Monthly Archives: July 2018

San Francisco Symphony: Sibelius & Rachmaninoff

The San Francisco Symphony, June 24, gave an altogether satisfying, inspiring concert of Jean Sibelius’ Symphonies No. 6 and No. 7, with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The piano soloist Daniil Trifonov was astonishing. Soon to begin his last season as Music Director of the SFS, Michael Tilson Thomas’ brilliance was obvious conducting and in creating this program.

.Jean Sibelius, 1913 (1865 – 1957, Finland)

Recalling the Sibelius symphonies, the word “enchanting” comes to mind. The Hedgehog hesitates at writing it as it also brings the Hallmark channel to mind, but this music came from deep enchantment, serious magic. It is the magic of a pine tree being green all winter. Sibelius was attached to the natural world of Finland. He wrote from a place in his heart which made him feel he, too, was part of Finland’s nature. The music flows as though Sibelius wrote it on a single breath. In Symphony No. 6, Opus 104 (1923) its calm reigns supremely over the events of growth, expressing that natural mystery with no strain or struggle. It is sublime. Sibelius set out to write his Symphony No. 7 in C major, Opus 105 (1924) as three movements. As it turned out, they are unified into one great ribbon of music. In the Vivacissimo, set between two Adagios, it sounds like a love song. It’s not a song of longing but one of wholeness. Experiencing it, it feels ethereal, but music is physical and exerts its force on all the air and objects around it. In Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7, the musical force and the world affected by it are one. It charms the listener and has the great daring to be quiet. It is at rest but never still.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873, Russia-1943 California)

Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 in D minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 30 is stupendous. It does it all: lyricism, expansive energy, darting changes of direction. It is probably not the concerto you are thinking of, but it still has that richness of song. Rachmaninoff’s constant invention keeps the songs tumbling over one another like water over Yosemite Falls. It is complex and passionate. It has musical adventure like climbing a steep precipice and dancing on the edge of a sheer drop. The partnership of the soloist and the orchestra is especially notable. Think of a pas de deux in which the young Nureyev supports the elegant Fonteyn in a way that allows her to let go as together they set the stage on fire.

Daniil Trifonov (photo by JKruk)

The SF Symphony showed power and restraint in maintaining its partnership with soloist Daniil Trifonov. He won the 2018 Grammy award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. His sensational performance of the demanding concerto did not seem to tire him at all though many in the audience seemed to be exhausted by traveling with him through the music. However, the audience was not too tired to applaud the SFS and Mr Trifonov until he returned to perform an encore. This SFS concert had excitement, thrills, and music of great beauty.

CONTRAPTION: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists @ Contemporary Jewish Museum

San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum revels in showing the works of diverse artists in diverse media, but in the show CONTRAPTION, it changes its norm and focuses on a group of Californian Jewish artists. The group includes living artists and some who have passed away as well as very well known artists and some who are under-recognized. The theme is artists’ responses to machines. The result is a collection of imaginative, inventive work by a wide variety of artists creating in many different ways. The show will stay up through July 29. This writer visited it twice and found new delights each time.

.Photo box by Bruce Handelsman, (b. 1953 – d.1992), San Francisco, CA

The collection includes paintings, drawings/cartoons by Rube Goldberg, sculptures, installation art. There are remarkable, hanging sculptures that look like twisted, spinning ribbons but are made out of many #2 pencils. There is an elaborate, very large contraption which weaves a long thread hanging from the ceiling. The process of making it begins with two visitors pedaling. Rube Goldberg’s smiling influence is present.

Miriam Dym (b. 1969), Berkeley, CA. Ms Dym took on a long term project anthropomorphizing machines, first in ink and acrylic works. This process developed, using computer graphics, into complex installations filling whole rooms’ walls and floors and becoming sculptures.

The exhibition’s art reacts to traffic, factories, pollution, as it also embraces the ease of machinery or the humor of machinery. Visiting this exhibition opens the imagination of the visitor and encourages contemplation of one’s own interaction with the contraptions that shape our environment, the devices we clutch and poke at.

