Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Drought or not, our flowers continue to bloom and thrive

Sharing the beauty of our garden / a Queen Elizabeth rose.

Springtime means new growth for our rose bushes -- drought or no drought. Our Queen Elizabeth rose bush has been an early bloomer this year. Ditto for our First Prize roses. It's also the season for our irises and rhododendrons to bloom and thrive.

Calla lily / few as lovely.
As a caretaker and devoted photographer of nine rose bushes that shine brilliantly throughout much of the year in our backyard garden, relying on rain and a few hours of weekly watering via a water drip system, my appreciation for roses has grown exponentially over the 15-plus years I have resided in the foothills above Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Irises / the time for them to
bloom is spring.
Plus, there are few flowers as lovely as the calla lily, and we're blessed to welcome dozens of them every year to our quiet, east side garden from winter to early summer.

Roses have become an everyday part of my life, and as an amateur gardener -- especially because of the ongoing drought taking place throughout California -- celebrating Earth Day has taken on a greater meaning for me.

First Prize / shining brightly.
Yet, in photographing our roses and other flowers in our gardens -- and sharing them with my friends via my Facebook page -- I have gained a new appreciation for their colorful beauty and their fragrance, too.

If our gardens are a form of autobiography, as the author and gardener Sydney Eddison once suggested, I am happy to say that our flowers keep getting more photogenic. They ask for so little and, yet, give us so much in return.

Indeed, as it has been said, a healthy garden is a reflection of a healthy soul.

All photographs by Michael Dickens © 2015.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bruce Hornsby: Broadening his full range by exploring many winding roads on a wonderful music journey

Bruce Hornsby /Deftly swinging a tune from one style to another
without ever missing an internal beat.

Bruce Hornsby is an American singer and keyboardist who draws from a variety of musical traditions, among them rock, jazz, classical, bluegrass, hymns and folk, that shape his songwriting talent. The Virginia-born composer has explored songs with Southern themes about race, religion, judgement and tolerance -- even penning a song "Sneaking Up on Boo Radley," that's a reference to a character from Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird. 

An avid basketball fan, Hornsby is just as comfortable blending and re-working the melodies of legendary jam band Grateful Dead, whom he will sit in as a guest keyboardist during their 50th anniversary farewell concerts this summer, as he is paying homage to bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. In addition to collaborating with the Grateful Dead, Hornsby's creative interest has also sparked working with Rickie Lee Jones, Ornette Coleman, Bela Fleck, Ricky Skaggs and Pat Metheny on various projects over the years as well as on his own in a career that has spanned two and one-half decades.

The spontaneity and creativity of Hornsby's live performances are loose and playful, and he welcomes requests from his audiences, which are collected before the start of each show and sit visible across the top of his Steinway & Sons grand piano.

Bruce Hornsby / Exploring and improving.impr
The 60-year-old Hornsby's solo performances, such as the one I attended last week in Zellerbach Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, offer him a limitless opportunity to challenge himself: through reworking originals, segueing songs into other songs, and blurring the lines of classical compositions and jazz standards.

Performing solo, as he did for two hours on a recent Wednesday evening in Berkeley, has allowed him to "recommit (himself) to the study of piano" and "take (his) piano playing to a whole new level."

"My standard line," Hornsby says of his solo concerts, "is: I'm not the vehicle for your nostalgic night out. But I will be kind."

These explorations and improvisations culminated in Hornsby's first entirely live solo piano album, entitled Solo Concerts, released in August 2014, which was given out to all ticket holders the night I saw him perform in Berkeley.

The 21 tracks which comprise the album were culled from solo concerts performed by Hornsby throughout the U.S. in 2012 and 2013. They bring together "disparate information from musical languages often thought to be opposed: Americana roots music, folk-pop, film scores and modern classical, what Hornsby calls an 'unholy alliance.'"

There are solo renditions of recognizable Hornsby chestnuts ("Mandolin Rain" and "The Valley Road") as well as boogie-woogie ("Preacher in the Ring"), a Spike Lee film score ("Song E {Hymn in E-Flat}") and modern classical with the "dissonance and expressive chromatics" of 20th century 12-tone experimental composers such as Austrians Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, as well as the American modernist Elliot Carter, Hungarian György Ligeti and Frenchman Olivier Messaien.

"There's often a bias in the rock or pop world against virtuosity," said Hornsby, in the program notes for his Cal Performances concert in Berkeley. "I understand that mindset: expression over virtuosity. But my feeling is, why not both?"

After all, it's not clinical, what Hornsby does as well and as enjoyable as anyone. His two-handed independence at the keyboard is really vibrant and emotional. It's what he calls the pursuit of the unattainable. And, yet, his solo concerts turn his audiences into adventurous music listeners.

That's the way it is.

Photos: Courtesy of Google images and © Kirk Stauffer Photography.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

High Style: Going window shopping through time

The manipulation of cloth: Charles James / "Tree" ball gown, 1955.

The masterworks of fashion have come together in "High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection" at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Walking through each exhibit room, gazing at each display, it's a bit like going window shopping through time.

"High Style" showcases women's fashions worn in America from 1910 to 1980 and it celebrates the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, one of America's earliest and --arguably -- most distinguished holdings of fashion design.

Colorful designs by Elsa Schiaparelli.
I had the opportunity to see this highly colorful exhibition, which debuted last month, on Easter Sunday. It features a variety of representative pieces: approximately 60 garments, ranging from ball gowns to sportswear; 30 costume accessories, such as shoes and hats, and related fashion sketches, by some of the 20th century's most important and influential American and European designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Charles James, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is the display of 25 pieces, including garments, muslins and sketches by fashion designer Charles James. In an interview with Fine Arts magazine, Jan Glier Reeder, the curator of "High Style" said of James: "Rather than merely a dressmaker, James was an artist and sculptor who chose the manipulation of cloth as his primary medium of expression.

"Conceiving his designs in the round, James masterfully translated two-dimensional cloth into dazzling three-dimensional shapes never before seen in the history of fashion. He developed an idiosyncratic process using architectural, mathematical, and engineering principles alongside an in-depth knowledge of the female form to build and mold his garments."

"High Style" runs through July 19 -- and, if you live in the Bay Area or will be visiting soon, I highly recommend you see it.

Photographs: By Michael Dickens © 2015.