Saturday, April 4, 2009

Plants I'm growing: First Blooms--Halimiocistus and Wisteria

First blooms today on Halimiocistus and on the Wisteria over the hammock (the most important of  all garden tools). A few Wisteria buds were open yesterday or even the day before, but today the purple of the flowers is more evident (top photo). Ours is in its seventh year or so now. We grew it from a seed collected from a striking deep pink Wisteria we saw at Imari (of pottery fame), in Japan, but the seed doesn't have the pink of its parent. A second one on the other side of the arbor hasn't bloomed yet, so it's still not clear what color it will be. I hope it will be more like the pink one that dazzled us in Japan. Unfortunately, I've lost track of the species and variety names of the Halimiocistus (middle photo). First blooms today also on the "Point Sal Spreader" Salvia by the front of the house (Salvia leucophylla).

Music I'm Listening to: San Francisco Symphony

I went to an interesting concert at Davies Hall last night in San Francisco. The program was an odd juxtaposition of the modern and the classical--but my taste is eclectic; I enjoyed both pieces played. The orchestra performed Concentric Paths, a violin concerto of sorts, by contemporary composer Thomas Ades, and Mozart's Symphony No. 39.

I say a concerto "of sorts" because it was more a concerto for orchestra with a violin riding on top--the violin slicing in and out of the high end of the fabric of orchestral sound--than a traditional concerto with the soloist in opposition to the orchestra or participating in a dialog with it. The soloist was Leila Josefewicz, someone I plan to start keeping tabs on. Very interesting music. I'd like to hear it again.

The composer attended the performance. Apparently the orchestra, soloist, and conductor had learned he would be there only a day or two before. He joined the musicians on stage both before and after the concert and spoke a bit about the composition beforehand, answering questions from conductor James Gaffigan, who is a rather funny man (see below). 

Music is such an abstract thing. It's always interesting to listen to (or read) people trying to explain what it's about. It's an impossible task. People resort to describing the structure and pointing out unusual or interesting themes and sonorities, which is what the composer, the soloist, and the conductor did on stage, and I suppose that was good enough, as we, the audience, knew we were about to hear the music. Words are never really adequate. I don't pretend to be able to do it especially well either. It was fun to see the composer so clearly pleased by the performance and by the recognition from the audience.

The Mozart was very well played, the woodwinds in particular were beautiful. This was my third live San Francisco Symphony concert. Each time I've been impressed by the woodwinds. During one particularly impressively played woodwind passage, the conductor half turned to the audience and made a one-handed gesture with a fist that said "Listen to that!" as he continued to conduct with the other hand, eliciting a laugh. At the end of the Mozart, Gaffigan not only asked the woodwinds to stand to be recognized, but he then walked back into the array of musicians to personally congratulate them on a job well done. All in all, a pleasant evening.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Plants I'm growing: First Blooms--Cistus salvifolius, Halimiocistus sahucii

First blooms today on two Cistus (Rock Rose) varieties in the garden, Cistus salvifolius (top photo) and Halimiocistus sahucii. When in full bloom, both these plants are so profusely covered with flowers that the foliage is barely visible.

Today, there is only one pioneer on each plant. It will be a week or so before they really start to take off. Still, it's nice to see them. Both plants are low growers. The sahucii stays within a few inches of the ground. The salvifolius forms a mound a few feet across and about 18 inches high. The flowers are similar, but the latter has somewhat bigger flowers of a slightly creamy hue. The sahucii flowers are an almost translucent white.

Wines I'm Making: Leafing Out

The longest shoots on the grape vines are now about two inches long. As usual, the Sangiovese is considerably ahead of the Cabernet, and the Cabernet Franc vines are ahead of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Pictured are Cabernet Franc shoots.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Music I'm Listening to: Peter and the Wolf

I've been enjoying looking at some of the records in my LP collection. The 12 x 12-inch space of a record jacket offers so much more from a design perspective than does a CD booklet. It's a pleasure to see the records again.

I got Peter and the Wolf out because I thought my son, a budding clarinetist, might like to hear the cat theme, which was always my favorite when listening to this record as a child. And I mean this record. This is the copy my parents got for my brother and me, probably around 1965. It's still in good shape. I loved the drawings on the cover then, and I still do. 

