Saturday, February 5, 2011

Music I'm listening to: Chee-Yun, Alisa Weilerstein, and Jeremy Denk, with Marek Janowski Conducting the San Francisco Symphony

Last night, Friday February 4, I attended a San Francisco Symphony concert featuring Chee-Yun, Alisa Weilerstein, and Jeremy Denk as soloists, with Marek Janowski conducting an all-Beethoven program that opened with the Symphony No.1 followed by the Triple Concerto, and, after intermission, the Symphony No. 2.

I hate to complain, but the concert last night was rather uneven, I thought. As is so often the case at concerts (although not usually in San Francisco), the first piece on the program gave the impression that the performers weren't quite warmed up. I suppose it was competently played, but there wasn't much excitement to it. I'm afraid I felt much the same way about the Triple Concerto, which ought to have been the centerpiece of the program. No oomph, and Weilerstein seemed to be unsure about where her entrances were, despite having the score in front of her. All three of the soloists used scores. I guess that's OK, but it's a bit unusual--not that I could remember the solo part to Yankee Doodle.

Part of the problem was the odd dead spot that I'm increasingly convinced really does exist at Davies Symphony Hall. I was in seat Y107, just under the overhang of the balcony. At other concerts sitting in this area (most recently Gil Shaham and Itzhak Perlman) I've noticed that the sound is very muddy, and especially in the lower registers of the various instruments. It appears most marked when a solo instrument is playing over the orchestra.

This is particularly unfortunate in the case of the Triple Concerto. Chee-Yun's violin was usually crisp and had presence, the piano was audible throughout, but Weilerstein's cello, especially when she was playing on the lower two strings, seemed to disappear at times--as if she were miming, her fingers and bow moving but producing no sound. Too often, she was simply inaudible. That was disconcerting, to say the least, but it was especially disappointing in the many sections of the concerto that involve a conversation among the three solo instruments: The cello wasn't talking. I wonder if others in the audience had the same impression? [I just looked back at my most recent previous posts that touch on this problem: At the Gil Shaham concert, I was in Y107--the same seat. At the Perlman concert, I was in seat 107, two rows back, in AA107. Clearly there's a pattern here.] Chee-yun looked lovely in a magenta gown, Weilerstein wore a dress of a pretty amethyst color.

The performance of the Syphony No. 2, however, was excellent. The conductor and musicians seemed finally to have connected, and we were treated to a lively, nuanced performance of Beethoven's second symphony, which seems to me an altogether more self-assured, more interesting composition than his first. The woodwind section was a stand-out, as it usually is at the San Francisco Symphony.

Photo of Davies Symphony Hall courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

Birds I'm Watching: Bodega Bay (Feb. 5, 2011)

I joined a Madrone Audubon group today for a day of birding at Bodega Bay--and there were a lot of birds around. The group saw nearly 80 species. I saw 63 of those:

Common loon, Red-throated Loon, Pacific loon, Clark's Grebe, Western Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Brandt's Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Brant, Cackling goose, Canada goose, Bufflehead, Canvasback, Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter, Eurasian Wigeon, Coot, California Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Herring Gull, Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Thayer's Gull, Western Gull, Forster's Tern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Sanderling, Surfbird, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Black Turnstone, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Willet, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Kingfisher, Pigeon, Black Phoebe, Crow, Raven, Scrub Jay, Bewick's Wren, Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler (mostly Myrtle), Brewer's Blackbird, House Finch, Song Sparrow, and House Sparrow.

Not bad for a single day's birding. I got some excellent looks at the Red-throated Loon (photo), but the highlight was the Long-tailed Duck, a life bird for me.

For more information about Bodega Bay and bird watching in Sonoma County generally, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Rhododendron "Noyo Dream," Yellow Daffodils (2011)

First blooms today on the Rhododendron "Noyo Dream." The plant bloomed in 2010 on February 7 and in 2009 on Februray 25, which makes this seem quite early. The plant has thus calculated a year of 360 days this year following a year of only 347 days in the preceding year. These average to 353.5 days, still a short year.

