Saturday, August 1, 2020

Miscellaneous: Fiery garden visitor

A garden visitor recently. I think this is a fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus). These are pretty common around here, but I've never attempted to photograph one before. I got this nice, sharp shot with the camera in my iPhone. From the iPhone 6 (which I have) forward, the cameras are very good, but there are tricks that allow you to get shots like this one that people assume were made with much fancier equipment--although, if you think about it, these phones we are all so used to nowadays are actually extraordinarily capable devices. Pretty fancy, even.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Book I'm Reading: Umberto Eco's HIstory of Beauty, John Colville's The Fringes of Power

I've recently finished two very long books, History of Beauty (Rizzoli International Publications, 2004), edited by Umberto Eco, at 230 pages (there is a lot of very small print), and John Colville's The Fringes of Power (W. W. Norton, 1985), subtitled "10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955," at 725 pages of main text (with another 70 pages of biographical notes and a glossary).

Eco edited History of Beauty, which is a collection of short essays on ideas about beauty through history, each illustrated with numerous color plates and supplemented by excerpts from contemporary writing. He begins with a chapter headed "The Aesthetic Ideal in Ancient Greece" and ends with one called The Beauty of the Media" that looks at how film, TV, and advertising have influenced ideas about beauty. Some sections are thematic, some focus on movements in art. The reader is mostly left to draw his or her own conclusions about what beauty means from the broad survey of examples presented. Beautifully illustrated and a pleasure to look at, but at times the very small print and lack of any central thesis made a straight read-through a bit tedious. Having said that, the various sections of the book could be read in virtually any order. Worth the time, but perhaps best considered a reference book.

The Fringes of Power, too, is a bit disjointed, but, being mainly a diary, that's perhaps to be expected. It begins with the author finding himself "twenty-four years old, a Third Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of two years' standing" and thinking at the outbreak of WWII in 1939 that it might be best to resign from the foreign service before his job became what was called a "reserved occupation" from which it would become impossible to exit before the end of the war. He decides to stay on and notes in his preface "Unsure of what was going to happen, I decided to keep a diary." Not long after the start of hostilities, he is seconded to 10 Downing Street from the Foreign Office and for the entire duration of the war (and beyond) he acts as Winston Churchill's private secretary.

Colville describes himself, again in the preface, thus: "...the money saved by my parents' carefulness (which never verged on meanness) went on providing their three sons with the best and most expensive education available; and though they were far from being cadgers, they had enough devoted friends and relations to provide their children with pheasants to shoot, horses to ride, yachts in which to race and pleasant country houses in which to stay.

"Thus in 1936, when I came down from Trinity College, at the age of twenty-one, I had not been stinted of pleasures and had even, in the days when travel was still an adventure, been to the Soviet Union, steamed down the Danube in a barge, crossed Asia Minor in a third-class railway carriage, spent ten days as a guest in the monasteries of Mount Athos and learned to speak both French and German with fluency. I had also won two scholarships. However, I was well aware that I must soon earn my living with greater urgency than some of my university friends."

While Colville did not come from great wealth, perhaps, his family was comfortable and with numerous connections to people of the upper classes. While at times he sounds a trifle snobbish (particularly to an American) his is the perspective of a man with the kind of education and breeding that it might be nice to see in people in public service again, and some of the most interesting comments he makes are about the US generals and politicians he and Churchill work with when dealing with the United States, particularly later in the war. The Americans, if not laughed at, are generally regarded as sincere but poorly educated and naive.

There is much of interest here about Churchill the man—his quirky habits, in particular—and about the workings of Parliament. The deep respect for and expectation of fine oratory in the House of Commons obvious in the time and effort Churchill and the author put into speech writing will probably seem alien to those of us used to US politicians and, especially today, when we are led (if that's the right word) by a man who is obviously both of limited mental capacity and limited education. If Eisenhower seemed sincere but poorly informed to Colville, how would he have characterized a Mr. Trump?

Some of the diary will sound like gossip—Colville rarely misses an opportunity to comment on the beauty, charm, or intelligence (or the lack of any of these) of the women he meets or on the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the politicians he works with. There is quite a bit about behind-the-scenes maneuvering among the politicians of the day. The coverage is uneven, and there are some startling omissions. For example, while there is a great deal of comment on Churchill's efforts to push Roosevelt into providing Britain with more aid in the early stages of the war,  the attack on Pearl Harbor that finally precipitated US war participation is not even mentioned. The atomic bomb is barely noted. That said, a very interesting and entertaining read, not least because of the writer's excellent writing style, a product, no doubt, of that expensive education. Recommended.

