Friday, September 13, 2013

Music I'm Listening to: The San Francisco Symphony at the Green Music Center (September 12, 2013)

Last night was the first concert in the 2013-2014 subscription concert series that features the San Francisco Symphony at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Zosha di Castri's Lineage, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 3. Pianist Yefim Bronfman was soloist in the Tchaikovsky.

The highlight of the concert was the Di Castri piece, which is brand new (having been premiered only a few months ago). Describing highly abstract modern music is an impossible task, but it was an engaging expanse of shifting colors and textures that I enjoyed very much. It seemed a bit nostalgic and melancholy on the whole, but somehow forward-looking in mood at the same time. The long droning notes in some places put me in mind of ancient Japanese court music (gagaku) or Noh music. I would have asked the composer (who was in attendance) about whether she was familiar with gagaku, but she was pinned down throughout intermission by well-wishers and others asking questions, so I didn't bother her.

This year, we're sitting in new seats, having chosen to look down on the performers from the upper balcony. It's quite a different experience. I enjoyed being able to watch the conductor and the mechanics of the performance--the turning of pages on the music stands, the taking up and putting down of mutes, the quiet cleaning of instruments, the sometimes frantic activity in the percussion section. Lineage keeps no fewer than seven percussionists busy. According to the program notes, they were handling timpani, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, snare drum, bass drum, ocean drum, suspended cymbals, crash cymbal, china cymbal, nipple gongs, tubular bells, almglocken, tam-tams, woodblocks, and rainstick--not to mention a piano and a celesta. Viewing from above is a compromise. The sound is a little muddy. During the Tchaikovsky, there were times when the piano was inaudible over the orchestra. During the Prokofiev, sometimes the harps were inaudible. That said, the sound isn't bad up top and it's a lot of fun to be able to see everything that goes on during a performance. Watching from the balcony makes a concert a much more visual experience.

One unexpected visual was a half-empty concert hall. No one seemed to know why so many seats were unsold (I asked several ushers). We subscribed to the San Francisco concerts at the Green Music Center last year, and I remember a full house on every occasion. Another change from last year--a very positive change--is the parking situation. They are no longer creating long traffic jams in Rohnert Park by charging for parking. Parking has been folded into the ticket prices--as it should have been from the outset. Bravo!

Food I'm Eating: Wine from the Cinque Terre at Cucina Paradiso, in Petaluma

Locals have been flocking to Cucina Paradiso in Petaluma for about five years now, it seems. I don't know how I missed hearing about this restaurant until just a few days ago, but I'm glad I recently had a chance to get acquainted with the place.

I visited on a Saturday night. It was packed, but the service was up to the task of handling a full house, and the food came promptly but not so quickly that things felt rushed--just the way I like it. Solid Italian fare, an interesting wine list, and surprisingly reasonable prices for food of this quality make the place hard to resist; a meal for four with appetizers, main dishes, desserts and a $45 bottle of wine was just over $200--including tax and tip. While not cheap, high-end local restaurants in the area far too often ask considerably more than that for food much less good. I had ravioli filled with roast duck under a sauce of sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, and basil (below). The restaurant uses organic vegetables exclusively. At dessert, the tiramisu was excellent.

What most impressed me, however, was seeing a bottle of Cinque Terre wine on the extensive (but not bloated) wine list featuring many good Italian and local wines. The Cinque Terre wines are delicious and extremely rare. The entirety of the Cinque Terre zone is only about 200 acres. Most of the small output is consumed locally. Cinque Terre is hard to find even in Italy outside the immediate area of production. Exceedingly dry but flavorful (reminiscent of a good Riesling from Alsace) these wines are the perfect accompaniment to Italian cooking--northern Italian cooking in particular. This one (pictured above), was from the cooperative that makes most wines labeled "Cinque Terre." It was less interesting than some of the (even rarer) wines bottled by individual Cinque Terre producers I've had, but a pleasure nevertheless; deceptively simple at first--like so many Italian whites--but with a delicate balance of fruit and acidity on the mid-palate and a lingering finish. I look forward to my next visit to Cucina Paradiso (114 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952, (707) 782-1130).

Here's a blog post I uploaded from Italy a couple of years ago while visiting the Cinque Terre.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The 8 Ball, Cotati, California

There are two or three bars in downtown Cotati. I've never been to any of them, but they keep the town center lively on weekend evenings. I noticed recently that one has a neon cocktail glass sign, so I thought I'd add it to my small but growing collection. This one has a cherry but the glass has no stirring stick or skewer. The bar is at 8 Charles St., Cotati, CA 94931.

To see others in this series of photographs, click on the "cocktail glass collection" label. 
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