August 25th, 2004

Music in San Francisco

I just noticed that it's been over a month since I last updated. It really doesn't seem like that long. In Charlotte, updates were sporadic because there wasn't much of interest to record, and now that I'm in San Francisco, I'm staying so busy that I just don't have time for it. But, what with a side trip to Chicago this weekend and Worldcon next weekend, I figure I'd better update now since I probably won't have another chance for a while.

I caught two San Francisco Symphony concerts back in July, the tail-end of their "Summer in the City" series. The first was a program of favorite opera preludes, interludes, and arias, with Erin Wall, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, and James Westman as the soloists. I've heard Erin Wall before in various small parts at Lyric Opera, but it was nice to hear her in more substantial music. Chacón-Cruz, whom I had not heard before, is a phenomenal tenor; his aria from Figaro was fantastic. I hope to hear more of him in the future.

The second symphony concert was a program of Mozart works: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Symphony #40, and the Piano Concerto #21, with Orion Weiss as the soloist. Weiss is still quite young (20 or so, I believe), but he gave an excellent performance, and I quite enjoyed the concert despite the fairly tired selection of repertoire.

The first weekend I stayed here rather than going home happened to be coincide with the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music down in Santa Cruz, which is reached via a delightful drive up and over the mountains on CA 17 or via a spectacular coastal route on CA 1. I attended three of the festival's concerts.

Friday night's program with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra turned out to be my favorite. It opened with Kevin Puts' Vespertine Symphonies, a work inspired by Bjork's Vespertine album. Without ever directly quoting Bjork, the piece definitely does evoke a similar soundworld. A neat piece. This was followed by the US premier of Julia Wolfe's My Beautiful Scream for string quartet and orchestra (with the Kronos Quartet as the soloists). The title's a bit corny, but the piece itself is absolutely stunning. It's somewhat reminiscent of one of my favorite pieces of music, Arvo Pärt's Tabula Rasa, and, if there were a recording, I suspect I'd come to like it almost as much. The concert concluded with a 2001 work by Aaron Jay Kernis, Color Wheel, which was also excellent.

Saturday night's concert opened with a hilarious little fanfare by David T. Little entitled Screamer!—a three-ring blur for orchestra. This was followed by Oliver Knussen's Flourish with Fireworks, the west coast premiere of Christopher Rouse's Concerto per Corde and Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra. I'm not a huge fan of Knussen, but the Rouse and Higdon were both fine works.

Sunday night was a solo concert by the Kronos Quartet. The highlight of their program was Alfred Schnittke's String Quartet #2. The program also included a fascinating arrangement of Bernard Herrmann's score for The Day the Earth Stood Still, and a fairly new work by Terry Riley, "One Earth, One People, One Love," a movement from a 2002 Kronos commission entitled Sun Rings. I do wish they'd performed the whole thing rather than just the one movement. Other works were by Gétatchèw Mèkurya, Michael Gordon, Alexandra du Bois, and Sigur Rós. The final encore was a nifty arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's infamous Woodstock rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.

I've also been pleased to discover that the Bay Area is home to some fantastic CD stores. I've been to Amoeba Music in Berkeley and Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz. Both had amazing selections of contemporary classical and experimental CD's. I picked up a bunch of great stuff, including a few volumes of the Stockhausen Edition, which I've only ever seen stocked before at a single overpriced store in London. Adding to the shock of actually seeing these in a store in the US, the checkout clerk at Amoeba not only knew who Stockhausen is, but told me she was jealous that I could afford to buy them. It's nice to know I'm not the only one in the world who likes this stuff.

Other recent fun stuff

In addition to all the great musical stuff here, the Bay Area is also amazingly rich in quality bookstores, which means lots of author events. The first reading I attended was by China Miéville at Cody's Books in Berkeley, reading from his new novel, The Iron Council. A great reading that reminded me that I really need to get around to reading Perdido Street Station and The Scar. I ran into nihilistic_kid there, who introduced me to gadarene, strangebint, jlassen, Heather Shaw, and Tim Pratt.

The other reading I've been to was Michael Moorcock at Borderlands, reading from the new edition of Gloriana. While waiting for the reading to begin, I read the first chapter and was reminded strongly of Gormenghast, one of my favorite books. Of course, it turns out this isn't a coincidence; Moorcock mentioned that he'd written Gloriana as something of an homage to Peake. Moorcock was full of great stories of his long career (such as the time he fell asleep at a screening of 2001—sitting next to Arthur C. Clarke).

At dmk's and Bill's engagement party, I remember there was a discussion about the possibility of an Elric movie. Moorcock confirmed that it's still in development. He also mentioned that his current choice to play Elric would be Paul Bettany, not an actor I know well, but he does have the right sort of look. (Of course, this is Hollywood, so the author's preferences probably don't matter all that much.)

Other bookstores I've visited are Bookshop Santa Cruz and City Lights. The only thing saving me from buying piles of books is the fact that I'd have to carry them all the way back to Raleigh.

I stayed here in San Francisco again last weekend, and my mother came to visit, so we went and did the standard touristy stuff. Saturday we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and went up to Muir Woods and wandered around the redwood groves. Sunday we took the ferry across to Alcatraz. On Saturday, we had dinner at the Carnelian Room on the 52nd floor of the Bank of America Center, San Francisco's tallest building. As is usually true of such places, the food is overpriced, but the views are spectacular.

I've had a couple of enjoyable meals at Scoma's, tucked away on Pier 47. Their seafood is absolutely superb. The stuffed pizza at Zachary's in Oakland is the best pizza I've had outside Chicago; thanks to capitalfellow for that recommendation! I've also had some excellent prime rib at Broadway Prime in Burlingame. And I still have a long list of restaurants to try.

I do usually go home on weekends, which means I got to enjoy one day of Trinoc*coN. I had a chance to see lots of area friends there, and hear readings by Jason Lundberg and Richard Butner, two excellent Triangle-area short story writers. I had fun, and I do hope that next year I can actually go to more than one day of the Con.