Serendipitous Art: Ceiling Shadows (July 23, 2020)

Shafts of light reflecting off a car parked in the driveway and shining through blinds left this pattern on the ceiling. Unintended art.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Art I'm Making: Recent Collage

A recent collage. We’re already half way through 2020 and I’ve finished only three pieces so far this year that I’ve thought worth keeping. While volume of production isn’t and never has been much of a concern of mine, it does feel good to be working steadily and producing satisfying work at a regular pace.

This year has been a struggle on many fronts, creating art among them. The work I’ve done so far this year has been slow in coming and has not come with ease, but, I suppose the important thing is to keep at it. I’m a firm believer in the idea that good work comes from the process, that no amount of planning ahead, at least in my case, is ever of much value. I start with one idea and before long that idea has vanished and something quite different is in front of me and seemingly pulling the strings. I content myself by knowing that I always retain the power of final judgment, that it is I who decides whether what emerges is worth presenting to the world or not.

This is Untitled Collage No. 220 (Santa Rosa). April 10, 2020. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper (handwritten music, postage stamps, wine label), collage. Image size: 19.9 X 12.1cm (7.8 x 4.8 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website. https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Wines I'm Making: 2020 vines looking good so far

Grapes coming along nicely. Yesterday, I trimmed the backyard vineyard for the third time this season. The vigor of the vines is quite amazing. Keeping them trimmed back keeps everything exposed to light and air, which helps prevent mildew, although, since switching last year to dusting with sulfur in the spring instead of spraying with sulfur, I've had virtually no problems with mildew. The grapes look great at the moment. Before long, the little green globes will take on a blush of warmer color, which will mean the next vineyard task will be to put on the nets that protect them from critters--foxes, turkeys, deer, mice, raccoon--but especially raccoons, which can strip several vines of fruit in one night. 2020, the plague year, will be our 17th harvest. In those 17 years, I've learned how to protect the fruit. Sulfur, nets, and an electric fence.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Miscellaneous: New Garden Visitor

New garden visitor: I came across this butterfly in the garden this afternoon. I'm no expert, but it was a kind I've never seen before. I looked it up and I think this is a Funereal Dusky Wing (Erynnis funeralis), one of the group known as "skippers." According to the website I looked at, they are normally present from the San Joaquin Valley south to Argentina and Chile and they are described as an unusual stray in our area.

However, it could be a Mournful Dusky Wing (Erynnis tristis). The two types appear to be quite similar. As here in my part of northern California the Mournful Dusky Wing would be in its normal range, perhaps it's logical to assume this is a Mournful Dusky Wing. In any case, new to me.

[Not too long after posting this, I saw a Gulf Fritillary in the garden--which I don't think I'd ever seen before. A very pretty butterfly.]

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Beekeeping: New Bees Again (June 9, 2020)

Yesterday, friends notified me that their bees had swarmed and that the bees were hanging out in a very easily accessible location low on a fig tree. I was happy to pick them up. It was about the easiest swarm capture I've ever done. The bees dropped easily into my homemade swarm capture box and I drove them home on the car seat next to me. About five years ago I captured a swarm that subsequently left not too long after I installed them or they succumbed to the so-called "disappearing disease." I hope these new bees fare better. I still had the two deep hive boxes from the last swarm and today I added a super and a queen excluder to give them more room. I also decided to feed them a little to get them off to a good start. We'll see....

[Edit: Today is June 14, so the bees have been in the new hive for five days now. Today for the first time I noticed bees bringing in pollen, which is a good sign, as it means there is brood to feed or there will be soon. Until today, all the bees I saw coming back to the hive were bringing in nectar only. They need nectar to produce wax. As these were installed on bare foundation (no drawn comb) they will have had to build comb from scratch. It's amazing how quickly they work. They can build a significant amount of comb in a day, so I suspect things are progressing well. I won't open the hive to check on things, though, for a couple of weeks. You can tell everything you need to know usually just by watching the patterns of activity. And, as I say, pollen coming in is a good sign.]


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Rain: Real Rain in May (May 13, 2020)

How nice it is to get real rain this late in the season—and encouraging considering how far behind we are this rain year. It's been raining for the past couple of days. We've had about an inch so far, and it's coming down quite respectably at the moment, so I suspect we'll get at least another quarter of an inch. I'll update the total soon. Before this latest storm, we were at 15.55 inches, so we are now approaching 17 inches. Better, but still well short of the historical annual average, which is somewhere around 36 inches.

[Update: We ended up getting 1.3 inches of new precipitation. That brings our total as of May 15 to 16.85 inches.]