Bella Feldman (b. 1930), Oakland, CA , sculptor, creates “anxious objects.”

Wandering through the exhibition and taking time to relate to the works very likely will inspire the creation of one’s own useful or aesthetically pleasing contraptions.

This year, the Contemporary Jewish Museum celebrates its 10th Anniversary in its landmark building on Jessie Square. It is built on the site of an historic Pacific Gas & Electric power plant. The front of the plant and other parts have been maintained in the building designed by internationally acclaimed architect, Daniel Libeskind. The CJM does not have a permanent collection. Instead, it welcomes distinguished exhibitions and allows its curators to establish new, thought provoking and beautiful exhibitions. The result is that there are always things happening and new experiences to absorb.

Other current exhibitions and events include:  In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art–Oxossi Ayofemi and Risa Wechsler (July 28-July30): Visual artist Oxossi Ayofemi and her partner, Stanford physicist Ris Wechsler present Black Matter, discussing the “nature of the elusive dark matter that fills the universe, as well as notions of presence and absence, and latent abundance in African American culture.”    What We Hold: Youth Voices on Roots and What Matters Most. “Over 70 teens, ranging in age from 14-18 created individual audio segments reflecting on family journeys, music, food, traditions, language, and moments of choice that have made an imprint on their identities.” (through March 25, 2019)

Visit the CJM at 736 Mission Street, San Francisco and online at     It is open daily (except Wed.) from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. People aged 18 and younger are ALWAYS FREE.  FREE admission FOR EVERYONE on Tues, July 3. PHOTOS:  B. Handelsman photo by JKA Photo; M. Dym photo by Jeannie O’Connor; B. Feldman photo by Matty Nematollah. All photos courtesy of the CJM.


RUBE GOLDBERG!!! Great Show at Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

Run, don’t walk–no kidding: the Rube Goldberg exhibition at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum runs through July 8. It is fascinating, totally original and too much fun to miss. This is the right time to celebrate Rube Goldberg; he was born on the 4th of July,1883, in San Francisco. His father was the Sheriff of San Francisco County. Known for inventing insanely complicated machinery to accomplish simple tasks, the name Rube Goldberg is still applied to nutty, sometimes bureaucratically snarled up operations.

.Instead of making difficult tasks easy, as most modern technology would seek to do, a Rube Goldberg machine makes simple tasks incredibly difficult, usually by using ordinary objects and actions to achieve the goal. They are ridiculous machines created with a careful understanding of humans. The exhibition includes many cartoons, drawing, writing, even videos.

Rube Goldberg married, had two sons, moved to New York City where he continued his work and won a Pulitzer Prize among other awards. He also started an award contest for cartoonists.

Rube Goldberg passed away in 1970, in New York City, after making the USA a brighter place. Go see the show! Admission is FREE, July 3 ( and Aug. 7 and Sept. 4).The CJM is located at 736 Mission Street. Information: and 415/655-7800  Hours: Open daily (except Wednesday) 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m



The exciting exhibition, Truth & Beauty, at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum casts  an aura around visitors with its romance and jewel-like colors. It opened on June 30 and closes on September 20. Visiting the works of English artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) , Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and of the artists of the Northern and Italian Renaissance, Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, ca. 1483-1520), Sandro Botticelli (ca.1444/1445-1510), Jan Van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441), gives the viewer sensual delights, an understanding of the inspirations of artists, and an appreciation of a generation’s efforts to throw off conventional ways and create something of its own.

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Director, Max Hollein standing next to The Lady of Shalott, painting (circa 1888 – 1905) by William Holman Hunt. Director Hollein appeared 6/28, his last day as Director before he left to become Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the very next day.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed by a group of young artists, men and women, in mid-nineteenth century England. They were consciously establishing a new aesthetic and defined their goals for all to know: “1 To have genuine ideas to express; 2 to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them; 3 to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and 4 and most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.” They had unusual opportunities to view great art from early times. Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) was a devoted collector of early German and Netherlandish paintings and helped organize an exhibition, “Art Treasures,” in Manchester, 1857. It showed early masters of Netherlandish and German art. In 1848, the British Institution, London, showed an exhibition of paintings from early Italian artists from “the times of Giotto and Van Eyck.” These exhibitions, even when including “misattributed” works awakened English artists to fourteenth and fifteenth century accomplishments.

