The season begins in full grandeur with Diving into the Lilacs, a world premiere by Yuri Possokhov, along with the return of Helgi Tomasson’s critically acclaimed work Prism and George Balanchine’s timeless neoclassical masterpiece The Four Temperaments.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
Today, January 30th, is the day that the sleepy little village of Yerba Buena changed its name to San Francisco in 1847 (the year before discovery of gold on January 24, 1848; the treaty of Guadelupe Hildago, which ended the Mexican American War, signed a week later on February 2, 1848; then the Gold Rush the following year in 1849—when the population surged from 800 to 80,000 in a single year; and California Statehood in 1850).
I had already known that January 30th was the anniversary of the beheading of Charles I outside Inigo Jones' glorious Banqueting House in Whitehall. But I hadn’t known that Oliver Cromwell was ceremoniously executed twelve years to the day after Charles. He had already been dead for two years! When I first went to the Henry VII chapel at the very end of Westminster Abbey, I was surprised to see a bronze plaque in the floor: "Oliver Cromwell 1659 -1661." What ... he was only two years old? Could this have been the grandson of the great Lord Protector and regicide of Charles I? Well no, it was the old Puritan himself.
He was buried there for two years until the Stuart Restoration. Charles II had him exhumed, beheaded, burned and drawn and quartered, then secretly scattered twelve years to the day after his father's execution ordered by Oliver Cromwell. Nothing like revenge!
Other notable deaths on this day were Crown Prince Rudolf at Meyerling in 1889, and Mahatma Gandhi in 1947.
The day also marked Adolf Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor in 1933 (of all things, on FDR's birthday, after he was elected in November, but before his inauguration in March 1933 – afterwards changed to January 20th because the electorate didn't want to wait so long for a transfer of power, especially during a Depression.)
Until I Googled, I hadn't known that such illustrious figures as FDR, Barbara Tuchman (a great American historian & one of my favorites), the extraordinary Vanessa Redgrave, and Christian Bale shared their birthdays on January 30th.
Today is also the 30th birthday of RM^3, a talented young architect I used to know. He’s now interested in getting more involved with management and real estate. Unfortunately, we had a series of misunderstandings, and no longer have any dealings with each other. RM^3 is a feisty, complex, creative, computer-savvy guy, and it was because of him—his example— that I was inspired to start this blog. Today’s posting is a variation of an email I sent to him on his birthday last year. I wish him well… and a long, good life.
(Today also is an anniversary of sorts for me. Thirty-nine years ago I was prepared to give up everything. Instead, I was given a second chance. I hope I’ve lived up to the promise.)
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Yesterday was not only the 250th birthday of Scotland’s national poet, but it was the final Sunday for my Dean, Alan Jones, of Grace Cathedral. The two major services seemed almost an installation—or even coronation— rather than a farewell. We had four trumpets, four trombones, tympani and assorted percussion with two choirs and full organ for the eleven o’clock service. I sang with the Choir of Men and Boys. Three of the pieces were actual English Coronation anthems, I guess because Alan Jones as a young boy had sung at the coronation of Elizabeth II, and had premiered both the Vaughan Williams and the Walton pieces. The Parry was a holdover from the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. At Evensong we premiered a newly commissioned Mag & Nunc (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) by Stephen Paulus. It was commissioned by Donald Runnicles, the opera conductor, in honor of The Very Reverend Alan Jones, Seventh Dean of Grace Cathedral. (I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve been at Grace for four of the seven Deans.) Both services went very well. Alan Jones had been installed as Dean on Michaelmas 1985—just three months before Dennis and I got together. So it was a poignant remembrance and completion of that whole period of my life.
Saturday I visited the new Contemporary Jewish Museum before seeing the new Daniel Craig film Defiance. The museum opened a few months ago, but this was my first visit. It’s a fascinating building with its blend of old and new. The older building is a handsome brick Renaissance revival style built as a PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) Power Substation in the “City Beautiful” tradition by Willis Polk just after the great earthquake and fire of 1906. To me its style looked more Venetian Renaissance than Roman or Florentine, so I guess that makes it appropriate for a Jewish Museum, since the term ‘ghetto’ was first used in Venice.
