Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dreamforce Party Setup

Salesforce, the cloud computing behemoth, puts on a huge convention at Moscone Center every year that sprawls over Howard Street for a couple of weeks, and then caps the event with an outdoor party and rock concert in Civic Center Plaza for conventioneers.

They started setting up for the Tuesday evening event last weekend...

...and it was fun watching stages being erected and surreally large color bars being projected...

...while an army of roadies assembled light towers.

In terms of neighborhood intrusiveness, it's not as bad as Gay Pride Weekend, and we also get to hear the "mystery headliners."

This year it was the bands Cake and Bruno Mars, which certainly fit in with the extravagance of the affair.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

London Musical Gods Descend on San Francisco

The London cellist Steven Isserlis played two concertos with the local, original-instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra last week at the SFJAZZ Center, and his performance was soulful and enchanting. The program had the order switched for the two 18th century cello concertos by CPE Bach and Boccherini, which Isserlis announced to the audience after intermission, explaining in a deadpan voice that we were the victims of a "ghastly hoax." He then explained how the Bach was forward-looking music for its time, "modern music," while the Boccherini was old-fashioned in its use of traditional forms but nonetheless "perfect and heavenly."

Sandwiching his performances were two middle-period Haydn symphonies, #52 and #67. Haydn wrote close to 110 of them, mostly for his live-in job at the Esterhazy estate in Hungary, and they are witty, sane and charming pieces but sometimes hard to bring off in modern concerts where they can easily become dull. The first movement of #57 was conducted by Music Director Nicholas McGegan with verve and a perfect touch, but in the slow second movement he decided to seriously stretch out the tempos, and the piece simply expired and never recovered, not even in the sprightly final movement.

The orchestra was excellent accompanying Isserlis in the Bach and Boccherini, and there was even a hint of jazziness in some of the offbeat rhythms the cellist adopted which fit the music and the location. Isserlis performs as a soloist, in chamber music, with original instrument ensembles and full, modern orchestras in everything from Baroque music to contemporary pieces. This is the second time I have seen him perform and would gladly attend anything in which he's involved. He's a great musician.

Also a supremely great musician is the conductor Vladimir Jurowski, who is touring with the London Philharmonic Orchestra where he has been principal conductor for the last seven years. This year is the last in that particular relationship which is too bad because they are sensational together. The strings, in particular, were so full and rich that they sounded as if we were in Carnegie Hall rather than Davies Hall.

Jurowski was born in Russia, moved with his professional musician family to Germany in 1990, and currently lives with his own family in Berlin, but he's an honorary Londoner because his major career so far has been out of that city, including a stint as the Music Director of Glyndebourne Opera. I've heard him three times now, with three different orchestras, starting with the San Francisco Symphony, his debut with the New York Philharmonic earlier this year, and now this appearance with his own orchestra. He's my new favorite conductor in the world. Even the overplayed Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was interesting in the orchestra, although the boorish, pounding style of piano soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet made me want to run out of the hall.

The Monday evening concert started with a curtainraiser commissioned by the orchestra in 2002, Magnus Lindberg's Chorale, an intentionally dense, beautiful and stirring work for a huge orchestra. After intermission, that same huge orchestra played Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony from 1943, written in the darkest Russian hours of World War Two. The strange hour-long piece alternates between moody string meditations to full-out, cacophonous marches written for an orchestra so loud as to cause hearing loss, which in this case was actually worth it. The performance was assured, powerful, and mysterious. I can't wait to see what Jurowski does next.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Castro Street Fair Election Endorsements

Campaign volunteers carrying signage for the upcoming November 4th election were everywhere at the Castro Street Fair a couple of Sundays ago.

There were also plenty of candidates in attendance, such as Daniel Flores above who is running for Superior Court Judge.

