Monday, November 14, 2022
Saturday, November 12, 2022
Michael Tilson Thomas returned to Davies Symphony Hall for the US premiere of Danny Elfman's Cello Concerto, written for Capuçon. Although it was a SFS commission (jointly with the Vienna Konzerthaus, Vienna Symphony, and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France) and it was to have been premiered in San Francisco, apparently the performance here was delayed and the world premiere ended up being in Vienna with Capuçon on the cello. The Elfman Cello Concerto was sandwiched between Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, a piece without strings, and Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, Op. 48, a piece with strings only. MTT is looking pretty well. He's put on weight and he seems a trifle frail at times, but he had no trouble on the podium. The San Francisco audience loves him. He was very enthusiastically received, especially now that he's appearing much less often than he once did.
I noticed the orchestra layout was reversed, with the violins split left and right, violas middle-right, cellos middle-left, and the basses on the left (all from the audience's perspective). I'm guessing that was for the Tchaikovsky, which involves a lot of intertwined first and second violin parts that are more effective if the sections are on opposite sides of the stage.
Before hearing it, I was worried the music was going to sound like typical movie music, but, happily, the Cello Concerto, while in places it has the kind of sweeping melodic lines and details of orchestration (a lot of bells in the soft passages) that often say "movie music," Elfman has written more than cinematic filler (I say that recognizing that the very best movie music is always better than filler). The piece opens with a lot of moody glissandi in the strings that precede the entrance of the cello. The second movement is much more animated than the first, brisk with a lot of staccato scratching on the cello – the bow bouncing off the strings. Later there is a slower movement that has as its highlight an extended section with the cello playing in tandem with a solo violin (concertmaster Alexander Barantschik in this case). Overall, I thought it had a good balance of the lyrical on the one hand, rhythmic invention on the other. Very enjoyable. I wonder if Capuçon will record it? Elfman was in the audience. He joined Capuçon and MTT on stage after the performance to take bows.
The Tchaikovsky Serenade is a very familiar piece. By coincidence, one of the very first records I acquired in college, when just getting interested in classical music, was a recording of this piece with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, so it was great fun to hear him do it live. It is lush, unabashedly romantic music full of infectious melody, and the SFS strings played it beautifully. It was a great evening capped off by a tasty meal at our favorite after-concert restaurant, Absinthe Brasserie and Bar, which, happily, is now serving late enough again (after a COVID hiatus) that you can get a reservation for after the concert.
Monday, November 7, 2022
Saturday, October 29, 2022
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my abstract monotype collages, visit my website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/
Sunday, October 23, 2022
There are three reasons to decant wine. First, I sometimes decant simply because wine – whether red, white, or pink – looks pretty in a piece of quality glassware. The motivation here is purely aesthetic, having nothing to do with the age or condition of the wine.
Second, a very young wine that has the potential to age will often show better if given some air before it’s consumed. This is the situation most people think of when the subject of decanting comes up. “Let the wine breathe,” we say. Decanters are mostly designed so that a full 750ml bottle of wine will fill the container to its widest point, the object being to greatly expand the surface area of the wine, optimizing exposure of the liquid to oxygen. The act of pouring the wine into the decanter also exposes the wine to air. The result of decanting is thus to expose the wine to considerably more air than it would receive if served from its own bottle.
In this second case, the idea is to artificially age the wine a little bit – although decanting a young wine, while it often makes some difference, can only do so much; an age-worthy wine will benefit most from time in bottle before it’s consumed. The process really can’t be accelerated very much.
It’s important to note here that a young wine generally has not thrown a deposit of any kind (see below). Therefore, how it’s handled before and during decanting is often not critical. Note also that “letting a wine breath” is entirely pointless if the wine in question isn’t the sort that benefits from ageing. There’s no need to decant a light rosé, for example (but see the first reason above).
The third and most important reason to decant a wine is to separate an old wine from any deposit that may have formed in the bottle during ageing. Natural wine is a living thing. As fine wine ages, various chemical reactions occur in the bottle that are responsible for the remarkable evolution that can occur that turns a tight, astringent, woody youngster into a soft, silky, delicately fruity wonder.
