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The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival starts this Thursday—ARThound’s top picks in world cinema

The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2-12, 2014 and, for the first time, offers “¡Viva el Cine!” a spotlight on Latin American and Spanish cinema with eight new films, all in Spanish.  Argentine director Matias Lucchesi’s first feature film, “Natural Sciences” (Ciencias Naturales), which screens twice at MVFF 37, had its world premiere at the Berlinale where it won the Generation Kplus Grand Prix. The drama stars Paula Herzog as Lila, a 12-year-old hell-bent on finding the father she never knew.  Her quest is set against the stunning backdrop of frozen Argentine mountains and reticent adults who want her to stop asking questions.  Image: courtesy MVFF

The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2-12, 2014 and, for the first time, offers “¡Viva el Cine!”—an eight film spotlight on Latin American and Spanish cinema. Argentine director Matías Lucchesi’s buzzed about first feature film, “Natural Sciences” (Ciencias Naturales), screens twice at MVFF 37. It had its world premiere at the Berlinale where it won the Generation Kplus Grand Prix. The drama stars Paula Herzog as Lila, a 12-year-old who is hell-bent on finding the father she never knew. Her quest is set against the stunning backdrop of frozen Argentine mountains and reticent adults who want her to stop asking questions. Herzog gave a stunning performance as child caught in the wake of Argentina’s repressive dictatorship in Paula Markovitch’s “The Prize” (El Primeo”) at MVFF36. We welcome her back! Image: courtesy MVFF

ARThound loves a great film, with a story that speaks right to my heart and if the setting is in some distant land, all the better. The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 37) kicks-off this Thursday evening with two promising opening night films—Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman and Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children— and a splendid opening night party and then gets down to serious full-day programming from Friday onward. This festival, continually rated among the top ten in the world, offers 11 days of the best new films from around the world.  In addition, there are intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars.  This year, over 150 guests and film luminaries will attend and a select few will be honored in spotlights, tributes, centerpieces, and special screenings and many will be participating in post-film Q&A’s.  There are also numerous musical performances and parties.  And for those who fear all that sitting will take a toll on their derrieres, there’s even an Active Cinema hike this Saturday hike from Tennessee Valley to the ocean where guests can get some light, take in fresh air and share their impressions with cinephiles and festival guests.  Having poured over the program, watched numerous screeners, and gotten the scoop directly from festival programmers, ARThound is really excited to cover the festival.

If you’ve missed my previous coverage, here is the link explaining the ins and outs of this festival and the advantages of CFI (California Film Institute) membership for early access to tickets:

Sept 13—Pounce! Sunday, September 14, tickets go on sale for the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival

ARThound’s top picks in the World Cinema category:

 

Iranian producer Payman Haghani’s feature “316” (2014) has its world premiere on Saturday, October 4, 2014 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 2-12, 2014, renowned for its support of emerging independent filmmakers. Haghani’s second feature film tells an elderly Persian woman’s “soleful” life story, and that of her homeland Iran, elegantly and humorously through the shoes of those she has known.  From the shoes of her youthful leftist parents through the tumult of the Iranian Revolution, to her rebellious upbringing, courtship, motherhood and the eventual solitude of her later years—we literally encounter a parade of shoes that have walked miles in a land we can only imagine.  Image: Noori Pictures

Iranian producer Payman Haghani’s feature “316” (2014) has its world premiere on Saturday, October 4, 2014 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 2-12, 2014, renowned for its support of emerging independent filmmakers. Haghani’s second feature film tells an elderly Persian woman’s “soleful” life story, and that of her homeland Iran, elegantly and humorously through the shoes of those she has known. From the shoes of her youthful leftist parents through the tumult of the Iranian Revolution, to her rebellious upbringing, courtship, motherhood and the eventual solitude of her later years—we literally encounter a parade of shoes that have walked miles in a land we can only imagine. Image: Noori Pictures

316 —Iran | 2014 | 72 min |World Premiere | Executive Producer Behrang Saar Klein in attendance—It’s a no-brainer almost anywhere you go in the world, shoes express personality like nothing else.  From Iranian producer Payman Haghani in Rasht, Iran, (Mardi Ke Gilass Hayash Ra Khord (A Man Who Ate His Cherries), 2009) comes his endearing second feature, 316 (2104), which tells an elderly Persian woman’s life story through the shoes of people she remembers and events unfolding in Iran.   Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers who are based in Iran to make personal appearances at film festivals but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling.  Aptly put in a recent New Yorker article (6/10/2014),  Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor of Jam’eh, said “We have freedom of expression in Iran…We just don’t have freedom after expression.”  And yet Iran’s next generation have managed to become central in Iran’s complex social and political discourse. Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition. 316 artfully melds archival “footage” with animation and dramatic sequences to create a life story that tells a larger truth. (Screens: Saturday, Oct 4, 1:30 PM, 142 Throckmorton, Tuesday, Oct 5, 5 PM, Sequoia 1)

Japanese actress Haru Kuroki (left) won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale for her performance in Yoji Yamada’s "The Little House" (2014).  Adapted from an award-winning novel, the period romance follows Kuroki’s character, a housemaid, through the war as she watches a secret relationship develop between her elegant employer (Takako Matsu, right ) and a young artist.  Image: courtesy MVFF

Japanese actress Haru Kuroki (left) won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale for her performance in Yoji Yamada’s “The Little House” (2014). Adapted from an award-winning novel, the period romance follows Kuroki’s character, a housemaid, through the war as she watches a secret relationship develop between her elegant employer (Takako Matsu, right ) and a young artist. Image: courtesy MVFF

The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi) Japan | 2014, 136 minThis elegant period romance set in 1920’ Tokyo is the first romance film directed by Yoji Yamada in his 50 year career. The filmmaker is famous in Japan for his immensely popular Otoko wa Tsurai yo series (48 films made over 25 years) and Samurai Trilogy (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor). The Little House is based on Kyoko Nakajima’s novel “Chiisai ouchi,” 2010 winner of the Naoki Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards.  The story revolves around Takeshi, a young Japanese man and his posthumous encounter with his late aunt, Taki Nunomiya (Haru Kuroki), who left several journals behind.  Through the notebooks, he learns of her life and the film proceeds, in flashbacks, to tell her story.

Prior to World War II, in a little house with a red triangular roof in Tokyo, young Taki works as a housemaid for a Masaki, a Toy company executive who lives with his wife Tokiko (Takako Matsu) and their 5 year-old son. When Tokiko’s husband hires a young art school graduate, Shoji Itakura; a love affair blossoms between Tokiko and Shoji, whom Taki also has feelings for.  Meanwhile, as the war situation heats up, so too do the relationships in the little house.  This isn’t a conventional love triangle but an exploration of how this budding relationship impacts Taki’s relationship with Tokiko and her later life.  Taki transitions from an unsophisticated young maiden, who initially stands in fear and awe of her beautiful employer, to a trusted confidante who speaks the truth when called upon to do so. Haru Kuroki won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale (Berlin International Berlin Film Festival).  The remarkable political discussions that occur in passing are just one of the film’s many delights. (Screens: Friday, Oct 3, 6 PM, Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 4, 11AM, Lark Theatre)

Midi Z’s “Ice Poison” (2014), which was shot in location in Myanmar, highlights the struggle to survive in an impoverished land that is transitioning from one system to another.  Wang Shin-hong (left) and Wu Ke-xi play two young Burmese who are drawn into drugs.  Image: courtesy Flash Forward Entertainment