The first yellow daffodils opened today as well. The first yellow daffodil bloomed on February 5, in 2010, for a year of 362 days, much closer to a calendar year.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Food I'm Eating: The Olive Project (January 2011)

There are two olive trees in my garden. One I planted, the other was here when I arrived. The one that came from a nursery bears no fruit. The one already here was a mere bush ten years ago. Somehow it turned into a tree while I wasn't paying attention. It's now about 30 feet high and this year, for the first time I can remember, it's heavily laden with small purplish black fruits--olives. The optimists of the world say that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. Given fresh olives, I decided I should make olive oil or proper olives for eating. Making olive oil requires equipment that I don't have and large quantities of olives reduce to rather small amounts of oil, it seems, so curing the olives for eating made more sense. Having made that decision, I had to admit to myself that I had no idea how to transform a terribly bitter, astringent, fresh olive (ever bit into a fresh olive?) into one of those tasty salty orbs we all know and love.
I did have some idea, actually. Rightly or wrongly, I seemed to think that making olives involved lye and salt, but I wasn't exactly sure. Not that long ago, I would have headed to the library at this point, but I turned instead to the Internet and learned there are four principal ways to make olives--more if you count some of the variations. Fresh olives can simply be soaked for weeks in water. With daily changes of the water, bitter components leach out of the fruit to yield an edible product. But that seemed too simple. No romance in that.

At the other extreme is the method involving lye. Essentially, lye accelerates the result that water achieves--removal of the bitter components (mostly phenolic compounds and the glycoside oleuropein, according to Wikipedia). Somehow lye seems as unromantic as plain water, though--and dangerous to boot--so I rejected that idea. The other two methods rely on salt. Fresh olives can be simply packed dry in salt for long periods or they can be soaked in brine. As this last method seemed easiest, I opted to try brine-curing the small black olives the tree in the garden produces.

After picking several pounds of olives, I went back to the Internet and more carefully read the directions I'd found for making brine-cured olives. I was a bit annoyed at myself when I read that the skin of each olive must be broken. I wouldn't have picked so many if I had imagined making an incision in the side of each of the 800 small olives I had to process, but it turned out to be relatively easy work, taking only about an hour.

I made a brine solution of 1/4 cup salt to one quart of water and dumped it over the olives, which I had washed once (enough brine to ensure that all the olives were submerged). I covered the container and set it aside. Yesterday, after three days (stirring the solution and the olives once a day), the cover suddenly popped off. The olives had started fermenting. I hadn't read anything about fermentation or allowing gases to escape, so I assumed fermentation was not a good thing and added more salt in the hope of stopping it. Reading more today, I see that it's normal and the container is not supposed to be tightly sealed. In any case, the fermentation seems to have slowed. There is less bubbling going on. I'm not sure that has anything to do with the extra salt or not. I have no idea whether the water is now too salty, but I'll be changing it in a couple of days anyway. My recipe says that curing the olives will take about six weeks (with the brine renewed once a week). Already the olives are more palatable than they were fresh, so, I'm optimistic. Now, it's just a waiting game..... Stay tuned.

[Update: The Olive Project--Continued]

Rain: Half an Inch Overnight (Jan. 30, 2011)

Clear, cold, and sunny this morning, but we had 0.5 inches of rain overnight. Last night's rain was the first after a dry spell of a little more than two weeks. The dry spell was a nice respite from the seemingly incessant rain of the preceding weeks, but long enough to get people worried about too little rain again this year. The experts say that a mid-winter lull is not uncommon, though, and I expect it will rain quite a bit more before long. So far, we've had 18.45 inches at this location (my house) in the 2010-2011 rainy season. The historical average for January 30 in Santa Rosa is 18.04 inches. We remain above average--although by a fairly slim margin now--but other locations in Santa Rosa have reported about two inches more than we have had. Normal annual rainfall for Santa Rosa is just over 31 inches. The official 2010-2011 season lasts until June 30, 2011.

Art I'm Looking At: San Francisco Fine Print Fair (January 29-30, 2011)

Once a year, usually at the end of January or first week of February, some of the best fine print dealers in the country converge on San Francisco's Fort Mason Center to show and sell prints and drawings. The quality of the offerings is consistently very high. You can find just about anything--from old masters to contemporary work by local artists, work ranging from under $100 to tens of thousands of dollars. One of my favorite among the local artists is David Kelso, who appears to live and work in Oakland. He makes prints using traditional methods--mostly etching and aquatint--but layered in complex and unusual ways (the first photo is one of his works). I always enjoy seeing the show, even if I don't buy anything. The show is going on again today, January 30th, from 11:00AM to  5:00PM.

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