MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

La forza del regie: Frank Castorf’s Deutsche Oper Debut

forza-do-1

Tenor Russell Thomas (Don Alvaro) and baritone Markus Brück (Don Carlo) in Frank Castorf’s staging of La forza del destino at Deutsche Oper Credit: Thomas Aurin

Frank Castorf has long been an avant-garde institution in Berlin, but he just made his debut at Deutsche Oper with a staging of Verdi’s La forza del destino that sparked audience mutiny. Here’s my review for Musical America.

BERLIN — Booing can be a badge of honor in Germany’s theaters, particularly when it comes to canonical works. That’s at least one way of regarding the vehement reactions that have greeted Frank Castorf’s new staging of La forza del destino at Deutsche Oper…

continue

Filed under: Deutsche Oper, directors, Frank Castorf, review, Verdi

Reframing the Image: A Contemporary Lens on Robert Mapplethorpe’s Provocative Art

triptych-eyes-of-one-on-another-5@2x

Later this month, Cal Performances will present Triptych — a meditation on the legacy of Robert Mapplethorpe 30 years after his death that was composed by Bryce Dessner to a libretto by korde arrington tuttle. Here’s the article on this hybrid theatrical work I wrote for Cal Performances:

In this age of selfies, promiscuously disseminated Snapchat sexting, and Instagram—the omnipresent reflection of our image-saturated, disposable culture—it almost defies belief that an exhibition of photographs was once the flashpoint for the culture wars that continue to divide America…

continue

 

Filed under: art exhibition, Bryce Dessner, Cal Performances, Patti Smith, photography

Thomas Dausgaard Starts the Seattle Symphony Season

Tonight in Seattle, new Music Director Thomas Dausgaard begins his tenure with an opening night program of Carl Nielsen, Richard Strauss, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, with Daniil Trifonov as the soloist in the Russian composer’s Fourth Piano Concerto. I’m not able to be there for the opening but look forward to reporting on Dausgaard’s work with the orchestra later in the fall.

Meanwhile, you can listen to the conductor’s rapport with Strauss on the new SSO release, which includes an account of the Alpine Symphony from performances in June 2017 (which I reviewed here), as well as the prelude to the opera Antichrist by fellow Dane Rued Langgaard.

Filed under: Seattle Symphony, Thomas Dausgaard

Living Inside the Music: Teodor Currentzis and musicAeterna

Looking ahead to his American debut at The Shed in November, my profile of Teodor Currentzis for the fall issue of Early Music America magazine is now available.

Within a few moments of listening to a performance led by Teodor Currentzis — whether live or recorded — you realize something different is unfolding. Nothing sounds taken for granted. What you assumed to be familiar parameters of a well-known piece — tempo, dynamics, accentuation — are suddenly open to question, the music propelled by a spirit of fierce collective concentration….

continue

Filed under: conductors, early music, Early Music America, profile

Bernard Haitink Bids Adieu

BH-2019

Tonight is the night: after farewell concerts in Amsterdam and London, Bernard Haitink will officially raise his baton for the last time when he conducts the Vienna Philharmonic is his very last concert at the 2019 Lucerne Festival. The concert has long been sold out.

Yesterday Haitink and his wife Patricia were the special guests at the vernissage launching the new book by Erich Singer and Peter Hagmann: Bernard Haitink: Dirigieren ist ein Rätsel. The maestro was visibly moved by the tributes to his life and legacy.

On tonight’s program, Haitink will conduct Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Emanuel Ax in the solo role. Could you imagine a more graceful exit from such a distinguished career?

Filed under: Anton Bruckner, Beethoven, Bernard Haitink, conductors, Lucerne Festival

Chailly Meets the Lucerne Festival Academy Alumni

One of the programs I’m most looking forward to in Lucerne is the Academy Alumni Orchestra program this Sunday, which will be led by Riccardo Chailly, music director of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

Yesterday, Wolfgang Rihm and Mariano Chiacchiarini introduced the culminating work of the program: Rihm’s early orchestral composition Dis-Kontur from 1974, which starts off with a post-’68 generation update of the catastrophic hammer blows familiar from Mahler, Berg, and Schoenberg. As Ulrich Mosch writes:

Fundamental to Rihm’s pieces for orchestra was his decision to refrain from transforming the orchestra into a large, structurally controlled “sound generator” and from reinventing the ensemble by taking the approach of reorganising it according to “internal, social” assumptions – a co-op effort of equally entitled individuals or a self-regulating social and musical system, for instance.

The rest of the program that Chailly will conduct the Soviet Alexander Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry, Bruno Maderna’s Grande Aulodia for flute and oboe solo with orchestra (Swiss premiere), and Schoenberg’s Five Orchestra Pieces.

 

UPDATE: You can watch this splendid concert here:

 

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy

Setting Sail with Billy Budd: A Selective Overview of the Opera’s Production History

Here’s an article I wrote for San Francisco Opera’s upcoming production of Billy Budd, which opens on Saturday.

The late New Yorker critic Andrew Porter deemed Billy Budd “musically the richest and most arresting” of Benjamin Britten’s fifteen operas. It is also arguably his most provocative and challenging. While the novella Billy Budd became enshrined in the canon shortly after the belated publication of Melville’s unfinished text in 1924 — boosted by a dramatic reappraisal of the author following a long period of neglect — the opera has taken more time to find a place in the repertory….

continue

Filed under: Britten, San Francisco Opera

Clara Schumann, Music’s Unsung Renaissance Woman

The 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann’s birth is quickly approaching. Here’s a story on her legacy I wrote for The New York Times:

Schumann is among the most celebrated names in the classical music canon — for most people conjuring the poetic and intense work of Robert Schumann, the Romantic master.