Midi Z’s “Ice Poison” (2014), which was shot in location in Myanmar, highlights the struggle to survive in an impoverished land that is transitioning from one system to another. Wang Shin-hong (left) and Wu Ke-xi play two young Burmese who are drawn into drugs. Image: courtesy Flash Forward Entertainment

Ice Poison (Bing Du)—Myanmar/Taiwan R.O.C. | 2014 | 95min—Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based director Midi Z (Return to Burma (2011), Poor Folk (2012)), continues his shrewd examination of social and economic disparities in Myanmar with Ice Poison. Shot on location in Myanmar by a seven-member crew in an impoverished ethnically Chinese community on the outskirts of Lashio, near the Chinese border, this is the story of two young Burmese who get caught up in the drug trade in order to escape their bleak circumstances.  The feature opens with an old Chinese farmer and his nameless son (Wang Shin-hong) toiling on their parched field in Lashio.  The desperate farmer sells his beloved cow to buy a dilapidated scooter so his son can drive a motorcycle taxi.  He asks just one thing in return: his son mustn’t get involved in drugs. Among the son’s first fares is a Burmese-born Chinese woman named Sanmei (Wu Ke-xi), who has come home from China for a funeral and is making a new start.  She desperately needs money to bring her son to Lashio.  Her scheme involves helping her drug-dealing cousin deliver crystal meth, known as “ice poison,” to local addicts.  She convinces the son to go into business with her as a driver.  Midi Z draws us into the hard and fractured lives of these two young adults, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer.  Through its intimate portrayal of their circumstances, aspirations, anguish and choices, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is just not possible. Ice Poison won Best Film in Int’l Competition, 68th Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Director, Peace and Love Film Festival, Dalarna, Sweden (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 6 PM Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 11, 11:45 AM, Sequoia 1)

 In “The Patent Wars,” which has its North American premiere at MVFF37, breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani (above) is interviewed about being forced to pay $3,700 up front for her BRCA gene test because the Myriad Corporation of Utah held the patent over two breast cancer gene mutations—BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 —and could essentially charge what they wanted for the critical test, which flags a high potential for breast and ovarian cancer.  The patent also prevented vital medical research and diagnosis beyond the scope of Myriad’s limited breast cancer test.  The US Supreme Court, in a landmark decision (June 2013) ultimately ruled that any naturally occurring human gene cannot be patented.  The filmmakers not only expose many of the inherent flaws in the patent system, they advocate for its overthrow.  German Filmmaker Hannah Leonie Prinzler will be in attendance.


In “The Patent Wars,” which has its North American premiere at MVFF37, breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani (above) is interviewed about being forced to pay $3,700 up front for her BRCA gene test because the Myriad Corporation of Utah held the patent over two breast cancer gene mutations—BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 —and could essentially charge what they wanted for the critical test, which flags a high potential for breast and ovarian cancer. The patent also prevented vital medical research and diagnosis beyond the scope of Myriad’s limited breast cancer test. The US Supreme Court, in a landmark decision (June 2013) ultimately ruled that any naturally occurring human gene cannot be patented. The filmmakers not only expose many of the inherent flaws in the patent system, they advocate for its overthrow. German Filmmaker Hannah Leonie Prinzler will be in attendance.

 

The Patent Wars—Germany | 2014 | 88 min | North American Premiere | Director Hannah Prinzler in attendance—In all but the most capable hands, a documentary about trends in patent litigation could be very dry. German filmmakers Hannah Leonie Prinzler and Volker Ullrich succeed in making the complex topic fascinating by showing us how, in the U.S. in particular, the patent holder has evolved from the classical innovator like Thomas Edison into yet another tool of corporate greed that puts profit above human life.  The savvy doc takes us on a trip around the world to visit at least a dozen well-known figures who explain how the landscape has changed—how patents have proliferated and become global strategic weapons, how profits are made from the mere threat of patent infringement, and who bears the economic and social consequences. The film was in the works while the Myriad Genetics lawsuit over the patenting of human genes was still in litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court but a visit with breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani wonderfully summarizes the case’s impact on breast cancer victims and on the patenting human genes.  It really does seem that almost everything can be patented in the US, sometimes with just a description (not an actual realization) by the patent holders.  Once a patent is in hand, the holder can decide later how much to charge to test for a medication or to plant a seed, thereby controlling access only to the privileged.

Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury inflamed many when he patented sequences of yoga poses. A visit to Delhi to Vinod Kumar Gupta’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a unique database developed to prevent foreign companies from patenting products based on ancient sub-continental know-how, shows how Indian is struggling to get savvy on the IP front. Unfortunately, for India and much of the developing world, patents are currently being used to deny the development of crucial generic medications and lives are being lost.  A visit with Anil Gupta, India’s “Ghandi of Innovation” unveils what India, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic (patent-free) medicines, is doing to proactively protect its genetic resources as well.  The film concludes with a visit to car enthusiasts in Arizona who are collaborating to build the first open-source cars, showing us that patents are not the only way to inspire innovations.  (Screens: Sat, Oct 4, 5:15 PM, Rafael 3 and Monday, Oct 6, 6:30 PM, Rafael 3)

Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival where it received a 10-minute-long standing ovation.  Due to unrest in Mali, the film was shot in neighboring Mauritania.  The film is set in 2012 and tells the story of what happens when people living in northern Mali deal with and ultimately resist a jihadist takeover by some militant rebels.  Actor Ahmed Ibrahim will be in attendance at MVFF37.  Photo: courtesy MVFF

Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014) had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival where it received a 10-minute-long standing ovation. Due to unrest in Mali, the film was shot in neighboring Mauritania. The film is set in 2012 and tells the story of what happens when people living in northern Mali deal with and ultimately resist a jihadist takeover by some militant rebels. Actor Ahmed Ibrahim will be in attendance at MVFF37. Photo: courtesy MVFF

Timbuktu France/Mauritania | 2014 | 97 min | West Coast Premiere | Actor Ibrahim Ahmed in attendance—Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono) (2002), Bamako (2007)) is one of a handful of filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa who has the rapt attention of the film world.  His latest feature, Timbuktu, is the world’s first look at the jihadist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012 by fundamentalists whose brutal Islamist law shattered the lives of innumerable families.  As always, his understated style combines graceful storytelling with a remarkably rigorous exploration of exile and displacement.   Sissako focuses on the break-up of a close-knit Tuareg cattle-herding family who live peacefully in the dunes with their beloved cow “GPS.” When the cow goes missing, the father, Kidane (first-time actor Ibrahim Ahmed in a mesmerizing performance) accidentally shoots a fisherman dead in a lake and becomes victim to the horrors of Timbuktu’s improvised court system. The peripheral story lines are every bit as riveting. The hardliners punish Timbuktu residents for playing music or even soccer with stonings, executions and lashings.  Sissako’s handling of atrocities in an almost matter-of-fact way punctuates their shock value.  (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 1:45 PM, Rafael 1 and Monday, Oct 6, 3 PM, Sequoia 1)

Turkish filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman’s “The Lamb,” set in northeastern Anatolia, won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale.  The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan) (left), his older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk)(right) and the family’s struggle to hold a feast for Mert’s circumcision. Photo:  MVFF

