Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Suppervision Pride

With the beautiful and talented Gary Lutes before our June 26th Suppervision performance of the last movement of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Suppervision Pride was my third and final gig this past weekend, and the only one I got any pictures from, which is a shame because I raided my middle-school classmate Eric Glaser's drag closet, and Jupiter rearranged my drag and make-up for my second show Thursday night. Where are the paparazzi when you need them? In any case the first show at Supperclub was a success - I was the first dinner-theater act in history to perform Schnittke, and the dining room went gratifyingly silent for eight minutes. The second was at Tingel Tangel where I played the same music and it was a fiasco. I knew, walking into the jampacked bar, that the Schnittke wouldn't register, but decided to muscle through. It was much worse than I'd thought, thanks to amplification ugliness and a persistent non-drug-related hallucination I had that someone was walking around the stage behind me fucking with the mikes. Oh well! The reason I muscled through was for the boot camp concentration exercise (did I really just write the words camp concentration?), and in that sense it was a success, as I got through the piece, which I'd only committed to memory that week.

backstage at Suppervision with a friendly neighborhood little slut and $50 worth of Kryolan make-up, which I just remembered I still haven't gotten off my chin rest

dance party in the dressing room

I love this picture by Tom Schmidt despite the fact that it doesn't convey the extreme precariousness of the stage. I was on a three and a half foot ledge above a 15-foot drop and was so nervous walking out at the beginning that my knees almost knocked and I let my elbow scrape the wall for support. The keyhole-shaped projection is video of clouds passing over me. Gary played piano on the stage below.

In honor of our impresario I glued this rhinestone "III" to my head for the bow. After performances, there was dancing, and after dancing, there was the after party, and after the after party was the after-after party, and after that I walked home and was in bed by 8 a.m. Saturday morning and managed not to lose my violin or anybody's drag.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

KUNST-STOFF party tonight (San Francisco)

Tonight the San Francisco modern dance group KUNST-STOFF is throwing a party to celebrate its 11th San Francisco season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where I'm making my YBCA debut June 12 - 14 playing the world premiere of a Schnittke-Stookey piece for solo violin. Tickets for those three shows, which feature two world premieres by KUNST-STOFF founding choreographer Yannis Adoniou, are on sale now.

Tonight's party is from 5:30 to 7:30 at Triptych Restaurant (1155 Folsom Street between 7th and 8th). Admission is $15, ten of which is tax-deductible. Triptych hors d'oeuvres, cash bar. 

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Paris Day 13 - regime change

Barack Hussein Obama is president of the United State of America. George and Laura Bush were removed from the nation’s capital via military helicopter. I have had a few drinks. This is a potentially hazardous set of circumstances in which to blog, but it’s what I have to work with.

Let me start with a confession. While it’s true that I have wandered the maze of Montmartre accompanied by Messiaen’s unfathomable modes, and negotiated Parisian traffic to the tune of Poulenc’s crazed
Promenades (On the Train (!), In the Car (!!!), On the Bus (!!!!!!)), the plain fact is that I came to Paris tripping my brains out on Russian art. I allowed that I attended opening night of the squalid and sublime Lady Macbeth de Mzensk, but have kept to myself my obsessive immersion in the 4th and 6th Prokofiev piano sonatas – Yefim Bronfman’s coruscating take on them – not to mention the unforgivable excesses of the 2nd concerto Andantino – and only casually referred to my ongoing reading of Anna Karenina. Today was my second day off in Paris and much of it, after having my pants charmed off me by the area between the canal and Belleville, and an hour writing letters at the Café du Chat Noir on the Rue Saint Maur, was devoted to poring over a passage right in the middle of the novel that made a great impression on me.

