Sunday, October 31, 2021

music for Halloween

I have a truly ideal Halloween song for you. I came across this a few months ago and have been saving it up.

It's from Big Daddy, a group whose schtick is to take songs of a more recent vintage and play them in the style of a late 50s/early 60s rock-&-roll band. Often they merge the victim, er tune, incongruously with a specific song of the earlier era. The best of these was taking "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and combining it with "Duke of Earl."

This time, they have "The Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, and have subsumed it under a bizarre match with the unforgettable novelty song "Monster Mash." What's more, there's a spooky video, in which the Phantom, with some assistance from Dracula, serenades an oblivious Bride of Frankenstein. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Another week, another EPS-conducted concert. This one filled the hall rather more than the previous two did. Perhaps that's because Yefim Bronfman was on hand for the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto, which he played with charm and zest.

Also on the program, one hunk of string orchestra music and one of wind ensemble music. The first was Kongsgaard Variations by Anders Hillborg, supposedly based on a lyrical Beethoven theme, but it was buried so far as to be undetectable except in expressing a gentle mien throughout the piece. The latter was the "Happy Workshop" Sonatina by Richard Strauss, which didn't remind me particularly of anything even less than the Hillborg did of Beethoven.

Having had a nap that afternoon, I eschewed caffeine before the concert, but found myself, though not sleepy, tired and fidgety. Not a good state to appreciate music in. Also, I had practical problems both coming and going.

For a previous concert, I'd pre-ordered online and then picked up a fried chicken dinner from a boutique vendor that operates out of an industrial park garage slot just off the road inbound. The food had been of mixed quality, so I decided to try it again before judging. But though my order today went through fine, when I got there they were closed. Not out of business, just closed. Nobody there, no explanatory sign. I'm giving them till Monday (they don't claim to be open on weekends) to explain themselves, or else the blistering negative reviews are going up.

On the way home, huge construction-caused backup on the freeway. Got off, drove around the construction zone, got back on, only to find another such huge backup a few miles later. Switched to an entirely different route. Look, I take the freeway because it's fast and efficient. If it's neither, why bother?

Friday, October 29, 2021

me and popular music

I came across a series of YouTube videos labeled "Most Popular Song Each Month in the ..." for each decade from the 1950s to the 2010s. I don't know on what basis it was determined what was the most popular song for each month, but it seems a pretty good sampling of 12 songs per year, and a chance for me to test my knowledge of popular music. I listened through the whole set and counted up the songs that I recognized, that I know I'd heard before, and also the number of those that I positively like, that I've deliberately gone and listened to because I enjoy them. (A few that I recognize I positively hate, but only a few.)

What I couldn't count from clips of a few seconds is ones that I didn't know but would come to like if I listened to them a few times in full. All I can say of that is that there were more clips that sounded likely in the 2000s than in the 1990s.

I divided up the years by meaningful chunks.

1950-63, i.e. before the Beatles: A lot of nightclub crooner types in here, as well as (from 1956) Elvis Presley, whom I don't care for at all and, it turns out, know little of. I recognized a few instrumentals from the lush Muzak radio stations that my father liked to listen to in my youth. And some songs I know from Allan Sherman or Stan Freberg parodies. Rate: know about 3.25/year, like about .75/year.

1964-70: full of Beatles songs, every one of which I like. And a lot of others as well. (Top favorite non-Beatles song, probably "Downtown.") Though most of my knowledge of this period is retroactive - I wasn't listening to current pop music at the time - I'm apparently a child of my generation in finding this the heart of my pop-music tastes. Rate: know about 9/year, like about 6/year. Remember that's out of 12 total per year.

1971-80: this is the period I was in high school and college, so I was hearing a lot of incidental pop music even though I wasn't seeking it out, and styles were turning against my taste in the later 70s: though I know a lot of songs from that period, except for the weird outlier of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" (1978) (what's that doing in here?), there's nothing I really like in between McCartney's "Band on the Run" (1974) and Lennon's Double Fantasy songs (1980). Rate: know about 5/year, like about 1/year.

1981-85: This is the sole period in my life when I was actually listening to current pop music of my own volition. A couple songs I really liked hit the charts - one of them is here - and I kept on until the good stuff dribbled off a few years later. Rate: know about 6/year, like about 2/year.

1987-present: A true desert. I know almost none of this stuff, though when listening to these clips there's a fair number of post-2000 songs that I expect I might come to like if I ever heard them in full, but the point is, I never have, and I'm not moved to seek them out. One that I did, it turned out I wished I hadn't. For the 90s in particular, almost everything I know is either because it's a remake of an older song I know or else because Weird Al parodied it. But of the 6 songs I list as liking, most I really like. Top favorite: "Orinoco Flow" by Enya (1988) (what's that doing in here?). Rate: know about 1/year, like about .25/year.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

War of the Weirlds

I'm not sure what to make of the theatrical presentation I just saw at Stanford's Bing Concert Hall. Based on Orson Welles' famous 1938 War of the Worlds radio dramatization, it has that for a title and was concocted by something called the Rhum and Clay Theatre Company and premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago, and that's all I know, because the program is only accessible by QR code and isn't even on the presenter's website.

