Tag Archives: Performances

Days 10-14: Pfingsten Fling

Pfingsten stands for Pentacost, the Christian holy day celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Germans have a good excuse to enjoy the summer weather, join friends for barbeques in their community gardens, play music, and of course, drink beer. The extended three-day holiday gave me a chance to take day trips from Dresden, soak up more cultural events, and to hear music, music, music in the span of a whirlwind weekend between classes.

Hellerau, Germany

Hellerau, one of the first planned unit developments in the world, lies just north of Dresden. We found an excuse to visit there to celebrate the long holiday weekend and to see an open interactive dance performance in the festival hall.

Generously proportioned single family houses are tucked behind tidy gardens surrounded by fences. Each prominent sloping roof was built with design and care. Skylights not only provide light into the deep interiors, but some are also roof hatches. Newer codes require a landing outside the roof hatch if it is accessible, and a ship’s ladder provides access to the rooftop chimney. It seems like alot of getup just to solve a maintenance issue. Older houses do not have such complicated construction. And newer modern buldings are, yes, a showpiece in the neighborhood.

The Hellerau murals from the Forties show the Russian influence and the movement of troops through Moscow to Germany and Poland.

The Altstadt Music Crawl

Performers at the All-Day Musical Event in Altmarkt during Pfingsten weekend showcased numerous musical groups and genres. Music is everywhere in Dresden and delightfully unavoidable. We raced around the Residenz Schloss, the Kulturepalast, and the Japanese Palace, all within a stone’s throw of the Elbe River, to see a Brass Ensemble, rock bands, and choral groups (including featured image above) making music throughout the city center.

Handel’s Birthplace in Halle, Germany

About two hours west of Dresden lies Handel’s birthplace. The Handel Museum contained many unique historic instruments including organs, pianos, and wind instruments. A stirring poster advertising Handel music demonstrated the simplicity and power of propagandistic advertising. While the museum is not as informative as those in Leipzig for Bach, Mendelsohn and Schumann, it was still a worthwhile and pleasant excursion.

the Border between Poland and Germany (Görlitz)

Our German friends Hanne and Jens planned a special outing by car to Görlitz, about an hour east and outside of Dresden. They met me and Vladimir, a classmate from my first German class in Dresden, outside my Neustadt apartment. Being a holiday on Monday, it appeared that most of Germany was still working off the hangovers from too much beer the night before or was busy getting grills ready for the barby.

The town turned out to be a collection of historic buildings, lovingly restored to its 16th Century splendor. The St. Peters and Paul’s Evangelical Church on the German side was a massive building graced with many decorative elements. Artwork and sculpture complimented the sturdy structures thoughout the town.

Another Night at the Semper Opera, Dresden

A final performance of Carmen at Semperoper included a cast of thousands, modern clothing, and lackluster singing. The evening air outside provided lovely views of the city center and a refreshing pause between acts.

The Albertinum Museum, Dresden

The Albertinum was one of my “Go-Backs”, after German partner Jim reminded me that this museum contains paintings by one of my favorite artists–German Expressionist Otto Dix.

In addition, the Albertinum has impressive representative works of Chagall, Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, as well as those by German favorites such as Gerhard Richter and Max Liebermann. The slide show gives you a feel for each of these works.

And below are just a few of the random collection of works that I particularly liked. Portraiture and hands are appealing to me as I learn to draw and study the human figure.

DAY 7-9: new state of ALTSTADT AND OLD STATE OF NEUSTADT, DRESDEN

The location of Dresden’s landmarks are confusing, because the old part of the city was rebuilt after WWII and should be called Neustadt. But the neighborhood to the north of Dresden on the other side of the Elbe River is already called Neustadt. It was named that after a big fire in Dresden in 1685.

The beloved original Baroque buildings have been imitated every 200 years or so and throughout generations in between. So it is barely detectable whether they are from today (21st century), yesterday (19th century), or from its original reconstruction (1685). Dresden is fixated on the urban massing and proportions of five-story blocks with mansard, gabled roofs. It has committed itself to an elegant and functional building form worth repeating.

