Sunday Salon 6-25-17

Sunday Salon badge squareTime and Place: 11:30 Sunday morning, at my main computer at home.

Reading: At the beginning of the year, I set myself a goal of reading forty books during 2017. That’s the same number I read last year, which was my best total since 1997. As of today I’m at nineteen, so I’m more or less on track. Among the books I’ve read in the last few months are The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History (I took many notes while reading this, and hope to write about it before very long), How To Be Everything by Emelie Wapnick, the collection of Haruki Murakami short stories Men Without Women, the first volume of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgård, and Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees.

Viewing: For whatever reason, I’ve found myself drawn to nature documentaries recently. I’ve worked my way through the series Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, and may next go back to an old favorite from years ago, The Living Planet. Yes, I’ve probably heard Sir David Attenborough’s voice more than my own in recent weeks. A few films have found their way into my viewing as well, including the French film Henri, Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, the rather charming We Bought a Zoo, David Lean’s classic Brief Encounter (a longtime personal favorite), and both Martin Scorsese’s and Masahiro Shinoda’s film versions of Shusako Endo’s novel Silence. As for art, during a recent trip to San Francisco I was able to see the exhibitions Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty at the Asian Art Museum, Matisse/Diebenkorn at SFMOMA, and Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor.

Listening: Aside from listening I’ve had to do for the occasional program note writing, I’ve been listening to and enjoying Penguin Cafe’s most recent album The Imperfect Sea, Mare Nostrum by Hespèrion XXI and Jordi Savall, and Michael Habermann’s recordings of the music of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji that were reissued not long ago by Naxos.

Blogging: This is my first blog post in about four months, and my first since taking on the job of Executive Director of the Reno Chamber Orchestra on March 1. Whether this is simply a check-in or a return to regular blogging remains to be seen. My tendency, however, to spend my free time worrying about work rather than doing anything productive (say, writing) is not a helpful one.

Pondering: Oddly, but perhaps not paradoxically, I have found myself openly discussing my feelings, my deepest concerns and interests, much less in the last three or four months – when my job has forced me to be in social settings a lot of the time – than I did during the previous year of very solitary unemployment. In fact, I pretty much never have a serious conversation anymore.

And finally: According to the Population Reference Bureau, something like 107.6 billion people have lived in the course of our planet’s history. The current population of the world passed 7.5 billion on April 24 of this year. Therefore, about 7% of the people who have ever lived are alive right now. Just so you know…

Sunday Salon 2-12-17

Sunday Salon badge squareTime and Place: 7:30 Sunday morning, at my main computer at home.

Reading: Along with continuing in the novel Headlong by Michael Frayn, which I should finish in the next day or two, I read one self-help book this week, Susan J. Elliott’s Getting Past Your Breakup, which I indeed hope will prove to be self-helpful.

Viewing: My coolness toward film watching continued this week, as I only watched a couple of documentaries: InnSaei, a somewhat muddled exploration of intuition and mindfulness, and 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama. It’s never a bad idea to spend some time listening to the Dalai Lama.

Listening: It has once again been a listening week dedicated to the music I needed to write about for my program note projects. This time, it was the contents of the concluding concerts of the Reno Chamber Orchestra’s current season: Beethoven’s concert aria Ah! perfido and Antonín Dvořák’s Stabat Mater.

Blogging: My blogging goals seem to have settled into the idea of doing two extended pieces per week, along with a Wordless Wednesday and a Sunday Salon. I usually feel fairly good if I can manage that much. And this week, I succeeded, producing:

* An article I had meant to write for a long time, Looking At Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks
* My impressions of Frank Stella – A Retrospective, an exhibition currently at San Francisco’s de Young Museum

Pondering: This has been another of those weeks where pondering, thinking, anticipating, remembering, dreaming … they’ve all turned out to be more harmful than helpful. Living in the present moment, which is all we’ve got after all, without judging and evaluating and comparing seems to be a more beneficial way to go.

And finally: Returning to the theme of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, the painting has been enormously influential. One never knows where it will turn up…
nighthawks-star-trek
nighthawks-simpsons
nighthawks-santa
nighthawks-csi
nighthawks-star-wars

Sunday Salon 2-5-17

Sunday Salon badge squareTime and Place: 8:00 Sunday morning, at my main computer at home.

Reading: While I didn’t complete any books this week, I did start a new novel, Headlong by Michael Frayn, which details a plot to secure a long-lost and extremely valuable painting by Pieter Bruegel from an unknowing couple. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the comedic tone and the amount of historical and Bruegel scholarship included in Headlong has surprised and delighted me.

Viewing: As I’ve mentioned before here, I’ve been enduring a cold spell with regards to film viewing. For some reason, the time and attention required has seemed more than I could manage. I’ve tried to counteract that by choosing to watch a film that I already knew I loved. I wanted to watch something with poetry and wonder and heart, with vivid characters and setting, something that reminded me why films are made in the first place. Pondering this for a moment, what came pretty quickly to my mind was Jean Renoir’s The River. I watched it last night, and was not disappointed. It may not get me back on track with film, but The River is certainly a beautiful work of art.