Four actors, all playing many parts - including all four of them coming out with pipes in mouth to play Welles in turns - combining chunks of the dramatization (the original script, I presume but don't know) with a story (fictional, I presume but don't know) about a reporter visiting present-day Grover's Mills, where the story was set, to research a podcast about whether the stories of wide-spread panic on the day were true or not, and gets involved in the family drama of a woman whose grandparents supposedly fled ... well, it's complicated, and the lies and truths and dramatizations and fictionalizations just pile up and start to involve DT and Qanon, but after a slow start the play does manage to maintain interest.

But two hours of that were enough, so I skipped out on the offer of a post-show panel discussion on media and disinformation, the more so as I've already gotten a surfeit of that from the book I've been reading at meals, The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984 by Dorian Lynskey (Doubleday, 2019). A combination of a biography of Orwell focused on the concerns he expressed in the book, a history of relevant earlier utopian and dystopian literature, an account of the novel's reception from submission up to the present-day, and a consideration of later works inspired by it or on the same theme (highlighting 3 media presentations: Brazil, V for Vendetta, and The Handmaid's Tale), it told me a couple things I hadn't known about Orwell.
1. From the beginning of his work on the novel, he referred to it in letters as his novel about the future, which should put an end to the frequent claim that he originally intended to call it 1948, which I've always doubted anyway.
2. When Orwell was sent as a correspondent to liberated Paris in 1944, one of the things he did there was dine with P.G. Wodehouse. George Orwell meets P.G. Wodehouse. "I inspected my imagination. Jeeves was right. It boggled."

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

new phone

AT&T has been after me for months to get a new cell phone, because the old network is being shut down. In February, so what's the hurry? Putting this off has been encouraged by the prospect of the difficulty always attendant on getting a new device with new protocols and new arrangements, and having to learn them all. Antipathy to technological advances would considerably lessen if interfaces were standardized across versions, instead of being upended and redesigned every time some engineer has a brainstorm.

However, the last time they badgered me, they also revealed - which previous badgers had not - that I was entitled to a free upgraded phone, and that it would be a flip phone like the one I already had. So it arrived yesterday and I set it up and actually got my account transferred through the online interface, even though it crashed halfway through.

Of course I'm not as happy with the phone's interface as I was with the old one. The navigation buttons, the ones that surround the OK key, are not programmable as they had been. I'd had them set up to go directly to useful apps like the tip calculator. This one doesn't even have a tip calculator. On the other hand, other useful items, like the contacts list, are easier to get to in other ways than they had been on the old phone. I was able to change the settings list from a page of cryptic icons - I hate icons, I'm an iconoclast - to an actual list with the names of the items on them, and what's more one can re-order the list so that the preferred ones are on top.

Biggest problem is that the phone is full of links to online things like Google Assistant, Bluetooth, WiFi, even YouTube, dangerous things that would use up all the money in my prepaid account in a flash. I made sure they're all off and I hope they stay that way. The net effect is to make my flip phone feel more like a smartphone. I don't want a smartphone; if I wanted a smartphone I'd have gotten an actual smartphone. I want a dumbphone. I'm an iconoclast and I want a dumbphone.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

two concerts

1) Music@Menlo held the first of its winter "residency" concerts of the year on Saturday afternoon. It was titled "Voyage Through the Americas," and one's first thought might be of a rather cramped idea of a sampling of composers of the Americas. Only 3 are South Americans, from just 2 countries; the other 5 are all U.S.ians, 3 of them from the "greatest generation" that flourished in the 1930s-40s. All 8 are men, of course; all but one white, all but one dead. Well, you review the concert you heard, not the one you might wish to have heard.

But it emerged that the plan in the minds of the curators and principal performers, pianist Michael Brown and cellist Nicholas Canellakis, was more specific than that. They wanted to show musical cross-pollination in the mid-20C between the U.S. and Latin America. Thus, the two Argentine composers both studied in the U.S. And most of the U.S. music on offer was directly influenced by Latin American style. This was obvious in the case of Copland's El Salon Mexico and Gershwin's Cuban Overture, both of which resulted from the composers' visits to the named countries in 1932, at which they were impressed by the local music and returned with chunks of it in their tourist bags.

But some of the connections were a little more strained, thus Barber's Souvenirs, a four-hand piano suite, played by Brown and Gilles Vonsattel, evoking, tongue slightly in cheek, the glossy ballroom dance music of the composer's 1910s youth. It earned its place on this program because one of the six dances is a tango. Of sorts.

