MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Festival of New Music from Boulez Saal in Berlin

Starting today, Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin is presenting a four-day Festival of New Music, which will juxtapose online premieres with works by the hall’s namesake.

Curated by Daniel Barenboim and Emmanuel Pahud, the programs — presented in the the Frank Gehry-designed space — are being streamed on the Boulez-Saal Facebook page as well as on its YouTube channel. These programs will then remain available, free on-demand, for 30 days.

Filed under: Daniel Barenboim, new music, Pierre Boulez, Pierre Boulez Saal

Plagues and Passions: Lamentation Back before Bach at the Ravenna Festival

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My first official review in quite some time — albeit of a live stream:

Quite by accident, early music groups and chamber ensembles have turned out to have a natural advantage during the current pandemic. Their compact size can more easily accommodate distancing requirements as presenters gingerly proceed to reintroduce public performances. Even more, Il Suonar Parlante pointedly homed in on the theme of plague itself for their choice of programme at the Ravenna Festival…

continue

Filed under: early music, music festivals, Ravenna Festival, review

A Virtual Festival of Chamber Music


[clip from the earlier incarnation of the James Ehnes Quartet, which launches Seattle’s Virtual Summer Festival this week]

The Seattle Chamber Music Society launches its Virtual Summer Festival this evening. This isn’t just a visit to the archives but a 12-concert series of all brand-new live performances that will be taped before being released to the public as streams.

The concerts will be made available on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule at 7pm PST. These will be “on-demand”: in other words, you won’t have to view them at the specific streaming time but can access all concerts for which you have purchased a pass through 10 August 2020 — as many times as you like.

This is an experiment and a risk. How many will pay for internet performances, as opposed to free streams? Each concert costs $15, or you can purchase a pass to all 12 programs for $125. For the first time, SCMS’s Chamber Festival is thus available to anyone anywhere with internet access, and performances cannot be “sold out.”

I wrote about the planning that went into this approach for the Seattle Times.

Artistic Director James Ehnes and his quartet will perform part two of their complete Beethoven quartet cycle in the three concerts on offer this week. This continues and concludes the journey they began in January — under normal circumstances — at the shorter Winter Festival.

Meanwhile, Ehnes put his quarantine time to use at his home in Florida by recording the solo partitas and sonatas of J.S. Bach and the corresponding Ysaÿe sonatas. He will be releasing these in a series, starting here.

Filed under: Beethoven, chamber music, COVID-19 Era, festivals, James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Stockhausen’s Licht

Here’s a chance to get an experience of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s vast cycle of seven operas, LICHT: Die sieben Tage der Woche (“LIGHT: The Seven Days of the Week”). On Sunday, Birmingham Opera is streaming MITTWOCH here, the program book for which is available online.

You can also see a stream of SAMSTAG performed at the Paris Philharmonie.

And in June 2019, Dutch National Opera presented a version of LICHT spread over three days and condensing the original 29 hours into 15. See a 90-minute overview of this epic undertaking.

Certain music awakens that higher being within us who we constantly want to become. We really always want to become a better person than we are at the moment, otherwise our whole life would have no meaning. — Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1975

Filed under: Karlheinz Stockhausen

When the Federal Government Was Serious about Arts Funding

The Great Depression has been repeatedly invoked of late as we try to gauge the enormous impact of the current pandemic and the related economic crisis. But in the 1930s, Americans had a government in place that recognized the importance of the arts through the Works Progress Administration. These programs employed massive numbers of artists, writers, musicians, actors, dancers, and photographers.

On 5 July, together with Naxos and The American Interest, PostClassical Ensemble (PCE) presents the next installment in its More than Music series: Behrouz Jamali’s documentary on The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936), which focuses on the Dust Bowl, and The River (1938), a modern ode to the role played by the Mississippi River. With scores by Virgil Thomson, both were the first-ever films created by the federal government for commercial release (i.e., not merely informational or educational films). Both champion a distinctly anti-Hollywood aesthetic.