But when the Schumann in question is his wife, Clara, the name should remind us most of the frustrating lack of recognition still accorded female composers.

continue

Filed under: chamber music, Clara Schumann, New York Times, pianists

Guest Review: An Unusual but Successful Meistersinger in London

Fulham-Opera-Meistersinger

Fulham Opera, Die Meistersinger
image: Matthew Coughlan

Guest review by Tom Luce of Die Meistersinger at the London-based Fulham Opera:

Wagner’s epic comedy is one of the longest and largest pieces in the operatic repertoire. Sixteen solo roles, the semi-chorus of apprentices, and big chorus and orchestra requirements combine with its up to five hours’ duration to make Die Meistersinger one of the most daunting artistic and financial challenges opera managements can face.

Outside Germany and Austria, where some houses do it every year, it is difficult to find performances. I have been lucky this year to see it twice, in Berlin and then London.

In April, the Berlin Staatsoper staged Die Meistersinger with a distinguished and experienced cast, the world-class Berliner Staatskappelle in the pit, and Daniel Barenboim, one of our epoch’s most outstanding musicians, on the podium. It was every bit as powerful and inspiring as one would expect. Andrea Moses’ production presented Nuremberg as a center of global capitalism, with its Mastersingers as major corporate figures. Not everyone appreciated this approach, but the director did interestingly convey the crowd’s response to Hans Sachs’s concluding monologue as a commitment to art rather than nationalism.

The forces involved in the London performance around a month ago could not have been more different. The Fulham Opera is a small fairly new undertaking of the type often characterized as “fringe.” It presented this most challenging of operas without cuts but with a chorus totaling only 23 (including the apprentices). There were 19 musicians in the pit: 9 winds, 9 strings, and a lutenist for Beckmesser. They played Jonathan Finney’s reduced version of the score.

One might think that an ensemble on so small a scale would guarantee failure to deliver Wagner’s expansive epic. But the actual event undermined such prejudgments.

There were indeed some elements not wholly successful — the overture sounded thin and unbalanced, and the brawl at the end of the second act did not fully come off. But other big moments were successful. The third-act prelude was warmly and beautifully delivered, and the great “Wach Auf” Chorus came across powerfully. Throughout, the staging, acting, singing, and playing gave a real sense of the lyrical flow and the interactions between characters that are essential to the piece.

The limited scenery concentrated more on furniture than on the Nuremberg setting but did provide plenty of scope for the comic interactions between the apprentices and their leader David and the Mastersingers in Paul Higgins’ effective and enjoyable staging. All the soloists sang and acted convincingly and were matched by skillful and committed playing in the pit under the fluent and sympathetic musical direction of Ben Woodward.

Rather, I must confess, to my own surprise, l left the Fulham Opera performance with the wonders of Wagner’s great masterpiece resonating not all that much less than I had left the Berlin performance.

The success of this daring enterprise shows that there are a large number of very gifted singing actors in the operatic profession without — at least for the present — the celebrity status expected by big opera company audiences. It also shows that elaborate scenery is not necessary for an effective staging.

This prompts an interesting question. Die Meistersinger has been performed by London’s two big established companies twice in the last decade. Seattle Opera’s last performance was in 1989. Do the glitzy expectations of big companies’ audiences and supporters inhibit their managements from considering less infrequent and more affordable presentations of this astounding and essential masterpiece?
–Tom Luce

Filed under: Wagner

Now Listening: Brooklyn Rider’s The Butterfly

Martin Hayes & Brooklyn Rider_The Butterfly_Mini.jpg

The Butterfly adds another chapter to Brooklyn Rider’s innovative collaborations with such figures as with Béla Fleck, Gabriel Kahane, Kayhan Kalhor, and, most recently, Jonathan Redman — in the process, reimagining the potential of the string quartet as a medium.

On The Butterfly, the Irish fiddle master Martin Hayes joins with Brooklyn Rider to explore what the string quartet lineup can bring to Irish traditional music. They began their collaboration in 2009 and recorded these tracks in 2016.

Colin Jacobsen, composer and violinist with Brooklyn Rider, observes that Hayes “represented to us something essential about music that we sometimes felt was missing within the classical training we were receiving back in school. To me, it is the infinitely varied inflections, and the depth of expression within what could seem like a deceptively simple tune, which make Martin a master storyteller with his instrument.”

Martin became fascinated by the prospect of their collaboration. “Through the help of a number of brilliant arrangers who are fluent with
both string quartet writing and Irish traditional music, such as Ljova, Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna,” observes Jacobsen, “we found a framing for the tunes that feels true to some essential thing about both traditions.”

Jacobsen contributed his own arrangements of “O’Neill’s March” and “The Butterfly.” “I thought [“O’Neill’s March”] could sound beautiful through the layering and textural options available to a string quartet,” he explains, while for “The Butterfly” he wanted “to take the tune further out in the direction of contemporary classical string writing … to try to take this butterfly to a place it might never have flown before.”

The release also includes the premiere recording of “Maghera Mountain,” which Hayes wrote in his teens, alongside familiar material often regarded as “throwaway tunes … that are on longer taken very seriously,” according to Hayes. “In reality, these are simple, profound and very beautiful melodies.”

“Many of the major developments in Irish music have historically come through musical interaction with musicians from outside the tradition bringing with them new ideas and fresh energy,” says Hayes. “To collaborate, it’s important not to compromise on what is fundamental and core, but it is also equally important to be flexible. One must surrender the desire to control the outcome and allow people you work with to make their choices with freedom.”

Filed under: Brooklyn Rider, Irish Music, new release

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR