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Around & About--Music & Theater: Lou Harrison Centennial at Mission Dolores on Saturday; Diasporas Festival Over Memorial Day Weekend

By Ken Bullock
Saturday May 20, 2017 - 07:34:00 AM

--Composer Lou Harrison, who died "on tour" in 2003, is being widely celebrated during his centennial year--his birthday's May 14--from Harrison House, his straw bale "composer's cave" near Joshua Tree, to Finland--and one of the most ambitious events is this weekend, part of Berkekeley's Other Minds Festival 22, Just 100: Homage to Lou Harrison ... a gamelan orchestra and chorus of 100 performing Harrison's setting of the Fourth Century Buddhist Heart Sutra at Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco.

(Thursday night saw the fascinating premiere of Harrison's incidental tack piano music to Corneille's 17th century stage masterpiece, 'Cinna,' which Harrison originally wanted performed by rod puppets, brilliantly condensed and voiced by Larry Reed of Shadowlight Productions to the staging of shadow puppets, beautifully etched on a backlit screen, splendidly accompanied by Linda Burman-Hall, at the Center for New Music in San Francisco. More on this performance next week.)

7:30, Saturday May 20 at Mission Dolores Basilica, 3321-16th Street at Dolores, San Francisco. $12-$20. https://otherminds.org/shmtl/cm22-info.shmtl

--Giulio Perrone's Inferno Theatre, Berleley's innovative stage company, is hosting its Fourth Annual Diasporas Festival--solo and ensemble theater, music, dance, poetry, performance art--over the Memorial Day weekend, always a lively string of surprises, this year featuring a sample of Perrobe's upcoming 'Ophelia's Ripple Effect'--and performances by Indigo Jackson (splendid as Lucky in Ubuntu Theater's recent 'Waiting for Godot,' directed by Perrone), Anton's Well, Bay Area Zera Players, Joel Knopf, Molinete, WordDance Productions, Onyinye IIIkezukniy, & Tobey Kaplan.

South Berkeley Community Church, 1801 Fairview at Ellis, off Adelaide, just south of Ashby BART. $10-$20 (discounts, including theatrical). infernotheatre.org or 788-6415 to reserve.

New: An open letter to the Berkeley City Council regarding gentrification (PUBLIC COMMENT)

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday May 19, 2017 - 08:20:00 AM

As the 2016 city election demonstrated, rapid gentrification bred by housing speculation and loss of diversity are unacceptable to the majority of residents in Berkeley. I’ve been thinking, as I know the council has too, of how we can reverse this process. 

We're seeing the damaging consequences to Berkeley's highly-valued cultural, economic, and racial diversity as well as to city infrastructure of the previous council majority’s permitting of many large new market-rate residential buildings to be built simultaneously. New units are selling to foreign investors and being used for short-term rentals. We need to slow this escalation of housing rates and at the same time provide incentives for non-profit developers. That these buildings were permitted in spite of their lack of much-needed inclusionary low-income and family housing or the highest level of green design, energy efficiency, and distinctive architectural merit has angered many Berkeley voters. We believe our city deserves much better than to be given over to for-profit developers to change its character.  

Some possible ways to address our needs and values and to discourage excessive market rate projects: 

1. Require LEED Platinum for all for-profit projects, including those permitted but not yet begun, and encourage it for non-profit buildings. California law permits reasonable new requirements on any project where no construction has begun and especially when no building permit has yet been issued (from a conversation with land use attorney Tony Rossman).  

2. Require 30% or 40% inclusionary low-income and family units. The 2211 Harold Way project would be less detrimental were it to meet serious green standards and include 40% inclusionary low-income/family units. If that is unacceptable to the developer, so much the better for Berkeley. We don’t need what he wants to build here, to profit himself and his investors. 

3. Require Significant Community Benefits for all for-profit projects 

4. Require Significant Community Benefits to be complete before awarding occupancy permits 

While these may seem radical suggestions, given the quota figures from the 12/16 updated ABAG 2012-2020 housing report they are both responsible and appropriate. Berkeley has met 278% of quota for “above moderate” housing, but a pitiful 3% for low-income and 4% for moderate-income housing. The above actions should be taken on not-yet-begun projects. 

One way to provide for addressing our infrastructure needs, and retrofitting of Old City Hall, the Veterans Building, the Berkeley Pier, the city pools, is to increase the Real Property Transfer Tax from 1.5% to 5% on all transfers, residential and commercial, of more than $750,000. This would not affect the buyers of family homes, nor would it make much difference to the wealthy speculators who are buying up Berkeley properties as investments, but it would allow us to avoid taking out a $100,000,000 bond to pay for infrastructure improvements, saddling Berkeley with repayments including very large interest costs for years to come. It would also have the effect of dampening speculation in Berkeley real estate which is driving costs too high for most Berkeley families to meet.  

For many of us, the previous council majority's sacrifice of the Shattuck Cinemas, a model of very successful adaptive reuse, to the 2211 Harold Way highrise was inexcusable. Public protests drove the developer to offer replacement theaters and, absurdly, his claim of the replacements as a Significant Community Benefit was accepted. It is not a net benefit to destroy a cultural and financial treasure and provide a second-rate replacement. We need a third-party feasibility study for the under-ground theaters, which weren’t in the original plans, before demolition of the existing theaters. We also need, for all projects with Significant Community Benefits agreements, a mechanism for consistent enforcement of the agreement. What a tragedy it would be should the Penner project go forward and demolish our theaters, were he to fail to provide replacement theaters. We have the Gaia Building bookstore and Fine Arts Cinema building named for benefits the community never received.  

Charles Dutoit Leads San Francisco Symphony in the Berlioz Requiem

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday May 16, 2017 - 10:46:00 AM

It is not clear how much or how little religious inspiration Hector Berlioz felt in composing his Grande Messe des Morts, aka his Requiem. This work was commissioned by the French government and was intended to be performed on the day of the annual service commemorating the dead of the 1830 Revolution. This date had great significance for the French people, for it marked the end of the Bourbon monarchy, which had been initially overthrown in the French Revolution of 1789-99 only to be restored, with limited powers, in 1815. The July Revolution of 1830, however, brought about a populist overthrow of the Bourbons in favor of a constitutional monarchy headed by the House of Orléans. Stirred as much by patriotic fervor as by religion, Berlioz composed his Requiem only to have its performance canceled at the last minute. Later, another event stirred up French patriotism – an important military victory in France’s colonial enterprise in Algeria, during which the French commander, General Damrémont, was killed. A solemn service for the French soldiers killed in this battle was scheduled to be held in the immense chapel of the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris; and it was here that the Berlioz Requiem had its premiere on December 5, 1837. 