I’ve never read
Anna Karenina, and hesitate to write about a novel I’m halfway through. Watch me do it anyway. Karenin has decided once and for all to divorce his wife and take their son from her, and Anna’s brother Oblonsky has finagled his way into his distinguished brother-in-law’s office to badger him into coming to dinner, where he hopes his wife (fellow adultery survivor at the hands of the Oblonsky siblings) will dissuade Karenin from pursuing the divorce and his sister’s ruin. From the opening pages I’ve visualized and more importantly heard Oblonsky as Brian Blessed as Augustus in I, Claudius – large, in charge, happy, almost autistic in his refusal to entertain the prospect of dissent, disloyalty, negativity or personal rejection, someone around whose disbelief in his own irresistibility a Golden Age could hardly restrain itself from flowering, if said autistic happy fool happened to be emperor. This is Bill Clinton without the neediness. Oblonsky and Augustus mold the world into a vision of their own positivity by the brute force of their magisterial bonheur, and when Tolstoy pits this way in the world against the dour sterility of Karenin, it’s the first time in 400 pages that I’m really hooked. It’s a dogfight – hypomanic, oblivious, Panglossian bon vivant lover / compulsive adulterer (French in spirit) vs. sour, joyless, correct, analytical authoritative bastard (Vladimir Putin) - and with it the pages begin turning themselves. More than I cared about whether Vronsky would wind up balling Anna and whether she dies in the end as a result – foregone conclusions – or whether Kitty and Levin will wind up joined in marital bliss (another, unless Tolstoy is preparing an overwrought bait and switch), I want to know whether Oblonsky will succeed in extracting the stick from his brother-in-law’s cuckolded ass and get him to come to dinner. That success is one of the most substantial satisfactions in fiction. Even then Tolstoy raises the stakes by making Oblonsky late to the dinner, blowing in the door to find his mismatched guests staring at their cocktails, not knowing what to say to one another. Twenty minutes later, he’s made introductions and kindled conversations, and after a perfectly prepared and presented dinner worthy of a head of state, the men rise from the table midsentence, transferring essential debates to the parlor, and even Karenin has forgotten himself in the Dionysian throes of postprandial bonhomie. Stick successfully removed – score one for the positive people.

My evening started back at the Chat Noir, which seems like the French café that spawned a dozen imitations in the Mission District between 1962 and 1981 – long worn oak bar, primary colors on the walls and exposed pipes, wrought-iron table pedestals. I was there to meet a friend of a friend and begin with her a five hour trek through Paris, initially in search of a place to watch the inauguration on TV, that brought us to the American Cathedral, the American Church, and a little bar in the French Quarter where I learned that one does not order a “verre” de champagne but a “coupe,” even though both words result in one’s being served much the same beverage. My companion,
Irène, objected to hearing the inaugural address simultaneously translated into French but I kind of liked it – it meant something to hear the inaugural address of our first transnational president in a group of non-Americans in a language other than English. From there we walked along the Seine, up into the Marais where the Hotel de Ville was sparkling above an ice hockey match like anthracite champagne, and to dinner at a seemingly respectable restaurant where hot gay couples were making out at table.

Irène and I parted so that I could hit some Marais bars on my own, but apart from becoming transfixed by the 50 Cent video for “Candy Shop,” which I now see 27,758,450 people, or half the population of France, have watched on YouTube, I was bored. I walked home to the Récollets Center meditating on why that scene with Oblonsky made such a powerful impression on me.

