Sunday, December 1, 2013

a trip to the City, with music, art, food, and fabric

So I had a ticket to the San Francisco Symphony's production of Britten's War Requiem and I thought that B. might be interested in that too. She was, so I got a second ticket. Then I discovered that the Cartoon Art Museum was having an exhibit of art from Sandman (it's on till March, so plenty of time), and that also interested both of us, so we made a day of it, using BART and the Muni streetcars, plus a healthful amount of walking, to get around.

The exhibit consisted largely of original inked but uncolored pages by a variety of artists from Sandman's run, full of paste-ups (lettering was often but not always done separately and pasted on) and blue-pencil comments, plus preliminary sketches and some post-publication homages to the characters. In a table case that you'd better not lean on or it'd tip over was Gaiman's original proposal for the series. I'd known that some of the characters were taken from older comics, but I hadn't known until I read this that the basic idea of a personification of dream was borrowed from Swamp Thing, which neither of us has read.

Among the other exhibits was a collection of Ronald Searle pieces from a now-little-known part of his career, illustrations he did for American magazines in the early 1960s, including an amusing unpublished sequence of JFK, all hair and teeth, giving a speech in 1960. I do remember the covers he did for TV Guide in those days, and was properly newly impressed by Searle's ability to draw caricatures that, while technically looking nothing like the actor depicted, are nevertheless instantly recognizable and capture the essence of the character. (It also makes me wonder anew why it is, when I read comic books based on TV shows, that comic-book artists seem uniformly unable to draw characters who look at all like the actors who play them. I gave up on Buffy Season 8 in part because I often couldn't tell who the characters on the page were supposed to be.)

In the gift shop I finally had a chance to browse through a volume of the Annotated Sandman, to find that it belongs to one of the two main classes of annotations, the one that leaves out half of what ought to be in it, much of it vitally important if you already know it, while including other things that are even more obvious to the point of puerility. I don't think I'll be getting this.

We had lots of extra time after leaving the museum, so we hopped it a couple blocks across Market to Britex, the truly awesome fabric store, four floors of fabrics and notions, for B. to browse through and, it turned out, to buy some exotic lengths of ribbon.

Dinner at The Grove, then over to Davies for the concert. Huge stage-filling orchestral setup, with a small separate chamber orchestra (led by concertmaster Alexander Barantschik) where the first violins normally go, and the large remainder (led by associate concertmaster Nadya Tichman) crammed over the rest of the stage. Tenor and baritone soloists in front, soprano behind, on a raised throne-like platform, in front of the chorus that she mostly sings with.

I'd never actually heard this work before, so I was surprised at how gentle and contemplative the music mostly is, despite the enormous forces. The program notes said that Britten was inspired by Bach's Passions and Verdi's Requiem, but those are structural similarities; the music doesn't sound remotely like either of those. What it did remind me of, aside from a lot of crashingly obvious Stravinsky borrowings, was, of all things, the Berlioz Requiem. Like that, it was stark, blocky, thinly scored for usually having only one thing going on at once, and often declamatory in the choral parts. Adult and boys' choruses (all superb) plus soprano sang the Latin requiem text; tenor and baritone stood up at intervals to interject chromatically wandering settings of Wilfred Owen poetry, including one but not the other of his most bitter denunciations of war, accompanied by the jangly chamber orchestra while the rest kept silent.

Only in the concluding section does everybody play and sing at once. The work ends with soft fading notes from unaccompanied chorus. Conductor Semyon Bychkov slowly squeezed his hands to direct them, then stood motionless for a long stretch while everyone held their breath. Only when he visibly relaxed did the applause begin. Best ever audience etiquette, and they didn't cough very much during the 90-minute length either.

No comments:

Post a Comment