Here in San Francisco Guest Conductor Charles Dutoit led the San Francisco Symphony in three performances of the Berlioz Requiem May 4-6 at Davies Hall. Tenor Paul Groves sang the beautiful Sanctus movement, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus was joined by the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco and Golden Gate Men’s Chorus. Charles Dutoit has recorded a highly acclaimed Berlioz Requiem with his Montreal Symphony and Chorus in 1997. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to hearing Dutoit conduct this Requiem with the San Francisco Symphony. The experience lived up to my hopes and expectations. Dutoit has a fine feel for the flow of the Berlioz Requiem. There is a sense of spaciousness in Dutoit’s interpretation of this work. He positions four brass ensembles high up in the tiers at four compass points of the auditorium. Berlioz’s bold orchestral colors are brought out in vivid detail while the overall flow of the ten movements creates a strong sense of structure.  

There is something of an existential anguish in the face of death inherent in the Berlioz Requiem. One gets the sense of the weakness and vulnerability of humankind confronting the inevitability of death. One also senses the grandeur of humanity’s efforts to create meaning out of existence, perhaps even to create a notion of God that might offer hope. The Dies irae, Tuba mirum, and Lachrymosa sections are of overwhelming power, full of awe and terror at the prospect of death. The Lachrymosa, with its snapping rhythm on the off-beat chords, is a particular favorite of mine, and it was admirably performed here under the leadership of Dutoit. The Quid sum miser depicted the desolation of humanity in an empty universe; and the Hostias, with its combination of high flutes and low trombones, offered a sense of infinite spaciousness. The Rex tremendae posits an all-powerful God who just might offer hope to mankind; and the Sanctus, exquisitely sung here by tenor Paul Groves, praises Hosanna in the highest. The concluding Agnus Dei opens softly, imploring God to grant the dead eternal rest. As this section comes to a close, the music fades away in a pianissimo, a last plaintive cry for the dead.  

Throughout this performance of the Berlioz Requiem, the combined forces of the augmented choir performed admirably. The Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco were led by Susan McMane, and the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus was led by Joseph Piazza. Ragnar Bohlin, director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, oversaw these combined choral forces.  



On the Issue of Urban Shield and the City of Berkeley

Jack Kurzweil
Tuesday May 16, 2017 - 11:09:00 AM

I am Jack Kurzweil, representing the Coordinating Committee of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club. 

We urge the Berkeley City Council to vote NO on Agenda items 53 and 54.  

Continued participation in UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative) and NCRIC (Northern California Regional Intelligence) and purchasing the armored van will continue and intensify the relationships of the Berkeley Police to these initiatives. 

These relationships, particularly during the Trump Administration, are in direct contradiction to the Council’s declaration of Berkeley as a Sanctuary City. They are a first step toward Berkeley’s police cooperating with and participating in immigration raids and political surveillance. 

Our accumulated wisdom of the last century is that taking the first step in the direction of accommodating repression makes it more difficult to refuse the next.  

Please Vote NO tonight.

Open Letter to the Berkeley City Council on Police Agreements with the Trump Regime

James McFadden
Tuesday May 16, 2017 - 10:40:00 AM

As you make your decision this coming Tuesday on Berkeley’s cooperation agreements with NCRIC (3.12) and UASI (3.6), and make decisions regarding the purchase of militarized equipment (armored van) and participation in Urban Shield, it is important to recognize that you, our City’s representatives, are deciding on cooperation with the Trump regime. With the firing of FBI director James Comey, one can no longer argue there are independent institutions within the executive branch. Before you vote on this cooperation, you should examine what your cooperation means by reviewing the related Trump Administration’s actions, policies and appointments undertaken during its first 100 days in office: 

1) the choice of the racist Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, 

2) the racist and xenophobic Muslim ban on travel, 

3) the escalated attacks on water protectors at the DAPL and on other environmental protestors, 

4) a president surrounded by authoritarian followers who believe that “the powers of the president … will not be questioned” (Stephen Miller) 

5) the gutting of regulatory bodies, like the EPA, which are designed to protect the public, 

6) the firing of FBI head James Comey to be replaced by a Trump lackey, 

7) the appointment of a far-right Supreme Court Justice, 

8) the anti-gay agenda of the administration from his choice of Pense as VP to, his selection of the anti-LGBT Ben Carson, Mark Green, Scott Garrett and Jeff Sessions, reversing civil rights protections to transgender children, ending federal opposition to state anti-LGBT laws, proposals to gut HIV/AIDS programs, and Trump support of the anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act. 

9) Trump’s “Blue lives matter” executive orders which seek to increase penalties resulting from confrontations with police officers to ensure the loyalty of Police Officer Associations and designed to intimidate protestors, 

10) the escalation of racist and xenophobic rhetoric by the president that encourages authoritarian followers to gather in our community and celebrate white supremacy, 

11) the escalation of state laws that criminalize protesting and impose severe penalties on protestors for exercising their right of free speech, 

12) Trump’s economic policies that will increase tax breaks for the super-rich and require compensating austerity policies that will be imposed on the poor (including ending ACA), all of which will result in increased protests, 

13) a general consolidation of power by the multi-millionaire and billionaire class who dominate the current cabinet and top administration positions, and who benefit most from these tax and austerity policies, 

14) an escalation of the war on the free press including a demonization of any news that reflects badly on the president or his policies, characterizing it as “fake news”, 

15) the continued militarization of the police (started under Bush and escalated under Obama) and the consolidation of police control under the umbrella of homeland security -- all in violation of the intent of the Posse Comitatus Act, 

These changes must be understood as a slow shift toward fascism – a fascism that must be resisted. The enforcement arms of the federal government (the FBI, Homeland Security, etc.) are not capable of creating a totalitarian state without the cooperation local law enforcement. The agreements with NCRIC and UASI are attempts to consolidate federal control over local police. Under the authoritarian Trump administration, these agreements become a threat to the public and our civil rights. It can no longer be argued that the FBI is independent of Trump control. Voting to endorse police cooperation with the FBI and Homeland Security creates a direct threat to the citizens of Berkeley. The City Council needs to take a moral stand and make a statement: “Berkeley will not cooperate with this xenophobic and racist Trump administration.” 

