Good morning, and welcome to the U-T Arts & Culture Newsletter.
I’m David L. Coddon, and here’s your guide to all things essential in San Diego’s arts and culture this week.
If you’re not excited about the Shell, you should be. The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park on our bayfront will surely become an iconic presence on the San Diego arts scene. Living downtown, I watched it being built. Throughout the silence of the pandemic, I imagined what it would be like when music emanated from beneath and inside it.
The wait is over. Last Friday, the San Diego Symphony streamed a virtual performance from the Shell. The program, consisting of Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” and Mozart’s “Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, Jupiter,” unfolded beautifully, but this presentation was as much about the venue as it was the music.
Seeing conductor Rafael Payare and symphony musicians actually on the Una Davis Family Stage afforded us a feel for what it will be like for all who will perform in the Shell. Acoustics can’t be judged from a recording, but this venue was built for sound as well as for aesthetics, and we’ll find out soon enough. I can vouch for the French horn sounding fabulous.
Momentary shots over Payare’s shoulder of fading-blue sky and the spanning Coronado Bridge glistening over the bay were few, but an inspiring reminder of how the arts and our environment can coalesce.
Opening weekend for concerts at the Shell is Aug. 6-8.
Among the guest artists in the symphony’s scheduled fall concert series is Jason Mraz, who will perform a world-premiere orchestral piece with symphony musicians on Sept. 26. Expect positivity and a lot of it. That’s what this San Diego fixture does best.
Positivity absolutely overflowed the confines of the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach last week when Mraz streamed a performance of his 2020 album “Look for the Good” for an “audience” of technicians in person but many, many fans watching online.
The reggae-inflected “Look for the Good” is a call to unite and love and be happy and all those good things. Mraz, whose sincerity and affection for his devotees shone through during the performance, never wandered into any dark or even brooding thematic corners during the show. If you wanted upbeat, you got it. If you want upbeat on Sept. 26, you know where to go.
Can you imagine that the estimable Johann Sebastian Bach once had to audition for a gig? True story. In 1722, Bach was one of three composers vying for the position of Thomaskantor, or music director, of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany. His competitors were Christoph Graupner and Georg Philipp Telemann.
Big surprise — Bach got the job.
Though this all happened almost exactly 300 years ago, you can enjoy the audition pieces thanks to Bach Collegium San Diego’s presentation “Bach and His Rivals – the Leipzig Audition.”
The hourlong stream, which is available through June 30, costs $25. Bach Collegium musicians and vocalists performed April 24 and 25 in the solemn confines of the San Diego Mission de Alcala. This is the season-closing virtual concert from Bach Collegium San Diego.
You can judge for yourself which of the three works is worthy of its composer being named Thomaskantor. Maybe I was predisposed toward Bach’s “Wer Nur Den Lieben Gott Lasst Walten BWV 93” because I’m not familiar with the other two composers. Or maybe I figured that in a Bach Collegium presentation, an upset wasn’t in the cards.
The first day of former FBI Director James Comey’s 2017 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Trump, Russia, et al., I was visiting the Newseum in Washington, D.C. I remember walking into the interactive museum dedicated to the free press and to journalists everywhere and seeing Comey’s face on a massive TV screen in the lobby. Tourists like myself as well as classes of schoolchildren, most of them sitting on the floor, were staring up at the screen as history was unfolding. It was just the start of a fascinating day at the Newseum.
Sadly, the Newseum closed its doors on the last day of 2019. But if you never made it there, and even if you did, you can still enjoy many of its exhibits virtually.
One quick and fun feature is a daily reproduction of the front pages of newspapers from across the country and around the world. Share these with your kids or your students. They may spark thoughtful conversations about news coverage and news judgment.
In celebration of Asian-American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, San Diego Filipino Cinema will screen virtually two documentary short films, one by Peter Okojie and the other by Drama Del Rosario, Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. The screenings are free ($10 donation encouraged). For tickets go here.
George Varga writes about the San Diego group Tori Roze and The Hot Mess, which has released three albums. Read more here.
Journalist and author Sebastian Junger — who has an event with Warwick’s tonight — walks hundreds of miles in hopes of finding freedom, which also happens to be the title of his new book, “Freedom.” Read more here.
The Old Globe announced Wednesday the appointment of Lamar Perry and Kim Montelibano Heil to the new positions of associate producer. Perry has worked as an artistic associate at the Globe since 2018. Montelibano Heil has served as associate producer and casting director at San Diego Repertory Theatre since 2017. She is rejoining the Globe, where she worked from 2004 to 2013 in the education and artistic departments. Read more here.
University of California Television (UCTV) is making a host of videos available on its website during this period of social distancing. Among them, with descriptions courtesy of UCTV (text written by UCTV staff):
“La Jolla Symphony: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Dona nobis pacem’”: In 1936, English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was commissioned to write a large-scale, exultant piece for a choral society’s centenary celebration. Vaughan Williams instead wrote for them a cantata for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra using texts from the Catholic Mass, poems by Walt Whitman, a political speech, and sections of the Bible. The piece, titled “Dona nobis pacem (Give us peace),” was anything but the intended jubilant statement; it was the composer’s protest against war and a fervent cry for peace in a time of growing international tension. Three years later, Vaughan Williams’ worst fears were realized.
“Television in the Age of Pandemic”: As audiences were stuck at home, COVID lockdowns generated a surge in demand for TV content. Traditional networks, cable outlets and streaming services all witnessed impressive audience growth at the height of the pandemic (even if they tapered off once restrictions loosened). With growth and opportunities comes new challenges. Moderator Patrice Petro leads a panel in exploring how television continues to mediate urgent debates over questions of community, racial justice and protest. In addition, panelists consider how the pressures of the present — viral pandemic, social unrest and political upheaval — reshape our understanding of news, politics, sports, celebrity culture and more.
“Death as Celebration: Cross-Cultural Perspectives”: Regardless of how, where, or when we are born, people of all cultures are united by the fact that everyone dies. How cultures deal with that fact varies; in some, death is the end of the life process, the final stop on a journey, while in others death is a transition to other forms of existence. These differing conceptions of death have a profound influence on lifestyles, expressions of grief, the nature of funerals, and much more. Rita Astuti looks at how cultures transform death from an ending to a beginning, and from cause for despair to occasion for celebration.
Arts in the Time of COVID
In this week’s edition of Arts in the Time of COVID, Pacific editor Nina Garin talks about the San Diego Symphony’s new season, Mark Bryce at the Oceanside Museum of Art and concerts this weekend by the Beach Boys and Ziggy Marley, both at Petco Park. Watch it here.