ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

interview: ARThound talks with SFS Concertmaster, Alexander Barantschik, who plays a rare Mendelssohn Violin Concerto this Thursday at Weill Hall

Alexander Barantschik, San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster for 14 years, performs and conducts "Barantschik and Friends," at Weill Hall on January 23, 2014 and "Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn," at Davies Symphony Hall on January 22, 24, 25, 26. Photo: SFS

Alexander Barantschik, San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster for 14 years, performs and conducts “Barantschik and Friends,” at Weill Hall on January 23, 2014 and “Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn,” at Davies Symphony Hall on January 22, 24, 25, 26. Photo: Geneva Anderson

On stage at Davies Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik seems to epitomize the intense and mysterious Russian.  The virtuoso always looks quite serious as he juggles his orchestra leadership role with that of first violinist who plays “The David,” the illustrious 1742 Guarnerius del Gesú violin, famed for its rich dark sound.  I’ve always wondered what makes Barantschik tick and about the particulars of his Russian musical upbringing.  When I had the chance to interview him in conjunction with “Barantschik and Friends“—his upcoming performance at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall this Thursday (and on Wed, Fri, Sat and Sun at Davies as “Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn“)—I jumped.  We chatted on the phone last Friday and he couldn’t have been warmer as he shared his amazing story.

Google Barantschik. You’ll learn that he’s nicknamed “Sasha” and that this former concertmaster of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras has served under Music Director MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) for 14 years through acclaimed cycles of Mahler, Stravinsky, and Debussy, and that he has premiered important works by André Previn and Viktor Kissine.  He’s played exquisite instruments throughout his career too. The fact that Barantschik’s first auditions in the West—for a seat and then for the concertmaster position at Germany’s Bamburg Symphony—were performed with a violin he bought in a department store as he was leaving Russia, is a little known detail I nudged out of him that makes his story all the more fascinating.  As we were talking, I got the impression that he’s a bit private but that didn’t stop me from asking for “a bit more detail.”

It took SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik about a year to get comfortable with "David," the famous1742 Guarnerius del Gesú that was Jascha Heifetz’ favorite fiddle on stage and in the recording studio.   Barantschik admires the way sound projects from the violin so that even while he is playing softly, the instrument can be heard throughout the concert hall.  The violin rarely leaves Davies Symphony Hall, EXCEPT when it travels to the Green Music Center or to the Mondavi Center.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

It took SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik about a year to get comfortable with “The David,” the famous 1742 Guarnerius del Gesú that was Jascha Heifetz’ favorite fiddle on stage and in the recording studio. Barantschik admires the way sound projects from the violin so that, even while he is playing softly, the instrument can be heard throughout the concert hall. The violin rarely leaves Davies Symphony Hall, EXCEPT when it travels to the Green Music Center or to the Mondavi Center. Photo: Geneva Anderson

On Thursday, Barantschik returns to Green Music Center to lead the Orchestra in an irresistible program he’s put together showcasing strings.  Following a lovely early Mozart “Divertimento in F major for Strings,”  Barantschik takes center stage to play Mendelssohn’s “D minor Violin Concerto,” one of the Romantic master’s finest creations and a delightful surprise for concertgoers who only know its more famous sibling, the E Minor.  He’ll be playing “The David,” the 1742 Heifetz Guarnerius del Gesù violin owned for many years by his idol, Jascha Heifetz.  The violin, valued at over $6 million, was bequeathed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) in 1989 by Heifetz and offered as an extended loan to SFS in 2002, where it has been cared for and played by Barantschik.  Barantschik insists that the dollar value on the instrument is “completely irrelevant” as it’s priceless and could “never be replaced.”  Of course there are a few restrictions. This will be “The David’s” second appearance at Weill Hall—1 of 2 locations outside of San Francisco where he is allowed to take it, the other being the Mondavi Centerfor the Performing Arts at UC Davis.  Aside from these two exceptions, the instrument never travels outside of Davies.  Also on the program is Britten’s winsome “Simple Symphony,” a salute to the composer’s centenary and “Melodia-Libertango,” the sultry music of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, the king of nuevo tango, with guest performer Seth Asarnow on the bandoneon.

Where did you grow up in Russia and what was your first experience with the violin?  

Alexander Barantschik: I was born in 1953 in St. Petersburg, Russia (then ‘Leningrad’), which was and still is the cultural capital of the country.  My family wasn’t musical, no musicians except for a very distant relative, Yefrem Zimbalist, who lived in the States but I never met him because he’d emigrated at the beginning of the 20th century.  It was pure coincidence that my mother tried to get me some lessons at the music school which was just across the road from our home.  I could walk there by myself every day and my parents thought this would keep me busy and off the streets, which was just what happened.  I was almost six when I was admitted.  My first instrument was an accordion because there was no space for another violin student in the school.  I don’t remember anything about that accordion but a violin spot opened up and the teacher thought I had a pretty good sense of rhythm and pitch and so I started playing the violin.  After a few years, I made some progress.  I can’t say I was completely dedicated to practicing or spent many hours at it but I loved music.  It took quite a few years before I truly understood the importance of practice and of the violin itself.  I was probably 12 or 13 when I started thinking this might be forever, this might be my life, and then I started practicing and then I started making real progress.

Historically, was there a “Russian style” of music playing and was that around when you were studying and is it still around today?  Who were there big mentors that you looked up to, or, perhaps, wanted to topple?

Alexander Barantschik: When we think of a Russian school of violin, we should think about Leopold Auer, basically the first teacher who could claim that he was important for the whole process of teaching great players.  His students, apart from Heifetz, were phenomenal violinists.  He wasn’t Russian but a Hungarian Jew who came to Russia (in 1868) and his Russian wasn’t perfect but he was teaching his students in a unique way—they all had something special in common.  That tradition of playing was very deeply appreciated after he left and went to live in New York for the last part of his life.  I cannot say there is a Russian tradition of violin playing that exists right now.  The world is smaller, faster, and within one week, you can be in three different continents, so things are not as personalized.  There are great players of the past who are impossible to imitate…Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin—great players who were absolutely unique.

How do you feel about David Oistrakh’s playing and did you ever happen to meet him? 

Alexander Barantschik: I loved his playing and heard him play much more than any other violinist as he was in Russia and played regularly with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.  I was dreaming of becoming his student at the Moscow Conservatory and was able to audition with him when he was performing in St. Petersburg.  I met with him in his hotel room and I played for him for about 20 minutes and he was extremely nice and accommodating and sympathetic.  He listened and made some corrections and tried to see how I reacted to his comments.  His last question after I had played was simple—’Do you think you really love violin?’—and he looked straight into my eyes as he asked me that.  I think I said, ‘I dearly love violin.’  After a second, he said, ‘Ok… I will accept you into my class.’  I couldn’t have been happier than I was at that moment. As I was preparing to take other exams at the conservatory, I heard the tragic news that he been on tour to the Netherlands and had died in Amsterdam after his concert.  I never became his student and that was the end of my training but I’m so glad I have this wonderful memory of playing for him.

