MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Lucerne’s 2019 Summer Festival Opening: Livestreamed

You don’t have to be in Lucerne to listen to the Opening Concert of the 2019 Summer Festival tomorrow (16 August). The program will be live-streamed KKL Concert Hall by arte here at 18:50 Swiss time. SRF 1 will also broadcast the concert with a time delay (22.25 Swiss time) and on arte concert (18.50 Swiss time).

Riccardo Chailly will lead the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in an all-Rachmaninoff program: the Third Piano Concerto (with Denis Matsuev as the soloist); Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 (orchestral version); and the Third Symphony.

 

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Rachmaninoff

An Enescu Discovery

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My latest piece for STRINGS magazine is on the very belated US premiere of an early string trio by George Enescu:

Fellow musicians — especially string players — have resorted to some striking superlatives to characterize George Enescu (1881–1955). Pablo Casals, a frequent chamber partner, once remarked that since Mozart, there had been no greater musical phenomenon, while Enescu’s student Yehudi Menuhin believed the Op. 25 Third Sonata (“dans le caractère populaire roumain”) represented “the greatest achievement of musical notation” he had ever known…

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Filed under: chamber music, George Enescu, Seattle Chamber Music Society, Strings

Timelessly Timely: A Dark and Damning Rigoletto at Seattle Opera

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Madison Leonard (Gilda) and Lester Lynch (Rigoletto); (c) Sunny Martini

Seattle Opera has just launched its new season under incoming General Director Christina Scheppelmann with a new Rigoletto production. Here’s my review:

Recounting one of the bleakest, cruelest narratives in the core repertoire, Rigoletto depicts a noirish world of sexual predation, misogyny, despotism, revenge, murder, and… horrifically bad luck. Should all this be approached as timeless tragedy, timely social commentary – or merely as a guilty pleasure akin to consuming a thriller?

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Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Verdi

John Luther Adams and JACK Break New Ground at Tippet Rise

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John Luther Adams (center) with the JACk Quartet: John Pickford Richards, Austin Wulliman, Christopher Otto, and Jay Campbell (left to right)
Credit: Zackary Patten 

Last weekend, at Tippet Rise Art Center, I got to experience the brilliant JACK Quartet give the world premiere of Lines Made by Walking, the latest string quartet (No. 5) by John Luther Adams (plus a foretaste of his next quartet, whose premiere is already on the horizon in spring 2020).

Thanks to his close working relationship with the JACKs, JLA has become fascinated with the medium, though he waited until age 58 to take it up. He’s now finishing his Sixth and Seventh String Quartets. My review for Musical America:

FISHTAIL, MT — The vast, roiling orchestral soundscape of the Prize-winning Become Ocean has served many listeners as an entrée into the world of John Luther Adams. But he is just as much at home within the intimate dimensions of chamber music…

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Filed under: commissions, John Luther Adams, string quartet, Tippet Rise

Xylem: A Place of Refuge

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Some shots of the new architectural installation and gathering place at Tippet Rise Art Center: Xylem,  by the internationally acclaimed architect Diébédo Francis Kéré.

A delightfully imaginative and welcoming  pavilion designed to invite moments of meditation, pop-up musical performance, and community exchange, Xylem is composed of sustainably harvested pine logs (longe pole and ponderosa).

From the artist’s website:

The logs of the canopy are assembled in circular bundles bore by a modular hexagonal structure in weathering steel, lying on top of seven steel columns. The upper surface of the canopy is carved sinuously in order to create a rounded topography that blends in the surrounding hills. At the same time massive and light, the roof is inspired by the “toguna”, the traditional most sacred space in every Dogon village, a wooden and straw shelter designed in order to protect from the sun but at the same time to allow the ventilation of the shaded space underneath.

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Filed under: architecture, art

Herman Melville at 200

Born Herman Melvill 200 years ago on this day, the writer I have idolized since I first got seriously into literature went largely unrecognized during his own lifetime, apart from his early commercial success.

“There is no knowing Herman Melville,” writes Jill Lepore in her profile in the current issue of The New Yorker. “He needed to write. He wanted to be read. He could not bear to be seen.”

She quotes Melville’s famous metaphor for the creative act:

Taking a book off the brain is akin to the ticklish & dangerous business of taking an old painting off a panel — you have to scrape off the whole brain in order to get at it with due safety — & even then, the painting may not be worth the trouble.

Here’s a motley assortment of reflections on the unknowable, unfathomably fascinating Melville:

–a trove of links and information from the Melville Society

–Melvilliana: Clement C. Moore’s blog on all things Melville

–from Deutsche Welle, a consideration of Melville’s modernity from a European perspective

–on the inspiration of Mount Greylock from his window as Melville wrote Moby-Dick

–And a nod to Melville the poet:

“Art”

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.

Filed under: literature, Melville

Bayreuth’s Free-Willing Tannhäuser

Here are the most perceptive reviews I’ve encountered so far of the controversial new Bayreuth “Venus-goes-to-Burger-King” Tannhäuser that recently opened the 2019 season.

In [Tobias] Kratzer’s rollicking production — intelligent and surprisingly wrenching, though not quite fully formed — the Venusberg is not the libretto’s mythical pleasure realm so much as a lifestyle of young, brash artistry.

Some confusion aside, Mr. Kratzer’s reading of the opera is both novel and clever. … The idea is that our interpretations of Wagner are ever-evolving; that’s why directors are hired for several years, to tweak their productions with each revival.