Maybe it’s a stretch to say I’m part Russian – I’m a quarter White Russian Jew (some shtetl outside of Minsk) and a quarter Ukranian Jew (some shtetl outside of Kiev) – but I am certainly some part Karenin / Putin, determined that I will forge my place in the world by force of will, strategy, manipulation, correctness, intimidation and brilliance. My other half is Italian, but for sake of argument we could say it was French; better yet we could say it was Oblonsky, and walking home from the Marais tonight I wanted with something approaching ferocity for Oblonsky to win – to emerge victorious from my life, stick in hand. I threw a going-away party for myself a few days before leaving San Francisco, and watching Oblonsky work over his guests with his beautiful gregariousness, I flattered myself, in part through what my friends said about the party and in part from my own observations, to think that I had succeeded in manifesting some of that same contagious and connective happiness. Oblonsky is, like his sister, a compulsive lover, an adulterer, brimming over with affection, sex, society, promiscuity of all kinds. I thought of how well the novel is coming along, how promising I think La Creation du Monde is, how hugely either of these two works could succeed, what that success could mean for me personally, and from there I followed a bright but fatally narrowing passageway, well trod by the likes of Karenin-Putin, in which I imagined the impact of such a success on a couple of men whom I love but who have rejected my friendship, how I wanted success and notoriety to elevate me to a degree that I could approach them from some unimaginable altitude, purified by the thin air of glory. Oh yes I remember you. This is probably the worst available motivation for artistic success and the one responsible for 98 percent of careers in the arts, whether the original irritant behind the pearl was drunk dad, bipolar mom or some other formative tale of woe. I thought, of course you want to be Oblonsky, the irrepressible lover whose skin is thick with joy – but it is only because you are Karinin that you have summoned the will to endure the solitary psychic punishments of writing, etc., to become the artist that you are today, an achievement that brought you to the think about all this on the banks of the neon-illuminated Canal St. Martin in the first place. So suck it up.

Then I saw how Tolstoy’s vision totally contravened this last thought and the whole notion that art springs necessarily from the emotional ruins of the artist. If there’s an artist figure in the first half of the novel, it has to be Oblonsky: he makes a mess of his home life (that exemplar of “unhappy families” with which the novel so famously begins), but he doesn’t give himself a terribly hard time about it and forges ahead with his agenda of engendering beauty and happiness everywhere he goes. His entrance into that dinner party, where everyone is staring into their cocktails mutely hating themselves, each other and society in general, is the perfect metaphor for the novelist sitting down to a day’s work. How do you make these people move? How do you make them talk to each other, be funny, antagonistic, pompous, sympathetic, human – how do you make them live? Oblonsky accomplishes this necromancy in 20 minutes, drink in hand. It’s a feat Tolstoy obviously admires because it’s the same blessed gift on display at the beginning of War and Peace, with Anna Pavlovna circulating like a cocktail fairy, sprinkling conversational pixie dust on all her guests. So Tolstoy’s host, artist and probably his God has to be a person of gregarious positive charm, not grim force of negative will, and I don’t think it’s by accident that he has Oblonsky address Karenin in French. My novel is finally coming out, in a cataract, because I am in Paris, and because I am happy.

This room, its views, these people, the richness of these eggs, this milk and bread, this language fitfully becoming my own, these neighborhoods, a cancer of brutality and banality removed from my nation’s capital in a helicopter – how could I not be happy? But I haven’t acknowledged recurring dark moments of my two weeks in Paris. I’m having nightmares, almost every night. They happen just twenty minutes or an hour after I’ve gone to bed. I wake up terrified and sweating, heart in throat, sure my life is in danger. I think, it’s the hugeness of this space, something numinous looming beneath its 20-foot ceiling; I’ll get used to it, the terrors will go away. It occurred to me yesterday after translating that historical marker that I am sleeping in a space where thousands of men and women, mangled by war or illness, came to die. I don’t believe in ghosts, but it appears that part of me that surfaces between bedtime and REM sleep might be picking up a lingering resonance of suffering and fear. Or is it just the part that won’t allow me to be Oblonsky? How much do we get to choose such a fate? Again I look to Tolstoy, who twins his irrepressible lovers for the sake of poignant contrast: Oblonsky, who spreads his love godlike, sure of its goodness, and his sister Anna, whose love poisons every life it touches. I wrote to my friend Bobbie about how I am scared sometimes that, having had such a miraculous year, I’m going to hear a little bell any moment bringing it all to a close. The time in Paris so far has been a beautiful extension, and these little night terrors bear the menace of a distant pealing.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Enter my contest! Rename Silent Night

On Thursday, InsideStoryTime presented "Humbuggery," an evening at San Francisco's Cafe Royale of stand-up comedy, writers reading, and live music. Pianist Gary Lutes and I performed the great Soviet composer Alfred Schnittke's Stille Nacht (Silent Night - 1978), which I had long thought of with an alternate title - "The Ghost of Christmas left with multiple stab wounds in a Soviet suburban parking garage." When Gary and I were through, I invited the audience to submit its own alternate titles, which you can see at the end of the video.