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 219 (Santa Rosa)

The last collage I made in 2019 was this one, Untitled Collage No. 219 (Santa Rosa), a small piece, as usual using monotyped papers of my own creation. October 16, 2019. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 11.2 x 11.2cm (4.4 x 4.4 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website. https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Wines I'm Making: 2020 First Sulfur Dusting (April 29)

The grapes this year are off to a good start. The shoots are about 18 inches long already. I've finished thinning the excess growth and on April 29 I did the first sulfur treatment, this year again using a duster and dry powder rather than a sprayer. I tried this last year for the first time. It's much, much easier. It's faster. It covers the leaves and stems with a more even layer and it seems to last longer. Last year, for the first time ever, we lost almost no grapes to mildew. I'm hoping for the same result again this year.

Wines I'm Drinking: 1992 Caparone Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

I've read that telling people about wines you've enjoyed is virtually always boring to them because you're describing an experience they can't participate in, so, I'll keep it short, but recently I opened a bottle of 1992 Caparone Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that I bought at the winery in the early 2000s. The cork crumbled away when I tried to insert the corkscrew. I had to push most of it into the bottle and then decant the wine through a sieve. I would have decanted it anyway, as there was an unusually thick layer of sludge in the bottom of the bottle.

Despite being 28 years old it was still vibrant, with scents of blood orange, brandy, and something that put me in mind of a fresh cigar--even a hint of wintergreen. It was richly fruity on the palate, with hints of cloves and herbs. It was almost like vermouth. I take the trouble to mention this wine because it was tasty, but also because it was a good example of a wine that really benefited from bottle age. Far too much good wine is drunk far too early.

Shortly after this, I opened a bottle of 1983 Château D'Issan that was even better—and another nine years older. I was too lazy to write down any impressions, but it was delicious. Having been in lockdown now for six weeks, we're beginning to make a dent in all the wine that's in the house. Haven't bought a new bottle for quite a long time. Among those we've been drinking down have been our own wines. The 2015 Clos du Tal Stone's Throw Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc (to give it its full name) from our backyard was especially good—really top notch. Last night I opened a bottle of our 2009. It was not as nuanced and had a distinctly milky quality, which suggests I got the malolactic fermentation to go well in 2009. The grapes were, of course, much younger (the vines were planted in 2001; we made our first wine in 2004). Nevertheless, the 2009 is quite pleasant.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Wines I'm Making: Shoot Thinning Finished (spring 2020)

Yesterday evening I finally finished thinning the grapevine shoots. Both the Cabernet and the Sangiovese started growing aggressively when, finally, a few days ago the weather began to warm. It has been a long, cool spring this year. The next task in the vineyard will be to dust the shoots with sulfur to prevent mildew. Will try to get to that soon.

Books I'm Reading: Brilliant Blunders

I belatedly note here that I recently finished Mario Livio's Brilliant Blunders (Simon and Schuster, 2013), a look at instances of error in the thinking of some of history's most brilliant scientists.

Livio looks at a logical gap in Darwin's theory on the evolution of species, which at the time of its publication, lacked a mechanism for natural selection; Darwin was ignorant of Mendel's research on inheritance which showed that traits are passed on to offspring in a way that allows natural selection to work. Darwin was right in spite of this failing.

The author looks at Lord Kelvin's mistakes in calculating the probable age of the Earth. He looks at the eggregious error Linus Pauling made in suggesting a structure for the DNA molecule, a particular interesting case as the error was so glaring. The book presents the curious case of Fred Hoyle who stubbornly attempted to refute the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, and finally examines Einstein's introduction to his equations of the so-called cosmological constant, which he later regretted, although recent research seems to be pointing in the direction of Einstein having been correct. An interesting look at the psychology of scientific thought and, in the current environment, five useful lessons in the importance of dispassionately examining facts with an open mind and a willingness to abandon conviction in the face of contradictory evidence.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Serendipitous Art: Scratched Blue (April 16, 2020)

The scratched bottom of a blue plastic cooler looked like art to me. Serendipitous art.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 218 (Santa Rosa)

Catching up on posting art I'm making. I've been in a lull for several months--partly because of a new job, partly because I simply needed a break, and then the virus hit. This is one from the latter part of 2019.

Untitled Collage No. 218 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. October 12, 2019. Image size 12.4 x 12.0cm (4.9 x 4.7 inches). Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse. Small and simple, but this has become a favorite.

For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website. https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Food I'm Eating: Fast, Easy, Adaptable Six-ingredient Pasta

If you're tired of your own cooking and looking for something super easy to make for lunch or dinner, here's a recipe I like because it's tasty, easy, and fast--you can prepare it in the time it takes the pasta to boil. Only six ingredients are required, but you can make additions and substitutions.

