Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween report

For the first time in several years, both B. and I would be available for greeting trick-or-treaters, so for the first time in several years we visited the sincere pumpkin patch - the one with a petting zoo of goats, rabbits, and chicks - to fetch a hefty gourd, and acquired bags of candy. B. drew the face on the pumpkin and I carved it, we set it out with a votive candle inside, and waited to see what would happen.

From a walk outside, B. reported that ours was one of only two houses of the dozen or so in the interior of the complex with a jack-o-lantern out. We're at one end (and not easily seen until one comes right up to the end of the driveway), and the other was at the far other end. Possibly many of our neighbors are busy celebrating Diwali instead.

A neighbor whose house is on the outside street side of the complex reported to B. that he'd gotten about 60 callers. Given the geography, it's not surprising that we got only two batches, one large group of mixed ages fairly early on, and three teenagers later.

Now we have this candy, which I'm supposed to be chary of eating in quantity.

Bonus paragraphs: Kalimac's secrets of pumpkin carving

I'm not a virtuoso carver by any means: roughly hacking out a simple face is as far as I go. But I have learned a couple tricks of the trade:

1. After cutting the top loose, make a couple small notches in its back. Make sure they go all the way through the thickness. These will provide flues and assure the candle doesn't flicker out through lack of oxygen.

2. To provide a stable base for the candle, since it's difficult to clean this out while reaching inside: after cutting the top, remove it (to get the stem out of the way) and flip the pumpkin over, placing it on a paper towel because a lot of the gunk will fall out. Then cut out the bottom, angling the knife so that the cut-out portion tends to fall in to the pumpkin; this will keep it secure once you've flipped the pumpkin back over again. Remove the bottom, slice the gunk off until you have a flat platform of pulp; reinsert.

(Well, that was useless, like the leftover candy: it'll have to be saved till next year)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

recipe fixing

Sometimes this may be a cooking blog.

Yesterday, I found some chicken breasts on sale at the market, so I bought them. Then, on taking them home, I had to find a recipe to make with them. In the pantry, I found a packet of seasonings with a chicken recipe on it. Most of the other ingredients I had, in some form or another (substituting cider vinegar for balsamic - I'm not proud), although it did call for roasting plum tomatoes in the oven along with cooking the chicken.

I didn't have any plum tomatoes. We don't really like tomatoes all that much anyway. I could go back out and buy some, or, I could substitute. Hmm, what have we got?

Brussels sprouts. They're round. They roast well. We like them. We have lots. Let's use those. So I did. It came out pretty well, the sprouts, in fact, better than the chicken. Note to self, and I've mused on this before, but never taken it to heart: when the recipe says bake the chicken at 425, don't believe it. That's too high. Turn it down to 375 or so, and watch it in the last ten.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

music for Halloween

It's about time that I got back to posting music clips. And as Halloween is in a couple of days - gotta make time today to carve the pumpkin - here is my all-time favorite scary Halloween music. It's the climactic movement of the Faust Cantata by Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), a description of the scene when the Devil finally comes to git Faust.
Since it's in German, I'll give a précis, which is that a giant storm shakes Faust's house, strange disgusting snakes are seen, and Faust's voice is heard crying in anguish until it dies away. The following morning, when his students finally dare to peek inside, they find body parts strewn all over the room. Ugh!

I first heard this piece on a Swedish label sampler I picked up at a CD store in Bonn, Germany, for something like 5 Marks twenty years ago, and was instantly stricken. I mean struck. But this performance is much better, the finest I've heard. It's from a concert in the Czech Republic. The solo vocalist is Iva Bittová, who might be described as the Czech Laurie Anderson. She is quite fabulously expressive. By a quite amazing coincidence, because I didn't know this when I chose the video, Bittová is performing at the Freight in Berkeley - her own music, not Schnittke's - this Saturday. (Alas, I won't be there: I have something else to do.)

Caveat: Don't think you know anything about Schnittke's music from listening to this one rather Weillian piece. He was a Volga German (ethnic German from southern Russia) whose musical styles ran eclectically and unpredictably all over the map. This is one piece of his I enjoy greatly (the rest of the Cantata is not nearly so interesting); another that might appeal to newcomers is the Polyphonic Tango. His Piano Quintet is also extremely good in a "Shostakovich overload" mode. Other works I find impenetrably modernist. There's no predicting.

Monday, October 28, 2013

musical weekend

Besides going up to see Crissy Broadcast on Saturday, I attended two symphony concerts over the weekend.

First, on Friday, the Peninsula Symphony, which I previewed for one publication and reviewed for the other. It was not very inspiring.

