MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

2017 Lucerne Summer Festival Announced


The program for the 2017 Summer Festival in Lucerne has just been announced. The overall theme is “Identity.” Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Jay Campbell will be featured as “artistes étoiles,” and Michel van der Aa will be the composer-in-residence for 2017’s Summer Festival.

Lucerne has also launched a new magazine packed with interviews, commentary, and articles and listings of the programming for all three festivals.

download a pdf of the magazine

Filed under: Lucerne Festival, music news

New from Los Angeles Master Chorale and Peter Sellars

At the end of the month the Los Angeles Master Chorale and artistic director Grant Gershon will open their season with a brand-new staging by Peter Sellars of Lagrime di San Pietro. This is the cycle of “spiritual madrigals”Orlando di Lasso composed at the very end of his life in 1594. Here’s my essay for the program:


What’s the correct way to refer to one of the most extraordinary musical minds in history: Orlande/Orlando/Roland de Lassus/di Lasso? There’s a Franco-Flemish form and an Italianized one; sometimes the two get mixed together. There’s even a Latin option intended to standardize the situation. The very profusion of variants points to the internationalism and cross-pollination across borders that marked the era of the High Renaissance in Europe.

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Filed under: choral music, directors, essay, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Hansel and Gretel at Seattle Opera: Laurent Pelly’s Cautionary Fairy-Tale


Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and Ashley Emerson (Gretel); photo by Philip Newton

Absurd as it sounds, there was a time in the early 20th century when Hansel and Gretel was regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera on a double bill with Pagliacci. And its longstanding association with Christmas – Richard Strauss, after all, conducted the world première in Weimar on 23 December 1893 – has reinforced a general impression of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera as a light entertainment, a candied appetiser in need of more substantial fare to balance it out if presented as part of a regular opera season intended for adults.

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Filed under: review, Seattle Opera

Pablo Rus Broseta’s Big Night with Seattle Symphony


Last night’s concert with Pablo Rus Broseta and soloist Yo-Yo Ma was a delightful confirmation that experiencing an orchestra in live performance can provide a high like no other. It doesn’t need to be a Mahlerian epic or a program of revolutionary breakthroughs — those offer up unique experiences of their own — but it does require the unwavering commitment of the musicians.

This was a modest-sized Seattle Symphony, as some of the players are now on duty in the pit for Seattle Opera’s about-to-open production of Hansel and Gretel. And the program of Bartók, early Mozart, and Haydn offered a straightforward menu. But nothing sounded rote, and the evident pleasure taken by the musicians proved to be infectious for the sold-out hall.

Drawing the large crowd, of course, was Yo-Yo Ma’s presence on the evening’s second half, but SSO Associate Conductor Pablo Rus Broseta led achieved some captivating results of his own from the podium. In the rapid succession of Romanian Folk Dances, — featuring excellent clarinet and flute solos — he elicited a touch of melancholy to spice Bartók’s vivid rhythms.

A pair of youthful Mozart symphonies followed: K. 201 in A major and a true rarity, K. 196 in D major (both from the end of the composer’s teenage years, in the mid-1770s). Rus Broseta approached these scores as if Mozart had just turned them in to fulfill an SSO commission. And it was possible to hear evidence of the young conductor’s experience with new music in the mindful focus on texture and balance.

If the opening movement of the A major symphony could have benefited from more-incisive attacks, Rus Broseta showed his sensitivity to Mozart’s spellbinding way of phrasing melody as well as to his expert comic timing. In his hands the spirited finale of K. 201  was made to sound exhilaratingly fresh, almost proto-Beethovenian. The strings played with superb ensemble.

And then Yo-Yo Ma emerged onstage with his glistening cello to give his first Seattle performance (as far as I’m aware) since last year’s memorable accounts of three of Bach’s Cello Suites and other fare at the University of Washington.

Haydn’s long-hidden-away C major Cello Concerto dates from when Mozart was still a young child (though already embarking on his first tour of Europe). Ma’s performance was a study in how to make a phrase and its subsequent repetitions rivet the attention.

