Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Raining!

Good morning, everyone! It's raining! How wonderful. This is the sunrise that greeted me just a few minutes ago. A morning like this is worth getting up for. You have to picture me standing in the middle of the street in my bathrobe and flip-flop slippers with an umbrella in one hand and my camera in the other while I took this photo. It was the camera I didn't want to get wet, not me. The sky changed in less than a minute as the sun rose.

Cooler weather seems to finally be setting in here. During October, we have had days of 90+ degree temps with a plunge to the 50s or even 40s during the night. (Kind of like the stock market.) A very late summer. While I am not complaining about it—the cool nights are better for sleeping and I haven't had to turn on the furnace during the day—it is nice to have things finally feeling more fallish. Makes me want to knit. And I've been knitting up a storm.

The Maltese Shawl is coming along beautifully. It's going very fast now. I got discouraged when I discovered that I had to do 88 repeats and not 75 (I don't know how the number 75 got into my head), but I am close to the finish. Sorry, I am not going to post any more photos until after I give the shawl to my DIL, but it is going to be gorgeous! My advice to her is to get a sexy, slinky, satiny dress or top, preferably sleeveless, in deep blue, dark purple, or black with a long skirt and then have my son take her to someplace very special for New Year's Eve (I'll babysit).

And I couldn't resist taking on another project. This one is for me. It is the Feather and Fan Cardigan designed by Pam Allen from Make it Modern by Classic Elite Yarns. The yarn is Soft Linen, a combination of baby alpaca, wool, and linen. It has a nice drape and good stitch definition for the lace pattern. You start at the cuff of the sleeve and work your way up over the shoulder to the top of the bodice on each side. Then you pick up stitches and knit down in one piece for the lower bodice. The lace pattern is easy in comparison to the shawl and this is definitely a project I can take with me and knit in the odd moments in my day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Passion Revealed

Back in January of 2007 I got tagged by Grace which meant I was supposed to reveal 5 secrets about myself. I think I only got up to 3 secrets when I stopped playing the game. So now it's time for secret number 4...

The violin was not my first love.

Yes, it's true. My secret passion since I was five years old was ballet. I only took up the violin because my mother refused to let me take ballet lessons. She thought I was only interested in the pretty costumes, all that tulle and such. But it wasn't that. Ballet was just something that I have always thought was very beautiful. I loved the precision and the music, and I loved to move to the music. I am still attracted to an open wood floor and walls lined with mirrors. I want to fly through that space. When I was still little, I took out every book my local public library had on the subject and even taught myself the basic steps. When I turned 18, and was old enough to take care of myself (i.e., my mother could no longer stop me), I started taking lessons with an English woman in Providence, Miss Irene, who had trained at the Royal Ballet school.

When I moved to Boston to study music, I went to the ballet every chance I could get, whatever company was in town. A couple of friends from music school who shared my passion would go with me to hang out at the stage door until someone took pity on us and gave us seats in the theater. Those were the days of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev, Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, the cold war and the Bolshoi and Kirov. I remember standing backstage when the Kirov was performing with the excuse that we were waiting for my friend's aunt who was a Russian interpreter for the company. We were given fourth row seats just to get us out of their way.

My husband understood my passion. One of our first dates was to a performance of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet with Fonteyn and Nureyev, of course. He encouraged me to continue with lessons when we arrived in California, which I did right through my first pregnancy and into my second. I finally quit when I realized that my violin career was about to take off and I needed more time to practice. I decided it was time to choose and since it was too late and I was too old to have a career in ballet, I chose to concentrate my efforts on the violin.

I am not sorry I made that choice. The violin has been my constant companion for over half a century. I can't imagine life without it. And on occasion I have had the opportunity to play the great music written for the ballet, sitting in the orchestra pit instead of dancing on stage.

Which brings me to this past Sunday's performance by the Miami City Ballet of Arvo Pärt's hauntingly beautiful Fratres choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and called Liturgy. Pärt has arranged this melody for various combinations of instruments including cello, string orchestra, and string quartet. But the version used by Wheeldon for his ballet is the one utilizing a violin solo with string orchestra and percussion. The dancers were Haiyan Wu and Carlos Quenedit. The Chinese trained Wu was exquisite. I was so captivated by the performance that I have bought not only the mp3 recording but also the sheet music so I can play it myself. It was my idea of perfection—a marriage of beautiful violin music and ballet.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Concerts Galore

After a late start, the concert season has exploded with offerings. After playing my own first concert two weekends ago, I attended no less than three concerts this past week. That's unusual for me because with symphony rehearsals at night and concerts on Saturdays, I am usually working and don't get to attend other concerts very often.