Both the Copland and Gershwin were orchestral works, played here in piano arrangements dating from the time (2 hands for Copland, 4 hands for Gershwin), but with the orchestral percussion added back in for what the curators considered a necessary flavor. This was played with zest by virtuoso percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum and added as much to the texture as you might imagine.

All the playing was very good, reaching its height in Canellakis's rendition of the cello solos in Bernstein's Meditations from Mass written for Rostropovich. (Also a reduction with piano of an orchestral work, also with percussion reinserted.) I also liked his work in Golijov's Mariel, a lament for a deceased friend, in which the rumbling accompaniment comes not from a piano but - more agreeably, actually - from a marimba, clonked by Rosenbaum.

There was a little more - a cello/piano rhapsody by Ginastera and some brief piano pieces, modernist by Villa-Lobos from Brown and ragtime by Joplin from Vonsattel. An enjoyable outing altogether, regardless of what it consisted or didn't consist of.

2) Back to SFS on Thursday for another lightly populated EPS-conducted concert, this one featuring the U.S. premiere of a new violin concerto by Bryce Dessner. This is a most peculiar work, fast-paced, nervous, and chittery. The soloist, Pekka Kuusisto, for whom the work was written - did he ask for this? - saws quickly back and forth almost ceaselessly for the whole 24 minutes, but except in the cadenza he could rarely be heard, as the orchestral strings either match him or do something else that drowns him out. Meanwhile the rest of the orchestra is trying out fragmentary melodic material with a vaguely minimalist cast. Certainly the clanging chords for percussion and brass at the very end of the work bore more than a faint echo of Glass's Akhnaten.

This was surrounded by two standard repertoire but not blockbuster pieces, Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2 (a more garrulous first draft for No. 3) and Schubert's Fifth Symphony, the most popular of his early essays in that genre. These received fast-paced but not over-hasty performances, smooth and genial but with hints of potential turmoil underneath.

Last week all the string and percussion players were wearing masks; this week only two or three players were. Neither did any of the performers at Menlo have masks. In both cases, though, by decree of the venue the audience was entirely masked up, with vaccinations checked at the door. This is a minor nuisance one can live with, especially considering the likelihood of dying without it. And I'm gradually learning to remember to have my vaccination record with me when I leave the house, instead of having to rush back in to fetch it.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

the most boring day of my life since I stopped attending summer camp

It wasn't just that it was jury duty. Jury duty - by which I mean waiting in the courtroom as part of the jury pool; I've been called up for voir dire once or twice but have never actually served on a jury - is only moderately boring. What turned this into the transcendental was covid restrictions requiring half the seats in the courtroom to be empty.

This meant that the lower half of the jury pool, including me, had to be seated in an empty adjacent courtroom with a video and audio feed of the proceedings. The video was tiny and nearly useless, and the audio was frequently inaudible. Nevertheless we had to sit there and pretend to be paying attention to it for hours on end.

The only interest came from the automated instant transcription system, which struggled terribly. It had no more success hearing what was being said than we did, and was out of its depth when it could. The word "juror," which predictably appeared rather frequently in the proceedings, was not in its vocabulary, so we got frequent "German" and "Karen" and the occasional "jerk."

But the best moment came when the clerk called a new juror candidate by name. As best as I could hear, his name was Stephen Kirwan or something like that, but it came out in the transcript as "Stephen King Kong."

Everybody in the courtroom laughed, the only moment all day when we could be said to be enjoying ourselves, but I suddenly remembered my sf-con costuming friends who've made a gimmick out of comic mashup costumes like Will Scarlett O'Hara or Red Sonja Henie or Salvador Dali Lama. This would be a good one for their list, so I've passed it on.

Friday, October 22, 2021

more on Malcolm Arnold

When I posted for Malcolm Arnold's centenary yesterday morning, I was in a hurry, for a Reason to be Named Later, so I didn't have time to put up more than the basic dance sets. But today I have the time to bring up a little more Malcolm Arnold.

First is a video of the only live concert performance I've ever come across of one of Arnold's symphonies. And it's his Fifth, the best work of the bunch. Even though it's a community orchestra and a little rough, it's actually a very good performance. If I'd known about this before it happened four years ago, I'd seriously have considered going to Phoenix to hear it. At least I can get the videorecording.

And when I wrote my long post on Arnold several years back, I said that someday I wanted to annotate the jokes in Arnold's staggeringly ridiculous parody of Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3. Well, today is that day. This parody was one of several pieces that Arnold wrote for the comedy concerts that the cartoonist and musical humorist Gerard Hoffnung put on in the 1950s.

The original concerts exist only in audiorecordings, but fortunately a Hoffnung revival concert was put on in Prague, of all places, in 1992, and that was videorecorded, so you can see the visual jokes as well as hear the audible ones. You can watch the entire concert here and here - the overture is near the start of the second part - but here's a clip of just the overture, with my comments below.