While it’s hard not to thrill at the cellist’s technical mastery of intonation, articulation, rapid-fire scales — you name it —  Ma’s musical imagination is what really calls the shots, making whatever he plays so compelling. The finale in particular, with its sudden shifts in mood, became downright suspenseful.  From the podium Rus Broseta’s confident partnership ensured a lucid orchestral balance.

Ma offered a pair of encores: an elastic Prelude from the G major Cello Suite and Mark O’Connor’s poignant Appalachia Waltz (both in response to vociferous requests shouted from the audience). But with every bow he made his admiration of the orchestra and conductor clear, insisting that they share in the acclaim.

–(c)2016 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: Haydn, Mozart, review, Seattle Symphony

Marcy Stonikas and Seattle Opera’s Hansel and Gretel

1f0f060c-8ceb-11e6-804f-aed86649565b-1020x680My latest Seattle Times story:

Growing up in a Chicago suburb, soprano Marcy Stonikas was more musically active than the average American teen. She played in the high-school band, attended symphony concerts regularly, sang jazz and took part in musicals…

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Filed under: Seattle Opera, Seattle Times

The Emerson String Quartet Celebrates 40 Years


My cover story on the Emersons is now out in STRINGS magazine:

The Emerson Quartet has been a dominant fixture in the chamber-music scene for so long now that it takes a considerable leap of imagination to picture what it was like for the ensemble 40 years ago, at the beginning of their adventure. The world was a vastly different place, of course, when they embarked on that debut season in 1976—though the sense of one crisis overlapping the next remains eerily familiar. The Watergate scandal still painfully recent, the nation faced its first election since Richard Nixon’s resignation, while the Fall of Saigon the previous year had just brought the bitter conflict in Vietnam to its traumatic end….

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Filed under: chamber music, Emerson String Quartet, feature, string quartet

American History, Taylor Mac Style

Envious of those able to attend the Taylor Mac marathon — but at least I got a sample of it last year.

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Taylor Mac Taylor Mac

The performance phenomenon known as Taylor Mac has been riding a wave of more mainstream success of late.

A few seasons ago he was a smash in a remarkable production of Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechuan by the Foundry Theatre at the the New York Public Theatre (playing both Shen Te and Shui Ta). The run of Mac’s wild new play Hir at New York City’s Playwrights Horizons was recently extended — yikes, recognition by the global capitalist economy! — and Hir is showing up on several best-of-the-year lists. (The title of this darkly absurd comedy about a dysfunctional, moving-to-postgender family conflates “his” and “her,” though Mac’s own gender pronoun of preference rejects both of these in favor of the delightfully befuddling “judy.”)

And Mac is heading into 2016 with his most-ambitious project ever: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (still in progress), which will ultimately comprise…

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Don Pasquale and Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera


In addition to Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, I reviewed September’s other two productions at San Francisco Opera: a winning Don Pasquale (in which Larry Brownlee made his company debut) and a weak Andrea Chénier. The review is online at Musical America (subscription required):

SAN FRANCISCO—Was it merely coincidence or a cleverly tucked-away reference by way of programming? Regardless, San Francisco Opera opened its new season with a trio of operas in rotation … »Read

Filed under: Lawrence Brownlee, Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

Mark Morris Dance Joins Silk Road for Layla and Majnun

2d6c2ed6-89ae-11e6-938a-4ee085261bf6-1560x1144My Seattle Times preview of the latest show from Mark Morris Dance Group, in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, is now online:

The world-renowned choreographer (and native Seattleite) Mark Morris teams with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble for a new work of music and dance based on the Middle Eastern story <i>Layla and Majnun</i>.

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Filed under: choreography, Mark Morris, Seattle Times

Miller Theatre’s Salute to Steve Reich

Happy 80th to Steve Reich!

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Tomorrow’s sold-out concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre opens the season with a focus on Steve Reich.

The program includes two somewhat lesser-known works, both variations: Daniel Variations and You Are (Variations).  Here is the program essay I wrote for the Miller Theatre:

“The function of music is to refresh the spirit and stimulate the mind.” Alluding to J.S. Bach’s title page to the third part of his Clavierübung, Steve Reich once contributed this response to a question about the function of contemporary music.

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