I don’t understand the chemistry entirely, but, if my understanding is correct, as a young wine develops, suspended short-chain tannins and acids start to combine, forming longer chains, reducing the surface area of the tannins, making them taste less astringent; as a result, the wine becomes rounder and softer. These reactions are slow oxidation reactions. At a certain point, the heavier long-chain tannins start to drop out of the wine in the form of sediment that accumulates at the bottom of the bottle. Depending on the wine and how long it’s been ageing, the deposit may stick to the glass, but often it is fine, silty, and easily disturbed – clouding the wine and making it bitter if stirred up. It may take anywhere from half an hour to a day or so for this sediment to resettle once disturbed. Wines are always properly stored on their side, label up, so that, when decanting, you know exactly where the deposit is if a deposit has formed.
For that reason, if you’re taking an aged wine to a restaurant, it’s important to handle it as gingerly as possible on the way (ideally you’d take it the day before you plan to dine to let any sediment settle again before it’s decanted) and likewise to see that it’s handled very gingerly during the decanting process.
At any serious restaurant, it should be possible to walk in with an old bottle (held sideways, label up – a wine that’s been coddled on the way over in the car, agitated as little as possible) and ask for it to be decanted. That request, as a matter of course, should produce a decanter (naturally – although I’ve been surprised by restaurants with pretensions to fine dining that don’t own a decanter), a decanting basket (which holds the wine still on its side but with the neck slightly elevated to facilitate removal of the cork), and a light source.
Traditionally, the light source is a candle, but I have to admit that a small flashlight makes the job much easier. The light – whatever used – placed below the neck of the bottle allows you to see the sediment through the wine as it‘s poured from the bottle into the decanter, the bottle having been picked up carefully from the decanting basket and held sideways as the wine is poured out. The trick is to look through the wine as you pour, keeping an eye on the sediment as the wine passes over it into the decanter. Done properly, nearly all of the clear wine makes it into the decanter, most of the sediment remains in the original bottle.
Once transferred, the decanter can be handled with no further fuss. You can turn the decanter on its side as you fill glasses, set it upright again, and then pour more wine – each glass as clear and free of sediment as the next. The goal here has been to separate clear wine from the sediment in an old wine.
If you’re still with me, there’s one further, very important point to make: old wine does not need to breathe. Very old wine can lose its vibrancy remarkably quickly after it’s been opened and decanted. Further exposure to air starts to risk rapid oxidation of a wine that’s already had the benefit of many years of slow, controlled, in-bottle oxidation. Old wine that’s just been decanted should be enjoyed immediately.
So, imagine my disappointment at our recent family celebration, when our waitress – having been informed that we brought an old bottle that would need to be decanted – fetched a decanter, said something about letting the wine breathe (!) grasped the bottle by the neck, turned it sharply upright, whipped out her wine opener, and proceeded as if opening a cheap Chardonnay bottled last year, twisting the bottle rather than the corkscrew, and then pouring the wine unceremoniously into the decanter – along with all the sediment it contained.
Despite my disappointment, I said nothing. The damage was done. The wine wasn’t completely ruined, but, needless to say, it would have been better if it had been decanted properly.
The food was good. We will eat at this restaurant again. It’s a restaurant I enjoy, and because I like it, I won’t name it. That said, the next time we go, if a mature wine is involved, I’ll decant it at home, rinse out the bottle, return the wine to its original container, pop the cork back in and take it, ready to go, with no on-site decantation required. And maybe I’ll send a copy of this little essay to the management and suggest their servers could use a little training in why we decant wine (young and old) and how to go about it. I’m acutely aware that many people in the world have far more urgent and critical things to worry about. I feel deeply privileged just to live in a place where no one is lobbing artillery shells at me, but, if I’m going to drink old wine, I’d like to do it right.