Then, on Saturday, Symphony Silicon Valley, which also got a review. This was much better; not one of their A concerts, but a good A-. Having exhausted myself at Crissy that morning, even with a nap and a large blast of caffeine I found it a bit of a struggle to stay alert, no fault of the players. I wasn't so out of it, though, that I failed to notice what I was too groggy or something to remember to put in my review: a huge horn flub in the third movement of the Shostakovich, less notable in itself than in the awesomely flexible way the conductor and orchestra stepped around the problems it caused.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

out standing in their field

Leaving aside how I finally got there, I did attend the first performance of Lisa Bielawa's Crissy Broadcast open-air musical event in San Francisco's Presidio on Saturday morning. It was an interesting experience, but not a very musical one.

The venue was a large grassy field on the bay shore, dotted with giant metal sculptures made of bits of building girders, that looked like they'd fallen off a skyscraper. In the background, the looming presence of the Golden Gate Bridge slowly emerged from foggy invisibility over the course of the morning.

As the starting time approached, groups of musicians, mostly teenagers, were standing around together in distinct but adjacent clots in the middle of the field - the San Francisco Girls' Chorus over here, the Lowell High School string orchestra over there, at least half a dozen others whose identities I didn't know. Many of them had musical parts taped to their backs so their fellows could read them; only a marching band was really prepared for the circumstances.

A much smaller number of audience members stood loosely around their perimeter. From the conversations I had with my fellows as we waited for the show, I may have been the only non-performer there who wasn't the parent of a performer. But then, it was 10 AM on a cold, foggy Saturday morning. Who comes out then except parents and truly insane music-lovers? A small cheer went up when someone announced the synchronized time as five minutes out.

The most interesting-looking instruments on the field were two of those enormous, eight-foot-long alpine horns (actually Tibetan, or so I understand) whose far ends rest on the ground. They were wielded by a middle-aged man and a younger woman. I happened to be standing nearby, admiring the horns, when another woman, possibly the composer, walked up to the players and said, "6, 5, 4, OK, you can start now."

The hornists started playing long, low notes. At a pause, first individuals, then whole groups, of the other musicians surrounding them began playing repeated motifs, passing them around. So far, it was not totally uninteresting.

After about ten minutes, the groups began to separate. In clumps, they'd pick up their instruments and tromp maybe a dozen yards away and stop. A few minutes later, they'd tromp further away again. Within another ten minutes, they were all so far apart that any you didn't happen to be standing near were less audible than the foghorn coming from the Bay, until that too ceased with the rising visibility.

Any groups you could hear would spend most of their time standing in silence. Then, reading from a time cue, their individual conductor would direct them in a few tweets or blats, and then they'd fall silent again. Eventually they'd repeat the same tweet or blat.

This quickly became non-productive. I tromped back to near the starting point and sat down on a girder to read for a while, hoping that the heat-death of the universe would reverse itself and they'd all come back together. But they never did. I was slowly working my way outward in the direction I was intending to leave by, and happened to be near a clot wielding Chinese instruments, when its director said, "OK, that's it," and they started to disperse, so I knew the hour-long event was over. Scattered applause drifted through the air.

It was a long trudge down the road to the Marina District, where I was hoping to have lunch (which I did eventually find), and most of the musicians passed me on the way. The notes that some were noodling on their instruments as they walked were at least as interesting as anything I heard during the concert.

Friday, October 25, 2013

I was having lunch at a restaurant with a big screen TV showing ESPN. This chance viewing of a station I never otherwise see is probably the only way I'd ever learn that there is a professional basketball player named Paul George.

It seems to me we have to engineer a meeting between this guy and the military SF author John Ringo. Because, I mean, what are the odds?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

you can't get there from here

I've been thinking about going up to the City on Saturday morning for the first iteration of Lisa Bielawa's Crissy Broadcast, a mass outdoor musical event on Crissy Field, the former airstrip that most of the iconic photos of people standing with the Golden Gate Bridge behind them are taken from. The rareness of such a musical event intrigues me. It sounds like it'll be something like Stockhausen without the toxic politics. It would be something to be able to say, I was there.

The problem is, getting there. I'm dubious about driving. I don't know much about parking in the area, I'm doubtful about the feasibility of what I do know, and I might not be the only person trying it. Not to mention that I have no idea how the hundreds of performers are getting there, or how much parking they might take up.

It's when I checked the project's own "directions and parking" web page that I got nervous, and wonder if anyone organizing this has any idea what they're doing. I'd be taking CalTrain, and they recommend, as they do from several other directions, transferring to the PresidiGo shuttle.

