Symphony with a side of ice cream

When I found out that the Itzhak Perlman performances at the San Francisco Symphony were sold out a couple of months ago, I was pretty bummed. No wait list had been set up at the time and even if there eventually were, I figured the prices would be exorbitant for me. But I couldn’t help thinking how great it would be to see and hear him perform and conduct, live! That Vivaldi’s Summer and Winter from The Four Seasons were on the performance program along with Tchaikovsky and Mozart was another major perk.

So imagine my delight when, offhand, I looked up the symphony and performance on my iPhone this morning and lo! A mobile site popped up. It showed more-than-half-off seats in the orchestra and tiers (and, as I’m looking at tonight’s performance right now, $15 seats in the center terrace right behind the actual orchestra itself)! This must be where the symphony posts up-to-the-minute ticket info, and I can’t believe the deals it’s offering.

If I get to the city with time to spare, I plan to make dinner out of the special root-beer float (haha! Oh, to be “grown-up”…) that Smitten Ice Cream just posted on BlackboardEats the other day. Made of malt vanilla ice cream, Boylan cane sugar root beer, and a crumble of sesame praline, the float’s in honor of Smitten’s one-year anniversary at its Hayes Valley location. Yes, please.

Just look at one of the Kelvin ice-cream makers using liquid nitrogen to freeze fresh scoops in this photo (taken at one of Smitten’s ice-cream socials), all Wonka-esque. And hey, they make mint TCHO-chocolate-chip ice cream that actually tastes like…wait for it…fresh mint! A revelation, especially for me since I usually don’t like that flavor. The silky olive-oil ice cream with lavender shortbread currently on the menu is likewise intriguing, and subtle.

I love making little adventures out of finding deals like these. Mostly I just love seeing how hard I can make my money work and still get a shot of culture. It’s like a little game.

(Perlman photo via San Francisco Symphony)

Egon Schiele and David Bowie

One of the most exciting things about writing my master’s thesis on the contemporary relevance of fin-de-siècle Viennese artist Egon Schiele’s portraits is scouting the works of artists, photographers, performers, and fashion designers today whose aesthetic reflects his influence. I love making those tangible connections between past and present.

In the nascent stages of my research, I came across Renée Price’s essay “Unsung Heroes: Schiele as Inspiration and Influence” in Egon Schiele: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections (which has become one of my favorite books on the artist). In it Price discusses how Bowie’s relocation to Berlin in the mid-1970s led him to become better acquainted with and admire Schiele’s work in art museums around the city. Evidence that Bowie found Schiele’s portraits inspiring shows up in Bowie’s late ’70s cover art and Berlin Trilogy performance style on tour.

Take the gaunt lankiness, the bold lines, the incredible contortions of limbs and fingers, and the themes of identity and sexuality that characterize many of Schiele’s self-portraits. For instance:

Self-Portrait as Saint Sebastian, 1914.

Then compare that to, say, Bowie’s 1979 Lodger cover.

There’s a sense of feeling like a martyr, or a mime, or even a marionette at someone else’s (society’s?) command. There’s vulnerability too, and I think a sense of loss and isolation in both images. In Nicholas Pegg’s biography The Complete David Bowie, the man himself is quoted as saying,

“A lot of what is perceived as mannered performance or writing is a distancing from the subject matter to allow an audience to have their own association with what I’m writing about.”

In “As the Artist Said to the Rock Star…,” a July 2001 interview between Bowie and British artist Tracey Emin that appeared in The Guardian, the subject of Schiele popped up. Bowie asked Emin whether she had become more versed in art history since her artistic career began to rise. Emin answered,

“I got into Egon Schiele when I was 14 because your LP cover for Lodger was inspired by Schiele. … But I don’t think anyone is going to be a successful artist by parodying something that has gone before.”

To that, Bowie replied,

“I would have to disagree with you. I think so much well-known work over the last 10 years or so has been a restatement of earlier stuff. … On the shoulders of giants, etc. Although what’s been just as fascinating is the reluctance of many observers to credit the original pieces where it might have been appropriate or illuminating.”

Given all this talk about Schiele, I’d hoped against hope to snag an interview with Bowie as evidence of Schiele’s contemporary influence for my concluding thesis chapter. Through some work connections I got as far as Bowie’s PR firm in L.A., who forwarded my request for an interview to “his office.” However, there I was felled; they were “not arranging any interviews for him at this time, even if not for the press.” Nuts.

I think my best chance for an interview—however brief—would be to bump into him at an art museum and just bravely start asking away. Hey, it could happen.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bowie, but could I ask you…”

(bottom photo via The Church of Man-Love)

Update: London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is hosting the first-ever retrospective of Bowie’s career in its exhibition David Bowie is (March 23, 2013–July 28, 2013), featuring objects from the David Bowie Archive.

Update II (3.19.13): I’ve since come to realize that perhaps one of the reasons Bowie was not doing interviews a year or so ago was that he was working top secret on his new album! In an interview with the London Evening Standard, his wife, Iman, is quoted as saying, “Everyone asks, ‘How did he keep it so quiet?’ But they were loyal to his vision and he asked, could they just keep it under wraps til it was released?” Wow.

Movie music

I was rifling through my iTunes library the other day and came across an old download of the Cold Mountain soundtrack with the religious chant “I’m Going Home” sung by the Sacred Harp Singers at Liberty Church (fast-forward to about 0:45). Do you remember this scene from the movie, when Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and the rest of the congregation fill that tiny white church with this robust a capella chorus until it’s as if they’re going to raise the roof off the rafters?