(Note that throughout the work, the orchestration is coarsened, with added thumps, whoops, and blats)
0.07-0.20 Opening chord held for several bars
0.28-0.58 Conductor responds to diminuendo by crouching behind podium
1.08 Portamento swoop by violins
1.40 Extra punch in a sforzando chord
2.37-2.44 Must be a pop tune that's inserted into the flute part here, but I don't know its source
3.06-3.18 First insertion in the wrong place of the offstage trumpet call scheduled for later in the work
3.29 Tutti chord fails to arrive on schedule as the separating wind chords just keep going
3.31-3.45 Tutti chords continue not to match when the conductor expects them
4.29-5.30 Main theme of the piece (in altered form) transferred to oompah band which marches onstage here
6.16-6.19 Particularly over-coarsened chords here
6.36-6.46 Here's that offstage trumpet call in the wrong place again
7.06-7.15 A little added percussion
7.52-8.06 And the offstage trumpet call misplaced yet again
8.07-8.14 Duple-time music turned into triple-time oompah
8.22-8.30 This time the conductor dances along with the triple-time oompah
8.50-8.58 And when the offstage trumpet is supposed to play? Nothing
8.58-9.14 Conductor backs up four bars and tries again. This time he gets the main-theme oompah band
9.30-10.15 And for the second scheduled appearance of the offstage trumpet? We get all the trumpets in the world and they won't stop until the conductor holds up a red flag
(At this point we just skip over the entire recapitulation and go straight to the coda)
10.35-10.50 Violins get stuck and won't go into the closing Presto until somebody blows a whistle
(11.39 Here most of the coda is also cut)

And here's one more amusing Arnold work, a suite of his music for the 1954 comedy film The Belles of St. Trinian's.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Malcolm Arnold centenary

Today is the centenary of the birth - in Northampton, England - of Sir Malcolm Arnold, one of the noted British composers of the last century and, fifty years ago, the first then-contemporary composer I discovered whose music, in the form of his English Dances, I really enjoyed.

I've written of him here before, notably in this post, but here I'll just put links to his most deservedly popular music, his earlier dance sets. Here, have 16 slices of charm:

English Dances:

Scottish Dances

Cornish Dances

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

another missing item

I'd put the recorded tv show on pause when I went to the kitchen to put the snack away. Then I came back to the living room, sat down in the armchair, and started the show up again. And I did this with the remote, right? Because the set itself just has an on-off button, no other controls.

But when an ad came on and I wanted to fast-forward, I could not find the remote. It wasn't anywhere around, not tucked in the seat, not on the table, not under the chair or its footstool. I even checked in the kitchen in case I'd somehow absently taken it with me (which I do sometimes) and left it there and unpaused by magic.

Nowhere. I had to watch the rest of the show straight through and use the set's button to turn it off.

Only then did I notice the tiny edge of a shadow way under the couch. It was the remote. What was it doing there? I hadn't sat on the couch. It couldn't have fallen there from where I was sitting. It's too big for a cat to carry, and no cats were around anyway.

It's a mystery.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

home on the range

We have a new range/stove/oven. Our old one, which had been getting weird and cranky for some time, spectacularly expired a week ago when I turned the oven on and the heating element sparked and then physically fell apart, with a clunk.

The local appliance store where I bought our washer and dryer has gone out of business, but left behind a web site urging its customers to patronize other local independent stores, which it named, and stay away from the big box stores. I went to the independent I would have visited anyway the first time if it hadn't been closed on Monday, which was the day I'd been doing my shopping. All their units were over $2000.

This seemed improbable. Consumer Reports lists most of its recommended electric units at under $1000 and says that extra money doesn't get you extra quality. I defected and went to a big box store, Best Buy. (Although I found gas cooking preferable when I had it, years ago, I'm not buying a new gas stove at this stage of the environmental game. Not to mention that my house probably has no gas line to the kitchen.)

First step was to limit my search to the brand that Consumer Reports found generally most reliable, Samsung. Then to sort through the models listed on the web site. The way it works in this field, every minor variant in features is a different model, so they proliferate. A model with fingerprint-resistant coating is $100 more than otherwise exactly the same model without it. Then to see which ones they had in stock.

A visit to the local store, to perform a reality check by examining these treasures in person, provided also employees who were eager to be friendly and helpful, if not always well informed. Because it best suited our purposes of those that were in stock, we wound up with this one. It differs most dramatically from the old in the heating elements all being hidden underneath a featureless glass surface, which is true of most of the electric stoves these days.

Delivery, installation, and bringing out of the dead were performed by a different entity but arranged for and paid through Best Buy. That happened today, and this evening I made my first attempt to use the thing. I made the simplest dinner in my repertoire, heating up a Bertolli's frozen pasta entree with some extra chicken and veggies thrown in.