This was so much fun I'm putting the contest online. Just enter your alternate titles in the comments section of this blog, and the best one submitted by the end of the year wins a DVD of my film Apparition of the Eternal Church. Special prizes for all who enter! Email me at to redeem.

UPDATE - Congratulations to Martin Hoffman of Brooklyn, NY, for his winning entry "Slay Ride." Happy New Year to all - contestants, don't forget to email me for your runner-up prizes!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy birthday Elliott Carter!

Today is the 100th birthday of Elliott Carter. This differs from yesterday's Messiaen Centenary in that Carter is still alive. I took advantage of this fact when I was a Juilliard student by going down to the Village and playing for him, with pianist Pedja Muzijevic, his elemental and formidable Duo. There was a band at the time called CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE and of course when Helen Carter greeted us I remembered I hadn't peeled the sticker off my score. In any case, Carter loved us and I've just posted the performance (from my third-year Juilliard recital "An Evening of American Music," Nov. 30th, 1992, in Paul Hall, of all places):

PS - If you haven't voted yet, please consider doing so. I'm still losing. Badly. Think Sarah Palin in Berkeley.

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"Sexologist-violinist Paul Festa" at the Cafe Royale

Thursday, Dec. 18th, from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco, InsideStoryTime presents Humbuggery - a holiday reading/cabaret for the rest of us.

Billed, improbably, as a "sexologist-violinist," I'll show off the spectacularly pink and shiny new Nerve "The First Ten Years" anthology, read a new essay, and perform, with the lovely and talented Gary Lutes, Alfred Schnittke's "Stille Nacht," which is sort of like the ghost of Christmas dumped with multiple stab wounds in a suburban Soviet parking garage.

Thursday, Dec. 18th
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Cafe Royale
800 Post St. @ Leavenworth

PS - Speaking of Nerve, another of my essays is a candidate in an online contest. At the moment it is losing - not badly, but humiliatingly. We're talking Tom Tancredo/Mike Gravel territory. You don't have to register or even read the essays. Please save my career. Please vote.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Degenerate Art - in Berkeley! October 5th!

My friend Susan Waterfall - brilliant pianist - is presenting an evening of "Degenerate Art" - music, film and photos from Weimar. I'm very sorry to be out of town for this, which was a hit at this summer's Mendocino Music Festival. The details, from Susan:
“Degenerate Music!”: The Music of Weimar Berlin
Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center Sunday October 5

Susan Waterfall, pianist and narrator, Erin Neff, mezzo soprano, and the Mendocino Music Festival Chamber Players, present an evening of music, film, and photographs.

After World War I, Weimar Berlin was a cauldron of artistic ferment as avant-garde artists and intellectuals, most of them Jewish, struggled to create a modern German culture. Exuberant freedom and hectic experimentation masked a sense of impending doom. After 1933, Hitler denounced them all as “degenerate” and their forced exile carried Weimar modernity to the rest of the world. The evening includes Joris Ivens’ twelve minute 1929 art film, "Rain," with an extraordinary score by Eisler, cabaret songs of Weill and Schoenberg, Weill’s String Quartet, and pieces from Three Penny Opera.

The Berkeley Richmond JCC’s newly restored theatre is at 1414 Walnut Street, at the corner of Walnut and Rose in North Berkeley. Concert begins at 7:30. 510-848-0237.
$15 Member, Senior, Student; $20 General.