Turkish filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman’s “The Lamb,” set in northeastern Anatolia, won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale. The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan) (left), his older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk)(right) and the family’s struggle to hold a feast for Mert’s circumcision. Photo: MVFF

The Lamb (Kuzu)—Turkey | 2014 | 85 min  | US Premiere—London-based Turkish filmmaker and artist Kutluğ Ataman made such a splash in the contemporary art world (Documenta, Venice Biennale, Carnegie Prize, Cream Art) with his videos that he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2004 and has since racked up an impressive list of exhibitions and commissions. Ataman brings his artistic flair to The Lamb, his fifth feature film, a family drama set in rural Anatolia which inhabits the delicate world of children. The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan), his wily older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk), and their financially-strapped family’s struggle to throw Mert a proper circumcision feast.  They cannot afford the traditional lamb which is central to the celebration.  When Vicdan (affectionately called mommy’s “Little Lamb”) taunts Mert by telling him that they’ll roast him in the tandoor if they don’t come up with the money for the lamb, he freaks and sets out to find a solution on his own.  The highlight of the film is the wonderful interaction of the children, who can be so sweet and so cruel. Vicdan’s descriptions of the pending procedure border on tortuous, while bumbling Mert grabs your heart.  Subplots involve the father and his womanizing and the mother and her plot to take revenge on villagers who have been unsympathetic to her plight.  In all, Ataman weaves a rich and humorous story highlighting the inequality and lack of options for women, particularly in rural areas, and the liberties accorded men.  Feza Caldiran’s breathtaking cinematography of a wintery remote Anatolia makes elevates the film to art. The Lamb won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale.  (Screens: Wednesday, Oct 8, 3 PM, Sequoia 1 and Sunday, Oct 12, 11:30 AM, Rafael 2)

Details: The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2 -12, 2014.  The festival’s homepage is here. Advance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. Click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.

Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time.  Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)

There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—

SAN RAFAEL:

Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts

MILL VALLEY:

ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm

Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts

CORTE MADERA:

Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm

 

September 30, 2014 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tomato time…Kendall Jackson’s 18th Heirloom Tomato Festival is Saturday, September 27, 2014

Japanese Black Trifele (truffle) is a 3 to 4" inch long pear-shaped, deep purple-black Russian heirloom tomato with gorgeous green shoulders with a rich deep smoky, chocolaty flavor.  More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Japanese Black Trifele (truffle) is a 3 to 4″ inch long pear-shaped, deep purple-black Russian heirloom tomato with gorgeous green shoulders with a rich deep smoky, chocolaty flavor. More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014. Photo: Geneva Anderson

One of the greatest pleasures of Indian summer is the special nudge its gives heirloom tomatoes to sun-ripened perfection.  As we pursue the great tomato hunt, there’s one event that tops them all—the annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, which returns on Saturday, September 27, 2014, for a one-of-a-kind celebration of Sonoma County’s seasonal bounty.  Now in its 18th year, the popular festival has a cult like following, attracting tomato lovers from all over the West Coast.   Highlights include—the popular heirloom tomato tasting station offering some 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes (grown by Kendall-Jackson); an Heirloom Tomato Grower’s Competition (judging is Thursday, September 25, 2014 with winners on display on Saturday); the popular Chef Challenge featuring Bravo’s Top Chef® contenders; and tomato-inspired gourmet delights from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors.  Guests will also enjoy wine tasting, live music by the Carlos Herrera Band and educational wine and garden seminars.

The event, which utilizes nearly 10,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, benefits the Ceres Community Project, which involves community-building through providing nourishing free meals to those struggling with serious illnesses.

ARThound’s favorite part of the day is engaging complete strangers in tomato talk —what’s the best tasting heirloom tomato? What’s the best way to grow them?  Of course, it’s foolhardy to even attempt to answer these questions but it’s the kind of talk that happily engages any tomato fanatic—for hours.

Tucker Taylor, Kendall-Jackson’s culinary gardener, is an expert on heirloom tomatoes and will be leading garden tours at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014.  More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors.  Photo:  Jackson Family Wines

Tucker Taylor, Kendall-Jackson’s culinary gardener, is an expert on heirloom tomatoes and will be leading garden tours at the 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival Saturday, September 27, 2014. More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes will be available for tasting, along with tomato-inspired dishes from nearly 50 prominent wine country and Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and food purveyors. Photo: Jackson Family Wines

Tour KJ’s expanded gardens: In addition to wine and food, guests at the 2014 Tomato Festival can discover the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate’s recently expanded culinary and sensory gardens. Culinary gardener Tucker Taylor will lead tours throughout the day to reveal the captivating garden transformation, including an exploration of the garden’s wide variety of organic specialty produce and beautiful design enhancements. Tucker says:

—Technically a tomato is a fruit, but it is legally classified as a vegetable

—Over 90% of gardeners in America grow tomatoes

—We eat close to 25 pounds of tomatoes per year

—The botanical name is Lycopersicon lycopersicum ​which means “wolf peach”

—Tomatoes originate in South America

—China is the largest producer of tomatoes followed by the US

—California produces over 95% of the tomatoes processed in the US

—Florida is the largest producer of fresh market tomatoes

—The largest tomato on record was grown in 1986 in Oklahoma and weighed 7 lbs. 12 oz.

—The largest tomato plant on record was grown in a greenhouse in Florida and produced over 32,000 tomatoes in the first 16 months

—It is estimated that there are over 25,000 tomato varieties

 

VIP event package: An all access festival package which includes a VIP tent and lounge, VIP check-in, valet parking with a separate entrance to the event, exclusive wine and food pairings and limited production reserve wines poured by the winery’s Master Sommelier  Tickets for this extra special VIP experience are $150 per person. (*Will sell-out, buy now.)

About Kendall-Jackson Winery: Kendall-Jackson is one of America’s most beloved family-owned and operated wineries.  Founded by entrepreneur Jess Jackson and now led by his wife Barbara Banke and their children, Kendall-Jackson is based in Sonoma County and offers a range of acclaimed wines grown on the family’s estate vineyards along the coastal ridges of California.  A leader in sustainable vineyard and winery practices including solar cogeneration, water conservation, and natural pest control, 100% of Kendall-Jackson’s vineyards in California are SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice).  Learn more online at http://www.kj.com, and follow KJ on Facebook. Engage in this year’s Tomato Festival conversation on Twitter via @KJWines and #Kjtomfest.

Details: The 18th Annual Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival is Saturday, September 27, 2014 from 11AM to 4 PM.  Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens are located 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton CA  95439.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as the event sells out every year.  Purchase tickets online hereGeneral Admission tickets: $95; VIP Package $150. Wear Sun Protection to this outdoor event.

Directions:  From Highway 101 going NORTH, take River Road exit.  Come to stop light and turn LEFT going over the freeway.  Travel approximately 1 1/4 mile to first stoplight, which is Fulton Road.  Turn RIGHT at Fulton Road.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens is less than 1/2 mile on the LEFT side of the road.  (If you go over the Hwy 101 overpass on Fulton, you’ve gone too far.)

From Highway 101 going SOUTH, take Fulton Road exit.  The FIRST driveway on the right is the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens.