At first it didn't work. Ten minutes is enough to heat this meal up, but this time nothing happened. Had the designers of the heating elements forgotten that a layer of glass would come between the heating and the pan? I eventually concluded I'd been using too small a burner, although the manual warns you strongly against using a burner larger than the pan's contact area. But I picked a larger burner and it came out OK.

I think my next step is to try boiling a lot of pans of water under different circumstances and seeing what happens. But not tomorrow, as I have an all-day Occupation to be Named Later.

We also tried running the oven, and learned that when it turns off after the amount of time you set it for, the machine plays electronically a little song. This seems to be a Samsung thing. Our washer from the same mfr plays a verse of Schubert's "Die Forelle." This one I didn't recognize, but it wasn't "Home on the Range": they missed a bet there.

Monday, October 18, 2021

who killed Colin Powell?

Gen. Colin Powell has died from complications of covid, even though he was vaccinated. One is already hearing some fools say that this shows that the vaccines don't work. No more than a person dying in a high-speed fiery crash, even though they wore a seatbelt, proves that seatbelts don't work.

Nothing is perfect protection, but there are likelihoods. And Colin Powell was quite elderly (84) and suffered from a cancer that reduced his immune system. Someone in that category is not going to get the same degree of benefit from the vaccine than the younger and healthier. But they're still less likely to suffer severe covid with the vaccine than without it, it's just that the danger in either chance is greater than for others.

What would have saved Colin Powell from covid is not getting the virus in the first place. And the way to stop it from floating around is for everybody to get vaccinated. Then the virus will have nowhere to go and random people will be less likely to pick it up or, if they do, be as infectious or for as long.

In other words, it was the unvaccinated who killed Colin Powell. I hope they're humbled and shamed by this.

Public health is one area where your actions don't affect just you, but everybody else. If you won't get vaccinated, get quarantined. You don't get to decide for yourself whether to spread deadly virus around any more than you get to decide for yourself that green means stop and red means go.

(Article explaining this. Another one, better but possibly behind a paywall)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

two talks and a set of awards

Stanford sponsored a couple of online talks that looked interesting.

The first one was by a calligrapher who's undertaking the job of reproducing, in fresh calligraphy on fresh vellum, the entire text of Beowulf. This seemed like a promising idea until my heart sank as the calligrapher revealed that 1) she doesn't read Anglo-Saxon; 2) she doesn't understand the script that Beowulf was written in. She just intends to reproduce verbatim the strokes of the original without having any idea what they represent.
That's bad enough, but then how do you do this for a text parts of which have been lost through decay and having the edges of the sheets burned off in an 18th century fire? You can research what scholars think the lost words and letters say, but without knowledge you can't make your own decisions about which ideas you think are right; and if you don't know the language or the script you can't possibly draw those characters in a way that will look real.

The second talk was by a pair of scholars on the intersection of art, sex, and the law. One was telling the story of NYC avant-garde artists in the 1960s (Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman) and their problems with obscenity prosecutions; further on how their archives have been mucked up by pandemic-forced moves and will take years to straighten out again. I was relieved when the start of the talk, giving the artistic context, was littered with the names of lots of other people I've heard of, from LaMonte Young to Yoko Ono, so I had a knowledge base to hold on to.
The other speaker was more academic in style and I had a harder time following her drift, but the main point seemed to be how NAFTA-initiated intellectual property restrictions are making it hard for Mexican trans people to import specific fashion and artistic supplies from the US. On top of the difficulties you can already imagine about being trans in Mexico. So that was interesting if regrettable to hear about.

This year's Mythopoeic Awards were announced today. The online awards ceremony was a glorious bouquet of mispronunciations, and the winners struck me as mixed. I was only able to vote in the Myth and Fantasy Scholarship category, and while Anna Vaninskaya's Fantasies of Time and Death was not my top choice, I considered the top three to be nearly equal in quality, and this was one. I was out on the Inklings Studies category because of having an essay in one finalist collection, but I did express my opinion on the other finalists, and I did not put Tolkien's Lost Chaucer by John M. Bowers on top. As a history of Tolkien's ill-fated scholarly Chaucer edition I thought it quite useful; as a description of Tolkien's unpublished Chaucer scholarship somewhat less so, and as a literary source study on Chaucerian influence on The Lord of the Rings, well, that part would better have remained unpublished. No, the outstanding books of the year were Catherine McIlwaine's Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth (the Bodleian Library exhibit catalog) and John Garth's The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, with the former taking the edge since this was its last year of eligibility.
B. was pleased when A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) took the Children's Literature award. I'd read, or started to read, two of the Adult Literature finalists, but I didn't like the winner, The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune, as much as Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Bowers' and Klune's acceptance speeches in which they express wonderment that their work was considered worthy of the award may be more level-headed than they realize.