What were the circumstances that brought you to the West?

Alexander Barantschik: By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was a member of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and toured regularly.  I had visited Western Europe and Japan but I felt that, for my musical development, I needed to absorb different cultures and traditions and that the only way to achieve this was to emigrate from Russia, which I did at 26.  My first country was Germany, where I was concertmaster with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.  This was my first job and I spent three years there learning all about German traditions—Beethoven, Bückner, Haydn—and I broadened my view and I’m still learning from different traditions today.

How difficult was it to get out of Russia to Germany?

Alexander Barantschik:  It was not easy and, let’s say, it was made difficult.  I left Russia with one suitcase—no money, no job, no references and almost no violin.  My violin was not a Guarneri but it was a nice little violin from Tirol, Austria, and at the last minute, I was not allowed to take it with me.  I ended up going to a department store, to the music section and buying a simple violin that had been made in a furniture factory.  It looked horrible and sounded accordingly.  I played my first audition, for the section, on that.  Afterwards, the committee came to me and said they were happy to offer me a job with the orchestra but that in one week they would have another audition for concertmaster and they asked me if I’d like to participate.  I didn’t think about it and just said yes.  They then asked me about my violin which was very bright red and said they’d never seen anything like it before.  One week later, I returned for the concertmaster audition and played all the solos and concerti and I got that position.   That was when they presented me with a very beautiful Guadagnini violin made in Cremona and the legend was that it has belonged to a famous German violinist Joseph Joachim who was a close friend of Brahms and who wrote cadenzas to almost every important classical violin concerto.

Do you still have that red violin?

Alexander Barantschik:  No.  I lent it to someone and this person never returned it and for that I am very sorry.  I would love to frame it and hang it on the wall for my students at the conservatory to see what my beginnings were.

“Sasha” Barantschik has compared his 1742 "David" Guarnerius del Gesú to the mysterious Italian film star Claudia Cardinale—"dark, rich and complex."  Bequeathed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1989 by Jascha Heifetz, this masterpiece of spruce and maple, was named after Ferdinand David, the violinist who owned it in the mid-19th century and for whom composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote his famous violin concerto in E minor.  Heifetz died in 1987 and stipulated in his will that it be played only by "worthy performers.''  Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Stuart Canin, and Barantschik are among the very few who have since passed their bows over its venerable strings.  Image: FAMSF

“Sasha” Barantschik has compared “The David,” his 1742 Guarnerius del Gesú, to the mysterious Italian film star Claudia Cardinale—”dark, rich and complex.” Bequeathed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1989 by Jascha Heifetz, this masterpiece of spruce and maple, was named after Ferdinand David, the violinist who owned it in the mid-19th century and for whom composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote his famous violin concerto in E minor. Heifetz died in 1987 and stipulated in his will that it be played only by “worthy performers.” Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Stuart Canin, and Barantschik are among the very few who have since passed their bows over its venerable strings. Image: FAMSF

What did it feel like the first time you had Jascha Heifetz’s fiddle in your hands?  How long has it taken you to become truly comfortable with the fact that this is now your violin?

Alexander Barantschik:  Of course, the very first time I held it, I was speechless because the sound of Heifetz had been with me in my ear since I was a child…I’ve listened to his recordings all of my life.   The violin is legendary, with a very special history of ownership and craftsmanship but it is not easy to play.  Players need to find the way to produce the sound it’s capable of and that requires a special technique.  It took me many months, perhaps a year, to meet its demands and to make it my friend so it started to like me as well.

Do you think that Guarneri has a unique voice? One of your SFS colleagues mentioned that he thought he heard a familiar voice from the Heifetz recordings when he heard you play it.

Alexander Barantschik:  I never tried to imitate Heifetz’s sound.  First of all that’s impossible as there was only one Heifetz and there will never be another.  So it’s not my intention but it does have a unique dark-colored sound and maybe some low notes sound a little familiar for those who are familiar with his recordings.

detail, “The David” made by Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri (del Gesú).  Photo: Stewart Pollens

detail, “The David” made by Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri (del Gesú). Photo: Stewart Pollens

You were MTT’s concertmaster in London Symphony Orchestra right?  You obviously have a special rapport.  What clicks?  Do you and MTT ever share a vodka before or after a performance?

Alexander Barantschik:  We met in London.  I joined the London Symphony Orchestra in 1989, the same year he started as principal conductor. We met in the recording studio when the orchestra was recording Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben,” which has a huge important violin solo.  We had just one rehearsal and we didn’t have time to discuss things or work out the details—it was spontaneous—we both just trusted each other as musicians.  After this very important and stressful recording session, we immediately became friends.  I still have the cd and it’s one of the best I ever made.  Our collaboration has continued for a little over 30 years now.

As for the vodka, usually, we are both pretty exhausted after a performance and we don’t have any vodka with us.  Maybe, on a couple of occasions, when it was the end of the season, we shared a drink.

SFS Concertmaster Barantschik and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas in Cologne, Germany, in 2002.

SFS Concertmaster Barantschik and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas in Cologne, Germany, in 2002.

What’s the most stressful aspect of being the concertmaster?

Alexander Barantschik:  It is a stressful job but maybe a better word is complex.  The most stressful period was when I first started my career as a concertmaster and I had to basically learn the entire orchestral repertoire, an endless body of work.   I’m still learning new pieces and relearning old pieces and forced to make important decisions.  It’s not only about playing—it’s about preparing sheet music, working with guest conductors, auditioning musicians and all of that is very complex in this huge organization.

Historically, the SFS concertmaster has been the only musician not to have tenure.  In the last SFS contract, you were given tenured status and all concertmasters, hereafter, were given the chance to be tenured.  Was that important to you?

Alexander Barantschik:  I think the most important aspect was the recognition of me being an integral part of the orchestra, not as being slightly different from the others.

Why did you select the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in D Minor and what sets it apart from his Concerto in E Minor, one of the five great violin concertos?

Alexander Barantschik:  The D Minor that I will be playing is written for violin and strings whereas the E Minor is written for the whole orchestra with wind and brass.  This program is dedicated to SFO strings and that was my main reason.  It is also rarely played and, in fact, was completely ignored until Yehudi Menuhin found it in the 1970’s and edited the score and performed it for the first time in a couple of hundred years.  So, this is not so popular but it was a master work when Mendelssohn wrote it as a 13 year old and it has all the qualities of the works he composed in his advanced age.  You can hear from hear very first few bars that it is Mendelssohn—it is youthful, beautiful, dramatic and it speaks to my heart.