Ingredients: 

1. Black olives (fresh, pitted--not those horrid little black tires they put on pizza at the big pizza chains)
2. Capers 
3. Anchovies (the kind in the jar, not a can (although those work in a pinch): I like the Agostina Recca brand)
4. Fresh garlic 
5. Chili flakes (I like chipotle flakes) 
6. Fresh parmesan cheese (shaved, not the powdered Kraft stuff) 
7. (Optional): Baby spinach, snow peas, other greens

Directions: 


Boil water for pasta. While waiting for the water, chop the olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic finely but not too finely. Set aside.


When water is boiling, add the pasta. If you normally salt your pasta water, in this case don't: the olives, capers, cheese, and anchovies provide plenty of saltiness.


In a large skillet, heat a little olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the olives, anchovies, capers, and chili flakes. Stir. Reserve the garlic and parmesan cheese. Turn down the heat.


About four minutes before the pasta will be ready, make a space in the skillet for the garlic, turn up the heat again (medium-high) and add the garlic and more butter so that the garlic sautés in the butter. Make sure the garlic doesn't burn. Turn down heat if necessary after the garlic takes a little color, which should be just before the pasta is ready. If you add greens, put these in along with the garlic so that they're just cooked as the pasta finishes.


When pasta is ready, drain and add to the pan with the other ingredients. Turn off the heat and mix well. Last, add the Parmesan cheese. The residual heat will melt it. Serve immediately!


I like to make this with baby spinach, which adds some nice color. If you're a vegetarian, you can omit the anchovies. If you don't like spicy foods, omit the chili flakes. If you like things spicier, this works well with fresh minced jalapeño or Fresno peppers (or hotter varieties, if you like). The photo here shows it with snow pea pods instead of spinach. Dinner last night. :)


Rain: New Rain is Welcome

In the past couple of days, we've had 1.00 inches of new precipitation, which is welcome, particularly this late the season, but that still leaves us only at 15.35 inches for the 2019-2020 rain year, only about half normal rainfall. A bad fire season on top of the coronavirus will be just what we need....

[Update: More rain on April 6 added 0.20 inches to our total, which now stands at 15.55 inches for the 2019-2020 rain year, still woefully low, but every little bit helps.]

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Books I'm Reading: The Lives of the Great Composers

I've been reading Schonberg's The Lives of the Great Composers (Third Edition, Norton 1995). Very interesting for its perspectives on the most important composers and their music. I like that it's forced me to read about genres and styles I may not know well or listen to much.  The Magic Flute is the only opera I really love, but I've been reading a great deal about opera, to take just one example. I didn't know that Wagner was the arrogant, completely self-absorbed narcissist he seems to have been, or that Richard Strauss was henpecked.

The book has opened my eyes to some composers I now think may deserve more of my time and confirmed my opinions about others (not that Schonberg is the last word, but he seems to know what he's talking about). I was up to Les Six and the modern French composers when I started writing these notes, I've since finished the book. There have been some surprises. I had no idea, for example, that Berlioz was such an interesting character. He seems to have been a bit crazy but a superb writer about music and about other composers and their work.

The author has much to say about the differences between Mahler and Bruckner that are quite amusing, pointing out that the latter was a deeply spiritual man and suggesting you have to be equally spiritual to really get Bruckner. The author has a great deal of sympathy for those who find Bruckner boring while acknowledging that he can be worth the time. He calls Mahler a whiner and a peevish child, essentially, who reveled in his agony and couldn't stop asking BIG questions about life. He suggests that Mahler and Bruckner wondered about the same sorts of things, the main difference being that Bruckner was sure of the answers to his questions while Mahler never found an answer that satisfied him.

The author has a very high opinion of Debussy as a modernist (calling Mahler the end of Romanticism rather than a forward-looking revolutionary and Debussy the real revolutionary at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th) and has a surprisingly low opinion of Sibelius. Perhaps Sibelius was at a low point in general esteem in 1995, I thought, but I've since found that the first edition of this book, published in 1970, said the same thing. Schonberg also doesn't think that much of Richard Strauss, or at least argues that Strauss peaked very early and that his later works are rather dull, something I tend to agree with, although, because my father was a fan I have a big collection of Richard Strauss discs that I keep trying to like more than I actually do.

