Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rain: Late May Rain

Surprisingly, it clouded over the day before yesterday and the wind blew cool. Overnight we had some rain, which is unusual here this late in the year. It wasn't much--only 0.3 inches--but it was enough to refresh things a little. That brings our 2012-2013 rain year total to 24.85 inches, still well below normal, but not disastrous. Average annual rainfall in Santa Rosa is a little over 36 inches.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Books I'm Reading: Pictures at a Revolution

Mark Harris's thesis in Pictures at a Revolution (Penguin, 2008) is that the 1967 Oscars can be taken as a turning point in the history of Hollywood. By examining in detail the creative genesis of the five movies nominated for Best Picture that year--Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and Doctor Dolittle--Harris looks at the transition from increasingly less successful big budget musicals, dramas, and romantic fluff born of the studio system toward a riskier, more independent, more personal style of film-making relying on the creative genius of individuals of a new generation. Interesting as a snapshot of Hollywood at the time and also for its back-stage look at how films are conceived, funded, made, and marketed. The book manages at the same time to paint portraits of some of the main players in the stories it tells, particularly Warren Beatty, Sidney Poitier, Dustin Hoffman, and Rex Harrison. Well written, highly readable. Successful as film history, social history, and biography all at once. Recommended.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Music I'm Listening To: San Francisco Symphony with Arabella Steinbacher and Alban Gerhardt, Marek Janowski Conducting

I attended the May 17 (Friday) performance of the San Francisco Symphony led by guest conductor Marek Janowski. On the program were Schumann's Manfred Overture, the Brahms Double Concerto in A Minor (for violin and cello), and Schumann's Symphony No. 3 ("The Rhenish").

This is the third time I've heard Steinbacher live in San Francisco, having heard her perform Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 with Herbert Blomstedt wielding the baton, in March 2011, and playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Charles Dutoit conducting, in March 2012. When I first heard her, I was impressed, but felt the Mozart didn't show off her talents or the characteristics of her violin well. Her recording of the two Bartok violin concertos with Marek Janowski conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Pentatone Classics, PTC 5186 350) is what really got me excited about her. It's become among my favorite recordings of those pieces.

The Brahms Double Concerto is a meaty piece of music with a lot going on. It's almost  tiring to watch, but Steinbacher and cellist Alban Gerhardt were electrifying. They played as if they've been playing together for years--although that's not the case (at the CD signing after the concert, I asked them: Gerhardt told me they had played together only once before this series of concerts, and that that was 14 years ago). It didn't show. The back and forth between the violin and the cello seemed perfectly timed. It would have been hard to ask for more. Their instruments seemed particularly nicely matched as well. I've remarked on the gritty, throaty sound of Steinbacher's violin when I've written about her before. Gerhardt's cello has a similar earthy grittiness to it. The pairing worked wonderfully. Gerhardt plays a cello made by Matteo Goffriller (1659-1742), a Venetian luthier active between 1685 and 1735. Goffriller is noted especially for his cellos. I certainly liked the sound of this one and Gerhardt played it with breathtaking precision but also with enormous enthusiasm and verve. Both Steinbacher and Gerhardt appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely as they played. Conductor Janowski succeeded in drawing the best out of everyone. Steinbacher wore a particularly beautiful dress in burnt sienna and gold, colors that seemed calculated to complement the colors of her violin and Gerhardt's cello.

Photo of Arabella Steinbacher by Robert Vano, courtesy of Photo of Alban Gerhadt courtesy of www. 
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