, which will require even more running around to even more libraries.

3. Fifty things Millennials have never heard of. Most of them are after my time, too. And 50 things Millennials know that Gen-Xers don't. Being even older than that, I've never heard of most of them either. The only one I can claim familiarity with is Alison Pill, as I noted her in a couple of movies I've seen. I've heard the names "Snapchat" and "Tinder", and I can guess they're things online, but I have no idea what they are. I could look them up, but 1) I don't care, and 2) partly because of that, I'd just promptly forget.

4. On the other hand, there are things I really want to look up, but can never remember to do so when I'm at a computer. Finally, an online video (from this news roundup) reminds me:
Donald Trump: Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars.
Seth Meyers: I think I know what happened here. [shows picture of 100 Grand candy bar] Donald, that's not the price; that's the name.
And that reminded me: why was the name changed from $100,000 Bar? Was it because some store clerk once claimed that really was the price? This site suggests that names beginning with "$" make computers hiccup. But Wikipedia reports that people are still screwing around with the newer name, e.g. radio hosts announcing that they're giving away 100 Grand, and then surprise, the winner gets a candy bar.

Friday, February 17, 2017

itemization: three books

These are just the ones I'm using to take breaks with in between massive bouts of library research, writing for TS, and concert-going:

Book no. 1: Twenty-six Seconds by Alexandra Zapruder (Twelve, 2016). A history of the film - the film - by Abe Zapruder's granddaughter. To the family, he was just Dad or Grandpa who happened to have been responsible for this thing that hung over them for decades. The author is convincing on her grandfather's and father's sense of moral responsibility to make the film available without letting it be tackily exploited; less so on their desire to make money off it. They wanted it to go eventually to public ownership, but her father told her, "We can't afford to make an $18 million gift to the federal government." But since they never intended to auction it for any such price, how would they lose money by a gift? The most unusual part of the book is a detailed description of the Seinfeld scene parodying the use of the film in Oliver Stone's JFK, included because it was the only occasion in decades of association with the film that the Zapruders found anything concerning it worth laughing about.

Book no 2: Midcentury Journey by William L. Shirer (Farrar Straus & Young, 1952). The foreign correspondent (and future author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) travels to postwar Europe, ostensibly to take the pulse of the political landscape. Sounded interesting, so I read it. Unfortunately, there's none of the in-depth interviews or even the local color you'd expect from such a book today. Instead, it's punditry that Shirer could just as easily have written from his armchair at home. The bulk is a rehearsal, in the same incredulous tones one recognizes from Shirer's other books, of what he considers the fecklessness of 1920s and 30s politicians. And what of today, 1952? Shirer is convinced that the neo-Nazis are about to take over West Germany (didn't happen), and that Charles de Gaulle will come to power in France (he did that, five years later), throw out the constitution (he did that too), and become the latest fascist dictator (he didn't do that). Yeah, de Gaulle was the hero of 1940, but Petain had been the hero of 1916 and look what happened to him. The only thing that makes Shirer happy is Britain's NHS. He recognizes that the country is nearly bankrupt, but that doesn't seem to worry him.

Book no. 3: John Lennon vs. the USA by Leon Wildes (ABA, 2016). The infamous deportation case, told in full by Lennon's lawyer. He's writing it up now because it suddenly seems relevant again. Full of concrete but lucid detail on lawsuits (including one delightfully named Lennon v. Marks), but doesn't neglect the personal angle. Unsurprisingly, Wildes was as square as they come and had barely heard of Lennon before taking the case, but he boasts of quickly becoming, and staying, a confidant of Yoko (whom he depicts as a highly intelligent layperson who asked her lawyers really sharp questions) as well as John, largely because, unlike many of their minions, he was really competent at his job. What did Wildes think of John and Yoko hijacking his press conference by declaring the state of Nutopia? He thought it was delightfully witty. Not so square after all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


It's the 30th Valentine's Day that B. and I have had together. Can you believe it?

On the 7th Valentine's, I proposed.

Somewhere around the 10th Valentine's is when we figured out that dining out in a restaurant on Valentine's Day is a really bad idea. We would pick a nearby weekend to celebrate in that manner, and eat comfort food at home on the day instead.