The plazas and central area of Dresden surrounding the major museums, the Frauenkirche, and the Semper Oper continue to impress old and new visitors to this historic imperial city. The large pit that was left open for a few years in the middle of the city due to archaeological excavations have been filled. In its place are replicas of the old Baroque buildings that were bombed during WWII. (See header above).

The Neustadt area where I live is jammed with young residents and visitors. It’s a lively scene where I live every night. Party-goers on bicycles invade the corner and perch on the curbs for hours on end. While the noise is evident, the scene is manageable. The bauhof or courtyard in my apartment building provides just enough sound separation to make unwanted noise undetectable.

The true test will be the annual local festival in the area next weekend, when the neighborhood comes unwound for three days. Clubs and restaurants will offer free music in nearly 20 different locations.

In the center of town, numerous free musical events took place throughout Altstadt (the old new part of the Old City). We caught a couple of young and old rock bands, two choir groups, and a brass chamber music ensemble. The often shuttered Japanese Palace was open on the weekend to host some of these events.

I’ve been buying my groceries at the corner Bio-Markt. It’s a minature supermarket complete with organic produce, fresh meat, dairy, and bread. I avoided the bread and wine to promote healthy living, but I did buy some landjaeger, one of my favorite dried sausages. It is packed with flavor, great for a snack or outing, and demonstrates one of Germany’s culinary skills- sausage-making.

Slowly, the Germans are learning how to eat better. Their culinary adventures are just catching up to the rest of the world. Germany has the second highest number of Michelin star restaurants after France. Like the English, German latter day awareness is under-appreciated. The fruit basket on display at a fair is a reminder of how ugly fruit and vegetables are shunned, despite the visually-appealing presentation..

An irresistible ticket price of 10 Euros drove me to the Semperoper to see Angela Georgeiou, the Romanian diva, in Tosca. Despite being in my favorite opera house, sitting in the fifth row slightly off center, a “clean” stage without a distracting cast of thousands, and the bargain, the performance was disappointing.

Day 4-6: Pictures at an Exhibition, Dresden

Although I am primarily here in Dresden for a German course, I feel like I am leading a double life. I have been researching Music Festival concerts being held for another week here, and I have managed to squeeze three in three days while attending classes. If you were ever contemplating how to take a music course by hearing performances, this is the place to do it.

Prices are reasonable and with student “rush” tickets, you are in business. I paid 20 Euros for “Pictures at an Exhibition”, a piano recital at the Albertinum Museum. It turned out to be a double bargain, since access to the museum was free immediately before the performance. 

In a fascinating program combining music and art, Tokarev first  played Tsaichovsky’s  “Character Pieces for a Year” for piano. Each month’s themes portrayed different moods and feelings, from romantic songs to grand celebrations. The second half was followed by Mussorgski’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. The tunes were skillfully enhanced by a video installation.

The program certainly increased my appreciation of the two composers and communicated the beauty in their work. Kandinsky’s “Large Gate from Kiev” painting from 1924 was featured in deconstructed movement and timing. Everything was seamlessly coordinated into an exquisite visual and musical experience.

Nikolai Tokarev, the soloist, has won numerous European piano competitions, performed alongside many European orchestras, and produced CDs interpreting beloved Russian composers. 

The Albertinum Museum exhibition, “100 Years of Bauhaus” was the second windfall. Created in Germany in 1920s, the Bauhaus included members shown in the exhibition such as Maholy-Nagy, Feininger, Klee and Kandinsky. It was a good warm-up to the performance.

The teachings of the Bauhaus formed the foundation for my undergraduate training in design at UC Berkeley. The Bauhaus developed design concepts and tools for mass production. Art, technology, architecture, painting, sculpture and construction were integrated from this movement.

Two-dimensional geometric lines and color like those by Piet Mondrian evolved into three-dimensional shapes. It is easy to see how industrial design and furniture like those by Marcel Breuer were an extension of isometric details and design.

