Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Star Wars Live

When the Phoenix Symphony does something like performing the score of Star Wars live to the movie, the idea is usually that they're going to be bringing in an audience that doesn't normally go out to symphony hall. While granted I've never gone to one of Phoenix Symphony's own productions, I've hard them many times (for operas and ballets) and I've been to Symphony Hall many times--but this was the first time I had been to see a movie score live. So kind of opposite for me.

The concept had always seemed novel, definitely something I wanted to do at some point. I found out about this one kind of late on and thought, you know what, this month is the month of show after show for me, so why not just go for it. I highly recommend doing the same if you also have the opportunity to see a movie score you love live.

It's exactly as amazing as you would think that it would be. I've never seen A New Hope, so seeing it on a bigger screen and with an audience was nice--but also meant nothing compared to what it was to hear that music live. The sound is different when you see a movie like this because you're not really there to watch the movie. So the music is louder and the rest of the sounds of the movie are somewhat quieter than they would be in a movie theatre. You can still hear the dialogue and effects, etc.; it's just that the score takes center stage.

Visually, as well, yes, the screen is big, but it doesn't take up your entire field of vision like in a movie theater. And instead of performing half in hiding like they would for an opera or a ballet, here the symphony was set up on stage. The conductor had his own smaller screen in front of him to show the movie along with the "moving target" to help him maintain timing. That's the amazing thing: they have to stay in sync with the movie that is playing on the screen.

Seeing it all like this, you notice more about the music than you've previously noticed, even in a movie like this that you've seen many times. You notice when there is no music and you notice when there is subtle music that is almost imperceptible during normal film viewing. You notice the repeated themes more. You notice what instruments create which sounds. You notice the voices of the music. (Naturally, of course, a musical person will already have noticed more of this than a non-musical person, but I've already stated many times before that I am not such a musical person and I know many of us are not.)

That this score in particular is a powerful score we already know. I perhaps needn't stress that. I'll just say that yes, it is indeed strong and triumphant and tender and soft and exquisite and bold and touching . . . and powerful. And hearing it live only makes it more so.

Monday, March 18, 2019

In the Forest of Arden

Ha ha ha, Spring Break, Winter Break, three day weekends--these are phrases that not freeing and leisurely when you work in certain industries; rather, they are terrifying. When you're the person working so that everyone else may take their leisure time, all you do is work during their leisure time. So . . . even though I've had things to post about (since there are an abundance of shows going on this month and I seem to be making it to them all), I just haven't done so.

So I'll go ahead and bundle Southwest Shakespeare's latest plays into one post. They ran them together, anyways, so I suppose it's fitting enough. Now, often when they do this, there is one play that stands out over the other. This time, though, I was impressed with the quality of the performances in each one. The two plays in question are The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It.

Probably it's easier to say that the former was the better one. But that's because it was filled with humor and laughs and to have the audience constantly responding to all of that wittiness and energy was an experience. However, the delivery in As You Like It was just as much of quality; it was just less humor (although there was still certainly some).

The Taming of the Shrew was the play I was completely unfamiliar with. I'd heard of it, of course, but not much else. Knowing that it's one of those plays that can be . . . problematic for the modern scene, I found that they did very well with it. Maybe I'm just used to viewing things in context of timelines, but I wasn't offended by this play and I even felt like much of it could have been written today (as opposed to so many of my dear Victorian novels that I love but are definitely often quite dated in certain respects). So whether this was the careful choosing of which lines to use or the delivery or just the overall strutting and direction of the play (or most likely a combination), well done to everyone involved. It was just a fun comedy, making everyone laugh at the silliness of humanity and then ultimately ponder what our statements and our actions really mean in the end.

What As You Like It did best was to create that sense of the forest of Arden. Arden is that place that is a state of mind. Given that this play used the same set (a heavy structure with a balcony and doors and stairs) as the other (since the two were running at the same time, of course), I wondered how they would create the forest. Turns out they introduced it bit by bit. As the characters spend more time in the forest and get, in a sense, mentally deeper into the forest, the entire forest overlay emerges. Wonderful there. Once more, this was one of SWS's plays to feature music throughout. And in this case, the music helped to create that sense of the forest as this single moment in time, this state of mind, that helps the characters to ponder who they are.

