Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Galaxies of words & notes

Out There

Laurie Anderson with Kronos Quartet.
Photo: Jay Blakesberg
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Last Saturday night we went to hear performing artist Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet give the West Coast premiere of Landfall at the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University. Anderson wrote the piece (music and text) specifically for the quartet (David Harrington, violin; John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola; and Jeffrey Ziegler, cello), and it combined string music, spoken word and visuals using the text software Erst. "These are stories with tempos," Anderson wrote in the program notes. "Threaded through the stories in Landfall is an account of Hurricane Sandy, which blew through New York just as I was finishing the work. I've always been fascinated by the complex relationship of words and music." During a post-performance Q&A, Anderson remarked that she conceives of music as a conversation among artists. Certainly this collaborative project, which she and the Kronos are currently touring around the world, is a lively discussion among equals.

Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson performing in Landfall. Photo: Susan Biddle

It was Out There's first time attending an event at the spanking new Bing, which opened in January, and we found it so much better than the older Stanford concert venue, the Dinkelspiel Auditorium ("the Dink"). The sound in the new hall was midwifed by master acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, acclaimed for his acoustic design of the New World Center in Miami and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The seating is arranged in the so-called vineyard style, so that the audience surrounds all sides of the stage. The result is an aural and visual intimacy that impresses. The concert hall itself is striking in its modern, streamlined profile, so different from the campus' trademark sandstone colonnades. It's been called a "sturdy, fez-shaped building" by Stanford magazine. But this is a hat that rocks.

Once at a posh dinner party in Healdsburg, a new acquaintance asked us how we wound up in the Bay Area. We came here to go to graduate school at Stanford, we told her, fell in love with the Bay Area, and so have been here ever since.

"You can always tell when someone has gone to Stanford," responded this woman, "because they tell you so within three minutes of meeting you!"

Um, this is true. But she asked! Anyway, we treasured our time at Stanford, met incredible people, taught English courses and developed our own curriculum for a class we titled Literature of the Gay Male Experience (James Baldwin, Jean Genet, others). We taught it for three years; only problem was that it showed up on students' transcripts shortened to Gay Male Experience, as if they were getting lifetime credit. Ah, college life!

Now we have experienced two of the three brilliant new concert halls that have recently opened in the Bay Area: Bing and the SFJazz Center. We only have to visit the beautiful new Green Music Center at Sonoma State University to have completed a full set.

Finally, thanks to Meals on Wheels of San Francisco (MOWSF) for inviting us to the hors d'oeuvre and wine reception for their 26th Annual Star Chefs & Vintners Gala, last Sunday night at Fort Mason Center. More than 100 notable chefs from Northern California's top restaurants joined James Beard Award winner Nancy Oakes (Boulevard, Prospect), who returned for her 10th year as Gala Chair to create the celebration of food, wine and cocktails. The Gala helps MOWSF provide almost 1.1 million meals every year to the growing population of homebound seniors in San Francisco. Since any kind of social safety net in this country is increasingly fraying, it's a problem that will only get worse.


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