Not being a pianist or that familiar with the technical aspects of piano playing, there's much in this book about performance style that has made we want to pull out all kinds of records and CDs and listen for the things he mentions. For example, he talks about Chopin being among the first to write music for keyboard that requires use of the pedals in a way that was entirely new (and suggests along the way that many modern pianists completely miss the point of much of the music of Chopin) and he talks about Debussy's piano music being music that has to be played as if the piano is not a percussion instrument at all--as if the fingers are working directly on the strings.

It's also interesting to read that very well known composers have been contemptuous of the music of other very well known composers almost throughout the history of modern music, which suggests we should perhaps all be confident in dismissing those composers we don't care for! :) Anyway, Very interesting.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Rain: Rain, Thunder, Lightning, and Hail

Rain on and off since last reporting, but mainly a good downpour today (March 22) with thunder and lightning and hail, even, has added 1.80 inches of precipitation to our total. That puts us at so far at 14.35 inches for the year--less than half of normal cumulative precipitation for this time of year, (about 30.9 inches for March 22). There is rain in the forecast again this coming week. The more the merrier. However, with coronavirus spreading and a wealth of fools apparently not taking things seriously in this country, a dry winter is not the first worry on my mind at the moment.  

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Books I'm Reading: The Man Who Stopped Time

I had known that Eadweard Muybridge emigrated to the US from England and settled in California, that he had had a studio on Montgomery St. in San Francisco, that he started making his famous sequences of animals and people in motion in association with Leyland Standford, and that Muybridge had murdered a man. However, I knew very few details. Brian Clegg's The Man Who Stopped Time (Joseph Henry Press, 2007), subtitled The Illuminating Story of Eadweard Muybridge–Pioneer Photographer, Father of the Motion Picture, Murderer, fills in a lot of those details and adds much else I was unaware of.

The first part of the book focuses on the murder and the trial that followed. Muybridge shot and killed his wife's lover. He made no attempt to escape afterwards or deny that he had done it. He was ultimately acquitted, the jury persuaded by his lawyer who appealed more to moral law than actual law, arguing that what Muybridge had done was understandable. Muybridge appears to have deeply loved his wife and to have been heartbroken.

In detailing Muybridge's work for Stanford at Palo Alto, on mostly empty land that would later become the Stanford University campus, we get the story of how a track was laid out with banks of cameras that used electrically activated shutters to stop motion, and a look at Muybridge the entrepreneur later tourning the country with his photographs and a complex mechanism, the zoöpraxiscope for projecting a series of them in quick succession to create what were the first moving pictures, even if what we today think of as movies relied on a strip of celluloid for projecting images in series. Author Clegg makes a strong case for Muybridge as the father of the motion picture, pointing out that his work pre-dates Edison's and that Muybridge essentially was operating the first commercial motion picture theater at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, even if his "movies" were very short by today's standards. He suggests that Edison's talent for self-promotion has played a large role in creating the impression that Edison made the first moving pictures. There is much, too, about Muybridge's later work at the University of Pennsylvania doing more extensive motion photography with improved techniques; and the bulk of the photos we know today of animals and people in motion were made in Pennsylvania, not in California for Stanford.

Unexpectedly, The Man Who Stopped Time almost incidentally provides one of the best overviews of the history of the development of still photography I've ever read in the course of explaining Muybridge's work. The book was worth reading just for that. But, as I say, this book has many merits: It touches on Muybridge's roots in England, his work as a still photographer and as a photographer of motion, the above-mentioned history of still photography technology, on Muybridge's trial for murder and the incident itself, on the stage coach accident that nearly killed Muybridge, and on Muybridge's falling out with Stanford, his financial troubles, and how Muybridge's reputation became unfairly sullied by confusion about his central role in the creation of the motion photographs and the tools and techniques used to make them, mostly reflecting jealousy and misinformation. Recommended.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Rain: Too Little Too Late?

Overnight this past Friday (March 7), we got a little bit of rain that lasted into the morning on Saturday. A deluge would have been nice, but we got only an additional 0.50 inches. That brings our total for the 2019-2020 rain year to 12.55 inches, which is better than nothing, but leaves us well below normal.  Half an inch won't go a very long way toward making up the deficit before the seasonal chances of rain evaporate completely, which could be any time now.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Music I'm Listening To: Leila Josefowicz and Esa-Pekka Salonen with the San Francisco Symphony

Last night (February 28) I attended the San Francisco Symphony concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. On the program were a Beethoven overture (King Stephen), Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto, and, after intermission, Nielsen's Symphony No. 5. Salonen conducted. Leila Josefowicz was the soloist in the violin concerto.

