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.

Rain: Another 1.4 Inches

Since last reporting, we've had rain on and off, but mostly on December 29. As of the morning of December 31, we've had 1.40 inches of new precipitation. That brings our total to 9.85 inches so far for the 2019-2020 rain year, which will go through the end of September 2020. That puts us about three inches behind normal rainfall for the end of the calendar year.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Books I'm Reading: The Jazz of Physics

Yet another book about physics that I read with interest but found hard to process. Stephen Alexander's The Jazz of Physics (Basic Books, 2016) is well written and engaging, but I never got the feeling that I was reading a focused argument aimed at supporting the thesis suggested by the subtitle (The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe). The book seemed more diffuse than that.

The Jazz of Physics claims to shed light on difficult issues in physics by taking a serious look at the idea that music (broadly defined—in fact, here thought of as vibration) is at the core of the structure of the universe. One of those books that I immediately want to read over again from cover to cover in an effort to really understand, but I suspect I'll never get back to this one as there are so many other books to read.

These paragraphs are intended more as a record of my having read The Jazz of Physics than as something that might properly be called a review. Having said that, anyone with an interest in physics and music would probably enjoy reading this book.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Rain: More and More on the Way (December 12, 2019)

Since last reporting, it's been raining on and off for several days and the forecast is mostly for rain in the next ten days or so, with a short break this coming weekend. As of the morning of December 12, there was another 3.30 inches in the rain gauge. That brings our total at my location so far this rain year to 7.20 inches, which is somewhat below normal, but we've caught up a great deal.

[Update: Rain on and off  since writing the above has added another 1.25 inches to our total (as of noon on December 24). That brings us to 8.45 inches.]

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Leif Ove Andsnes Plays Mozart with the San Francisco Symphony

Conductor and soloist after the Mozart
I attended the November 22 San Francisco Symphony concert at Davies Symphony Hall, which featured guest conductor Manfred Honeck and soloist Leif Ove Andsnes playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, and, after intermission, Bruckner's Symphony No. 4.

Mozart's piano sonatas, particularly the later ones, are fairly familiar to me, but No. 22 is one I don't know well at all. Looking through my LPs and CDs, I see that I don't own a single recording of it, so, it was interesting to gain a little familiarity. What stood out to me were the several sections of "group solos," to use an oxymoron—in particular, sections played mostly by the woodwinds. The program notes point out that this was the first of the Mozart piano sonatas scored to include clarinets, and, listening to the piece, you get the feeling the composer was having fun seeing what the clarinet might do in a piano concerto. The San Francisco woodwind section is always very strong and they stood out again here. In another section, only the principal cello, principal viola, the concertmaster, and the principal second violin seemed to be accompanying the piano, as if a mini piano quintet had been inserted into the middle of things. As an encore, Andsnes played what he described as some "Norwegian country dances," I think it was, without revealing anything more (probably Grieg). Not my kind of thing, but pleasant enough.

Honeck's reading of the Bruckner seemed a little uneven to me, with the first movement somehow lacking coherence, but everything came together after that. This performance was marked particularly by an unusual emphasis on the dynamics. The loudest parts were very loud indeed, the softest parts very, very soft. Again, very enjoyable ,and the horns deserve high praise, but the best performance I've ever heard of this remains the only other I've ever heard live—same place, same orchestra, but led by Herbert Blomstedt in a concert of April 11, 2014.

At I'm Making: Recent Collages (September-November 2019)

I've been lazy recently about posting new collage work, but, at the same time, with a new job, I've had less free time, too. I've been working at a slower pace. Here are two fairly recent pieces:

Untitled Collage No. 216 (Santa Rosa). September 5, 2019. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, fragment of bark cloth, collage. Image size: 20.0 x 11.3cm (7.9 x 4.4 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Untitled Collage No. 217 (Santa Rosa). September 24, 2019. Image size: 15.0 x 13.5cm (5.9 x 5.3 inches). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Music I'm Listening To: New (Old) Classical LPs

Having recently upgraded my sound system, I'm having SO much fun combing the used record and thrift stores for interesting LPs. It's a great time to be a classical music fan and interested in LPs. You can find some astounding things for a dollar or two. Here are some recent acquisitions--median price $2.