A little checking established a few problems with this idea:
1) The PresidiGo shuttle doesn't run on weekends;
2) Even if it did, it requires a pass for morning runs;
3) You can't transfer to it directly from CalTrain, as it doesn't go anywhere near the station.

Also, for further transit planning information, you need to go, not to as they instruct, but

So if I take the first CalTrain run of the day, which leaves here at 7:14 AM, that will get me up in time to catch a 37-minute bus ride through some of the City's more colorful and congested neighborhoods which will dump me out in the Marina, at what it says here is a 20-minute walk away, with 34 minutes to walk there before the starting time. So assuming that's not packed, and I just have to hope it isn't, it's doable, and the sole remaining question is, will I get up early enough?

Because if not, I'm going two miles from home to see the Met broadcast of The Nose instead.

(Why not go to one of the other performances of Crissy Broadcast? Time conflicts, and the probability that, being at more reasonable hours, they'll be more crowded.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

concert review: Jon Nakamatsu, piano

I didn't know I was going to be reviewing this concert until just before I went. Fortuitously, we (my mother and I) had been planning to go anyway: the opportunity to hear Nakamatsu perform Schumann's Carnaval was not to be missed.

I didn't have to refresh myself on Carnaval, which I know pretty well ("Reconnaissance" is the one that is best imitated by blowing raspberries as you hum), but Chopin's Third Sonata I definitely needed to get to know better. So I listened to YouTube performances by Martha Argerich and Murray Perahia. Talk about different approaches. And Nakamatsu is different from either.

That gave me the grounding to write the review in terms of the performer's overall shaping and form, which is the aspect of performance evaluation I'm most comfortable with.

Ah, and then the encores. I recognized both as being by Chopin, but I couldn't have told you which pieces they were, except that I guessed that the first one was probably a polonaise. God bless Barlow and Morgenstern. All I had to do was glance over the print edition's pages of Chopin themes and find ones that looked like what I'd heard, and there they were.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

something about Paul McCartney

This falls in the category of, why did nobody ever tell me about this?

You know I'm a Beatles fan, but my knowledge of post-Beatles is pretty much limited to the first subsequent decade. I know a lot of Lennon's later work, some of which I like ("Watching the Wheels" is my favorite of his solo songs), I've heard some of Harrison's, I know a lot of McCartney's work from the Wings period, and while I enjoy some of it, the oft-noted treacliness is also really there.

After that: well, I wasn't doing anything so radical as to buy anybody's new albums myself, so at the time I had to depend on what I might overhear on the radio, and the early 80s was the one period in my life when I actually listened to pop radio of my own volition.

In 1982, Paul McCartney released two songs, both collaborative, that were all over the radio. You didn't have to turn it on yourself to hear them. They were the gawdawful "Ebony and Ivory" and the even more execrable "The Girl Is Mine." These songs were evidently popular, because they were unavoidable for a while, but they were so bad as to lead me to conclude that, whatever shreds of his talent he'd retained in the 70s, he had now entirely lost.

And I've paid no attention whatever to his more recent work since. (Reviews I read of his ventures into classical did not encourage exploration.)

Until now. I found this little article giving the author's choice of Sir Paul's best post-Beatles songs. The first four, from the 70s, I knew. I had never heard, or even heard of, any of the subsequent six.

What throws me is not just that they're all at least OK and some are quite good, but that the very best of them, a song that instantly hit my list of favorites, is also from 1982 and in fact from the same album that "Ebony and Ivory" is on. Why did I never hear this at the time? Why had I never heard of it in all the interim? True, I don't go seeking them out, but lots of things that appeal to me a lot less track themselves across my path without my volition; why did it take this one thirty years?

(Of the links at the bottom of the page to similar lists, I have so far explored those of the Beach Boys, which confirms my opinion that they only ever had about two-and-a-half good songs, one of which isn't even on the list, also that they could not sing; and Richard Thompson, whose work I like a lot better, to the extent that I can grouse over the choices and object that no list omitting "When the Spell Is Broken" and "The Poor Ditching Boy" can possibly represent his best.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

it's a political day in the neighborhood

This year's Sunnyvale city council election covers 3 of the 7 seats. The LWV forum was last week, and I attended, because I find that seeing the candidates speak in person gives a far clearer impression of their approach and knowledge than any literature does. Slothman's analytical eye was also gazing over the scene.

City politics has heated up this year, as the main fracture line that's governed elections here recently has now hardened up into what's effectively a two-party system. The candidates don't formally run as slates, but the alliances are clear, and most of the campaign literature endorses one or the other set.

