Koopman at Davies

Dave and I spent the whole day together on Saturday, a rare and sweet occurrence for us, given our incompatible work schedules. First was lunch with a few friends at the Bagdad Cafe. Then to the Old Mint to spend an hour or so at the San Francisco History Expo, then to the Concourse for the Antiquarian Book Fair. We didn’t end up buying anything — we saw a few things that would be wonderful to have, but they were all out of our budget. Some, of course, more out of our budget than others. I would have loved to come home with a first edition of an important book by Jean-François Champollion, the man who worked out the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics in the 1820s using the Rosetta Stone and a hero of mine since childhood, but at $22,000 that was obviously just not going to happen. On the other hand, I was very tempted for a while by a copy of Gordon Craig’s biography of Henry Irving, numbered and signed by Craig and with an autograph letter by Irving (or so it was claimed; the handwriting was just about illegible, though if you looked carefully you could just figure out how to make “Irving” out of the signature) thrown into the package; it was probably a pretty good deal at $400, actually, but times are hard and money’s tight and that was more than twice what I had figured I could reasonably afford to spend if I came across something I really, really wanted and was willing to eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch for two weeks in order to have it. So I put it back on the shelf, and we went home empty-handed.

Still, there’s a thrill at being able to see so many incredible old books. Going to the book fair is like visiting a museum of books. First editions of important scientific works by Newton and Pascal and Gödel, manuscript scores by Schumann and Stravinsky, signed copies of books by J. R. R. Tolkien and Willa Cather and John Steinbeck, autograph letters by Hart Crane and J. D. Salinger and Abraham Lincoln and Richard Wagner and on and on.

In the evening we went to a surprisingly tepid concert at Davies, Ton Koopman conducting. On the program were J. S. Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite, Haydn’s Second Cello Concerto, a C. P. E. Bach symphony in G, and Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. Other than the C. P. E. Bach, there wasn’t much fire in any of it; Koopman’s tempi and dynamics were very restrained and moderate throughout, without much variety. Everything was beautifully played, even sumptuously so, but without ever creating much feeling of structure or forward movement.

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