I love the size and impact of the LP cover--so much more room than a CD booklet for showcasing the talents of graphic designers. I know the trend in high-end audio now is FLAC and other digital formats, but from a visual perspective, that's no fun at all. I enjoy the cover art almost as much as the music.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Serendipitous Art: Green on green (November 27, 2019)

This abstract composition in shades of green, found on the side of some sort of electrical access box, looked like art to me. Serendipitous art.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Rain: Finally some rain

We had our first rain of the 2019-2020 rain year today--the first real rain since back in April. The rain year runs from October to end-September, so the brief shower we had in September counts as part of last year's precipitation and it wasn't much to speak of anyway; I didn't even record it.

I had to be in all day today, so I haven't yet been able to look at the rain gauge to see how much rain we got, but I'm guessing the brief but intense shower with high winds we had at about 4:00PM probably brought us no more than a quarter inch. Still, it's a start, and there is more rain in the forecast next week.

[Update: I checked the rain gauge and was surprised to find a full 1.50 inches in it. We had rather more rain than I thought! It must have rained while I was sleeping.]

[Update: By Tuesday morning (December 3) we had had 3.90 inches of rain and it's still raining on and off....]

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Alexander Barantschik with Ton Koopman and the San Francisco Symphony

Conductor Ton Koopman and soloist Alexander Barantschik
Had a fun time recently at Davies Symphony Hall hearing SF Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik play Bach's Violin Concerto No. 1. Also on the program were Chaos, by Jean-Féry Rebel, and Haydn's Symphony No. 100 "The Military". Guest conductor Ton Koopman led the musicians with his usual always-smiling demeanor. 
The Haydn symphony gets its nickname from a trumpet fanfare it includes and from a couple of entries by bass drum, cymbals, and triangle in imitation of Turkish Janissary bands, reflecting an influential fad in Vienna in the 1780s. On both entrances the percussionists marched in from somewhere offstage as if in a military parade, much to the surprise and delight of the audience. After the concert, on the way to an after-concert dinner, I found myself meeting Mr. Koopman himself on a street corner—like me, waiting for the lights to change. I imagine he was walking back to his hotel or a meal of his own. I told him how much I enjoyed the concert and said "Is that the normal way of doing that?" referring to the entry of the percussion section. He said "That's MY way of doing it!" with a big smile. 
Rebel (1666-1747) is a composer I'd never heard of. Chaos was rather interesting and remarkably modern sounding, considering it was written in 1737 or 1738. The piece starts out, quite appropriately, with a chaotic "chord" that the composer describes by saying "I have risked opening with all the notes sounding together, or rather, all the notes in an octave played as a single sound" to quote the quote in the program notes. That's the sort of thing I'd expect a 20th century composer to do....
I enjoyed the Bach violin concerto as well. This was the second time I'd heard Barantschik as a soloist, having heard him play the less-well known of the two Mendelssohn violin concertos a couple of years back at Green Music Center when the SF Symphony was doing concerts here in Sonoma County. All in all, a pleasant diversion.

