Monday, October 18, 2010

To Music with the San Diego Master Chorale & David Conte

Even religio-phobic me couldn't resist catching a bus out to College Avenue Baptist Church last gray and misty Saturday night to attend the opening concert of the San Diego Master Chorale's 50th season. This all-volunteer troupe of music lovers always give their best and and aren't afraid of filling their concert calendar with music their audience had never heard of before.

Saturday night's two hours long event was well programmed with choral music ranging from the Renaissance master Henry Purcell's (1659-1695) to music of living composers like Paul Halley and David Conte, the latter of whom was present for the world premiere of his choral poem "To Music", a gentle choral serenade with warm and cozy layers of love embedded in vocal interplays and piano accompaniment that is quite refreshing on many levels.

Being an opera fan I, of course, especially loved the inclusion of Samuel Barber's lilting Act II "Under the Willow Tree" from his opera "Vanessa". A few chorale members also turned in convincing bits of solo singing. Especially noteworthy was sweet-voiced soprano Jenny Spence, who hushed the hall in her delightful rendition of Purcell's "Thou Tun'st This World".

The crowd's favorite piece was undoubtedly Georgy Sviridov's playful "Magpie Chatter". I suppose the composer must have had the ill-luck of living near a magpie nest to have come up with this marvelously descriptive chirping banter. It also helped that the SDMC singers are a jolly bunch and made quite a group of enthusiastic magpie in all of its vocal demography. It didn't take much encouragement from the chorus master, Dr. Gary McKercher, for the audience to demand it as an encore to cap off the night.

If you are in San Diego and missed this concert, the SDMC is having another performance of the same program at La Jolla Presbyterian Church on October 24th. Give it a go. It's quite worth the ticket price!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Gray Trek Along Otay Valley Regional Park

A few miles to the south of where I live is an old river channel called Otay Valley. It used to be a legitimate river; funneling the water down from San Miguel and Jamul Mountains to the San Diego Bay and supporting the bustling grain farming community of Otay Mesa. That was until a dude named Babcott decided to dam(n) the Otay Lakes in 1891. A catastrophe if there was ever one. The dam broke the following January and wiped out the town and its surrounding farms, not to mention the lost of many native plants and animal species that used to live in the river valley.

Nowadays the river bed is mostly dry except for a few ponds that used to be mine pits. It is a protected area now, a joint nature-oriented project by the County of San Diego and the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista. I asked around about it, but none of my native San Diegan friends had visited... They all thought the place dangerous and 'full of illegal immigrants'. I don't know why since many of these friends have no qualms about going hiking down Tijuana River Estuary and Slough considering that Tijuana Slough is right up against the Mexican border while Otay Valley is a few miles further north and well into the United States.

Being a proud survivor (and lover) of the U. City Loop AKA Delmar Loop in St. Louis (my aunt kept warning me off against getting an apartment there while attending St. Louis University because it was a 'bad' area of town. Well, it had gotten much better since she last visited and I loved the place and its eclectic residents and restaurants), I tend not to take second-hand warnings seriously especially when they come from folks who hadn't seen the place first hand. So I printed out this 'trail map' from Otay Valley Regional Park's website last Thursday and caught bus 929 south to have a look.

The nearest bus stop to OVRP is at Beyer Way and Palm Avenue. My main attraction was to be Finney Overlook, somewhere off to the east. It was a very gray and overcast day, though, so I decided to head west first and make for the 'Ranger Station' before doubling back to Finney and hopefully the sky would have cleared enough for a good panoramic view then.

The OVRP website says that there is also a staging area with parking on the Beyer Way trail head. Well, I didn't see one. The trails are quite wide and well maintained, but are also quite devoid of direction posts. It didn't help that there are branches that don't appear on the trail map... And so I got to see the park a bit more thoroughly than I intended, pocketing 2 dead ends (one a fade into nothingness and the other, a rather dangerous cliff-y drop off), and never managed to find Finney Overlook before my turn-around time (I have a life, after all, and can't keep on walking the thing forever!).