The lingering shot of Jude Law as the diffident Inman singing with such gusto stuck with me, probably because he does it with the kind of abandon I usually reserve for belting out tunes in the privacy of my car.

“I’m Going Home” (lyrics here) is so exuberant it reminds me of the Melanesian chant “Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi” from Chants from The Thin Red Line (the movie soundtrack). I dare you to listen to it without finding yourself smiling or your skin tingling, no matter what your religious affiliation.

I don’t know that the two chants have anything in common other than being Christian in nature (and both in films about war), but the sheer joy in them is so moving. They’re also very different from the more sedate church services I grew up with. Makes me recall my onetime goal of attending the services of other religions and denominations, just to experience how other people celebrate God.

I would love to find more music like this, too, so if you have any suggestions, please send them my way!

(Photo: Yahoo! Movies)

More on kids and music

On its 100th anniversary in December 2011, the San Francisco Symphony posted on its Facebook page this photo of kids enjoying an early symphony concert at the War Memorial Opera House, juxtaposed with a more recent shot of kiddos attending a concert at Davies Symphony Hall.

Immediately I thought of The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prizewinning story “Pearls Before Breakfast,” about famed violinist Joshua Bell busking in a D.C. metro and the people who did or didn’t stop to take in the gorgeous sound of his playing for pennies during a typical morning rush hour.

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

It also reminded me of Aiden, the 9-year-old kid on KQED’s Perspectives series who seriously loves opera. When I first read the piece, I had two thoughts: 1) That’s awesome! and 2) Is this kid for real?

“A lot of kids misunderstand opera. Once I told a friend the plot of ‘Die Walkure.’ I knew it was the kind of thing he might enjoy. As soon as I told him it was an opera, he stopped listening and tried to change the subject. That’s what has happened with everyone else.

“There are so many reasons why I like opera: the complex plots, the amazing music, the interesting characters, the battle scenes and just the stories themselves. I really don’t understand why other kids don’t like it. What idiot came up with the idea that operas were boring for children?

“It doesn’t matter to me, I like what I like. But some day, I hope to meet another kid who has the same feelings about opera as me.”

I have to say that Aiden’s a lot more self-assured than I was as an undergrad. I remember attending a harpsichord recital in the beautiful Powell Library rotunda at UCLA one Friday night and thinking ruefully to myself, My gosh, what am I doing here?! I should be out clubbing or something. :] Nope, instead, I’m listening to a harpsichord recital. (But it was really cool to sit in that Romanesque-style space and listen that close to the performer.)

(Photos: San Francisco Symphony and Online College)

Kids and the arts

Do you remember the first time you became aware of art and classical music? I think I was about 11 years old when I first begged my mom to buy me a calendar of Impressionist art and a 10-pack box of classical music CDs from Costco.

It was probably because Anne Frank was my hero at that age (I’d read her Diary of a Young Girl over and over), and if she said she loved and found solace in art and classical music, then I wanted to too.

Monet’s 1873 Poppy Field in Argenteuil—from that same Impressionist calendar, I’m sure—is one of the first artworks I remember ever registering. Probably because I grew up near the countryside and the feel of the wind rippling over the poppies resonated with me.

Of course, my first exposure to opera came from Looney Tunes, like “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera, Doc?” (I still can’t hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries without hearing Elmer Fudd echo, “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!” in my head. Or the overture from The Barber of Seville without picturing Bugs and that mini lawn mower he uses to shave Elmer Fudd’s sprouting dome.)

That way of making a potentially stuffy subject enjoyable reminds me of how in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Francie’s warm and vibrant music teacher Mr. Morton “taught [the kids] good music without letting them know it was good.”

“He set his own words to the great classics and gave them simple names like ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Serenade’ and ‘Street Song’ and ‘Song for a Sunshine Day.’ Their baby voices shrilled out in Handel’s ‘Largo’ and  they knew it merely by the title of ‘Hymn.’ Little boys whistled part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony as they played marbles. When asked the name of the song, they’d reply, ‘Oh, “Going Home.”‘ They played potsy, humming ‘The Soldiers’ Chorus’ from Faust which they called ‘Glory.'”

I’m convinced that kids have a natural affinity for fine and performing arts when you know how to play it to them. Consider Amelia Newcomb’s 2002 editorial “At 10, Hungry for the Masterpieces” for The Christian Science Monitor. Newcomb’s third-grade teacher, Miss Crankshaw,

“apparently saw no reasons her third-graders shouldn’t be conversant in European art of the 16th to 19th-century. Each Monday, she’d post a copy of a painting in a corner of our classroom, along with some notes. Our instructions were to spend some time with both before Friday afternoon, when she would stop the clock and draw us into an end-of-week art history chat that not one kid ever said was boring.”

Third grade! I just think that’s awesome. There’s so much fascinating storytelling there, so much opportunity for creativity and interpretation and self-expression for the kids.

That’s why I like volunteering at Art in Action, which brings visual arts to the elementary school classroom by putting together art projects inspired by famous painters and encouraging students and teachers to use their right brain and experiment with modeling what they see. (Below is bagged yarn put together by One Brick volunteers for a tapestry project.)

(Bottom photo: One Brick)