Local newspapers have chimed in with their election endorsements recently, and it's a tossup which publication's are the most egregious. The revamped San Francisco Examiner has been surprisingly progressive, and their articles explaining the various propositions by Joshua Sabatini have been excellent. Meanwhile the San Francisco Chronicle and the right-wing, gay Bay Area Reporter are in concordance on most issues and candidates, so you can't go far wrong by voting the opposite of their recommendations.

So here are some wildly biased endorsements from Civic Center, a resolutely non-commercial site which is not worried about either advertisers or being invited to the powerful insiders' table.

First off, vote for Daniel Flores for Superior Court Judge because my friend Michael Nava above says he's the best choice and I trust him.

San Francisco Supervisors David Campos and David Chiu have both been corrupted by power during their years on the Board, but I have seen Campos act out of conscience to do what is right, while David Chiu has behaved like an amoral snake since the day he took office and became Board President. Vote Campos for California State Assembly.

I know nothing about the candidates for SF Board of Education, so if anyone does, feel free to add your comments. My only maxim for the Community College Board is not to vote for any incumbents (that would be Anita Grier and John Rizzo) since they helped the institution get into the frigging mess it is today.

On races where there is only one choice, DO NOT VOTE unless you personally think somebody is an exceptional public servant. Jeff Adachi for Public Defender is the only person who fits that bill for me.

On the San Francisco ballot propositions, VOTE NO ON A. The $500 million bond is being sold as a cure to MUNI and city transportation in general, but as Joe Eskenazi writes in the SF Weekly, there is nothing in the language of the proposition that says anybody "shall" do anything, only that they "may." If there's anything we have learned about the City Family kleptocracy that runs San Francisco municipal government, it is that their word means nothing.

Proposition B, put onto the ballot by Supervisor Weiner who is in the photo below, uses "shall" language while indexing bigger budgets for MUNI based on rising population figures. Mayor Lee and his minions were furious and vowed revenge on future pet projects for the supervisors who voted for it, and Piedmont Poverty Pimp Randy Shaw has been howling that it might take money away from the millions he's receiving from the city to house derelicts in the Tenderloin. So VOTE YES ON B.

Proposition C extends the Children's Fund, a do-nothing, bureaucratic fiefdom, for another 25 years. VOTE NO ON C.

Proposition D is an attempt to extend the gold-plated, lifetime retirement health care benefits one receives after five years of San Francisco municipal employment to former Redevelopment Agency employees and their scam-infested successor agencies. It's amazing to find out they weren't already on the gravy train before this. VOTE NO ON D.

Proposition E is the soda tax, which is another nanny state tax on the behavior and wallets of low-income people, as if they don't get dinged enough already. VOTE NO ON E.

Proposition F asks the voters to approve new height limits at a development on Pier 70, and none of the usual suspects has voiced opposition to it. This is probably because the developers actually talked with the community first instead of going through the usual back channels in the Mayor's Office. VOTE YES ON F.

Proposition G is an anti-real-estate-speculator measure which imposes an additional tax if you're flipping a property before five years are up, "subject to certain exceptions." The local and national real estate industry is up in arms about this one. The legislation is more symbolic than anything else, but it might help cool things down slightly in this insanely overheated real estate market. VOTE YES ON G.

Proposition H is an attempt to stop the Fisher Family Foundation from putting in toxic artificial turf for soccer fields at the west end of Golden Gate Park along with invasive night lighting. Everybody has signed off on the plan at City Hall, so this election really is the last-ditch attempt by San Francisco citizens to stop it. VOTE YES ON H.

Pissed off at neighborhood opposition that ties up "improvements" at SF Rec & Park facilities, seven supervisors led by Scott Wiener want to amend the Park Code so Phil Ginsburg can do whatever the hell he wants without interference. If toxic soccer turf and pay-to-play private takeovers of public space strike you as okay, then vote yes. Otherwise, VOTE NO ON I.

