While our neighbors, housesitters, et al., languish in the rain and heat back home in north Texas, we are enjoying the gentle zephyrs of coastal breezes, California-fresh seafood, and the retro-rrific air of counterculture that still wafts about in the refined west coast air of Berkeley. More than that, we are reveling in the good company of my spouse’s musical compatriots: his Collegium Singers from the university, many longtime instrumentalist and singer and arts administrative friends from all over, and fellow enthusiasts attending the Berkeley Early Music Festival. The Collegium crew sang, appropriately, like angels in their concert this morning, performing the Victoria Requiem they’ve been refining with such jewel-like precision and sweetness that I wouldn’t be surprised if the dead had resurrected just to listen in, had it been a true funeral service. Instead it was exquisitely meditative and left me–and clearly, the rest of the audience–feeling newly alive.
It’s lovely enough to be back on the Left Coast and greeted with such stellar weather, to have my first glimpses of Berkeley’s laid back, live-and-let-live pleasures as a city, and to be in yet another university town where the average walk down a street takes me past representatives of countless countries and cultures, avidly breaking down the latest puzzle of physics or chattily discoursing on the political influences on the contemporary literature emerging from central Africa. It’s a delight to see (yes, and eat) classic dishes from France, Thailand, India, and almost any other culinary heaven imaginable, all within a quarter mile’s stroll of each other in the heart of town. And it’s unspeakably fine to smell the familiar resinous breath of the redwoods, firs, pines and cedars, to see olive trees and palms and Strelitzia reginae and succulents cheek-by-jowl with purple rhododendrons and lawns full of tiny English daisies. California. It’s been a while.
The musical immersion is as marvelous as always at festivals and conferences devoted to the art: the rehearsals, the post-concert critiques and deconstructions among friends and colleagues, and hearing fabulous pieces old and new is so invigorating. Heard in concert this afternoon was a vocal-instrumental ensemble that included in its quintet a dear former student of my husband’s, as marvelous a person and musician as ever, and among the works the group performed that were new to me were a pair of certainly not new (ca. 13th century), stunning anonymous compositions from the Montpellier Codex that simply took my breath away. Everything old is new again. Not least of all my amazement at the beauty and variety of music out there in the depths of the melodic pool whose surface I’ve barely begun to skim.
The other charms of Berkeley are many, including some of the most outstanding examples of nineteenth century American architecture anywhere. We took a short side trip on our first day in town to stop in and see the superlative work of Julia Morgan, perhaps best known as the designer of Hearst Castle, that monument to extravagant American ego, but to my mind better represented by the Berkeley City Club, a more refined and slightly more restrained palace of culture originally meant to house and host the many women’s clubs of the city. Every inch of the place speaks of thoughtful attention to detail and the cultivation of gentility. Signs of Berkeley’s longtime perch on the front edge of tech development and IT culture are everywhere, too, from storefront displays of vintage technological hardware that seem remarkably antiquated and quaint for being relatively recent iterations of what we now consider so commonplace. The constancy of the city’s citizens in bucking any idea that feels imposed or compulsory is still seen in the posters plastering every flat surface to promote individual choice, dedication to intellectual pursuits and challenges to anything that smacks of dull pedantry or legalism.
There was much more marvelous music this evening and will be tomorrow. Today alone, there were concerts at 11 am, 2:30, 4 and 8 pm–with a Heinrich Schütz reading session led by my husband sandwiched in between. Oh, and lunch with another wonderful former student. I can certainly guarantee there will be plenty more enthusiastic eating, drinking, visiting, strolling and happy wool-gathering in the sun as we idle (or dash) along on the way to the next event. For now, a brief pictorial and a wish that everyone who loves music may have an opportunity to attend some such grand events in their own places and times.