The Hills Are Alive

Just like midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Sing Along Sound of Music has become an international cultural institution over the past few years. From the bags of silly props that can't be seen in the dark like a card with a question mark which you're meant to hold up during the lyric "how do you solve a problem like Maria?" and fake flowers to wave during "Eidelweiss", to the fancy dress contest before the film starts, the Sing Along experience basically follows the same formula all over the world.It's interesting to read … [Read more...]

Groundhog Week

A week ago or so, I posted a blog entry about Shakespeare Santa Cruz. The coastal Shakespeare Festival was faced with raising $300,000 within a few days or face ceasing operations immediately.Today, I'm sending out another SOS, this time for another venerable Northern California theatre company -- the Magic Theatre. Here is the ultimatum as expressed in the distressed company's cry-for-help email: "Now in the midst of a staff shutdown, Magic may be forced to cancel the remainder of its season and close for good. To keep our doors open we must … [Read more...]

La Nativite Du Seigneur

I think I lost quite a few listeners when I played three movements from Olivier Messiaen's 1935 organ work La Nativite du Seigneur on my KALW radio show the other day. At least, several of my friends who tuned in to hear the show weren't impressed by the French composer's ponderous, mystical meditation on the nativity. "That was catchy," said one of them, sarcastically. "Was there something wrong with your CD player?" another one asked.In a sense, I kind of empathize with their feelings. The piece isn't exactly easy listening. And the recording … [Read more...]


This morning I'm thinking of Harold Pinter, the news of whose death on Wednesday December 24 I just learned having spent Christmas Day away from anything resembling a computer screen, iPhone or newspaper. The first image that comes to mind is that of the tree outside my office window. This tree is much larger than anything else in view. It's many branches are crooked, but there are brilliant grass-green leaves on the end of each one, even though it's the middle of winter. It's also an out-of-place tree -- one of the few on this very urban block … [Read more...]

Holiday Music Picks

Here's the playlist from the holiday-themed classical music radio show I hosted on KALW 91.7 FM on Sunday. It's heavily weighted in favor of choral and other vocal works, but, hey, I'm a sucka for singing and much of the holiday repertoire is written for voices:Benjamin Britten - A Ceremony of Carols - Toronto Children's ChorusOlivier Messiaen - La Nativite Du Seigneur - Olivier Messiaen, organTraditional - "El Desembre Congelat" from Angels' Glory - Kathleen Battle, soprano; Christopher Parkening, guitarMarc-Antoine Charpentier - Messe de … [Read more...]

Slash And Burn

It's interesting to read James Surowiecki's latest financial column in The New Yorker about the state of the newspaper business in the light of the current situation at SF Weekly, the publication for which I write a regular weekly column about theatre.Two years ago at this time in December, the average SF Weekly was 104 pages long. This month, we've alternated between 72 and 80 pages (after having a couple of 64-page papers in November). Historically, January is a slow month for ad sales and the paper shrinks. The recession will likely magnify … [Read more...]

Pomegranates and Figs

At the weekend, I attended a concert of Jewish music entitle Pomegranates and Figs at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. I went primarily to hear Kitka, the spunky all-female vocal ensemble which specializes in performing music from Eastern traditions. But I was equally curious about the other groups on the program -- Teslim (pictured left -- a gypsy- and folk-oriented string duo featuring Kaila Flexer on violin and viola and Gari Hegedus on a variety of plucked and strummed instruments including the oud and mandocello) and The Gonifs (a klezmer band … [Read more...]


A newly published NEA survey of the U.S. theatre landscape between 1990 and 2005 entitled "All America's A Stage" shows theatre companies to be remarkably resilient in troubled economic times. The ability of many performing arts organizations to keep going during periods of recession partially stems from the fact that they're often run on shoestring budgets anyway so are at one level slightly more impervious to the yo-yoing economy. It also stems from the support that they get from their communities.I'm always heartened by the way in which … [Read more...]

Advice To A Classical Music Radio Hosting Novice

As I ramp up for my classical radio hosting debut this Sunday on KALW 91.7 FM, I've been exchanging emails with Chris Van Hof (pictured left) the afternoon host on WXXI Classical 91.5 FM in Rochester New York about programing ideas. Chris (who also happens to be a professional trombonist, educator and music arranger) also sent me a list of very useful pointers about hosting a classical music radio show -- his advice is invaluable to a novice such as myself. Chris tells me that he has only been in the radio business for a year. But his advice is … [Read more...]

Safety In Numbers

The City of San Francisco has thankfully decided to postpone its decision regarding Supervisor Aaron Peskin's proposed radical cuts to the arts budget until midway through next year. If Peskin's proposal had gone through earlier this week, key organizations like San Francisco Opera, SF Ballet and SF Symphony would have seen their civic contributions fall by as much as 50%.In the meantime, as I talk to many local theatre companies about how the economic downturn is affecting their operations, it's been interesting to hear how small outfits -- … [Read more...]

Yours Truly, Radio Show Host

Last Thursday, I spent an hour in the company of Sarah Cahill, (pictured left) avant garde pianist extraordinaire and doyenne of the Bay Area classical music radio scene.I have long admired Sarah's musicianship and her wonderful weekly Sunday night classical music broadcast, Then and Now, on local NPR affiliate KALW 91.7 FM. I have also been curious about her established practice of commissioning living composers to write music for her to perform. So I emailed Sarah to ask if I could meet her to find out more about what she does and how she … [Read more...]

One Band, Two Movies, A Cocktail…And A Theatre Company In Distress

Last time I wrote about Santa Cruz, I described the unparalleled experience of eating a deep fried Twinkie (DFT) on the beach. I've had many good times in that laid back coastal town. Just last weekend, for instance, my couple of days in the city featured an array of cultural delights including a treat for the taste buds in the form of probably the most delicious cocktail I've ever imbibed in my life, not to mention a couple of good films and a wonderful evening spent in the company of a local Irish music outfit.One aspect of Santa Cruz life … [Read more...]