Friday, October 15, 2021

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

My last previous SFS concert, 18 months ago, was Esa-Pekka Salonen's last appearance as a guest conductor before he was scheduled to take over as music director. Since then they had a few concerts last spring, none of which I attended, and we're now a few weeks into the next season, and on Thursday I got to hear EPS in his new capacity. (The initials have not yet taken over. His parking space in the executive lot has his last name on it, as does everyone else's; previously it read "MTT".)

Vaccination was required at the door and masks inside. Possibly due to the exotic repertoire, this concert was lightly attended. I was the only person in the 34-seat balcony side box where I normally sit, and I think that's the first time this has happened since they abandoned Wednesday concerts.

As in San Jose, the string and percussion players were all masked, the winds and brass not. EPS, also unmasked, came out to applause and stood motionless, arms by his sides, on the podium. Linda Lukas, the third flute and about the only one left (the first two flutes, a married couple, both retired last year and have not yet been replaced), sat equally motionless, instrument raised to her lips. This tableau lasted for a long time as silence seeped throughout the auditorium.

Then, without any signal from EPS, she began the opening solo of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. EPS started to conduct with a couple pickup bars before other players joined in. A delicately sumptuous, but vigorous and dramatic, performance of the work followed.

Connections between the concert's pieces were craftily planned. Where Debussy was inspired by a poem by Mallarmé, Kaija Saariaho (who turned 69 on Thursday - happy birthday!) was inspired by a poem by Saint-John Perse for her Aile du songe. This is functionally a brief flute concerto. The orchestra of strings and percussion (no winds) mostly hovered in the background, spectrally, while soloist Claire Chase, who came on stage with a bit of a Groucho walk, made her instrument jump around with various flute-like sounds and a few un-flute-like noises which sounded rather intestinal.

Perse's and hence Saariaho's work was intended to evoke birds, and so - as its title proclaims - was Olivier Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques, which is functionally a brief piano concerto. Here the pianist, Jeremy Denk, and the orchestra (winds and percussion, no strings) were more in it together than in the Saariaho, but despite the claim of being based on birdsong, this hunk of angular modernism with post-Stravinsky whooping noises more evoked the sounds of a factory. I like some Messiaen, but not this one.

Lastly we returned to Debussy for a run through La mer. This rendition got warm applause from the audience but did not please me. The slow parts sounded tentative while the fast ones were increasingly hasty and brusque. I'm hoping for a better result when I return next week.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

world according to cat

The most desirable thing in the world is getting under the bedsheet and wrapping yourself up in it, while the human is trying to make the bed. Being ferreted out and tossed off the bed shall not stop you from instantly resuming your appointed rounds.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

medium entertainment

I discover TV shows by wandering into the living room and seeing what B. is watching. This time, a couple weeks ago, it was the second episode of a new drama called Ordinary Joe. B. lost interest but I've kept on through at least two more episodes. If I don't bother to watch at some future point, I'll know I'm done. More likely it'll be canceled.

Ordinary Joe's gimmick is not Joe, who though central is rather inert, nor the plot of his life, which is thoroughly mundane melodrama, but the fact that there's three of him. Joe faced a trilemma of what to do that afternoon after he graduated from college, and now ten years later each choice has led to a drastically different career, marriage to one of two different women or a single life, and lots of regrets over roads not taken. What's more, both of his wives are also active in his other two lives. So it's keeping track of what's going on as the three storylines jump back and forth that gives this otherwise dull story its slightly mind-bending appeal.
(e.g. which is the version of wife #2 who's having an affair with her boss? Is it the one Joe's married to, the single one, or the one who's married to Joe's best friend? Not clear at first, as the color-coding of the plot lines is not that consistent. But it turns out it's the single one.)

The other medium entertainment of the week came from the notification that Opera San Jose's first production of the season would be online only, meaning we could try out an opera of questionable charm without having to take the trouble of going there. It was a 40-minute, one-act, two-character drama by Rimsky-Korsakov titled Mozart and Salieri, after Pushkin's poem on the subject. No, Amadeus was not the first treatment, and in fact the plot is pretty much the same as Pushkin's. Salieri fumes at Mozart's superior talent and determines to do him in. In this one he invites him to lunch and gives him a slow-acting poison.
It was more talk than action, the music was mostly meandering recitative that didn't sound much like Rimsky, the singers were OK, there were a few snatches of genuine Mozart. But I couldn't share the enthusiasm of SFCV's review.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Beethoven half-marathon

I was up in the City again on Saturday for a musical event I couldn't resist, although less than 200 other people seemed interested enough to be there: the first day of a two-day marathon concert run through all 32 of Beethoven's canonical piano sonatas. Two concerts, each over three hours long, and I suspect the fourth concert on Sunday will be a lot longer than that.

