MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Heinz Holliger at 80

“My entire relationship with music is such that I always try to reach its limits.”

The extraordinary Swiss oboist, composer, conductor, teacher, and all-around musical personality Heinz Holliger turns 80 today — his creativity undimmed.

Later in the week, ECM is releasing Zwiegespräche, an intriguing gathering of “dialogues”: works for oboe by Holliger and György Kurtág, who share a strikingly similar aesthetic. Both studied under Sándor Veress and, notes Roman Brotbeck in his liner notes, “both use the entire history of music as a frame of reference, both love miniatures, both speicalize in homage to friends and colleagues and cultivate a living ‘Davidsbund’ with living and departed soulmates.”

Holliger plays oboe, English horn, and piano on the album and is joined by fellow oboist Marie-Lise Schüpbach, bass clarinetist Ernesto Molinari, soprano Sarah Wegener, and Philippe Jaccottet reciting seven of his poems for another remarkable dialogue here: Holliger responds to the poems with various formal strategies in Lecture pour hautbois et cors anglais (2015-16).

Last year at Zurich Opera I was mesmerized by Holliger’s latest stage work, Lunea. In this opera to a libretto by Klaus Händl, Holliger returns to one of the figures who has haunted him throughout his creative life: the Romantic poet and polymath Nikolaus Lenau, who was institutionalized in his final years. Holliger’s exquisitely refined musical sensibility and aesthetic of fragmentation, indirection, and dislocation work to tremendously powerful effect here in depicting the search for love and longing for eternity.

Holliger has been a formative presence for decades at the Lucerne Festival. Here’s an insightful interview (in German) with Christian Wildhagen.

And here a radio interview with Dorothea Bossert for SWR.

Filed under: anniversary, Heinz Holliger, new music

The Parting: New Opera by Tom Cipullo and David Mason at MOR

Radnóti-Miklós-1930

Miklós Radnóti

Here’s a Seattle Times preview of the upcoming world premiere of the new opera The Parting by Tom Cipullo and David Mason this Sunday.

The Parting is set during the final evening the poet Miklós Radnóti spends with his wife Fanni Gyarmati before he is sent into forced labor during the Holocaust. It’s the second commission from this team by Music of Rembrance, following their remarkable opera After Life four years ago.

When Mina Miller founded Seattle-based Music of Remembrance in 1998, she could hardly have foreseen that its mission would become even more distressingly relevant over two decades later…

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Filed under: commissions, Holocaust, Music of Remembrance, new music, new opera

Stumpsculpting

IMG_2487

Filed under: photography

Tod Machover on City Symphonies

Filed under: new music, Tod Machover

Martinů: Harpsichord Concerto

Thank you, Mahan Esfahani, for a lovely concert with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Bohuslav Martinů’s Harpsichord Concerto was the scintillating highlight. The clip above features Esfahani’s beloved mentor, Zuzana Růžičková, who championed this work.

The Martinů was especially welcome since I had been looking forward to his Concerto for Two Pianos last week with the NY Phil, only to have it replaced by a decidedly less satisfying Max Bruch rarity.

Another treat was Brett Dean’s chamber version of Till Eulenspiegel, a witty and fluent arrangement of Strauss’s orchestral tone poem for nonet.

Filed under: harpsichord, Mahan Esfahani, Martinů

Bruch Plus Strauss: Curious Pairing, Inspired Playing in Semyon Bychkov’s Latest NYPO Engagement

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Semyon Bychkov © Umberto Nicoletti

For his recent pair of programs guest conducting the New York Philharmonic over the past two weeks, Semyon Bychkov has made a point of combining familiar repertoire with new discoveries. At the end of April, it was a Brahms symphony with the American premiere of Thomas Larcher’s Symphony no. 2 (Kenotaph), a response to the tragedy of refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean. The Russian returned to the podium for a second program that placed Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben side-by-side with a piece that might as well have been a premiere: the last time the NY Phil performed the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (Op.88a) by Max Bruch was in 1917.

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Filed under: Max Bruch, New York Philharmonic, review, Strauss

Jupiter Quartet’s Alchemy

At the end of this week, the Jupiter String Quartet (now in its 16th year together) releases Alchemy (Marquis Classics), an album of four works commissioned by Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. Three of these receive their world premiere recordings here: Pierre Jalbert’s Piano Quintet (2017); Steven Stucky’s Piano Quartet (2005); and Carl Vine’s Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013). Also included is Jalbert’s Secret Alchemy for violin, viola, cello, and piano (2012).

All of the premieres occurred at the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. Australian pianist Bernadette Harvey joins the Jupiters (violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough). Harvey also performed in the world premieres of Secret Alchemy and Vine’s Piano Quintet.