Listening: Aside from Mike Oldfield’s new album Return to Ommadawn, which I’ve been enjoying greatly, my music listening has unfortunately followed the same path as my film viewing. Fortunately, I am “forced” to listen to music for the sake of the program notes I write. But a renaissance of interest is needed here as well.

Blogging: Unlike the previous week, when I did basically nothing on the blogging front, the week just past was remarkably productive. My posts included:

* a little free fantasy on the nature of consciousness, to be as pretentious about it as possible, based on a quotation from Virginia Woolf
* a beautiful quotation from Pirandello
* an old woodcut by Moritz von Schwind, The Hunter’s Funeral, that is said to have provided inspiration for the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (about which I recently wrote a program note)
* my impressions of the recent volume of conversations on music between Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa, Absolutely on Music

On top of that, I’ve also just about completed a review of Frank Stella: A Retrospective, which I saw recently and is currently on exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. This should appear at the blog in the next day or two.

Pondering: It’s an age-old question, but how could I have been so unmotivated to write two weeks ago, and yet so remarkably productive this past week? Although I did write some in that down week, the process consistently felt like trudging through mud. This past week, everything flowed easily, and what I wrote needed little revision. Which is it going to be in the coming week?

And finally: By the brilliant Tom Gauld, author of You’re All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack
cultural-teddy-bear-by-tom-gauld

Sunday Salon 1-29-17

Sunday Salon badge squareTime and Place: 3:00 in the morning, afflicted by insomnia, at my main computer at home.

Reading: This week, I completed Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams, one of just four novels this great author and longtime University of Denver professor completed. At first the book felt a little plodding to me, short of action and long on description. But as I read, I realized that the fault was mine. Williams’s descriptions of landscape, people, and the interior life of Andrews, the main character, are in fact detailed, but also careful and engrossing, giving the novel a power and gravitas that I gradually succumbed to. Now I’m anxious to read his other two mature novels, Stoner and Augustus. I also just finished the very entertaining Absolutely on Music, conversations between Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa on various musical subjects. I hope to write something up on that book in the next few days.

Viewing: For reasons that I really can’t fathom, I have found myself less than attracted to the idea of watching movies lately. Perhaps it’s the overwhelming number of viewing options I have. Or it may be that my brain, greatly enfeebled in recent days and weeks, is just not up to the task of concentrating on a single thing for an entire two hour period. Whatever the problem is, I hope it goes away soon. Halfhearted viewing of political news and old television shows isn’t really doing it for me.

Listening: My listening habits have been off as well. What music I listened to this past week was related to the program notes I have been writing for upcoming concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. The notes for the former are now done, and once I’ve tackled writing a nice essay on Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, I’ll send off the latter ones this week. Hooray for completed projects.

Blogging: Due to a very emotionally-trying past week, I didn’t manage to blog at all. I do have a couple of things in the works for the coming week, though, if I can follow through on them.

Pondering: Today, I will be attending my first Reno Chamber Orchestra concert since I left that organization not quite a year ago, after fourteen years of service and never missing a performance during that time. It will be a strange feeling, and I hope a not-uncomfortable one. I do look forward to the music, and to reconnecting with the people in and around the Orchestra.

And finally:
bad

Sunday Salon 1-22-17

Sunday Salon badge squareTime and Place: 7:30 on a cold, snowy, pretty Sunday morning, at my main computer at home.

Reading: This week, I completed two books from my “inspiration” stack – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, and, after starting it months ago, Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. Both, I would have to say, were helpful but not really revelatory. In the case of Cameron, I had already read The Artist’s Way, so I was familiar with her approach and techniques, many of which I follow (I faithfully do my Morning Pages every day). Gilbert’s book was very enjoyable and reinforced some concepts that I needed to encounter again. But the book was also high in anecdote and rather low on specific suggestions for moving forward. I am currently reading the western Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams, and have just started Absolutely on Music, the conversations between Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa that were recently released in English.

Viewing: Other than a little political news, I rather unusually watched no movies or television this week – at least until last night, when I watched a couple of films starring Dana Andrews on Turner Classic Movies. Boomerang! (1947) was a very good early effort by Elia Kazan in quasi-documentary style that featured an excellent cast, including Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, Karl Malden, and Arthur Kennedy. Fallen Angel (1945) was one of two films Otto Preminger made, along with A Royal Scandal, the year after his huge hit Laura (which of course also featured Andrews).

Listening: Last week, I posted about the music that I am now myself writing, having gotten back to creating music after a break of over fifteen years. I was hoping that that post and making my efforts public would propel me forward to more creating. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect, and paralyzed me for several days. But I’m now back on track. I believe that the album, should I actually complete it, will be called Jade, and will be comprised of two sections of around 20-25 minutes apiece. The segments I’ve written so far seem to divide themselves pretty naturally into two sets. The most recent segment I wrote evolved from another I’d already done, for three harps backed by synthesizer arpeggios and textures, that is somewhat static and mysterious. After noticing that it used a pentatonic scale, I decided to vary the tune slightly, slow it down a bit, and rearrange it for gamelan instruments. Now it sounds more than a little otherworldly. It would be an unusual way to start a piece, but I might just use this gamelan section to start Part 2 of Jade. In terms of music other than my own, I’ve just started on the listening and gathering of information for the next set of program notes I have to write, for concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and Reno Philharmonic Orchestra (the latter includes Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony, which I’m looking forward to pondering and writing about).