One of the two parties could be called the Establishment. It has all the big-name endorsements, and most of the money. Its candidates consist of the one incumbent eligible for re-election and two members of the city planning commission. Advantages: they're well-versed on city issues, seem seriously dedicated to public service, and speak clearly and coherently. Disadvantages: some of them are vague in the way well-meaning people have (Q: What would you do about problem X? A: We need more communication), and it's hard to avoid their opponents' charge that the establishment has been too much in the pocket of real estate developers, bending the city general plan backwards to allow the construction of high-rise developments, which might be understandable in a built-out area, except that there's no way available to mitigate the traffic and other congestion issues that arise therewith. Tiny banner ads for one of the establishment candidates have been showing up on my Daily Show page. For a city council candidate! Though they have the guy's photo, they're not paid for by him, but by the realtors' association. My feeling is that if the realtors want to elect him that badly, there must be something wrong with him.

The other party may be called the Insurgents. They're all people who have found dealing with city government to be frustrating, and who make a fetish out of not accepting corporate campaign contributions, which is why they're running their campaigns on shoestrings. One of them has run (and lost) before; the others got involved in city politics via a movement to limit city workers' pensions, a big topic in several local cities. Advantages: Despite a regrettably loose command of facts, their objections to the establishment network by which things get done without effective outsider input is trenchant and well-taken. There are voices here that need to be heard. Disadvantages: Mostly, they're flakes. Of this year's candidates, one is a know-it-all goofball who talks from the seat of his pants, proposing offbeat notions with no relationship to reality, and going off on tangents that may have some relevancy in his mind, but whatever that may be, he's neglected to communicate it to his listeners. Another has a chip on his shoulder the size of the unbuilt new Apple HQ in Cupertino, and his passion on the pension issue rises to the level of union-hatred (he's the only candidate who's a business-owner; most of them, this being Silicon Valley, are software engineers). Only the third seems relatively normal, and consequently is the only one with a hope of getting my vote.

There's also a seventh candidate, a law school student who points out that he's the only young person (23) and the only minority (Hispanic) in the race; also, that there are no women. (One woman, not up this year, currently sits on the Council, a typical number in recent history here.) I'd like to support him, both for the voices he'd represent and for the fact that he's the only candidate who seems to understand that the purpose of pensions is to keep retirees from becoming destitute, not to pointlessly gouge taxpayers, but, like extra-wheel candidates in previous elections, he is sadly not ready for prime time.

The current council contains 5 Establishment members and 2 Insurgents. One of the Insurgents is a 6-year veteran who calmed down immediately on first being elected and became far less flaky; he now limits his insurgency to things like being the only vote against the motion to censure the other Insurgent (yes, they did this), who was elected 2 years ago on the basis of his incisiveness and a supremely foggy Establishment opponent. But Insurgent no. 2 is a litigating attorney with the people skills of a piranha, and a tendency to emit pre-set little speeches on any topic, instead of actually engaging with whoever he's talking with. Consequently he is not doing his causes any favors.

One of the slogans of the Establishment party is to "restore civility in city government." This was taken up by the local paper, whose endorsement of the Establishment weighed heavily on the fact that the Insurgents agree with councilman piranha-fish on many issues, so, although it admitted that none of them are remotely as contentious as he, it shadily tried to tar them with his brush. The editorial calls them his "friends," which can't possibly be true. He doesn't have any friends.

My question is, how would electing the Establishment enact their slogan? The incumbent candidate actually pointed out at the forum that 6 of the 7 current councilmembers get along perfectly fine. But, that being so, how would replacing the two retirees with two more of the same stripe change anything? Goofball Guy from the Insurgent slate, in by far his best line (and even that he couldn't deliver very well), pointed out that his election is what would improve civility, because he's not accepting corporate contributions which are Insurgent No. 2's principal beef (he believes they bias decision-making, and I'm not at all sure he's wrong about that), and consequently he would be immune from attack on that front.

So I'm leaning towards splitting my ticket: one Establishment (the incumbent, who's very experienced, very communicative, and very sharp), one Insurgent (the non-flaky one), and one ????

Friday, October 18, 2013

name confusion

With Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan, I know they're two entirely different guys. I just can't remember which name applies to which guy. (And if you feel moved to tell me, you're missing the point. I could look it up. I have looked it up, more than once. But then I always forget again.) The problem is probably that I'm not very interested in the work of either.