The attendees at the exhibition of the Exhibition were exhibitions themselves. One woman wore a tastefully chosen black and white polka-dotted dress with red heels and accessories. Another more casually dressed gentleman clad in classic German black pondered in front of a textured wall. It served as a backdrop for artwork designed in the 20’s as part of the Bauhaus movement.

Last but not least, a quick rip through the classical section of the Albertinum revealed many forgotten items in storage and on display–a sad reminder of the dilemma of wealthy collectors.

After the end of the performance and three encores, the warm evening air outside reminded me of what a special place Dresden is in place and time. The view below is photographed from the Albertinum in Altstadt. Frederick Augustus, Elector of Saxony and the King of Poland, built most of Dresden’s original Baroque buildings here in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries.

Here are the other two concerts:

Grigory Sokolov Piano Recital

Born in 1950, Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov can still apply all faculties and fingers to a long and rare public performance. The audience was extraordinarily attentive, reflecting the pianist’s skillful yet delicate playing.

The Germans, as I have mentioned before, are stingy with kudos but you know you have seen something worthwhile when the audience gives multiple standing ovations (after stamping their feet). Sokolov showed his gratitude by performing several encores. It didn’t hurt that the newly renovated Concert Palace in the heart of Dresden is acoustically perfect. Musicians travel to the venue by bike and tourists arrive by public transportation at the front door.

Dresden High School for Music

The Dresden High School for Music demonstrated its mettle with a high quality string orchestra consisting of 11 to 19 year olds. The serious students and the attentive audience work hand in hand to promote a strong future for classical music in Germany. The building was beautifully and acoustically designed for occupants and visitors.

Sights and Sounds of San Francisco

If you were visiting me last month in San Francisco, I would have snatched tickets to an opera or symphony performance for us. As a city of nearly 900,000+/- techies, San Francico is graced with the highest quality music that can be managed by a small but loyal and enthusiastic following.

Many of the household names in opera today were trained in the local Merola or Adler Fellowship Programs here, including New York Metopera regulars Joyce diDonato, Susan Graham, Anna Netrebko, Patricia Racette, Deborah Voigt, and Delora Zajick; also Thomas Hampton, Brian Jagde, Quinn Kelsey, Ryan MacPherson, Lucas Meachem, Stuart Skelton, and the list goes on. Attending the concerts with current artists in training is an excellent way to familiarize oneself with fresh new talent.

 One of this year’s Adler Program presentations, the residency version of the Merola,  featured mezzo Ashley Dixon, soprano Patricia Westley, baritone Chris Purcell, and tenor  Zhengyi Bai. It’s great to see more Asians pursuing careers in opera. China and Korea seem to be particularly strong in gaining international recognition. I always look out for these talents and enjoy hearing their voices. Similarly, young composers and musicians from diverse backgrounds are flocking to the fields of music and opera in greater numbers, so neither opera nor classical music training are by any means static and uninspiring.

You can also catch superstars like Pianist Yuja Wang or Violinist Ray Chen performing annually at the SF Symphony, and a host of many other star performers. French Pianist Helene Grimaud was here for an afternoon performance at the San Francisco Symphony.  Tickets are relatively inexpensive and all seats have excellent acoustical sound quality at Davies Symphony Hall. International stars often sold out months in advance for higher prices in savvy European cities can be reasonably procured here.  I snagged a rock-bottom ticket priced at only $17 for Helene Grimaud at an afternoon performance.

For local charm, you can enjoy Chinese music performed by local high school and elementary school students once a year. Led by Sherlyn Chew, Chinese opera instructor at Laney College, she directed a score of Bay Area public school students in a joint end-of-the year performance of Chinese music for friends and family.

 In solidarity with the Notre Dame Cathedral, the San Francisco Symphony and local opera star Federica van Stade performed at Grace Cathedral.  As sister city to Paris, San Francisco and its French Community turned out to express its sympathy for the fire, as well as object to the attacks in Pittsburgh, PA and in the San Diego area.

The small but informative early Rubens exhibition at the San Francisco Legion of Honor gave me and my fellow German language partner an opportunity to discuss and discover the wonders of the Belgian artist together auf Deutsch. We challenged ourselves with the artist’s life and work while practicing our German vocabulary.