If instead you vote to continue these agreements, you are either engaging in willful ignorance, wishful blindness, or moral cowardice. Don’t be one of the guardians of the status quo who puts their own short-term, narrow self-interest ahead of the public interest. Don’t side with the plutocrats and authoritarians who rule for profits over people. The Trump regime is soft-core fascism (economic consolidation, mass surveillance, and militarism). Don’t be afraid to defy Trump – take a moral stance. The people of Berkeley will have your back just like the people of SF had Gavin Newsom’s back on the moral issue of gay marriage. Don’t help Trump create the surveillance state – a national police state. Remember Orwell’s warning: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." 

Agreements 3.6 and 3.12 are specifically designed to continue the militarization of police and build an infrastructure allowing Homeland Security to usurp local control. Such militarization is not in response to any actual terrorist threat – only an imagined terrorist scenarios used to scare us into erecting this structure – the same fear-mongering used to pass the Patriot Act – the same fear-mongering used to justify the invasion of Iraq. We don’t need their money and we don’t want military grade weapons. We should reject these agreements on moral grounds. Urban area police working groups are designed to suppress urban unrest, urban protests, and urban strikes. There is no credible threat of terrorism in the bay area, but there is a threat of protest. This will be especially true when the current debt bubble pops and when austerity is imposed. Urban Shield training and propaganda is not about public safety, it is about public control. Police militarization and cooperation agreements with homeland security, combined with NSA and FBI spying, are essential to their strategy of full-spectrum dominance over civil society as outlined in the Snowden leaks. 

Using these agreements to usurp local control of our militarized police force, the Trump regime will be able to crush all progressive movements. Don’t believe the nonsense that local ordinances will take precedence – the agreements have outs to allow the police to be the arm of Trump in a crisis. These agreements cement the federalization of our police that began with the Patriot Act – a clear effort to undermine the Posse Comitatus Act. Police militarization is directly linked to solidification of corporate rule and a merging of corporations with the State. This merging is exactly how Mussolini defined fascism. Police militarization is directly linked to the need to maintain control as the State imposes austerity to maintain corporate profits. Police militarization is the antithesis of community policing. 

Nothing is more threatening to an authoritarian government than the possibility of local government officials and local police siding with the public. When this happens, the totalitarian forces within a government will collapse. Be part of his resistance. End our cooperation agreements, end participation in urban shield, and end the purchase of military equipment. 

As you ponder your decisions on NCRIC and UASI, consider the following words of people far wiser than any of us. Perhaps these words will give you the courage and understanding to do the right thing – to make the moral choice: 

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing" Edmund Burke 

“If you’re neutral in situations of injustice, you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.” Desmond Tutu 

"You can't save the people if you don't serve the people." Cornel West 

"You can choose to serve truth and justice or privilege and power." Chris Hedges 

“America has no functioning democracy at this moment.” Jimmy Carter 

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” Hannah Arendt 

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice Walker 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Martin Luther King 

“I knew that these were theories, even in the mouths of black people, that justified the jails springing up around me that argued for ghettos and projects, that viewed the destruction of the black body as incidental to the preservation of order. According to this theory ‘safety’ was a higher value than justice, perhaps the highest value.” Ta-Nehisi Coates 

“It’s almost as if we believe that if enough data is collected, enough “really bad guys” are tortured into giving up “actionable intelligence,” we ourselves will never die. There is a word for people whose first concern is always for their own safety and who will therefore permit anything to be done in their name as long as it keeps them secure. Such people are sometimes called cowards.” Rebecca Gordon 

“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” Mario Savio 

“Don't give yourselves to brutes - men who despise you and enslave you – who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel! … Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines!” Charlie Chaplin 

“Anti-fascist organizing must be bold. The mechanisms working against us do not entertain our humanity: they are hyper-violent. They deal death and destruction in countless numbers across the non-Western world while turning domestic Black and Brown neighborhoods into proxies for how to treat sub-citizen “others.” The militarization of police, border regimes, stop-and-frisk and ICE are clear examples of how the state regards the communities it targets and brutalizes.” William C. Anderson and Zoé Samudzi 

“The prison-industrial complex has become so big and powerful that it works to perpetuate itself. … the United States has basically offered to the world: a way of managing social problems by refusing to confront them.” Angela Davis 

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglass 

“The role of the police as an ‘army of the rich’ is worth considering inasmuch as their militarization, immunity from prosecution and attendant impunity have grown in approximate proportion to the concentration of wealth that is itself tied to the impoverishment of growing portions of the population. … It is other than paradoxical that the public health interest put forward to explain drug law enforcement finds its most violent expression through repressive policing in poor neighborhoods. Were concern for public health the motivation the police would be helping the poor find jobs, get needed health care and assuring the availability of nutritious food.” Rob Urie 

“What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?” Arundhati Roy 

“We’re creating a dystopia, where the mania of the state isn’t secrecy or censorship but unfairness. Obsessed with success and wealth and despising failure and poverty, our society is systematically dividing the population onto winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process. Winners get rich and get off. Losers go broke and go to jail. … The great nonprosecutions of Wall Street in the years since 2008 … were just symbols of this dystopian sorting process to which we’d already begun committing ourselves. The cleaving of the country into two completely different states – one a small archipelago of hyperacquisitive untouchables, the other a vast ghetto of expendables with only theoretical rights – has been in the works a long time.” Matt Taibbi 

“Police reform … they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America and all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies – the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects – are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream.” Ta-Nehisi Coates 

"First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me." - Martin Niemoller 