With Reese Witherspoon and Rene Zellweger, I didn't realize that they were two different people. I had an amalgam of them in my head, who had done all the work I knew of both, and whenever I saw a reference to either, I thought of the amalgam, not remembering that, on previous occasions, she had a different name. I only discovered this when I looked up one's Wikipedia entry and was puzzled at not seeing listed movies that the other one had made.

Even after that, I still have not, however, sorted out in my head which one is which. The same applies to Norman Mailer and Philip Roth. I know there's two guys, but I can't remember which one did what, nor can I bring myself to care enough to read it.

I also sometimes have trouble remembering which opera titles are by Giuseppe Verdi and which by Giacomo Puccini. I have no trouble telling the men apart, and I'm sure of the assignation of many of the operas; I just can't always be sure. This comes of not caring much about opera, and it's the only case of this trouble I have in classical music. Might I confuse the Symphony No. 5 of Sergei Prokofiev with that of Dmitri Shostakovich, for instance? Of course not; I know both almost by heart, and they're totally distinct.

I also have no trouble remembering, at least for after the early period, which Beatles songs are by John Lennon and which by Paul McCartney. Since they're all officially listed as collaborations, this is tricky for a lot of people, but not me. And, again, the reason is: I care about the work.

This post brought to you courtesy of a long, indulgent article about Norman Mailer in the New Yorker.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

how little we know about Star Wars, and how much we care

B. was reading an article in the paper this morning on an exhibit of Star Wars props, and, seeing a reference to a character, asked "Who's Boba Fett?"

"I'm not sure," I said. "I think he was a bounty hunter. Was he the one that Han Solo shot in the Cantina?"

Half an hour later, I emerge from a visit upstairs on the computer to say, "I found out who Boba Fett was. He was another bounty hunter, who doesn't show up until the second movie. Han Solo was handed over to this one after being frozen into a popsicle. He looked like a robot, but even after seeing a picture, I don't remember the character at all."

"Well," says B., "it has been 33 years."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

concert review: St. Lawrence String Quartet

After having assigned me to review last Sunday's concert, the editors of my primary reviewing venue decided to cancel it, a couple days beforehand, because of publication space problems (on the Web? yes, the issues were how long it would remain listed on the front page, which can only be so long, and sparing the copy-editors overwork). So I peddled the proposal to my alternative venue instead. They were interested, the Stanford publicity folks had no objection, so on I went.

This publication is a small free daily newspaper, and usually holds my reviews for their weekly arts columns on Friday. I submitted the review on Monday afternoon, and was surprised when they ran it as a regular news article on Tuesday. I guess they had a convenient hole in their layout.

The news value of this concert was the near-premiere of a first quartet by a young composer who's been getting a lot of (virtual) ink lately: Sam Adams, son of John of Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic fame. Being a composer who's the son of a more-famous composer is a potentially treacherous fate: you could be a son of Bach and do pretty well for yourself, or the son of Mozart and have a miserable time in your father's shadow. (For that matter, Mozart himself was the son of a then-famous composer, and found that pretty hard going too.)

This quartet had been first played at a festival in South Carolina in June, and hadn't been heard since. The only review of the S.C. premiere I could find online was written on an iphone. So, along with the composer's stunningly unhelpful program note, that was all I had to go on for preparation.

Instead of comparing young Sam-I-Am with his father, the St. Lawrence did him the even bigger challenge of pairing him with Haydn and Beethoven, and when you have to go up against the old masters as delivered by folks who really know how to play the old masters, uh-oh and watch out. For some reason, I feel more comfortable being frank about new music for this publication than my usual one, and I said what I really thought. I don't think I was unduly harsh, and I did allow for the possibility of revised judgment, but if some 22nd-century Nicholas Slonimsky wants to put me in his lexicon of musical invective, I'll wear the badge proudly.

*By the way, if you want to hear this concert's Haydn by another ensemble that really knows what it's doing, this is an amazing performance.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

citation styles

Recently I've been plunged in up to the neck in comparing scholarly bibliographic citation styles. I have five different editions of two style manuals, up to 1000 pages long, most of them from various local libraries, on my desk.

Three of them are The Chicago Manual of Style, and a more badly organized, awkward to use, and inconsistent between editions reference manual it would be hard to find. The other two are the MLA Style Manual, and that's easier to use but vastly misunderstood.

About fifteen years ago I had a scholarly paper published which included a lot of quotations, and many of those quotations were heavily abridged. As a result, it had a lot of ellipses in it. The editor of the journal surrounded all those ellipses with brackets, so that they looked like this: "Three rings for the Elven kings under the sky [...] One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne."