Food I'm Eating: Brining Olives (November 2019)

Olives! For the first time in several years I've been able to get my hands on some healthy, ripe olives for brining. It's a pretty easy process, although a bit tedious at the outset because you have to break the skin of each and every berry. That means scoring each olive with a knife blade before soaking them in brine. I use 1/4 cup of kosher salt to a quart of water and change the brine every two to three days. It takes about six weeks for the bitterness of the just-picked olives to disappear. Towards the end, I add vinegar, garlic, and rosemary to the brine to finish them off. These should be ready for Christmas. I started them on November 10.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Music I'm Listening to: Jacob Nissly and The San Francisco Symphony

After the concert: The composer, conductor, and soloist
I attended the October 18 performance of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. I had intended to write about it sooner, but, with the fire scare and blackouts that began on October 23, I've been unable to until today. Guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru led the orchestra in a world premiere performance of Losing Earth, a percussion concerto commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony from composer Adam Schoenberg.  After intermission, the orchestra played Lili Boulanger's D'un Matin de Printemps, of 1918, a San Francisco Symphony first performance. That was followed by Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (orchestrated by Ravel). The Symphony's own Jacob Nissly was soloist in Losing Earth.

Two pieces entirely unfamiliar, one quite the opposite. It always astounds me that soloists can, without a score, remember their part when playing a concerto on one instrument, much less on an array of percussion instruments. Nissly must have played more than a dozen instruments, mostly on the stage, but he entered with his instruments strapped to his body, as if playing in a marching band. As always, it's hard to say much about an unfamiliar piece with any precision. It takes multiple hearings to really get to know a piece of music, but I enjoyed the varied textures of the Schoenberg piece, some of which were quite striking, notably the sound of the rotating cymbals that rather dramatically ended the piece. Likewise the short, impressionist tone poem by Boulanger, whose story I had never heard before.

Pictures at an Exhibition, is, of course, very familiar, but I had never heard it live before. It's one of those pieces of music that is as much fun to watch as it to listen to, as all sections of the orchestra have a lot to do throughout and have moments where they are featured as well. As always, the San Francisco Symphony woodwinds were strong but Mark Inoue and the trumpets were particularly brilliant, I thought. Coincidentally, the Santa Rosa Symphony concert I will attend tonight, while it features a banjo concerto, also includes Ravel's orchestrated version of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Books I'm Reading: The Battle of Britain: Dowding and the First Victory, 1940

John Ray's The Battle of Britain: Dowding and the First Victory, 1940 (1994) is not about the Battle of Britain per se but about its leading figure, Hugh Dowding, Commander in Chief of Fighter Command, and issues of command and leadership in the RAF during the battle.

Although he had essentially won the battle by the end of September 1940, thwarting Hitler's plans to bring Britain to the negotiating table by achieving air superiority over Britain and then threatening an invasion, Dowding was dismissed from his position by November 1940 for failing to respond to changing circumstances. While Ray takes a mostly chronological approach, details of the actual fighting become mostly peripheral with the author instead focusing on how members of the RAF command structure, including the Air Ministry and Churchill's War Cabinet, interacted. Much of the interpersonal drama and the differences of opinion about strategy and tactics appear to have had their roots in the experiences of the lead actors during the previous world war, many of whom had been WWI fighter pilots.

The discussion revolves around disagreements about how best to counter German bomber raids over London, other major cities, and the air bases that hosted the Hurricanes and Spitfires that were, in fact, mostly successful in breaking up German daylight attacks. Dowding was perceived as a stubborn supporter of using no more than one or two squadrons together in a group, while others pushed for use of much larger groupings, or "big wings" of fighters. This controversy was news to me, but, apparently it has been much discussed by historians of the battle over the years, and this book assumes the reader already knows at least the outlines of the background history. The author appears to present new evidence objectively to argue that Dowding was not treated as badly as some sources have argued and that ultimately he was pushed out not so much because of the Big Wing controversy as because Churchill—at first a staunch supporter of Dowding—was eventually persuaded that new ideas were required at Fighter Command, especially new ideas for countering the night bombing the Germans had turned to, causing many civilian casualties. An interesting read, although it might be disappointing to a reader expecting the book to be an account of the battle itself. I read this book, sometimes by candlelight, during the blackouts associated with the wildfires here in Sonoma County in late October 2019.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Wines I'm Making: 2019 Cabernet pressed, 2018 Sangiovese and Cabernet bottled

On October 21, I took advantage of an unexpected day off to press the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, ending up with 11.5 gallons of pressed wine, which will eventually translate into about 55 bottles of finished wine. This year's Sangiovese had already been pressed for rosé (five gallons, or 25 bottles).