Any contemporary music for violin that you find intriguing?

Alexander Barantschik:  Of course, it depends what we’re talking about…in terms of the 20th century, which is already the last century, I love Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich the most.  If we are talking later, and more avant-garde, then there are very interesting pieces that have a new language.  The only way to encourage young composers to write is to perform their works. Without performing, we’ll never know where music is going.  On two occasions (2003 and 2012), I played the “Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Orchestra” (written in 1984 as a commission for the Berlin Festival) by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998).  I was a little nervous about how the audience would react as it’s a very complicated piece, not easy listening, but he’s one of my favorite composers and this is one of my favorite concertos.   The audience and the orchestra loved it in 2003 and when I played it nine or ten years later, it was the same story…successful.  Now, I am learning and I hope to play a concerto by John Adams.

Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik with "David," the famous Heifetz Guarneri which rarely leaves Davies Symphony Hall, except when it travels to the Green Music Center or to the Mondavi Center.  Barantschik will play Mendelssohn's "D Minor Violin Concerto" (1822), written when the composer was just 13, this Thursday at Weill Hall. About one third of Mendelssohn's music (270 of roughly 750 works) remains unpublished and mostly unperformed.  The D minor concerto hasn't been heard much since Yehudi Menuhin gave its premiere in 1952.  Photo: Lowres, SFS

Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik will play Mendelssohn’s “D Minor Violin Concerto” (1822), written when the composer was just 13, this Thursday at Weill Hall. About one third of Mendelssohn’s music (270 of roughly 750 works) remains unpublished and mostly unperformed. The D minor concerto hasn’t been heard much since Yehudi Menuhin gave its premiere in 1952. Photo: Lowres, SFS

Where else aside from Russia, London and CA have you lived and which place do you consider “home”?

Alexander Barantschik:  Without any doubt, home is where my family is— my wife Alena and son Benjamin—and we’ve been here since 2001, 13 years already.  I am very happy to call CA, the Bay Area, specifically San Mateo, where I live, my home.  After I left Russia, I lived in Germany for three years and then in Amsterdam for 22 years where, for 16 years, I combined my job as concertmaster with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic with my concertmaster position at LSO.  I then moved to California and started my job here at SFS.

Does your son have any interest in pursuing music? 

Alexander Barantschik:  He’s a high school junior now.  He loves math, science, and computer science and he plays piano for his pleasure and loves classical music but he has no desire to pursue music professionally.

Russians have a marvelous and highly creative form of cursing.  What’s your favorite Russian curse?

Alexander Barantschik:  Honestly, I don’t curse so much.  We do have a saying, ‘Ni puha ni pera,’ which is something like ‘break a leg,’ which is what you say to every musician or performer about to go on stage.  The reply to that is always ‘K chortu,’ which is ‘Go to hell,’ a good omen for Russians.

How do you feel about performing at Weill Hall?

Alexander Barantschik: We are used to our hall, Davies, where we perform and rehearse every day and it’s challenging to leave that.  Weill Hall is much smaller than Davies, has a completely different shape, and is very different acoustically from Davies.  Since we don’t have any rehearsals at Weill Hall, or at the Mondavi Center, it’s always challenging to get the sound just right.  We don’t have any experience just sitting in the hall and listening either.  On stage, we are hearing things that are so different from what you’re hearing and we have to adjust immediately without even hardly having a chance to play. This time, we’ve got a small ensemble.  I will come a bit early and check out the acoustics to make sure I remember what it’s like there.

Details: Alexander Barantschik and SFS perform “Barantschik and Friends” at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 8 p.m. AND “Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn” at Davies Symphony Hall on Wed (Jan 22, 8 p.m.), Fri (Jan 24, 6:30 p.m.), Sat (Jan 25, 8 p.m.) and Sun (Jan 26, 2 p.m.).  Tickets at Green Music Center are $20 to $156 (click here to purchase) and are $15 to $109 at Davies (click here to purchase.)  For more information, call (415) 864-6000.  For more information about San Francisco Symphony’s four concerts this season at Weill Hall, click here.

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January 22, 2014 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dog Lovers! Tonight is your night…. Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” (“Die Wand”) screens at 8:45 at the Smith Rafael…part of a week of screenings of foreign Oscar nominees

As the only human survivor after an unexplained global tragedy, German actress Marina Gedeck bonds tightly with her loyal dog in Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” a film that is true to Marlen Haushofer’s exceptional novel . Image: courtesy of Music Box Films

As the only human survivor after an unexplained global tragedy, German actress Martina Gedeck bonds tightly with her loyal dog in Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” a film that is true to Marlen Haushofer’s exceptional novel . Image: courtesy of Music Box Films

I wouldn’t be ARThound if I didn’t do a special shout-out for Lynx, the amazing hound that co-stars in  The Wall (Die Wand, 2012) which screens tonight (Wed) at 8:45 PM at the Smith Rafael (Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center)  as part of their week of exceptional screenings of foreign Oscar nominations from around the world…. I can’t say it enough… consistently awesome programming!

The Wall (Die Wand):  Austrian director Julian Roman Pölsler’s film is based on Marlen Haushofer’s 1962 dystopian hit novel of the same name (just re-printed in English). The film stars German actress Martina Gedeck from the brilliant 2006 Stassi thriller The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) and tells the story of a completely ordinary middle-aged woman (Gedeck) who is vacationing with friends in a remote mountain hunting lodge.  Her friends go out to a pub and she stays back with the dog and when they don’t come back, she makes a very creepy discovery.  She is imprisoned on the mountainside by an invisible wall, behind which there seems to be no life.  She appears to be the sole remaining human on earth, along with the dog (a red hound that will steal your heart),a cow, a cat, and a kitten, with which she forms a tight-knit family.

The film rests entirely on Gedeck’s shoulders and she is riveting, delivering a very credible performance that will leave you shivering and running home to snuggle with your dog.  The odd beauty of this film is that this last survivor scenario may be your own romanticized idea of heaven, or hell (Who hasn’t said  “Fuck the world! I’m sick of people…give me just my dog!), but watching Gedeck use her time laboring hard, protecting her pack, and introspectively processing her present life, leads us to right into her moments of intensely felt angst, terror, joy and sorrow. (Screens Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 8:45 PM, Smith Rafael)

I first reviewed The Wall when it screened at last year’s Berlin & Beyond Film Festival—the very best new films by German, Austrian and Swiss directors—a noteworthy jewel in the huge array of festivals.  This year, the 18th annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, kicks off this evening at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre with Georg Maas’ Two Lives (Zwei Leben, 2012), Germany’s official entry, short-listed for the best foreign language Oscar at the 2014 Academy Awards.  Click here to read ARThound’s coverage of this year’s Berlin & Beyond.)  Two Lives also screens tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 PM at the Smith Rafael and filmmaker Maas will be in attendance for what will be a riveting Q&A.  So, in San Rafael, you’ve got the opportunity to see two great German-language films back-to-back as part of their foreign Oscar nominee programming and, in San Francisco, Berlin & Beyond offers 30 feature length German-language films and 7 shorts over the next week (including six North American premieres and two US premieres).

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January 15, 2014 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 18th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival—the best and newest in German Language Cinema, starts Wednesday, January 15, 2014, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre

Georg Maas’ “Two Lives” (Zwei Leben, 2012), Germany’s official entry into the 2014 Academy Awards, kicks off  the 18th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, January 15-21, 2014, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and the Goethe-Institut.   Europe in 1990—the Berlin Wall has just crumbled.  Katrine is a Norwegian "war child," raised in East Germany, who has been living in Norway for the past 20 years.  She enjoys a happy life with her mother, her husband, daughter, and granddaughter. When a lawyer asks Katrine and her mother to testify in a trial against the Norwegian state on behalf of the war children, she resists.  A web of tightly-held secrets and deceit is unveiled.  This drama addresses an important but taboo topic in Norwegian history: the way Norwegian women who had relationships with German occupation soldiers were treated by their country after World War II, and what happened to them under the Stasi regime in the former East Germany. The film features the legendary Liv Ullmann in a rare performance.  Filmmaker Georg Maas will attend.

Georg Maas’ “Two Lives” (Zwei Leben, 2012), Germany’s official entry, short-listed for the best foreign language Oscar at the 2014 Academy Awards, kicks off the 18th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, January 15-21, 2014, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and the Goethe-Institut. Europe in 1990—the Berlin Wall has just crumbled and the Cold War has ended. Katrine (Juliane Koehler) has been living in Norway for the past 20 years but is is a Norwegian “war child.” Her father was a soldier in the German occupying troops during WWII and she was sent to and raised in totalitarian East Germany, only able to reunite with her Norwegian mother (Norwegian legend Liv Ullmann) long after WWII’s end. When a lawyer asks Katrine and her mother to testify in a trial against the Norwegian state on behalf of the war children who were relocated, she resists. A web of tightly-held secrets and deceit about Katrine’s true identity is unveiled. This drama addresses an important but taboo topic in Norwegian history: the way Norway, after World War II, treated Norwegian women who had relationships with German occupation soldiers and what happened to their children, many of whom were transported to what became Stasi-ruled East Germany. Adaptation of the novel “Eiszeten” by Hannelore Hippe. Filmmaker Georg Maas will attend.

For film lovers in the Bay Area, the annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival is an essential—it’s where one goes to see the very best new films by German, Austrian and Swiss directors and the crème of the crop of international collaborations from directors working beyond these borders.  The focus is Germany and German language but it’s the exceptional storytelling, intense drama and highly cinematic nature of the films, and the complete abandonment of Hollywood special effects, that make this relatively small scale festival a stand-out in the myriad of festivals that are cropping up everywhere.  The festival will mark its 18th season with a dazzling roster of special guests onstage and will screen 30 feature length films and 7 shorts, including six North American premieres and two US premieres.  Festival director Sophoan Sorn, at the helm for his fourth year now, has collaborated with Festival President Sabine Erlenwein to select films that showcase this year’s theme “Courage in Motion”—delivering cinematic stories that embrace overcoming life’s myriad of obstacles.  The festival kicks off Wednesday evening with Germany’s official entry into the 2014 Academy Awards, Two Lives (Zwei Leben, 2012) and an opening night party at Tank18, one of the City’s finest wine bars.  It closes (at the Castro venue) with the North American premiere of Nana Nuel’s Silent Summer (Stiller Sommer, 2013), with Nuel and renowned actor Hans-Jochen Wagner in attendance.   This year’s festival pays special tribute to legendary author, film producer, screenwriter and filmmaker, Peter Sehr, with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in acting.  Mr. Sehr, who had a knack for the political period drama, passed in May 2013 from cancer, but his wife and creative partner, director Marie Noëlle, will be present at the festival to receive the posthumous award and will appear in person at the screening of their final film, festival centerpiece Ludwig II (2012), at the Castro Theatre on January 17th, at 5:30 PM.  It all begins Wednesday, January 15, and runs Sunday, January 19, in San Francisco, at the historic Castro Theatre, with additional evening screenings on January 20-21 at the Goethe-Institut SF (530 Bush Street).

The festival marks its 18th season with a dazzling roster of special guests onstage—Ali Saghri (producer, Breaking Horizons); Anne Thoma (director/writer, Miles & War); Aylin Tezel (director, Inhale (short film); actor, Breaking Horizons & BFF 2012 Opener Almanya); Christian Schwochow (director, West); Georg Maas (director/screenwriter, Two Lives, The Real World of Peter Gabriel); Hans-Jochen Wagner (actor, Silent Summer); Katja von Garnier (director, Windstorm); Marie Noëlle (director/screenwriter, Ludwig II); Nana Neul (director/screenwriter, Silent Summer); Udo Kramer (production designer, LOLA nominee for Measuring the World 3D); Marc Rothemund (director, The Girl with Nine Wigs; nominee, Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, 2006 for Sophie Scholl – The Final Days); Walter Steffen (director/writer, Munich in India); Xavier Koller (director, The Black Brothers; winner, Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, 1991 for Journey of Hope.  For more information and tickets, browse the festival’s official website and stay tuned to ARThound for coverage.

The lineup for the 18th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival:

Castro Theatre:

Wednesday, January 15
4:00 pm Sensational Seven – Short Films 2014
7:00 pm Opening Night Film: Two Lives
9:30 pm Opening Night Party at Tank18

Thursday, January 16
1:00 pm Windstorm
4:00 pm The Shine of Day
6:30 pm Hanna’s Journey
9:00 pm Gold

Friday, January 17
11:30 am Your Beauty Is Worth Nothing
3:00 pm Lullaby Ride
5:30 pm Centerpiece: Ludwig II
9:15 pm Shores of Hope

Saturday, January 18
11:15 am Sound of Heimat – Germany Sings
1:45 pm The Girl With Nine Wings
4:30 pm Miles & War
7:00 pm West
9:45 pm Late Show: Measuring the World (3D)

Sunday, January 19
11:30 am Munich In India
2:00 pm The Black Brothers
4:30 pm Breaking Horizons and Inhale
8:00 pm Castro Closing Night Film: Silent Summer

GOETHE-INSTITUT AUDITORIUM

Monday, January 20
6:00 pm More Than Honey
8:30 pm Free Fall

Tuesday, January 21
6:00 pm Redemption Impossible
8:30 pm Shifting The Blame

January 12, 2014 Posted by | Film | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gordon Getty’s 80th Birthday concert with Plácido Domingo, Frederica von Stade, MTT and the San Francisco Symphony, January 6, 2014, at Davies Symphony Hall

Gordon Getty thanking the crowd for his “Happy Birthday” serenade, enthusiastically sung by the Davies audience, SFS Chorus, accompanied by SFS  (son Billy Getty is to the right).  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Gordon Getty thanking the crowd for his “Happy Birthday” serenade, enthusiastically sung by the Davies audience and SFS Chorus, accompanied by SFS (son Billy Getty is to the right; step-mother Teddy Getty Gaston in green and wife Ann Getty sporting a huge emerald broach by JAR (from Gordon) to her right). Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus in the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s A Prayer for My Daughter.  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus in the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s “A Prayer for My Daughter.” Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Gordon Getty on stage at Davies Symphony Hall after the world premiere his new work, “A Prayer for My Daughter.”  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Gordon Getty on stage at Davies Symphony Hall after the world premiere his new work, “A Prayer for My Daughter.” Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Plácido Domingo returned  to perform with the SFS for the first time since his debut with the Orchestra more than forty years ago—a 1973 performance of Verdi’s Requiem with then-Music Director Edo de Waart.   From the moment he stepped on stage to conduct Strauss’ “Overture to Die Fledermaus,” Domingo generated a buoyant high that carried Gordon Getty’s 80th birthday celebration.  When he sang “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” from Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the audience went wild. The Spanish tenor (who turns 73 on January 21, 2014) has sung 144 operatic roles and is currently the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera.  Photo: IPS

Plácido Domingo returned to perform with the SFS for the first time since his debut with the Orchestra more than forty years ago—a 1973 performance of Verdi’s Requiem with then-Music Director Edo de Waart. From the moment he stepped on stage to conduct Strauss’ “Overture to Die Fledermaus,” Domingo generated a buoyant high that carried the celebration. When he sang “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” from Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the audience went wild. Getty later told the audience that Domingo had once performed the entire second Act of “La Traviata” for him in his home. The Spanish tenor (who turns 73 on January 21, 2014) has sung 144 operatic roles and is currently the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera. Photo: IPS

Frederica von Stade (“Flicka”) and Plácido Domingo’s “Lippen schweigen” duet from Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” concluded with a delightful waltz.  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Frederica von Stade (“Flicka”) and Plácido Domingo’s “Lippen schweigen” duet from Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” concluded with a delightful waltz. Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Pianist Robin Sutherland and soprano Lisa Delan performed Gordon Getty’s “Four Dickinson Songs” which included the beloved “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Getty has been enthralled with Emily Dickinson since his college days and in 2012 released “The White Election,” (written in 1981), a song cycle on 32 Dickinson poems, sung by Delan. Getty’s collaboration with Delan began in the 1998 when she sang the title role in the world premiere of his "Joan and the Bells," a role she has since reprised in France, Germany, the U.S., and Russia. Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Pianist Robin Sutherland and soprano Lisa Delan performed Gordon Getty’s “Four Dickinson Songs” which included the beloved “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Getty has been enthralled with Emily Dickinson since his college days and in 2012 released “The White Election,” (written in 1981), a song cycle on 32 Dickinson poems, sung by Delan. Getty’s collaboration with Delan began in the 1998 when she sang the title role in the world premiere of his “Joan and the Bells,” a role she has since reprised in France, Germany, the U.S., and Russia. Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Urns of fragrant red roses adorned the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall for Gordon Getty’s 80th Birthday bash.  Getty has served on the SFS Board of Governors since 1979.  During his tenure, he and his wife, Ann, have provided leadership and generous support for some the Symphony’s most important initiatives, including the acoustic renovation of Davies Symphony Hall in 1990, the Grammy award-winning Mahler recording cycle, and the Orchestra’s international tours.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Urns of fragrant red roses adorned the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall for Gordon Getty’s 80th Birthday bash. Getty has served on the SFS Board of Governors since 1979. During his tenure, he and his wife, Ann, have provided leadership and generous support for some the Symphony’s most important initiatives, including the acoustic renovation of Davies Symphony Hall in 1990, the Grammy award-winning Mahler recording cycle, and the Orchestra’s international tours. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Grammy Time!  Davies sparkled with cabinets displaying San Francisco Symphony wins.  Last year’s Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for its live recording of works by Bay Area composer John Adams added up to the 15th Grammy for San Francisco Symphony.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Grammy Time! Davies sparkled with cabinets displaying San Francisco Symphony wins. Last year’s Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for its live recording of works by Bay Area composer John Adams added up to the 15th Grammy for San Francisco Symphony. Photo: Geneva Anderson

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pounce! Tickets are now on sale for California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, March 21-23, in Petaluma—the Farm Tours are almost sold out

The 8th annual California's Artisan Cheese Festival welcomes back Laura Werlin who will give “MELT!,” a two-hour seminar on Saturday melted cheese.  Understanding flavor is the key to pairing cheese and wine.  Participants will taste several cheeses—melted, grilled, baked—and discover the wines that pair best with each cheesy gooey bite.  Cheese insider Werlin is the author of numerous authoritative cheese books including “Gilled Cheese, Please.”    Photo: courtesy The Oregonian

California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, March 21-23, 2014, offers over a dozen cheese seminars. Cheese insider Laura Werlin returns with “MELT!,” a two-hour seminar on melted cheese. Understanding flavor is the key to pairing cheese and wine. There are eight styles of cheese and the texture of a cheese is a window into its flavor. Participants will taste several cheeses—melted, grilled, baked—and discover the wines that pair best with each cheesy gooey bite. Werlin is the author of numerous authoritative cheese books including “Gilled Cheese, Please.” Photo: courtesy The Oregonian

California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, is back for its eighth year, March 21-23, 2014, at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma.  Tickets just went on sale. If you are interested in a farm tour, where you get to meet local cheesemakers and “ooh and ahh” their baby goats and watch them create their awesome cheeses, get your tickets now as the tours sell out immediately.

The popular festival brings together artisan cheesemakers, authors, chefs, brewers, wineries and enthusiastic guests for three days of cheese seminars, pairings, tastings, farm tours, hands-on cheese-making classes and cheese-focused demonstrations.  Of course, eating is key! Guests sample new, limited-production, and rare artisan cheeses (paired with gourmet delights) and learn all about the art of making cheese.  The festival has non-profit status and its proceeds support California farmers and cheesemakers in their ongoing effort to advance sustainability. Tickets are now on sale and available through www.artisancheesefestival.com.

“The festival is a much-anticipated, cheese-lover’s paradise that allows guests to see every step of the farm-to-table process of cheesemaking,” said Festival Executive Director Judy Groverman Walker, a Sonoma County native and 4-H alum who also organizes the Luther Burbank Rose Parade.  “From farm tours where people can interact with the animals and meet the cheesemakers to tastings, hands-on classes and culinary demos, there truly is something for everyone.”

The 2014 schedule includes the following events:

Friday, March 21:

morning—Farm Tours & Lunch:

Back by popular demand are five intimate farm tours where guests are guided on walking tours of various area farms to meet the cheesemakers, see how the cheeses are made and, of course, taste the fruits of their labor. The tours allow guests to observe every step of the cheesemaking process and interact with cows, sheep, water buffalo and goats in their natural environment. Each tour includes round-trip transportation from the Sheraton Sonoma County, cheese tastings and lunch. A three-course, sit-down lunch is included in Tours A and B at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company’s The Fork with guest chef Louis Maldonado, executive chef at Spoonbar in Healdsburg and Top Chef Contestant; Tour D will stop for an adventurous farm-to-table lunch at Zazu Kitchen & Farm at The Barlow in Sebastopol; and Tour E, an exploration of Petaluma-based cheese talent, will conclude with a beer and cheese-pairing lunch on the patio of Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. All other tours will include a delicious box lunch to be enjoyed on site. Cheese is available for purchase on the farm tours.  (Tickets $75/$135, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.)

carries on a family tradition that began in the 1950’s when Jim’s Portuguese parents founded their dairy farm near Bodega Bay

An image that surely would have inspired Vermeer. Local farm tours are the highlight of the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival. Jim and Donna Pacheco’s Achadinha (Osh-a-deen-a) Cheese Company, on Chileno Valley Road, carries on a family tradition that began in the 1950’s when Jim’s Portuguese parents founded their dairy farm near Bodega Bay. Achadinha struck gold with its delectable and award-winning “Capricious” aged goat cheese. Their “California Crazy Curd,” fresh cow and goat’s milk curds, are trending big time. Image: courtesy Achadinha Cheese Company

These are still available—

Farm Tour D – Goats, Sheep & ZaZu, Oh MY!  — Bleating Heart Cheese; Toluma Farms & Tomales Farmstead Creamery; ZaZu Kitchen & Farm; Bohemian Creamery

There is no better way to start the day than with a scenic drive through western Sonoma and northern Marin counties.  Your first stop will be to visit Seana Doughty of Bleating Heart Cheese.  In 2009 Seana bought ten pregnant ewes from a sheep dairy in Wisconsin and drove them to California as the start of her flock.  Hear about Seana’s adventures as you tour her brand new creamery built to meet the ever increasing demand for her cheeses.  Continuing through Tomales, Toluma Farms & Tomales Farmstead Cheese is next on the agenda where you’ll meet their beloved goats and sheep!  We will visit the newly opened creamery and taste their amazing farmstead goat and mixed milk cheeses.  Heading north to Sebastopol we make a lunch stop at the “new” ZaZu Kitchen & Farm at The Barlow.  Owners/chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart are “farm-to-table” specialists and long-time supporters of the California artisan cheese movement. This dynamic duo will serve up a cheese-centric lunch in their always delightful New American-Northern Italian style. The menu will be paired with some of California’s best wines and/or beers.  For your final stop of the day we drive just one mile from Sebastopol to a hilltop overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa and Mayacama Mountains.  Here you’ll meet Lisa Gottreich at the Bohemian Creamery and her herd of Alpine dairy goats.  Find out why she decided to break out of her midlife mold and fill new ones with innovative and compelling curds. You’ll have the opportunity to taste a variety of Italian-style cheeses!  You won’t want to miss this tour!  $135.00 per person.

Farm Tour E – Petaluma Passionate and Perfect  –  Achadinha Cheese Company; Marin French Cheese Company; Weirauch Farm & Creamery; Lagunitas Brewing Company

This culinary adventure proves that perfection exists in our own “back pasture.” Your first stop on this delightful tour will be at Jim and Donna Pacheco’s ranch and family run Achadinha Cheese Company. We will taste their goat and mixed milk cheeses that have received extensive media attention. Next stop, the award winning  Marin French Cheese Company to meet the cheese makers who will walk us through the cheese making process and give us a special presentation of their recently renovated creamery followed by a tasting of their landmark cheeses. Our last farmstead visit will be at the beautiful Weirauch Farm & Creamery. Joel and Carleen Weirauch have been slowly developing their flock of dairy sheep since 2004. Their recognized expertise in making artisan organic cow and farmstead sheep cheese is matched by their commitment to sustainable agriculture, expressed on every level of farming  – rotational pasture management, green building, water re-use from the creamery for irrigation, and integrative solar. Lunch will be at the always fun, always delicious Lagunitas Brewing Company. Tour the brewery, taste some of their world renown beers and enjoy a wonderful cheese focused lunch, served on the patio and matched with those amazing, award winning Lagunitas microbrews!  $135.00 per person

Seanna Doughty of Bleating Heart Cheese wears silver farm boots and produces cheeses with the coolest names—“Ewelicious Blue,” “Fat Bottom Girl,”and “Shepherdista”—a play on the words 'shepherd' and 'fashionista.'  In 2013, Doughty fulfilled her dream of owning her own micro-creamery, which is based at the Thornton Ranch in the little town of Tamales.  Farm tour participants can meet Doughty and her beloved flock of ewes in person.  Photo: courtesy Bleating Heart Cheese

Seanna Doughty of Bleating Heart Cheese wears silver farm boots and produces cheeses with the coolest names—“Ewelicious Blue,” “Fat Bottom Girl,”and “Shepherdista”—a play on the words ‘shepherd’ and ‘fashionista.’ In 2013, Doughty fulfilled her dream of owning her own micro-creamery, which is based at the Thornton Ranch in the little town of Tamales. Farm tour participants can meet Doughty and her beloved flock of bleating heart ewes in person. Photo: courtesy Bleating Heart Cheese

Friday evening—Meet the Cheesemakers Reception

Guests meet the cheesemakers in person at this evening reception and cheese tasting. More than 20 participating cheesemakers will offer samples of their products, along with artisan wineries and breweries at this informal walk-around reception to kick off the weekend. There is also a “Fantasy Cheese Table” featuring a spectacular cheese display for guests to sample as much as they like. (Tickets $35, Sheraton Sonoma County, 5 – 7 p.m.)