Sunday, October 16, 2022
Sunday, October 9, 2022
I seem to have skipped a couple of collages when posting them to the blog here. These are:
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
We had substantial rain on the night of 18-19 September. While light showers are not uncommon in September here, a real downpour is unusual. This was a proper storm. I hadn't yet had my rain gauge set up at first, so I missed some of the early precipitation but later collected 0.55 inches. I'm guessing the total was around 0.75 inches. As always after the first rain after a long, dry summer, the plants have perked up--and people seem happier too. As the 2022-2023 rain year begins on 1 October, this will count in the 2021-2022 total, which now stands (at my location) at 25.5 inches.
Monday, September 19, 2022
To see some of my work in person, visit my studio during the 2022 Sonoma County Art Trails juried open studios event, September 24 & 25 and October 1 & 2. 10:00AM to 5:00PM on all four days. This year, I'll be Studio 94.
Saturday, September 17, 2022
For more of my abstract monotype collage, visit my website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ To see some of my work in person, visit my studio during the 2022 Sonoma County Art Trails juried open studios event, September 24 & 25 and October 1 & 2. 10:00AM to 5:00PM on all four days. This year, I'll be STUDIO 94.
For more information, visit the Sebastopol Center for the Arts website. Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High St., Sebastopol, CA 95472 (707) 829-4797
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Art I’m Looking at: The Long View: California Women of Abstract Expressionism 1945-1965, at Modern Art West, Sonoma
Not only was I ignorant of Modern Art West. I speak also of my ignorance about women artists identified with Abstract Expressionism—the theme of the show now up, entitled The Long View: California Women of Abstract Expressionism 1945-1965. If asked about female Abstract Expressionist painters, I could have come up with Lee Krasner, Jay DeFeo, and Helen Frankenthaler (although Frankenthaler does not appear to have considered herself an Abstract Expressionist), and Joan Mitchell. The Long View, however, features work by 25 less prominent Abstract Expressionist painters active on the West Coast between the end of WWII and 1965. Only one name was familiar, and that (Adelie Landis Bischoff) is because, as the wife of painter Elmer Bischoff, she is talked about more than other female painters of the period. For the record, artists included in the Modern Art West show are: Ruth Armer, Katherine Barieau, Emarie Bartelme, Bernice Bing, Pamela Boden, Dorr Bothwell, Joan Brown, Sonia Gechtoff, Nancy Genn, Leah Rinne Hamilton, Marie Johnson, Adelie Landis (Bischoff), Hilda Levey, Zoe Longfield, Emiko Nakano, Irene Pattinson, Margaret Peterson, Deborah Remington, Joyce Rezendes, Nell Sinton, Frann Spencer, Juliette Steele, Lenore Vogt, Ruth Wall, and Katherine Westphal. I reproduce this list because, judging from the work I saw on Monday, every one of these painters deserves to be better known.
Untitled (1949), Zoe Longfield
I freely admit that my ignorance doesn’t mean everyone else is equally ignorant, but I’d be willing to bet most of these names are, in fact, comparatively obscure to even comparatively well-read art lovers. Why the neglect? I imagine the standard arguments apply. Media coverage, gallery representation, access to collectors, and museum shows were always more available to male artists than female artists. Women in the 1940s to 1960s in the US had to commit to what was considered an unconventional lifestyle in order to concentrate on making art. Blurbs at the show also point out that media attention on Abstract Expressionism then (and even now) was very much aimed at the East Coast—at New York City—not at the West Coast.
It’s a shame, because there is some very fine work to see here. The gallery’s website has a link to an essay about the show that gives an overview, links to artist biographies, and a link to the Hyperallergic article I found on line, so I won’t attempt to duplicate what’s available there, but I do want to note some of my favorite pieces in the show, which, I should say, is very tastefully presented.
Zoe Longfield's Untitled (above), from 1949, immediately caught my eye. It's use of pale blue and ochre immediately put me in mind of some of Richard Diebenkorn's work of around the same time or a little later, but I was also reminded of some of the early work of Mark Rothko before he settled into the large colored-lozenge paintings he's best known for. It's natural to see affinities, but this painting stands very well on its own.