I also finally got the 2018 Sangiovese and Cabernet bottled.
2018 was unusual in that I made no rosé from the Sangiovese (I was so busy that, by the time I got to pressing the grapes last year, they had already taken on too much color to be a rosé, so I let them develop into a full-on red). This will be an opportunity to see how these grapes do as a red wine. We ended up with 29 bottles of 2018 Cabernet, 17 bottles of 2018 Sangiovese, a very small yield. 2019 was the biggest in many years because of a combination of factors. Our neighbor removed small trees shading the vines the year before and they got better light and air as a result. That and a new method of sulfur spraying (dusting rather than spraying) prevented nearly all mildew loss. We also suffered comparatively little damage from critters.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 215 (Santa Rosa)

My pace of working has slowed greatly this year. I've made about one new collage a month in 2019, while I was making about one a week the year before. Quality is, of course, more important than quantity, but the more you make, the more you evolve, and it felt good to be working at what felt like a steady and sustainable pace. Changes in my work schedule and a certain feeling that I needed a break have been factors, but did have some new work to show during Art Trails this year, which ended last weekend.

This is a piece from April, but one I haven't posted here before. Untitled Collage No. 215 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, graphite, collage. Image size 28.3 x 36.9cm (10.9 x 14.8in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Wines Im Making: Harvest 2019

We picked our grapes this year on Saturday, October 5, which is a pretty typical date. We usually harvest in the first week of October. We took in 77.42 pounds of Sangiovese and 155.54 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, which is rather more than usual because this year we suffered very little damage from raccoons and other critters, losing only seven or eight clusters of low-hanging fruit, and losing virtually nothing to mildew--a first. It made a huge difference to dust the grapes with sulfur rather than spraying them. It is a far easier method and it works much better. That will be the plan in the future. These are perhaps the healthiest-looking grapes we've ever harvested.

The Cabernet must tested at 23.25 brix and a pH of 3.38, which is close to ideal. The Sangiovese tested at 20.25 brix and a pH of 3.7, a trifle low on the brix side, but we usually make rosé from these grapes, so that's well within the range I'm looking for. I added 230 grams of corn sugar to bump up the brix about a degree, as I did last year. After 18 hours on the skins, I pressed the grapes, (the grapes were crushed at about 4PM on the 5th, pressed at about noon on the 6th). Ten gallons of must yielded five gallons of pressed juice. On the evening of the 6th, I added yeast, this year using the Prise de Mousse variety again, as I did last year, although I've usually used the Epernay II yeast in the past. The yeast doesn't seem to alter the flavor that much. I've had good results with both. The grapes were so healthy looking I did not add sulfite to the Sangiovese must. I lightly sulfited the Cabernet, as that must will soak for a couple of days before it starts to undergo fermentation. So far, off to a good start. Next task--bottle and label last year's wise.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Books I'm reading: Violin Virtuosos

I picked up this slim (120-page) volume at a recent San Francisco Symphony performance, in the Symphony store. Violin Virtuosos (Back Stage Books, 2000) is a collection of short essays about 11 top violinists: Joshua Bell, Leila Josefowicz, Joseph Silverstein, Jorja Fleezanis, Victoria Mullova, Mark Kaplan, Chee-Yun, Christian Tetzlaff, Hilary Hahn, Vadim Repin, and Kung-wha Chung. Quite a range. Some of these are mostly solo performers, a couple are concertmasters. Some are younger, some are older. Some are men, some are women. I have heard a number of them perform live: Bell, Josefowicz, Chee-Yun, Tetzlaff, Hahn, and Chung. I've met several of them at after-concert signings (Bell, Josfowicz, Chee-Yun, Hahn, and Chung). I've even had dinner with one of them—Kyung Wha Chung, in Tokyo, years ago. Others I had never even heard of (Fleezanis and Kaplan). So, it was a rounded introduction to a cast of some of the best living violinists.