Pondering, pondering in the forest that is our minds. Both plays, though different, contained that sense of pondering the self. We're in this forest--who are you and who am I? Do we know or do we have yet to discover? The discovery is a journey, that is certain.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On a Silent Night

Probably you have heard the story of how soldiers during WWI laid down all hostilities for one day, for Christmas Day, and intermingled and played games and acted as friends and comrades, and even though they went back to fighting the next day, for that one day, Christmas Day, they had put all of that aside.

This is the story that Arizona Opera's latest production, Silent Night, was based on. That is, the opera, with music by Kevin Puts and libretto by Mark Campbell, was in turn based on the film Joyeux Noel. Perhaps that was why the piece flowed along much like a film would rather than an opera. Even though you could sense that the audience was moved, there weren't any gaps that allowed for the usual pauses of applause that are the norm for opera (opera audiences love to show their appreciation). In fact, that was just as well: pauses and applause would have removed the audience from being inside the story and this was one of those pieces that just pulled you in and kept you within the world.

Also seeing soldiers and bits of battles was different from usual at the opera. But still we had the main thing: music and singing that moved us emotionally. I've talked about maybe the shedding a tear thing at an aria, but the first act of Silent Night pretty much just had me weeping. This is where I start to wonder again if it's just me--except that this music won a Pulitzer Prize, so no, it isn't just me.

The story is war . . . and war stories are about people who are coming from all phases of life to a horrible existence. The mothers, the fathers, the children, the friends, the lovers, they all got their moment, each moment a chance for the audience to connect and weep at the idea of what that would be like--that is, for those of us who have been so fortunate as to not experience events quite like this. For those who have, well, that would be even another layer.

The performers in this sang the song of life . . . of heartbreak and pain and beauty. That's what made this opera so poignant. I will state that, while the first act just left me utterly stilled, the second act didn't have the same power. I would rate the piece as a whole higher if there hadn't been that difference between the two. Still, though, Silent Night remained a beautiful story of the deepest and most touching aspects of living.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Return of Lucia Micarelli

The first time I saw Lucia Micarelli was when she toured with Josh Groban on his Awake tour a while back. That was one of those times where you could say she blew my mind with her violin playing. She also introduced me to a new approach to music and helped launch my interest in music in general: I hadn't been listening to music much on my own before that. That was the time that I started browsing iTunes and Pandora to seek new things.

So when I had the opportunity to go see her again this past weekend, well, I had to go and see what it would be like to go and see her again years later.

She was playing at the Highlands Church in north Scottsdale. A good-looking, big church where it seems they have many such shows. Given the style of Lucia's music, I was a little surprised to see that I was practically the only person there who wasn't retired. (Not entirely unlike in fact going to church, then, eh?) But I hadn't been paying attention to the fact that this show was just one night of Arizona Musicfest. People were going for Musicfest, not for Lucia specifically. So then knowing that I might have been the only person there who had seen her play before made me excited to see how she would soon blow their minds, too.

She has certainly been working at her craft over the years. Now she incorporates more straight classical music, the intense pieces but also the delicate pieces. And the fiddle tunes highlight her liveliness. She also does some singing now. Her voice is exactly as it would be: rich and full and from the soul. I want to say that she has something of a jazz sound to the way that she sings.

It is possible that she drew some tears from me. Maybe it's just me; all the shows I watch nowadays end up having these moments of being beyond amazing. No, no, Lucia's music is that good.

And then it came, the same duo of songs that she played at Josh's concert years ago. "Aurora" and "Kashmir." Her intense violin playing running into rock violin playing. You could feel the audience reacting in pleasure and awe. Lucia isn't the only one nowadays to blend genres . . . but she does it better than any other violinist I've seen or heard. Her intensely emotional style is unlike any other.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Eternal Sunshine

I used to post about movies fairly regularly. I guess that stopped when I stopped watching new movies as often. Now I watch shows and YouTube. All those Disneyland videos are great for having on in the background while cleaning and such, but they do certainly end up taking up time, don't they? (Looking at you, Fresh Baked.) The reality is, I just watch less movies these days.