 

The annual Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) Festival held in May this year to coincide with the Asian Pacific Islander Month in San Francisco featured “Chinatown Rising”, a documentary by a Chinatown Presbyterian minister. He worked with his son to produce a film that showed the development of the Chinese community in the late 60’s and early 70’s. With his help and many local activists, Chinatown learned how to speak out about its housing crisis and poverty in Chinatown.

The second major film showing, was the now classic “Joy Luck Club”. After 25 years, the actors gathered together to celebrate their involvement in Amy Tan’s story about four women growing up in San Francisco and their mothers from China. Lisa Lu, now 90, was one of the featured actresses and a diva from traditional Chinese opera. She also played the grandmother in “Crazy Rich Asians”.

 

And a plug for Mister Jiu’s: an exquisitely prepared succulent pink trout stashed inside lotus leaves and baked in salt. The dish was perfectly paired with sides of parsleyed vinegar and trout roe. We satiated the rest of our greedy appetites with wild mushroom bao, first of the season apricot salad, crispy deep-fried shrimp, and stir-fried asparagus with black olives and smoked tofu for a leisurely two-hour meal. It was a monumental undertaking for two of us! We gladly indulged our brains and our stomaches bite by bite to the scrumptious end.

Don’t miss my upcoming, real-time travels to Germany, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Portugal and Austria in two weeks!

Metopera on Broadway

Aside from the address of the Metropolitan Opera being on Broadway, the opera is looking and acting more like Broadway. The opera has been transforming itself to appeal to a broader and younger audience. In doing so, it is getting a glitzy makeover.

Tonight’s Rigoletto felt more like a Broadway show, complete with neon signs, showgirls and a casino set. The first act was set in Las Vegas, and although it sounds hyped up, the stage sets were sophisticated and appealingly campy. Once the familiar music started, along with the stellar singing, you knew you were back in the good old opera house territory.

Nadine Sierra is an upcoming new starlet who has won plenty of awards for her singing and beautiful voice. It was one of those rare moments. Throughout the evening, you could hear a pin drop as the audience held its breath at each singing pinnacle. Sierra chirped long luscious notes and kept the audience enthralled.

Stage sets, which are often quickly covered at the end of the performance, were left exposed during the curtain call. The designer must have been very proud of this production to showcase it.

Be sure to look out for this live broadcast if it is shown in cinemas in the near future. It was spectacular, exciting, and the singing was stellar. An excellent reinvention of a popular opera.

The Armory Art Show at Pier 94 reinforced the thriving arts scene in New York City. More than 250 exhibitors were represented in a show that started 25 years ago in the Gramercy Park Hotel. you can see some of the works by featured artists below.

Traveling back and forth to Lincoln Center offered plenty of opportunity to view public art and hear a variety of musicians in the subway stations. They certainly enhanced the travel experience and gave plenty of inspiration. Can you guess the artist who produced the portraits?!?

WRING OUT THE OLD

Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.

These travels entailed detailed planning and visits to friends and family. While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.

I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.

Here’s the video:

The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany. Featured friends include Lisa from New York City, Alberto and Miki from Crema/Elba/San Diego (our fellow travelers to Hungary and Austria), Helena from Lucerne/Wallins in Switzerland, and former student Xiao Lin and his wife Susan, who live in Guangzhou.

If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.

I’m still debating about whether I will extend the blog into 2019. Traveling to Italy with daughter Melissa starting on New Year’s Day may help to inspire me to continue, so stay tuned if you are interested. We are also planning to go to the Caucasus in April (can you guess which three countries?)

Have an overwhelmingly, delightfully unexpected, fruitful, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

“A Kiss for the Whole World”

A delightful concert with the San Francisco Symphony playing Beethoven’s Ninth was a moving and timely experience. The full chorus sang the final Fourth Movement blasting the message from Schiller’s Ode to Joy in English: “Give a Kiss to the Whole World!” It was a much needed reminder of our dependency on each other.