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Food, Gardening | , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Opera honors Soprano Patricia Racette with the San Francisco Opera Medal, commemorating 25 years and 32 roles, SFO’s highest award

Patricia Racette and David Gockley San Francisco Opera General Director on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at War Memorial Opera House.  After the final performance of “Susannah,” Racette was presented with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest distinction, for her 25 years of amazing performances with the company. Photo: Scott Wall

Patricia Racette and David Gockley San Francisco Opera General Director on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at War Memorial Opera House. After the final performance of “Susannah,” Racette was presented with the San Francisco Opera Medal, the Company’s highest distinction, for her 25 years of amazing performances with the company. Photo: Scott Wall

Those of us who attended the final performance of San Francisco Opera’s new production of Carlise Floyd’s “Susannah” this afternoon were in for a treat.  Right after extended rounds of applause for soprano Patricia Racette, who delivered a profound Susannah, and cheers for her wonderful supporting cast, a special ceremony took place awarding Racette with the San Francisco Opera Medal.  The award was established in 1970 by former General Director Kurt Herbert Adler and is the highest honor the Company bestows in recognition of outstanding achievement by an artistic professional.

How fitting it is that Racette, who celebrates 25 years and 32 roles with SFO this year, was given this award now.  Her repertoire and success over the past year with the company has been so vast it is dizzying.  She just sang the title role of “Susannah” to rave reviews.  This summer, she sang Cio Cio San in the splendid “Madame Butterfly” and gave a stand-out performance as the cabaret singer, Julie La Verne, in Francesca Zambello’s opulent “Show Boat,” SFO’s other stand-out summer of 2014 hit.  There, her delightful renditions of Jerome Kern’s ballads “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill,”along with her wonderful acting, were central to the production.  Last season, at the very last minute, she stepped up to assume the title role in Tobias Picker’s “Dolores Claiborne” while simultaneously singing the dual roles of Marguerite and Elena in Arrigo Boito’s “Mephistopheles.” That’s just the past year!  Her career with the company is nothing short of remarkable.

The New Hampshire-born soprano first joined SFO’s Merola Program where she debuted her now acclaimed portrayal of Puccini’s Cio-Cio-San. Later, as an Alder Fellow with the company, she covered Pilar Lorengar in “Falstaff.” Over the years, she has sung roles with the company as varied musically and dramatically as Luisa Miller and Jenůfa, Marguerite, and Dolores Claiborne. The artistry and fervor Racette brings to the stage is limitless, whether in vocal mastery, stylistic range, or emotional interpretation. After “Susannah,” Racette is singing the title role in “Salome” at San Antonio Opera (Jan 2015); Marie Antionette in The Ghosts of Versailles at Los Angeles Opera (Feb-March 2015) and Nedda in “Pagliacci” (April-May 2015) at the Met.  Racette, who is married to mezzo Beth Clayton, is also proud to call San Francisco home, and when she isn’t on tour, she loves walking with her poodle, Sappho, on the beach.

Racette was given the award by SFO’s General Director David Gockley who said Racette was “family” and went on to list her numerous accomplishments over the years.   Present on stage were members of the cast of “Susannah.” In accepting the award Racette graciously thanked all those support persons associated with SFO who have contributed to the quality of her performances over the years and the special San Francisco audience members, many of whom have “been there since the very beginning.”

Patricia Racette (blue dress) as Susannah, square-dancing at a church social in backwoods Tennessee in a new San Francisco Opera production of Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah."  edited Corey Weaver photo.

Patricia Racette (blue dress) as Susannah, square-dancing at a church social in backwoods Tennessee in a new San Francisco Opera production of Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.” edited Corey Weaver photo.

The first SFO Medal laureate was soprano Dorothy Kirsten. While many vocalists (such as Leontyne Price in 1977, Joan Sutherland in 1984, Plácido Domingo in 1994, and Samuel Ramey (2003) have been so honored, other laureates have included stage director John Copley (2010), conductor Donald Runnicles (2009), chorus director Ian Robertson 2012 and scenic artist Jay Kotcher in 2013.

San Francisco Opera Medal Recipients
1970 – Dorothy Kirsten
1972 – Jess Thomas
1973 – Paul Hager (house stage director)
1974 – Colin Harvey (chorister and chorus librarian)
1975 – Otto Guth
Alexander Fried (San Francisco Examiner music critic)
1976 – Leonie Rysanek
1977 – Leontyne Price
1978 – Kurt Herbert Adler
1980 – Geraint Evans
1981 – Matthew Farruggio (production supervisor and house stage director)
Birgit Nilsson
1982 – Regina Resnik
1984 – Joan Sutherland
1985 – Thomas Stewart
1987 – Régine Crespin
1988 – Philip Eisenberg (music staff)
1989 – Pilar Lorengar
Bidú Sayao
1990 – Janis Martin
Marilyn Horne
1991 – Licia Albanese
1993 – Walter Mahoney (costume shop manager)
1994 – Zaven Melikian (concertmaster)
Michael Kane (master carpenter)
Plácido Domingo
1995 – Charles Mackerras
1997 – Frederica von Stade
1998 – Irene Dalis
2001 – Lotfi Mansouri
James Morris
2003 – Samuel Ramey
2004 – Joe Harris (dresser)
2005 – Pamela Rosenberg
2008 – Clifford (Kip) Cranna (director of music administration)
Ruth Ann Swenson
2009 – Donald Runnicles
2010 – John Copley (stage director)
2012 – Ian Robertson (chorus director)

2013–Jay Kotcher (scenic artist)

Details: Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” opens Saturday, October 4, 2014 and there are 7 performances in the run. Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. Handel’s “Partenope” opens Wednesday, October 15, 2014 with acclaimed Danielle de Niese in the title role and runs for 6 performances. Purchase tickets here. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.   Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

For more information on San Francisco Opera and all upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

September 21, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Cinnabar Theater opens its 42nd season with a touching Fiddler on the Roof, celebrating beloved musical’s the 50th anniversary—extended twice, closes September 28, 2013

Cinnabar Theater captures the happiness and tears of Fiddler on the Roof with a beautiful production celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary.  Stephen Walsh (L) is Tevye and Elly Lichenstein (R) is Golde in the timeless musical which includes 45 incredible singers, dancers, and musicians.  Photo by Eric Chazankin

Cinnabar Theater captures the happiness and tears of Fiddler on the Roof with a beautiful production celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary. Stephen Walsh (L) is Tevye and Elly Lichenstein (R) is Golde in the timeless musical which includes 45 incredible singers, dancers, and musicians. Photo by Eric Chazankin

There are many gaps in my cultural exposure and the musical, Fiddler on the Roof was one of them—until I saw Cinnabar Theater’s opening night (September 6) performance, which had me and an enthusiastic audience humming, clapping, and tearing up throughout.  What better way for Cinnabar to kick off its 42 season than by celebrating the 50th anniversary of this beloved musical whose poignant story about embracing change is captured in the swirl of dance and glorious song. Directed by John Shillington, choreographed by Joseph Favalora, with music direction by Mary Chun, this is a big-hearted production that celebrates what Cinnabar excels at—talented actors making a human connection so palpable it feels like they’re doing it especially for you.