Previous experience with listening through the entire cycle, both on recordings and in series of concerts (more spaced-out than this one) suggested to me that trying to take in the whole thing in two days would overwhelm my sensors, so with regret for missing the Waldstein and the Appassionata I just got tickets for the first day. But this event had what turned out to be a greater source of variety and refreshment than I'd expected: 12 different pianists (with another 5 to be added in on Sunday), where all my previous traversals through the canon had been by one pianist each. Most played one of the 15 sonatas each, with a couple returns, and several of them were due to reappear on Sunday. Only 2 of the 12 were women, though so were 4 of the 5 who didn't play on Saturday.

Ranging from distinguished names in the field (the most renowned I heard was Stephen Prutsman in Op. 7) down to conservatory students not quite ready for prime time, the pianists vied for titles like the most dramatic, the wittiest, the most transparent, the most lyrical, the deepest tone colors, and so on. If I were formally reviewing this I'd have taken notes and could go into detail.

But what a satisfying listening experience this was. One of the pandemic-canceled concerts I most regretted missing was Andras Schiff playing the four wonderful sonatas of Opp. 26-28, and that entire repertoire was just the second half of the second concert here. I'm sure I liked this a lot better than I would have Schiff, whom I've never been especially fond of as a pianist. Richard Raymond in Op. 27 No. 1 was quite extraordinary in his variety of expression, as was Mari Kodama in the intensity she brought to the "Moonlight" Sonata.

For some unfathomable reason, the concerts were in the SF Jazz Center, which has at least improved its acoustics since the last time I was there for a classical chamber concert. Seating was open and there was plenty of room to keep distanced. Having lunched beforehand, I drove up in just enough time for the 1 pm start. Forced by a weekend street closure on Hayes Street to go past the Grove St. garage, I decided just to park there. But a sign saying they closed for the night at 10 gave me pause, as I was quite sure we wouldn't be done with the evening 7 pm concert by then, nor were we. So after the first concert let out at 4.30, I hauled my car out and found a street space. Then I had to seek dinner. The concert hall had been strict about vaccinations and masks, my favorite nearby Thai restaurant was rather less so, but it was still pretty empty at 5.15. One healthy meal of crisp veggies, shrimp, and a little rice later, I was primed for another plunge into Beethoven.

Friday, October 8, 2021

after the concert

I got home about 10.30 on Thursday evening. B. was still up and told me with some tenseness to check my e-mail. That's how I came to spend the next half-hour writing a quick memoir of the late Mary Kay Kare, filled with regret and frustration at how I tried to be her friend, but full success at that was beyond my friendship skill set.

I've received a number of compliments on the excellence of this quick portraiture, and it's not the first time a hasty memorial that I've written in the first flush of grief has received such responses. I seem to have a knack for this, but I'd much rather not have to write them in the first place, wouldn't you agree?

So where had I been? For the first time in over 19 months since before the pandemic, I'd gone up to San Francisco for a concert. Aside from distance and time, it wasn't more difficult than going to San Jose. I picked up take-out on the way for a quick dinner, and parked in the garage a block from Herbst Theatre, which was masked, vaccination-required, and (unlike San Jose) firmly socially distanced in seating.

It was the first in a four-concert series from San Francisco Performances that I could not resist. The Catalyst Quartet, who are all I think Hispanic, decided to play a set of concerts of the music of historically important Black composers. I'd heard all these composers, I liked their music, and I wanted to get to know them better.

The main feature of the concert was the precocious (he was 18) Piano Quintet in G Minor (1893) of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (yes, named in honor of the obvious person), which the performers in post-concert talk said was influenced by Dvorak, but I don't hear that: to me it's in a Brahmsian declamatory style, yet filled with un-Brahmsian touches throughout, like the florid flourishes in the piano in the first of four epic movements. Stewart Goodyear was the pianist, like SCT British and of half-Black half-white parentage.

We also had a set of 5 short quartet pieces by SCT, these more looking forward to Stravinsky than back to Brahms; and the full "Lyric" Quartet by George Walker, a notable African-American composer (first of that description to win the Pulitzer in music) whose music I've reviewed before. He wrote this in 1946 and it fits the same description as the Quartet of a decade earlier by Samuel Barber (about a decade Walker's senior). It has a famous central Adagio often played by itself with string orchestra, surrounded by faster and harsher outer movements. Except that Walker's movements fit better together, yet his Allegros are more diverse in style than Barber's. But like Barber, Walker wrote on the human scale that was being abandoned by many post-WW2 composers, and I'm grateful to have his work.

And so my soul was enriched by music and I was unknowingly readied to face our human mortality.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mary Kay Kare

This is Mary Kay in happier times, about ten years ago I think. I'd like to remember that, because life was not always good to Mary Kay, most grievously to her when her beloved husband Jordin died unexpectedly after heart surgery four years ago. Since that time she had felt utterly bereft and was often incommunicato, to the distress and frustration of her friends, which is essentially why it wasn't realized immediately that she had died very recently of a blood infection. The news was passed on through a couple of hands and I don't know any more than that.

