MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Caroline Shaw with Byron Schenkman & Friends

Byron Schenkman has long been a vital force in Seattle’s musical life. Here’s my Seattle Times story about the legacy of Byron Schenkman & Friends, which he founded ten years ago, and their latest project, a newly commissioned harpsichord concerto by Caroline Shaw. The world premiere takes place on tonight’s concert at 7pm:

You need to engage with the present if you really want to appreciate the musical past.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise underlying the latest program that the Seattle-based chamber music series Byron Schenkman & Friends will present on Sunday, March 26 at Benaroya Hall. Instead of merely repeating baroque masterpieces by J.S. Bach, the concert includes a contemporary counterpart tailor-made for Schenkman and his colleagues by the acclaimed American composer Caroline Shaw.


Filed under: Bach, Byron Schenkman, Caroline Shaw, early music

The Glimmer with Seattle Pro Musica

This weekend Seattle Pro Musica presents The Glimmer, the fifth and last in its New American Composer Series. Led by Karen P. Thomas, the program featres a newly commissioned work by the composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, Tate is dedicated to the development of American Indian classical composition and has chosen The Glimmer by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation to set to music.

Tate explains: Most of my commissioned works focus on tribal culture directly from the land of the commissioner. It is my way of helping the performers and public become closer to their tribal neighbors. The Glimmer deeply echoes the ethos of Lummi and local Salish culture. Out of respect, there is not a direct quote of specific melodies; however, it is greatly influenced by the regional paddle songs. This poem also speaks a language evocative of the sea and it is my hope that the listener and performers resonate with the gestures in this work.”

This is the final installment of a five-concert series celebrating Seattle Pro Musica’s 50th Anniversary by featuring commissions and Seattle residencies by five BIPOC composers from across the country.

The rest of the program includes several other works by Tate as well as Father Thunder (Pērkontēvs) by Laura Jēkabsone, music by Lili Boulanger and Barlow Bradford, and an arrangement o the traditional Scottish song “The Parting Glass.”

 The concert takes place at Seattle First Baptist Church on March 25 at 7:30 pm. 

Tickets for THE GLIMMER are available at The performance will also be available by livestream in real time, and on demand following the performance. Register before the concert begins here.

Filed under: choral music, commissions, Native American composers, Seattle Pro Musica

Kate Soper’s Ipsa Dixit with Seattle Modern Orchestra

Following the triumph of her opera The Romance of the Rose, which received its world premiere at Long Beach Opera in February, Seattle Modern Orchestra presents Kate Soper’s evening-long chamber music theater work Ipsa Dixit (“She, herself, said it…”) at Cornish College of the Arts’ Raisbeck Auditorium this weekend: Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25, both at 8PM.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Soper explores the intersections of language and music and has been described by Alex Ross as “a 21-century masterpiece … a ninety-minute tour de force …call it philosophy-opera.” Zachary Wolfe praised The Romance of the Rose‘s “ability to stick in the mind and soul.”

SMO’s performances will feature local soprano Maria Männistö alongside musicians Sarah Pyle (flute), Eric Rynes (violin), and Bonnie Whiting (percussion). This dramatic showcase will be directed by C. Neil Parsons and includes immersive lighting design. 

Kate Soper is a composer, performer, and writer whose work explores the integration of drama and rhetoric into musical structure, the slippery continuums of expressivity, intelligibility and sense, and the wonderfully treacherous landscape of the human voice. She has been hailed by The Boston Globe as “a composer of trenchant, sometimes discomfiting, power” and by The New Yorker for her “limpid, exacting vocalism, impetuous theatricality, and mastery of modernist style.” A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Soper has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Koussevitzky Foundation, and has been commissioned by ensembles including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, and Yarn/Wire. She has received residencies and fellowships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Camargo Foundation, the Macdowell Colony, Tanglewood, and Royaumont, among others.

Praised by the New York Times for her “lithe voice and riveting presence,” Soper performs frequently as a new music soprano. She has been featured as a composer/vocalist on the New York City-based MATA festival and Miller Theatre Composer Portraits series, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series, and the LA Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella Series. As a non-fiction and creative writer, she has been published by McSweeney’s Quarterly, PAJ, the Massachusetts Review, Theory and Practice, and the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies.

Soper is a co-director and performer for Wet Ink, a New York-based new music ensemble dedicated to seeking out adventurous music across aesthetic boundaries. She is the Iva Dee Hiatt Professor of Music at Smith College.

Founded in 2010, Seattle Modern Orchestra (SMO) is the only large ensemble in the Pacific Northwest solely dedicated to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Led by co-artistic directors Julia Tai and Jérémy Jolley, SMO commissions and premieres new works from an international lineup of composers, in addition to presenting important pieces from the contemporary repertoire that are rarely if ever heard by Seattle audiences. The ensemble “operates at that exciting cusp between old and new, between tradition and innovation” (Vanguard Seattle) curating new sounds and experiences for concert goers in the region.