Other would be hikers would be glad to know that the staging station with parking lot and working restrooms at Beyer Boulevard does exist, though there were no ranger there to give any guidance when I dropped in. There was an information post, though, with identical information to what you would find online at the OVRP website. I ran into exactly 2 people on the trail. One was cycling away on his mountain bike and the other was walking 2 very cute dogs... No illegal immigrant lurking about as far as I can tell, but there was a family of hawk on a tall tree by Heart Pond about 100 meters west of Beyer Way that took off as soon as I got my camera out (hawks! I swear these guys are the paparazzi's worst nightmares. They can smell a camera from a mile away!).

 They were very clever, mind you. The small and nearest hawk flew right off and did a bunch of tantalizing circles above a hill off to the east, drawing my camera with him so that I didn't spot the really huge hawk (the daddy hawk?) who went off in the opposite direction a second or two later. I turned to try to photograph the daddy hawk, and two more smaller hawks went off in yet another direction, leaving me spinning in place like an ill-coordinated top without catching any of the hawks in action with my slow-acting camera.

Come to think of it... The first and small hawk might actually have been a kestrel. Have a look at him. He's the first two shots in the panel above. The 'daddy hawk' in the third photo, though, is definitely a red tailed hawk.

They picked a good spot to hang out. Heart Pond is quite well reeded. There are only a couple of spots on the trail running the south side of it where you can get to the pond.

Le May Pond further to the east beyond Beyer Way is easier to get to. I intended to take the high trail out east to Finney Overlook and then come back on the pondside trail, but that was when I went dead-ended twice... And I'm actually not bad at trail-reading! They've got more trails than what appeared on the map, and none of them come equipped with sign post!

For what it's worth, the high trail that turned out to be a maintenance road that end at a cliff does afford some good views of the valley... It just so happened that the haze that was hovering over the ground never cleared that day. So the best shot I came up with is the one above.

I did drop by Le May Pond on the way back, though. Really nice and peaceful place with nobody else in sight (though the valley is a narrow one, so you can always see rows of housing at the northern and southern edge of it)... I sat there a while when this favorite bit of I Capuleti e i Montecchi popped into my head and refused to leave.

And here it is... And it has to be Kasarova as Romeo, too. With the voice comes the mood...

Monday, October 11, 2010

So Long, Joan Sutherland (7 Nov 1926 - 11 Oct 2010)

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, one of the most stupendous operatic coloratura soprano of the last century, passed away at her home near Montreux, Switzerland last night. She was 83 years old.

I confess La Stupenda wasn't one of my favorite singers, but that takes nothing away from her legendary artistic skills and merits. Dame Joan made her dastardly difficult job sound easy (sometimes so easy that she lost the drama-junkies like me in the audience in the process) and was one of the few famous people who actually had a life outside of her art; one that she willingly chose to disappear into after retiring while still very much at the top of her game. It is a great testimony to the fact that one can achieve greatness without being consumed by the vehicle that delivered it. Dame Joan Sutherland is survived by her husband, Richard Bonynge, their son, and grandchildren...

... And by her fans and admirers, of course. Take a time out from the usual dissing of 'the recording industry' today and appreciate the fact that they also make it possible for us who never had the chance to experience artists like Sutherland and others live to still glimpse at their creations via sound and video recordings today.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Smorging Around San Diego Zoo

San Diego has one of the best zoos on the planet, though it had been a long while since I last visited the place. It took an animal-loving visitor from out of town to round my roommate and me up to give the zoo a raid last weekend while the hard working rain clouds were taking a break from their watering duty.

We walked our legs off and still covered less than half the zoo in a day. We stayed mostly on the front half of it.... even though we got a good look all around thanks to the excellently guided bus tour. Will have to post more on the trip later, but you can get a good glimpse via the video, I think.