I first heard Josefowicz at a concert in 2011, likewise at Davies Symphony Hall, likewise with Salonen conducting his own violin concerto. It was impressive then. It was even more impressive last night, with all my impressions of the first performance magnified. Everything I said about the piece then, going on nine years ago, remains true, but Josefowicz seemed even more deeply engaged with the piece, her longer experience with it now evident. In 2011, the work was only two years old. In 2011, I said the following (and virtually all of it still applies--but, as I say, somehow magnified):

"It would be difficult to try to describe something so complex as Salonen's Violin Concerto in detail, but I can start by saying how impressed I was that Josefowicz played it from memory. The more abstract music becomes and the less dependent on devices such as themes and variations and development of themes, the more difficult it must be to remember. They say muscle memory takes over, but the feat of recall involved here was nearly as impressive as Josefowicz's playing, which was impressive indeed.

"The Violin Concerto opens with the soloist unaccompanied and it starts as if already in progress. The intensity is high from the get-go and the music feels relentless until the more pensive middle sections. Josefowicz played the early portions with a look of fierce determination on her face, at times seeming possessed, at other times looking somewhat more relaxed--even smiling--but there was a palpable tension even in the quietest passages. Particularly interesting was the use of a very rich percussion session that included numerous gongs and much else that was hard to see seated in the concert hall. 


"The music seemed highly originalmodern without being modern in the sense of being stylistically linked to what we think of as modern music when the word "modern" brings the early 20th century to mind. Surely this music has antecedents. Some sections reminded me of Khatchaturian's violin concerto. Some sections had the portentous feel of a dramatic film score. Some sections put me in mind of Shostakovich. In the later movements, there are passages that introduce the feel of pop music. Yet, the overall impression was of music new and different.When I hear stories about Mahler conducting early performances of his own symphonies or of Beethoven premiering a new piano concerto, I wish I could have been present. What's more exciting than the thought of being in the presence of genius as it presents new ideas to the world? I had the feeling that I witnessed a bit of history on Thursday--that I was present at the sort of performance that will be talked about in the future by people looking back, wishing they'd been able to see Salonen himself at the podium conducting his own compositions. The music seemed like a cantilevered beam reaching into the future, even if it's too soon to know exactly what might lie beyond the reach of that beam--what it might be creating a bridge to. This was one of the best concerts I've attended in a long time."

Muscular is the right word. Her arms look powerful and Josefowicz projects strength; she is an athletic performer. As before, I was astounded by the prodigious feat of memory playing a piece like Salonen's Violin Concerto involves. I was astounded by the speed, precision, and sheer energy of Josefowicz's playing. It was an exciting performance. At one point, Salonen got so carried away that his baton flew out of his hand and landed in front of the first row of seats. At the first break between movements, an audience member handed it back to him; he received it with a nod of gratitude and a slightly sheepish smile. The audience had a laugh.

It was a privilege to have heard the concerto a second time played by the man who wrote it and by the woman he wrote it for (and wrote it with; Josefowicz, like Joachim working with Brahms on that composer's only violin concerto, apparently provided a lot of input). After the concerto, she played an encore piece, also by Salonen, but she failed to identify it and none of the ushers knew exactly what it was.

The Beethoven overture is one I'd never heard before, or at least I don't remember hearing it. It was much as you might expect from Beethoven, along the lines of his other overtures. It was interesting for a pronounced back and forth between light dance-like sections and some dark and stormy passages with much sawing of the cellos and the double basses. The energy so notable in the concerto was there from the start of the concert. Salonen looked involved, in charge, happy to be on the podium, and the musicians seemed equally happy to be working with him. I'm so glad he'll be replacing MTT.

Speaking of energy, the Nielsen symphony is a somewhat sprawling, complex piece of music with some very energetic sections indeed. It's not a piece I know well and I felt there were extended sections that were rather amorphous and congested, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I think I have at least one recording of it somewhere. I'll have to give it another listen.

Looking back at my concert notes here, I see that this was the fourth time I've seen Josefowicz in concert—on: December 8, 2011 (playing the Salonen concerto with Salonen conducting); on October 4, 2013 (Stravinsky's violin concerto with Pablo Heras-Casado conducting), on February 24, 2017 (Scheherazade.2, by Adams); and then last night' all in San Francisco.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Spring Flowers (2020)

I've been rather lazy this year about recording the first blooms of plants in the garden this year. I missed the date of the miniature cyclamen that is always the first flower of the new year and likewise the date of the first blooms on the white plum tree in the side yard. I have recorded a few, though. The yellow daffodils in the front of the house first bloomed this year on February 20. The pluot "Dapple Dandy" bloomed on April 15. The pluot called "Flavor King" first bloomed on February 18 and the dwarf peach behind the house had its first flowers on February 21. The two-toned daffodils at the front of the house bloomed on February 29, more than a week later than the yellow ones, which is normal. The magnolia-like Michelia yunnanensis bloomed on February 29 as well.


