Friday, April 5, 2019

Rain: Will it Never End?

Yes, we need rain. Rain this late in the season is a good thing, as it means it will take longer than usual for the summer months to completely parch the landscape, and it may mean comparatively low fire danger for longer than usual. That said, it's been so dismal and cool this spring that I'm really ready for some sun. It's been raining off and on the last couple of days and it's raining now. It's supposed to rain off and on for the next couple of days....

Since last reporting, we've had 1.15 inches of new precipitation, which brings our total to 37.30 inches so far in the 2018-2019 rain year at my location, which is  a little above normal. Other sites have had more than 38 inches so far. The historical average for April 4 in Santa Rosa is 32.43 inches.

[Update: As of April 12, it's turned sunny finally and little rain is forecast for some time now. Perhaps the bulk of our rain this year is now behind us.]

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Gil Shaham, Christian Tetzlaff, and Elena Urioste

Gil Shaham after the concert
Three recent concerts, two in San Francisco, one in Santa Rosa. I attended the February 8 performance of the SF Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. On the program were Steven Mackey's
Portals, Scenes and Celebrations (a Symphony commission and world premiere), Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted. Gil Shaham was soloist in the Prokofiev. This is a belated report. I can't say I remember the first piece at all, which shouldn't really count against it, but, by definition, it wasn't memorable. Shaham was his usual, highly competent self. MTT's rendition of the Tchaikovsky was on the slow side but quite enjoyable. It was particularly fun to see the substantial pizzicato sections live. This is a very familiar piece of music but not one I'd seen in person before.

Christian Tetzlaff takes a bow
On March 15, I was at Davies Symphony Hall again, this time to hear Christian Tetzlaff play Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3. He played some unfamiliar cadenzas, which added interest. Also on the program were Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin and Sibelius's Symphony No. 2. MTT conducted. Although I generally find MTT bland, I must admit he does the very late romantic stuff well. I very much enjoyed his handling of the Sibelius. So, that's twice that I've found him really engaged and putting a distinctive stamp on the music—this and a recent performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony

Violinist Elena Urioste
The following day, it was the Santa Rosa Symphony at the Green Music Center under the baton of Conductor Emeritus Jeffrey Kahane. On the program were Gershwin's An American in Paris in its original version (as Gershwin orchestrated it), Barber's Violin Concerto, and Copland's Symphony No. 3. Elena Urioste was the soloist in the Barber concerto. I was impressed by Urioste's performance and she was very gracious backstage. It was fun to see Kahane again, too. The Gershwin in the original orchestration sounded rather different than the version we're used to, which, according to Kahane, was cleaned up substantially by a Hollywood orchestrator. Gershwin apparently had little experience writing for full orchestra at the time. The Copland is not a favorite. It's rather ponderous, but it's interesting to hear the sections of Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) that were written into the symphony, which followed Fanfare by a year or two.

SR Symphony Conductor Emeritus Jeffrey Kahane

Art I'm Looking At: The Art Wall at Shige Sushi Closes (April 2019)

The Art Wall at Shige Sushi is no more. The restaurant owners have decided to permanently close the Cotati location to focus on their new location in Sonoma. It was a really fun four-plus years. As curator, I feel like I was able to show a great deal of really good local art in that time. I sincerely thank everyone who helped to make The Art Wall possible.

The first show was in December and January 2014-2015. Only one person came to the opening reception. It was pouring with rain, no one had heard of the place (except as a restaurant) and it was right before Christmas. In the end, that was a good thing. There would have been room for no more. We held the reception while the restaurant was open—a mistake in such a small space. I quickly learned to have the receptions on Mondays, when the restaurant was closed. I will always be grateful to Claude Smith and Sherrie Parker for agreeing to participate in the first show.

I curated 26 shows of 8 weeks each with a couple of exceptions—one was six weeks, one ten weeks. I showed the work of 28 artists, 27 living, one deceased (Lewis Bodecker). There were 23 solo shows, three group shows (collage work by Claude Smith, Sherrie Parker, and me; Lisa Beerntsen and Deborah Salomon had a show together, and we did a show of contemporary photography that included work by nine artists). Of the 23 solo artists, 17 or 74% were women. Several artists participated in more than one show, including Janis Crystal Lipzin, Sherrie Parker, Claude Smith, and Deborah Salomon.

We sold at least one piece in (or as a result of) seven of the shows, not including work I bought myself. Including that, we sold at least one piece in 11, or 42% of the shows. Katie McCann sold the most in one show, with three of her collages going to an enthusiastic collector. The most expensive piece sold was a piece in Sherrie Lovler’s show, which sold for over $800. As I took only a 25% commission on sales, The Art Wall at Shige Sushi was not a profitable venture in monetary terms. It would not have been possible at all if the owners at Shige Sushi had not allowed me to use the space at no cost. It was profitable in terms of other, more important things. 