“Privacy is essential to human freedom and happiness for reasons that are rarely discussed but instinctively understood by most people, as evidenced by the lengths to which they go to protect their own. To begin with, people radically change their behavior when they know they are being watched. They will strive to do that which is expected of them. … The range of choices people consider when they believe that others are watching is therefore far more limited than what they might do when acting in a private realm. A denial of privacy operates to severely restrict one’s freedom of choice. … if you believe you are always being watched and judged, you are not really a free individual. All oppressive authorities – political, religious, societal, parental – rely on this vital truth, using it as a principal tool to enforce orthodoxies, compel adherence, and quash dissent. It is in their interest to convey that nothing their subjects do will escape the knowledge of the authorities. Far more effectively than a police force, the deprivation of privacy will crush any temptation to deviate from rules and norms. What is lost when the private realm is abolished are many of the attributes typically associated with quality of life. … Only when we believe that nobody else is watching us do we feel free – safe – to truly experiment, to test boundaries, to explore new ways of thinking and being, to explore what it means to be ourselves. … A society in which everyone knows they can be watched by the state – where the private realm is effectively eliminated – is one in which those attributes are lost, at both the societal and the individual level. Mass surveillance by the state is therefore inherently repressive, even in the unlikely case that it is not abused by vindictive officials to do things like gain private information about political opponents. Regardless of how surveillance is used or abused, the limits it imposes on freedom are intrinsic to its existence.” Glenn Greenwald 

“Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media’s reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.” Sheldon Wolin 

SQUEAKY WHEEL: West Berkeley on the Chopping Block

Toni Mester
Friday May 12, 2017 - 12:30:00 PM
House Tower
Toni Mester
House Tower

The Planning Commission continues a public hearing on the R-1A zoning Wednesday May 17 at the North Berkeley Senior Center at Hearst and MLK at 7 pm.

On the surface the discussion is a numbers game: heights, setbacks, and building separation. But the deeper question is: who owns and controls West Berkeley?

The last time that West Berkeley was on the chopping block was the election of November 2012 when the Bates Council majority put the pumped-up master use permits on the ballot as Measure T, an invitation for the entire city to bully us. It didn’t work, but that’s another story.

This time around, local residents have been slow to grasp the crux of the matter: the survival of a diverse working class neighborhood. In the last few years, land prices have skyrocketed to over $600,000 for a parcel, even ones with derelict houses. In fact, the more decrepit the buildings the better, because developers want to demolish and replace them with two new houses, each 1500-2000 square feet, to be sold as condos. The rundown properties at 908 and 912 Cedar between 7th and 8th Streets are good examples of the trend. They sold for $608,000 and $678,000, respectively, and in both cases, the crumbling old houses will be torn down and replaced with spiffy new two- story homes on each lot, to be sold for over $1 million apiece.

It’s a lucrative business built on sloppy piecemeal zoning that allows the division of relatively small lots into stand alone single-family homes with one parking space each and minimal greenery or open-space. There’s nothing wrong with replacing derelict houses with new ones; the problem is that the zoning was not designed for the two-condo division. Without appropriate development standards, the big houses have crowded out potential for their own landscape and usable open space and intruded into the privacy and sunlight of the adjacent properties by violating the inner lot.

This is not the compact urban infill housing championed by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to minimize suburban sprawl. This is bringing the suburbs into the urban core. The condo divisions were not planned; some real estate investors saw the gaping holes in the code and seized the opportunity. 2213 Ninth Street was one of the first, two equally huge grey houses that are back-to-back, now numbered as 2209-2211 Ninth Street, across from the Rosa Parks schoolyard. The owners told me that the renters are graduate students. The development is over-sized and institutional looking, devoid of landscape and charm. 

Other followed, some designs better than others, There have been numerous appeals of the two-condo projects: 2421 Ninth Street, under construction; 1737 Tenth Street, approved with few changes despite an appeal; 1016-1018 Jones Street, approved after a rearrangement of the two houses so that the larger is in the front; and 2212 Tenth Street that will be heard in June. 

The last appeal is an omen of the displacement that can result if this trend continues. A small 900 square foot one-story house on a 5200 square foot lot was purchased last year for $645,000 and is slated for demolition. Far from derelict, the cottage is home to a family of four, headed by a couple of educators, who are being evicted. Taking its place will be two million dollar condos, each around 2,000 square feet. 

The planning staff, who are in the business of development, their “enterprise” department funded by permit fees, support the condo houses. In fact, the staff’s zoning proposal reflects suggestions by the developer of the 2212 Tenth Street project. The best thing about the staff proposal is that they eliminated the potential for a three-story house at the rear of a lot. Sounds absurd, but what the zoning code allows, some people will build, like the house tower shown. 

Our pattern language 

Can better zoning overcome market forces and is the current planning commission capable of substantive change? I’m not sanguine about either proposition, but we can try to keep West Berkeley affordable and green by showing up at the meeting and expressing concern and support for several innovations in the R-1A zoning. 

Changing the designation from “main buildings” to simply “front and rear buildings” includes accessory dwelling units, which are the most affordable housing units and can exceed the limit of 750 square feet with an administrative use permit. They cannot be sold separately, but they are allowed on lots of any size. A parking spot is not required, creating more space for children to play, gardens, and landscape. 

There is a growing need to house adult children who cannot afford rents elsewhere, as well as aging parents. Other homeowners need income to meet their mortgage payments. Granted, many homeowners do not want to be landlords but renting and managing an ADU can be an acquired skill that the City should assist by setting up an ADU central command. 

Another zoning strategy is to raise the required area for a second unit from 4500 to 5000 square feet to prevent detrimental overbuilding on the narrowest lots. No other California city of comparable size allows two houses on such small lots, and even a single duplex house usually requires 5000 to 6000 square feet of lot area. Most require minimum lot width. 

Any second detached house should be limited to one story and 14 feet in height, just like an ADU. That’s a matter of basic equity. If the City thinks that having two big houses on one lot is a desirable way to increase the housing stock, I suggest that we abolish the R-1 so that all neighborhoods can enjoy such benefits. 

Proper duplex zoning is the urban model of one building with two units, not a suburban model of two separate houses. San Francisco’s duplex zones require the building to occupy the front of the lot with 45% of the depth reserved for the backyard. The cars go into a front garage or driveway, so the inner block is car-free and serene. 

Every city I’ve lived in applied this paradigm. My first apartment on Western Avenue in Albany, New York was the basement of a 19th century brownstone. The entire block, all four streets, surrounded a jungle of gardens and greenery. My room at the back overlooked this park-like setting, a haven for a college student. We were living in the downtown of a capital city, and the nights were quiet as the country. 