Wednesday, I was again at Disney Hall. This time for a performance by Andras Schiff of three Beethoven Piano Sonatas, the early middle ones, Opus 31, Nos. 1, 2, and 3, and the great Waldstein. I got turned on to the Beethoven Piano Sonatas only recently I am ashamed to admit, due to the fact that I am not a pianist and never had anything more than class lessons in college. How I could have gotten so far in my musical career without learning more about these fantastic works (except for the famous ones, of course, the Moonlight and Appassionata, etc.) I'll never know. I realize now that to really understand Beethoven, including the great 16 string quartets, you have to know the 32 piano sonatas.

I started last year by listening to the Robert Greenberg lectures on the sonatas from The Teaching Company. The performer for the lectures is Claude Frank and I fell in love with his free and easy style. He makes it sound like he is Beethoven himself sitting down to improvise at the piano. So of course, I had to get the box set of the sonatas played by Frank so I could listen to the sonatas in their entirety. It took several months for them to arrive from Amazon, but they are a bargain. When I told a friend about my new interest, she said, Oh wait til you hear Andras Schiff, and she sent me this link to the set of lectures on the sonatas that Schiff has given before his concerts. So I have been listening to these lectures as well. Then lo and behold, a ticket to last Wednesday's concert suddenly fell in my lap. It was fabulous.

Friday night I attended a totally different concert at the new Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The group was Jacaranda and the program included Harrison, Cage, and Partch. These three composers are all either from Southern California or lived here at some time in their lives. They were "mavericks" in the musical world, learning and plying their trade during the Depression. The concert was delightful, from Harrison's gamelon cum Western instrument pieces, to Cage's ethereal string quartet, to Partch's "rhythmic brew" played on the instruments he invented himself. The theater is lovely. I was seated in the very last row in the orchestra section, but still was able to see and hear everything clearly except for the gamelon instrumentalists who sat in back of their Western counterparts.

Yesterday, it was string quartet time at CalTech once again. We heard the final concert in the Coleman Concert Series to be given by the Guarneri String Quartet. I blogged about their impending retirement last year. It was another all-Beethoven concert—two late quartets, Opus 127 and 135. I know that all things must come to an end eventually, but I will miss these guys. Their quartet playing, especially of the Beethovens and the Debussy, will never be surpassed.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Garden Transformation

One of my birch trees died this summer. I have scheduled my tree men to come and remove it and its neighbor next week. Of all the trees I have on my property, that was the one I would want to keep. My husband and I planted three of these European Birches when we bought the house in 1970. One died immediately and the other two survived until now. The companion tree to this one never looked very good, has a rotting trunk, and is only still green at the bottom. So both will go. It will be a sad occasion.

For years the birds have used the branches of these two trees for perching and would sing to me from the top. When my sprinklers turned on, birds would come from all around to have a drink and a bath and then hop into the tree to preen and dry off. It was quite a show. The trees provided me with fall color which reminded me of home, which is why we planted them in the first place. I loved their lacy look and the distinctive white bark.

But since go they must, I have decided to turn this into an opportunity. I am making plans to get really serious about having a native California plant garden—one that is more drought tolerant and eventually easier to care for (I hope). I have started researching the idea after being inspired by my canyon walks, my friend Kathy's garden, this article in the LA Times, and the guys over at Breathing Treatment. I've already had a talk with Ann Barklow, the arborist at Garden Magic. It was she who suggested that the birch trees died of phytophthora (root or crown rot). This was puzzling to me because the trees have gotten the same amount of watering in the same way as they have for the last 38 years. Why now?

Anyway, now I must decide whether to have someone do the job for me or do it myself and whether to do it all at once or piecemeal. To help me make plans, I have bought three new books on gardening with natives: California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, et al., Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook, and the American Horticultural Society's Southwest, Smart Garden Regional Guide. This last is not devoted entirely to natives but does include some good information about a lot of them. I already own Bob Perry's Landscape Plants for Western Regions, a beautiful coffee-table-type book full of natives and drought tolerant plants for the Southwest, which Ann tells me is out of print.

Of course, I'll also get advice from friends and neighbors. I think it would be rather fun to do it myself and very educational. And I'm in no hurry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Respite

Sorry I haven't posted much lately. I've been in a funk about the financial crisis and have been following the dictum that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Many days I don't even turn the computer on so that I won't be tempted to check my stock prices again. Suffice it to say, it has been brutal.

But last Friday, my daughter and I took Toddler C. to the local pumpkin patch and had a great time there. He busied himself moving the pumpkins, the ones he could lift, from here to there and just looking at his cherubic face reminded me of the really important things in life.

Other things I have been doing to stay calm include knitting, of course. I have made good but not outstanding progress on the Maltese Shawl. I am on Repeat No. 61 out of 75 (yay!) and am wondering just how long this thing is going to be! And there is still a wide border to be added on all around the edge. Blocking it will be a problem because I am not sure I have the space to stretch it all the way out. Maybe I can do it by halves. There are some mistakes in there but I defy anyone to find them. When I give it to my DIL she can spend the rest of her life looking for them.