The story centers on Tevye, father of five strong-willed daughters, who is struggling to maintain his family’s Jewish traditions in the tiny shtetl (village) of Anatevka which, in 1905, begins to reel as Tsar Nicholas II’s anti-Jewish propaganda campaign spreads and begins to incite fear and hatred of Jews, even in the far corners of the Imperial Russian empire. Stephen Walsh, who wowed Cinnabar audiences in last November’s hit, La Cage aux Folles, plays Papa Tevye with Cinnabar’s own Elly Lichenstein (Artistic Director) as Golde, his wife.  Their on stage chemistry is palpable and they each play their roles with emotional conviction and good-hearted humor. It was nice to hear Lichenstein, a formally-trained opera singer, singing again and embracing a pretty decent and consistent Yiddish accent.   She had the audiences in stitches in the scene where the couple is in bed and Tevye relates his frightening dream to her.  “This role has enormous personal significance for me,” said Lichenstein. “All four of my grandparents came to America from villages like Anatevka, and it excites me that our magnificent cast is so committed to tell their story.”

In Walsh’s hands, the milkman Tevye is a warm-hearted father, steeped in faith and tradition, who only wants the best for his daughters, each of whom challenge his notions of what is right.  Is it following tradition and marrying them off to men of means, picked by a matchmaker, who can provide for them financially and offer them security, or, is it letting them pick the men they love, who inspire them and make them happy?

As the story progresses, Tevye becomes concerned not only that his daughters are falling in love with poor men, but that they are stepping away from their faith.  In one of his many dialogs with God and his conscience he reflects on his struggle to accept the men they have chosen.

“Accept them?” How can I accept them?” Tevye groans. “Can I deny my own child?  If I try to bend that far, I will break. On the other hand, there is no other hand.”

The daughters are all delightful in their feisty and independent search for love and meaning in their lives—Jennifer Mitchell is Tzeitel, the eldest, who wants to marry a poor tailor instead of an aged butcher. Molly Mahoney is Hodel, who falls for a Bolshevik who would take her far from Anatevka. Erin Asha is Chava, who falls in love with a non-Jew. Lucy London is Bielke and Megan Fleischmann is Shprintze. The roles of their suitors are played by equally talented young men.

(l to r) Dancers Nate Mercier, Joseph Favalora, and Jorge Covarrubias celebrate life in Cinnabar Theater’s joyous production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

(l to r) Dancers Nate Mercier, Joseph Favalora, and Jorge Covarrubias celebrate life in Cinnabar Theater’s joyous production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

The action is set against another of Fiddler‘s delights—its marvelous set by Joe Elwich who has masterfully re-purposed the gorgeous salvage lumber from last season’s “Of Mice and Men” into a modest rustic village which frames the small stage. The fiddler, talented violinist Tyler Lewis, sits atop a small sloping roof, quite close to the off-stage orchestra and serenades gloriously throughout. The peasants’ rich spiritual lives are reflected in their costumes which take on a life of their own in several moving dance scenes. Each of the 40-odd costumes is unique and all designed by Cinnabar’s fabric wizard, Julia Hunstein Kwitchoff.

The original Broadway incarnation of this beloved musical racked up an astonishing 10 Tony Awards by introducing unforgettable songs like “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man.”  Music is by Jerry Brock, lyrics by Serldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. Cinnabar’s small orchestra, under Mary Chun’s capable direction, brought great energy to the production. Clarinetist Larry Lipman’s haunting solos were played beautifully throughout.

As I watched Fiddler unfold, I couldn’t keep from thinking how relevant this musical is today.  Religious conflict is prevalent in so much of the world and has created such upheaval that entire populations are still being forced to leave their homeland. And family dynamics are reeling and shifting constantly. Parents everywhere are struggling to accept their children’s choices which are different from those they would make.   Many Americans are intensely proud that they can trace their heritage to villages like Anatevka and they can personally relate to the sadness and plight of the villagers who are forced to leave.  Cinnabar’s engaging production, with its strong emotional core, brings out the many facets of this timeless story about the bittersweet evolution of family life.

On Sunday, September 21, Cinnabar offers a special performance and party (long sold-out) commemorating the day the musical first opened on Broadway.

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, Stephen Walsh as Tevye and Elly Lichenstein as Golde star in an ebullient production of "Fiddler on the Roof.” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, Stephen Walsh as Tevye and Elly Lichenstein as Golde star in an ebullient production of “Fiddler on the Roof” that includes many age-old rituals. Photo by Eric Chazankin

Details: Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA.  There is ample parking on the lot at the crest of the hill, just feet from the entrance. Fiddler on the Roof has been extended twice and there are10 remaining performances. There are a few available seats for these—Thursday, September 25th (8 PM), Friday 26th (8 PM), Saturday 27th (2 PM and 8 PM), Sunday 28th (2 PM) Tickets:  $35 General, $25 under age 22, $9 middle-school and high-school. Buy tickets online here or call the box office at 707-763-8920 between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on weekdays.   Last minute: Occasionally, there are “no shows” and if you arrive at the theater 30 minutes prior to a show, you might be able to get a seat. Arrive early for all performances as all seating is general seating, save for opening night, where the house saves seats for subscribers.

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frances Rivetti’s “Fog Valley Crush”—an insider’s story of our glorious local food scene —here’s your chance to fund a limited “first vintage” edition

FR Fog Valley CrushIt’s time to give back and don’t be stingy!

Frances Rivetti, the British American writer whose wonderful blog, Southern Sonoma Country Life, has enriched our lives for several years now, has generously given of her time by writing delightful and impactful stories about our community.  She knows our local food scene like no one else.

She’s just written her first book —Fog Valley Crush: Love at First Bite— and has a Kickstarter campaign up and running to fund its publication. Her goal is to raise $7,500 and she’s already over half way home.  I got a great sense of satisfaction going to her Kickstarter page (click here) and getting my books early.  You just know it’s going to have a lot of previously unreported history in it if Frances has her hand in it!  In full disclosure, Frances is a colleague and friend and we don’t know each other as well as we’d like because we are just too busy to sit down and have a long chat.  One thing, I’m wondering who did the delightful art work for her cover?

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Food | , , , | 1 Comment

Not just art, Napa’s Hess Collection, also has film—the “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” screens new shorts from all over the world this Sunday, September 21, 2014

A still from “FEAST” (2014) a delightful DISNEY short from director Patrick Osborne about a Boston terrier named Winston whose diet changes dramatically when his single owner gets a girlfriend.  “FEAST” will screen Sunday, September 21, 2014 at the Hess Collection in Napa as part of the “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows.”  The program of film shorts will be moderated by Ron Diamond, founder Acme Filmworks, L.A., who personally selected the films as outstanding examples in animation.  Image: ©DISNEY.

A still from “FEAST” (2014) a delightful DISNEY short from director Patrick Osborne about a Boston terrier named Winston whose diet changes dramatically when his single owner gets a girlfriend. “FEAST” will screen Sunday, September 21, 2014 at the Hess Collection in Napa as part of the “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows.” The program of film shorts will be moderated by Ron Diamond, founder Acme Filmworks, L.A., who personally selected the films as outstanding examples in animation. Image: ©DISNEY.

Napa Valley’s Hess Collection not only offers an unparalleled collection of contemporary art amassed by Swiss wine connoisseur, Donald Hess, it also has exceptional film programing in its on-site theatre organized by collection curator, Rob Ceballos. A visit to the striking two story stone museum and grounds on Mt. Veeder, is always a treat— the art works on display are frequently rotated and there’s a tasting room pouring Hess’ world class wines —but when combined with a special film event that includes a knowledgeable speaker, it’s even more rewarding. On Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 p.m., Ron Diamond founder of Acme Filmworks animation studio in Los Angeles and Animation Show of Shows curator will present the fantastic “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” film shorts program. The 100 minute program will screen nine award-winning animated short films selected from major worldwide animation film festivals, and includes a reception before the screenings, and a Q & A session with Diamond after the viewing.