This practice was, then, entirely new to me, and I thought it was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen. Obviously it was to distinguish my supplied ellipses from any that happened to be in the original (not that the editor asked me if any were), but since original ellipses are rare, this seemed to me a bass-ackwards way of making the distinction; if an ellipsis is in the original, that could be noted in the citation.

Subsequently I started seeing it more and more, and I've been told, even quite recently, that this is MLA style. It wasn't MLA style when I learned it years ago, but apparently it was added, and anybody following MLA style, well, that's what they gotta do, like it or not.

But here's the thing. It isn't MLA style. Not any more, and not for several years now. It is indeed in the 2nd edition of the manual (1998), which came out just before my paper was mutilated. But they took it out of the 3rd edition (2008). Perhaps there had been complaints. Now all it says is that "some publishers prefer" the brackets on supplied ellipses, and it's an option to distinguish supplied ellipses from original ones in the rare case where a quotation contains both; the other option, surprise surprise, is to note in the citation the presence of original ellipses.

There are other things in MLA3 that aren't in MLA2 that I've never seen applied in scholarly papers either, so I have to conclude that nobody's ever read MLA3.

Another weird thing I've occasionally come across is bitter complaints by humanities scholars against the author-date citation system, whereby books you cite are identified in text references by the author's name and the year of publication. This kind of makes sense in science, where the age of the source material is often crucial, but it's particularly insane when dealing with a posthumously prolific author like Tolkien. It's unfortunate, to say the least, for a paper to distinguish between, say, The Book of Lost Tales, which was written during WW1, from the Grey Annals of Beleriand, which were written in the 1950s, by citing them as "Tolkien 1983" and "Tolkien 1994" respectively, because that's when the books they're in happened to be published. But I've seen journals that insist on exactly that.

What's weird is that the people who complain about this say it's MLA style. But it isn't. It's Chicago science style, which Chicago used to (14th ed., 1993) claim was growing in popularity in the humanities as well, but more recent editions (15th, 2003; 16th, 2010) have given up on that, offering as an alternative the antiquated footnotes style ("17. Ibid.") that MLA gave up on back in the 1970s, I think. MLA uses a shortened author/keyword inline style, thus:
Bilbo tells the dwarves their entire adventure is "silly" (Tolkien, Hobbit 247)
and if you want to know the full title and which edition is being cited, consult the bibliography. That's MLA style, and it makes sense. (And if you're citing just one work by an author, you don't even need the keyword.)

A little more of this sanity to go around the table, please.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

the concert ideal

Someone posted his rules for classical concerts if they were done entirely to his tastes, and Lisa Irontongue endorsed them.

Not I; I'd make several things differently.

Short concerts should be held only to fit short time periods. 45-minute lunch concerts near workplaces (bag lunches welcome) are a great idea. Otherwise, a concert should be long enough to make traveling to it a worthwhile time investment.

No soloists whose names get printed in bigger type than that of the composer they're playing.

The average concert (and by "average" I mean that departures from this rule are welcome, but should be balanced by other concerts departing in the other direction) should contain 3 works, of which one should be an old favorite that everybody knows, one should be a little-known favorite of mine that only I know (hey, these are my rules), and one should be unknown, preferably fairly new.

About 50% of all music not at "early music" concerts should date from since 1900.

No premieres. Every new work should be receiving its second or third performance. When a new work comes to the stage, somehow the premiere will have already happened. (This is my only rule requiring magic.)

Talks about the music belong at pre-concert lectures, and should not duplicate the program notes. Performers during the concert itself should not be permitted to try to explain the music.

If you play pops, rehearse it like you would the finest symphony; don't toss it off casually.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

concert review: San Jose Chamber Orchestra

So, a week-plus ago, I reviewed the season's first concert by Symphony Silicon Valley. They played Glinka, Prokofiev, and Berlioz, all names I expect you know.

This last weekend, I reviewed the season's first concert by the San José Chamber Orchestra. They played Grazyna Bacewicz, Kerry Lewis, and Chris Pratorius, and I expect a rousing chorus of "who?"

Actually, I was familiar with all three composers, Bacewicz through modern music explorations, and the other two because they're local names who have turned up on local music concerts I've attended before. Not all the works, though, as the two works by living composers were premieres.

So I just had to go with my ears open and try to describe the feel of the music, the aspect that the admirably detailed descriptions in the program book left out.

Then there was the usual question of, "What was the encore?" There was a reception in the patio after the concert, but as I wandered around I couldn't find anybody free whom I could ask. (The only food, as opposed to drink, on the patio tables were these tiny little cheesecakes about the size of a clown's button. Everyone seemed to be raving over them, so against my better judgment I tried one. One bite, and it was so hideous I had to throw the rest in the trash. A food critic I won't make.)