Music I'm Listening To: Recent Concerts (January-February 2020)

I recently (January 24) heard Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan perform the Sibelius Violin Concerto on a program that included Con brio, by Jörg Widmann, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. On the podium was guest conductor Dima Slobodeniouk at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The Widmann piece was unfamiliar, as were the conductor and the soloist in the concerto. At this remove, nearly a month ago now (I've been busy), I find it hard to remember the Widmann piece, so I'll not comment, but Khachatryan's performance of the Sibelius was memorable. It was memorable not for any idiosyncratic approach but for the sense of sincerity and deep engagement Khachatryan projected. Watching him and listening, I couldn't help feeling he was lost in the piece—in a good way.  I don't mean to suggest it was an overly romanticized interpretation, only that he seemed profoundly connected to the music. As an encore, Khachatryan played an Armenian folk tune.

I thought that I had never heard of him, but, on looking through my CD collection after returning home, I see that I own one recording him, recordings of the Shostakovich violin concertos with Kurt Masur conducting the Orchestre National de France (Naive V 5025). So, clearly I had heard of him, but didn't remember him.

On February 8, pianist Natasha Paremski joined the Santa Rosa Symphony for a performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. That was preceded by Beethoven's Leonore Overture III and the world premiere of Matt Browne's first symphony, The Course of Empire, a piece commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony and the first in a series of concerts that will premiere commissioned first symphonies by a number of young composers in the next couple of years. As I do the backstage photography for the Santa Rosa Symphony, I don't always get to hear the music in a way that allows me to really concentrate on what I'm hearing; I'm moving around looking for opportunities to take interesting photographs, but I enjoyed Paremski's performance and heard enough of Matt Browne's piece to think that I'd like to hear it again, to give it its due. My impression of it is a bit fragmentary.






Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Foods I'm Eating: 2019-2020 Season Homemade Olives

Just about 100 days ago (November 10, 2019) I started a batch of olives curing. Yesterday I was finally able to bottle them. These took much longer than any I've made in the past, but, by going through my own posts here about olive-making, I see that I started these much earlier than any I've done in the past. Presumably, the riper the fruit, the faster they cure. In the past, it's taken six to eight weeks for the olives to finish curing, but using olives harvested as late as mid-February—that is, harvested right about now.

Anyway, after more than three months, we have fresh homemade olives again. As in the past, I've done them up with rosemary, a bay leaf, a quarter lemon, and garlic. I like to put them in a shallow dish to soak a little in olive oil with more garlic, lemon, and rosemary before eating them, too. Delicious.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Books I'm reading: Strapless

While the focus of Deborah Davis's Strapless (Tarcher/Penguin, 2003) is on the contemporary popular and critical reaction to Sargent's famous painting today known as Portrait of Madame X, there is much here about Sargent the man, his career just before and after the scandal the painting caused, and about the woman who posed for the portrait, one Virginie Amélie Avegno, from New Orleans of Creole descent—later, as a married woman in Paris, Madame Pierre Gautreau—still later, better known as Madame X.

At this remove, it's hard to understand why the fallen strap in Sargent's painting caused such an uproar (oddly, the cover image of the book removes the strap entirely; in the painting, the strap was shown fallen or, later, on the shoulder, having been repainted there by Sargent). As the author points out, at the Salon of 1884, where the painting first appeared publicly, there would have been many nudes on display that ought to have been more controversial, yet these were virtually always in allegorical pieces or the nude figures were sanitized cherubs, nymphs, or other mythical beings. The suggestive strap fallen from the shoulder of Madame X appears to have caused a sensation because it had fallen from the shoulder of an actual person well known in Parisian high society for her unconventional beauty and lifestyle. Given her notoriety, Sargent had calculated that a stunning portrait of Madame Gautreau would attract portrait commissions, but the reception of the painting instead resulted in a temporary setback for Sargent and embarrassment for the sitter who, along with the painting, was mercilessly ridiculed in the press. The finished painting was refused by the sitter's husband and hung in Sargent's studio for decades before he eventually sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it resides today.

Sargent called it perhaps the best thing he had ever done when he sold it. I'm not sure about that: Sargent did a lot of fine work, but, needless to say, it's very good indeed. In particular, the line of the arm resting on the table is perfect, it seems to me, its "profile" as arresting as the profile of Madame X herself. Recommended.