Presented in association with the Goethe-Institut San Francisco and the Mendocino Music Festival.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday and Thursday

When I lived in New York in the early 90s, one of the downtown acts that made the biggest impression on me was the chanteuse Joey Arias. She didn't just channel Billie Holiday, she sometimes surpassed her. Earl Dax has her in town tonight with some local talent and you should not miss this show:

Tingel Tangel Club
Wednesday March 26th, 2008 10p - 3a
The Bubble Lounge, San Francisco
714 Montgomery Street (btw. Jackson & Washington)
Admission is $10
Live performance by JOEY ARIAS!
DJ Johnny Dynell (Jackie 60, BoyBar)
Hosted by Chi Chi Valenti (Mother, Click + Drag)

I'm reading with Violet Blue, Amy André and Melissa Gira from Best Sex Writing 2008
March 27, 2008 07:00 PM - 09:00 PM
Center for Sex and Culture1519 Mission St., Suite 2San Francisco, CA 94103

I'll be reading my essay "How Insensitive," about my experience volunteering for a study that set out to measure just what is lost in male circumcision.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oh My God revised pages

For someone with a proven, no, stellar record of workaholism, not a lot impresses me, but what I have done since Thanksgiving week and the present moment in order to get this book finished in time for Jan 25 surpasses prior experience, even imagination. Everything hurts. I have seen the sun rise--and not because I got up early--every morning for the past week. Which I've enjoyed, actually--a time comes when the email stops arriving in the inbox and the city goes deadly silent and it's just me and the project, and the subsequent hours fall away so fast it's genuinely surreal. Last night I was out on the deck for a fresh air break and was just gazing up at the eastern sky and a meteor appeared like a giant lamp going on. Not a streak, just a slow-moving fireball, the biggest and brightest I've seen except the time Juliette and I drove through the night from Salt Lake to Dinosaur 15 years ago and saw something that lit up the landscape and looked like it was on track to incinerate a nearby trailer park.

In any case, I just interrupted my own complaining. I am not at my most coherent. I leave for LA tomorrow and the 117 imperfect pages of "Oh My God: Heaven and Hell in the Ear of the Unbeliever" (James thinks it should be simply, "Oh My God, That's Such a Big Organ!") are as good as they're going to get for this first complete printing. I'll order two or three and show them off at screenings, let people put in an order. I'm having a devil of a time with color correction--the 20-page test I got from Lulu was a major disappointment. I've tried to adjust a few things--everything tends to look great on the computer and lousy on paper. Blacks are dirty and mottled, so I've way reduced the black in the background. Could Lulu be the issue? I am rambling. Here are the images--the same ones I posted last time, revised, resized and with director's commentary, but I've skipped around so the commentary will be, like this blog post, a little bit random. Oh--remember to click on these images to read the fine print.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

SAD reading list

Whenever I remove myself from human society in order to get some serious writing done, I expect my mood to nosedive. In this instance, shut in a small cabin with the dog and the novel and a woodstove, I have not helped myself with my choice of reading material--Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and, read by the author on CD, Beloved. This is my first exposure to Foer, and while, 230 pages into the book, Oskar Schell is irresistible, Foer's stylistic and typographical experiments are not (he might find this funny--my copy from the San Francisco Public Library has a handwritten note indicating that there is "writing on pp. 208-216"). Toni Morrison's mostly whispered performance of Beloved is devastating when it isn't totally inaudible. Toni, speak up! Don't you know everyone's listening to this in the car?

Between American slavery, 9/11 and the firebombing of Dresden, who needs Seasonal Affective Disorder? I am counterbalancing all of the above with five-hour pool-playing sessions with Pierrot across the valley, every other night, and, on alternate nights, practicing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, whose first movement is the happiest music written after the death of Schubert. Ludicrous piling on of intense, throbbing, cherry-popping, Ecstasy-fueled happiness! If Tchaikovsky were alive today he'd be writing music for circuit parties.