More than 20 participating cheesemakers will offer samples of their products at Friday’s popular “Meet the Cheesemakers Reception,” an informal walk-around reception that kicks off the weekend of cheese.  Participants can also sample pairings offered by artisan wineries and breweries and cracker makers.  Photo: courtesy Artisan Cheese Festival

More than 20 participating cheesemakers will offer samples of their products at Friday’s popular “Meet the Cheesemakers Reception,” an informal walk-around reception that kicks off the weekend of cheese. Participants can also sample pairings offered by artisan wineries and breweries and cracker makers. Photo: courtesy Artisan Cheese Festival

Saturday, March 22:

morning and afternoon—Seminars, Cooking and Pairing Demonstrations

The 2014 event presents a variety of seminars from which to choose, giving guests the opportunity to learn from industry experts as they discover new cheeses, learn how to make cheese, cook with different cheeses, experience diverse wine, cider and beer pairings and much, much more. Confirmed instructors include Judy Creighton, an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP); Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle; author and cheese expert Laura Werlin; training and merchandising manager of Atlanta Foods International and American Cheese Society CCP Michael Landis; Mission Cheese owner Sarah Dvorak; Master Cicerone Rich Higgins; and the San Francisco Milk Maid, Louella Hill. The seminars include a catered lunch by Petaluma Market. During the lunch break and after the afternoon seminars authors will be available for book signings. (Tickets $65-95, Sheraton Sonoma County, Seminars 9:30 -11:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 3:30 p.m., with lunch provided at 12 – 1 p.m.)

“Terroir” will became a key term in your cheese vocabulary after attending a fun and informative seminar led by master cicerones Rich Higgins and Certified Cheese Professional Michael Landis as they delve into delicious beer and cheese pairings that illustrate the concept of terroir.  Higgins was the third person in the world to earn the master cicerone title for his beer expertise (there are now seven), an accreditation which certifies him as an excellent interpreter of palate and the ways in which beer develops and heightens a meaningful dining experience.  Higgins brewed professionally for eight years and owns the consulting company, Consultant à la Bière.  Naturally, the seminar will offer exquisite beer and cheese pairings.  Here, Rich Higgins eyes a snifter of Thirsty Bear Brewing Company’s Irish Coffee, a bourbon-barrel aged espresso imperial stout. Photo: Bart Nagel

“Terroir” will became a key term in your cheese vocabulary after attending a fun and informative seminar led by master cicerone Rich Higgins and Certified Cheese Professional Michael Landis as they delve into delicious beer and cheese pairings that illustrate the concept of terroir. Higgins was the third person in the world to earn the master cicerone title for his beer expertise (there are now seven), an accreditation which certifies him as an excellent interpreter of palate and the ways in which beer develops and heightens a meaningful dining experience. Higgins brewed professionally for eight years and owns the consulting company, Consultant à la Bière. Naturally, the seminar will offer exquisite beer and cheese pairings. Here, Rich Higgins eyes a snifter of Thirsty Bear Brewing Company’s “Irish Coffee,” a bourbon-barrel aged espresso imperial stout. Photo: Bart Nagel

This looked great to me—

Seminar No. 3:  Terroir de Sonoma: Exploring the Unique Flavors and Attitudes of Sonoma Beer and Cheese
Presenters:  Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone, Brewmaster and Consultant a la Biere; Michael Landis, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, Training & Merchandising Manager at  Gourmet Foods International
Terroir is the French term for how a food or beverage expresses a sense of place. Often used in reference to wine, terroir can be expressed by craft beer as well. Sonoma County is rich in agriculture, micro climates, and character, and its breweries and dairies embrace Sonoma’s local flavors, ingredients, and attitudes. Join Master Cicerone Rich Higgins and Certified Cheese Professional Michael Landis as they delve into delicious beer and cheese pairings that illustrate the concept of terroir. Together you will taste and celebrate the flavors and uniqueness of Sonoma County.  $65.00 per person.

Saturday evening—Grand Cheese Tasting and Best in Cheese Competition

In the ultimate culinary challenge, guests taste their way around this event, sampling dishes from 25 of the Bay Area’s best chefs and caterers, each incorporating their favorite locally made cheese into a dish for attendees.  Guests cast their vote for their favorite “cheesiest” dish and the winner is announced on-site during this lighthearted and festive competition. Artisan wineries and breweries will be on hand to provide beverages to complement each dish.  (Tickets $75, Sheraton Sonoma County, 6 – 9 p.m.)

Sunday, March 23:

morning—Sunday Bubbles and Brunch with Surprise Celebrity Chef

Join a surprise celebrity guest chef for Sunday brunch celebrating cheese at every course along with a live cooking demonstration.  Tickets include brunch, sparkling wine and coveted early entry into the Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace at 11 a.m. before it opens to the public at 12 p.m.  (Tickets $115, Sheraton Sonoma County, 9:30 – 11 a.m.)

afternoon—Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace

The grand finale of the Festival, the Marketplace brings together more than 75 artisan cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers and chefs to sample and sell their products directly to attendees in this feast for the senses. Guests can discover the next wave of local, hand-crafted cheeses, boutique wines and artisan-brewed beers as well as interesting cheese products, books and recipes.  Each ticket includes entry to the Marketplace, an insulated cheese tote bag and a signature wine glass. (Tickets $45 for adults; $20 for children 12 and under, Sheraton Sonoma County, 12 – 4 p.m.)

Complimentary Cooking Demonstrations

In between tasting and buying cheeses at the Marketplace, guests are invited to watch several cooking demonstrations conducted by local chefs and cheese experts. (Admission is free with a Marketplace ticket; Sheraton Sonoma County; demonstrations are at 1 – 2 p.m.; 2:15 – 3:15 p.m.; and 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.)

Those interested can also follow updates by “liking” the Artisan Cheese Festival on Facebook and following the event on Twitter. All events are priced separately and the Sheraton Sonoma County – Petaluma is offering special discounted rates on rooms for festival-goers.

More about California’s Artisan Cheese Festival: A 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, California’s Artisan Cheese Festival strives to increase cheese appreciation, educate consumers about artisan cheeses, support the cheesemaking community and its sustainability and celebrate the creations of California’s many farmers and cheesemakers. The festival began in March 2007 as the first-ever, weekend-long celebration and exploration of handcrafted cheeses, foods, wines and beers from California and beyond.  In keeping with its dedication to the community, the Artisan Cheese Festival donates 10% of all ticket proceeds to Sonoma Land Trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Petaluma Future Farmers of America, California Artisan Cheese Guild and Redwood Empire Food Bank. To date the Artisan Cheese Festival has contributed more than $55,000 to these non-profit organizations that work to support the artisan cheesemaking community and its infrastructure in California.  For more information, visit http://www.artisancheesefestival.com.

