Arts + Letters

West Edge Opera: No Suit, No Tie, No Problem

Music director Jonathan Khuner ’70, M.A. ’73, has been a shaping force for West Edge Opera company since the mid-1980s, when he began conducting for this vibrant troupe. In his choice of repertoire, his own tastes and uncompromising outlook helped define the company’s aesthetic, first in its original incarnation as Berkeley Opera and now as West Edge.

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

The Musical Mathematics of Rob Schneiderman

The best jazz musicians can bend and twist time, changing meter mid-phrase to fold a melody back on itself, or stretching a beat so that it seems to hang, pregnant, in mid-air. As a first-call pianist in New York City, Rob Schneiderman spent more than a decade expanding and compressing music’s temporal dimensions with jazz legends such as trumpeter Chet Baker, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and saxophonist James Moody, while also recording a series of critically hailed albums under his own name.

Five Questions for Richard Schwartz

1. You’re a building contractor who has written several historical works, including Berkeley 1900; Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley; Earthquake Exodus, 1906; and most recently The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M. B. Curtis. Do you think of yourself as a builder who writes, or as a writer with a day job?

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

Making Broadway History With the Play She Never Wanted to Write

Later this month, Young Jean Lee will make history as the first Asian-American woman to have a play staged on Broadway. Yet, what would presumably be a cause for celebration actually makes for a confusing time: the Korean-American playwright will be achieving this feat with her play, Straight White Men.

10 Questions for Cal Football’s Favorite Bookworm

Cal running back and rising senior Patrick Laird is known for more than just his walk-on career and impressive collection of awards. An avid reader since childhood, Laird isn’t afraid to flaunt his bibliophilia—on the football field and now, in the classroom. With the support of Cal Athletics, he’s using his platform as a standout football player to encourage younger students to pick up a book (or four, or six) this summer.

Houses in the Hills: Berkeley’s Early Bohemian Architecture

Whatever you may have heard, countercultural Berkeley did not materialize, Brigadoon-like, out of the marijuana haze of a Vietnam War protest. Long before there was a Berkeley Barb or a How Berkeley Can You Be? parade, there were Berkeley bohemians. And Charles Augustus Keeler, by the standards of proto-hippiedom, was Sgt. Pepper.

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Artist: Alicia McCarthy’s 2017 SECA Award

Artist Alicia McCarthy, who got her MFA in art at UC Berkeley in 2007, had a big year in 2017. A part of the Bay Area art scene for 20 years, McCarthy is best known for being a key figure of the acclaimed Mission School, a group of artists associated with the San Francisco Art Institute who did work in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1990s.

Former Times Reporter Gambles on ‘Golden’ Opportunity

For a journalist it seemed the ultimate dream gig: working for the Great Gray Lady herself, the New York Times—but operating from a lovely California beach town, not the dreary main newsroom in Manhattan. And indeed, Mike McPhate appreciated his position as producer of the Times’ newsletter, California Today. He had, after all, paid his dues.

Hidden Treasures: Take Home a Masterpiece from Doe Library

Compared to the opulent and tranquil UC Berkeley Morrison Library, the modest adjoining art storage room, at first glance, isn’t much to write home about.

But looks can be deceiving; what it lacks in appearance, it makes up with cultural richness. The Graphic Arts Loan Collection (GALC)—peeling white shelves, offset by dusty linoleum floors—houses more than 800 original pieces of art, diverse as the university itself.

James Rickman Leads Playboy In the #MeToo Era

A visitor walks between Roc Nation and United Talent Agencies until she reaches the heavy glass doors of a beige building in a Beverly Hills office park: once inside, she tells the lobby attendant she has an appointment with Playboy magazine. If the visitor has an A cup and a complexion that can be accurately described as “dapple-gray,” the attendant will still permit her to access the elevator, provided the visitor has an appointment. (Fortunately, I did.) The attendant will not laugh; this is a city of dreamers.

Michael Pollan and Me: When Lives, Books and Acid Trips Collide

Two journalists who’ve spent varying amounts of time teaching their craft at Cal give themselves an assignment that, in the end, blows away that well-worn rubric of “who, what, where, when, why.”

They are Michael Pollan, famous for his smart writing about food, and Don Lattin, a.k.a. me, known for my reverently irreverent writing about religion. Pollan and I found a subject that falls within each of our “beats,” a magic mushroom that offers the omnivore a tantalizing glimpse of God.  

The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook Celebrates the Unusual and Unknown

When I go to Berkeley Bowl with Laura McLively, I immediately feel like a tourist, too delighted to keep my cool among the rows of citrus and loose leafy greens. Used to produce sold in hard plastic clamshells at my Los Angeles Trader Joe’s, I marvel at the wall of eggplants, not just purple but white, green, and some—like the tiny, speckled Indian graffiti eggplant—all three colors at once.

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