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Rain: 1.8 Inches in the Past Few Days

Since last reporting, and as of the afternoon of January 22, 2020, we have had an additional 1.80 inches of rain this rain year at my location in Northeast Santa Rosa. That brings our total to 11.65 inches so far for the year. Normal for January 22 in Santa Rosa is a little over 19 inches, so we are quite a bit behind the usual rainfall level so far this year.

[Update: Subsequently have had another 0.6 inches of rain, bring the total to 12.05 inches a of the middle of February, but that leaves us well below normal and there is no rain in the forecast for the next ten days. Looks like another droughty, fire-prone year ahead.]

Friday, January 17, 2020

Places I'm Visiting: Lake Tahoe

Went skiing last weekend for the first time in years. Comes back right away--like riding a bike, as they say. Good to get a physical workout, and the scenery is beautiful at Lake Tahoe. This is my favorite photo from the short trip. I'm thinking it might make a good negative for a cyanotype print, which would look something like the digital facsimile below.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Books I'm Reeading 21st Century Violinists and The Young T. E. Lawrence

Having recently read Violin Virtuosos a volume that followed 21st-Century Violinists (String Letter publishing, 1999), I received this book, the earlier of the two, as a thoughtful Christmas present. Like the later book, this one is a collection of interviews with prominent violinists that originally appeared in Strings Magazine. There also appears to be a 21st-Century Violinists Volume 2--which I haven't seen or read--presumably in the same format, a collection of interviews from the magazine (although I can't find this in a search; perhaps the book mentioned on the back of the first volume became Violin Virtuosos, the book I read first?).

This volume includes talks with Corey Cerovsek, Sarah Chang, Pamela Frank, Nigel Kennedy, Midori, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Elmar Oliveira, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Gil Shaham, Isaac Stern, and Maxim Vengerov. As before, some of these names are very familiar--Stern, Chang, Kennedy, Mutter, Midori, Salerno-Sonnenberg, Shaham, and Vengerov--all of which I've heard live except for Stern, Kennedy, and Vengerov. Cerovsek, Frank, and Oliveira were entirely new to me. I see that all three were in the news when this book was published and they were actively recording at the time, but they seem to have faded away.

Oliveira has recorded some obscure works that look interesting (I just ordered a used copy of his recording of Finnish Composer Einojuhani Rautavaara's Violin Concerto). Pamela Frank seems to have done a lot of chamber music with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and Edgar Meyer, so I imagine she's good, but she's not been on my radar at all. Corey Cerovsek doesn't seem to be very active at the moment, judging from a search of recordings. Part of the fun of these books is reading the views of known performers when they were much younger, talking about performing and recording, but just as much fun is being introduced to new performers to explore. These books will be of interest to any serious classical music lover with a particular interest in the violin.

On this last day of the year, I see that I read 14 books in 2019. I finished 13 in 2018 and pledged to read more this year. So, I achieved that goal, barely. That said, I feel like I did quite well, considering that, having taken a full-time job on July 1 for the first time in 19 years, I had considerably less free time in 2019 than in 2018. Still, I'd like to do more reading in 2020 if I can manage it.

After writing the above, I realized that I missed one--so, I actually finished 15 books in 2019: I also read Anthony Sattin's The Young T. E. Lawrence (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), and I read it mostly in one sitting. 

The title is a trifle misleading. The book doesn't really deal with the young T. E. Lawrence. You might say it deals with the younger-than-we-usually-hear-about T. E. Lawrence. The book starts with a scene in 1914, when Lawrence was already 26, before jumping back to 1909 (when he was 21) and then briefly to the 1903-1908 period (15-20), but most of the book concerns the years from 1909 to 1914. That said, in very readable prose, Sattin paints a vivid picture of a younger Lawrence already exhibiting many of the character traits that led him to pursuits that prepared him for his later role in the Arab Revolt--traits that also brought him to the attention of people who facilitated early travels and archeological digs that likewise prepared him for his later, better known activities in the Middle East. The man Lowell Thomas sensationalized as Lawrence of Arabia is already clearly present here. A very enjoyable read. Highly recommended. 

Music I'm Listening To: The Santa Rosa Symphony plays the Mozart Requiem

Some (belatedly posted) photos from the SRS Symphony concert December 11. Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong led the orchestra in Haydn's Symphony No. 39, Records from a Vanishing City, by Jessie Montgomery, and Mozart's Requiem. The maestro conducted from the keyboard, playing a replica of a period-correct pianoforte.

Lecce-Chong chose a more recent version of the Requiem, edited by Robert D. Levin, rather than the familiar one completed shortly after Mozart's death y Süssmeyer. In particular, the replacement of the simple two-chord Amen with a short fugue was interesting.

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