Which is such a good segue to the other thing I read today--Steve Martin's personal essay in the New Yorker about his first regular comedy gig, at Knott's Berry Farm in the 60s. It includes this vignette:
Working on a college project about Charles Ives, (college roommate) Phil (Carey) landed an interview with Aaron Copland...Three days after we left Los Angeles, Phil and I arrived at Copland's house, a low-slung A-frame with floor-to-ceiling windows, in a dappled forest by the road. We knocked on the door, Copland answered, and over his shoulder we saw a group of men sitting in the living room wearing what looked like skimpy black thongs. He escorted us back to a flagstone patio, where I had the demanding job of turning the tape recorder on and off while Phil asked questions about Copland's creative process. We emerged a half hour later with the coveted interview and got in the car, never mentioning the men in skimpy black thongs, because, like trigonometry, we couldn't quite comprehend it.
I know next to nothing about Copland's life, but in my imagination he was the nerdy bookish side-kick to Lenny's high-living, dry-fucking, student-molesting sot. It really warmed my heart to learn that Copland was getting his share of scandal and thong.

The other lovely thing from the Martin essay:
Through the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.
I will take comfort in this while both are in short supply.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Opera review: Appomattox

Two friends from out of town invited me to the world premiere performances at the San Francisco Opera of Appomattox, the Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton work about Lee's surrender in the Civil War. I took the first opportunity, with my friend Myrlin from Short Mountain, Tennessee, thinking I would also go with Juliette, from Albion Ridge, tonight, if I liked it. Suddenly I find myself without Thursday evening plans.

Two caveats: One is that I cannot responsibly review the opera because I only got through the first half. I wrestled with my decision to desert at the intermission, weighing factors like my credibility as a critic, the $30 I'd paid Myrlin for his second senior rush ticket, and the possibility the opera would redeem itself in the second act. I finally decided that any work that had proceeded for its entire first half without a single interesting idea emanating from the stage or the orchestra pit was probably better left for dead on the battlefield.

The second caveat is that when I was a violin student Philip Glass was extremely generous to me. For my third-year recital at Juilliard, I put on "An Evening of American Music" and closed the first half with the Knee Play 4, an interlude from his first opera Einstein on the Beach in which Einstein plays violin to the accompaniment of a four-part male choir. As rehearsals started with the singers, I opened the Manhattan phone book, found the composer's number, called him up and told him what I was doing. He invited me and my singers down to his house in the East Village and we ran through the number for him. He not only gave us a coaching, but on the spot he composed for us a concluding passage that would make the interlude work as a concert piece. Later that week he sat for a telephone interview, which I printed in my program notes and which, if I can find the file, I'll post to my Web site one of these days.

I endured a fair amount of jeering snobbery from Juilliard faculty and classmates for programming Glass--one of my collaborators on the program made a point of leaving the theater before Knee Play 4 began. But I loved Einstein on the Beach. I'd discovered the music when I was twelve years old and it had an absolutely druggy impact on my imagination. At twelve, I couldn't have put words to the experience, but I was hearing something genuinely revolutionary (whether Glass touched off the revolution or just popularized it), something revolutionarily clean, vital, downtown, Eastern, technological (despite relying almost entirely on the human voice and traditional acoustic instruments), neon and new. Einstein's hallmark was the radical transparency of its harmonic language after seventy years of musical drip-painting, clarity that put into high relief not only the strangeness of the libretto and the vividness of Robert Wilson's stagecraft but the newness and singularity of Glass's instrumentation and timbre. After all the Juilliard jeering I was afraid my love affair with Einstein couldn't survive whatever sophistication I'd acquired since the age of twelve, but I went to the BAM revival in the early 90s and loved every minute of it. I stand by Einstein, I respect Glass, and I hurl mean thoughts at all the snobs I went to school with.