We should not be afraid of urban models of development. Properly designed, they can preserve gardens, play space for children, and sunny outdoor gathering places. 

There are reasons we haven’t moved the flatlands towards the “new urbanism” and form-based zoning that would allow denser housing models like duplexes, multiple buildings, and cluster types like bungalow courts and townhouses. True, we are hung-up on the single-family house as the ideal, but also to blame are those whose sole measure of scale is height, not form and pattern. There’s a tug of war between those who want more height and those who want less, and that dominates the conversation. 

In May 1991, the City Council adopted a uniform height of 28-35 feet for all buildings, including those at the rear of lots, without thought of how this would affect design of the low to medium multi-unit zones of the flatlands: the R-1A, R-2, and R-2A. This failure of foresight has resulted in grotesque building additions and envelopes that look like Stonehenge, so obvious in the Haskell Street appeal, where a developer wanted to create a row of three two-story condos with a driveway and parking on a lot that had formerly held one bungalow. No wonder the neighbors rebelled. They may not have appealed one or two buildings with as many dwelling units or more if their placement honored the sanctity of their inner block, especially if they had been consulted about options. But a developer would not build an affordable triplex or three attached townhouses when he can rake in profits from three separate condo houses. If we want affordable and harmonious development, the zoning needs to advantage the multiplex, attached townhouses, and communal open space enabled by compact design. 

In the R-1A, limited to two dwelling units, the zoning should advantage the most affordable building forms: the duplex and the ADU. The details of my modest proposal, composed with a little help from my friends, are contained in the planning commission packet. Please attend the meeting and support these options as well as innovations like floor-area ratio, design standards, and solar rights that other cities have utilized for years. Berkeley is so behind the times. 

Medicare for All 

I know it’s hard to keep our minds on local land-use when the federal government is tottering on the edge of a constitutional crisis, one Trump engendered shock after another. Goodbye Obamacare. Hello human suffering. Everyday I am so grateful for Kaiser Oakland, my health-care center for forty-five years. During my career at CCSF, I was covered by the City of San Francisco, thanks to my union contract. Now that I’m retired, I have Medicare with an affordable monthly fee and co-pays. My recent hand operation, almost two hours of microscopic surgery under general anesthesia, cost me $250. I am so blessed to have affordable care. But why should I consider this a privilege when other countries offer such care as a right? Somehow we need to create a healthcare system that works for everybody. 

My brother lives in Denmark, where the tax supported universal health care system is rationed but available to all. Last year, he had heart surgery, the best doctors, all paid by a system that per capita is half the cost of ours. At 76 he’s still working as a computer engineer because he’s creative, not because he’s worried. 

We, on the other hand, have become a worried people, losing our small sense of security that is draining away into chaos. 


Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 







Is it time for a Berkeley Free Speech Festival?

Becky O'Malley
Friday May 12, 2017 - 05:14:00 PM

With all the hoohah going on in DC this week, the hoohah over Berkeley losing its brand as the free speech capital of the universe is no longer on the local front pages. But it’s alive and well in the hinterlands, viz an AP story which ran this week, at least in Santa Fe: Free speech could be threatened at colleges. Here’s the lede:

“In campus clashes from California to Vermont, many defenders of the First Amendment say they see signs that free speech, once a bedrock value in academia, is losing ground as a priority at U.S. colleges.”

Most such pieces, like this one, don’t make a clear distinction between academic institutions and the towns where they’re located, so the two radical right rallies in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Civic Center Park have now been merged in the public consciousness with the commotion over cancelled campus speaking gigs for alt-right uglies Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter at the Berkeley branch of the University of California.

As far as can be determined, as we’ve discussed before in this space, the first fracas, which accompanied Milo’s UC non-appearance, was shifted to the city’s turf by the UC police, where it was carried out between two non-student non-resident gangs of independent youngish white thugs , mostly male. Neither Berkeleyans nor the university—or even free speech—ended up central to the conflict.

The second round, with Trumpistas as the organizers, left the university out altogether, staging the now-requisite brawl in a city park between, again, two gangs from out of town. “Speech” was plentiful but largely incidental to fighting or at least glowering.

Round three purported to be about UC’s attempt to postpone Coulter’s speech, and the brawl was avoided, thanks to a few strategic arrests. The city of Berkeley’s attempt to be a gracious substitute host for an afternoon of, shall we say, “animated discussions” (a kind of Salon des Refusés­) was surprisingly successful, but costly in police overtime.

All three of these events were billed as being about the right to speak freely. The same AP story also reported on another kind of free speech encounter between a university and a right-wing witch: ”On Wednesday, students at the historically black Bethune-Cookman University in Florida tried to shout down a commencement address by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.” This incident has been reported with alarm as signaling the death of free speech at universities, but really it’s not at all new. Another dimension in the free speech analysis which some are developing is a sort of implied right to be listened to, which has not previously been part of the deal.

My Cal class of ’61 picketed our graduation in caps and gowns because the commencement speaker, Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown, father of Governor Jerry, had failed to halt the execution of prison author Caryl Chessman. By that time I was living elsewhere, and I didn’t want to cross a picket line, so I didn’t even come back to Berkeley for the ceremony.

A quarter of a century later, most of my daughter’s graduating class at Barnard/Columbia sat respectfully through the speech of civil rights scholar Marian Wright Edelman but then walked out to show their support for university divestment from South Africa. There’s no reason any graduates at any of these events, including the one in Florida, should not have been allowed to express their political opinions as they did.

Where some get squeamish is when booing threatens to completely drown out the invited speaker. Some academics disdain what they call the “hecklers’ veto”, but anyone who’s ever watched the British Parliament on late night cable knows that this is a long-established Anglo-American tradition.

The usually careful Michael Krasny reported on his KQED Forum interview with beleagured conservative Andrew Sullivan that DeVos’ speech had been cancelled, but his staff quickly corrected him on air. Sullivan claimed that UCB had cancelled Milo and Ann C. because of what they were planning to say, but the actual excuse was threatened rioting. (In Sullivan’s defense, he did call Donald Trump “a hideous buffoon” so he can’t be all bad.)

All of these questions merit further discussion.