Joshua Barone in The New York Times

Kratzer and his team simply refused to let themselves by intimidated by tradition, by the overwhelming aura of this historic theater, and by the ever-virulent orthodoxy of the Wagner cult. They instead choose to tell the narrative-romantic saga of the inner human conflict between love and lust, between conformity and rebellion, using sassy, fresh images. And for all their irony, they avoid the trap of playing with it in a way that degrades the work. The opera’s lofty pathos has always provoked parody, but Kratzer does it better: he does it brilliantly.

Christian Wildhagen in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German)

The real trick [of Kratzer’s staging] is that the jokes are not all at the expense of the work. Kratzer doesn’t aim to mock Wagner but to humanize his mythically enraptured figures … Most of all, he shows two forms of art clashing with each other. On the one hand, the world of canonical masterpieces … on the other, the sensual, spontaneous world of performance and counterculture. Wagner himself contained both: the anarchic revolutionary who became a classic during his life. Kratzer doesn’t glorify either side in the process. Venus’s subversive gang is shown to be not only violent but also venal and selfish.

Bernhard Neuhoff for BR-Klassik (in German)

A shared observation: despite the excellent cast and stimulating (while problematic) staging (especially in the third act), Valery Gergiev was less than satisfactory in the pit.

And here’s an interview with director Tobias Kratzer from Deutsche Welle:

DW: How do you tell the story of Tannhäuser in 2019?

Tobias Kratzer: For me, the biographical context behind the creation of Wagner’s Tannhäuser is important. If you take that into account, the opera appears more up-to-date and contemporary. Wagner developed his play during a phase in which he didn’t really know where his life was going; whether he’d go down in history as a revolutionary and anarchist, or as a composer. That was a really interesting insight for me.

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Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, music news, Wagner

Festival Season, Opera Style

The wonderfully provocative new production of Tannhäuser directed by Tobias Kratzer (responsible for a first-rate Der Zwerg this spring) was streamed live and is currently available from BR-Klassik (configure your VPN as needed); the audio is at the moment available here.

Elsewhere in Bavaria, Barrie Kosky has applied his stage genius to Handel’s Agrippina, with Ivor Bolton conducting. You can watch it on Bayerische Staatsoper TV here (available 29 July-12 August).

There’s lots of information about Salzburg Festival’s new Idomeneo here, including interviews with director Peter Sellars and music director Teodor Currentzis.

Here’s another piece on the season-opening production from ORF’s Kultur Heute program.

At 19:00 EST on 28 July 2019, the concert performance of the complete Die Walküre with the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra, led by Andris Nelsons and taped over two days, will be broadcast via WMNR Radio. Marc Mandel’s program notes here.

For more Mozart, Glyndebourne Festival’s new Barbe & Doucet production of The Magic Flute will be streamed live on Sunday 4 August and remain available for seven days.

Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, Mozart, Salzburg Festival, Wagner

Othello in the Seraglio by Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol’s Othello in the Seraglio is now streamable on Amazon Prime in the US and the UK.

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol, a distinguished professor at the New England Conservatory as well as an active musician with the Boston-based ensemble Dünya, has created what he terms a “coffeehouse opera” in which he reimagines Shakespeare’s tragic hero as a former African slave, a powerful but aging Ottoman Eunuch.

He explains: “In addition to a storyteller narrating in English, all characters sing in either Italian or Turkish in the musical idioms of 17th-century Italy and Turkey, accompanied by an on-stage ensemble of early European and Middle Eastern instruments with an unusual combination of percussion instruments.”

Othello in the Seraglio is performed by Dünya (which Sanlıkol also helms) and, since its premiere in Boson in February 2015, has already tallied an impressive record of 20 performances.

The critic Susan Miron compares the result to “opera pasticcio, a Baroque form in which composers like Handel and Vivaldi created substantial theatrical works from both existing and original music.” She explains that the audience is “meant to imagine being in a coffeehouse in Istanbul (then Constantinople) in the 17th century, where an all-male cosmopolitan audience smoked and sipped coffee, ‘a newly fashionable stimulant imported from Yemen.'”

Of his score, Sanlıkol remarks:

There are three distinct layers of music, which may stand alone, interact or merge; borrowed period music (European and Turkish); new music incorporating melodic and harmonic features of the borrowed material; and certain musical instruments and timbres—not period-specific—that highlight dramatic moments. I hoped to achieve a coherent musical statement by balancing these layers within the architecture of the opera. Duets between a Turk and a European even combine music of East and West: the Turkish makam (mode) is used for the Turk, and the European’s music is scored against it following the modal polyphonic practices of early European music.

Here’s an interview with the composer for WBUR Radio from 2015.

More information here.

Filed under: new opera, Shakespeare, Turkish music

Brahms Times 2: Hamelin Displays Mettle And Might

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Marc-André Hamelin performed both Brahms piano concertos at the Bellingham Festival. (Photo: Catherine Fowler)

I spent a lovely day in Bellingham on Sunday. Here’s my review of Marc-André Hamelin’s program of the two Brahms piano concertos at the Bellingham Festival of Music for Classical Voice North America.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Rhapsodizing about his summer getaway in the lakeside resort of Pörtschach, Brahms observed that “the melodies fly so thick you must watch out not to step on one.” It’s easy to imagine the composer armed with a melody-catching butterfly net and setting out for a stroll through the idyllic campus in coastal Washington, where the Bellingham Festival of Music takes place over three weeks each July.

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Filed under: Brahms, festivals, pianists, review

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