From the press release:

Pierre Jalbert’s Piano Quintet consists of four separate, contrasting movements: ‘Mannheim Rocket,’ a modern take on the 18th-century musical technique in which a rising figure speeds up and grows louder; ‘Kyrie,’ a chromatically transformed chant-like motive; a scherzo in which the strings and piano sometimes alternate and imitate each other, reacting to each other’s gestures, and at other times combine and synchronize to produce a more blended sound; and ‘Pulse,’ made up of perpetually moving 8th notes, but always pushing forward.

As one who loved nothing more than to play the piano quartets of Mozart, Brahms, Fauré, during his youth as a violist, Steven Stucky was inspired by these works his entire career, and later by 20th-century piano quartets of Copland, Palmer, Hartke, and Weir. Stucky noted that, “Attempting my own first work in this medium at the comparatively late age of 55, has stirred conflicting emotions—intimidation at the idea of ‘competing’ against the masters, but also a feeling of coming home to familiar, much loved surroundings.”

Stucky’s Piano Quartet is in one continuous movement, but flows in and out of many distinct sections: A short allegro (Risoluto) presents the theme and introduces bell-like sonorities that will recur throughout the piece. In the next, slow section (Lento, molto cantabile), the piano continues to imitate bells. A fast interlude (Allegro) reverses the roles—strings take on the bell sounds and leads quickly to a scherzo (Scherzando e molto leggero) conjuring the composer’s memories of pop music. The trio (Comodo, non affrettato) makes way to a second slow movement, with the piano now cast as soloist, and a brisk coda recalling the clangorous bell sounds of the opening.
Carl Vine (b.1954): Fantasia for Piano Quintet

Carl Vine writes about his Fantasia: “I call this single-movement piano quintet Fantasia because it doesn’t follow a strict formal structure and contains little structural repetition or recapitulation. The central section is generally slower than the rest and is followed by a presto finale, but otherwise related motifs tend to flow one from the other organically through the course of the work. It is ‘pure’ music that uses no external imagery, allusion, narrative, or poetry.”

Pierre Jalbert’s Secret Alchemy for for violin, viola, cello, and piano:
“With any new composition, there is a sense of discovery and mystery during the creative process,” says Jalbert, and of the title, explains, “Though this piece is not programmatic, imagining the air of secrecy and mysticism surrounding a medieval alchemist at work provided a starting point for the piece.”

Composed in four separate and contrasting movements, Jalbert notes, “The first movement begins with this sense of mystery. String harmonics are used to create the rhythmic backdrop for melodic lines played by the cello and later, the viola. The second movement is a relentless scherzo characterized by pizzicato strings, turbulent piano writing, and quickly alternating rhythmic patterns. The third movement is influenced by medieval music with its use of open 5ths, chant-like lines played non-vibrato by the strings, and reverberant piano harmonies, simulating the sound and reverberation in a large cathedral. The fourth movement concludes the work with an energetic music characterized by strings playing fast measured tremolo figures (rapid movement of the bow back and forth on the string). These alternate with the piano’s massive chords and occasional rapid melodic figures, along with muted tones emanating from inside the piano.”

Track listing:
[1-4] Pierre Jalbert: Piano Quintet (2017) 18:08

I. Mannheim Rocket 3:03

II. Kyrie 6:57

III. Scherzo 3:33

IV. Pulse 4:35

[5] Steven Stucky: Piano Quartet (2005) 17:26

[6] Carl Vine: Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013) 15:46

[7-10] Pierre Jalbert: Secret Alchemy for violin, viola, cello, and piano
(2012) 16:46

I. Mystical 4:00

II. Agitated, relentless 3:15

III. Timeless, mysterious, reverberant 5:28

IV. With great energy 4:03

Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967): Piano Quintet
(premiered by Jupiter Quartet and Bernadette Harvey on March 19, 2017)

Filed under: chamber music, recommended listening

Dialogues des Carmélites at the Met

Tonight brings the revival of the Metropolitan Opera’s classic John Dexter production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts a cast including Isabel Leonard as Blanche and Karita Mattila as the Prioress.

The production will be shown in theaters live in HD on May 12 as well. You can read my program notes here (pp. 40-47).

Filed under: Francis Poulenc, Metropolitan Opera

Not So Merrie Olde England: Tears of Dowland

Here’s a program essay I wrote for Boulez Saal in Berlin for this fantastic program of John Dowland, William Lawes, and John Jenkins by Laurence Dreyfus’s Ensemble Phantasm, with lutenist and theorbo player Elisabeth Kenny. Dreyfus has called Dowland’s seminal Lachrimae, or Seven Tears “one of the most sensuously tuneful hours of music ever written.”

Filed under: early music, John Dowland

Ovid for Oboe

What a wonderful piece this is by Benjamin Britten:

Filed under: Britten

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