Sound Advice

Classical glaciers, tarnished saints, hellish holidays, and Arab artists.

In 1926, while still a child, American composer and spatial-music pioneer Henry Brant traveled across the Atlantic to have an old violin authenticated as a Stradivarius. The visit was a success: The violin was justified, and so was the boy, when the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysäye spoke of his “strong harmonic sense.” While that praise likely shaped the rest of Brant's life, the trip itself formed an even more indelible impression. While en route to Europe, Brant's little steamer passed through an ice field with bergs towering 10 stories high. Brant still remembers the feeling of being chilled to the bone as the boat crawled through the frozen maze, unsure of where the ice lay beneath the water.

In Brant's newly commissioned work, Ice Field, the 88-year-old composer does not attempt to conjure the eerie sound of glaciers. Instead, he envelops his listeners in sound, making them anxious, amused, and unsure from where the next tone will emerge. While the San Francisco Symphony string section will sit in its usual position onstage during the piece, the rest of the orchestra will be scattered about the hall. The oboes and the bassoons will be in the choir loft; the brass section will play in the first balcony, led by their own independent conductor; in the top balcony, piccolos and clarinets will contribute “outbursts” from one end, while a glockenspiel and xylophone will wrangle at the other (both conductorless); three bass drums, three large gongs, and two steel drums will offer “dinosaur punctuation” from the audience; and Brant himself will improvise on pipe organ in the back of the choir loft. As complement to Brant's ice-bound humor, Michael Tilson Thomas will also conduct the symphony for Edgard Varese's Deserts, Astor Piazzolla's Tangazo, and Villa-Lobos' Tear the Heart at Davies Symphony Hall (201 Van Ness at Grove) Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 12-15, at 8 p.m. (except Thursday matinee at 2 p.m.). Tickets are $29-57; call 864-6000.

It's no surprise that Frank Sinatra is the focus of a weekly “church” service — albeit a service held in a local taproom where Jack Daniel's serves as holy water and “My Way” is the 10 o'clock psalm. While the Church of Frank Sinatra agrees that Sinatra was no saint — he had ties to the Mob and he liked to intimidate his young wives, the younger the better — it would argue that he was one of the most important musical entities in history. From his first hit record with Tommy Dorsey in 1940, Sinatra remained true to his vision of the American popular song, standing stalwart against time and the bellicose trends that increasingly opposed his preference for the great theater composers of the '20s, '30s, and '40s. In the end, he made us believers. During the final year of his career Sinatra won the last of his numerous Grammys and recorded his largest-selling album. He remains, even in death, the Chairman of the Board. To celebrate his birth, Mr. Lucky and the Cocktail Party (featuring Ralph Carney and J. Raoul Brody) will perform classics like “Night and Day,” “White Christmas,” “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week),” “That Old Black Magic,” and “(Love Is) the Tender Trap.” The Cocktail Party will be joined by the Fancy Sinatras (a Nancy tribute troupe) and Jay Johnson (owner of the sanctified watering hole, which will be adorned with framed photographs of His Holy Rat Pack-ness) on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Club Deluxe at 10 p.m. Ticket price is $5; call 552-6949.

Nothing says Christmas like biting the head off a bat and bending over for a few emergency rabies shots. For those in need of a hellish holiday, we have the Black Sabbath tribute band Bride of Ozzy presenting its most unholy nativity scene: “A Child Is Osbourne.” Come sit on the lap of Santa Satan and receive a sickly souvenir, lend your voice to the new holiday sing-along “War Pigs,” and join in the Christmas cancan with the Beyond Bitch dancers on Friday, Dec. 14, at Spanganga (3337 19th St. at Mission) at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 821-1102.

We can forgive master oud player Simon Shaheen for his recent arrangement of Sting's television rendition of “Desert Rose.” After all, how frequently does an Arab musician get invited to play the Grammys? But Shaheen's interpretation of the Police's “Tea in the Sahara” on his new release, Blue Flame, is just too much. Lending the virtuosity of his Qantara band to that song is like having the Novospassky Monastery Choir sing Kmart jingles: Sure, it can be done, but I don't want to pay for it. In fact, the whole of Blue Flame seems to suffer from Shaheen's desire to be accessible. Despite — or because of — all the talent Shaheen draws from international and jazz circles, the album sounds like a world-fusion Turkish salad, with strains of Latin, Arab, African, Asian, and American jazz music tossed together for the sake of it. Still, Shaheen has garnered 11 Grammy nominations from this dish, and Qantara's first Bay Area appearance is the cause of much excitement among international musicians and their admirers. For “Oasis of Understanding: Arab and World Musicians Unite,” Shaheen has chosen wonderful local support: the exemplary Kronos Quartet, electro-Arabic trio Shabaz, and Tunisian singer Amina, who is this year's Eurovision Song winner. Qantara appears on Friday, Dec. 14, at the Herbst Theater (401 Van Ness at Grove) with DJ Cheb i Sabbah opening at 8 p.m. Ticket price is $25-75; call 392-4400.

The great Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi once wrote, “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I'll meet you there.” Wholly transcending the concept of right and wrong is no simple matter, but hopefully the folks presenting “Rumination: A Contemporary Persian Art Festival” will not dumb down Rumi's philosophies for us common folk. Perhaps being immersed in an environment of Persian rugs, aromatic oils, massaging hands, and dulcet tones will enhance one's ability to fathom Rumi recitations. If not, one might transcend the corporeal plane by dancing as “every tree and plant in the meadow” while Professor Shehab, DJ Soulsalaam, Lumin, DJ Sep, and Alan Kushan of Axiom of Choice supply ecstatic music. Ali Dadgar will also create spontaneous paintings inspired by Rumi and the new moon. “Rumination” will be held on Friday, Dec. 14, at Cell Space (2050 Bryant at 18th Street) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 826-4778.

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