Diamond created the annual Animation Show of Shows in 1998 as a way of bringing the year’s best shorts, both studio and independent films, from around the world, to industry professionals and audiences who might not otherwise have an opportunity to see them. The 16th Annual edition features both studio and independent films from the US, Canada, Norway, France, United Kingdom, Poland and Russia, some of which have not been officially released. A few of shorts screening Sunday include:  Disney’s FEAST (2014) from director Patrick Osborne that accompanies their full-length animated feature Big Hero Six (November 2014) and Disney-Pixar’s musical short, LAVA (2014) directed by James Ford Murphy, (which will run in front of Pete Docter’s full-length animated feature, Inside Out, (out June 2015)).  Also featured is Greg and Myles McLeod’s 365, composed of 365 one-second films chronicling a year in filmmaking, day-by-day.  Other films include legendary Disney animator Glen Keane’s directorial debut with DUET (2014), produced at Google’s ATAP unit, along with Mikey Please’s stop motion tour-de-force MARILYN MYLLER (2014), fresh from its Grand Prix win at the 2014 Hiroshima International Animation Festival.  The entire program runs approximately 100 minutes.

Details: “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” is Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 PM at the Hess Collection. The Hess Collection Winery is located at 4411 Redwood Road Napa. A $20 fee covers the food and wine reception as well as the film program. Patrons are invited to remain and enjoy selected tastings of interesting new release wines in the historic Hess Visitor’s Center. Seats are limited. Purchase tickets here. Online ticket availability ends Friday, September 19, 2014.

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pounce: Sunday, September 14, tickets go on sale for the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival

 Pièce de résistance—Director Wayne Wang’s new documentary, “Soul of a Banquet” (2014), screens Sunday, October 5 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival.    Appearing on stage in conversation are renowned 95-year-old chef Cecilia Chiang , who opened San Francisco’s beloved Mandarin restaurant in 1961, and Wayne Wang (“The Joy Luck Club”).  The evening will be capped off by a festive party at Sausalito’s Cavallo Point.  Structured around an extended interview in Chiang’s elegant home, the film tells Chiang’s story as well as that of Chinese food in America.  Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and food writer Ruth Reichel reminisce about their friendship and great meals with Chiang.  The film recounts poignant details of her upbringing.  Chiang, the seventh of twelve children, was born into privilege in Shanghai in 1920.  Her mother’s feet were bound but it was her wish that her children be college educated.  The second half shifts gears to follow her in meticulous preparation of a feast of family favorites.   The stories, the food, the history, even the jewelry are mouthwatering.  Photo: courtesy Mill Valley Film Festival


Pièce de résistance—Director Wayne Wang’s new documentary, “Soul of a Banquet” (2014), screens Sunday, October 5 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival. Appearing on stage in conversation are renowned 95-year-old chef Cecilia Chiang , who opened San Francisco’s beloved Mandarin restaurant in 1961, and Wayne Wang (“The Joy Luck Club”). The evening will be capped off by a festive party at Sausalito’s Cavallo Point. Structured around an extended interview in Chiang’s elegant home, the film tells Chiang’s story as well as that of Chinese food in America. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and food writer Ruth Reichel reminisce about their friendship and great meals with Chiang. The film recounts poignant details of her upbringing. Chiang, the seventh of twelve children, was born into privilege in Shanghai in 1920. Her mother’s feet were bound but it was her wish that her children be college educated. The second half shifts gears to follow her in meticulous preparation of a feast of family favorites. The stories, the food, the history, even the jewelry are mouthwatering. Photo: courtesy Mill Valley Film Festival

Now in its 37th year, the legendary Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 2-12, is hard to beat—11 days of the best new films from around the world, intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars, musical performances, and parties.  It’s so good that five of the last six Academy Award winners for best picture (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave) made their Bay Area premieres there.  What it really excels at, though, are locally-directed indies, gems of world cinema, wonderful storytelling and docs carefully selected to meet our exacting standards.  It is an insider’s festival though and tickets are sold to California Film Institute (CFI), based on membership levels, long before they are made available to the public. This year’s festival is October 2-12 and tickets to the general public go on sale Sunday, September 14 at 11 a.m.  If you want to attend any of the fabulous tributes, spotlight or centerpiece screenings, it is essential that you lock in your tickets ASAP.  

Stay tuned to ARThound this coming week for top picks.

Screening venues include the CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley), Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael) and other venues throughout the Bay Area.

 

Lashio, Myanmar is the setting for Midi Z’s “Ice Poison” (Bing Du) (2014) screening Saturday, October 11 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival.  Faced with a failing vegetable crop, an impoverished farmer pawns his cow for a moped and starts a taxi service in the city.  In six months, he must make enough to buy the cow back, or it will be slaughtered and sold for meat. His new venture is proving to be another failure until he picks up his first fare, a woman desperate to leave an arranged marriage in China and bring her son back to live with her. They team up in the only steady business in around—opium poppies.  The film balances moments of joy with the stark reality of a country re-emerging after decades of underdevelopment and repression.  Photo: courtesy MVFF

Lashio, Myanmar is the setting for Midi Z’s “Ice Poison” (Bing Du) (2014) screening Saturday, October 11 at the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival. Faced with a failing vegetable crop, an impoverished farmer pawns his cow for a moped and starts a taxi service in the city. In six months, he must make enough to buy the cow back, or it will be slaughtered and sold for meat. His new venture is proving to be another failure until he picks up his first fare, a woman desperate to leave an arranged marriage in China and bring her son back to live with her. They team up in the only steady business in around—opium poppies. The film balances moments of joy with the stark reality of a country re-emerging after decades of underdevelopment and repression. Photo: courtesy MVFF

 

Online ticket purchase is highly recommended (click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option.   There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—

SAN RAFAEL

Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts

MILL VALLEY

ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm

Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts

CORTE MADERA

Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Arts of the Islamic World”―engrossing lectures by the world’s experts, Friday mornings at the Asian Art Museum, through December 5, 2014

Helen C. Evans, Ph.D., the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art will speak at the Asian Art Museum on Friday, September 12, 2014 on “Assimilation and Conquest: Byzantine Sources for Islamic Art.”   Her lecture is part of the "Arts of the Islamic World" fall lecture series organized by the Society for Ancient Art.  Dr. Evans installed the Met’s Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Byzantine Art, the first galleries dedicated to Byzantine art in an encyclopedic museum in 2000, and she expanded them in 2008.  She has curated three landmark exhibitions on Byzantine Art—“Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th – 9th Century)” in 2012, “Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557)” in 2004, and “The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era (843-1261) in 1976.  Photo: courtesy Tulane University

Helen C. Evans, Ph.D., the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art will speak at the Asian Art Museum on Friday, September 12, 2014 on “Assimilation and Conquest: Byzantine Sources for Islamic Art.” Her lecture is part of the “Arts of the Islamic World” fall lecture series organized by the Society for Ancient Art. Dr. Evans installed the Met’s Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Byzantine Art, the first galleries dedicated to Byzantine art in an encyclopedic museum in 2000, and she expanded them in 2008. She has curated three landmark exhibitions on Byzantine Art—“Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th – 9th Century)” in 2012, “Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557)” in 2004, and “The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era (843-1261) in 1976. Photo: courtesy Tulane University

Last Friday morning, you could have heard a pin drop in the Asian Art Museum’s Samsung Hall as Freer & Sackler chief curator of Islamic Art, Massumeh Farhad, gave an overview of the rare treasures from Saudi Arabia that await us in the “Roads of Arabia” exhibition opening October 24, 2014.  Farhad gave an insider’s profile of recent archaeological discoveries in Saudi Arabia, including news of an inscription in Nabatean Arabic, the very first stage of Arabic writing, unearthed by a French epigrapher near Narjan (near the Yemeni border) that is an important link in tracing the origins of the Arabic language.  She also talked of exquisite artifacts found along the ancient incense roads that originated in southern Arabia and were caravan routes for the transport of precious frankincense and myrrh throughout Eqypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Mediterranean world.