January 8, 2014 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Storefront Church,” John Patrick Shanley’s new play, finishes his Church-State trilogy with a hard-edged look at the mortgage crisis, greed, and redemption—at San Francisco Playhouse through January 11, 2014

Gloria Weinstock (center) is kindhearted Jesse in “Storefront Church” at San Francisco Playhouse.  Her financial woes become significant when she “rents” the ground floor of a store front to Chester, an impoverished Pentecostal preacher whose church was destroyed in the Katrina hurricane.  In Chester’s three months of occupancy, he has not paid Jessie and she has financed all the “upgrades” to the church by taking out a second mortgage.  Her husband Ethan (Ray Reinhardt) (left) goes to bat for her at the bank and she asks Donaldo (Gabriel Marin) (right), the Bronx Borough president, and her best friend’s son to assist her.

Gloria Weinstock (center) is kindhearted Jesse in “Storefront Church” at San Francisco Playhouse. Her financial woes become significant when she “rents” the ground floor of a store front to Chester, an impoverished Pentecostal preacher whose church was destroyed in the Katrina hurricane. In Chester’s three months of occupancy, he has not paid Jessie and she has financed all the “upgrades” to the church by taking out a second mortgage. Facing foreclosure, her husband Ethan (Ray Reinhardt) (left) goes to bat for her at the bank and she asks Donaldo (Gabriel Marin) (right), the Bronx Borough president, and her best friend’s son to assist her. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley’s new play Storefront Church, at San Francisco Playhouse, transports the audience to a wintery Bronx, where a disenchanted and broke preacher has lost his faith while trying to start over in New York after his New Orleans church was washed away by Katrina.  His Latina landlady, Jesse, has taken out a second mortgage trying to help him pay for the renovation of the storefront church.  Her Jewish husband, Ethan, a retired tax accountant, pays a visit to an unsympathetic loan officer at the bank that is about to foreclose on her.  Donaldo, the Bronx Borough president, who has known Jessie since his childhood tries to intervene and the bank’s CEO seizes the moment to enlist borough support for a new mall he hopes to finance.  It sounds dismal but it all ends on a hopeful note— the preacher conquers his despair enough to deliver a sermon; the characters reconnect with their faith; Jesse gets to keep her property; the mall is given the green light with a percentage of the space allocated for community use.

In 2005, Shanley won a Pulitzer Prize in drama and a Tony Award for best play for “Doubt” in which a strict nun accuses a highly respected priest of being sexually inappropriate with one of the school students under her charge. “Doubt” was the first in Shanley’s trilogy of Church and State plays; the second play, “Defiance,” from 2006, explored racism and the disunity it caused aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina as the Vietnam War was winding down.  “Storefront Church is an exploration of contemporary society’s lack of faith and of the plight of the individual striving to survive in a world dominated by corporate greed.

Money, money, money, faith and the borough. Pastor Chester (Carl Lumbly) and Borough President (Gabriel Marin), the son of a Latino storefront preacher, have a fateful and intense meeting over church vs. mortgage.  Both men have lost their faith.  Photo: Jessica Palopoli.

Money, money, money, faith and the borough. Pastor Chester (Carl Lumbly) and Borough President (Gabriel Marin), the son of a Latino storefront preacher, have a fateful and intense meeting over church vs. mortgage. Both men have lost their faith. Photo: Jessica Palopoli.

While “Storefront Church” is less powerful than the other two plays in the triad, it is a moving portrait of our troubling times, when one’s convictions and sense of self are under constant siege and achieving and maintaining financial security is a game few succeed at.  In order to cover overarching themes, Shanley sacrifices character development resulting in some confusion about back stories and relationships.  Director Joy Carlin has assembled a talented cast— popular Bay Area actors Derek Fischer (CEO of the bank), Rod Gnapp (bank loan officer), Carl Lumbly (Pastor Chester), Gabriel Marin (Borough President), Ray Reinheart (Ethan, Jesse’s husband), and Gloria Weinstock (Jesse).  As usual, San Francisco Playhouse’s staging is impeccable.

Stay-tuned to San Francisco Playhouse…Director Bill English says their next play, Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem,” (January 21-March 8), is “probably the best play written in the 21st century so far.”  I’ve come to trust Bill English…he serves us our moral peas and carrots in the most interesting dishes.  He promises that the San Francisco Playhouse’s production will be the “first American” production of the play that earned raves at London’s Royal Court in 2009.  It makes frequent allusions to Blake’s poem from which its title is derived.

Details: Storefront Church ends Saturday, January 11, 2014.  San Francisco Playhouse is located at 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel, b/n Powell & Mason)  Performances: Tuesday to Thursday 7pm, Friday and Saturday 8pm. Matinees: 3pm Saturdays; 2pm Sunday on 1.5.14   Tickets: $30-$100.  For more information visit www.sfplayhouse.org  or call the box office at (415) 677-9596.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

closing soon—”Peter Stackpole: Bridging the Bay,” at Oakland Museum on California through January 26, 2014

Peter Stackpole "Catwalk and Marin Tower," 1936, gelatin silver print, 6.25 x 9.375 inches, Collection of OMCA and OMCA Founders Fund.

Peter Stackpole “Catwalk and Marin Tower,” 1936, gelatin silver print, 6.25 x 9.375 inches, Collection of OMCA and OMCA Founders Fund.

Soaring spans, chilling heights, and candid moments in the daily lives of workers characterize the 22 stunning black and white photographs in “Peter Stackpole: Bridging the Bay,” at OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) OMCA through January 26, 2014.  One of the first photographers to have access to a compact 35-millimeter camera, the naturally agile Stackpole, who was raised in the Bay Area and in Paris, befriended bridge workers and, without official permission, was soon climbing ladders right along with them to get incredible shots of the construction of the original San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and of the Golden Gate Bridge.  His amazing photos eventually captured the attention of the team at Time Magazine, who were in the early stages of publishing a photo journal that would become Life Magazine.  Stackpole’s unique work became so well respected that it launched his career and he was featured in celebrated publications like Vanity Fair, and went on to photograph Hollywood events and celebrities.  This is the first time OMCA’s complete collection of Stackpole’s bridge building images from the 1930s have been publicly displayed since they were acquired. The exhibition connects visitors back in time to the bridge’s first iteration, its amazing engineering and serves as a complement to the Museum’s major exhibition on the San Francisco Bay, “Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay,” which runs through February 23, 2014.

Details:Peter Stackpole: Bridging the Bay”  is on display at the Oakland Museum of California through January 26, 2014.

OMCA Curator Drew Johnson on “Peter Stackpole: Photographing the Bay Bridge”

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , | Leave a comment