Friday, May 4, 2018

Music I'm Listening To: Christian Reif and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with the San Francisco Symphony

I attended the April 27 performance of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. Guest conductor Christian Reif led performances of Wagner's "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Götterdämerung, Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2, and Holst's The Planets. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was soloist in the concerto. Ragnar Bohlin directed women of The San Francisco Symphony Chorus in the Holst.

I hadn't heard of either conductor Reif or pianist Bavouzet before the concert. Reif was a replacement for Charles Dutoit, with whom the Symphony has severed ties. Both Reif and Bavouzet appear to be most active in Europe, although, according to the program for the evening, Reif has been working with The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra since the 2016-2017 season. I was impressed by both.

In particular, Bavouzet,—dressed fairly casually for a classical soloist—managed to give a powerful, rapid-fire rendition of the Liszt while managing to look cool as a cucumber throughout. He had a commanding presence on stage, handling the technically challenging concerto with an air of utter confidence. Meeting him briefly after the concert to get an autograph on a copy of Volume I of his recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas (Chandos), he achieved the same effect—seeming completely relaxed yet deeply engaged at the same time.

This was the first time I'd heard the very familiar The Planets live. It's always fun to see how the sounds of a familiar piece of music are produced. The Planets gives all parts of the orchestra lots to do, particularly the two harps and a celesta among the less common instruments. Virtually the entire audience turned around to look behind them for the source of the wordless voices coming from somewhere in the upper balconies as the ethereal end of the "Neptune" section faded to a close.

Photo of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet by Paul Mitchell. Phoo of Christian Reif by Terrence McCarthy. Photos courtesy of San Francisco Symphony. 

Books I'm Reading: Danubia

Simon Winder's entertaining Danubia (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) is subtitled "A Personal History of Habsburg Europe," which gives the author ample room to digress, and the digressions are reliably entertaining—in places laugh-out-loud funny. The book is broad in scope, covering the history of Central Europe from the end of the Middle Ages to WWI, but Winder allows himself space to talk about music and art when the Habsburg ruler of the moment is a bore or to offer odd tidbits about some of the many places he explored on foot doing research for the book. That is, the book deftly balances the grand sweep of history with quirky anecdote and detail. His enthusiasm for his subject is palpable and contagious.

Perhaps the strongest impressions the book leaves are, first, that the history of Western Europe, dominated for so long by the Hapsburgs, might have been very different for any number of reasons—that the Hapsburgs remained in control of things (to the extent that they did) for as long as they did often as much because of luck as anything else—and, second, that large swaths of Central Europe were settled by one group of people, completely de-populated (ravaged by war, disease or both) and then resettled so often (rinse and repeat) that few of the ethnic narratives that have fueled rabid nationalism in modern history (meaning the past 200 years or so) have much basis in fact—that they are often myths fueled by little more than wishful thinking and opportunism.

To say that the history of Central Europe is confusing is an understatement. I'm not sure reading Danubia did as much to clarify things as I would have liked, but, having read the book in anticipation of a trip to that part of the world in June, I feel somewhat more prepared than I might otherwise have been. All joking aside, the book has at least helped me to better understand the history of the Holy Roman Empire, of the House of Habsburg, and of the 30 Years' War, among other institutions and events, if not allowed me to remember precisely which Charles, Franz, or Rudolf did what when. Recommended.

Wines I'm Making: First Sulfur Spraying 2018

Having the day before finished removing excess growth on the vines in the backyard vineyard, yesterday I did the first sulfur spraying of the season to prevent mold. Last year the grapes suffered badly from mildew, the result mostly of my own laziness. I should have been more diligent in my spraying--but it's the chore I least enjoy in growing grapes for wine. I've resolved to do it right this year, spraying every two weeks or so until mid-season. More light and air in the vineyard will help, I hope; last year my neighbor removed a row of small trees behind the vines that were increasingly shading them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Wines I'm Making: Shoot Thinning, Spring 2018

Shoot thinning: One of the spring chores in the vineyard almost done. A before-and-after view of a Cabernet vine I worked on today. Grape vines, and Cabernet in particular, will send out far more shoots in the spring than is compatible with getting the best fruit. About half get removed.

And, as we all know, making wine is easy; growing great grapes is hard--and you can't make good wine from bad grapes. I'll finish thinning our little backyard vineyard tomorrow.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 200 (Santa Rosa)

My most recent collage. This is Untitled Collage No. 200 (Santa Rosa). April 15, 2018. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, graphite, collage. Image size 13.0 x 13.1cm (5.1 x 5.2 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mate. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my collage (and other) work, visit my website at
Related Posts with Thumbnails