A week earlier, on August 29th, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley gave an engrossing survey of the art and architecture of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia.  One of the world’s leading experts on ancient Iran, he told of the excavations he had participated in and illustrated his talk with stunning aerial photographs of sites and monuments taken by Swiss photographer Georg Gerster.  He speculated about ancient Persian garden design and entertained us with an anecdote about Agatha Christie whom he met at an estate in Iran in the 1970’s when he was the Director of the British Institute of Persian Studies in Tehran.

These distinguished speakers are part of a wonderful new 15-part fall lecture series, “Arts of the Islamic World,” organized by the AAM’s Society for Ancient Art, every Friday at 10:30 a.m. though December 5, 2014.  The series is designed to provide a broad overview of both pre-Islamic and Islamic art and includes a roster of renowned scholars and curators, several of whom hail from Oxford and the British Museum.  Their talks are substantial and run roughly two hours. The series sold-out almost immediately but a number of seats―$20 each―are made available each Friday morning for walk-ins.  I have attended the last two lectures, arriving when the museum opens at 10 a.m. and have gotten a seat.  Coffee, tea and assorted pastries are offered for sale before the lecture and at intermission.  Here are descriptions of the remaining lectures―

September 12:   Assimilation and Conquest: Byzantine Sources for Islamic Art (Study Guide), Helen Evans, Metropolitan Museum

September 19:    Is there an Image Problem in Islam? Materials for the History of an Idea (Study Guide), Finbarr Barry Flood, NYU

September 26: Persian Painting: The First Golden Age (1300-1500), Robert Hillenbrand, University of Edinburgh

October 3:   Seeing and Being Seen in Isfahan: Expanding Gaze for an Early Modern Capital, Renata Holod, University of Pennsylvania

October 10: Chinese Influence on Islamic Glazed Ceramics, Oliver Watson, University of Oxford

October 17:  Building Types in Islamic Architecture, Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, San Francisco State University

October 24:  The Visual Culture of Islam in India, Alka Patel, UC Irvine

October 31: “Ex Oriente Lux: Luxury Textiles and Oriental Carpets, Carol Bier, Textile Museum, Washington D.C.

November 7:  The Art of Islamic Calligraphy: A Journey through Time, Maryam Ekhtiar, Metropolitan Museum

November 14:   Seek Knowledge Even as Far as China: East-West Cultural Transmissions in Post Mongol Iran, Ladan Akbarnia, British Museum

November 21: Modernism and Islamic Art, Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University

November 28: No Class, Thanksgiving break

December 5: Imagining Europe at the Persian Court in the Seventeenth Century (1590-1720), Amy Landau, Walters Art Museum

Details:  The September 12 lecture, delivered by Dr. Helen Evans of the Metropolitan Museum, will be the fourth in the series.  There is a two-hour “Arts of the Islamic World” lecture every Friday at 10:30 a.m. in Samsung Hall through December 5, 2014. (There is no lecture on November 28, 2014).  Fee: $20 per lecture drop-in (purchase at the door, after Museum general admission, subject to availability).   The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.  Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Admission:  $15 adults; $10 seniors over 65, students and youth 13-17; Thursday nights $5.  For more information, visit http://www.asianart.org

 

 

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bellini’s glorious “Norma” opens San Francisco Opera’s 92nd season

Radiant soprano Sondra Radvanosky as Druid high-priestess Norma in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Bellini’s “Norma,” through September 30, 2014.  Last fall, Radvanovsky triumphed as Norma at the Metropolitan Opera and, after her SFO performance, will go on to sing the role at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera.  Image: @Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera

Radiant soprano Sondra Radvanosky as Druid high-priestess Norma in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Bellini’s “Norma,” through September 30, 2014. Last fall, Radvanovsky triumphed as Norma at the Metropolitan Opera and, after her SFO performance, will go on to sing the role at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. “Norma” marks Radvanovsky’s second SFO appearance. She debuted as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” in 2009, which was also Conductor Nicola Luisotti’s debut as SFO Music Director. Image: @Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera

Friday evening’s “Norma,” San Francisco Opera’s season opener, with soprano Sandra Radvanovsky  as Norma, was an evening of firsts—my first time attending on SFO’s big gala night and my first live performance of  Bellini’s “Norma.”   And, I was lucky enough to score tickets in the 5th row, close enough to see without even my glasses, also a first.   I had prepped most of the week with YouTube recordings of the great Normas—Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland—and was excited to see how Radvanovsky, rumored to stand in their lauded company, would measure up. Norma is a Druid high princess in Roman-occupied Gaul who has secretly been sleeping with the enemy— a Roman procounsel, Pollione, and has two illegitimate children as a result.  Pollione has grown tired of Norma and now has his eyes set on Adalgisa, a young Druid priestess whom Norma regards as a friend. The opera is considered to be the gold-standard of early 19th century bel canto Italian opera.

SFO’s new production is conceived and staged by Kevin Newbury, with sets by David Korins and costumes by Jessica Jahn.  Newbury debuted at SFO in 2103 directing the world premiere flop, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. (ARThound wrote about the gorgeous Michael Schwab poster that accompanied the opera.)  Billed as being “rooted in the stone age with a contemporary slant,” the production is inspired by contemporary research on the archaeology and mythology of the Druid cultures of Roman-occupied ancient Gaul.  With the SFO’s always effervescent Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, in the pit, the orchestra delivered a luminous performance with outstanding woodwind solos.

The British music critic, Andrew Porter, who wrote so insightfully for the New Yorker for some thirty years, said the role of Norma: “calls for power; grace in slow cantilena; pure, fluent coloratura; stamina; tones both tender and violent; force and intensity of verbal declamation; and a commanding stage presence.”  Joan Sutherland said of the role “[Hearing Callas in Norma in 1952] was a shock, a wonderful shock. You just got shivers up and down the spine.”

By all measures, Radvanovsky was an astounding Norma.  She has a radiant stage presence and a powerful voice, full of sparkling color.  The minute she began singing, I immediately liked her velvety tone and her innate musicality, especially her ability to convey tenderness and vulnerability.  On Saturday, though, there were some issues with her top range and extended notes.  On a handful of occasions during the three hour marathon, her voice broke or became scratchy.  And, importantly, that forceful gale wind dynamism and power that we associate with the hypnotic Normas, was not there.  From all I’ve read, she’s capable of it and I am sure it will emerge in subsequent performances.  Her “Casta Diva,” the famous first act cavatina, a prayer to the moon goddess, asking for peace, was gorgeous but I had the impression that this finely-tuned Ferrari had one more gear that was not present in this rendition.  She’s so passionate and immersed in the role though and so secure and nimble in her upper middle range that it was pure pleasure to both listen to her and watch her.  I particularly enjoyed her conflicted “Oh non tremare” which completes the first act, where she slams Pollione for his betrayal and exhibited her exceptional range.  The audience went wild over her “Casta Diva” and carried its ebullience to the funeral pyre (which came some three hours later and was a quick unsatisfying flash.)

