Monday, September 12, 2016

weekend: one concert, one book discussion

Friday I was at the San Francisco Symphony, literally the first regular subscription concert of the season. An all-American program. Soprano Susanna Phillips sang some of Copland's Emily Dickinson settings - deeply art-songy, these, Copland missing a bet by failing to set any of them to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" - plus two more than obvious Gershwin numbers. For "I Got Rhythm", the singer employed a microphone - explaining into it beforehand "because I'm not Ethel Merman." It provided focus for her rather foggy and indistinct voice, and she should have used it more. Filling out the first half, Copland's Billy the Kid suite, which MTT conducts as if it's an outlier from Copland's earlier modernist period.

Everybody else in my row disappeared at intermission, so they missed the really good part in the second half, which consisted of two heavyweight three-movement works by the most emotionally effective, for me, of all recent composers, Steve Reich. Double Sextet (2007), played by members of the orchestra accompanying Eighth Blackbird, the ensemble for which it was composed, was succeeded by Three Movements (1985) for more conventional full orchestra.

The opening of Double Sextet was raucous, even scratchy, but it settled down as it went along, and the other work was smoother. It seemed to me that Double Sextet was largely an exercise in irregular rhythms that form a more stable pattern as perceived over a larger span of time, while Three Movements was the opposite, consisting of more regular rhythms that form a more irregularly-shaped larger pattern. Or maybe I was hallucinating it. Reich's music tends to send me off into another mental state.

Sunday afternoon our Mythopoeic book discussion group, joined out in a spacious yard by the resident Five Chickens of the Apocalypse, the first time we've had live chickens at a book discussion, tackled Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix. Amazingly, we found things to say about a book which seemed on surface a Regency romance comfort read. The heroine is full of agency, so much so that she repeatedly ignores other characters' pleas to stop exercising it so much at risk of her life. Also, it isn't often that you get to read a light romance novel in which the young, inexperienced heroine gets to (spoiler alert) kill two people. The heroine and hero meet both under disguise as different people, and it takes more than a while to straighten that out. Since Nix is well-enough versed in English history to play with intelligently, adjusting it only insofar as necessary to insert magic into it, and making allusive references to as far back as King Canute, I found it irksome that he's formed an Australian chapter of the American guild of novelists who insist on writing about British nobility while totally and ignorantly bollixing up the nomenclature of same. Others weren't bothered, but I bet we'd never hear the end of it if it were something they knew and cared about.

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