SF Symphony Performs Perséphone and The Firebird

Even as Septembers and Octobers go in San Francisco, this one has been crazy, careening between rehearsals and performances for various projects, growing in a new job, and dreading whatever new political development occurs.  So our recent outing to hear SF Symphony perform the music of Igor Stravinsky was a bit of a respite.  It was part of a two week-festival celebrating the music of Stravinsky that included not only the “big three” (The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring) but other less-frequently performed works.  We were there for the night featuring The Firebird and enjoyed the bar’s special Firebird martini in celebration.

The Firebird, the first the “big three,” premiered in 1910 and while was considered avant-garde by some in Paris, it’s a very accessible work that draws more from 19th-century romanticism than from the innovations of the time.  For us at CatSynth, this is about as conservative as our live music gets.  But it is nonetheless an adventurous piece and very richly textured, especially in its focus on brass and wind instruments.  As it was performed without staging, it was easier to concentrate entirely on the music.  The early “Prince Ivan” sections had phrases and idioms that foreshadowed L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale); then there is that iconic ending with the slow big chords.

If anything, it was the opening performance of Perséphone that was more unique an exciting.  It far less often that Stravinsky’s other large-scale works, and it is complex to stage.  For this performance, the symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas was joined by the great Leslie Caron as the narrator and Persephone, Nicholas Phan on tenor as Eumolpus and other characters, as well as San Francisco Symphony Chorus, San Francisco Girls Chorus, and the Pacific Boychoir.

Despite the massive number of performers between the orchestra and the choruses, Perséphone has a sparse and more minimal texture than The Firebird or the other big ballets.  It also has a very deliberate and punctuated quality, with each note and each syllable of the text standing alone.  It does have a joyous, lyrical quality at times – it is a celebration of spring.  But it also has dark, unsettling moments, which is keeping with the mythological story of Persephone, the spring goddess and daughter of Ceres being brought to Hades by Pluto.  The story is one of balance between light and dark, and between the seasons.  But the text in this version is somewhat more ambiguous, emphasizing Persephone’s descending to Hades by choice.  It does also celebrate her worldly existence as the bride of Triptolemus and joy of rebirth, and of course the springtime.  Musically we are treated to a light touch without leaning too heavily on major/minor emotional tropes, much as the story projects its ambiguity between light and dark.  The winds, and piccolos, in particular, were prominent. And as stated above the space within the music leaves ample time to consider each note and word.  It was a quietly but powerfully dynamic performance; and orchestra, soloists and chorus were treated to many well-deserved rounds of applause.

It was our first trip back to the Symphony in a while, as their 2017 program was far more conservative and focused on traditional repertoire compared the numerous shows we had enjoyed in 2016.  We do look forward to more adventurous and contemporary programming again soon.

CatSynth Pic: Pearl and Virus TI

Adorable Pearl sits atop an Access Virus TI synthesizer.  And they match, too 😻.  From ‎Stefano Daksha Pettinelli‎ via our Facebook page.

Pearl loves the Virus TI ❤️

Wordless Wednesday: Fishies!

Koi pool in Marin County, California.

CatSynth Pic: Elektron Octarack and Modular

Cure cat with an Elektron Octrack synthesizer and sundry synth modules, including Make Noise, TipTop and more.  From catsofmodular on Instagram.

Helping dad get unpatched for his gig tomorrow. 🎛😻 #catsynth #synthcat#modularsynth

CatSynth Cat on Octave CAT

This about as “CAT Synth” a picture as one cat get.  A cute cat playing an Octave CAT synthesizer.  From the Vintage Synthesizer Museum on Facebook.

@catmanofwestoakland brought by Bud a few days ago for play time and modeling
😸

The Cat Man of West Oakland, like the Vintage Synth Museum, is a local treasure.  We hope to feature more of them both in the near future.

CatSynth Video: Tom Hall’s Cat on MiniBrute 2S

From Orb Mag on Facebook.

Tom Hall’s Cat Knows the game  😺⚡️

We espy a MiniBrute 2S and RackBrute in use.  We are quite fond of our MinBrute 2 here at CatSynth HQ. 

CatSynth Pic: Gracie and Polymoog

Our feline pal Gracie certainly knows how to strike a pose.  Here we see her laying claim to a Polymoog that is in for repairs.  From Alsún Ní Chasaide (Alison Cassidy) via Facebook.