So I wandered back inside, and in the small side auditorium saw the orchestra's principal cellist, who's also their music librarian, seated on the stage sorting through the parts. I walked in and asked to take a look. Sure enough, Piazzolla; that's why it was so much more fun than anything else.

Monday, October 7, 2013

movie review

"I found myself cycling between appreciation and cringing, almost in time with the action."

That sounds almost like me on Peter Jackson, but it isn't.

It's retired astronaut Marsha Ivins on Gravity.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, one of their very best, and the least-known of their very best, is running at Lyric Theatre in San Jose. It continues next weekend, so you may go too.

The sets, though not the costumes, are black-and-white designs inspired by Edward Gorey. This worked better for the spooky castle in Act 2 than for the fishing village in Act 1.

The orchestra and music direction (conductor, Jeff Yaeger) were excellent, best in an amateur G&S show I've ever heard. The rhythms bounced along invitingly, whether the singers could keep up or not.

Some could, some couldn't. The results here were mixed.

Despard (Jordan Eldredge) was pretty good, threatening in Act 1 and dignified in Act 2. So was Mad Margaret (Rachel Larsen) who was, unusually, clothed entirely differently in the two acts, which helped a lot. Robin (the inevitable Michael Cuddy) was at his best comically attempting to be evil at the start of Act 2. Rose (Erin McAdams) was a strong singer and a good actress, but had too much innate poise and self-confidence to be suitable for the part of the naive Rose. She'd be better off in other G&S operas playing, say, Phyllis or Elsie. Some of the best singing came from Roderic (Mike Halloran, an old classmate of B's) in the accompaniment to the song by Dame Hannah (Linda Kessel Solis) on the little flower and the great oak tree. The male chorus sang well, and the female chorus acted and danced well. The unfortunate fellow playing Richard (first-timer Jonathan Tilley) could do none of these three things very well. Let us draw a gentle curtain over him.

A murrain on the footrace being run downtown this morning that impeded our arrival, and especially on the decision to close the roads around Chavez Plaza without closing the left turn lane from San Carlos onto Chavez Plaza. That confused everybody.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

operatic boondoggle?

I wonder if any of the opera-oriented classical bloggers will take up a reply to this. It sounds very much like nonsense to me, but I lack the expertise in opera to make a serious rebuttal.

Basically, the argument is that contemporary opera has failed because it dramatizes reasonably contemporary true-to-life stories. Opera works when the settings and stories are mythic, but the slow pacing of characters standing there while others sing long arias doesn't work when the story is supposed to be realistic. Evidently that applies even if the story is also an out-of-the-everday lurid thriller, as in his example to hand, Picker's new Dolores Claiborne, based on the Stephen King novel.

If Fogelsong invited comments, which quite clearly he does not, I would ask him:
1) How far back are you claiming modern opera had this flaw? Do you consider Menotti's quite plainly quotidian operas of the 1940s and 50s to be failures on this account, for instance?
2) What about verismo? While often lurid and improbable, its plots are no more unrealistic, in the sense you're using the term, than Dolores Claiborne. That's why it's called "verismo." Yet these are some of the most popular operas of all time.
3) Is Die Walküre really mythic? Cannot it equally be seen as a long conversation over an adulterous love triangle?
4) Aren't there ways around this problem? A composer could write an opera in which the interactive conversations are quick exchanges - opera dialogue can move pretty fast when it needs to - or, at last resort, spoken dialogue, which is not forbidden in the opera form (see, e.g., Carmen), and have the characters express their feelings in soliloquies, rather than in long addresses to each other.

Friday, October 4, 2013

curse of the restaurant guide

The curse of having prepared popular restaurant guides for the last two Bay Area Potlatches is that I've been asked to do the same for the next one. Which is in a different location than the other two, so I have to do it from scratch.

Our new hotel is smack in the middle of downtown San Jose - it was one of the overflow hotels for the 2002 Worldcon - so downtown it is. My belief is that a con restaurant guide should be organized by location, because time is something that runs short at conventions, so "nearby" often becomes the first sorting factor in desirability of somewhere to eat, with "good" coming in second.