Mary Kay was from Oklahoma, and though she remained in touch with her family, she tended to describe home and family alike as something she was glad to escape from. A career as a catalog librarian was part of that escape; she worked for several years in quality control for OCLC (known to the general public as the proprietors of WorldCat) in Ohio. But as with a lot of us in that field, her career stalled when posts ran out and she fell out of the current swim. I was able to get her an interview for an open post once at a library where I was working, but it didn't get any further than that.

It was fandom which really caused Mary Kay to blossom. She was a conrunner, she was a smof, she was a Hugo administrator, she was an apahack, she was a filker, she was active in our local Mythopoeic Society discussion group, she was like many fans a loving cat-owner. She met Jordin at a Worldcon, and they were a devoted couple ever after. The only catch was that Jordin's work required him to spend a lot of time in Seattle, and Mary Kay was very sensitive to weather and could not handle the overcast climate. They tried a number of solutions - part-time here, part-time there; living separated part of the time; before finally being able to settle in San Jose several years back.

Mary Kay at her best was intelligent and invigorating and a great person for conversations about books and cats. I wish we could have done more to alleviate the depression and the self-deprecation that loomed over her so much, darkening even the earlier years and getting worse over time. But she could be hard to reach, both in terms of establishing conversation and in pursuing the conversation you're having. I'm sorry things didn't work out better for her.

temperate glory

The temperature has finally dropped to 70F for the first time since - let's see, I've been keeping a spreadsheet of the weather forecasts so I can be prepared for heat waves - since the end of April. Over 5 months. Maybe I can finally put away the fixings for chicken salad, which is my go-to dinner recipe on nights when it's too hot to cook, and bring back out the lentil soup which is a mainstay for winter.

Fortunately this summer the heat never got quite so continuously over 100F that I was forced to retreat to an air-conditioned hotel room as I was last year. Plus B's vigilance in running fans in open windows in the evening to cool the house down has been balm to our bodies even as it aggravates the electric bills. Fortunately we can afford to suffer through the latter.

In other news, one of the many great things about not being on FB is that I didn't even learn about the Great Outage of Monday until it was over. But now, thanks to the whistleblower, we're in for another orgy - for this has happened before - of social therapy for FB, where everybody goes around the circle and tells it what's wrong with it. And Z. issues heated denials that his company would ever do what the documents have just proved that it does do all the time.

In today's column, Leonard Pitts chides FB by pointing out that getting people to talk to one another doesn't necessarily bring them together, and he cites an interview his newspaper did 22 years ago with a historian pointing out the long history of the erroneous assumption that it does. But in fact knowledge that it's an error dates back in pop culture rather longer than 22 years:
Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley

On Saturday I did it. I went to a live symphony concert, my first in 19 months. The last one was the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony on 2/29/20, big work on the program Mendelssohn's "Scottish." This one was Symphony Silicon Valley, big work on the program Dvorak's "New World."

I was there to review it for SFCV. So that was another way in which this was a long-awaited refreshing.

SSV required masks and vaccination, but otherwise acted as if the pandemic was over. They didn't spatially separate the audience, they didn't forgo the pre-concert talk or an intermission. I decided not to trust to one of my interim cloth masks, but got one of the newly arrived 3M N95 masks I'd ordered online. It was actually more comfortable - the straps go over the head and under the chin instead of around the ears, and it's the only mask I've had yet which doesn't cause fogging up of the glasses.

I even treated myself to dinner out beforehand, at Poor House Bistro, which is about to be displaced by the encroaching Google Village, hopefully to reappear at another spot.

There will be more to come.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

card readers

Credit and debit cards - which have become more necessary lately, as the pandemic seems to have put an end to easy cash transactions even in smaller shops - have been getting more complicated and require savvy-computer-end-user levels of experience and awareness to use properly.

It used to be that all insert-card readers expected you to put the card in and then immediately pull it out. But it's increasingly common now to get ones requiring you to leave the card in until the DO NOT REMOVE CARD sign changes to REMOVE CARD, which are surprisingly easy to misread the one for the other. I suspect that's to do with the replacement of magnetic stripes with chips.

But then there are ones that not only expect you to pull the card straight out but which don't display anything on the screen until you do. So beware, the tired or distracted user.

Now there are the touchless or tap cards. Oh, watch out for those. I was purchasing groceries and preparing to run a card through the stripe-reader when suddenly the reader displayed "purchase approved" before I'd done anything. Ah, I'd also been holding my wallet and the reader had detected another, touchless card buried deep in a wallet pocket and plonked the purchase on that. Not the card I'd been intending to use.

So, another caution of modern life that they don't specifically warn you about so you have to learn it the hard way: don't let your wallet or other card-holder anywhere near the reader or you may make a surprise purchase.