That's part of what made Appommatox such a dismal experience, feeling in my own response to it the dismissal and derision with which my friends left the recital hall before Knee Play 4. The first act of this new opera was stupefying. How else can we receive a ten-minute scene in which the women sing "war is sorrowful" over and over again over utterly unilluminating harmonic noodling in the orchestra? It's either sublime simplicity or numbing insipidity, and judging from the response of the audience in the dress circle, most people got numb. Einstein too was built on repetition, but with the newness of the way Glass wrote for the voice and the freshness of the ideas he and Wilson manifested, the results were always intriguing if not downright beautiful. In Appomattox, scene after scene unfolded according to a formula of idea-free reiteration.

"It's pretty glum," said Myrlin at halftime. "But it's war, and war is glum."

OK, I'll swallow the glum pill. But at least give me some hope it will be good for me! It's 1865, the women are all dressed for a Victorian funeral, the set with its blood-red moat looks like it was borrowed from a modern-dress production of Turandot, the libretto reads like the remix of a History Channel transcript, and the accent coach and the production's grim determination to be historically accurate have Mrs. Lee belting out lines like "Husband, it is not RAAAAAAAAGHT for you to do so!"

What I missed in the second half: Lee and Grant negotiate a surrender (negotiations!). Interruptions in which racial injustice from the near and distant future is portrayed (education!). A looting scene, and then a reprise: women lament the tragedy of war, the orchestra noodles.

My recommendation: take the money you would have put toward a ticket and get the original recording of Einstein, with the surpassingly pure and luminous soprano Iris Hiskey.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Alex Ross makes my day

The New Yorker music critic mentions both Albert Fuller's Rendezvous Lounge and Apparition of the Eternal Church in this most gratifying of blog entries.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Albert Fuller, 21 July 1926 - 22 September 2007

photo by Christian Steiner

Albert Fuller died this morning at his home in Manhattan. He was eighty-one, and leaves his circle of students and friends, among whom I was privileged to count myself, with many lifetimes' worth of personal and artistic gifts.

I love you Albert!

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

diary: day (two) of the blog

I know that with my sprawling posts I am violating blog decorum but I enjoyed yesterday's prolix experiments so much and was up until three in the morning monkeying with them. Part of being up until three in the morning was ending my monthlong abstinence from alcohol and caffeine and getting further amperage from the cataclysmic electrical storm that blew through last night. The sky was constantly flickering at the horizons and then, after midnight, it was exploding with light. While it was still at a distance--we had stars overhead--I threw a blanket down on the lawn and blasted Holst's Planets: Mars, the Bringer of War, from the colony sound system, which with the clouds at the periphery of the valley lighting up as if under bombardment was the ideal accompaniment. One of my great experiences as an orchestra musician was playing first fiddle in that piece with Paul Zukofsky conducting the Juilliard Orchestra. He took it twice slower and drier than anyone I've ever heard and the resulting sense of menace was devastating. Zukofsky understood the Planets intuitively--as the violist in my quartet observed, the suite is a sort of "Ma Vlast" for him.

I have five hours left in my studio and have only blogging ambitions. Lots of photos to go through and edit and post, and also I owe the blog a piece of literary criticism promised near the launch.

I will try to keep my entries short.

But first a word about alcohol and caffeine--the latter came exclusively from a bittersweet chocolate souffle with Earl Grey custard sauce that I made for the group because everyone was ending their residency with a massive egg surplus. Even though I had to substitute soy milk for cow's, the dessert was a big success--especially the sauce. Here's the recipe, which is by far the most basic I've used for souffle.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

MacDowell Colony: Landlines

When I was at MacDowell late last year, Oct-Dec, an artist by the name of Anna Schuleit was working on a big installation having to do with telephones for MacDowell's centenary celebration. A few days ago, I got email explaining that

one hundred telephones -- that taboo device at a colony meant for undisturbed creative work -- have been temporarily installed on one hundred trees across MacDowell’s grounds by Schuleit's team of more than 200 volunteers. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, as the thousands of celebrants walk the grounds, the telephones — drawn from every decade of the 20th century and with 100 different sounds — will begin to ring.