As this was published in 2000, much has changed since the essays were written. Hilary Hahn, for example, was only 21 at the time and had just released only her third CD (today her discography includes more than 20 discs). Josefowicz was relatively new to the scene. Bell, on the cover, looks like a little boy. These are interesting snapshots and interesting for the variety of experience of the various artists discussed. I especially enjoyed the little blurbs for each violinist that tells not only what kind of instrument they play but even what brand of strings they use. Violin Virtuosos is brief, but worth the small amount of time it takes to read.

Music I'm Listening To: Start of the 2019-2020 Season

After the performance, a tired MTT
I attended the September 13 performance of the San Francisco Symphony, my first concert of the 2019-2020 season. MTT conducted Mahler's Symphony No. 6. It was the only piece on the program, played straight through without intermission. It must have been exhausting for the performers.

As I've noted here before, I generally don't care for MTT as a conductor, as, in my experience, he often seems aloof and unengaged in the music. Mahler has been the exception. This is the second time I've heard him conduct a live performance of one of the Mahler Symphonies, having heard him at the helm for Symphony No. 5 in March last year. That was a breathtaking performance.

While I enjoyed this latest concert, it wasn't quite as exciting. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I thought the third movement a little uncertain in places and thought the tempo variations in the second were a bit too exaggerated. That said, the orchestra members played well (as they virtually always do), the first movement seemed perfect and the finale was fun to watch.

I've always wondered how they do the hammer blows toward the end of the piece. A large wooden structure with a small platform on top was built high behind the percussion session for this performance making it accessible from the front row of the balcony seats behind the stage (which were empty, which is unusual). A member of the percussion team appeared for each of the blows above the wooden platform wielding a large wooden sledgehammer. He looked rather menacing and a bit surreal. It must be hard to time the blow, given how heavy the hammer seemed, but he got it right. As in the case of the March performance. The orchestra was seated in the antiphonal arrangement.

The Santa Rosa Symphony season opens tomorrow, October 5. I'll be doing backstage photography for the symphony again this year. Garrick Ohlsson will be playing the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 and Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra is also on the program.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Wines I'm Making: Harvest 2019—Not Quite Yet

Thinking our backyard grapes might be ready to harvest, I did my first full testing of their ripeness today. A sample from the Cabernet vines showed brix at 23.5, which is very close to ideal (24 brix is where I normally like to pick), but with the pH a bit on the low side (pH 3.34). PH squared x brix = 262, which, according to Jeff Cox's From Vines to Wines (Storey Books, 1999), means they are ready for picking (the goal by this measure is 260 for a red wine), but the seeds in many of the grapes are still a touch green and another week on the vines will be perfect, I suspect. The problem is the raccoons—or whatever it is that steals grapes in the night. Ideal ripeness has to be balanced against potential animal losses. Happily, this year, almost none of the grapes will be lost to mildew, so I feel like waiting another week is the way to go. Thus, harvest 2019 is projected for October 5.

The Sangiovese, from which we normally make rosé (and last year used to make a little sparking wine, even), tested at only 19 brix and a pH of 3.31—on the low side (pH squared x brix = 208, again, within the acceptable range, according to Cox's measure (for whites and rosé 200 is the goal), but I think we can get a little more ripeness). I like to pick the Sangiovese for rosé at 22 brix. Although 19 brix would probably be just right for sparkling wine, I'm not equipped with enough of the right kind of bottles to make the whole Sangiovese harvest into sparkling wine, so I will wait to pick the Sangiovese as well. Today, I will check the integrity of the nets and make sure the electric fence is working and hope the animals are deterred as much as possible....
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