Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rain: OK, I'm Officially Tired of It (March 26, 2011)

It just keeps coming down. We are in a lull this morning, but it's rained virtually all week. Yesterday and last night added another 3.6 inches to our total for the 2010-2011 rainy season, bringing it to 35.6 inches at my house. Other places in Santa Rosa have recorded as much as 38 inches. The historical average rainfall for Santa Rosa has been rising. It is now 31.91 inches, but we are already more than three inches above that before the end of March (the current rainy season ends June 30). The historical average for March 26 is 27.9 inches, so we are nearly eight inches above normal for this day and only 10 inches below the fifth wettest year on record, which was 45.8 inches, recorded in 1894-1895. I'm officially tired of it now. A little bit of sun, please?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tidbits: RIP-- Blues Great "Pinetop" Perkins

I was sorry to hear that blues pianist "Pinetop" Perkins died yesterday. He was 97, but had been performing recently, mostly in Austin, Texas. I had the privilege of sitting with him and talking backstage at a Tokyo blues festival in 1999 (photo) while doing research for the liner notes that eventually accompanied And This Is Maxwell Street, the recordings from Mike Shea's 1964 documentary film And This Is Free. Perkins played for many years with the Muddy Waters band but had also known Robert Nighthawk, the guitar wizard featured on many of the Shea Maxwell Street recordings. We wanted to talk with people that had worked with Nighthawk. Perkins was a soft-spoken, slow-moving man that gave an impression of gentleness, but, like many aging blues musicians I've met (notably Frank Frost, B. B. King, and R. L. Burnside), he dropped about 50 years as he got up on stage and began to make music. RIP

Monday, March 21, 2011

Music I'm Listening to: The Santa Rosa Symphony with Bruno Ferrandis and Elina Vähälä (March 20, 2011)

I attended a Santa Rosa Symphony concert Sunday afternoon (March 20) conducted by Bruno Ferrandis. The program included Serious Song, by contemporary composer Wolfgang Rihm, Symphony No. 4 by Brahms, and the Brahms Violin Concerto, with soloist Elina Vähälä.

Overall, an enjoyable concert, but rather uneven, I'm afraid.

I did like the Rihm Serious Song. Immediately upon entering the concert hall it was apparent that something a little unusual was about to begin; there were no violins on stage--among the strings, only the violas, cellos, and basses were present. Also unusual was the presence of four clarinets at the front of the ensemble. I would say the piece didn't seem very song-like, but it was certainly serious. Opening with quavering dissonances among the four clarinets in the low register, the piece was dark and somber throughout with all the instruments mainly being given the lower notes in their ranges. No flutes either. According to the program notes, the piece was commissioned by conductor Wolfgang Swallisch who wanted a composition explicitly evoking Brahms. Composer Rihm was particularly impressed by the Four Serious Songs by Brahms and looked also to the example of the Deutches Requiem for the orchestration without the bright-sounding violins and flutes. To many I suspect this tone poem--that's what it seemed to be--will sound too abstract, too somber, too brooding, but it appealed to me. I applaud the inclusion of something rather different from the standard fare. It was a nice counterpoint to the very familiar pieces that followed.

In the Brahms Violin Concerto Soloist Vähälä played well, but seemed to have difficulty keeping her instrument in tune. I always hesitate to say things like that (not that anyone cares very much what I say) because I never trust my ears entirely, but I thought she was out of tune for about the first third of the first movement--a little bit sharp on at least one string. She tried to retune a couple of times using the fine adjustments at the bridge but finally resorted to turning one of the tuning pegs--a very risky thing to do while in the middle of playing, given the coarse adjustment the tuning peg provides. I'm persuaded that I was not mistaken about her difficulties by the extensive tuning she did between the first and second movements. Once she got things straightened out, everything sounded better.

Her instrument had a surprisingly strident sound. As it happens, that was rather effective in some of the rapid passages of double-stopping in the concerto, but otherwise it gave a cold and at times somewhat whiny impression. She was playing a 1678 Stradivarius. I am no expert, but I do know that that would be an early violin in Stradivari's career. Perhaps that has something to do with it? The second movement was marred by repeated wobbly entrances by at least one of the horns. Having said all that, I thought the Santa Rosa Symphony musicians focused and responding much better to Maestro Ferrandis's direction than usual, which is a good thing, and it's always interesting to hear such a familiar piece live. Despite the hiccups, I enjoyed hearing the concerto and the crowd--notably younger than is usual in Santa Rosa--was very appreciative.

The Fourth Symphony by Brahms is another very familiar piece, being one of the first I was attracted to during my shift as a teenager away from rock music in favor of classical. I'm afraid the ensemble wasn't quite up to it. The focus apparent during the violin concerto was nowhere apparent here. The players simply weren't together much of the time. Still, the ensemble has come very far in the 10 years I've been a subscriber to their concerts, and I mean no ill will. I'm glad they're here and I will continue to support them. At their best, they can be very fine indeed.

Photos of Bruno Ferrandis and Elina Vähälä courtesy of the Santa Rosa Symphony

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Flowering Cherry "Snow Fountain"

First blooms on March 19 on the "Snow Fountain" weeping flowering cherry in the side garden. Only one or two flowers have opened, and even those have mostly been blasted by the heavy rains we've had, but the first flowers opened yesterday. "Snow Fountain" bloomed on March 23 in 2009 and on March 14 in 2010, calculating years of 356 days and 370 days, which average to 363 days, just short of an actual year.

Found Art: Paint on Electrical Box, Santa Rosa (March 20, 2011)

Here and there on the streets are large rectangular  metal boxes that house equipment that controls street lights or telephone systems. Ready-made canvases that attract graffiti. The graffiti gets painted over and the canvases are used again. Found art.

For more found art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.
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