I’ve met a couple of times with a small group of past and current Berkeley residents of left inclination who don’t want to give the far right the opportunity to steal the mantle of the defenders of free speech. We come from a variety of activist backgrounds, including at least one veteran of the original FSM, but what we have in common is that we don’t want our city to be bullied by the likes of creepy Milo, who enjoys doing the kind of thing reported locally as making scary threats.

Milo’s current threat is to come back sometime, maybe now postponed until fall, for what he says he hopes will be a “huge multi-day event called ‘Milo’s Free Speech Week.’” How about, instead, starting the Berkeley Free Speech Festival, open to all comers? Not just both sides, but all sides of controversial topics could be invited to participate. Andrew Sullivan could be an MC—he has a gorgeous plummy accent, and Danny Glover might be co-host.

It could be a major tourist draw. Participants (even Milo) should perform for free—after all, talk is cheap. It could be held in a suitably securable location—I can think of several, both on-campus and off. Ticket sales and memorabilia should be enough to cover expenses. (Tee shirt: “I saw Coulter unbuttoned and survived!”) 

August might be a good month, in case we’d like to hold this festival outdoors.( Unless, of course, the impeachment proceedings have gotten started, as they well might. In which case, we’d have to call it off, since everyone will be glued to the TV.) 

Let us know what you think: write to opinion@berkeleydailyplanet.com with your own ideas. We have most of the summer to plan. 







The Editor's Back Fence

No new issue this week

Becky O'Malley
Friday May 19, 2017 - 08:25:00 AM

Today there will NOT be a new issue, because the editor has gone to see her first granddaughter graduate from college! As time and IPad permit, I’ll be adding some contributions to the current issue as they are submitted. See you next week.


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: These Are Brain Disorders

Jack Bragen
Friday May 12, 2017 - 03:04:00 PM

Many people have the mistaken belief that if someone suffers from a psychiatric condition, it is somehow their fault. The individual is believed to have a character problem, is automatically believed to be psychologically messed-up, and is believed to be of below normal intelligence.  

Those in charge of treating persons with mental conditions are sometimes no better. They presume that if you are in a position of receiving mental healthcare, it follows that you are in a less evolved state than they, that you are not ready to live in society, and that you are emotionally and mentally subnormal or abnormal. Yet this is a contradiction, because the very same individuals assert that mental illnesses are an indication of something being wrong with the brain. 

I am in a position of having a brain disorder, however I do not lack mental, emotional and intellectual development. My brain disorder is a separate issue from who I am in terms of personality and spiritual development. This is hard for some mental health practitioners to grasp.  

People with Parkinson's or Epilepsy do not get the same rap. Yet, if we were to view mental illnesses through a non-stigmatizing lens, people would realize that a mentally ill person isn't automatically dumb, sick, or abnormal.  

Mental illnesses do affect the human mind, since the areas of the brain they strike often include the seats of judgment, emotions, and cognition. However, upon receiving treatment, a mentally ill person is often "normal."  

Psychiatric illnesses challenge the boundaries between personality, versus brain function. When under the influence of untreated mental illness, an individual's personality is displaced by symptoms of their disease.  

There are some people with a mental illness diagnosis who have a warped personality. Yet, there are numerous people without a mental illness diagnosis who are warped. If this weren't so, from where does human prejudice come, why do we need police, and why have atomic weapons come into existence?  

There is something wrong with the behavior of the human species. Many mentally ill people aren't well adjusted to society. Yet is society good? Often not. There is no connection between mental illness and improper development as a person. These are distinct, separate issues.  

Mental illnesses and the medications used to treat them are disabling. But I am tired of the condescension of some psychiatrists, of some psychologists, and of ignorant people. Mental illnesses should be viewed as medical disorders and not as an indication that an individual is somehow less. These are brain disorders, not people disorders.  



THE PUBLIC EYE: Preparing for Trump’s Coup

Bob Burnett
Friday May 19, 2017 - 08:38:00 AM

In the fifties, in Los Angeles schools, students routinely participated in civil defense drills. We were taught "appropriate" actions to take in the event of a Russian nuclear attack, such as "duck and cover." Sixty years later, many Americans are bracing for Donald Trump's attack on the foundations of our democracy. How will we respond when Trump uses some traumatic event as an excuse to claim dictatorial power? 

Many Americans worry that the White House is planning for a "Reichstag fire" moment, a traumatic event the Administration can use to leverage Trump's power. On February 27, 1933, the German parliament building, the Reichstag, was set on fire. (The Nazis named a young communist as the arsonist, but this was never proven.) Hitler used the Reichstag fire as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and attack German communists -- thus ensuring that the Nazis would be the dominant force in the German parliament. Many of us believe Trump is capable of a similar coup. 

Given Trump's demonstrated instability, it does not matter whether America's Reichstag-fire moment is a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or a smaller event such as last year's Orlando nightclub shooting; it might even be a natural disaster, such as a killer hurricane or a ghastly epidemic. Whatever form the event may take, Trump will use it as an excuse to declare that the United States is under siege and attempt to assume extraordinary powers. 

Here are five steps to take to prepare for Trump's coup attempt: 

1. Identify your affinity group: In the Bay Area, we prepare for earthquakes by forming neighborhood "earthquake preparedness" groups comprised of the residents of a few adjacent streets -- typically 20-30 homes. When the "big one" comes we will support each other by checking that everyone is accounted for and then doing whatever is required such as providing first aid, putting out small fires, or sheltering the homeless. 

In the event of an attempted Trump coup we'll need the emotional support of our closest friends and family. (These should be people who live near you.) Identify who they are ahead of time. When the "Reichstag fire" event occurs, quickly meet with them, and assure them of your support. Then jointly plan a response. 

2. Preselect your communication network: Once the coup attempt happens, the White House will be all over the mainstream media pushing their narrative: "America is under attack; it's time to take the gloves off and fight back with everything we've got." Underlying this narrative will be the Administration's characterization of Trump as a strong leader unafraid of taking action to protect the homeland. 

In the face of the anticipated Trump propaganda onslaught, the resistance needs three things: an alternative communication network; a designated speaker; and a narrative. 

While the resistance speaks with many voices, the Indivisible movement is perhaps the best organized to respond to a coup attempt. Indivisible has more than 6000 chapters linked by email, Facebook, and Twitter. The national Indivisible leaders (headquartered in Washington DC) are well positioned to get the message out to local chapters and to pass it on to the progressive media outlets, as well as progressive politicians. Thus, in a crisis, the Indivisible network can be become an effective alternative to the mainstream media. Furthermore, if you are attached to Indivisible, your affinity group can use the Indivisible network to rapidly respond to Trump's actions. 

