Sunday, December 24, 2017

Happy Holidays 2017

Oh boy, the holidays sure crept up on me (again). It's hard to believe 2017 is almost over already!

It's been almost a full year since I moved to Vista/Oceanside area last January. I didn't expect much, to be honest, but it has been some kind of wonderful after the horrible year up in Riverside. I've been enjoying stable works, an extremely easy-to-live with roommate (and her endlessly cute mini-poodle), and living close to a few really wonderful friends who are always looking after me.

My roommie's endlessly cute mini-poodle couldn't quite decide whether to come in to visit.
Vista and San Marcos also proved to be full of nice surprised. There are so many cool nature preserved close by, along with loads of trails that are very road-bike-able, and a couple of hideously steep hills to keep my pudginess in check.

The gorgeous auditorium (with wonderful acoustics) at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Alas, I'm still quite far away from classical concert & performance arts venues (far, is of course, in the context of being able to get to those venue by bicycle or public transportation), as it's quite a travel to get to either downtown Los Angeles or downtown San Diego. A wonderful friend and I did manage to make it to Disney Hall last month to catch Emmanuelle Haim in concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonics, though. She was conducting a very pious program of Purcell, Bach, and Pergolesi (starring Laura Claycomb and Christophe Dumaux). As it was an LA Phil ensemble rather than her usual Le Concert d'Astree, we didn't hear period instruments. It was still a stellarly Baroque night, nonetheless, and even ending cheekily with the very unpious final duet from Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea as the encore number.

Lilac Fire smoke plume from Vista Village the day it broke out.
We had a bit of a scare when Lilac Fire broke out a few weeks ago. Luckily, though, it never got closer than 6 miles from my pad, even though the smoke plume at times looked as though it was just on the other side of the hill that I live on. I'm afraid wild fires are 'expected' thing in this neck of the woods.... but the season used to be over by mid-November rather than two weeks before Christmas! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we do get some winter-ish weather in before summer is here again.

Anyhow!! Here is wishing everyone a very happy end of 2017, and hope you are looking forward to a brighter 2018!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

San Diego rest stop

San Diego is not a pedestrian-friendly place. We are apparently supposed to drive everywhere. Our sidewalks come and go (and when there is one, it is usually not well kept), there are hardly any trash bin around (ergo the third-world-like proliferation of trash everywhere), and only once in a while do you come upon public benches outside of the touristy waterfront. So, when I ran into one while roaming around Mission Valley area the other day, it was a welcomed respite.

It was a very friendly bench that even asked me to stop to visit. Naturally, I didn't need to be asked twice... Thanks for a good sit, benchy friend!

Friday, June 2, 2017


Written by, and posted courtesy of Mr John Carnegie. Thank you, John!

ON 28TH MAY 2017

A year after the last time that Vesselina Kasarova’s schedule and mine last coincided, I was fortunate enough to be in Berlin when she was appearing in series of concerts at the prestigious Konzerthaus.  This is an excellent venue with good sight-lines, resplendent décor and (most importantly) superb acoustics. 

 Appearing alongside the venue’s own orchestra (a top flight band), VK featured in two performances of a full length concert of Haydn (cantata and symphony) and Saint-Saëns (aria and symphony) – plus a shorter morning concert for family audiences in which the Haydn items were featured alongside a Mozart aria. I managed to catch this morning concert and the repeat performance of the full length concert later the same day.

The morning concert was part of a long-standing tradition at the Konzerthaus entitled Mozart-Matinee in which parts of the full-length concert on at the time are combined with something by Mozart to form an hour-long event to which concertgoers are encouraged to bring their children and grandchildren. The presentation is very informal with spoken introductions to each item and onstage interviews with the conductor and soloists. Most of the many children in the audience were very well behaved and attentive. The only exception was a young boy with a clear case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who was sitting a few seats along from me in the front row. VK charmingly managed to calm him down during her interview by including him in the conversation. Thereafter he was putty in her hands and sat entranced and alert.

VK opened the proceedings with Haydn’s cantata Ariadne auf Naxos. Dressed in a simple black jump suit but with a resplendent pair of earrings (more about those later), she was given an exceptionally large area between the conductor and the first violins in which to perform – and perform she certainly did. This was no standard-issue concert performance of just the notes. Prowling around her allotted space like a caged tiger, VK gave a full-on operatic rendition of Ariadne’s passion and grief that proved totally involving for the audience. (There was scarcely a cough to be heard from them throughout.) However, it was not just the theatrics that were enthralling. Vocally, VK was in as fine as condition as I’ve ever heard her. There was not a trace of the problems that have occasionally marred her performances in recent years. This was VK at the top of her game and she produced some thrilling singing.

She followed the Haydn with an aria from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito – not one from her usual character of Sesto but the Non più di fiori of Vitellia. Again this was a superb rendition that was enhanced by something that could have wrecked its effect but which VK took completely in her stride. Halfway through the aria, one of her earrings disengaged itself and fell to the floor. Unfazed, VK whipped off the other earring and then scooped up the fallen one from the floor – all within a few notes and while maintaining character and vocal production. It was an excellent example of her innate stage craft (and also the reason why the earrings do not appear in the photograph of her curtain call above).

Later in the day, VK reappeared on the same stage for the full-length concert – dressed in the flaming red ball gown that features on the cover of her Russian Arias CD. (No earrings this time – presumably so as to forfend against any further malfunction!) She repeated the Haydn cantata to equal effect and later gave her familiar rendition of Dalila’s Mon Coeur from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila. Although the latter was more of a challenge for VK with her having to contend against a greatly expanded orchestra that she is more used to having down in the pit of an opera house for this aria, both offerings went down a treat with the audience and they gave her sustained applause.

For both concerts, conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi proved to be a sympathetic accompanist and he came into his own with his witty rendition of Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 (with its multiple false endings designed to provoke premature applause) and his mastery of the huge forces involved in Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony.

All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying double helping of VK’s artistry.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Greetings from San Diego North County

It's nice and peaceful at the new Smorghaus this morning. The California towhee wanted a piece of my breakfast bagel, and the Anna's hummingbirds think I'm a slowpoke at refilling the birdfeeder. They are probably right, too, seeing as the Nuttal's woodpecker is taking his frustration out on the little tree just beyond the fence!

I've better get a move on it...

Hope everyone is having a good start to March!