But who will be calling?

Why, it will be YOU. Colony Fellows from across the country and across the decades. It is you, those who cannot be here, who will play the most important role of all: to call and lend your voice to the Colony’s 100th anniversary.


We ask, we plead, we implore, we beg, and we so hope that you, a friend of MacDowell, will dial your phone and tell a story, ask a question, pose a riddle, sing a song or otherwise reach out to meet one of the celebrants on the Colony property for this once-in-a-lifetime event. Your call will pass through an old fashioned switchboard operated by children from Peterborough. They will connect your incoming call, by hand, to one of the telephones mounted on 100 trees spread across the MacDowell property. There, the phones will ring, and the visitors physically present will answer.

I got all excited about this--it seemed propitious that I would be calling from another artist colony, and on my last days here, and I decided I would call and offer the person on the other end of the line a choice between music and fiction. When I called earlier tonight, the switchboard was overwhelmed. I called four times before an operator picked up, and by the time I reached him, he'd been brought down to a low frazzle. Some of the trees around the colony weren't accepting calls, and he wound up trying to connect callers to each other. He had a number of us connected on a party line, and one older fellow seemed very put off by the fact that he wasn't being connected to a tree. The rest of us tried to make the best of things--what part of the word party didn't this old fart understand?--but the experience was a bit like being at a very loud cocktail party at an art school reunion where you don't know any of the other people and you're all blind, a little hard of hearing, and possibly underwater.

Eventually I was put through to a tree, and that's when things really went downhill. I offered the woman on the other end of the line a choice of fiction or music, and when she chose fiction I got nervous. The thing I was prepared to read was the monologue by an eccentric and potty-mouthed black queen, a scene I'd read in high Ebonics with great success at the Jentel Presents presentation at the public library on Tuesday. I figured if I could pull off an African-American Radical Faerie rant at a public library in Wyoming, it would go overjust fine in the MacDowell woods. But not very far into my reading I felt very, very foolish--there was no way to perform this over the telephone. It required space and body language and an audience. "I think I got the gist of it," said my tree woman about halfway through, putting us both out of our misery.

No, that's not accurate--I still had the misery of embarrassment and disappointment to contend with. I'd wanted to contribute something fun and vital to what seemed like such a great project, and for twenty minutes I felt like I'd let Anna and MacDowell and myself down by simply trying too hard (the usual way). Twenty-one minutes after hanging up, though, I remembered that it's an *artist colony*, and that the occasional performative face-plant, while painful, is most definitely the price of learning how to make art.

Here's a story in the New York Sun about the Landlines Project.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Rhapsody on Somebody Else's Superior Vocabulary, Part I

My mentor of mentors praised me once. She said she approved of the way my words were articulated, one to the next. "It reminds me of what Isaac Stern once said about music, that it was the stuff between the notes." Mortar and hinges. Cartilege and tendon and fascia enlaced, one to the next. I always thought Isaac Stern was full of shit, and not just because he ground me into the New Haven asphalt with his custom-made Italian heel after I played the Bach Chaconne for him in his room at the Taft. He was full of shit because of the way he played the Beethoven concerto--yes, as though he were telling a story, but he's not telling the right story! This is an opera about the beauty and muscularity of human thought, and his is the story of a lumbering, ponderous formality. It's not without its own beauties, but honey, whatever I did to the Chaconne at least I didn't slip it a Roofie. Heifetz played the Beethoven concerto with passion and elegance so powerful his recordings leave a slipstream behind them, into which we fall, amazed and ennobled. It's funny, I've only just realized--I haven't heard anybody's recording of the Beethoven concerto in more than ten years, maybe fifteen. I can't start now, James is asleep on the sofa, and I don't have the Stern recording with which to keep him that way.

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