Today I cooked her up a bowlful of pan roasted Brussels sprouts, her favorites. Chopping them up into small pieces and roasting them to oblivion seemed the best way of dealing with the tennis ball-sized sprouts that have been in the stores lately. (For other purposes, B. much prefers the tiny ones.)

During the day, more mundane activities prevailed. She was at work, and so was I: I finished up and submitted a review (to be seen here later), and then drove over the mountains to Santa Cruz for more library research. So many roads are down due to the storms that I figured I'd better go now, before the rains come back in a day or two. It wasn't too hard getting there: I got without much delay through the one-lane section past the landslide that closed the northbound lanes. It's not very large, though the hillside it came from is towering, but it's large enough. However, the northbound traffic was backup for miles, and it was still backed up that far when I came back after finishing research and lunch. So I tried the back roads. I knew Soquel was closed, but I hadn't known that Glenwood was closed until I went there. Summit is closed, part of Skyline is closed, Congress Springs is still closed. I had to take the long way around to Page Mill again, eating up half the afternoon.

Still, that's nothing to the total evacuation of the better part of three counties in the Feather River valley yesterday, news which I've been following with horrid fascination. Though not quite as horrid as the way I try to remember how HRC was pilloried for keeping some not particularly secret e-mails on a server that just might have been susceptible to hacking. You recall how she was accused of treason for that? If that was treason, the world lacks a word to describe the restaurant table conference on North Korea of our current supposed leaders.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


I went to another political rally today. No marching. What used to be called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society decided to make today the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees. I went to a local gathering in the Mountain View civic plaza, where a couple hundred people - not all Jewish - gathered for an hour of exhortatory speeches, personal testimonies, prayers, group chants, and songs in English and Hebrew, a little like an extremely populist guitar service. A little more variety than some such occasions, and hence a little more interesting.

There were signs reading things like "My People Were Refugees Too." There were apposite quotes from the Book of Exodus. There was a moving expression of solidarity from a local Muslim community leader. The director of the local Jewish Family Services group said, "Thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for making America great again." And one of several participating rabbis said, "If we do not protest, we are complicit." And so we protested.

The organizers had suggested that we bring along photos of our immigrant relatives. I dug up a large studio portrait of my maternal grandfather, my one ancestor of that generation who immigrated and my only immigrant ancestor whom I knew. He was maybe 6 when he came here from what was then the Russian Empire, now Lithuania. Need I say I'm glad that the US let him in?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

musical theatre review: 1776

After South Bay MT's first show of the season, I wasn't sure how good their chops were, but their 1776 was up to snuff. There were only a couple of minor characters who couldn't act, a couple more who couldn't sing, but the only song that was scuffed thereby was "Momma Look Sharp". Everybody else was good, some excellent. Dickinson was the best actor of the bunch; Richard Henry Lee pranced vigorously throughout his song without losing breath (I complimented him on this after the show and he explained, "Aerobic exercise"); a more stolid and weathered Adams than the usual contributed to the power and hence amusement value of his interruptions of the chorus in "But Mr. Adams". Abigail was a woman of size, and not afraid to use it. So was Franklin: this and several lesser parts were played by women, and except for the one who couldn't figure out what octave she should sing in (see above criticism) you'd hardly notice.

It's a little difficult to watch 1776 today, when our long democratic story is lying choking in its own blood upon the ground (to borrow a phrase), but a good enough production can make you forget that ... momentarily.

Friday, February 10, 2017

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Second week of the annual Blomstedt festival, more of the same heavy German classics. I am so there.

Blomstedt was frailer this week, requiring someone to walk arm in arm with to enter and leave the stage. Still, he is 89.

Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Yefim Bronfman distinguished the piano from the orchestra in the slow movement's dialogue of opposites by playing very slowly rather than gently.

Brahms' Third Symphony. Slightly stiff interpretation, but the sound was rich and gorgeous. I just wallowed in the sheer Brahmsitude of it all.

Earlier in the day, I was at Stanford for a free noontime performance by the Elias Quartet. Their Mendelssohn Op. 13 did not remind me of the Pacifica Quartet: Elias has a much gruffer, heavier style. Only they could make Mendelssohn's fairy-light trio sound like the dance of a large animal. Appropriately, they paired this with Op. 95, the gruffest of Beethoven's quartets and one of several models in his output for Op. 13.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

breaking a thing

Anyone interested in reading an insanely convoluted argument in Tolkien scholarship is welcome to it.