Visitor to the exhibtion views work(left) by Fra Angelico (ca.1400-1455) (copy of The Annunciation), and (right) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante (1852)  The early artists like Giotto (ca.1267-1337) in Italy or Jan Van Eyck in the Netherlands had been given credit primarily for inspiring the generation of Michaelangelo rather than for their own revolutionary vision. This included their use of perspective, Giotto’s representation of humans who looked like ordinary humans, the golden boards of the late thirteen century into fourteenth century paintings. Giovanni Villani wrote that Giotto was the foremost painter of his time and “drew all his figures and their postures according to Nature.”

The Pre-Raphaelites did not ignore the beauties of the Renaissance. In fact, in the literary and visual art sources of their inspiration as well as their personal ways of dressing or hair styles, they assimilated their interpretation of medieval values, working them into their modern, mid to late nineteenth century outlook.

(Left) Raphael self-portrait; (Right) Sandro Botticelli (near left) Idealized Portrait of a Lady (ca. 1475)

(Left) Beata Beatrix (1871/1872) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; (Right) A Crowned Virgin Martyr (Saint Catherine of Alexandria) by Bernardo Daddi (ca.1280-1348)

In Beata Beatrix, Beatrix seems to experience a moment of ecstasy while Dante, in his red cloak, is pictured at a distance behind her. Dante, his love and life stories, figured prominently among the literary inspirations for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Ideas about medieval chivalry and heroic love were celebrated in their paintings and also in poetry and prose by William Morris (1834-1896), a “second generation” Pre-Raphaelite, and Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), Dante Gabriel’s sister. In addition to his writings, left wing politics, and business successes, Morris focused on designs derived from nature. The close observation of nature, a Pre-Raphaelite tenet, shows up in the lovingly, accurately drawn plants in so many paintings as well as Morris’ repeating vines and leaves made for wall papers and furnishings.

(far Lt) Flora; (near Rt) Pomona, by Edward Burne-Jones; (low Ctr) Bayes Chest, by Jessie Bayes (1878-1971) assisted by Emmeline Bayes (1867-1957) and Kathleen Figgis. The chest (ca. 1910) is decorated with pictures and quotes from La Morte d’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory. The story of King Arthur’s death and interest in the Arthurian legends (or history), combined tales of romance and chivalry that inspired the Pre-Raphaelites.

Renewed interest in the Pre-Raphaelites’ art and their personal histories quickened during the late 1960s-early 1970s.  A person in her twenties could be moved by the Pre-Raphaelites:  William Morris’ idea that everything from spoons to tables in a cottage or a castle should be made with art as well as his imaginative and revolutionary writing; Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s shoulder length hair (and his lamentable, tragic drug use); their unconventional love lives; the deep, shining colors of their paintings; their close attention to nature. There was the revival of medieval styles in clothing: homespun looking shirts with wooden buttons and wide, loose sleeves for men; floor length skirts for women; long hair for everyone. Some aspects of these trends were superficial and some were approached with attention to deeper significance. A longing to “go back to nature” may not be so greatly in the news, but its offspring, the longing to save what’s left of nature goes on.

(Rt) Veronica Veronese (1872), by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Her left hand plucks a violin. Her right hand rests near a daffodil; a circle of daffodils is below her desk. A leafy vine hangs from a bird cage in the upper left, behind her. For further information see:      Museum hours: 9:30 a.m.-5:15 pm, Tuesday – Sunday

PHOTOS:  All photographs by Jonathan Clark, Mountain View, CA The title of the exhibition comes from Ode On a Grecian Urn, by John Keats, an English Romantic poet who was also inspired by ideas of the medieval times.