I did watch one recently, though. One that's been in my queue for years, as most of them have been. At this point, I browse my queue rather than other pages when I'm looking for something to watch; there's just so much in there. Anyway, I finally got around to watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Definitely there are aspects to this film that are very much me. Simply the style of it with that non-linear quality and with the emotions going in the forefront, above plot. Also the type of characters and relationships. The type of thing I tend to end up going for.

But what I want to focus on is a more general concept. Specifically, the movie talks about the idea of inevitable flaws in relationships. In a more general sense, though, I'm going to broaden that out and take it to life as a whole. Just as no relationship with be perfect and so you have to decide that you're willing to go through all the imperfections with someone, life is not perfect. And you have to decide to go through and take what is good and just work through the rest.

This movie stated that concept in such a matter of fact way. And all of the chaos that it took to get to that final statement in the end is quite a perfect reflection of how that realization happens in reality. Life is hard. We get pulled in all sorts of directions and we get confused and muddled and not sure of things. But when you realize that oh, this is how life is .  . . and that's okay--that's a good place to be in.

"Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" . . . is that something you want or not? It's tempting to think of the mind living in endless sunshine with not a spot in sight, but in reality spotlessness has nothing to do with reality. In reality, there are spots. And taking away the spots takes away all the good things, too. So we can think of the concept of eternal sunshine . . . and we can just be content with working with all the flaws.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Butlers: Pink Himalayan Salted Caramel Chocolates

Okay, I've probably been bending the chocolate rules a little too often lately. And normally I wouldn't bend them for packaged chocolates (that is, chocolates with a long shelf life versus fresh ones that only last two weeks). But World Market just gets me in the shopping mood, I guess. And I fell for the whole pink Himalayan salt and pink chocolate thing.

In fact, the pink chocolate is white chocolate that has been colored with beetroot. This way it looks the same color as pink salt. It's pretty. Honestly, as well, I was interested because Butlers Chocolates is from Ireland and I don't know if I've ever had any chocolate from Ireland. Just seeing the different ways that various countries approach chocolate can be worth bending the rules a bit occasionally.

I do appreciate that these are labeled as chocolates and not as truffles. Structure-wise, they're little, square chocolate cups with the top half of the inside being pink chocolate and the underneath being caramel. There is some salt on top, too. Very much the look of a dessert.

You definitely get a sweet, slightly chalky-flavored confection chocolate taste. There is, after all, white chocolate; that's where that chalk-reminiscent taste comes from. Now, the label calls the outside milk chocolate, but it's 58% cocoa. Americans would call that dark chocolate, so there is one little detail that's different with this being from a different country. Again, I kind of appreciate it being called milk chocolate because it certainly isn't dark. It's kind of a standard middle ground confection chocolate.

The caramel is nice, flowy and vanilla-flavored. Interesting way that they further reinforce the salted caramel aspect: there is salt on the bottom of each chocolate. So it hits your tongue as soon as you bite in. Pink salt is less salty than standard salt, so they did have to add a visually noticeable amount for it to be salty. It is certainly a noticeably salty flavor, though not too strong, either. Definitely a good balance.

So it's a nice little salted caramel chocolate, it's pretty, and it has a long shelf life. As chocolates with long shelf lives go, certainly this is one of the better ones. While not perhaps the best chocolates I've ever had, they're quite nice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Water

The water has changed. Perhaps.

I don't have a fear of water. But I don't like aquariums, that sort of thing. Even the fish tank sections in pet stores can be a little uncomfortable to be around. So it took me a little while to make it over to Odysea Aquarium.

There were likely a variety of factors involved (one being that their tanks are newer and cleaner than some and also better lit and smaller than some), but the tanks didn't much bother me. A little . . . but then it faded. I worried before getting to certain sections that I thought would be bad . . . and then wondered why I'd been worried.

I think I've mentioned that water is an element in my next book. So I'd thought that if I ever went to the aquarium, I might even want to bring a notebook to get some material. But there was nothing for me to write down.

Which, in fact, is quite fitting. Like most symbols, water has two sides: the good and the bad. Water is life and water is death. Like how red, for instance, is both love and hate. It's that flip from one to the other that I'm trying to explore in this book. Maybe that's why I haven't been working on it lately: I needed to flip myself before the theme could.