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.


1 April 2013 in Music

“Imagine … if one lived in the world of a Beethoven piano sonata.” Beethoven aside, the metaphor is useful, for is not a composition a world in which a performer or listener lives? A piece of music encourages a journey; it invites travel. Melodies, motives, and modulations: this is the terrain we must trek. Peter Garland’s Peñasco Blanco refers to “a specific site of Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon National Monument, which looks over the expanse of two vast canyon systems.” This landscape, so open and spacious, ironically contradicts the physical structure of the composition. The piano and vibraphone lines are so close-knit that there is little room for anything (or anyone) else. The rhythmic unison is impenetrable. (From a
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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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Memories Above the Seat

7 February 2013 in Music, Theater

I attended West Edge Opera’s Poppea this past weekend and was reminded how much I enjoy the little companies, the ones that reside in the cracks between the Bay Area’s more venerable institutions. In a small theater (Poppea was presented at El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater) I can sit in the cheapest seats (a comparable row at War Memorial would command a premiere price) and feel an immediate connection to the performers onstage. The company, in turn, can articulate character, style, setting, and ensemble in ways that might be lost in a three-tiered grande opera house. Granted, this production of Poppea was pared down in terms of both the script and the cast (seven singers, two acts, and
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Cloud Atlas

3 November 2012 in Film

After seeing Cloud Atlas, a friend asked me if I thought the musical storyline was believable. In the film, a young English composer (played by Ben Whishaw) becomes the “amanuensis” (copyist) for an older (apparently well-recognized) composer, leaving his lover in the lurch for what seems like the gig of a lifetime. It is the 1930s, (though the music and lifestyle both struck me as late nineteenth century) so yes, I found it plausible that the young man would move, enthusiastically, into the composer’s house. (Free room and board? How could an aspiring composer say no?) I even believed the scenes depicting their working relationship, from the older man screaming, “that’s not what I sang at all!” and causing me
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