Untitled, Biomorphic Abstraction (1948)
Also of particular interest to me were two small pieces on paper by Joyce Rezendes (not pictured here), who was associated with 6 Gallery in San Francisco, a large painting by Bernice Bing (not pictured), and Nell Sinton's Dark Landscape (1958), among others. Dark Landscape can be read as a landscape, but it comes across equally strongly (or more so) as an abstraction. There is something about it that—despite the dark palette—reminds me of those transitional Kandinsky pieces in which he is clearly moving into an abstract mode of work but hasn't been able to give up representation entirely.
Dark Landscape (1958)
I aim to look into these and other artists in the show further (I'm awaiting the arrival of a copy of Women of Abstract Expressionism, by Irving Sandler, which appears to be an excellent reference work on the subject of women in Abstract Expressionism). I’m very pleased to have found Modern Art West. It’s a welcome addition to the area. I look forward to seeing future shows there. I’m tempted to say this and Calabi Gallery in Santa Rosa are now the two most interesting galleries in the county. I highly recommend both (and Hammerfriar Gallery, in Healdsburg!).
*You can send an e-mail to Mr. Keaton to schedule a visit. However, the show runs only through the end of this week, until September 11. The next show at Modern Art West will be INDICATORS: Nature in Flux, a solo exhibition of work by Peter Hassen (September – November 2022).
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
Monday, September 5, 2022
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
To preview some of my work, visit my website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/
This one is small and simple, but I think it has presence. It repays attention. Click on the image for a larger view.
For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website, at https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site.
Monday, August 29, 2022
I remembered quite a lot about it. In some places I remembered the text in considerable detail, while some parts I had virtually no memory of at all.
The book is sprawling and choppy and unfocused, but that's part of its charm, I suppose--if you have the patience to take it as it comes. There are numerous chapters that make no contribution to plot advancement at all--chapters designed to explain the practical aspects of whale hunting and the economics of whaling with a view to allowing the reader to understand the details of action in chapters ahead, for example, or short, descriptive chapters that simply describe downtime for a sailor on a Nantucket whaler in the 1850s (and among these are some of the most beautiful passages in the book), and even some chapters that seem entirely unrelated to the story (for example, a early pub scene in which the narrator, Ishmael, relates a yarn about another voyage altogether).
I'd forgotten how funny Moby Dick is in places and also how little of the book involves the white whale of the title. There are 136 chapters in all, including the epilogue. The edition I read (Collins Classics, 2021) is 589 pages long. Moby Dick, the whale, doesn't appear until page 561, in Chapter 133. Once he does appear, the action is fast and furious, though. The world collapses around Captian Ahab, his ship, the Pequod, and Ishmael virtually all at once, underscoring (like so much else in the book) the fragility and incomprehensibility of life. Only Ishmael survives the final disaster, eventually rescued by another ship, hanging on to a wooden float fashioned from what had originally been a coffin.
Sunday, August 28, 2022
Beeps thrice quick
My toast done
The microwave beeps once, at intervals, separated,
No hurry, reminding, faithfully, that...
Coffee maker beeps, beeps, beeps--
Beeps five times in all
At a measured pace
Morning coffee brewed
Monday, August 15, 2022
Sunday, August 14, 2022
Saturday, August 13, 2022
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
The trick really is to pick them small. That's when they are at their tastiest and picking them small, you don't end up with so much fruit that you become sick of seeing it.
Another important tool for summer zucchini disposal is good recipes. I first encountered this simple dish at the Moose Café (now defunct) in Mendocino. It's now a regular in my household.
Try slicing raw Zucchini very, very thin and sprinkling the slices with grated Gorgonzola, crushed walnuts, and black pepper before drizzling them with a high-quality olive oil. Makes a quick, easy, delicious summer salad. And it uses up zucchini--at least a little bit of zucchini.
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Friday, July 15, 2022
For more serendipitous art, see my Serendipitous Art blog at serendipitousart.blogspot.com