SMO provides audiences with performances of the best in contemporary chamber and orchestral music, and develops radio talks, lectures, and other forms of outreach in an accessible and inviting format all designed to expand the listener’s appreciation and awareness of the music of today.

Filed under: Kate Soper, new opera, Seattle Modern Orchestra

William Kentridge at Berkeley

A centerpiece of the current Cal Performances season has been a campus-wide residency with the artist William Kentridge, which culminates on 17 March the U.S. premiere of SIBYL. Here’s my essay on the making of this unclassifiable new work and its place in Kentridge’s oeuvre:

William Kentridge’s SIBYL: The Reassurance of Uncertainty

“There will be no epiphany.” “Wait again for better gods.” “You will be dreamt by a jackal.” “Heaven is talking in a foreign tongue.”

The oracular messages that course through SIBYL, the most recent performance work by the towering South African artist William Kentridge, tease with tantalizing ambiguity. They seem to wryly provoke an irresistible urge to twist whatever information is at hand into interpretations best suited to our desires….


Filed under: Cal Performances, essay, William Kentridge

Seattle Symphony Announces 2023-24 Season

UPDATE: See Michael Schell’s insightful comments on the new season announcement here.

The Seattle Symphony’s (SSO) 2023-24 season announcement was released today. The orchestra will celebrate two anniversaries: 120 years since its founding and 25 years since the opening of Benaroya Hall, which became home base in 1998. Main areas of focus: broader programming across all SSO series to connect with new audiences, an increase in the presence of living composers, a greater concentration of works new to SSO’s repertoire, and the launch of a new curated series (“Playlist”).

Opening night will replicate part of the SSO’s first-ever concert from December 29, 1903 (Schubert’s “Unfinished” and Massenet’s Overture to Phèdre) and the first concert the musicians played at Benaroya Hall on September 12, 1998 (selections from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung — which featured Jessye Norman back then); Arthur Honegger’s Pastorale d’Été will also be introduced to the SSO’s repertoire; Ludovic Morlot conducts.

SSO’s distinguished emeritus will return for another program in June (versus three separate programs led by Morlot in the current season). Aside from appearances by Sunny Xia, SSO’s Douglas F. King Assistant Conductor, the rest of the season will be led by a wide range of visiting conductors — many of whom have already guested here. Alpesh Chauhan and David Robertson led especially impressive performances earlier this season, so it’s nice to see that they will return. Making their debuts on the podium are Kevin John Edusei, Christian Reif, Bernard Labadie, Sarah Hicks, and Andy Einhorn. I’m also looking forward to hearing the much-touted Dalia Stasevska (I wasn’t able to make her SSO debut a year ago). She will be joined by her composer/electric bassist husband, Lauri Porra, in a program of the Sibelius Fifth complemented by Porra’s concerto for electric bass, Entropia, andNautilus by Anna Meredith. Note that this is not a continuation of the halfway-completed Sibelius cycle paired with new commissions that Thomas Dausgaard had launched before the pandemic. That endeavor has been discontinued.

The SSO has been keeping quiet about the ongoing search for a music director. The Press Office states that “the search is well underway and many performances from seasons past, current, and future are all carefully being considered by the Search Committee.”

I also asked about this press release statement: “The 2023/2024 season brings a continuation of creative partnerships that welcome not only the next generation of composers and performers, but new members of our community as well.” The response was that this refers to less traditional programs like the Metropolis evening and the weeklong residency in January of film composer, conductor, and pianist Joe Hisaishi, as well as popular programming with artists like Audra Macdonald. It also refers to programs and series featuring newer voices among the young generation of classical musicians and SSO’s educational programming.

On the new music front: the press release calls out the following among the “more than 35 living composers” who are part of the programming: “Salina Fisher, Nina C. Young, Aaron Jay Kernis, Reena Esmail, Lauri Porra, David Robertson, Steven Mackey, Linda Catlin Smith, Gretchen Yanover, Donghoon Shin, Dorothy Chang, Han Lash, Sarah Gibson, Alexandra Gardner, Angélica Negrón, Fazil Say, Jake Heggie, Jennifer Higdon, Edgar Meyer, Jessie Montgomery, Kevin Puts and more.” The last five named are co-collaborators for the Elements Concerto featuring Joshua Bell, which Marin Alsop will conduct on the closing program of the season. It should also be noted that several of these are part of the Octave 9 season performed in the SSO’s adjacent experimental space. The SSO began expanding this sold-out series during the current season.

A focus on “firsts” is also on the agenda. Remarkably, Bach’s St. John Passion will receive its first-ever SSO performance. Other firsts for the orchestra: Julia Perry’s Short Piece for Orchestra, John Adams’s Harmonium, Salina Fisher’s Rainphase, Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto, Dorothy Chang’s Northern Star, Donghoon Shin’s Of Rats and Men, Fagerlund’s Stonework, Aaron Jay Kernis’s Elegy (For Those We Lost),  the previously mentioned Elements Concerto and Meredith and Porra pieces. A program that looks especially intriguing will be the SSO’s first-ever performance of Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 7 (Antarctic) led by Gemma New and featuring soprano Jennifer Bromagen. This event promises “an immersive multimedia experience of the doomed Terra Nova Expedition” — Robert Falcon Scott’s journey to the Antarctic in 1910-13 — with original visuals from 1912.

