Friday, April 15, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Cistus

First blooms of 2011 today on the large white Cistus by the pink crabapple. Yesterday one of the other Cistus (or halimiocistus) varieties in the garden bloomed. Unfortunately, I've lost track of the names of these two plants. One is very large, growing to over six feet, the other, with the raspberry-jam spots on the flowers is a low-growing variety, possibly a Halimiocistus. Both are very pretty, but I've lost track of the names of these varieties.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Found Art: Manhole Cover, San Francisco (April 13, 2011)

Recently, on a visit to SF MOMA, I found myself looking down at this manhole cover. I like the sculptural quality of the details. Found art.

For more found art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Wisteria (2011)

First blooms today on the wisteria behind the house. The plant is one of two that now grow over the structure that supports my hammock. There are two plants, one on either side of the uprights at either end. One is in a comparatively shaded area. It looks like it will bloom this year for the first time. The two plants were grown from seed we put in pots around 2004. The more shaded plant has taken this long to reach the top of the structure and find full sun. The parent was an amazing deep pink wisteria we came across in southern Japan, at the Imari pottery festival, and picked up seeds from. The bigger plant that has been blooming for several years now turned out to be a normal purple wisteria, not the deep pink: seeds often don't come true. I suspect the second one will be the standard purple wisteria color as well, not the deep pink. We'll know in a few days. Likely to be a disappointment, but still pretty.

Wines I'm Making: First Grape Leaves (2011)

With the return of warm, dry weather, not only have flowers started blooming in the garden, but the grape vines in our backyard--and all over the county--have begun to come alive again. Another season begins. 2011 will be my eighth season making wine from the grapes that grow behind the house. Since 2007 or so, the wines have been getting appreciably better each year. The verdict on the 2010 (not yet bottled) remains out. It's not clear what the cold summer last year will have meant to the wine, but I'm hopeful. If it turns out to be less good than the 2009, I have the 2011 to look forward to. We'll see what the summer brings.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Cistus, Phlomis, Salvia, Convolvulus (April 11, 2011)

It's that time of year again. With warmer weather and the end of rain for the season--a lull, at least--every day brings new flowers into bloom in the garden. Today I note the first blooms of 2011 on six plants: Phlomis fruiticosa (Jerusalem sage, pictured abowe); Cistus salivfolius, Salvia "Point Sal Spreader," the white rose behind the house, the pink Cistus by the hammock (pictured below), and the silver-leafed bush Convolvulus mauritanicus, a relative of the morning glories.

Phlomis fruiticosa bloomed on April 10 in 2009 and on April 24 in 2010, thus calculating botanical years of 379 days and 352 days, which average to 365.5 days--very close to an actual year.

Music I'm Listening To: San Francisco Symphony (April 9, 2011)

I attended a very enjoyable concert by the San Francisco Symphony on Friday night (April 9). Osmo Vänskä, Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted. San Francisco Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik was the featured soloist, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor. The program opened with a new composition by Austrian composer Thomas Larcher entitled Red and Green. The second half of the program, after intermission, was taken up by a performance of Ralph Vaughn Williams' London Symphony.

Some people hate it, but I have a taste for modern music, and I particularly enjoy explorations of rhythm, texture, and timbre--including those that use unconventional instruments, non-instruments made into instruments, and extended techniques on traditional instruments. It's the sound of the music that fascinates me. Is that nonsensical? A better way to put it might be to say, it's the quality of the sound that I enjoy. Larcher's Red and Green was right up my alley. As the program notes point out, Larcher has more or less abandoned melody and harmony in this piece. Red and Green is concerned with rhythm, texture, and timbre--the quality of sound. The program notes obligingly list all the unusual "instruments" in the ensemble. I won't repeat it here, but it includes things like tin foil. The six-man percussion team (not including a couple more performers manipulating a piano and playing a celesta) was kept very busy. In the one place that a semblance of a melody did emerge, it had the feeling of something external--a snippet of some other composition fleetingly recalled. Trying to describe music like this--or any music, really--in words is a hopeless task (that's what we have music for). Suffice it to say that it was consistently interesting and I very much look forward to the release of a recording that includes Red and Green.

The piece was completed only in November of last year, as a commission for the San Francisco Symphony. The Thursday, Friday, and Saturday concerts this past weekend premiered the piece. Composer Larcher--a strikingly tall, awkward-looking man--appeared on stage after the performance and seemed very pleased--as he should have been. The orchestra was extraordinarily focused and responsive to Vänskä, who conducted without a baton, using his entire body to communicate--bending low with a cramped hand at his chest asking for more, or making broad gestures with his arms, or pointing energetically in anticipation of an entry. The San Francisco Symphony seemed in top form. Mr. Larcher may have been awkward on stage, and his comments about the music in the program notes didn't quite make sense, but who needs words when you can create music like this? Larcher is a composer I will be looking out for in the future.

The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto got off to a very rocky start, I thought. Was it just me? For the first few bars, Barantschik sounded out of synch with the orchestra. It was a short while before soloist and orchestra seemed to be conscious of each other's presence. I got the impression that conductor Vänskä started before Mr. Barantschik was quite ready. The playing overall was rather too deliberate for my taste. Competent, surely, but somehow lacking in fire. I thought the early cadenza and the slow middle movement the most effective parts of the performance. The orchestra didn't have the concentration so evident in the opening piece. Do performers go on auto-pilot when they play something as familiar as this concerto? Still, it was fun to learn that Mr. Barantschik played the violin on which the Mendelssohn concerto is believed to have been premiered by Ferdinand David, in March 1845, a 1742 Guarnerius del Gesu on loan exclusively to Mr. Barantschik from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and that Jascha Heifetz had owned the violin from 1922 until his death, when he bequeathed it to the Fine Arts Museums. I probably own Heifetz recordings of this instrument.

I thought Vänskä led the symphony in a generally good reading of the London Symphony by Vaughn Williams, another very familiar composition, but one I'd never heard live before. By the end of this very long piece, however, the audience was getting restless. Still, all in all a very enjoyable evening.

(Photo of conductor Osmo Vänskä by Ann Marsden, photo of Alexander Barantschik uncredited. Both photos courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tidbits: RIP--Sidney Lumet (April 9, 2011)

I was sorry to hear that director Sidney Lumet died yesterday. Lumet made some of my favorite movies--including famous films like 12 Angry Men (1957), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and The Verdict (1982), but also some "smaller" films that deserve more recognition--notably Fail-safe (1964) and The Pawnbroker (1964). RIP
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