The new addition was designed by the Polish architect Daniel Liebeskind, and features among other things a stainless steel blue cube.
Since its founding in 1984, the Contemporary Jewish Museum has engaged audiences of all ages and backgrounds through dynamic exhibitions and programs that explore contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. Throughout its history, the Museum has distinguished itself as a welcoming place where visitors can connect with one another through dialogue and shared experiences with the arts.
In 1990, the success of the Museum prompted its leadership to plan for a more expansive facility to meet the growing interests of the local community. The Museum began formally exploring real estate options when the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (1994-1995) invited the Museum to develop the historic Jessie Street Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Power Substation, a 1907 landmark designed by architect Willis Polk.
In 1998, the Museum selected architect Daniel Libeskind to design its new home. Envisioned as a dynamic and welcoming space, the new 63,000-square-foot facility was planned to be a place to experience art, music, film, literature, debate, and — most importantly — other people. Daniel Libeskind's design for the Museum does not simply house this programmatic vision; it enables and inspires it.
I particularly enjoyed the inside of the blue cube, which is not what I had expected. The exterior is blue stainless steel. The inside has white walls, and is an open space, used not for display of art, but as a listening hall currently for commissioned music based on several Hebrew letters.
From a new building by a modern Polish architect, to a Hollywood movie about Jews in Belorussia during World War II. Defiance is a gripping film, though I’m not sure how accurate it is. Daniel Craig was terrific. With the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day coming up tomorrow, it somehow seemed appropriate to see it now, even if it is somewhat a Hollywood, cleaned up version of real events. When I wrote about the second partition of Poland the other day, I mentioned World War II only in passing. A sense of the horror of that war can be experienced in several other films: The Pianist, Schindler’s List and one of my all time favorites, Sophie’s Choice.
Meryl Streep won the Screen Actors Guild award last night for her portrayal of the headmistress nun in Doubt. She was wonderful in it. I shouldn’t be surprised-- I guess I am gullible-- but I am continually amazed at the power of her acting. One of my favorite performances of hers was Sophie in Sophie’s Choice. It’s hard to believe that that was her last of only two Oscars for best actress, since she’s done so many memorable roles since. (She’s just been nominated for her fifteenth Oscar!) I loaned a DVD of Sophie’s Choice to my Polish friend Adam. I asked him how good her accent was. He said he didn’t notice she had one. I guess that’s the proof in the pudding. (I think Meryl Streep and I overlapped a couple of years in New Haven. I’m sure I saw her in several productions of the Yale Rep.)
Meryl Streep has an extraordinary capacity to immerse herself in a role and deliver lines in impeccable accents. I loved her as the Danish writer Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. The only disappointment in that movie was Robert Redford. He played an Englishman... with an American accent. I’m sure he felt he couldn’t compete with Meryl Streep in that category, but I feel it would have been preferable just to make his character an American, since he didn’t use a British accent. By the way, I adore the Romantic score from Out of Africa by John Barry.
Then last night I watched the new Lifetime made-for-television-movie “Prayers for Bobby” starring Sigourney Weaver. I had read a preview of it in the blog “Loose Ends” by New York actor Patrick. (His blog is one of several I follow. I have a link to it here and recommend it highly.) The film is not perfect, but it was very moving.
Final thought for the day: “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” on this first day of the Chinese New Year, in the year of the Ox. Greetings as a new year begins!
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Senator Feinstein did a commendable job as MC. Her words were strong and well delivered (though was she really supposed to give a speech?)
The bow on Aretha Franklin's gray hat looked like a St. Andrew's cross, and --with it's silver spangles-- had an uncanny and unintended resemblance to the Confederate battle flag!
The schedule was off by a few minutes, so Vice President Biden was acting President for about seven or eight minutes -- until Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President. (45th, if you count Grover Cleveland twice, since his two terms were non-successive. Or is it the other way? Perhaps Barack Obama is the 43rd person to be President.) [I checked: yes, he is the 43rd.]