During Intermission, the highlighted dome of the City Hall was gracefully poised behind and traffic crawling outside the Symphony Hall. Symphony goers were reflected in the windows as the two scenes melded into one.

KCET, a broadcast television station from Los Angeles, featured Mr. Jiu’s Restaurant on the Migrant Kitchen. Daughter Melissa works there as pastry chef in San Francisco’s Chinatown and was featured in it along with Brandon Jiu, the owner of the restaurant.  This was a pretty decent coverage explaining what drives young chefs into what they do, why they do it, where they go, and where they come from. I hope you will have time to watch the entire show posted here:

https://www.kcet.org/shows/the-migrant-kitchen/episodes/mister-jius-chinatown?utm_source=twitter

You can also watch it on KCET at the following times this weekend and after:

SundayDec2 9:00 AM PT
KCETLINK
SundayDec2 4:00 PM PT
KCET-HD
TuesdayDec4 10:00 PM PT
KCET-HD

I have been sketching and drawing around the city, at various cafes and venues. Sometimes I join SF Sketchers, other times alone, wherever I happen to be catching some java. It’s great art therapy and a way to engage with humanity.

Although I was considering throwing in the towel at the end of this year, I may continue for a bit into 2019. I am planning a trip to Rome for a quickie in early January, so look for a post coming from there soon!

Global Climate Action Summit and Opera in the Park

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018 was launched this weekend in San Francisco. The urban sketching group I belong to, San Francisco Urban Sketchers, is actively participating by sketching attendees and interviewing them for personal statements about their thoughts on climate change.

As co-chair of the GCAS, Governor Jerry Brown helped to launch California’s commitment and up to 90 cities throughout the world are joining hands to bring greater awareness to global climate change. Michael Bloomberg from New York City is also bringing attention to the cause and John Kerry has been invited to speak this week. Numerous events are planned throughout the week in San Francisco and other cities throughout the world.

For those interested in reading about this further, here’s the link to GSAC: https://globalclimateactionsummit.org

I had not realized the intensity of the effort by organizers and participants. First it started with a march from the Ferry Building to Civic Center. The afternoon was filled with information booths, spontaneous conversations, and networking. I saw Sierra Club, Grandmothers for Future Generations, and Native American groups joining in a peaceful demonstration. The day was friendly, inspiring, and perfect for getting out and getting active.

Fellow sketcher Karen made an eye-catching sign about the Emperor’s New Clothes, while other marchers dressed up and dressed down. Thanks to my figure drawing class, nothing was startling to me.

Our job as sketchers was to tell each individual’s story. We asked them why they came, what types of global warming they experienced, and what they were doing personally to help reduce global warming. We worked in pairs, taking turns interviewing and sketching. Our preparations and training the week before paid off, thanks to SF Sketchers organizer Laurie Wigham.

It was especially nerve-wracking for me as a new sketcher to sketch and color quickly (5-10 minutes all-in), nail the contours and features of the individual accurately, and stay calm while friends of the model watched intently! It was not unlike being a portrait artist in a tourist area. If you ever wondered what it was like, try it some time. I now know how difficult it is, but it was still fun pretending to be a professional for an afternoon!

Opera in the Park, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Our Sunday was graced with the San Francisco’s Opera In the Park. It is a free annual event to kick off the new opera season. Sketch buddy Karen was already staking out a couple of picnic blankets early in the day for the free event, so I was lucky enough to join her and company for the afternoon.

It was an unusually windless, warm but not hot, rare perfect day in San Francisco. We lolled to my favorite music from Cavallera Rusticana, the Drinking Song from La Traviata, and O Sole Mio by three soon-to-be famous operatic tenors. I even managed to sketch in between (See header above).

If you’ve been following me during my sojourn in Munich this summer, do you detect any difference in style and culture between the SF Opera audience and the one in Munich?!?

Day 45-46: Seoul Food and Not so So-So Seoul

Korean Cooking School

Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul.  I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.

The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.

Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.

And the final result:

The Royal Shrine, National Museum and  Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village

In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.

The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.

Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.

The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.

Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.