Consequently my guide will, like the last one, in the good old George Alec Effinger/Nolacon tradition include literally everywhere to eat within walking distance, becoming considerably more selective outside of it, so the first step in planning is to define "walking distance." For the previous Potlatch I used 3/4 mile, because it coincided with good geographic cutoff points, but that was a rather generous definition. This time, to be flexible, I started by drawing a 3/4 mile travel distance circle around the hotel. I did my research on Google Maps (see, I don't always hate Google). I switched Google Maps Directions to "walk" mode, and made a directions path with one end pinned to the hotel, moving the other end around the city, watching the distance marker. As it crossed between .7 and .8 mile, I drew a line around a printed out map. (I did not use Google for the printout. Google Maps print out in shades of light gray and are impossible to read. I used my old DeLorme CD-ROM US street atlas; for all its flaws and out-of-dateness, it prints in readable black and white.)

Next step was to comb the area to see where the restaurants are. I knew already where the foci are, but there are some out of the way places, as well as a few neighborhood groceries and such I felt bound to include. I do this work in person, because I don't trust online or printed sources. I did most of it today, since I had an errand down there anyway, just driving around in my car, pulling over to make dots on my printout map.

That gave me enough of an idea of the populated and barren zones to draw a more reasonable close-in walking distance boundary that won't cut awkwardly through a business district. And my boundaries are: South to I-280. West to the Guadalupe Parkway. East to the SJSU campus (i.e. 4th St.; there's nowhere to eat on 5th). And north to and including San Pedro Square.

I'm doing this now to allow time for the next step, which is to eat lunch in as many of these places that I haven't been to before, or not for a long time, as possible between now and then so that I can make writeups for them. For instance, can I bring myself to visit the North Market area without alternating between Sonoma Chicken on one side of the street and Back-A-Yard on the other, which is what I've been doing for a while now? Apparently so, because I had lunch today at a Mexican place on San Pedro I hadn't known, after browsing the weekly farmer's street market which also has lunch booths, and it was pretty good, except that the waiter grabbed my nearly-empty water glass, not to refill it but to whisk it away as if I were done with it. Fortunately another waiter soon appeared to ask if I needed anything else and promptly brought another glass, but sheesh.

The guide will also venture outside walking distance; I want to include a special note on East Santa Clara St. between 5th and 10th, which is just outside walking distance but full of exciting cuisines, and I have at least three other favorites in central San Jose outside the immediate downtown.

Your writeups, both within the walking zone and outside it (most of San Jose and Santa Clara are close enough to be reasonable), are also welcome, but first you have to send them in.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

lost in Congress

The obituaries for Tom Clancy have all been reporting his remark that among his motivations to publish his first novel was a desire to be listed in the Library of Congress catalog.

Well, as of a couple of days ago, he wasn't listed there any more, and neither was anybody else. The entire LC website was taken offline because of the government shut down.

However, I've just checked and it's back. I felt a weird sense of dislocation on finding the online catalog available, though with a notice reading " In the event of a temporary shutdown of the federal government, beginning Tuesday, October 1, the LC Online Catalog will be inaccessible." Have I been time-tripped back to before October 1?

(I see also that they've recently installed a - so far only optional - "new version" with a vastly worse interface, which is the way most library online catalogs are going, and I'm powerless to stop this imbecility. Not at all the first really bad change in cataloging practice that I've had to live through, either.)

I hadn't thought that the shutdown would affect me at work, but I was forcibly reminded that it would on Wednesday. We take our cataloging records from LC via a "search and grab" program, and, surprise surprise, it wasn't working, nor on the other catalog databases (which were still up) that we use as backups. I phoned our vendor this morning (they're near Toronto, so they're not available most of the afternoon our time) and they told me of a back-door entrance that still worked. I went in to work and tried it, and it did, but now I'll have to see what else is going on.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Republican foreign invaders

A recent reminder of the distrust of Barack Obama based, supposedly solely, on the belief that he's a secret foreign agent, and, if he's not, at least his father was, prompts me to think of all the Republicans whose credentials to be natural-born citizens of These United States are shaky.

Ted Cruz was born in Canada, where he lived until he was 3, and his father was then still a citizen of Cuba, which he had left as a refugee. Asked in an interview whether this personal history affected his eligibility to run for President, Cruz explained that his mother was a native-born US citizen, so that made it all right. OK, then.

John McCain was born in the Panama then-Canal-Zone, where his father was serving in the Navy.

George Romney, Mitt's father, who also ran for President*, was born in Mexico, where his grandparents had fled as expatriates because they believed in polygamy.

Barry Goldwater was born in a territory, not in one of the United States. Does that count?

Pat Buchanan was also not born in a state; he's one of the few politicians who was actually a native of D.C.

Any more?

To any serious reader, none of this means anything. So if Republicans will be serious, so will I.

*I find it strange to consider it advisable to identify George this way. I'm old enough that I still think of Mitt as George's son, rather than of George as Mitt's father.