My son listened to it this time and enjoyed it. Last time I played it for him (the only time, a year or two ago) he wasn't receptive. We didn't even get to the end of the first side before he lost interest. I was right in thinking that his playing the clarinet now might make a difference. After listening, he quickly figured out the cat theme on his instrument. He's been playing the cat around the house ever since. 

The performance on this disc is narrated by Peter Ustinov, and it's still the best I've ever heard (Angel 35638; it appears to be a European release. My father may have picked it up in London. He worked for BOAC (British Airways) at the time--and, coincidentally, at Angel Records before that). It was a pleasure to hear it again after all these years, and now my son, the cat-clarinet, repeatedly reminds me of a long-forgotten childhood pleasure.  

Plants I'm growing: First Blooms--Michelia yunnanensis

First blooms on the Michelia yunnanensis on the southeast side of the house opened today. The plant continues to look precarious. It would fall over if unstaked, but it seems to be holding its own. I have read that the botanists have completely redone the magnolias and relatives so that Michelia is now considered part of the genus Magnolia and that this plant is now called Magnolia dianica. Whatever you call it, it's a compact shrub or small tree with dark leaves and large, creamy white flowers that I find very attractive. Actually, as magnolias and their relatives go, the flowers are quite small--about two inches across. The flower buds are covered with a red-brown fuzz, as if they were all dusted with cinnamon (visible at upper left in the photo). The plant is native to southern China--Yunnan Province, I imagine--which is why I prefer the original Latin name. Also, Yunnan is evocative of tea. Being a tea lover, that probably contributes.

Michelia Yunnanensis is supposed to do well here, but this one has been slow to get established. I continue to coddle it and hope for the best. There's a beautiful one at the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park (just outside the little sitting area beside the library) that's probably in full bloom now.

Music I'm Listening to: Louis Armstrong

I recently came across this 1960 audiophile pressing of Louis Armstrong Plays King Oliver (Audio Fidelity AFLP 1930) in a used record store. The cover and the record itself are in excellent condition and the music's great. A steal for $4.99. I've been enjoying it (among other things) the last few days.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Plants I'm growing: What a Difference a Day or Two Makes

In the three days I was away skiing, the garden has come alive. There is lush new growth everywhere. Many plants are suddenly in bloom. Many more are covered with swollen buds. I love this time of year. Plants that bloomed for the first time this year while I was away include the yellow potted rhododendron on the deck and Echium gentianoides (pictured, a wonderful clear blue). The grapevines have leafed out. Some of the Sangiovese plants have shoots as long as about an inch and a half already.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Places I'm Visiting: Lake Tahoe Skiing

Got back last night from a few days of skiing at Lake Tahoe. The snow was a bit slushy and it was thin at the bottom of the mountain (Heavenly), but the higher elevations were good. My son, Warren, did his first snowboarding on his own (after one class last month). In his usual style, he took to it immediately. By the end of the third day, he was comfortable even on the steepest (black diamond) runs--as long as they had no moguls. I was startled again by how overpriced the food is at Heavenly. We packed in sandwiches and drinks this time, which saved a lot of money and resentment. Definitely the way to go. We stayed with a couple of other families in a rented house. All in all, a good end to the skiing season. Didn't see any interesting birds, though. Last year I saw a number of Clark's Nutcrackers. This year it was mostly crows.

Wines I'm Making: 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Sangiovese

I finally got around to racking our 2008 red wines today. I transferred the 2008 Sangiovese (five gallons) to a new container, leaving behind the remainder of the lees. I racked both of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon batches (five gallons each) as well. I noticed that the batch made with the Bordeaux Red yeast had more settled lees than the batch made with the Rockpile yeast. I was able to siphon off nearly all of the Bordeaux Red batch with no lees. The Rockpile batch needed to be topped up because I had to leave more wine behind while avoiding the sediment. I added three Campden tablets to each batch for a sulfite level of 39ppm.

The buds on many of the vines opened over the weekend. As usual, the Sangiovese is ahead of the Cabernet, with the Cabernet Franc slightly ahead of the Cabernet Sauvignon. That's my 1978 Alfa Romeo Spider in the background. These are true garage wines.

Tidbits: Maurcie Jarre--RIP

Just to note the passing yesterday of French screen composer Maurice Jarre. Just heard about his death. He composed the Lawrence of Arabia score. Wonderful film music.
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