The only really awkward moment was when Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed his prompting of the Presidential Oath of Office.
Memorable words from the Inaugural Address:
"As for the common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Epiphany Carol Service
Saturday, January 3rd, 2009
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Langella puts on masterful show in `Frost/Nixon'
Having Frank Langella reprise his Tony Award-winning role as Richard Nixon is a big plus in Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon," a fascinating look at the 1977 David Frost interview with President Nixon three years after he resigned the presidency.
It also is a plus that Peter Morgan adapted the screenplay from his stage play of the same name. Under the guidance of Howard, the film can fortify the original play by breaking out from the restrictions of a stage performance. For example, the stage version cannot capture the intimidating grand arrival of Nixon for the interviews, rumbling up to the location in a police-escorted motorcade.
Although he looks nothing like Nixon, Langella has nailed the late president's forceful voice and portrays Nixon as a sometimes bitter and unapologetic man but one who also is crafty and despite a shameful exit from the presidency still determined to leave a more positive legacy.
Going up against him is Michael Sheen as David Frost, a television personality whose efforts to sit down and grill Nixon were greeted by skepticism, especially by a media that believed a more legitimate journalist should take a crack at the former president.
Of course, the underlying issue is Watergate and the subsequent cover-up that crumbled the Nixon Administration. Could Frost get Nixon to own up to not only knowing about the cover-up but actually orchestrating some aspects of it?
Frost is savvy enough to accept that he might be considered an overmatched lightweight going up against Nixon, and recruits a couple of proven journalists - Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) - to dig up whatever information can find to hammer Nixon with potentially incriminating queries.
Nixon, meanwhile, has his own corps of advisers, led by Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), to keep him focused on remaining presidential.
It is a sad commentary that the interview is seen by Frost and Nixon and the people in each camp as a competition - a boxing or chess match - when it is supposed to be a chance to extract truthful information.
The stakes are high for both men. Frost, unable to get financial backing from the U.S. television networks, puts up a lot of his own money and more borrowed from friends to bankroll the interview without any guarantee it will be on air. For Nixon, it is a chance to redeem himself while also carrying the potential of breaking him down or making look even more vile in the eyes of the American people.
"Frost/Nixon" portrays the two men as cordial adversaries. Nixon assumes a "bring it on" confident stance - after all, despite his mortifying fall from the presidency, he is an old pro politician, able to talk his way around any tough questions. Frost seems almost too complacent - even distracted by other elements of his work - and as a result loses control of the early portions of the interview. Fortunately for him, he is able to turn things around, leading up to the final moments of the interview that initially were seen as a victory for Frost.
In the end, neither man could claim he achieved everything he wanted from the interview. Although Nixon finally admitted to making mistakes and letting down the American people, there never was a true "conviction" of his alleged crimes, nor was he willing to apologize. As for Nixon, the interview did little to improve his image. Rockwell as Reston put it best: Even to this day, any malfeasance on the part of a politician gets labled with a "gate" after it.
Reston also noted that the end result really was not a victory for Frost and company, as the lasting image of the interchange would be that of a disconsolate Nixon admitting his political career was over - a scene that even the most passionate Nixon haters might find touching.
Those expecting "Frost/Nixon" to do a hatchet job on the late former president should be surprised at Langella's portrayal of Nixon. Yes, the man had issues, and he set aside any moral or ethical standards in his desperation to make a horrible blunder go away. Yet he is seen post-interview as a gracious man when Frost stops by to bid him farewell. Nixon even with a wry smile admits his demeanor may have been all wrong for a career in politics.
The final scene tells it all: Nixon at his massive San Clemente residence, staring out at a beautiful dusk over the Pacific Ocean, not really taking it in; a man beaten down by his own obsessions.
Check out my postings on 10/02/08, October Surprise 1980 (1968) and 10/31/08, Halloween 1960. (At Discount Records, my first job in San Francisco, we had a countdown calendar leading up to impeachment and then the resignation.)