Among debuting soloists, I’m delighted to see that the pianist Mahani Teave will be making her SSO debut in Mozart’s K. 466 piano concerto in October. A native of Easter Island and has an amazing story I wrote about for the New York Times here. Teave will also inaugurate the new no-intermission Playlist Series, which will be curated by Conrad Tao and Noah Geller.

As far as new commissions, however, I see only one by SSO on the program (versus five commissions this season, four of them orchestral): a not-yet-titled work for solo cello an video design by Gretchen Yanover, which will be premiered on the Octave 9 series. Reena Esmail’s wonderful Concerto for Hindustani Violin, co-created with soloist Kala Ramnath, will make a welcome return after its premiere here last year.

Complete chronological listing of the 2023-24 season:

–Thomas May

Filed under: music news, Seattle Symphony

Tod Machover’s Overstory Overture

The composer Tod Machover and ths soprano Joyce DiDonato. Machover’s chamber opera, “Overstory Overture,” stars DiDonato and is an adaptation of Richard Powers’s novel.Credit…Alex Hodor-Lee for The New York Times

Here’s my latest New York Times story on the latest adventure of tech-forward composer Tod Machover, which receives its world premiere Tuesday evening at Alice Tully Hall and features Joyce DiDonato and the Sejong Soloists under Earl Lee:

Musical themes abound in the work of the novelist Richard Powers, often intertwined with science and social issues. The parallel decoding of Bach and DNA (“The Gold Bug Variations”), the saga of an interracial family of classical performers unfolding against the events of the Civil Rights era (“The Time of Our Singing”): A signature of Powers’s novels is the virtuosity with which he weaves these strands into narratives that seem both surprising and inevitable….


Filed under: new opera, New York Times, Tod Machover

Seattle Symphony Delivers Playful Ligeti, High-tensile Bartók, and Reconsidered Rachmaninoff

David Robertson conducts the Seattle Symphony; photo (c)Brandon Patoc

David Robertson guest conducted the Seattle Symphony last week in a program of Ligeti, Bartók, and Rachmaninoff. My review:

Since it lacks a music director, the Seattle Symphony is presenting a smorgasbord of guest conductors throughout the season. These have been mostly younger artists still early in their careers, but David Robertson’s engagement marked the return of a seasoned conductor already well-liked by the players and in full command of a formidable talent….


Filed under: Bartók, Ligeti, Rachmaninoff, review, Seattle Symphony

A Thousand Splendid Suns Dawns at Seattle Opera

Cast members in A Thousand Splendid Suns at Seattle Opera. Photo credit: Sunny Martini

The moving operatic transformation of Khaled Hosseini’s 2007 novel A Thousand Splendid Suns by composer Sheila Silver and librettist Stephen Kitvakos had its world premiere over the weekend at Seattle Opera in a powerful production directed by Roya Sadat. I reviewed the opening night performance for Musical America:

Soon after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, Sheila Silver sensed that the story’s combination of tragedy and endurance has an archetypal, larger-than-life quality — exactly what opera excels at expressing. It’s a terrible irony that the work’s lengthy genesis has actually made this story of the oppression of women even timelier than when Silver first considered the idea over a decade ago….[see below]

Filed under: Musical America, new opera, review, Seattle Opera

Samuel Adams: No Such Spring

Music from Samuel Adams’s Movements (for us and them) for the Australian Chamber Orchestra

The profound impact that the pandemic has had on contemporary composition will undoubtedly continue to be felt for years. Samuel Adams points to an important shift in his own musical thinking exemplified by his new work No Such Spring, the world premiere of which Esa-Pekka Salonen is conducting in this week’s program with the San Francisco Symphony, with Conor Hanick as the piano soloist. Salonen will also conduct the symphony Anton Bruckner deemed his “boldest”: the Sixth. My program notes for No Such Spring can be found here.

Filed under: Anton Bruckner, commissions, Esa-Pekka Salonen, new music, Samuel Adams, San Francisco Symphony

Music and Justice: Dave Brubeck and Contemporary Responses

This weekend, 26-28 February, the Lowell Milken Center for American Jewish Experience at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music is presenting a series of performances and discussions to launch its new Music & Justice series. The events include a revival of Dave Brubeck’s visionary cantata from 1969, The Gates of Justice, performed in dialogue with contemporary compositions around social justice themes. There will also be a day-long public conference featuring prominent scholars and experts.

I wrote a feature on this project for Chorus America, which includes input from two of the three Brubeck sons, Darius and Chris, who will join to play the jazz trio in The Gates of Justice.

feature story

Filed under: choral music, music news, social justice

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