There will be a follow-up Zoom chat on 9 July at 3pm EST. A panel will explore government funding for the arts during the pandemic: conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez, PCE Executive Producer Joseph Horowitz, historian David Woolner, and film historians Neil Lerner and George Stoney. Also on the agenda is a discussion of how Roosevelt’s New Deal addressed issues of race in the era of Jim Crow. To register, click here.

See also Joseph Horowitz’s blog post “The New Deal, the Arts, and Race — and Today”.

Filed under: American music, history, PostClassical Ensemble, social justice

Life Is Live

One sign of hope at least in the music world with regard to live performance: Lucerne Festival, after having to cancel its meticulously planned Summer Festival, has announced a short festival of 10 days that will take its place. Unlike the United States, Switzerland has a functioning government that has actually taken the coronavirus pandemic seriously and is thus in a position to start carefully relaxing restrictions on audience gatherings.

Titled Life Is Live, the short festival includes Martha Argerich and Herbert Blomstedt with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in the opening concerts, as well as a pair of recitals by Igor Levit, who continues his complete Beethoven sonata cycle.

Filed under: COVID-19 Era, Lucerne Festival, music festivals, music news

Happy Birthday to George Walker

In honor of George Walker’s birthday — he would have turned 98 on Saturday — here’s my profile for the New York Times published last year, ahead of the posthumous premiere of his Sinfonia No. 5.

Deeply entrenched racism drove Walker away from his career as a concert pianist to the solitary existence of a composer. This extraordinary musical personality was shamefully neglected throughout his long life yet continued producing intricate, masterfully wrought scores. Here’s hoping that Walker’s upcoming centennial will be the catalyst needed for a wholesale engagement with his rich oeuvre.

“A Composer’s Final Work Contains ‘Visions’ of an American Master”

Filed under: American music, George Walker, new music

Damien Geter’s African American Requiem

Learn more about composer (and bass-baritone and actor) Damien Geter‘s remarkable new work, An African American Requiem, in my cover story for the current issue of Chorus America’s The Voice, which explores this and other examples of “secular requiems” by contemporary composers (starts on p. 26).

The world premiere by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, which commissioned the work, was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Resonance now plans to give the premiere on 22 January 2021.

Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, choral music, new music

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival Goes Forward

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James Ehnes, Seattle Chamber Music Society artistic director, in the recording studio he set up while sequestered at his home near Tampa, Florida, where he just completed recording Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas. (Courtesy of Kate Ehnes)

Here’s my story about Seattle Chamber Music Society’s plan to go forward with its beloved, month-long Summer Festival with an online version.

Along with its terrible human toll, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the performing arts. Cancellation announcements are now so routine that the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s (SCMS) decision to proceed with a 2020 Summer Festival comes as a welcome respite…

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Meanwhile, here’s something from James Ehnes’s makeshift home studio. I’ll write more about his latest project there in an upcoming post.

Filed under: chamber music, James Ehnes, music news, Seattle Chamber Music Society

Philip Glass’s Akhnaten at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera’s nightly streams include some really special offerings this coming weekend, both of which are being made available to the public for the first time on the Met’s streaming platform — these are not available in the Met on Demand Video and Audio Catalogue. These are Satyagraha and Akhnaten, two of the operas from Philip Glass’s “Portrait Trilogy.” Both are in the productions brilliantly directed by Phelim McDermott. Karen Kamensek conducts the performance of Akhnaten given last fall on 23 November 2019.

Here’s my program essay for Akhnaten to help prepare for the stream on Saturday 20 June 2020:

On January 6, 1907, the entrance to a rock-cut tomb was uncovered in
the Valley of the Kings outside modern-day Luxor, Egypt. The mummy
safeguarded within may have been the preserved body of the pharaoh
Akhnaten (today more commonly known as Akhenaten). Rigorous DNA testing
conducted in 2010 was reported to have confirmed that identification, though
the matter remains hotly contested—like just about everything else associated
with this most controversial of ancient Egypt’s vast lineage of rulers.

continue (starts on p. 10)

Click to access 112319-akhnaten.pdf

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Phelim McDermott, Philip Glass

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