Please join us next Monday, April 8, 2019 for a final closing party from 6:00PM to 9:00PM. Everyone's invited. If you never made it to one of our shows, this will be your last chance. Wine and beer will be provided, but please bring a little something to eat to share with friends. Pot luck. Bring your own bottle, too, if you care to. But come, even if you come empty-handed. I'd really like to personally thank everyone who was involved—the artists and the art lovers—with making The Art Wall at Shige Sushi a success.

The photo above shows postcards for each of the 26 shows I curated, in chronological order.

Books I'm Reading: Laurie Lee—Red Sky at Sunrise

I wonder if Laurie Lee (1914-1997) is not better known in the US because his name sounds feminine. I imagine it confuses people to learn, if they ever do, that Laurie is a man, Laurie being short for Laurence in this case. It's the sort of thing the British are more at ease with than we are. It may also be that the British, on the whole, have better taste than we do and that they are better educated. Or is that an illusion? Whatever the case, our current president has shown what a fundamentally ignorant, insensitive, mean-spirited people we Americans are—on the whole. The writings of a man like Laurie Lee could never go mainstream here, but perhaps not anywhere. His writing is too pretty to go mainstream. His prose reads like poetry, often requiring the attention and concentration that poetry requires. It can be tiring—although never overwrought and burdensome like the prose of a D.H. Lawrence.

I thought this particularly so in the case of Cider with Rosie, one of the three autobiographical books (originally published separately) collected in this omnibus volume from Penguin (2004). Not surprisingly, Lee is best known as a poet aside from these books.

Cider with Rosie, memories of the author's childhood in the Cotswold countryside, originally appeared in 1959. It's a nostalgic remembrance of his early life in an isolated village before the First World War, before automobiles were common, before the encroachment of modernity. Lee writes beautifully of the countryside, life with his sisters, life with his distracted mother, life with his absent father—his experience of growing up there from the age of three (his first memories) until just before he steps out into the world on his own as a young man—by walking to London (a distance of about 110 miles) and then across Spain.

The opening is beautiful and memorable. He remembers the first time he was out of the house on his own, at age three. 

I was set down from the carrier's cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began.

The June grass, amongst which I stood, was taller than I was, and I wept. I had never been so close to grass before. It towered above me and all around me, each blade tattooed with tiger-skins of sunlight. It was knife-edged, dark, and a wicked green, thick as a forest and alive with grasshoppers that chirped and chattered and leapt through the air like monkeys.
The prose throughout is as vivid.

The very idea of leaving home by spending several weeks to walk to London and then to walk across Spain (the subject of the second book, As I walked Out one Midsummer Morning, originally published in 1969) is alien in this age. A young American setting out on his or her own would rarely think to walk anywhere today, much less the distance from Scranton, Pennsylvania to New York City to look for work and independence from family. We are coddled and separated from the physical world by our computerized vehicles and computerized devices. Today, walking such a distance simply to get somewhere, or walking across a foreign country is reserved for the well-heeled tourist (always with money and privilege to fall back on in a pinch) or it's an act of defiance, a conscious attempt to return to some kind of ill-defined authenticity. Lee starts out in life by walking to London because he has no other way to go. Later, he walks across Spain, supporting himself by playing his violin in the streets, for much the same reason; he wants to go and he has no other conveyance. He is ill-prepared in both cases and nearly expires on several occasions from heat stroke in Spain, but the kindness of strangers and plain dumb luck save him. Lee at the end of the book ends up in jail and very narrowly escapes getting himself shot. His experience illustrates just how important happenstance often is in determining the path of an individual through life.

At the end of As I walked Out one Midsummer Morning, Lee is in a Spain on the brink of civil war. In the third and final book, A Moment of War (originally published in in 1991), he decides to go back to Spain (having once returned to England) with the idea that the Spanish Republicans deserve his help. Once again, hopelessly ill-prepared, he walks into Spain from France to join the cause, nearly freezing to death in the process. During his time in the Republican army he is met with suspicion and incompetence in a swirl of doomed enthusiasm among his peers that quickly deteriorates into a pool of squalid disillusionment. In the confusion of the early stages of the Spanish Civil War,  in far greater danger of being shot as a spy or dying of hunger and exposure than he is of receiving a mortal wound in the little combat he sees, he absorbs the random cruelty, waste, stupidity, and oppressive boredom that war always brings. In the end, he's sent home, lucky to have come away with his life intact, once again saved by coincidence. We should be glad of it. Had he died, none of these three books would have been written. Recommended. 

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