It’s only been here a few hours, and she’s claimed it as her own! #PolyMoog #PolyMew

The Polymoog is a rare and somewhat anomalous instrument from Moog Music’s lineup.  In addition to being polyphonic, it’s focused on a series of presets.  It was intended in many ways to complement for the classic Moog mono synths – the nice wide flat (and presumably warm) surface where Gracie is sitting was designed to accommodate a Model D or similar instrument.  They are also known to be rather temperamental and high-maintenance beasts.  From Vintage Synth Explorer:

Unique among Moog’s lineup, the Polymoog is not at all like the Minimoog or any of the other mono-synths Moog has become famous for. Instead, it was designed to complement Moog’s monophonic synthesizers. It’s a unique and finicky product, the brain child of David Luce instead of Dr. Bob Moog himself. But like all Moog products, this isn’t an ordinary instrument — it’s the Polymoog and it sounds fantastic for what it is.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: The Neighbor Returns

Sam Sam is not amused.

Our feline neighbor is back and enjoying himself on one of the terraces behind CatSynth HQ.  You can see his face through the glass bricks, albeit in a Cubist sort of way.

Nothing wrong with his being there.  I for one love to see cats enjoying themselves.  But his presence brings out both Sam Sam’s curiosity and territorial instincts, and she was quickly back up on the ledge to investigate – and to assert her territorial claims.  We managed to capture a bit of it in this video.

It definitely makes a bit nervous to have Sam Sam up there, but there really is no stopping a determined cat.  It’s also a reminder that I need to replenish that wine rack.  The one bottle that remains is from Armida Winery, whom we featured in a CatSynth video back in June.

Club Foot Orchestra performs their Greatest Hits

Last weekend the Club Foot Orchestra teamed up with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, to perform some of their “greatest hits”, contemporary live performances to silent film classics.  A full day of live music by the venerable and indefatigable ensemble! 

The Club Foot Orchestra was started 25 years ago in 1983 by Richard Marriott (brass, winds), and still includes original member Beth Custer on woodwinds.  They were joined in this performance by Sheldon Brown (woodwinds), Will Bernard (guitar), Chris Grady (trumpet), Gino Robair (percussion), Kymry Esainko (piano/keyboard), Sascha Jacobsen (bass), Deirdre McClure (conductor), and Alisa Rose (violin).   They performed some of their most memorable scores, including interpretations of the German expressionist classics Metropolis and Nosferatu.  We at CatSynth were not able to attend Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s futurist masterpiece and a personal favorite of mine.  But we were on hand for Nosferatu, the iconic and controversial horror film directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as the eternally creepy Count Orlock.

The history of Nosferatu is as intriguing as the film itself.  It was an unauthorized adaptation from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, and although the names and some details were changed, in many ways it conforms more closely to both the story and spirit of the original than many later interpretations.  Perhaps too closely, as the Stoker estate successfully sued Murnau’s production company and won a judgment that included an order to destroy all copies of the film.  Fortunately, some prints had already been distributed internationally and have been used for restorations of the original.  The version screened on this occasion was a beautiful restoration from the 2000s that included color tinting for various scenes.  The colors added an even more eerie and otherworldly quality to the film.  It worked particularly well for the Transylvanian scenes and those in and around Orlock’s castle.

The orchestra delivered a highly dynamic and varied performance paired with the images.  There were many sparse sections that fit with the tension of the film, and I particularly liked the spots that featured single lines, such as percussion hits, extended-technique winds, or synthesizer samples.  But the sections where the ensemble came together to deliver punchy and sensuous jazz lines were especially fun.  It added an element of humor and modernism, which is inevitable for a twenty-first-century viewing of a movie from nearly 100 years ago.  The mixture of noises and extended sounds with bits of Eastern European melody and harmony worked especially well for strangely colored Transylvanian scenes.

As a small group, each of the wind players had multiple instruments.  Richard Marriott had a quite an arsenal of flutes and lower brass, and both Beth Custer and Sheldon Brown had bass clarinets in addition to their other instruments.  Gino Robair also had in an impressive array of percussion instruments (though no electronics on this particular occasion).

It was a delightful evening of music and visuals that worked well together – a more concrete film-centered version of the discipline we had a seen a week earlier in Andy Puls’ abstract set at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.  And while I’m sorry to have missed Metropolis on this occasion, Nosferatu was probably even more of an “event” in the space of the Castro Theatre.  We look forward to hearing more of Club Foot Orchestra’s scores in the near future.

CatSynth Pic: Lil Bub

Today on CatSynth we feature the one and only Lil Bub!  She is playing on a vintage electric piano (Rhodes or Wurlitzer).  Regular readers know these classic instruments are among our favorites, and often used in our own 1970s funk/jazz/fusion-inspired music.

From Lil Bub’s Twitter.

songs in the key of BUB