Brahms Ballade, Op. 10 No. 4

8 June 2013 in Heather, Music

The middle section of this piano piece conjures a moment from one of my past lives. An early morning. Mist thick as cobwebs. I’ve wandered from the small stone house to the water’s edge, and in spite of the blindfold of vapor, I see it. A lake monster, moving as an alto voice in a murk of harmonies. It swims and sings against the current, toward me. The A section returns, resting an invitation on my shoulder, and I go back to it, leaving an outline of myself at the water’s edge, watched and watching. A long time ago.

All Bets Are Off

12 May 2013 in Music

San Francisco, 1996. I walked down the four scruffy, psychedelic blocks from my apartment on Ashbury to the end of Haight Street, cutting across Stanyan and over to Kezar Stadium, the once-upon-a-time home of the San Francisco 49ers. That night, host to a high school football game, the stadium hummed with an expectancy that could mean only one thing; it was the Bruce-Mahoney, the game played each year in memory of two alumni who had lost their lives in World War II. For many years, the two rival high schools played their basketball games in the adjacent Kezar Pavilion, and I could easily recall the din of squeaky sneakers, referees’ whistles, and screaming spectators as I took my seat on
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Wandering in the Musical Brain

29 April 2013 in Music

The view of music through the lens of the hard sciences sometimes strikes me as fantastic, but perhaps such interdisciplinary relationships are no more strange than those forged between music, art, and literature. Between the recent premiere of Jonathan Berger’s operas, the “Music and Brain” symposium, and trekking across the Stanford campus, I was reminded that the juxtaposition of art and science, idea and exploration, can be intriguing, if unexpected. Read my full review at NewMusicBox.

The Great Taffy Pull

24 March 2013 in Heather, Music

Chopin’s 4th Ballade was my big piece the first year I lived in San Francisco (attending the Conservatory). My teacher and I had long discussions about how to make 6/8 time sound like elegant infinite 6/8 and not like plodding 3/4. It’s somehow too easy—with the lovely main theme—to succumb to a fake 3/4, accenting every third eighth note like a downbeat, as if playing a waltz poorly. But even in 6/8, there’s another hidden danger, that of turning the serpentine tune into a lilting Venetian boating song. Nineteen years have passed, yet I remain intrigued by the work and careful thought it takes to give the 4th Ballade a smooth rhythmic line, one that surpasses the banality of its
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Mahler 9, Not to Be?

14 March 2013 in Heather, Music

I wrote this piece two weeks ago in anticipation of tomorrow’s SFSymphony performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony at Davies Hall. The orchestra musicians went on strike yesterday, and I half expect that Friday’s concert will be cancelled. All is not lost if it is, however, as I’ll be able to join my fellow Grotto writers at the Book Passage in the Ferry Building for an evening of three minute readings. Mahler in March reminds me of Mahler in September and the last time anyone wanted to see the symphony with me. In all honesty, the symphony is best à seule. No one talking through the warmup. No one asking pressing questions at intermission. I will wear blue silk and the
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Nina Simone

5 March 2013 in Music

Nina Simone’s voice wavers in that unsteady way—she always sounds as if she’s on the verge of crying, though tears are probably the farthest thing from her mind. “Black is the color…of my true love’s hair.” She weighs her words, each one, as if on a twin scale in front of her on the piano. (It is her chemist’s desk.) When satisfied, she converts the words into phrases that suffuse the room. The music is unweighable. On the piano, she punctuates the song like she doesn’t give a shit. It’s as if playing the piano is a bore to her, an additional task that she’s only doing because the studio producer asked her, oops, would she mind. She is unsurprised.
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