Proposition J is a minimum wage increase that was watered down by Mayor Lee to take place over the next four years. Better than nothing, VOTE YES ON J. Also completely watered down by the Lee administration was affordable housing legislation spearheaded by Supervisor Kim. She caved under pressure from the Mayor's Office, and now we have a symbolic piece of legislation which will mean nothing to anyone. VOTE NO ON K.

Proposition L is a cri de coeur from Automobile Drivers feeling used and abused in San Francisco. It's a completely advisory measure demanding automobile drivers should stop being gouged in parking garages and at meters. I have always hated car culture, but they have a point, although a stupid one. The SF Metropolitan Transit Authority treats everyone like crap, and overcharges as much as the traffic will bear. VOTE NO ON L.

For the California State Propositions, I'm voting NO ON 1, Governor Brown's bloated Water Bond that is yet another attempt to drain the Sacramento delta for Southern California, YES ON 2 which creates a rainy day fund when there is a budget surplus, YES ON 45 for more monitoring of health insurance price hikes by the state, NO ON 46 which calls for the drug testing of doctors because workplace drug testing is completely invasive, YES ON 47 to charge felonies as misdemeanors for a whole range of nonviolent, drug related crimes, and NO ON 48 because we don't really need another Indian casino in this state. Happy voting!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Elinor Armer's 75th Birthday Concert

The composer and teacher Elinor Armer above was born in Oakland on October 6, 1939, which means she turned 75 this week.

To mark the occasion, conductor Nicole Paiement and her Blue Print ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music offered a birthday concert last Saturday that was filled with world premieres by former students of Elly. I had never heard of Ms. Armer, so I asked the pianist Sarah Cahill about her, and this was part of her reply:
"Armer has been living and working in the Bay Area for a long time, and her music is respected and admired, but it's never gotten the attention it really deserves. She studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, and collaborated with Ursula Le Guin on a big symphonic/choral work about an archipelago of islands, each with its own "use" and personality. She's beloved as a person and as a teacher. I took her musicianship class in 1977 at the SF Conservatory, and she was a brilliant teacher. She's funny and smart and very strong. Can you imagine being the only woman composer at SFCM, and one of the few in the Bay Area, for fifty-something years?"

It was Armer herself who set the ground rules for the commissions, that they be short pieces written for the same septet of instruments Stravinsky used in The Soldier's Tale, which are violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet/trumpet, trombone, and percussion. A few of the composers cheated, including Aleksandra Vrebalob above who used a larger contingent for her Armer Fanfare, which was an exciting, jubilant opening.

Armer's Ursula Le Guin collaboration is called Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts, and the composer Linda Holland above composed a beautiful, two-part, slow-fast riff on a few themes from that work.

Sasha Matson above wrote an impressionistic piece called Berkeley Hills...

...while the baby of the group, Kyle Hovatter (born in 1986), offered a charming Gavotte for Elly.

After intermission, Blue Print performed the only piece of "old" music on the program, Arnold Schonberg's Herzgewachse, for colorature soprano, celeste, harmonium and harp. Paradoxically, the song sounded like the most "modern" music of the evening, and it was spectacularly sung by Chelsea Hollow above.

The Elly Armer celebration continued with Ostinato for Elly by Barry Phillips above, Handsome not Pretty by Carolyn Yarnell, and Soldier to Soldier by Dan Becker below.

It's a testament to Armer's teaching skills at the SF Conservatory over the last 46 years that all the music was interesting and exciting to hear, with a slight nod to the female composers for creating my favorite pieces.

The concert ended with a new piece by the birthday girl herself, I left my heart, where she calls for, in her own words, a "ridiculously extravagant battery of percussion" in her homage to Rube Goldberg.

At a birthday party reception afterwards, to which the entire audience was invited, I wished Ms. Armer the best and told her how good I thought the concert was, and she replied, "I thought so TOO!" It's hard to imagine a better birthday present. Paiement and her talented student musicians deserve high praise for playing eight world premieres (with Schoenberg as an amuse bouche) so expertly and with such verve.