In a time of emergency, the White House will dominate the mainstream media. Therefore, it's important to identify, ahead of time, reliable alternative sources of information, media outlets that can provide you with an objective perspective. Among these news sources are NPR, The Guardian, BBC, Mother Jones, Talking Points Memo, Democracy Now, and The Rachel Maddow Show. 

3. Focus your response: When Trump makes his move, the resistance needs to speak with one voice. While we can count on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to take a strong stand, our most effective national spokesperson is likely to be Rachel Maddow. Information passed through the Indivisible network, or other progressive channels, will get to Rachel. 

Another response channel is communication with your local (progressive) member of congress. 

4. Prepare a narrative: Resistance to a Trump coup attempt begins with a simple assertion: "Trump cannot be trusted." The resistance needs to speak with a unified emphatic voice: "Trump is a failed President desperately attempting to stay in power. He is not trustworthy. Therefore, Trump's interpretation of [the traumatic event] cannot be the basis for national action." 

After the traumatic event, the resistance needs to immediately appeal for calm and decry hasty action. You and I need to communicate with our affinity group, our national network, and our members of congress. Above all: we need to question authority. 

5. Mobilize for Action: The appropriate response to a Trump coup attempt depends upon the nature of the traumatic event. For example, an environment calamity may require tight coordination with your local member of Congress. On the other hand, invasion of North Korea should inspire direct action such as demonstrations, marches, and strikes. 

Work with your affinity group, and your national network, and plan a coordinated response. One possible response would be a "No war, no Trump" march a few days after the event. 

Above all, prepare for the worst. Trump isn't going to go down quietly. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and activist. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net or @BobWBurnett


Jack Bragen
Friday May 19, 2017 - 08:27:00 AM

I once had a therapist who couldn't stomach the fact that I am an author. He was overtly sarcastic and obnoxious, and was in the wrong business. He questioned me about my shirt, since it was a nice looking shirt.  

A disabled person is looked upon with suspicion if he or she does not appear sufficiently poor. 

The "system" of laws that regulate psychiatric consumers and other disabled people is set up to keep us down. If you get ambitious, it attracts attention.  

There is a lot of opposition. If you are not doing what you are expected to do (and this could include drinking beer all day and gossiping with your buddies, or perhaps being babysat by the mental health treatment system--spending your break time commiserating and bumming cigarettes off whoever can afford them) and if, instead, you are trying to "be successful," it seems that people, companies, and government agencies come out of the woodwork to sabotage you. 

While this may not be an actual conspiracy, it doesn't matter. It is not smooth sailing if you'd like to work in spite of a psychiatric disability. Some may resent you, while others may produce problems. Perhaps people don't do this intentionally--it could be simply be that, for some of us, there is a lot of Karma to be paid off.  

We aren't necessarily being singled out.  

However, there are a lot of mentally ill people who can't manage sustained success. Often, someone does well for a while and then relapses. There are others who seem to disappear, whether this means moving elsewhere, dying, or otherwise not being heard from. 

On the other hand, anyone will have hard things happen in life. This could mean a death in the family, losing a job, a car accident, or an illness of oneself or of a family member. It isn't always a matter of being targeted.  

For someone with a psychiatric illness, it is a measure of recovery how well we can bounce back from difficulties without having a relapse of acute mental illness. If life was always easy, there would be no challenge, and it would take away from the validity and the value of living. 

So, are we being denied the right to exist? Not completely. Things are set up to be difficult. If we try to go back to work, it jeopardizes our benefits, such as Medicare. If we don't try to go back to work, the primary niche provided is that of outpatient institutionalization. If we want independence, and/or if we want to be successful at something, there are numerous pitfalls.  

Even when our government isn't getting in the way of us living a productive life, sometimes criminals come out of the woodwork, become assaultive, or otherwise interfere with our lives. Those who can't make an honest living and who make a living off of crime are often envious and hateful of people who are succeeding in life through work.  

If someone is trying to victimize us, we have the option of calling the cops. We should never let a person intimidate us to the point where we fear retaliation for calling the cops on them, and where we become human doormats. 

When criminals realize you are not afraid of them, they don't know how to deal with it. Some may go ballistic, while others may back off. You don't always know what you're getting. However, that is the reason why we have police forces.  

Innovative people may know how to create their own niche. The niches provided aren't any good, so we must create our own from the resources available. This could mean self-employment. Or it could mean going out and obtaining part-time employment. I suggest going without getting the help of the mental health treatment system to do that. The mental health treatment system, when they try to work with an employer to get you accommodated, will only create additional problems. At least, that has been my experience. 

We have the right to exist, and we have the right to pursue happiness. We should assert that right, and we should not allow the government, the mental health treatment system, or criminals, to stop us from doing that.

Arts & Events

Handel’s Oratorio La Resurrezione by American Bach Soloists

James Roy MacBean
Tuesday May 23, 2017 - 06:51:00 AM

At the tender age of twenty-one, George Frideric Handel left Hamburg on a trip to Italy, where he intended to acquaint himself with Italian musical styles. Handel visited Florence, Rome, Naples, and Venice, but he spent most of his Italian stay in Rome. Though operas were banned by papal decree, Italian cantatas offered composers ample opportunities for vocal writing. Indeed, many cantatas were operas in all but name, and they often were given with elaborate scenic effects. On Easter Sunday, 1708, Handel’s oratorio La Resurrezione was performed in Palazzo Bonelli, and a second performance occurred the next day.  

Handel had learned well the Italian style of vocal music, featuring a supple melodic line of great expressiveness. For his orchestra, Handel had more than forty musicians, led by none other than Arcangelo Corelli, with Handel himself presumably leading from the harpsichord. With a libretto by Carlo Sigismondo Capece, La Resurrezione treats the emotional responses of Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleophas, and Saint John the Evangelist as they deal with Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. There is also a subplot involving a struggle between Good and Evil, these two poles being represented by an Angel, on one hand, and Lucifer, on the other. In this combat between, let us say, Heaven and Hell, Lucifer can rage all he wants, he can even cause earthquakes to occur, but his efforts are in vain and he is obliged to return to the abysses of Hell.  