Blogging: My main post this week was a look at Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. I also happily acknowledged Penguin Awareness Day on Friday, and passed along a couple of quotes from Seneca. All in all, it was a somewhat slow week.

Pondering: I’m sure I’ve said this sort of thing before, but, with this monk-like existence that I have right now, I miss having people with whom to share my thoughts, about all the above subjects and many others, whether trivial or semi-profound or personal. Some of those thoughts will inevitably turn up here at the blog, and the others I’ll just keep to myself for the present.

And finally: I’ve already mentioned Penguin Awareness Day, the annual celebration of which happened on Friday. So, to continue the celebration, please enjoy Penguins Doing Penguiny Things…

Sunday Salon 1-15-17

Sunday Salon badge squareTime and Place: 9:15 Sunday morning, at my main computer at home.

Reading: I’ve recently finished Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, and will be writing about it here in the next several days. In need of some inspiration, I’ve just started Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. And much of my home remains dedicated to my to-be-read stack.

Viewing: Continuing my gradual exploration of the films of Alain Resnais, I watched his penultimate film, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, on FilmStruck earlier this week. Despite the oddly trivial title, the film itself was quite mysterious and wonderful, even better – and perhaps a more appropriate valedictory, somehow – than Life of Riley, his last film, which I watched last week. My other film for the week, Lonelyhearts, was from a DVD that I purchased based on a very impressive partial viewing of the film on Turner Classic Movies not long ago. Lonelyhearts, based on Nathanael West’s famous short novel Miss Lonelyhearts, might be a little chatty and ponderous. But it is also deeply moving and human, and I took it very much to heart. The film also features some great performances, by Montgomery Clift and Robert Ryan in particular.

Listening: My music listening has, once again, been dominated by works I am writing about for Reno Chamber Orchestra and Reno Philharmonic Orchestra program notes. Should I get those notes done in the next couple of days, as I should, then I can take a week off before the next set of notes, for an all-Tchaikovsky concert by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. As mentioned below, I finally acknowledged this week that I have gotten back to writing music of my own, and that music received a little attention as well. Lastly, the person whose music has probably most influenced my own, Mike Oldfield, has a new album coming out in a few days. Return to Ommadawn is something of a sequel to his 1975 album Ommadawn that is one of my desert island CDs. Needless to say, I’m more than a little excited about this.

Blogging: My two main posts for this week were a little unusual. One was a description of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which stores seeds of the world’s major crops in case of emergency. The other post was a more personal one on my return to writing music after many years away. It was the first time I had actually tried to describe what I think about when I create music. Being so revealing made me a little uncomfortable, but I hope that it will also spur me on to more creating.

Anticipating: I have created some good momentum for myself in the last couple of weeks, after a rather down Christmas and post-Christmas period. I’m exercising regularly and writing a lot, and feeling somewhat optimistic that these positive trends will continue.

And finally:
the-truth

Sunday Salon 1-8-17

Sunday Salon badge squareTime and Place: 10:30 Sunday morning, a little later than is my norm – that’s what I get for sleeping in and feeling well-rested – at my main computer at home.

Reading: After having read Haruki Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, as my last book of 2016, I made his second novel, Pinball, 1973, my first of 2017. Like Hear the Wind Sing, it was relatively short, and I finished it in a couple of days. I’ve now moved on to Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. It is quite wonderful, and suits my current frame-of-mind well. I plan on writing about it here at the blog fairly soon.

Viewing: My movie viewing for the week has included The Scarlet Pimpernel, the 1930s version with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, and the last film by the great Alain Resnais, the very stylish and stylized Life of Riley (this makes me want to catch up on the many more recent Resnais films that I’ve never seen). Inspired by a reference in Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, I also finally saw the fascinating documentary Finding Vivian Maier, on the photographer whose work was only discovered and appreciated, almost by accident, after her death.

Listening: My music listening has largely been tied to the program notes I am currently writing for the Reno Chamber Orchestra and Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. Their upcoming concerts feature works like Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, the “Paris,” and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and I’ve enjoyed spending time with this great music. Next on the writing schedule is Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6, a piece I haven’t heard for a very long time but which I remember liking quite a lot.

Blogging: I managed two pretty substantial blog posts this week, one on Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning composition Anthracite Fields (which is going to be performed in San Francisco on February 26 – possible road trip!), and another on the exhibition The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of 17th-Century France, currently to be seen at the Legion of Honor. This latter article, I personally feel, is one of the best blog posts I’ve done in some time. Even if you don’t read the 2,000 or so words I wrote, the art works are very attractive indeed.

Anticipating: After a stretch of reasonably high-quality writing this past week, I’m hoping for something like the same this week.

And finally: Still celebrating the arrival of 2017…
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