They share a disastrous taste for the same Roman lover— mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Druid priestess Adalgisa (L) and Soprano Sondra Radvanosky as Druid high-priestess Norma in San Francisco Opera’s “Norma,” through September 30, 2014.  Image: Cory Weaver

They share a disastrous taste for the same Roman lover— mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Druid priestess Adalgisa (L) and Soprano Sondra Radvanosky as Druid high-priestess Norma in San Francisco Opera’s “Norma,” through September 30, 2014. Image: Cory Weaver

They were equally enthusiastic over mezzo soprano Jamie Barton’s inspired Adalgisa.  Barton, in her SFO debut, seemed completely at ease in the difficult role and her nimble voice was warm and alluring.  Barton won the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has gone on to impress audiences ever since.  She so believably conveyed the dramatic emotional twists that come with loving a man who is also her friend and superior’s lover that my eyes gravitated constantly to her, troubled pure soul that she was.  We’ve all felt the tug of dangerous love and had to make difficult choices between loyalty and following your heart and they played out with compelling drama on Friday.  The shivers in this “Norma” were evoked by the girl power moments—by the lush lyricism of Radvanovsky and Barton’s voices blending in the duos—rather than by Norma’s solos of torment and passion.

Italian tenor Marco Berti delivered a wonderful Pollione and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sang Oroveso with a power that matched his height.  We’ll be seeing a lot of Van Horn this season as he appears as Count Ribbing (“Un Ballo in Maschera”), Alidoro (“La Cenerentola”), Colline (“La Bohème”), and Narbal (“Les Troyens”).

David Korins’ set design, which many found confounding, had a single silvery snow-covered tree trunk elegantly hovering from chains in front of an enormous gray wall as a representation of the Druid forest. Blustery snowfall was visible through the doors evoking a Druid winter wonderland. Towards the end of the opera, a giant Trojan horse-like creature slowly overtook the stage and its crescent-shaped horn descended from the sky until it landed in place on its head. The funeral pyre was a mere flash in the pan. Jessica Jahn’s costumes were unfathomable to me—they appeared to come from several different eras and, with the exception of Radvanovsky’s, were unflattering, uninteresting and unattractive.

After the performance, drowsy couples exited the opera house raving about losing themselves in the music and comparing the great divas who have defined Norma.  There was a warm buzz about Jamie Barton.  SFO’s 92nd season was off to a brilliant start.

Run-time: 2 hours, 50 minutes with one intermission

Details:  There are six remaining performances of “Norma”—Wednesday, Sept 10 at 7:30 PM, Sun, Sept 14 at 2 PM, Friday, Sept 19 at 7:30 PM, Tuesday, Sept 23 at 7:30 PM, Saturday, Sept 27 at 7:30 PM and Tuesday, Sept 30 at 7:30 PM  Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets for performance here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.   Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honoring the legacy of Luther Burbank―a new exhibition of botanical drawings by Sonoma County artists opens at Sebastopol Center for the Arts on Thursday, September 11, 2014

French hybrid lilac (Syringa vulgaris hybrid)© Vi Strain.  All rights reserved.

Luther Burbank hybrid French lilac (Syringa vulgaris hybrid) by Vi Grinsteiner Strain. Colored pencil on Dura Lar, 9 x 12 inches, 2013-14. © Vi Grinsteiner Strain. All rights reserved.

Framed in my room, I have a Victorian card with lovely hand-drawn lilacs inscribed “You are like a fragrant bouquet of lilacs. The thought of you, however far I stray, brings me back to my childhood hours.”   How delightful to learn that Sebastopol artist Vi Strain has created a hand-drawn lilac that will be exhibited at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts as part of their “Legacy of Luther Burbank” exhibition opening Thursday, September 11, 2014 with a reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibition features fourteen Sonoma County botanical artists who have created glorious colored pencil drawings of plants they selected from the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol and the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa.  Botanically accurate portraits of fruits, vegetables, flowers and trees created through Burbank’s experiments all combine as a wonderful florilegium of Burbank’s important and enduring work in Sonoma County. By chance, I had the good fortune of meeting Vi Strain at the recent opening of Schroeder Hall and jumped at the chance to ask her about her work.  Here is our conversation―

How long have you been doing botanical drawing?

Vi Strain: Since about 2006, when I took Nina Antze’s “Drawing Nature” class in Sebastopol, where we used colored pencil. I’ve always drawn though and it started when I was a kid in Wyoming. At Montana State University, I studied commercial and fine art, and I was on scholarship for my first two years. I was drawn to botanical drawing because I’ve always found wonder in nature and plant life. Over time, I’ve worked in almost every medium there is.  I really like colored pencils because you can get every color you want and they aren’t messy, like oil paints are. I work primarily on Dura-Lar and use oil-based pencils. Faber Castells and Carn d’Aches are my favorites. They are very smooth, so I can easily do very detailed work with very rich and accurate colors.

What did you learn about Luther Burbank in the process of creating your lilac?

Vi Strain: In researching Burbank’s legacy, I read Jane Smith’s book, The Garden of Invention  and I visited the Sebastopol Experiment Farm and also the Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. I found that he brought plants from all over the world and would take those various strains and, through cross-breeding, create a new plant ideally suited to our region, where it does not freeze in the winter time. His lilac is a hybrid French lilac (Syringa vulgaris hybrid).  I’ve always loved lilacs and, when I went there and saw his blooming, I knew immediately that I had to draw them as I have such a long history with them.

The amazing color is what grabbed me in this lilac, it’s really multiple colors–it starts as a tiny, almost black, deep purple bud which opens into a red-violet and then turns into a reddish lavender flower.  As they start to go, they fade into this white lavender. I enjoy taking it from the bud stage all the way to the spent blossom.

Tell us more about your technique.

Vi Strain: I work exclusively in colored pencils, some are wax and some are oil, on Dura-Lar drafting film. I do all my preliminary compositions and drawings on tracing paper. Once I settle on what I like, I outline it in ink on the tracing paper and put the Dura-Lar directly over that and start working directly on that. Each one takes hours and hours. In this case, I took the lilac all apart and really examined it, trying to find how the blossoms are attached to the stem and how the stem is attached to the branch and how the leaves are shaped and how their vein structure works. I study all of this and then connect all the dots from there. I also create a whole study sheet on just colors. I take a lot of close-up photos too because lilacs don’t last long and I will work on a drawing for months.

Your favorite lilac fix?

Vi Strain: The one at the patio of the Union Hotel in Occidental. It is ancient and a beauty.

Details: Opening Reception for “The Legacy of Luther Burbank” is Thursday, September 11, from 6 to 7:30 PM. The exhibition runs in Gallery II from Thursday September 11 to Saturday, October 25, 2014. Concurrently running is “Big Ideas 1950-1970: influences in modern ceramics,” which focuses on the evolution and contemporary re-interpretation of earlier groundbreaking ceramic works by 13 seminal artists. Sebastopol Center for the Arts is located at 282 High Street, Sebastopol, CA. Phone: 707 829.4797

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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