American Bach Soloists presented Handel’s La Resurrezione in four performances throughout the Bay Area May 5-8. I attended the Sunday, May 7 performance at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Veteran soprano Mary Wilson sang the role of the angel, and her voice was heavenly indeed. Lucifer was sung by baritone Jesse Blumberg, and though he was a forceful Lucifer, it was a foregone conclusion that Lucifer would lose out in the end.  

The real star of La Resurrezione is Mary Magdalene, sung exquisitely here by soprano Nola Richardson. Her clear, bright tone was ravishing and her Italian diction was impeccable. Richardson’s technical fluidity in handling Handel’s coloratura passages was awesome. But that is not all; Nola Richardson also invests great emotional intensity in each role I have heard her sing. Her Mary Magdalene is distraught at the crucifixion of Christ, then wavering between anguish and hope as she awaits the promised resurrection. When Jesus appears to her, as she recounts to Mary Cleophas, she was both awestruck and overjoyed, and she sought to kiss Jesus’s wounds, but he spoke the words “Noli mi tangere” and disappeared. Nola Richardson is a vocal superstar in the making, and we in the Bay Area are fortunate in having heard Ms. Richardson quite a few times during her 2012-13 tenure with the American Bach Soloists Academy and since then as a guest artist with ABS.  

Mary Cleophas was sung here by mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle in her debut appearance with ABS. Her lustrous mid-range voice offered a nice contrast to the high soprano voices of Nola Richardson and Mary Wilson. The role of Saint John the Evangelist was sung by tenor Kyle Stegall, who possesses a fine-grained tone and a supple technique that enables him to achieve great expressivity.  

As for the orchestra, under the direction of Jeffrey Thomas the musicians performed with period instruments. Their ensemble playing was precise, and occasional solo turns by flautist Janet See and principal cellist Frédéric Rosselet were a joy to behold. Young George Frideric Handel seems to have been a quick learner, and the Italian musical style he picked up during his stay in Italy would serve him exceedingly well in his career to come.

Veronika Eberle Plays Schumann’s Long Forgotten Violin Concerto

James Roy MacBean
Tuesday May 23, 2017 - 06:47:00 AM

Robert Schumann had enjoyed great success as a composer, but by 1853 he was chronically depressed, attempted suicide, and was subsequently placed in a mental asylum, where he died three years later at age 46. Nonetheless, in 1853 Schumann composed a violin concerto that premiered in a reading rehearsal in January 1854 with the great violinist Joseph Joachim and his orchestra. Joachim was not particularly pleased with Schumann’s Violin Concerto, and he never performed it publicly. When Schumann died, Joachim, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms all seem to have concurred that the Violin Concerto was not up to Schumann’s earlier standards, so Joachim donated the score to the Prussian State Library in Berlin on condition that it must not be played until 100 years after Schumann’s death.  

Actually, Schumann’s Violin Concerto was performed 81 years after his death because Joachim’s son was persuaded to permit publication and performance of this work in 1937. The Nazi regime appropriated it and scheduled the Schumann Violin Concerto as part of the Reichskulturkammer’s national conference in Berlin in 1937. Although the score had been sent to Yehudi Menuin, he was dropped by the Nazis because he was Jewish. The violinist in the 1937 performance in Berlin was Georg Kulenkampff, and the version of the Schumann Violin Concerto he played was one extensively revised by Paul Hindemith. Ten days later, Yehudi Menuin played the work as Schumann had written it at a recital in New York’s Carnegie Hall.  

In a series of four concerts May 17-21, 2017, German violinist Veronika Eberle made her debut with San Francisco Symphony performing the Schumann Violin Concerto with the orchestra led by Guest Conductor Roberto Abbado. I attended the Saturday evening concert in Davies Hall. Veronika Eberle made a strong case for this work, or as strong a case as can be made for a work that suffers from tedious repetitiousness, especially in the final movement. Eberle’s tone is lush, and dark hued. Her technique is flawless. Roberto Abbado led an energetic reading of this work, although there was little subtlety in this account, and what subtlety there was came from Eberle’s attention to dynamics. Nonetheless, Schumann’s Violin Concerto has a lovely slow movement, and this liltingly melodic movement was the highlight of the piece, exquisitely played by Veronica Eberle. It begins with somber tones: cellos, violas, and basses plus bassoons and quiet horns. The solo violin offers a rapturous melody. Eberle’s duets with principal cellist Michael Grebanier during this movement were lovely exchanges. As for the final movement, well, it offers thin material repeated endlessly. Veronika Eberle soldiered through it in disciplined fashion, making the best of it. She is a violinist I’m sure we will hear more from in future.  

Preceding the Schumann Violin Concerto on this program was a curiosity: excerpts from Busoni’s Turandot Suite. Composed in 1905, this suite was based on the same Carlo Gozzi play that Puccini later used for his opera. Ferruccio Busoni composed eight movements for his Turandot Suite, of which we heard only eight. That was enough. Musically, Busoni’s writing is all over the place. There are allusions to Persian music, Turkish music, Indian music, and, of course, Chinese music. In addition, there are parodic allusions to Richard Wagner and Gioachino Rossini. The opening excerpt we heard was full of bombast. There were nice moments, however, in the Nächtlicher Walzer or Night Waltz, and there was a lovely flute solo in the final excerpt, beautifully played by Tim Day.  

After intermission , Roberto Abbado led the orchestra in Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Opus 56, Scottish. This symphony was inspired by a trip Mendelssohn made to Scotland in 1829. It begins in a dark, somber mood with brooding music from oboe, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and violas. When the violins enter, the music becomes impassioned, yet quietly so. However, loud outbursts occasionally offer dynamic contrasts to the overriding quiet of this movement. The second movement is a lively Scherzo, where the strings scurry about in merry fashion and the principal clarinetist, here Carey Bell, plays the engaging main theme. To me, this Scherzo is the work’s finest moment. The following Adagio offers a lilting melody offset by darker passages. The fourth and final movement offers a military vitality that seems to suggest the element of strife in Scottish history. There occurs a noteworthy shift from A minor to the bright A Major key near the end of this movement, bringing the symphony to a close on a heroic and seemingly victorious note that is not altogether convincing to my ear.